Saturday, July 13, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Buckeye Trail 50K

August 2008, mile 55 of the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. I twisted my ankle around Mile 35 and by mile 55, I couldn't even walk up or down without excruciating pain. I decided to drop...or DNF (Did Not Finish). I called my wife who was at the aid station at mile 56 to drive up the road and pick me up. When she stopped, I sat down in the front passenger seat and in the back were my daughters. The youngest, 5 at the time, said one thing and to this day, I will never forget it:

"Daddy, did you quit?"

We'll get back to that later. Today was a big race for me. 6 years ago, this race was ultra #1 in my life. Today, a finish would mean ultra #23 but even cooler was finish #50 in races of a marathon or longer. That list is on the lower right of my blog and it goes from the standard 26.2 mile race to 100 miles. Well, I got my finish but it wasn't pretty. Here's how it all went down.

I did well this week in preps to run today. I have been averaging just shy of a gallon of water daily for the past week, I rested a LOT (only 2 run days since Sunday), and I've been trying to run more in the hot, humid afternoon sun to better get ready for the heat/humidity that the BT50K always seems to deliver. Heat/humidity is my chief weakness. Always has been and seemingly, it always will be. Rising on time this morning, I had my traditional espresso and peanut butter and jelly and everything felt good. Hydrated, rested...bring it! The forecast was for sunny skies and temps in the low to mid 80s. "That could be an issue," I thought. 7am arrived and we took off from the Oak Grove picnic area in the Brecksville Reservation....not too far south of Cleveland. The BT50K follows the Buckeye Trail (which travels the entire state of Ohio) from Oak Grove all the way into Summit County near the town of Peninsula. At the Pine Lane trailhead, we turn around and head on back. It's a great race to see people because no matter what, you'll see everyone because you return via the same route you ran to Pine Lane on. If you're feeling strong, you can also identify fellow runners to hunt down after you make the turn.

The early miles were going well. We received 16 days straight of rain in the area so the word on the street was to be ready for shoe sucking mud. The word was correct...LOTS of mud. At first, I was running with running-legend, Ron Ross. Ron is a fellow veteran and VERY accomplished ultra-runner. I'm not even sure if HE knows how many 100-mile finishes he has. Anyway, I have a bad habit of going out too fast and then Ron always passes me later. Happens 100% of the time. Today, I thought I'd hang with Ron and be his shadow but soon I realized that Ron wasn't just going on a jog...he was cruising and cruising beyond my comfort zone. I fell back about 5 miles in and just set in to my own rhythm. I still felt great and had no issues but the mud...which really is no issue for me. I just consider it a free mud bath exfoliation! Reaching the first aid station at mile 7, I grabbed a bite and was quickly gone. Unfortunately, I didn't check my bottle of electrolyte before I left. The volunteer only filled it 3/4 of the way....maybe only 2/3, actually. I know I need a full bottle for each leg. The miles ticked away but before mile TEN, I was already dwindling. Approaching Mile 13 and the Boston Store aid station, we climbed the "Piano Keys"...named as such due to there being 88 steps like keys on a piano. I moved slow...really slow. Once I got to the top, I broke into a light run but my heart was pounding out of my chest and pulse was screaming. Mind you...I'm not even a half marathon in to this race.

It was nice to see familiar faces yet again when arriving at the Boston Store aid station. "Great job, Nick!" "Hi, Nick!" Shouts coming from multiple directions....I loved seeing them...many whom I had not seen in quite some time. I refueled and headed on out. Due to the heavy rains and wear-n-tear on a bridge ahead, the course was changed this year at this point. Instead of heading into the woods uphill, we continued on a gravel path which technically became the Valley Bridle Trail. A short time later, we turned left and went UP, UP, UP a monster gravel hill along the Ohio Turnpike/Interstate 80. No way was I running that beast and it was also in the full sun. No doubt, we'd hit the 80F mark. We then rejoined the original course and through the infamous, root pine trees.

All throughout this section en route to the turnaround, the thoughts of quitting were surfacing. I remember saying aloud: "This is not fun. I am not running happy!" Those who know me know that I say "Run Happy" all the time, especially since that's Brooks Running's slogan and I'm sponsored by them. In my head, I figured that if I'm going to be miserable, why be out here? Taking an inventory of myself, I acknowledged that I'm not injured, I don't have any blisters, I haven't twisted an ankle, blah blah blah. I'm simply spent...and WAY too early. One short month ago, I ran 40 miles on a tough course in the West Virginia mountains and NEVER did I feel this crappy. The thing is this...I'm no quitter. That's when I thought of my beautiful little 5 year old five years ago. "Daddy, did you quit?" I broke down at that instant. In my opinion, stopping because you are injured is not "quitting"...quitting is well....quitting. Giving up...without a very valid reason or being unwilling to do the work to get the job done. My head is swirling with examples from work to marriage. It's true. So this memory of her question propelled me forward...perhaps not running strong or smiling too incredibly much, but there was no way I was going home and telling my girls "I quit." No.

