The Fools Run is run on trails within the Virginia Kendall/Happy Days areas of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. In my humble opinion, it is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, local samplings of trails this area has to offer. You get all of the following at some point: grassy meadow, wide leaf-covered trail, rooty-rocky-technical trail, and rocky/boulder-like trail. With some recent modifications, there is less than 100 yards of asphalt on the entire 50K course. The only asphalt sections are road crossings to get from trail to trail.
Minutes before the 7:30am start, Lloyd gave a few instructions, thanked the sponsors and kicked everyone out of the Pine Hollow starting area and onto the trail. For me, my plan was to treat the 1st half as a training run and try to hold on for the 2nd loop. The forecast and what happened were a bit different. The forecast was for cloudy skies and rain around 4pm and starting temps in the low 30s and climbing into the low 50s. What actually happened was full, brilliant, sunny skies and temps that topped out right at 60F. Early morning frost was covering the "Sound of Music" hills at Pine Hollow but that quickly burned off. Due to easy-to-follow course markings and great course marshalls, the pack of runners made it easy through the woods from trail to trail. For me, I knew the course very well since I measured it a few times for Lloyd and also helped mark part of the Yellow Loop yesterday on the cross-country trail. One really cool feature of the this race is that after challenging sections, it essentially gives you a breather and time to recover before attacking the next tough section. The early part of the cross country trail has some challenging hills but ends with about a 3/4 mile downhill to the turn onto the Lake Trail. Then, you have about 1/2 mile of easy terrain on the Lake Trail before crossing Truxell Road and picking up a pretty good lung-burning uphill on the connector to the Pine Grove Trail. Like a "well-behaved" trail, as soon as you crest the steps and place your foot on the Pine Grove Trail, you get a nice flat, smooth section en route to the boulder/rock-infested Ledges Trail which you reach at 4 miles in. Here is NOT a time to take your eyes off the trail. Much of the time, you'll want to look up at the gorgeous scenery but in reality, you've gotta keep your eyes on the ground in front of you as you'll tip-toe through a lot of the Ledges Trail. It's not hilly...it just has big rocks. Once you get halfway around, you cut off on the Haskell Run Trail en route to the Happy Days Lodge parking lot...location for Aid Station #1. Aid stations at Fools are comprised of typical ultra-fare: pretzels, PB&J, M&Ms (yum!), Hammer's Heed electrolyte, Coke, Endurolyte salt tabs, and water. (picture on the right is Greg (left) at the Happy Days AS) Once you get to Happy Days, you're 5 miles in and immediately head out to Boston Run Trail which is a loop that brings you back to the aid station about 3.2 miles later. Boston Run really mixes it up. You have your flats and your hills. It could be quite muddy but it is not technical at all. The last hill is just downright dirty. A walker, for sure. It is a straight up, lung-burning, gravel hill. The good news is that at top, you're back in the grass and heading back to more food at the aid station. Once refueled, you re-trace your steps back to the Ledges Trail which you reach at Mile 9 and continue the oval around the Ledges. Today it was great because it felt like running in air conditioning. With the sun beating down (I won't dare complain about the sun shining in northeast Ohio!), it was nice to get a little break. Once finished on the Ledges, you're back on Pine Grove around Mile 10 and end up running the 1.5 mile trail. Pine Grove, unlike the name implies, really has very few pines. It is a scenic, fast trail and almost pancake flat except for one little baby dip. Once complete, it's time to head back on the connector to the Lake Trail and head towards the 2nd aid station at the intersection of the Cross Country Trail and Lake Trail. After some fuel, you'll run under the old toboggan hill and rest your legs on a gentle, gravel trail. It's important to recharge, refresh, and prepare while on the Lake and Pine Grove Trails because what waits during the last 3+ miles is the Salt Run Trail...the only technical, rooty section of the day. However, just before you enter, you can see the Finish Line up the hill and perhaps your car. Not too bad during the first loop but cresting that hill at 28 miles...well, that was just darn mean, Lloyd! Talk about tempting just to call it a day right there! Salt Run is the hardest section and my favorite. It winds, wraps, climbs, falls, and is rugged. It has lots and lots of stairs but downhills to compliment them as well. About halfway, you run through this mossy section that is green year-round. It's like the trail saying: "OK...here's your breather. Enjoy it while it lasts." Just after that, up you go again. A few minutes later, you meet the longest, steepest climb on Salt Run. The hills aren't over yet, but I think this is the "Mother Hill" of Salt Run. In fact, the last hill is crested in the grass with the Finish Line in sight. The course is simply relentless!
For me, I ran in Mel from Vertical Runner who was running the 25K since she's running Boston in only a few short weeks...then refueled at the 3rd aid station. Since the course runs along the the parking lot, I backed up into a spot so I could stop at my car and get any supplies on the way out on the 2nd loop. This worked perfect and I'm sure many others did the same. I was able to get some boiled/salted potatoes out of my trunk, grab some more Shot Bloks, and re-tie my shoe real quick without even leaving the course...another little benefit of the course layout. The 2nd loop went fine for me personally. When I crossed the halfway point in 2hrs, 22min, I knew the 2nd loop would be interesting. So much for running the 1st half easy...that was 7min faster than I had ever run it previously. I hung on but when I got to Boston Run for the 2nd time (~21 miles), the "wheels" fell off and my pace really took a drop. For the first time, I was getting passed but still kept it going. My potatoes that had been lifesavers in the past weren't doing much for me today. I think the full sun was taking it's toll on me. I haven't really run in it since last fall. From looking at the sunburn on my face this evening, I know I'm right.
In the end, I crossed the finish line in 5hrs, 26min, 15sec...17th overall out of 67 finishers. Before the race, a few fellow runners asked what I was going to run today. My response was: "I'd be happy with a 5:30. I feel I'm in that kind of shape." Faster would be great but 5:30 would be 100% acceptable and one of my faster 50Ks, for sure. So in the end, I had a blast and loved seeing so many people I knew on the trails and hearing my name shouted all day. There really are some huge...and priceless perks to running races in your own backyard...not to mention sleeping in your own bed, brewing fresh stove top espresso on race morning, and toasting some blueberry waffles for breakfast. I want to thank Lloyd for his incredible organization and execution of the event and to the army of volunteers that came forth. It was a day to remember and a great example of what's going on in the trail running scene here in northeast Ohio.
Happy Trails, everyone!