My eyes open and I lift my arm triggering the fitbit on my wrist to light up the numbers 12:20.

Of course! Always within an hour of when I plan to get up I need a bathroom! So be it.

I make my way down the hall of an unfamiliar house and do what must be done.  Laying back down I notice I still feel oddly calm. This was how it was all week. Some excitement, but mostly a calm knowing. I knew I would finish this one.  There is little rational explanation I can give. I only felt like I knew the outcome, but would learn the details of how I would get there as the weekend progressed.

Since my DNF at Laurel Highlands this year (2018), a race to which I have written no recap, I had focused on what I needed to change my outcomes.  No more complaining about the heat taking me down or electrolyte imbalance. No more guessing in the dark about what was going wrong in these races.  Instead, I would continue to crosstrain and run. I would heat train using workouts coupled with post-workout time in a sauna. In the month before the race I would structure speedwork into my weeks to improve my running efficiency. These were the only things I had time to do so close to race day.  Essentially the training should have been over, but instead it was changing focus during the taper period.

I had been meditating daily, usually more than once a day. I focused many of these meditations at maintaining calm and listening to my bodies cues. Listening to figure out what it was telling me. What did I need at that moment to keep moving forward as efficiently as possible. The body is intelligent and simple things such as food urges can scream out to you what it is you are deficient in. I was ready to trust myself in the face of unknowns.

While I had no guarantees I felt more ready than I had ever been and looked forward to the journey ahead. So did it work out? Did I know what to do when things went bad out there?  Sometimes I did. Sometimes a friend watching out is what I needed and I had many watching out.

Saturday July 28      12:50 AM

No point in trying to fall back asleep now so I get up and grab all my things in the dark and head downstairs. I was staying at a friend’s house. I slathered Squirrel Nut Butter in any chafe-prone zones and dressed. I took my morning medicine for seizures and then supplements; Hammer Essential Magnesium, a Mito Cap, and Race Day Boost. I loaded some Fully Charged in a bottle for the shuttle ride and headed off to Cuyahoga Falls.  Parking as close to the finish line as I could in an approved parking area I double and then triple-checked I had everything needed.

The shuttle pickup was sometime after 2:15 AM.  By 3:30 we had arrived at Squire’s Castle. I met with Tom and Kim as they arrived.  I asked Kim to hold a bag of essential emergency might-need items for me, which she did. What I hadn’t fully expected was she would crew me for almost the entire race along with taking care of her husband Tom and a number of other Pittsburgh runners here running 50 or 100 miles.

There is a reason she is known as the Crew Queen. Kim is incredibly well-organized and has taken crewing the Burning River course and made it an art of fine orchestration between meeting various runners in different places throughout the day and night and taking care of their immediate needs along with getting pacers to their locations (and back for showers after their shift).  It really is damn impressive. I joked with her that I didn’t envy her position as I have the easier job. All I need to do is run…and keep running.

Tom is a seasoned ultrarunner with more races under his belt each year than I likely will run in 10 years. He knows how to get the job done and is a hell of a nice guy too. Tom would earn another buckle and another entry for the Western States lottery this year.

Saturday July 28      4:00 AM

Squires Castle Burning River 100 Ultramarathon

Have fun stormin’ the castle!

I sent Kelly a text.  “Where are you?”

Reply. “In front of the castle.” I laughed hard. We were all in front of the castle! That is where the race starts.

As I walked around I heard familiar voices and saw them waving me over. Kelly and I had talked about running the first bit together. Typically he is far too fast for me to consider trying to keep up with, but he would be restraining himself and taking regular walk intervals so I was happy to have a friend to start the race with. Mark was there too. This would be Kelly and Mark’s first run at the 100 mile distance.  They both appeared calm. Calmer than I had been on my first 100.

It was dark and cool as the National Anthem was beautifully sung.  “1 minute!” Someone from Western Reserve Racing had just given the time until go. I checked that my Garmin had acquired signal and looked around at everyone. It felt tense. “10 seconds!” A rush of excitement tracked up my spine, a smile crossed my face.

“Go!”

