Saturday July 27th, 2019
This recap for the 2019 Burning River 100 is going to be different from my previous race reviews; a different course, a different year, and a different focus. Looking back I couldn’t piece together the details in depth as I normally do. This time around different things stand out in my head and it wasn’t as much to do with section by section mile by mile specifics as much as the general feel of things and, most importantly, the people that made this finish possible. That being said down the rabbit hole we go….
At the start I saw Kim and Tom first. Once again Tom would be running, and finishing the race. Just a hair over a month out from completing the iconic Western States Endurance Run he was lining up at Burning River again.
Thanks to Max, a person who became a good friend very quickly, I would be staying a 5 minute drive from HiHo Brewery, the start/finish line of the 2019 Burning River 100 mile Endurance Run. I met Max in California at Born to Run in 2018 because of Burning River. I had a BR hoody on and he was preparing to run his first 100 miler there that year. Spoiler: He buckled!
Without the normal hullabaloo of waking up around 1:30 AM to catch a shuttle to the start I enjoyed a full 5 1/2 hours of sleep waking a little before 3:00 AM. I was calm and slept well.
Kim has been crewing Tom and a number of Pittsburgh runners, including me, in the race here for the last few years. Her skill with both the course and us lot of finicky, sometimes indecisive, ultrarunners has been instrumental in improved times for me and completions. I can honestly say without the help of Kim, friends on and off the course, pacers, and the incredible volunteers I wouldn’t have finished this one. I was strongly considering dropping at 50. More on that later though.
I handed off a small cooler bag to Kim along with a backpack with essentials; Hammer nutrition fuels and electrolytes, socks, shoes, Squirrel’s Nut Butter, etc. The cooler had all the makings for bean and rice soft tacos, pouches of Oh Snap! pickles, and two bottles of chia fresca, a drink described in the book Born to Run consisting of water, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and loads of chai seeds. This stuff would get me to mile 50, the point where more savory food options would start becoming available on the course.
There was an announcement. One of the runners here this year was on a quest to run over 40 hundred milers this year in support of our military. Burning River would be his 21st. I would see him off and on throughout the race and he would go on to another finish.
The Front 50
The National Anthem was sung, countdown issued, and we were off. With around a mile of road to spread out I fell into an easy pace and chatted with Tom as we passed the first few miles away. Coming in to Memorial Parkway AS I caught up with Lori for a few. The next stretch of miles leading to North Hawkins and onward would have some new-to-the-course trails and I enjoyed them thoroughly. Rollercoaster-like descents on freshly groomed trails, a beautiful streamside stretch complete with a well-positioned permanent outhouse, and the cool air of morning made for an enjoyable time.
It was getting hotter and as I came in to Pine Hollow at mile 34 and I was happy to see Kim had found a shady spot to set up at. I was even happier still when she produced an orange sherbert pop from an insulated cannister. I may have told her I loved her. I may have just thought it, but that was the BEST thing I ate during the entire race.
The early miles went by fast. My pace was strong and I didn’t feel very taxed. By mile 40 I was holding an average pace of around 12:30, but it doesn’t take long to lose large blocks of time when things go wrong.
Things went wrong from miles 40-50. Kim had repeatedly noted I was running too fast, and that all of us Pittsburgh 100 milers were running too fast. It was sustainable until it wasn’t. The climbing heat of day then coupled with conditions on the Hike and Bike trail. While the H&B trail was easy terrain, around 7 miles of gently ascending groomed asphalt path, it lacked in any substantial cover from the sun. I was cooking in the sun and walking much of this path. The easy terrain should provided comfortable 10-11 minute miles. Instead I was struggling to hold 14s.
Max flew by me in second place of the 50 miler! Despite racing hard he stopped to see how I was doing and later would confess that I looked horrible and he had some doubts about the outcome of the race for me. Friends at Mile 50 would have the same thoughts. I was in a rough place. Top of the world to the bottom of the pit…though there would be worse miles ahead…much worse. Max went on to hold his second place position and finish with an impressive 8:21:48 time for the 51.2 mile course!
I sat in the shade at the 303 AS trying to cool down and get some physical and mental relief before the next 6.5 miles in to Silver Springs. A couple of cyclists stopped by to chat and I was glad for the excuse to sit in the shade a few minutes longer. Long, slow, hot miles…the theme for the next 2 hours. When I finally saw Silver Springs and felt a surge of relief the reality of the situation quickly settled. There was still about a mile or so to circle around. I walked it in and mustered a little jog across the timing mat. Arriving a few minutes under 12 hours I would spend a full 45 minutes here recovering. Food, cold drinks, and some time with a lot of awesome people can turn around a tough time.
