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We’re up all night to get Muddy

I had a clear goal in mind entering Burning River 2013. Finish.

I had dropped at Burning River 2012 at mile 85 with 8 hours to finish. It has played in the back of my mind a million times that I should have finished. Heck, within minutes of dropping I was wondering what I had just done.

So when registration opened for 2013, I signed up immediately. Things would be different. I had learned from my mistakes and had used that mindset to complete the Hallucination 100 shortly after BR2012.

However, I also made a commitment to my family that I would not spend the enormous amount of training I did last year. It just wasn’t fair to put in the 90/100 mile weeks I did for BR2012. My training was a lot less aggressive. Most weeks I was lucky to get 30 miles in. Towards the last two months before BR2013 I increased my mileage on the weekends. I did some training runs and race events leading up to BR2013. It was clear I would not be as ready. Last year two weeks before BR2012, my last 40 mile training run was completed in a little over 8 hours.  This year, it took me 6 hours to go 18 miles. In my defense, I did run after the enormous July 9th and the Buckeye Trail was an absolute disaster. I vowed that if the trails were trashed on race day, I was out.

In addition I was continuing to have knee and back issues. I have inflammation in my knee and vertebrae in my back pushing on a nerve. I opted to have an epidural two days before BR2013 to help with the pain in my back. My doctor told me I was o.k. to run on the knee, but that I shouldn’t expect it to be pain free.

My plan this year was simple. Plenty of crew, detailed plans, great pacers. I don’t always make the best decisions when left to my own devices, so someone to be in charge of my food, drink, clothing, etc. was a no-brainer.

I would also keep in mind the reasons I was running this year:

  • Running to raise money for Lazarex in honor of my Mom who I lost to cancer last November.
  • Letting my kids run that last mile with me.
  • Redemption for not finishing a race for the first time ever.
  • A lot of people were sacrificing their time and even their money to help me finish.

The day before the race I felt relaxed. I gathered my crew at my house and went over my expectations for my crew at each aid station and a list of things that they should be asking me (are you eating, hydrating, etc.). I then went to bed at 7 p.m. and waited for race day. I just could not sleep besides my lack of butterflies. At 3 a.m., I was up and ready to get moving.

My wife, Adrienne and our friend, Staci Banta would be taking the first shifts. They drove me to the starting line and would wait for me thru the first loop to grab my headlamp for me. I put on my water belt (a Nathan two bottle system) and realized for the first time how heavy it felt. I had gotten it earlier that week and tested it out, but never with all my full supplies on. I was questioning if I should change belts but was advised to stick to my plan. I agreed, the alternative was my single bottle belt with a handheld and I hate having anything in my hands during long runs. I also tend to heat up fast and need extra liquid for drinking and dousing myself. I told my crew I wouldn’t need anything else at that point besides giving them my headlamp and got to the start.

My strategy for the race was to start near the back and go slow. I was going to conserve energy and be fresh for the second 50. I also wanted to hit 50 miles in about 10 hours so I had 20 hours to bank in the second half of the race. I also would not look at time until I hit Snowville and just feel out the race.

I got to see the friendly face of Gale Connor at the Old Mill aid station and was feeling pretty strong. My plans of starting out slow hit a snag when about mile 14 I realized the runner in front of me was George Themelis, a much faster runner, and I knew I had started out too fast. I made a not to slooooooow down and enjoy things.

I arrived at Polo Fields where Adrienne and Staci had all my stuff ready to go. Last year I felt one of my issues was hanging around aid stations to long and as much as possible I wanted to get in and out of them.

One thing I was realizing was how good I felt without the back pain and despite my knee being a constant nagging pain since April, I had no pain there whatsoever. However, what I did realize was my left hip was hurting. I was pretty sure the hydration belt was too heavy and causing the pain, but I couldn’t do anything until Shadow Lake.

By the time I arrived at Shadow Lake, the pain was pretty sharp. Luckily my crew already had my other belt out and I switched to it and my crew gave me a handheld for my second bottle. They also slapped a lydocaine patch on my hip. The bad news, I left my s-caps in my old belt. Luckily, with the mild weather, I wasn’t sweating that bad and wasn’t needing them as much.

