Sunday, March 24, 2013

Report: Buzzard Day 50K Trail Run

I'm 20! Well, not exactly...actually, I'm nearly 40. But yesterday was my 20th ultra-marathon (a race in excess of the standard 26.2 marathon) and wow, it was an amazing journey.  These days, I'm a whole lot more picky as far as what races I run. There was once a time not too far in the past where I had at least a race a month and training for those races dominated my weekends and thoughts. Those races have taken a backseat to family and time at home. So, when I do pick one, I pick carefully and try and choose based on schedule, location from home and "why" the race even exists.

Enter the inaugural Buzzard Day 50K Trail Run, held about 45min from my home in Medina County within the Cleveland MetroParks, namely the Hinckley Reservation. I first heard about it near the end of 2012 and after hearing more details about it at January's Run for Regis 50K, I registered just after finishing that race. It's led by multiple seasoned ultra marathoners and local "legends." For them, this area is their weekly training ground. For me, I'd never ever been to these trails and honestly, I'm glad I never saw it until yesterday. Talking after the race, it actually took five years for them to obtain the permit for the event. Lots of relationship building with the park officials but eventually, the race became a reality and all of the finishers are better because of it.

The Buzzard 50K/25K is the epitome of what is good and pure within the local trail running community.

Why is that? Well, it's more than just running and burning tens of thousands of calories. It's about community and taking the proceeds from race entries and giving back to the local community. It's about supporting the sponsors who gave of themselves to make the race happen. It's not about lining the wallets of the race directors. Absolutely top notch race organization and a genuine care about each and every runner was evident from months of pre-race communication and through even today. It just "feels good" to participate in a race like this. It's so much more than just another finish line (but that doesn't hurt either!).

Race morning, it was 19F and arriving at the start, I was already exchanging hugs with some great friends who I've made over the past 7 or so years since becoming a trail runner. After signing in and picking up my race packet (of which I was thrilled to get yet another Brooks tech tee that is so bright I'll be seen from outer space!), I headed back out to my heated seat in my car to relax prior to the start. The sun was pushing up from the horizon through the bare trees in front of me and temps were forecast to rise quickly into the mid-30s. I sent off a few final texts to my bride and shut down the phone and headed to the pre-race chat.
Packet Pickup inside the cabin and location of post-race "dinner"
(Photo courtesy of Dr. George T.)
Just a few minutes past 8am, we started the 31.2 mile journey to an old school verbal countdown of "5..4..3..2..1...GO!" You know it's old school when you start that way. No bull horn, no podium, just a stop watch and a "GO!"
Moments before the start (Photo courtesy of Dr. George T.)
The Buzzard Day 50K consists of 4 loops (2 for the 25K runners). Each loop is 7.85 miles around and doesn't overlap itself one single step. It is not a technical course, by any means. But, it is beautiful in many ways and quite varied. On that first lap, a lot of ice still remained on the course and the early miles were littered with frozen horse hoof prints so it was important to watch each foot plant to prevent a twisted ankle. Lots and lots of conversation throughout that first loop with friends who I hadn't seen in quite a while. Always great to catch up. Much of the course lined the lake and was wide enough to run side by side with another runner. No tight single track to speak of. 3.7 miles into the 7.85 mile loop, the first aid station was set up in a pavilion. The regular ultra-goodies were present and accounted for...Hammer's heed, salty snacks and much to my happiness, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Oh yes, I sure did have one! That and my new favorite ultra food...Pringles. Love love love Pringles during a race. Of course, I topped off my bottle with Heed, but I never skip Pringles. Salty yumminess. After that aid station, the course is distinctly marked with a steep uphill before entering The Ledges. Named the same as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park's "Ledges," it's very different but equally beautiful in its own right. Since I didn't carry a camera or phone, I don't have photos to share. You'll just have to go out yourself!  After climbing up and through the Ledges (no running through here), a little more uphill followed before getting back into the woods. Also throughout the loop is scattered bits and pieces of the "Emerald Necklace." This is the paved all-purpose trail and sorta forms a "necklace" around the city of Cleveland and is marked by green hash marks down the middle of it. We'd basically jump on and off of the pavement and onto the trail. Around the 5+ mile mark into the loop, we hopped off of the trail and onto a country road. Normally, I wouldn't be happy with stretch of road during a trail ultra but this was totally different. For one, we were immediately greeted with a panoramic view of the valley so beautiful I questioned still being in Ohio! I never see views like that! This road section was also all downhill and curvy. Right away, we passed by an old farmhouse with an old green metal roof. Beside it was a small vineyard with wine-producing equipment staged out back, ready for Spring to arrive. Not too far past that I saw my first buzzards of the day. There was a carcass of probably a deer in the field off to my left and 3 buzzards were feasting a few flying above. Wow...the wingspan of those birds are amazing! HUGE! I don't recall ever seeing a buzzard before on a run and the race immediately had its name validated! After getting through this section, more trail waited and the one main, unavoidable water crossing. Only one way through and that was under water...and less than a mile from the loop finishing, too. Getting back to the start/finish at 7.85 miles, I was happy with my pace and did that loop in about 1hr, 10min. I refueled (including Pringles) and hit the trail again.

