Sunday, March 16, 2014

Race Report: Buzzard Day 100K Trail Race

The last time I ventured past 40 miles goes back to October 2009 at my last 100 mile race. I have attempted one 50-miler since (WV Trilogy last October) but haven't finished a race over 40. Enter the Buzzard Day 100K Trail Race. In the world of ultra running, there aren't many 100K (62.4 miles) races out there. Tons of 50Ks, 50 milers, and 100 milers but the 100K remains in short supply. Since I ran the inaugural Buzzard Day 50K last year when only one distance was offered, I felt nudged this year to step it up when the 100K was announced as a new option and the course was being re-designed to provide longer 15.6 miles vs. 7.85 miles. Runners tend to get the hamster-on-a-wheel syndrome when running such short loops on such a long event. To prepare for this race, I didn't do much more than averaging my typical 40-60 mile weeks and my 50K race in WV back in early January. The only true prep was while I was on a Navy base in southwest Tennessee a few weeks ago. I ran a ladder workout to prepare better to run on tired legs. On day 1, I ran 11.2 miles, day 2 landed me 24 and day 3 I logged 32 miles...all on a 6 mile loop on asphalt. Given my Navy obligations, it was the only time I could really squeeze in any training runs specifically geared for the Buzzard. Since then, I've laid low and haven't run a whole lot...partially because I've just been fed up with the constant bitter cold in NE Ohio and I've felt a little "something" on my inner knee, right leg. So race day arrived...and I had no idea what the day would hold.

Roy giving pre-race instructions in the cabin
The Buzzard Day 100K was held within Hinckley Reservation, a part of the Cleveland MetroParks in Medina County, west of Akron and south of Cleveland. The race was set to begin in the dark at 6am, under a full moon and had a 17 hour time limit (11pm). I got there in plenty of time to claim a great parking spot that would also serve as my aid station as I completed all 4 loops. However, as soon as I parked and placed my foot outside the car, I realized the travel distance was a tad bit less than normal. I took a peek and my front tires were lowered in what could've been easily mistaken for quicksand...or early Spring thaw on super soft ground! Luckily, one of the race directors promised to get some muscle to help and get it unstuck after we got running at 6am...and they did! MUCH thanks! After a pre-race briefing in typical Roy Heger style, we were off and running...or sliding. Ice, ice, ice...it was everywhere and thanks to the sunshine and high winds the day before, it was a super slick, thick, slab of ice up, down and across the trail. Mostly, I tried to run alongside the trail in the deep snow where traction still existed. Starting out the day like this was a bit debilitating but I simply focused on very deliberate steps and doing my best not to fall.

"Hello, ice."
Marking the bib..and sporting a temp Hammer tattoo! :)
Aid stations were twofold out on the course. Around Mile 5.5, we arrived at the first one after a 1.5 mile climb and the 2nd was after climbing, sometimes hand over hand, through the beautiful Whipps Ledges at mile 11. Aid station workers had quite a day out there. For a race with a 17 hour limit, temperatures in the 30s while standing around can be a real bear. I can't give enough kudos to those volunteers who were always positive, encouraging and kept the stations well stocked. Even better were the hot grilled cheese sandwiches later in the day and hot soup. Luckily, they had fires going that really helped as the day got old and temperatures headed down. To ensure each runner visited every aid station, they employed a marking system on the bib. By the end of race, I would get 4 blue marks, 4 green marks, and 3 purple marks (start/finish aid station). This was a great, easy system.

Each loop was 25K or 15.6 miles. Loop one got better once the sun came up but the ice just beat me up. It's so different from road running because your legs continuously go/slide in every direction that over time, really wears you down and honestly, makes you pretty prone to injury if not careful. The 2nd half of the loop had much less snow on it as it eventually took us through the Ledges that had no snow at all. Beautiful, majestic, and not much opportunity to actually run. No doubt...on the to-do list for this summer is a trip back to this area with my wife and girls. It's really amazing and these photos do not do it justice. In a word: mighty. If you're local, look up Whipps Ledges within Hinckley Reservation and go. I also got the pleasure to run a lot with local ultra running legend, Ron Ross during that first loop. It was great to catch up with Ron and hear about everything going on in his life.

Yea..not a whole of running through here. The pink ribbon is the course marking...something to stay locked in on throughout the race.
Loop 2: This was, for the most part, an uneventful loop. It was great to see the first half of the loop in daylight. It was like running a whole new course again. The ice was still slick but being able to see it certainly helped! The only potentially race-ending snafu happened about mid-way. I arrived at the boat house on Hinckley Lake and realized that I shouldn't be there yet. I recalled from the first loop that I had been through a water crossing and hit aid station 1 by now...neither had happened. So, I called in a lifeline to co-race director Shannon who advised me I was only about 1/4 mile past the turn so I turned around and headed back. Thank goodness. Had it been far, that would've probably ended my day. Pictured right are the trail markings for the turn I missed. Ironically, it has double the amount of markings for any turn all day...a whoppin' 4 pie plates and a pink streamer wrapped around the tree. I must have really been "in the zone."

The rest of the loop went really well. The 50K'ers were now on the course as well as the 25K'ers. They started at 8am and 10am, respectively. The trail was very much alive and it was great to see so many trail running friends I hadn't seen in quite awhile. Talked with some and for others, just a friendly wave and hello as we passed each other. Finishing the 2nd loop and 50K, I was 5-10min shy of 7 hours...a humble, decent time for a 50K in its own right, especially given the conditions. I still felt pretty good and I gave no consideration to ending the day at that point. I found out later than many of 25 who started the 100K at 6am took this option...more carnage from the trail. Pictured here is a photo coming into the aid station, courtesy of John J McCarroll.

