Sunday, July 15, 2012

Buckeye Trail 50K Race Report

In past years, this race typically has weather typical of NE Ohio in the summer...hot and humid. I never fare well in those conditions but for some reason, I keep signing up. On this day, it was my 5 year anniversary of my first ultra marathon (any race over the 26.2 mile marathon distance, typically starting at the 50K (31.2 miles)). I remember vividly standing in the heat and nearly passing out within 3 miles of the finish. On this day, the forecast called for overcast skies, temperatures holding in the upper 70s through early afternoon, and high humidity. Believe it or not, the forecast held. I sweat like crazy but thanks to my proper prep leading up to the race and what I did during it, I never got light-headed or even close to passing out. But, there were a lot of people out there cramping bad due to so much water loss.

The trail was extremely dry and hard. Actually, it was dusty in places, almost like powder which is not reminiscent of the Buckeye Trail at all. The severe lack of rain around here shows well. Still in parts, you could see the "frozen" footprints in the dirt from muddy runs of the past. With that sunken ground due to being parched, the roots and rocks were very pronounced which presented a mental and physical challenge later in the race.

Boston Store at Mile 11.5 (courtesy of Mark Z.)
For the first many miles, I moved about with friends catching up. Talk about the tattoo, talk about my deployment, and simply catching up. For most, I hadn't seen them in person since before I went on vacation to Afghanistan. :-) The starting line really felt like the "who's who" of the local running community. Pretty cool. So as the miles wore on, I stuck to my mantra of "Just a shufflin' through the woods." That's my mental trickery to prevent myself from blazing down the trail in stupid fashion when I feel really good, only to pay for it later. I actually say it out loud to ensure I hear myself. Yea...weird, I know. But it works! Mile 6 arrived at the first aid station at Snowville Rd and already, a few familiar faces were there to say "Hi!" and root me on. I did my quick re-fill and passed a score of folks at the same time. Quick aid station stops are the easy ways to pass folks. "Quit your jabbin' and get runnin'!!!" Further along the trail as I approached Blue Hen Falls and the Boston Store Aid Station, I was still feeling quite good but sweating profusely. I did notice they replaced that nice wooden bridge above Blue Hen Falls. I'm not sure why, though. That bridge appeared to be in great shape and I always enjoy swiping the snow from the low rail during the winter. Now, it's a tall, steel bridge. As I came into the Boston Store after literally flying down the Roller Coaster Hill, my wife and girls were waiting. NOW...reason to keep moving forward. I get to see them each time!

Cruising on past towards Pine Lane and the turnaround, things were still going quite well and I continued to find friends to catch up with. Once I got to around Mile 13.5, the pine section, I don't think I've ever seen those roots so pronounced before. "Twinkle Toes Running" is the name of the game to survive through that stretch and do NOT take your eyes off of the trail. Arriving at Pine Lane, family was there again and I even stole a kiss before heading back out. A few more salt tabs, a swig of Coke, and another refill of Heed and I was off. My halfway split was a bit on the fast side, too. I estimated 3 hours or longer to be at the this point but it was 2hrs, 50min. I wasn't wearing a watch on this race so I had no idea but that's where I was. Could I "even split" it back and be well under 6 hours and hit a new personal record? Absolutely not. The return on this course is exponentially harder, especially the last 11.5 miles. Way more climbs than on the way back. For those who negative split this course or even come close, my hat's off to you. So, I headed on back out and kept on moving, still feeling quite well.

Most of the race from this point on was spent alone. I was still very drenched in my own sweat but the temps were staying under control and full cloud cover reigned. My only nutrition intake consisted of 2-3 Hammer Endurolyte salt tabs at each aid station, Clif Shot Bloks every 2-3 miles (that were originally sent to me in Afghanistan!), and perhaps a snack at the aid stations. Oh yea, a constant refill of electrolyte fluid...Hammer's Heed. The one and only disappointment of the race was the absence of an ultra running staple at aid stations....PB&J sandwiches. I don't think I've run an ultra minus PB&Js. Yet, they were absent completely. That's really the only food I wanted so I ended up not eating anything. Everything else was dry or candy. I wanted that cool, moist jelly. It just goes down perfectly during an ultra. As I arrived back at Boston Store around Mile 19.7, my family hadn't yet made it back from Pine Lane as they were waiting for my brother to arrive there. I was totally bummed out but just prayed they'd be there 5.5 miles later at the last aid station at Snowville Rd.