We ran across the field towards the road and I half-joked to be careful not to roll an ankle in the grass. DNF at 0.05 miles.  There was standing water in low spots in the grass and I remembered from years past there were some small, yet possibly problematic, divots hidden in the grass. We made it to the road with no incident and fell into a comfortable pace.  Kelly’s watch beeped. Time for the first walk interval.

“The first one is always the worst, ” he said.

Yeah. It felt wrong walking already, but I knew the path ahead and caution now could translate to victory later. BEEP. We began running again weaving in and out between runners. It was fun following him through the crowd, but damn he is fast! I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to hang with Kelly long, but I would see him again later at a fitting time.  After two of those run-walk intervals or so I heard a familiar voice call my name.  It was Max!

I met Max at Born to Run almost immediately upon my arrival. I had a Burning River hoody on and was setting up my camp and he introduced himself. He would be running his first 100 at Burning River this year. He said he arrived a few minutes late and had to really move to get into the pack. We ran together a bit and he was fired up to run hard and trying to contain himself for longevity’s sake. So we stayed together for a mile or so until a larger hill, which I walked. We wished each other good luck and parted ways through difference of speed as opposed to direction.

From here I was alone. I ran by feel letting the cool foggy air roll over me, breathing calm and deep. I tried breathing through my nose as much as possible.  The restricted air-flow versus my regular mouth breathing would help regulate my speed to a degree plus it felt good. It is hard to describe.  I was taking the slow deep breaths I take in meditation and letting the exhalation part my lips on it’s own terms, no effort.  I walked most of the hills or at least a portion of the hills.  Daylight was creeping in and I was happy to turn my headlamp off. It was useless at this point anyway.  I hadn’t put fresh batteries in intentionally.  I would put a new set in when I picked the light back up at Boston Mills 40 more miles away.

Coming in to Polo Fields I saw Scott and said hello. I’m always happy to see Scott on the course whether he be running or cheering us on.  I grabbed some food and then saw Kim. She took my headlamp and brought my bag over. I refilled the soft flask with a mix of Hammer Heed and Endurolytes Extreme powder and topped the bottles off with water. Soon I was heading out for the next stretch, which I was thankful would be mostly trail.

Saturday July 28      6:00 AM

Now that I was on trail my pace would drop a few minutes per mile. At least that was the expectation. The reality was I slowed a little, but was comfortably moving along with most miles in the 10-11 minute zone.  Quite a ways from the 13s I anticipated.  Perhaps it was foolish, but I had mentally prepared to try for a sub-24 hour finish.  That would mean trimming at least 4 1/2 hours off my PR for the 100. Still, I felt that if I held my pacing together for the first 50, preferably longer, I’d at least have a ton of time to finish the back half of the course.  Well at the pace I was moving I would either implode or surprise myself.  But damn it I felt good! The few times I slowed my pace to see how it felt it just didn’t feel good.  The faster paces gave me better form. Around 25 miles in almost to the Egbert Aid Station I still felt great. While chatting with some new friends I wiped out on a root. Laying on the ground laughing my Heineken off they asked if I was ok.  “Yeah, I’m great.”  We came  in to Margaritaville smiling.  Egbert’s theme was Jimmy Buffett and there were virgin margaritas with salted rims on the glasses.  Brilliant! I drank one and grabbed some food.  The first 20 miles or so I had my Hammer goods (and would for the whole race) and had pb&j and chips.  By this point I wanted something savory.  Looking back this was likely an indicator that I needed a little more salt than I had so far taken in and it wouldn’t be too much longer before some issues arose related to just that.

One song was stuck in my head. The cadence of my feet was reminiscent of train drivers powering a locomotive down the track. The rhythm was right, the tempo.

“I hear the train a comin’
It’s rollin’ ’round the bend,
And I ain’t seen the sunshine
Since, I don’t know when
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison
And time keeps draggin’ on
But that train keeps a-rollin’
On down to San Antone”

Folsom Prison Blues

-Johnny Cash 

And just like that Folsom Prison Blues would literally be the only song in my head for the duration of the race.  Anytime I’d approach an aid station there it was guiding my train in.

