Report: Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run
2010 USA Track & Field National Championship
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio - July 31, 2010
By Mike Campbell
I decided to check out the Burning River 100 this year because it was also the 2010 USATF 100 Mile Trail National Championship. I was interested even though the MMT 100 was only a few months ago. I did notice the USATF GrandMasters age group was 50+ - what happened to my new 60 and up age group?? Guess it was time to compete with all the “young” guys!
Ohio is a beautiful place with plenty of rivers and streams where we got to know the Cleveland Metroparks and Buckeye Trails very well. Burning River is a point-to-point course, from Willoughy Hills in the North Chagrin Reservation of Cleveland Metroparks, to the Fall River Square in Cuyahoga. The scene now is far different from the history of this race. Some 40 years ago, a suspected passing train ignited the oil slick in the Cuyahoga River, which was reported as oily chocolate-brown and bubbling with subsurface gases. The river oozed rather than flowed … literally a fire hazard. The fire only lasted 30 minutes, but the name stuck.
So along with my wife, daughter and fairly new son-in-law, I decided to drive the 6ish hours to Ohio rather than fly. We drove up Friday morning and checked in that afternoon at the Cuyahoga Falls Natatorium for registration and pre-race pasta buffet. Check in was near the finish line, so we left and headed back to the Willoughby area where our hotel was near the starting line. We drove around to find the starting area – it was a good thing because finding the Squires Castle meeting point in the North Chargrin Reservation would have been a bit tougher than we thought the next morning!
Surprisingly I was able to get a few hours of sleep before the 3:15 a.m. wakeup. Was out of the hotel by 4 a.m. and sitting in front of the Squires Castle by 4:10 a.m. for the start (Guess I could have slept in a bit!). After a quick brief by the race director Joe Jurczyk, we were off at 5 a.m.
We took off down River Road at a fairly fast pace with the first five miles all on blacktop. I hit mile 1 at 7:34 minutes, #2 at 7:54, and #3 at 7:49. Passed up the first Aid Station since I drank a bottle of Gatorade before the start and was packing two 20 oz bottles. I figured I could make it to the next one without a problem. Well that wasn’t the best strategy because after three miles, my stomach was churning and had to jump behind a tree for a relieving pit stop already.
Made it to Polo Fields Aid Station (AS), mile 9.6 at 6:20 a.m. Met my crew, took a couple chugs of V8 and was off with full bottles of Gatorade. Next stop was Harper Ridge Shelter about six miles later where there was no crew access. Filled up on Gatorade, grabbed ½ a banana and was out in about 20 seconds – off down the winding road wondering where the woods were?
Pulled into Shadow Lake AS, 18.6 miles at 7:40 a.m. Enjoyed my first bottle of Ensure and was back out toward Egbert Shelter. This is where I found Tinker’s Creek and no easy path to keep my shoes dry. I forged across and put up with the squishy shoes for about ½ mile – I either forgot about them or they actually got pounded dry. We were at mile 21 before we hit any type of woods. So far it was all roads, bike or towpaths so my legs were taking a pounding today.
We are on the Buckeye Trail for another five miles until we hit Alexander Road AS, mile 28.4. I tried to limit my time at the stations crew couldn’t access – the volunteers were great though, quickly filled the bottles and off you go.
There were aid stations every five or so miles, which is fairly uncommon in ultra running. Note I wasn’t complaining too much since the temps were up in the 80’s and I was downing at least 20 oz of Gatorade between stations. I learned carrying 1.5 bottles in my belt works well, not too much extra weight and I’m normally starting the second bottle when it’s time to refuel.
Came into the next crewed station, Station Road Bridge, 33.3 miles at 10:05 a.m. Pretty good pace – I was at 9:06 for mile 33. Same drill - chugged an Ensure and exchanged out my empty bottles. I have been having a hard time with chaffing between my legs, so I remembered to put some Vaseline or Lanacane on.
So far besides the half banana I had a piece of PowerBar and one GU packet. Seemed to be working OK as I pulled into Ottawa Point AS, mile 39.6 at 11:15 a.m. We had two crew-access stations in a row, so I drank another Ensure since it would be 10 miles before I’d meet them again.
Around mile 43 we began to follow the “blue blazes” marks on the trees. I was following a runner in front of me and we ran off course. After about an 1/8th of a mile, we realized there hadn’t been a marker in awhile so we back tracked and found the right trail to continue on. Turned out we needed to make a hard left instead of the initial straightaway that looked so inviting the first time around – ugh!
Ran into Boston Store #1 AS, mile 49.1 at 1:15 p.m. I’m getting to meet my crew about every 10 miles and it was working well. Downed another Ensure and off I went. About an hour later, came back into the same AS, Boston Store #2 at mile 54.5. At this point the bike or towpaths were all getting to be about the same – the long stretches were kind of monotonous with lots of blacktop and crushed limestone. I just kept pushing although my time for mile 54 was at 12:11 … hmmm slowing down. At every stream I crossed—about 15 total today—I bent down and cupped some clear water to soak my neck, head and face. This at least dropped my body temp for a bit of relief.