Courtesy of Pat Dooley
As I left Boston, it was time to climb Roller Coaster Hill...the hill I flew down a few hours earlier. Again, I ran into friends I hadn't yet seen and had some great conversation. The photo here is of Kate and I after making the second climb into that section. There is another photo where we were walking but the photographer (Pat Dooley) said he'd get another of us as we "ran" away...just to prove were still running! (Thanks, Pat!!) Kate is new co-Race Director of the Bobcat Trail Marathon and the editor of the Western Reserve Trail Running Newsletter. It was great to catch up with you, Kate!

Back down to Blue Hen Falls and then up, up, and up some more. The remaining parts of the BT50K are 1) 3 miles to the Columbia Rd crossing, then 2) about 2 1/2 miles to Snowville Rd and the last aid station and finally, 3) 6 miles to the finish. That's how I broke it up in my mind to make it tangible and achievable in my head. Things were certainly getting tough at this point and I was simply beat. No pain, no blisters, no cramping like many others...just exhausted. As I passed through these miles, I said out loud many times things like: "You're not hurt, you're just tired so get over it!" or "It's flat...WHY are you not running!?!?" or "Lift your knees...lift your feet" ... that one was very important because as tiredness sets in, it's easy to forget to pick up your feet enough to clear the roots. Many times, I caught a root and one of my calves nearly had a charlie horse but I stopped it each time and didn't fall. I have heard that many fell yesterday but not me. Saying things like this out loud help keep me safe and moving forward and they all worked.

Once at Snowville at the 25.2 mile point and last aid station, my family was there. :-))) I had missed them at Boston so thankful to see my wife and girls. I re-fueled then walked down the trail with them out of the aid station, had a few words that I've been wanting to say to them, gave out a round of kisses then was off. It was here I finally admitted my unstated goal for the day: run it faster than my first 50K five years ago...that being 6hrs, 37min. I was dead on 5 hours at the 25.2 mile point so I could do it...but I had to be intentional: hit the climbs with a purpose, take advantage of the downhills and gravity and "keep shufflin' on the flats". This was the first race I'd ever run without any timing device of any sort so I never knew where I was for time or pace. All I could was give all I had and that would have to be enough. In the end...it was. I crossed the finish line 10min ahead of my goal in 6hrs, 27min, 30sec. Not a personal record (missed that by about 12 or 14min) but 100% happy with the run.

Post-run, a local Bravo! restaurant provided the several pasta options and all finishers got the coveted oval window sticker and one-of-a-kind finisher's medal: a heavy metal medal that looks as if you carved a blue blaze right off of a tree. The blue blazes mark the Buckeye Trail all throughout the State of Ohio. Of course, I took my dose of Recoverite, too. Lesson learned at the Run Between the Suns and not to be repeated.

So today: I feel great! So much so that I woke my wife up 3 times to run. The third time, I was on my way out the door and gave her one last chance and she took me up on the offer. A nice-n-easy 5 miler and all systems go! I continue to be amazed at two things: the absolute success of post-run recovery when I take Hammer's Recoverite and also, how good I feel after an ultra marathon on trails vs. a road marathon. The road is so hard on the body as compared to the trails and today proves it. Post-run this morning, I made up one more batch of Recoverite to put the "cherry on top" of this weekend. Excellent race (my 43rd race in my life of a marathon or longer...26 marathons and 17 ultras), excellent recovery, and I got to spend it with friends I hadn't seen in quite some time and with my family. Absolutely thankful.

Here are a few miscellaneous photos from the race. Have a GREAT week!

Like my "Trail Runner's 'Tan'"??? After Run Between the Suns, those two middle two were turning black and blue. This morning, they are very dark. Soon, they'll turn white and be ready to be TORN off! I always know I'm getting in some great long runs when this starts happening. :-)

My Pure Grits, my awesome finisher's medal, and bib number.
Happy Trails, everyone, and RUN HAPPY!

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