Towpath  Burning River 100 Ultramarathon

The Towpath Photo by Robert Bardwell

Around mile 29 I hit a patch of pine forest and knew I’d be coming up on the Alexander Road AS soon. Black Girls Run staf

fs this stop and it is one of my favorites of the front 50 miles. As I hit the sidewalk a girl ran up and ran along side me to the screams and cheers of everyone at the Aid Station.  The energy these ladies put out is phenomenal and I couldn’t help but smile.  Wasting no time they filled my bottles while I ate a little and then it was back on the trail.  A short stretch of singletrack led to a shaded winding country road and I enjoyed lengthening my stride a little. The road Ts out and following the shoulder for 50 yards or so I came to Frazee, a trailhead for the towpath and an unmanned water stop.  Topping my bottles off I set off to work on the flat open miles of towpath.  This was by far the most pleasant weather I had ever experienced on this stretch of the course.  Happily I ran most of it with just a few short walk breaks. Here I caught up to Lynn again. We were playing leapfrog. After a few brief words I continued on and was soon joined by a gentleman out for his morning run.  He was looking for a friend in the race and passing the time cheering us all on.  We ran a very pleasant 1/2 mile or so until I stopped for a walk break.

 

At the end of the towpath is a train platform, a stop for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The train travels north and south through the park and a rail ticket is good for the entire day so you can get off and explore at stops. I would skip on the tourist thing this time. I kinda smelled bad and figured I wouldn’t be too popular among the visitors. Instead I availed myself of the platform bathrooms. Flushable toilets! Say it with me… “Ooooooooh” Cold running water at the fountain…”Ahhhhhhhh.” Continuing on towards Meadows Aid Station at mile 37.4 I found myself feeling a little less than splendid just a few miles away. A deep cough/hack rumbled forth and a dry heave or two.  I knew this feeling.  I never have puked running. Not once.  I was pretty sure I would have a new experience very soon.  The feeling subsided and I tried getting some more water and electrolytes down.  I wasn’t sure what I needed at that point and have learned that when I’m in doubt to go for water and electrolytes first.

Meadows Aid Station Burning River 100 Ultramarathon

The CREW Queen getting me set for more miles – Meadows AS   Photo by : Ed May

Coming in to Meadows AS CREW Queen Kim had me sit down and gave me tums. I drank a little ginger ale and relaxed for a

moment. I had more fluids and though I don’t recall eating I’m sure I had something even if it was small. Kim was about to kick my ass out of her chair and back on the trail. She was right. It was time to go.  In two short miles I was at Oak Grove, a relay exchange and water-only stop. Topping off I made my way out of there with some expedience bound for the tough miles ahead leading to Boston Mills, the half way point in my journey.  The 5 miles to Snowville went fairly well and I was averaging around 14:00 miles until a mile before the AS.  I crawled it in and sat down in a chair while volunteers filled my bottles.  Just sitting helped quite a bit.  I forced liquids down laden with Hammer Fizz.  The Fizz calmed my stomach and provided a fair amount of electrolytes. I noticed three buckets with sponges. YES! Going over to the first I soaked a sponge and washed my face and gagged.  Holy shit it’s a bucket of alcohol! They had set one bucket for sterilizing the sponges and cleaning stuff, but it was placed in a row with the others.   I couldn’t get the smell of alcohol out of my nose.  The volunteers apologized and thanked me for letting them know and moved that bucket away from the others.  That sure woke my senses up! I snacked a little on pickles, watermelon, and chips and headed out of Snowville, which unsurprisingly was devoid of the white stuff.

There were places I dreaded along the course, a side effect of knowing the course perhaps a little too well.  The towpath was the first. The next spot was just leaving Snowville. After crossing the road and entering singletrack I started to climb a hill which led to a giant staircase.  Stairs are bad enough, but these were made from 4x4s and required a high leg lift. The spacing is awkward and the climb arduous. Coming to the top I was a little winded, but much like the towpath my dread was not needed on this day.  These 5 miles to Boston Mills were slower averaging out to roughly 16:00 miles for the stretch.  I walked more, but had figured I would.  It was getting hot out and this stretch, though easier than I recalled, was still tough.  Then came the piano key stairs. Roughly 85 stairs, which are short. No high leg lifts here, but the ascent is steep and just as one reaches the top winded and soul tattered there is a continuation of the hill. But this is the last ascent on the front 50. From here it was some technical downhill spots coupled with flowing trail descending to the 50 mile mark.