Arriving at the turn-around, a good runner friend Carole was captaining the aid station and provided the smile and encouragement I needed...and a full bottle of Heed and I was off. That was mile 16. For the next 15.2 miles, I did whatever it took. Sure, I walked. I ran when I could. I still could not slow my heart rate down. For the big climbs, I had to stop halfway up just to slow it down. My hairs were standing on end (signaling dehydration) and my sweat-rate wasn't too profuse anymore since I was getting very dehydrated. The heart rate goes hand in hand with hydration. As less water is in me, the heart beats faster to cool off the body. Unfortunately, it's not too efficient. Sweating less sweat, less cooling and the heart tries to step in. I knew that but was still angry. I had prepared well for today. I was drinking plenty on the course and taking Hammer's Endurolyte salt tabs...two at every aid station. Still, I couldn't keep up. Like I said, this heat thing is my weakness. By the way, this has happened before at the BT50K. Tell me why I don't remember this?!?!

I was passed time and time again. I felt like the whole field of runners passed me by. I still kept my "Hi! Good job! Keep it up!" going and didn't turn into a trail snob. I was trying to at least pretend "Run Happy" to others and encourage them. Returning back to the Boston Store Aid Station just shy of 20 miles, I asked another friend there to text my wife so she wouldn't worry about me. I gave her a range of time I thought I'd finish and there was no way I'd make it. "Thanks, Susan, for doing that! You certainly put her mind at ease." Leaving Boston and crossing the bridge over the mighty Cuyahoga (which was raging), I so badly wanted to jump the bridge and be swept away. Deciding not to jump, I continued on up the Rollercoaster Hill and off I went.

After the finish
More of the same continued for many miles. More friends passed, light conversation for a few, and alone again. With 6 miles to go, I arrived at the last aid station. Quick refuel and I was off. This next stretch has a little bit of everything to include some monster climbs, the worst mud of the day (again) and a bench. Yes, a bench. There is this bench about 2 to 2 1/2 miles from the finish that is a landmark for me. I know I'm close when I get there. In years past, I always stop just for a moment and sit on it. It's a wooden memorial honor of a family. So this year when I saw it, I sat down...of course! There was no one around so I said a few prayers out loud...basically throwing up some thanks for the strength to keep going and for the protection shown over my family. I got going and a few miles later, the finish came into sight and it was over. 7hrs, 51min, 37sec. By comparison, it's my 2nd slowest ever. The slowest was three years ago at the same race. I finished in 7:57. Last year, I ran it in 6:27. Who knows where I rank...and honestly, who cares. All that matters is that I finished but I'm sure I was near the very back of the pack.

Since the race finish, I've been getting charlie horses in my calves....hurts SO bad! I'm also a bit hoarse. Go figure. No yelling but running a race takes my voice away. Throbbing headache, sweating off and on as I type this report...lovely, eh?! My body is NOT happy with me! The temperature ended up at 85 today with humidity around 60%. I am going to run in the morning, though...gotta work out the lactic acid and keep moving.

I'd like to thank Vince, owner of Vertical Runner in Hudson, Brecksville, Wooster and now in Breckenridge, Colorado. He is the BT50K Race Director and a friend. It was another well-executed race and good swag. The shirt isn't the typical tech-tee...we all have countless ones of those. It's a super soft shirt to just wear around. The back looks like a baseball jersey with a big "13" back there...for 2013. Very nice. Of course, the coveted BT50K oval sticker and the heavy metal Buckeye Trail Blue Blaze finishers medal. Also BIG thanks to the many, many volunteers. Those aid stations were spot on today. The Heed was mixed well and the assistance when approaching was always there. Thanks so much!

If you've read my race reports in the past, you also know what else to expect here: FEET!!! Oh yes, with 31.2 miles of mud, the feet are certainly a sight to behold. You're welcome. :-)

Congratulations to all finishers of this year's Buckeye Trail 50K...regardless of your time. Kate, a runner friend of mine tonight summed it up quite nicely: "Every finish is a victory - especially the tough ones." Thanks, Kate.

Run Happy, friends! :-)

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