The Burr Oak State Park is not known by many of us in northeast Ohio. It is nestled in between Columbus and Athens, OH in southeast Ohio in an area of winding country roads and minimal cell phone coverage. After about a 3 hour drive from my home in NE Ohio and one of the funnest roads to drive on EVER from I-77 to the state park itself, I arrived on Saturday afternoon to help out with packet pickup and Vertical Runner's small retail "stand." Honestly, I think I sold much more of Crazy Monkey Baking's homemade granola than I did running gear and nutrition products. (I finished my peanut butter granola today after nippin' at it all week long.) After first glance around Burr Oak State Park, it reminded me a lot of Atwood Lake Resort located about halfway between Burr Oak and home in Sherrodsville, OH. The lodge overlooked a lake that clearly wrapped and turned much further than what I could see. The marathon course, in fact, would circumnavigate this body of water in a clockwise direction on Sunday morning. It looked brilliant from up at the Lodge and it only fueled the desire to hit the trails.
Friday, after we closed up shop at packet pickup, I got my last bit of pasta at the Lodge's $12.95 pasta buffet, created just for us, and it was actually pretty good. Spaghetti and/or penne with a choice of marinara, meat sauce, cheese, or alfredo topping, some shredded chicken, mixed veggies, breadsticks, and a side salad. Excellent! I headed on back to my room, watched some TV, and fell asleep which by morning, turned into 8 hours of sleep...an extreme rarity in my life and even more so the night before a race. The last race I ran, I slept on a hard, wooden gym floor, tossing and turning all night before covering 100 miles. :-D Waking up on Sunday morning around 6am (another rarity), I sat up in my bed at the Lodge, looked out the window, and there was the Start/Finish line...yes, another rarity. I can't think of any event I've ever run when the start/finish was out the front door. Oh wait a minute, the Oil Creek 100 start/finish was out the back door of the gymnasium but if I had stayed at a hotel, I would have had a short drive. After my morning traditions of fresh-brewed espresso, a PB&J, hot shower and a shave, I headed out in the chilly morning air as over 130 of my closest friends for the day were milling around awaiting Vince Rucci's (co-race director) final instructions.
True to race day tradition (but often ignored by many race directors), the Star Spangled Banner would kick off the day. To put the icing on the cake, the Air Force ROTC would fly the colors on this beautiful morning. The sound system was bold, bright, and clear and seeing Old Glory blowing in the breeze was the perfect way to start the day. After raising it to full staff, it was lowered to half-staff in accordance with the President's order to fly it at half staff until sunset on Tuesday, November 10th to honor the victims of the Fort Hood shootings earlier in the week in central Texas. (video of Star Spangled Banner and the raising of Old Glory below)
After the flag raising was complete, Vince gave his final instructions and precisely at 8am, the inaugural Bobcat Trail Marathon was off and running. The first couple of miles are on asphalt and hilly. I like how Vince and Brandon put this section at the beginning in order to get the whole 26.2 mile distance in, instead of tacking it on at the end. Getting the hard asphalt out the way early was a smart move. For many miles after we hit the trails, it felt mostly like a group run with great difficulty in passing others due to the single-track nature of the course. It was very narrow at most points and sharp jaggers lined each side in many sections. I eventually gave in to the sharp blades and passed a few others spilling some blood along the way which was well worth it. What's a little bit of blood? The course was very winding around hillsides with constant ups and downs and nearly always within sight of the lake if not right besides it. A leaf covered trail kept everyone's eyes downward watching their every step as many roots, rocks, and occasionally a hole awaited underneath. Speaking of obstacles, I found my own at Mile 5. There was this huge log that crossed the trail at a downward angle to the right that was slicker-than-snot. I stepped up on it to cross it and out went my foot and down went my 197lb carcass, left shin first onto the log. My right arm tossed the camera and braced my body by cutting itself up nicely but in fact, stopping the fall. Today, a few scabs still remain and all soreness from my shin slam was gone about a day after the marathon. The camera, most importantly, fell into a bed of leaves. Nice.
I can't say enough good things about the Bobcat course. It was challenging, for sure. We don't have any climbs like that up in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It's not that we don't have hills in the CVNP, but we don't have climbs with that kind of elevation. There were many more than I cared to count. It reminded me a lot of the Oil Creek 100 course in terms of difficulty. It also had its stretches of pine trees, beds of needles, small wooden bridge crossings, and simply pristine views of the lake. I said often to others that it would have been nice to have been running under a canopy of green foliage but if so, we would not have been able to see out across the lake. Since I wasn't out there to race, when I thought "Hey, I should really stop here and just look," I did. I also took a ton of pictures, too...171 in fact. Part of my "race day strategy" was to carry my camera with me and capture as much of the race as I could since I didn't know of any "official" photographers on the course which would keep me from running too fast and would force me to stop often to get passing runners and scenic photos. Well, it worked and the only thing that worried me was a battery that might not live up to the challenge of powering up and down for hours. Lucky for me and all of you, it lasted the whole way. I was having so much fun that not only did I stop, set up the tripod and take a few self-photos along the way, that my goal turned into simply finishing in time to get a hot shower before my 2pm late checkout.
The aid stations were great, too. Unlike a typical road marathon that has water, an electrolyte, and perhaps a few gels, this trail marathon had typical "ultra-fare" that you'd find during an ultra-marathon. Salty snacks, PB&J, sodas, M&Ms, and of course, water and electrolyte drinks. I got pictures of the them all, too, trying to pull out some smiles before I snapped each one, too. They were much further than a lot of runners were probably used to but for me, they were just fine and I wouldn't change a thing. Thanks to the many groups and organizations that sponsored the aid stations...you did a GREAT job!
One thing I kept saying aloud and to myself was all day was "The race-bib-wearing part of me wants this race to end and reach finality and the trail runner in me does not want it to end and running into the night would be perfectly acceptable to me." But alas, it did have to end. It ended on a downhill asphalt stretch into the Lodge's parking lot right where the start was and my room and hot shower awaited. I had sooooo much fun during this race and wouldn't have changed a thing. I ran it in 5hrs, 37min which was mid-pack as usual and achieved my goal of beating 5hrs, 45min (15min before the 2pm checkout thus ensuring myself a hot shower!) I never really hit a "wall" or anything nor had any problems to speak of. In fact, my issue with my upper left leg's psoas muscle wasn't an issue at all. Nothing had but a great time!!! I hung out after my finish to make sure I saw my brother cross his 4th marathon finish line (and 4th for 2009) along with Beth and Emily. The video below is a compilation of them three finishing their respective races.
It feels a little bit odd as I wrap up this short race report to not be talking about running with my eyes closed, taking 2min naps on cold benches, staring up at the stars in the middle of the night, hallucinating on the trails, trail "pole-dancing," or seeing two sunrises. Those race reports have been the norm since June and they forever changed me and impacted my life in a multitude of positive ways. However, it was great to celebrate not only my 25th marathon at Bobcat, but a landmark year in my running career. Even better was to spend it with so many friends and have such an awesome time from arrival on Saturday to departure on Sunday afternoon. Thanks and congratulations to all who made the 26.2+ mile journey around Burr Oak State Park and the very best to you in your future trail running endeavors. For sure, you can count on me to be out there with you.
Below are my favorite photos out of the 171 that I took. The whole gallery can be viewed here.