Saturday July 28      2:56 PM – Boston Mills Mile – 50.1

Boston Mills Mile 50 Burning River 100 Ultramarathon

Mile 50

I came in to the crowds cheering, the music, the announcer saying my name as I crossed the line of the 50 mile mark and glancing up at the race clock processing what I saw there. 10:55:37! Holy crap. I just PRed the 50 mile distance by 46:21! Normally this would have terrified me considering I was only halfway through the race, but I was more excited than anything. I still felt good and even if things got hairy I had a ridiculous amount of time to complete the back 50. Coming in I saw Josh who would be pacing me and put a hand on his shoulder saying “I’m so glad to see you.” I sat down and Michelle, who was crewing Lori on her first 50 miler, and Kim both asked what I needed. Michelle brought me wet wipes to clean off with and when I asked for my drop bags they were already there. Kim pulled leaves off my upper back that were put there during my fall at mile 25. It seemed so long ago. I dug out a container of basil pesto quinoa and mixed it up diving in. I wanted real food and now I had some.  I ate a bit and had some coke and after spending around 20 minutes there Josh and I headed out.

I had 3 pacers lined up , but one had to bow out for a family commitment.  I figured no big deal, I could meet Josh later on in the evening, but without skipping a beat he said he would pace the entire 42 miles to Botzum and Margaret who would run me in. That, my friends, is one hell of a friend! Ultimately he registered for the back 50 miles so he would get a nice medal for his efforts and a nice training run in the bank for the Oil Creek 100, which we both would be running in October.

We hit the bike trail, a flat gravel path, and slowly made our way to Brandywine 5.6 miles away. Still hovering around a 16:00 average we weren’t making records, but we were moving ahead and chatting.  It was high heat of day and I hoped that when the evening cool came on I’d be capable of moving a bit faster.  Coming out of a section of trail we were on the road less than 1/2 mile up from Stanford House, the finish line for the 2015 Burning River 50 miler. I knew the sight well. Walking up a steep roadway we talked to a runner for a bit. He needed some real food on his stomach and was deep in the suffer.  He’d get that food at Brandywine and we’d see him at the finish with a smile on his face and a buckle around his neck.  This year the course didn’t go to the observation platform for Brandywine Falls and I wasn’t making detours. At the aid station there were boxes upon boxes of hot fresh pizza! I happily scarfed half a piece down, but couldn’t eat the whole thing.  Joking with the volunteers that this was definitely the best aid station…I mean PIZZA… Josh and I continued on. 2 1/2 miles later we were at Pine Lane.  I spent too much time sitting here, but I didn’t want pb&j and the standard fare. I overlooked the grilled cheese! Finally nabbing a piece it was time to move on.

Next stop 4.4 miles to the BM Hike & Bike Trailhead. Last year a water buffalo was set up here and the water was pretty foul tasting, but it was potable. I was glad I had Hammer Fizz tabs in my pocket to mask the taste, but it turns out this year there were gallon jugs of water out! Clean delicious water! Next was a section of asphalt paved bike path. After a mile or two we hit the singletrack that would take us to Ledges. And it was here I would begin rambling more and more and likely outright annoying Josh, though if that was the case he never let on once.

“Hey Josh”

“Yes?”

“I’ve never seen this in the daytime before”

I had always wanted to see the Ledges formations under light of day, but hadn’t ever made it this far with sunshine on my face.  For the rest of the day until sunset Josh would have to listen to this statement repeated over and over.

At the Ledges formations.

“Hey Josh. I’ve never seen this in daylight before”

Sitting in a chair at Ledges AS , mile 66.