Sharing the trails!
Loop 3: By this point, temperatures in the upper 30s and sunshine started making mush out of the ice top layer, providing some much-needed traction to run right over the ice. In other areas where only a thin layer of ice existed, the shoe-sucking mud began to show its ugly head. I was plugging along well but eventually I found the bottom, from a mental perspective. I'm guesstimating I hit the bottom somewhere around mile 37. I was not happy and unlike my 100-milers and many other ultras, my feet hurt. A growing ache had begun that would grow for the rest of race beneath my arches...like a ball was there applying pressure. I took both shoes off but found nothing. About mid-way through my funk, I put in a lifeline call to my wife. I needed some pick-me-up and she provided just that. She refused to give in to my funk and insisted to charge on...to deliver back the advice I've given her countless times...stay with it and it will pass...you'll rise out of it. What sorta sealed the deal was her telling me she made my favorite pudding dessert to celebrate my coming finish.  A bottom layer of walnuts, a cream cheese/Cool Whip layer, chocolate pudding, vanilla pudding, Cool Whip and topped with sprinkled walnuts. Oh.my.word...amazing! (I should know...it was the first thing I ate when I woke up this morning!) After hanging up, I plugged along and somewhere around mile 43, I emerged from the grip of the funk and was running with force again. I tell ya...when you're in the funk, it's so easy to believe the lie that you'll never arise out of it. I finished the 3rd loop without any hesitation on heading back out on the course, but this time grabbing my headlamp from the morning because nightfall would catch me prior to getting to the finish.

Nutrition: Besides grazing on some grilled cheese, sipping soup broth (the bomb on a day like this...hot, salty, yum!), popping salt tabs, and the occasional M&M at the aid stations, I stuck pretty religiously to keeping Hammer's Heed intake steady along with Hammer Gels. Many know the mantra in ultra running: "Eat eat eat, drink drink drink, pee pee pee." It's easy to forget to do the former that makes the latter kinda difficult. I was doing all of that and also introduced a new Hammer product into my regimen...Hammer's Perpetuem tabs. Perpetuem interrupts the cannibalizing of your muscle tissue during a race and provides the needed protein combination. It's also served in powder form but it a real pain to manage, mix up, and it's like paste. This tablet was dry, the Caffe Latte flavor, and once I began chewing, became easy to swallow. Chasing it with some Heed sealed the deal...I love it! I was skeptical but glad I tried them. That completes my nutrition strategy and looking back, I wouldn't change a thing. (reminder: you can click on my Hammer link at right to save 15% off your first order)

Unfortunately, this photo doesn't show the depth
perception I hoped it would. My wife is not a fan
of heights and this was a far drop we had to run over.
Loop 4: Every step on this loop was encouraging because I knew I wouldn't see it again. Relentless forward motion and a new energy described this loop for me. The pain grew in my feet so I simply sought after the softest sections of trail. More swampy conditions than the prior 3 loops now due to so much melt during the day and the heavy foot traffic. Speaking of traffic, there wasn't much. The 50K and 25K'ers were done and headed home. I also found out that out of the 25 100K starters, there were only 11 of us left. The rest dropped or decided to call it a day at a lesser distance. Very quiet on that last loop. I was in a race against daylight and kept the goal of getting to Whipps Ledges before having to turn on my headlamp. I was about halfway through the Ledges when I had no choice to turn it on. The low light and coming super steep drop-off was not the recipe for safety so on it went. Unfortunately, though, the reflective stickers weren't on the streamers in this section so the trail markings essentially disappeared. I got to one point where I lost my way and had to fire up the overhead Google Maps landscape view on my iPhone to find the shelter where the aid station was. I knew I was very close. That worked and I headed on in to find the one volunteer who had been there from the beginning. He had a robust fire burning and was gracious like every time before. "Thanks, Michael!!" I headed back out and dangit, my feet hurt. I tried to run on the outsides of my feet the best I could to curtail the pain which barely helped. Eventually, I arrived on a long stretch of road where I could relax a bit and not focus on the trail with a headlamp and instead, turned it off and ran peacefully under the light of a full moon, sans cars or any vehicular traffic. After the road section, I turned into the final stretch of trail which would lead in about 3 miles to the FINISH.

I charged like crazy during this last section. I was ignoring my feet the best I could and when I had flat or a down hill, I moved as fast as my legs would carry me. My headlamp was doing good work but the spotlight in the sky illuminated the woods in an awesome way. Before I knew it, I arrived at the last deep water crossing, faster than I expected. I was really looking forward to this because it marked "1 mile to go." Passing through,  I kept charging and about 50 yards before the finish, I called my wife and girls on speakerphone and finished "with them." Nothing like hearing them cheering for me after 62.4 miles and a roller coaster mental journey. 15hrs, 35min, and 9th of 25 starters, and my 27th ultra marathon finish. Inside the cabin were Roy and Shannon trying to stay awake. Everyone was gone but them, me, and the two runners behind me. Hugs, handshakes...and this, a shiny new 100K belt buckle...the prize for the finish and hard-earned! I enjoyed some fantastic spaghetti and meatballs by the fire before jumping in the car and heading home. Such a great experience and one I'm glad I signed up for. It literally took me weeks and weeks to sign up for the 100K.

Many thanks to everyone who had a part in this race. Roy, Shannon, Hugh, Patrick, Michael and the many other volunteers I met out there. Thank you! Thank you, too, to my wingman...my wife...who was there for me when I needed her most, delivering the very medicine I serve to her when she gets in her funks mid-race. I'm a lucky guy!

Keep charging, friends, and Happy Trails!

1 comment:

Kim said...

Nice race report. I can't say I am unhappy that I missed the race with the trail conditions.
Definitely revisit Whipps Ledges in the summer. I grew up in the area and always loved scrambing around on the rocks.