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Burning River 50 Mile - Run

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Willoughby, Ohio
United States
88F / 31C
Total Time = 8h 06m 30s
Overall Rank = 4/168
Age Group = 30-39
Age Group Rank = 2/
Pre-race routine:

I scheduled this race to help prepare for my first attempt at a 100 mile race. I'm registered for the Grindstone 100, a beast of an ultra with 23,000 ft elevation gain, which I am running in about 2 months. I wanted to assess my fitness, test out my gear, and test some nutrition and hydration strategies.

I drove about 7 or 8 hours to the race venue and arrived the night before. My wife was gracious enough to accompany me on this trip and make all my favorite race foods. We were conveniently booked at the host hotel and was able to get my packet and up to my room in minutes. The shuttles to the race start were scheduled to leave at 4:15am from a lot about 15-20 minutes from the hotel for a 6am race start.

I have become very consistent with my pre-race food routine and wanted to eat my meat, egg and rice porridge meal 3 hours pre-race, which meant waking up at 2:30am.

I am generally pretty excited on race mornings, so waking up is never really an issue, however I did want to get to sleep early so I could get a few hours of sleep. This proved to be VERY challenging considering that there was literally a rock concert right outside of my window. And I'm not sure what kept me up more, the noise, or the fact that they were doing a bunch of 80s covers, like "Don't You Forget About Me," and Van Halen's "Jump," which was really difficult to tune out. So instead of sleeping I just lay there bobbing my head a bit to the music.

I still managed a few hours of sleep, and I didn't mind much, since for my 100 miler, I would get NO sleep with the 6pm start time, and this was a prep race after all.

For gear: I went with my most comfortable shorts and t-shirt. Hoka Challenger ATRs for shoes, and Injinji Trail toesocks. I also went with a Salomon Hydration vest with a 50oz bladder, and two 17oz soft flasks. I filled the bladder with water only half way, to keep the weight down, and did water and electrolyte drink in the flasks. I had a few salt tabs, and some gels in the pockets. I would have probably raced with just my hand-held if I didn't want to "race test" the vest (that may have been a mistake considering how hot it got).
Event warmup:

The bus ride over was pretty uneventful and quiet, and as soon as we arrived at the start, I jumped on the port-o-john line to take care of some last minute business.

I checked out "Squire Castle" at the race start, and enjoyed the sunrise from up on the grassy hill where the small castle was located. For a marathon, I may jump,shake out, and stretch a bit, but for 50 miles my strategy is to expend as little energy as possible and just start with a comfortable run when the gun goes off. So after a short period of trying to relax and conserve energy, I lined up and we were off.
  • 8h 06m 30s
  • 50 miles
  • 09m 44s  min/mile

I lined up a few rows back from the start. Although I felt I could be competitive overall, the 50 mile relay runners were mixed in with the solo runners and I didn't want to get swept up with the relay runners and end up going out too fast. I kept my pace comfortably in the 8:30-8:40 min/mi range.

I chatted with some other runners around me and when we hit the off road portion at about mile 12 or so, I had mentioned that this was a "training race." And that last word sort of rung in my ear a bit, "race," and reminded me that this was still actually a race. For one, despite some of my goals I don't like to think of a race as a "training race," a race is a race and I am gong to try my best. Also, I have found ultra running to be very laid back, and it is easy to fall into a bit of a lull and lose a bit of competitive spirit. So at that point I quit my yapping and decided to run my own race.

Along the next portion, which was mostly horse trails, I just focused on catching the next runner ahead of me. I also thought I should keep my pace up since it was still not too hot out and I wanted to take advantage of that while I could.

I came to my first water crossing and although there was some rocks that I could have tried to skip across and keep my feet dry, I decided to just tromp right through. I did this for three reasons. One, just for the fun of it. Two, I remember reading, I think in Hal Koerner's Field Guide to Ultrarunning, how he learned early on that it really was pointless to try to keep your feet dry during an ultra. And three, I have a bit of a mantra that I repeat to myself from time to time when trail running, "wet rocks are slippery!" I didn't want to slip early on and jeopardize the race, or worse. After the race, I had heard that one of the 100 mile runners took a bad fall at that first crossing and had to drop. So that settles it, from now on, I am all in at water crossings!

For my 100 mile race I've been doing alot of hill training. The week before this race, my long run was 26.2 miles with 7000ft of gain on tough rocky trails. I was happy to discover that those tough miles were paying off and I was chewing up and spitting out all climbs and descents and was able to significantly close the gap on many competitors on them.

Another area of focus I had going into this race was mastering aid-stations.

With ultra running, the race itself is long enough, I've decided that while aid stations are nice markers on the course, I really wanted to avoid being out there any longer than I had to.

With the triathlon experience I have with dealing with transitions, I think I have a huge advantage on other pure runners. Having to burn through a bit of brain fog and be task-oriented is something that I've become somewhat accustomed to. So before each aid station, I decided exactly what I would need, and exactly what I would do when I got there. I would even preemptively unscrew my water bottle tops a bit (since this actually can get challenging for me with somewhat shaky or wet hands).

I did manage to jump past a few runners managing my aid stations well which was much less exhausting then trying to catch them while running!

As the race progressed and spread out a bit there were less targets for me to reel in. I started to come upon more of the 100 mile runners that started 2 hours earlier and that was helpful, but they were obviously pacing much more slowly.

One thing that I had in my mind was that now about 20 miles or so in, I had not been passed by a single runner, relay or otherwise, and for a mental game, I decided to keep it that way. Not long after I made that decision, I did have one runner pass me at one point and got quite a bit ahead, but I noticed he had missed a turn ran off course. I did the right thing and yelled until I got his attention and pointed him in the right direction. He did not catch me after that though.