The rain had started to fall, but just lightly, the mud really wasn’t an issue. I started listening to some music because I remembered from last year this section could get lonely and wanted to keep myself moving.  I also was surprised that my good friends The Boyers (who were serving as crew later in the day as well as Jonathan Boyer would be pacing me from mile 70 to 93) kept popping up at various points along the way to cheer me on, complete with their kids in tow. I could not help but laugh every time they popped up. It made me keep running (like a reverse version of Where’s Waldo?) even though my hip continued to hurt as I didn’t want them to pop up and see me walking.

Somewhere between Oak Grove and Ottawa Point, the rain increased and my hip pain seemed to increase as well. I was walking at a steady pace but could not get moving again. I met up with Mark Lewis, who had been with me at training runs last year and one this year and he walked and chatted with me and eventually got me running a bit. It was a selfless act as he clearly could have been running. I finally told him he should keep going and I would be fine.

I knew at Ottawa Point I would get a much needed shoe and sock change and was looking forward to that. I also was happy to see my whole crew there: Staci, Adrienne, Jonathan, and Lori. Jonathan switched out my shoes and socks and everyone else handled food and meds. Since I had no time concept I kept insisting I was just above cutoff and wouldn’t believe anything I was being told. With a fresh pair of shoes and socks though, I felt good.


In happier times…

I took off out of Ottawa Point at a good pace and was cruising the next mile and then I hit it, the mud. Life sucking, soul crushing mud. I knew from two weeks ago that the buckeye could get extremely sloppy during the rain and that my pace and  body would suffer. On a good note, my hip felt better, on a bad note, the mud from where I was to Boston Store kept me from moving quickly. I had checked my time at Snowville and was at 11 hours, an hour off my goal, but it did mean I could run a 2.5mph pace and still finish.


Sunday, Muddy, Sunday

I kept telling myself I would feel better when I met my pacer and that things would improve. At Boston Store, I met Staci who would pace me to Pine Lane. I also had some of the most amazing soup. Chicken, kale and sausage just hit the spot after being in the rain. As a bonus, they had Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. I felt better. I was ready to run.

We started off running at a nice jog until we hit the rerouted section. Straight up and on rocks. It slowed me down. However, once we got into the woods we hit some good stretches of dryness and Staci and I motored thru until Pine Lane.

From Pine Lane until Ledges I would be solo until I met my wife, Adrienne. And I felt pretty good. This is an easy stretch and I had gotten some mojo back. No pains and feeling good. I did about 4.5 miles per hour.

I came into Ledges and was surprised to see my friend (and fellow Girls on the Run coach) Cathleen Boyle and her rock star daughter, Lily (one of our Girls on the Run participants) cheering me on. I sat down for a much needed shoe/sock change and some light-hearted moments as I told Lily to “look away lest she be scarred” as I changed shirts and sprayed Tri-Slide in unusual places. I also was having a tendon issue in my bottom right foot for weeks before the race and had asked someone to look and put a callous pad on it since it felt weird. However it turned out to be a huge flat blister and I decided it wasn’t worth wasting time on since it didn’t hurt, just felt like a rock in my shoe. I had a piece of pizza and some soup and was off with my wife to run. Adrienne had NEVER run trails at night and it had gotten dark. She handled it great and tried her best to keep me constantly moving. She said I was doing great so I used that against her every time she tried to get me running.I still kept insisting I would miss cutoff despite knowing I was well ahead of that happening. She pushed me to run when I walked and I resisted feeling I needed walk breaks to stay fresh. Salt Run was trying, not sure to mud, but because I have run it so often, I knew what awaited me at every turn. Needless to say, I was happy to get to Pine Hollow and off of Salt Run. I sat down for a minute, had some icy hot and food and my pacer, Jonathan took over.

Jonathan and I have been running for years together. We swept BR2011 together and trained for BR2012 together. He is pretty familiar with how I run and when to push me and when to lay off, so I knew we would be running as much as possible. He started off by telling me to walk the hills leading into Little Meadow. Once we got to a flat surface, we ran. We ran any flats without mud. We both knew Perkins Loop would be messy and slow, so we ran whenever we could.