As the day progressed and temperature rose, the trail softened, mud appeared and ice went away where the sun could reach. The views just kept amazing me over the lake and through the barren trees where the sun blazed through. My 2nd lap was only 1min slower than the first and the 3rd loop was my slowest of the day. That was miles 15-ish to 23-ish. I definitely took more walking breaks during that loop and lost some time...probably a solid 15min. After finishing my 3rd loop with only 1 to go, my calculations told me that a sub-6hr finish was certainly within reach. Leaving home that morning, I told my wife I'd probably finished between 2pm and 3pm (6 to 7hr finish) so finishing under 6 sounded awesome to me. I only needed to maintain the pace I had going. Well, during the final loop I came alive again and ran harder and challenged the hills with a renewed vigor. My overall finishing time would've been probably 5min faster or more had I not slowed to a walk to talk to people but honestly, WHO CARES?! I enjoyed the conversation and the last one was with a man hiking on the trail by himself. It was just after that last water crossing. He had once weighed 320 pounds and was probably in his late 50s. He now weighs 250 pounds and is looking for another 20 pounds to shed. Taller than me (I'm 6'2"), is a big guy but he's out there...doing it...walking through freezing water and into a shoe-sucking mud pit, he's doing it. After talking and walking briskly for about 5min, I told him I've got to get moving and finish this thing...plus, I saw a runner up ahead and definitely had it in me to track her down but that conversation made me lose sight of her. Still though, no big deal! It turns out I knew that runner and today's her birthday so I'm very happy that I didn't chase her down...plus, it was her best-ever 50K finish as she totally destroyed her personal record.

In the end, I crossed the line in 5hrs, 52min, 44sec...good enough for 26th out of 48 50K finishers. Later as I compared past times of other 50Ks, that was still my fastest 50K since April 2009. VERY HAPPY with that! Here's me at the finish and thanks again to Dr. George T for capturing the photo:
20th ultra-marathon finish: 5hrs, 52min, 44sec
Post-race, the cabin was buzzing. A local craft-brewery (Lagerheads) from Medina was sampling for free, massages were being given and "dinner" was being served...spaghetti and meatballs. Oh yea...Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on the picnic tables. More and more conversations with fellow runners and the organizers of the race followed but eventually, it was time to get on home and the enjoy the rest of the day. Physically, I felt great. Tired, but great. No blisters, no chafing anywhere (thank goodness) and I certainly had more miles in me. I was very happy and thankful for the run. I have to publicly thank Shannon, Roy, and Hugh for a phenomenal job. There is not one shred of a complaint I could possibly muster up. Your race was perfect in every way. From the non-running things like what the race supports to the course marking to the logistics perfectly executed to the post-race. Everything was spot on. You should all be very happy. You can count me in for future installments of this race, no doubt. THANK YOU! Thank you also to the countless volunteers. Without them, it simply couldn't happen, especially out at the remote aid station..freezing in the shade. Thank you all so much!

Run Happy, friends.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Nice race report, Nick. Good job.