One thing I really was looking forward to on race morning was driving east towards Youngstown at sunrise. Just like last year, the sun was cracking the horizon just as I entered Youngstown and just like last year, I held my camera out my sunroof for a photo. No better way to start the day!
Milling around the Old Log Cabin at the start, it was good to quickly catch up with old friends and new friends alike whom I'd never met in person and pick up my goody bag which again contained a high quality tech tee. This year, La Sportiva supplied the tech tees. A record crowd gathered for both the 50K and 25K this year which went right in line with the growing demand for trail-running events in northeast Ohio. In all, 119 started the event. After a few brief words from Gombu and his "old-school" method of starting the race (a simple "Go!"), we were off. (photos from this point on are all courtesy of Pebble who has also published over 130 pictures on Facebook...below is a group of us before the start)
I find YUT-C easiest to describe by thinking about a figure 8. By starting at the bottom of the eight and working clockwise first, that's essentially the first 4 miles to the Covered Bridge which is the main aid station for the event (the intersecting part of the number 8). The 50K runners will pass through here 5 times. That first section has some gorgeous scenery along Lake Cohasset and eventually encounters the "Monkey Hills." These hills are so steep in sections that you are nearly dragging your knuckles on the ground to get up them. To add to the difficulty, they are fresh trails with very loose dirt and some very steep descents thrown in. On a wet day, it's slicker and more dangerous than ever. After many ups and downs, the last steep climb is celebrated by greeting the "Love Log"...a log you essentially have to "love" to get over. Once past here, it's a nice decline down to the road and eventually to Lanterman's Mill. As we approached the Mill, you go up and down many wooden boardwalks up over the water and under rock cliffs...to me, the most gorgeous section in all the course. Once the Mill is in sight, the Covered Bridge awaits and it's time to refuel. Thanks to Pebble for catching this photo of me the 2nd time that I came in.
So far, I was feeling pretty darn good. As this was an event more like a stepping stone for me, I was supposed to be taking it easy. Racing was not permitted! Still, a bib number was pinned on which has uncontrollable mental side effects. With that being said, I came up with the idea that I'd run strong and steady for the first 25K and then treat the second half like I was running a 100 miler which of course I will be in less than 3 weeks. Like my rationalization? Us ultra-runners can always make sense out of the senseless.
After leaving the Covered Bridge and grabbing some PB&J, salt tabs, and electrolytes, I headed for the loop around Lake Newport. (Pic at right is typical ultra fare and what was found at the Covered Bridge Aid Station) Think back to the figure 8. We're now traveling up the top right side of the 8. The course does the top circle of the 8 twice and each loop is 4 miles, of course passing through the Covered Bridge each time. This section has 3/4 mile of asphalt on it on the east side, has some very rocky, technical sections, and the rest is gentle, rolling, rooty trail. It's a good breather of sorts after conquering the Monkey Hills. I had the pleasure of running with Pebble's brother, Jeff, and 100-miler Mark from a couple hours south of Youngstown. Mark and I ran the Burning River 100 together a short 7 weeks ago. He was also down at the Mohican 100 in June. It was great to catch up and spend some quality time with another "sane" runner like myself. :-) (Eventually after leaving Mark and Jeff behind, they caught me on the final stretch and dusted me!)
Finishing the top loop around Lake Newport twice and seeing those fine volunteers at the Covered Bridge for the 3rd time, I headed back to the Old Log Cabin, or that "fat" part of the number 8 on the right side thus completing my numerical explanation of the YUT-C course and the 25K (15.6 mile point). From this point on, it's 2 loops of the "fat" part of the 8. The Lake Newport loop in no more. Essentially, two sub-8 mile loops around Lake Cohasset.
Remember the game plan from earlier? My rationalization? Well, I arrived at the 25K point in 2hrs, 37min which translates into a 5:15 50K if run at the same pace. Clearly, I "raced" the first 25K...sort of. Time to shift into 100 mile mode. I brought the pace down and focused on slow, consistent, forward movement. I told Jeff earlier when he asked me what I thought I'd run today and I said between 5:45 and 6:15 and I intended to do just that. Unfortunately for my toes, that meant day-dreaming and not paying attention to the surface in front of me...that being rocky and rooty! Illustration: you know that thing at amusement parks where the big 'ol tough guy (not me) picks up the sledge hammer and slams the base, trying to ring the bell in order to pick out his favorite stuffed pink teddy bear? OK. You know those lights that travel upwards towards the bell? Imagine those lights being the nerve shockwave that I felt when I severely caught my right foot on a rock. I felt a shock of electricity so clearly identifiable that went from my toes of my right foot, up to my waist, across my pelvis, up my left side to my shoulder, and ended in my left ear. YOWSERS! I was fortunate that I caught myself before I got all bloodied up on the ground. That wasn't the last near-miss but it was the hardest one of the day. Speaking of blood, check out John DeWalt's arm at the right. This guy is the epitomy of hard core. He is 73 years old and just completed the Hardrock 100...again. (another reason I can't stand people who complain or give me the excuse of being too old to run) Anyway, he fell in such a way that his skin got peeled right off his arm...probably about 3" long by about 1" tall. The skin just hung there. Yes, he stopped running the race and eventually covered it up. He definitely won the "Best Blood" award! Anyway, I finished another loop (23-24 miles total) and charged on for the last go-around. Luckily, the cool air was being trapped and contained quite well by the thick woods and weather conditions remained dry and perfect from start to finish. Still, the roots and rocks remained and continued to give me wake-up calls. Arriving back at the finish line, the clock read 5hrs, 56min, 42sec. I was dead on target and practically an hour faster than last year's time where was I stung by 3 bees at Mile ONE! It was a lot warmer last year, too.
Afterwards, the whole gang was at the finish line and I expressed my thanks to everyone I could find and consumed some taquitos, pizza, and lasagna. YUM! Great finish line food in fine NEO Trail style. Not surprisingly, the official results were published only 5 hours later. Gotta love it!
I gained a new appreciation for YUT-C this year. I've been so consumed by the trails of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, my normal training ground, that this course's differences were very pronounced to me. I think it's safe to say I know the overwhelming majority of the trails of the CVNP like the back of my hand and I know of none of them which compare to the rockiness and technical nature of that found in Mill Creek Park. It's nothing like the mountain trails of Virginia, I know, but it was refreshing to be on a more "mental" and technical trail...for a change. From what I've heard, this was the perfect thing I needed for the Oil Creek 100 in 19 days.
All-in-all, a super day on the trails with some of the very best people on Planet Earth that I know. Thanks to all who ran or volunteered for this event! It lived up to everything that I've been preaching about for months. I'll certainly be back for more in the future and for other NEO Trail events. For now, it's a quick recovery to the Akron Marathon this Saturday then the 14 day countdown to the Oil Creek 100.