One of my goals was to rush thru Covered Bridge without stopping as I knew it was easy to get comfortable there, but I was hungry and tired. We agreed I would sit for a minute while I ate and refilled my water bottles. I saw a cot there and stated that “I should just nap for a minute or two.” I was told that wasn’t an option. I think we got out there within 10 minutes which felt o.k.

Next was Perkins Loop and it was a nightmare. Mud everywhere. Up hills, Down hills. Slip Sliding Away along with my mental state and my body state. I began cursing during the loop. I told Jonathan I was done after this, that my energy was gone. I was in my third pair of shoes (I brought 4 pairs just in case) and this pair was way past their prime. I was developing severe pain in the top of my right foot. It was bruised and puffy. We finished the loop in about 1:40 which I refused to believe was right.

We hit the Oak Hill aid station where I asked to sit as I was gassed from Perkins Loop. The aid person there said I could not sit on his chair, but could use a rock. He then explained he wasn’t being rude, but he wasn’t going to let runners stop and get comfy, he was there to keep them moving. He also told us to be wary of the turn to Howe Meadow as people were complaining they were missing it. We were extra cautious on the way there, moving slow so to make sure we made the turn.

We arrived at Howe Meadow where my son, Dominic, had joined the crew. He rushed over to hug me and nearly knocked me down. I was out of energy. I started doing numbers in my head as well. I kept thinking that I wasn’t gaining ground even though I only needed 2 miles per hour to finish. I kept thinking I would only get slower and that wouldn’t be sufficient. I sat in a chair and closed my eyes. I was so tired and wanted to rest. Everyone started yelling at me to get up and I obliged in my haze. Jonathan told me about all the people who had dropped and how I was still going. He named some pretty recognizable names in the running community and that motivated me.

The next section to Merriman is a blur. I know I stopped talking. I was convinced I wouldn’t finish in time. Jonathan engaged me in conversation and I gave quick responses and kept moving forward, but unable to run. Desperately wanting to, but unable to get the right foot to cooperate.

We arrived at Merriman and I was a lunatic. Lori Boyer met me with my kids and I was yelling at them. My daughter had now joined the crew (the saddest part of last year was her waking up in the car after I dropped and asking, “When do we get to run the last mile with you?”). She said, “You are doing great, Daddy!” To which I replied, “Shut Up.” There had obviously been some discussions about my mental state between Howe and Merriman because my wife had decided my son would not pace me until Memorial Parkway. Partly because I was so sour and partly because they felt I would just refuse to move and my son wouldn’t be able to get me to move. I told everyone I was not going to make cutoff and I wasn’t prepared to be shut out at mile 99. They all insisted I had plenty of time, but I didn’t believe them.

Adrienne paced with me until Memorial Parkway as my foot worsened. We were silent. I know I was unpleasant. However, before I knew it, we were at Memorial Parkway. Adrienne told me we did 3 miles in 55 minutes. For the first time in the whole race, I knew I was going to finish. My crew asked “Do you think you can do 4 miles in 3 hours?” Finishing was now a reality.

Staci paced me the next three miles and tried to keep my spirits up with a few jokes and encouragement. By the time we hit the stairs at Cascade Valley, I was able to climb them without the dread they once held.

At around mile 99+, Adrienne and my kids met us to finish together and I knew it was just a matter of time. I slowly hobbled that mile. I took little breaks to ease my right foot. My son was so excited we had to have him walk ahead in fear he would tackle me.

As we rounded the corner, someone rang a bell and proclaimed, “The finish is right around the corner.” To which I replied, “I don’t believe you.” But there it was, the finish. I mustered my last shred of strength, took a deep breathe, and made a faux run across the finish hand in hand with my family.

Image         FAUX RUN!

I saw so many familiar faces come up and congratulate me. I finally got to have my Chef Bill Bailey breakfast.


My biggest supporter, supporting me


 This is what it looks like when Doves Cry

I may have gotten a little emotional despite being self proclaimed as “dead inside” as I began to realize how lucky I am to have such a great family and friends. This would not have happened without the support of my wife, my kids, Staci, and the Boyers who all sacrificed their time to help me achieve this goal. I am overwhelmed by the number of people I realized afterwards that had been following my progress. It is hard to express my gratitude.

Somewhere my Mom is saying, “Why the hell would you want to run 100 miles, are you crazy?”


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