In the 30s, there was a point in the race where we got onto a towpath and it got really hot. It was nice and flat, and I thought I was keeping a good pace int the 8-9 min/mi range when another 50 mile runner came cruising past me. He looked to be running very well but I didn't want to let him get away. At one point when we left the towpath there was a guardrail we had to jump over. He put his foot right on it and leapt right over effortlessly. I had to straddle it because I don't think I could have done it his way! I did start to convince myself though that he was putting on a show to keep me from pursuing, since I always try to look way stronger that I feel when passing, smiling, etc... After we left the towpath, we hit a section of hilly single track trail (my favorite!), and I as able to pass and put him far enough behind me to where I couldn't see him anymore.

That chase took its toll. The towpath was hot, it was fully exposed with no shade, and it was humid with hot air wafting through the vegetation lining the path. I was sweating buckets and I finished all of my fluids only half way to the next aid station. This left me bloated and still thirsty.

When I got to the next aid station, I drank even more and left with an uncomfortable sloshing belly.

This was at about mile 40, and the course got tougher here. There was alot more up and down, and I started to run into some mud and other obstacles. I kept thinking someone was going to come up on me and pass but it didn't happen. My energy bottomed out a bit. I had been drinking a ton, but had no room for food. I managed to grab a few grapes at an aid station, but had run 2 hours or so without any other calories besides from fluids (which wasn't that much since I was drinking a good deal of water).

At about mile 45, I did start to feel that I was in the home stretch, but the course was even more muddy and tough. At about mile 46 I hadn't seen a course marker in awhile and started getting nervous. I started running down a hill and got a ways down before I got too nervous and turned back. I felt bad because a 100 mile runner saw me coming back and also turned back. A small group of runners (luckily no 50 mile runners!) came up and convinced us we were still on track since they saw a marker a short way back and there were no turn offs. I only lost maybe a quarter mile, but I really wanted to be done running, and that was too much!

I was close to the finish, but I CANNOT run a race without a good old painful muscle cramp. This time it was one of my adductor muscles on my right inner thigh at about mile 47 , and for whatever reason, I had a hard time loosening this one up. I had to actually stop and stretch for a minute, and this killed be being so close and worrying about other runners coming up on me.

My leg got back under control and I was actually feeling good at this point. I forced a gel down about 2 miles back and I could literally feel the calories in my system, and it also helped that I knew I was just about done.

The last 2 miles I spent looking over my shoulder making sure no one was coming up on me and ran pretty comfortably up to the finish.

I knew I ran pretty well, but was surprised when I finished as 3rd Overall male.

The top two guys got out much faster at the start, but their splits showed similar struggles later in the race. I am not sure if I could have closed the gap too much and not sure if I had it in me to place higher, but there was definitely room for improvement with race execution.

This was my second 50 mile ultra, and I feel like I am getting a better handle on the distance, but I am learning like with triathlon, that every race has its own challenges.
What would you do differently?:

Go out a bit faster to get ahead of the heat. I had enough fitness to push harder and despite there being some decent hills, being all on roads the first 12 miles was the easiest on the course and I could have made up more time.

EAT MORE. I really need to not be lazy and start counting calories. I have to get every calorie in that my body can absorb. I need to get this down, especially leading into my 100 mile race.

Work more on heat acclimatization in training when racing in July. I have been doing lots of trails lately with good cover from the sun, as well as running early or late and avoiding the hotter parts of the day.
Post race
Warm down:

Walked about a mile back to my car. The food at the finish was not appetizing to me at the time being so overheated. I put of cup of ice in my hat. and put it on my head. I did stop for a lime ice pop at a shop on the way back to the car. The line in the store was slow, and I was disgusting. I felt sorry for the people who had to stand near me. I came back with my wife after showering at the hotel for the awards and to cheer on the runners coming in. The finish line was much nicer the second time around.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Going out too slow, not eating enough, and it was too hot.

Event comments:

I think the organization did a great job putting on this race. Between the 50 and 100 mile runs and relays there were 800+ competitors and everything was very organized. The pre-race emails and event guide were very informative. The aid stations were well stocked and the volunteers were attentive.

I liked the course, but didn't love it. The 50 mile runners did half of the 100 mile course, and I heard that the second half of the course was really nice. Most of the course was great, I just wasn't a big fan of the first 12 miles on the roads. It was early, and not busy, but I would have preferred if the race was more or less 100% on trails.

I would not hesitate to recommend this race though, overall it was a great experience.

Last updated: 2015-07-27 12:00 AM
08:06:30 | 50 miles | 09m 44s  min/mile
Age Group: 2/
Overall: 4/168
Performance: Good
Course: Point to point from Willoughby into Cuyahoga National park to Stanford House. The first 10 miles were on hilly local roads. The next 10 miles was 2 more miles of road, then going off road onto mix of horse trails, single track trails, and some paved multi-purpose paths. Miles 30 to 40 were more horse trails, single track, and a section of tow-path. Miles 40 to 50 were mostly single track trails, which were hilly, and at times muddy with a few log-strewn areas for some "fun" obstacles to "try" to jump over. The last bit of the course which was a short section of road up to Stanford house.
Keeping cool Below average Drinking Not enough
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Average
Mental exertion [1-5] 4
Physical exertion [1-5] 4
Good race? Yes
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 4

2015-07-27 11:58 AM

Subject: Burning River 50 Mile

2015-07-27 4:17 PM
in reply to: #5131256

User image

Jenison, MI
Subject: RE: Burning River 50 Mile
Awesome race. Congrats on the 3rd OA finish!
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