“Hey Josh. I’ve never seen this in daylight before”

Mile 68 – a nice runnable stretch I always enjoy

“Hey Josh. I’ve never seen this in daylight before”

He’d also get to hear my awful rendition of Folsom Prison Blues EVERY TIME WE NEARED AN AID STATION. I’m laughing hard just thinking about it.

Around mile 63-64 we hit a small parking lot and passed through a tunnel. On the other side was Happy Days Lodge and standing out front in a beautiful dress with beer in hand was Kim M.  Kim should have been out there with us, but due to an injury was sidelined for this year’s run.  She was at a wedding and watching tracking periodically. Seeing we were near she came out to greet us. She put her arms out for a hug and I shrank back. 

I said something along the lines of ‘You are dressed nice and I smell like dead animals.’ Still she had her arms out so we hugged and I eyed her beer thinking 37 more miles before one of those. And then we were back at it. Back to the forest and the trail and the ticking off miles.

The sun finally went down enough forcing us to use our headlamps under the canopy of trees about 2 miles from Pine Hollow, which would mark mile 72 of our journey. Now it wasn’t my journey alone. It was our journey.  It was Josh’s just as much and Kim’s and in time it would be Margaret’s journey. I was fortunate to have such friends to travel these distances with. Coming in to Pine Hollow there are two large, steep grassy hills to climb and from the top of the first you can see the lights of the AS twinkling on the next hill. It’s a beautiful sight. I fiddled with my phone as we climbed the first hill and turned the volume up.   You guessed it. Folsom Prison Blues was awaiting the tap of my index finger. We flew down the hill. I was singing and smiling. The uphill called me to the strum of Johnny’s guitar and we ran hard and fast up 3/4 of the hill when my reason finally caught up to my heart. Cue Awkward Yeti cartoon with Heart and Brain. We walked the rest. I had stopped before I would have lost my breath.  Walking in to Pine Hollow 1 a volunteer had paper cups full of water. I thanks him as I grabbed one and drank.  The water was cool and clean.

There are points in an ultra where your senses are so alive the surroundings jump at you with a richness and fullness that makes you think about what you’ve been missing through lack of immediate presence. We are such a distracted society! Even deep in the forest our thoughts occupy us, our technology also. But to tire the inner dialogue out, the monkey mind, allows the immediateness of the environment to overwhelm. The surge of emotion and gratefulness runs strong in these perfect moments and these moments would come and go throughout the long miles yet to come. This is not to say that it was all beauty and zen.  There were plenty of moments of pain, of low energy where all I could do was walk for a while. Through all these moments one constant was in play. We were always moving forward. Always closing in on our destination.

Leaving Pine Hollow for a 3.8 mile loop which would return us here to this same spot was sweet. At this point we were exactly 30 miles from the finish. I felt decent still considering we were 71.8 miles in. This is a location I relish.  Each AS counts us down towards victory.  Less than 50k to go and after this next loop we would be 26.2 miles from the finish! Just a marathon to go.  We set out on the trail and would average a little under 17 minutes per mile for this loop. With the sun down I felt my energy level wavering, but I was still ok.  I was still urinating frequently. This is important.  If you haven’t gone in an hour or more better start drinking mindfully! The point is I felt confident my body’s immediate needs of hydration and nutrition were being met.  Josh and I still chatted on about random things. The hills seemed endless, but we eventually found our way to a road crossing and soon were in the hustle and bustle of Pine Hollow 2. I was spending more time in aid stations. In hindsight it was a good thing. I was sure to get food and drink.

Saturday July 28     10:37 PM – Pine Hollow 2 – 75.6

Last year at this point I was crunched for time and pace was slipping fast. My stomach was a mess all day and getting calories was more and more difficult as the day and night dragged on. When I came into Pine Hollow 2 I quickly slugged as much ramen as I could, which wasn’t nearly enough and headed out frantic with my pacer, Jaye.  The race quickly unraveled over the next 6.5 miles to Covered Bridge 1.  This was all still fresh in my mind, but I had no emotional attachment to it.  I wouldn’t face the same issues this year. This year I knew I’d get it done.

