Burning River 93 for Me

This was definitely an adventure for me. Weather patterns, race day strategies, jostling around the leader board, conversations on the trail, and my eventual disqualification at the Burning River 100 (BR100) brought many emotions and lessons by Saturday evening.

The weather outlook on race day was definitely not typical for late in July Midwest racing. Instead of the hot, humid weather that normally occupies this time of year, it was overcast, muggy at times, and rainy for the majority of the day. It rained almost consistently from mile 10 through 60. This left the trails of Cuyahoga Falls quite sloppy. In level spots the trails were often high ankle-deep in muck and water, and the ups and downs were slick.

My pre-race strategy was to start the race at or around an 8 -minute mile pace. I was prepared to hold firm to this pace regardless of how everyone else chose to approach the day. My thoughts were that I could expect to slow a bit as the race progressed, but 8-minute pace was both conservative and aggressive enough to put me into position at the end of the race. I was fortunate in that Michael Owens had a very similar approach, which meant I had great company for the majority of the first 50 miles of the race.

As the race progressed, it became apparent that a handful of runners were looking to be more aggressive at the start of the race. By mile 41, Michael and I found ourselves 18 minutes behind the leader, Peter Hoggs. I can't say I was overly concerned at this point, as I was quite aware there were 59 miles left, and that the well below 8-minute pace the lead pack was cruising at would unlikely hold up (at this point Michael and I were in 6th and 7th place).

It was after the mile 41 aid station that things started to get really crazy for me. As the course became more and more saturated, the sloppiness really increased. I was really struggling to get any advantage from the downhill portions of the trail. Miles 41 through 60 proved to be the sloppiest parts of the race, and they had the most slick descents (between miles 41 and 60 I fell at least 10 times trying to make it down hills). At the time, I assumed everyone was struggling as much as I was on the slick descents. Post-race conversation showed otherwise. It appeared that runners who switched to a trail shoe with a bigger lug were able to run down the slippery descents, while those with a lower profile tread were on ice skates. I wore the Skora Form, which is a shoe I really like, and on a dry day I feel that this would be the perfect shoe for this course. In retrospect, I should have brought along a pair of crampons (not the super big toothed ones, but a really low profile crampon like this) to throw onto the Skora Forms for the slick declines. My reasoning for this is that the Forms dealt great with the wetness of the course, and I wouldn't want to sacrifice the ease with which they repelled the water and drained post river/stream crossings.

With all this noted, as I worked into the mile 50 aid station, at almost exactly 7 hours, I was feeling really good. Better than I had anticipated feeling at that stage. I think a lot of this was due to having to walk down lots of the slick hills. I believe I was about 29 minutes behind the leader at this point. My mindset was that if the last half of the course was more runnable I would be able to make a big push, since my legs had been spared from much of the downhill running.

As I mentioned above, the conditions continued through about mile 60, but I tried to really be aggressive in the areas that were runnable because I knew the descents would be slow. I thought if I was conserving energy by not running down the hills, I could afford to really attack the flatter areas. This seemed to work pretty well, and after mile 60 the slippery downhills were much fewer.

Things in the middle third of the race began to look promising as I moved up the field. Runners began to drop and slow down. Here I found myself in third place.

As I went through mile 80, the volunteers were telling me I was within minutes of the leader. At this point I assumed Shaun Pope was running with Peter and that I was within minutes of both of them. I tried to move through the aid station quickly so as not to waste any time. I maintained a slower, but decent, pace until arriving at the mile 87 aid station, which as mentioned above is when I started to learn a lot. When I entered, they asked me if I had missed an aid station. "No idea," I said. I'd never been on the course before, and I didn't know where the aid stations were (other than that they were pretty regular throughout the course). The volunteers told me that there was an aid station at mile 70 that didn't have me checked in. Could I have missed it?

I wasn't paying particularly close attention to the mile markers at most of the aid stations—I just wanted to get to them, fuel up and get out quick (I was using aid stations primarily for fuel). I wound up spending about 10 minutes at that aid station trying to figure out with the volunteers what exactly happened. Knowing that if I had cut the course—or gone off the course at some point—I would be disqualified, I wanted to know what had happened before I continued on. The volunteers and I were both confused because my description of where I had gone seemed to follow the course exactly.

Rather than wasting more time at the aid station, we decided that they would figure out what happened as I continued to the next aid station (mile 93). This way, if it was ruled that I had not gone off course, I could finish the race—otherwise I would be disqualified there.

It was a very interesting six-mile stretch. It was tough to get my legs loose again after standing at the aid station for so long. Besides that, I couldn't help but think that I was about to be disqualified. BR100 is a USATF event, meaning that they would have cut-and-dry regulations: If I had not checked into an aid station, they would have no choice but to disqualify me. Before I left the aid station, they told me I was in second place. Apparently Shaun Pope, who I had thought was in second, had gone off course, got back on, and was struggling as he continued onward.

I definitely wasn't moving quickly towards the next section. With the knowledge that I was quite a bit ahead of third place, it was pretty clear that I was either going to finish second or be disqualified. I tried to enjoy this stretch of the course rather than focus entirely on what would happen at the end. As I approached the mile 93 aid station, one of the volunteers stopped me with the news that since I had not checked into the aid station at mile 70 I had two choices: go back to mile 70 and correct my mistake, or be disqualified. In order to correct my mistake and register a finishing time, I would have had to run a total of 147 miles (BR100 is actually 101 miles, and then there would be the 46-mile trip to the mile 70 aid station and back). With this news, I chose not to correct my mistake, instead taking the disqualification. It was a tough pill to swallow, but a good learning experience nonetheless.

It was interesting trying to find out exactly where I went wrong on the course. And since it was my first time on the course, I may never really know. The race staff seemed to think I had gone around the aid station on a different trail that just happens to reconnect with the course route after a bit; this would explain why I never went through a long stretch without seeing course markers. It was great to see how proactive thestaff was at finding out where possible improvements in course markings could be made. It really showed that they are genuinely motivated to provide the best possible experience for those competing. Despite my misfortunes, I do think the course was very well-marked, staffed and supported by the BR100 crew. It's a beautiful course that has so much differentiation in its route that you never feel like a specific terrain is dragging on forever—a tall order for a 100-mile course.

A big congratulations to Peter Hogg for setting a new course record, and to the rest of the BR100 competitors. The positive atmosphere made what could easily have been a frustrating weekend into a really fun time overall. I look forward to returning in the future to take another run at it, and hopefully check out some other events put on by Western Reserve Racing.

Race Day Fuel

  • Vespa Power Products
    • 7 Ultra Concentrate
    • 3 Junior
    • 2 CV-25
  • XEndurance (review)
    • Extreme
    • Omega
    • Joint
    • Immune
  • NOW Foods
    • Kelp
    • Fruit and Green Phytofoods Powder
    • Spirulina powder
  • Products from aid station tables
    • Hammer gels
    • Hammer electrolyte capsules
    • Hammer Heed
    • Trader Joe's organic banana chips
    • Fruit
    • Water

Race Day Gear