Quickly went through Pine Lane AS, mile 58.6 where there was no crew access. Along with refilling Gatorade I have been drinking a cup or two of ginger ale. This really settles my stomach - I used to grab regular coke to keep my head clear, but now I only do that if there is no ale.
Came to Happy Days Visitor Center, mile 64.1 at 4:35 p.m. At this point I was really feeling sluggish and my chaffed legs were burning up. Decided to change my shorts and shoes and took some time to really grease up. I decided to give that 5-Hour Energy stuff a try to get me going, and then chased it with a bottle on Ensure.
(Time out for my final analysis for this horrible chaffing: Since I have been training in pretty hot weather, I’ve been taking in a lot of S-Caps. More salt = faster, saltier sweating. So imagine pouring salt on your hands and rubbing them together for 101.1 miles - it gets pretty raw. I’m going to shop for some short tights to wear on runs over 50k and see if it helps.)
Next part was the Cross Country Trail, which really did seem like high school cross-country courses. We came out on a grassy field and had to climb about 45 degrees to the next station (made for a cool pictures anyway!). Made it to Pine Hollow #1, mile 70.9 at 6 p.m. Met my crew and was feeling a little pick me up - maybe the energy drink was kicking in? Time of mile 70 was 10:47 minutes. Took a chug of V8 since I was coming right back to this AS and was off down the sledding hill to the Salt Run Trail, a counter clockwise loop. This section didn’t seem too long and I made it back to Pine Hollow AS at mile 74.2 in about 40 minutes.
Came into Covered Bridge #1 AS, mile 80.8 at 8:10 p.m. Ensured up and was off to the next part that was noted as a tough technical trail through several short steep climbs and stream crossings. Time for mile 84 was 17:00 – so it did slow me down quite a bit. I took my headlamp, but it was nice and I didn’t need it until just before 9 p.m. There were scattered clouds but we had more than a half moon out to see pretty well.
There was no crew access at the next two aid stations as I passed Hale farm and village and back on the Buckeye Trail. I was mainly concentrating on the trail markings and just making it one to another. We weren’t allowed any headphones or pacers per USATF rules, so I was mostly out there alone.
Came into Merriman Road AS, mile 93.3 at 11:30 p.m. to my crew and no one else besides the few volunteers. Support was continually thinning out as space between runners increased. I took my last bottle of Ensure for the day and one more Gatorade. With only three miles to the next AS, this should be a breeze all on a towpath trail. Time for mile 93 was 14:30.
Well this is what I have been waiting for all day, the last aid station. Made it to Memorial Parkway, mile 96.3 at 12:15 a.m. My crew was the only one at this station – either a good sign I’m way ahead of the person behind me or …? With five miles to go I got a police escort across the bridge - lights on and everything so I felt kind of special!
The course took us on a downhill to the Highbridge Trail, which dead ended left on Front Street and about 1.5 miles to the Cuyahoga Falls finish. About half a mile from the finish, two volunteers on bikes came up to let me know that the red light at the end was indeed the timing finish. So like any other idiot, I picked it up and sprinted all the way through.
Crossed the finish line, 101.1 miles at 1:20 a.m.
Finishing time: 20:21:46
- 20 bottles of Gatorade = 400 oz
- 11 bottles of Ensure
- 1 bottle of V8
- 12 cups of ginger ale
- 2 cups of Coke
- ½ a banana
- ½ an Oatmeal PowerBar
- 2 packets of GU Energy Gel
- 4 honey packets
- 19-20 - S-Caps
My Garmin 310XT that gave up at mile 94.65 showed I burned about 10,438 calories.
So this was six hours faster than MMT100 a few months ago - an entirely different course. The Burning River race info advertises 75% trails, but there were so many roads it felt more like 75% roads and 25% trails in the woods.
My strategy paid off - running in the 90-degree heat and couple days in the 100’s helped. After the hottest day I was down to 137lbs even though my wife would claim that shaving off my goatee did it! Around 100 people dropped out of the race and some said it was too hot. I think it got up to 80-85, but we were in the shade a lot and had plenty of streams.
Aleka, Andrea and James put up with me for the entire 20 + hours, and I have to give them kudos - you are only as good as your crew. It’s a challenge in itself to navigate places that you have never been to, let alone to time it out so I can see their pleasant faces.
I did manage to break the course/event record for the “GrandMaster Division” by an hour. My brother Jim called the next day and said your “Olympic Dreams” are over now that I had won the $300 USATF prize money for the first place age category. (He’s old school, I think they can accept money now? ha-ha-ha)
Records fell this year … winner Todd Braje did a 15:29:24, first female Annette Bednosky at 16:44:21, and Jack Pilla finished at 16:22:54.
I want to thank the race director Joe and all the volunteers. Thanks to Andrea, James and fantastic wife Aleka for crewing me. And of course my son Michael for “virtual crewing” from Texas (there was a Web cast and I waved to the camera from one station). And love to my wonderful mom who keeps the candles burning in the church to keep me going.
Until next time - see you on the trails.