The miles to Covered Bridge 1 would be my slowest block of miles during the race averaging around 19-20 minutes per mile. The details are a little fuzzy. As we made our way closer Ed Pry had caught up to us…or had we caught him? He was running the back 50 and looking strong so I guess he caught us.  As we ran in the cheers went up and we passed through the Covered Bridge to that slice of Heaven on the other side.  The AS captain looked me over and said I looked good. He pulled my bottles out and frowned. “You aren’t drinking enough. Drink”  I weakly started to protest, but he was right. I drank and scavenged the AS for food. They had these little potato quesadillas stuffed with mashed taters and cheese. They were warm and individually wrapped in foil. I put two in my pocket and then pulled one back out and ate it immediately. We spent 5 minutes or so. “Less than 20 miles Josh! Let’s knock this out!”

The Covered Bridge 1 loop was another of those spots that I dreaded. Taking to the singletrack you come straight into a long hard climb. Once up, however, the trail is mostly runnable with even a few nice descents. Even though my quads were trashed long long ago I could let gravity carry me down and after a few footfalls the wincing would stop and I could roll with it.  All the downhills were followed by another good uphill except the very last one. I looked forward to the uphills more than the downs, particularly after AS stops.  After each stop it was harder and harder to start running again. The muscles in my legs would immediately tighten up. The thing that loosened them up best allowing me to run again was a good uphill climb.  Range of motion returned, the muscles warmed up allowing flexibility. So after the steep first ascent we found ourselves running the gradual uphills again in the 11-13 minute range! I had allotted 23:00 miles for this section and when we barreled back into Covered Bridge 2 at mile 86.7 we had shaved over 20 minutes off my estimate over 4.6 miles! Boom! I needed a bathroom bad and hobbled over to the port o john opening the door..my heart sank.  Poop…on the seat. I had grown accustomed to doing what needed done when it needed done over the course of the day and night.  Squire’s Castle seemed months ago. I was a different person back at the castle, more civilized. I had become an animal of sorts since then.   I got to work cleaning the toilet seat up and using the disinfectant hand pump to douse the seat. All this was done while clenching hoping I would not have to be the guy coming in to the finish covered in poo. The mission accomplished I headed back to the AS to find Josh. Aimee was there volunteering and it was great seeing another friendly face.  She took care of everything I needed, and I definitely needed another one of those tater pockets.

We had a few miles of road ahead of us followed by singletrack with some decent climbs eventually putting us on a Hike and Bike trail into Botzum AS at mile 91.7. The air was cool and fog had settled in the lowlands.

Sunday July 29     4:04 AM – Botzum – 91.6

Botzum Parking Mile 92 Burning River 100 Ultramarathon

Kim, Margaret, Me, Josh, and Rich at Botzum

Coming in to Botzum was the same as all the Aid Stations. So much cheering and energy! As I came in I did a little dance and someone gave me pizza. Pizza! I took a few bites and someone else brought ramen over. Pizza & ramen! These are my people. They love me and care for me.  I gave Margaret a hug. I was so glad to see her. It’s a rare treat and now I had around 10 miles to spend with her. Despite there being mostly easy terrain it would be a long 10 miles.  CREW Queen Kim was there too and we all got a picture together. The people that got me this far and would see to it I made it to the end. Terry was there helping me as he had a few times throughout the long day and night. Terry and I are both on the Hammer Nutrition team. He knows how to get the distance job done and is a Tahoe 200 finisher and a good friend. Rich was there too. A welcome sight as always.  I think it was a pretty quick stop. The sooner I left the sooner I’d be done running. As I was on my way out Terry said, “Kelly is about 15 minutes ahead of you. Go get him!”  I laughed on the inside. Catching Kelly was unlikely ever.