Sarah and Kristen were waiting on the start for their first 50 mile race and were wonderfully supportive offering a hand. Kim, Sanchez, Jaye, Mary, and the rest of the gang all helped in some way to get me back on track whether that meant providing physical support like food or mental and emotional support. I didn’t know exactly what I needed, but assumed more fluids and food would help. It did.
The Back 50
I left Silver Springs much better off than when I came in. Those 14 minute miles outbound were now 10-11 minute miles inbound. Stopping at the 303 AS again I saw they had pizza! After applying some petroleum jelly to a few chafe-prone spots I dug in to some pizza and coke. Dusty rolled in on his final miles of the 50 mile race. Both of us had on our Luna Leadvilles. We had known each other for a few years on the internet, but finally had the opportunity to meet. I left the AS feeling revived in spirit and body.
The next stop was Kendall Lake at mile 62. The AS had good energy, but was running low on some critical supplies like water and the volunteers were hustling to make sure everyone had what they needed. The volunteers worked frantically filling water coolers from melted ice and one 16 ounce bottle at a time from the bathroom sink until more supplies could be delivered. It wouldn’t be too much longer before the back 50 mile runners would be coming through here. I washed my face in the bathroom and grabbed a quesadilla, a soda, and a seat on a picnic bench.
Looking to my right a girl was standing talking with some friends. Her last name was on the bottom of her shirt. No kidding! What luck. “Courtney!” I yelled. Courtney was running the relay and a few of her teammates were there. I let them come over to my picnic table. Sitting was so nice. After catching up it was time to forge on. I had been spending a lot of time in aid stations. I think it is fair to assume I spent 2-3 hours over the course of the race at the AS. This is something I need to improve upon in the future.
It was a slow 6 miles to Pine Hollow the trail crew again. Darkness had descended and again I sat for a bit. Sarah and Kristen came through looking fresh as daisies and I regretted spending so much time in the AS. I had really hoped to see them on the course and get to run with them for a bit. It all worked out though. Even though it was hard to leave the mile 68 oasis the struggle ahead required constant forward progress.
It wasn’t too long after hitting the trail that Margaret caught up to me. She was running her first 50 miler and had paced me the last 10 miles to a Burning River finish in 2018. As temperatures cooled off with nightfall I had some speed left in my legs and heart. I feel like we entirely rocked that section and we would run together for the next 15 miles or so. It was sufficient time to catch up on each other’s lives and then some.
We came in to mile 80, Oakhill, the Blues Brothers AS. At mile 22 this AS was just a small stop with some basic items. 58 miles later it was an oasis of fun and food. A projector was setup with…yes the Blues Brothers movie playing. Mary joked with me that I should be dancing. I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to boost my own morale and shaked out a little silly dance, surprising myself how well my legs were still working. As if one of my favorite movies was not enough, there were pierogies! Margaret and I happily chomped on these little Polish potatoey pockets of delight and eventually hit the trail again.
Aside from gratitude for running with my sister from another mister, I was awed and proud of what a strong trail runner Margaret had become. I’m sure she could’ve taken off and finished faster, but she graced me with her company until my pacer, friend, and fellow Dirtbag Runner Cory joined on at Botzum at mile 87 before quickly becoming a headlamp speck in the distance.
The suffer began hard after leaving Botzum. I was practically falling asleep on my feet. These last 15 miles would get ugly and Cory would get to see the worst of it over a pitifully slow hike complete with multiple poop breaks, dry heaving, and lack of any verbal communication.
Cory, I can’t thank you enough for deciding to do the entire last 15 with me considering just how awful it must have been for you! And thank you for the arcane knowledge of the secret bathrooms of Summit Metroparks.
Other than wishing for coffee at N. Hawkins I can’t say much else about those last miles aside from they were grueling and I easily lost 3 hours or more over the final half marathon. Was it accumulated heat fatigue? I suspect that was part of it, but I am unsure if anything else was at play. Despite the challenges and huge time loss I came in to HiHo Brewery, the finish line, with almost an hour to spare with an official time of 29:06:31.
As I made my way on the final mile I relegated myself to simply walk it in. All those wonderful memes from ultrarunningmemes IG account came to mind. Walking my trashed carcass in to the finish. Yeah, I felt the truth there. That is until I saw everyone. Mark came up to chat and soon I was surrounded by friends new and old. I couldn’t walk it in. Even though it was less than 100 yards I got my legs moving again and joked about walking the last 10 miles to save energy to run the last 100 feet in.
Thanks to so many people for helping me get across that finish line. I learned a lot through this experience to take forward into the next 100 miler, the Hallucination 100, which is fast approaching. A huge thank you to Kim, Cory, Margaret, Max, and the Pittsburgh crew and to my sponsor Hammer Nutrition!
Hammer Endurolytes Extreme Powder, Heed, Fizz, and Anti-Fatigue caps