We had 5.4 miles of gradually ascending hike and bike trail to Memorial Parkway, the last Aid Station at mile 97.1.  I tried keeping up with Josh and Margaret, but my pace was faltering and I was walking more. It wasn’t entirely fatigue though. I needed a bathroom again and asked them to keep an eye out for one. I had tp in my pack should things become dire. Things became dire near Merriman Valley, a business district. McDonalds was closed. It was 4:40 AM and I announced  “Things can not wait.” We were on a sidewalk in a town a little ways from the main road. I looked around and walked back enclosing myself within the arms of a low pine tree. Things were done, I had cleaned up. It was time to continue. I had a hard time keeping up with Josh and Margaret. I slowly walked as they quickly walked and when I got too far behind I would run as long as I could to catch up and then let them gain distance again. They were doing their job well. They were pulling my intent forward. I was getting grumpy. “Why aren’t they waiting for me? I just ran 94 miles! 95  miles! 96 miles! And they are tearing off with fresh legs!”   A few miles later along a never ending gravel path and LED tea lights began appearing by the trail. Then I could see it. The Aid Station! The grumpiness had passed and I was happy to grab some food and get moving as soon as possible.

Josh left our group. He had to make it to the finish in under 16 hours for it to count and there was no telling how the last 4.7 miles would go for me. Margaret and I left soon after Josh. Walking the road she did a great job of keeping me engaged as much as I could be. It was maybe 1 1/2 miles to the trail in the Gorge MetroPark. After a tough climb we would be running mostly flat ground following powerlines with a few cuts into the woods. We talked and the slow miles went fast until the evil lay before us. The stairs. The last hurdle. This year I felt much better than I had in 2016. No dizziness or weird trippy moments. It was a simple climb up the staircase. At the top Margo gave me a high-five and a “good job.”

I wanted Margaret to pace me at the end. I knew her positive energy would be a huge boon to me at that stage in the game. We had both worked at a camp, Outdoor Odyssey, as counselors for a mentoring program for at-risk youth. We both held AmeriCorps positions there as well, though at different times. There were important life lessons I gleaned from working there. Advice I continue to this day to give to people from the camp’s philosophy. Margaret and I are family. Not in the blood sense, but in a very real sense nonetheless. After the stairs I checked the time. I told Margaret I think there is around 2 miles left and if I can stay under 15 minutes per mile we can come in under 27 hours. “I don’t know if I have it in me , but lets try.”

The final stretch! Burning River 100 Ultramarathon 2018

Running that last mile in surrounded by friends. That’s the good stuff               Photo by : Ed May

We ran..and kept running. I don’t think we walked until we were coming out of the trail on to the road marking less than a mile left. Running across the bridge we came upon a runner and pacer. As I passed he called my name. It was Kelly! We had caught him.  Walking up the last hill were joined by a whole bunch of people; Ed,  Brandon, Rich, Margaret, Terry and others were there . Once at the top I started running. I couldn’t see it yet, but the finish line had a hold on me. Kelly said, “we are finishing this together.” We ran it in and I started sprinting, at least it felt like a sprint. My legs were running on joy. As we neared the finisher chute a guy was finishing ahead of us and had all his kids running it in with him. It was awesome! I slowed up to give them space for a nice picture perfect finish. Kelly and I crossed the line together to the cheers of friends. It was done. 101.3 miles in 26:49:27. I had secured a PR in the 50 miler by 46:21 and a PR in the 100 miler by 1:41:19. Worth more than the time goals I had run with joy for much of the race. I felt light and happy and that was worth more than any PR. I also was physically wrecked. Sleep and food and clean clothes would all come in due time.

Ultrarunning : It takes a village

Thanks to my sponsor, Hammer Nutrition, for keeping me performing and recovering my best. And thanks to Luna Sandals keeping my feet happy all the way through! A big thanks to my trail tribe, all the people that helped me throughout the day and night.  So many friends were present like my excellent pacers Josh and Margaret, CREW Queen Kim, Michelle, Terry, Brandon, Scott, Rich, and Ed . The runners on the course were all great and the Aid Station volunteers, as always, were top notch. Thanks to Western Reserve who manages to pull this off year after year with impressive execution. I’m already looking forward to running Burning River again.

HiHo Brewery - Burning River 100 Ultramarathon 2018

The rewards of a job well done

BTR Family - Burning River 100 Ultramarathon 2018

Max’s first 100 finish! I suspect it won’t be his last.

Burning River 100 Ultramarathon 2018 Finish

A great end to a great run
Photo by: Ed May