Before I dive into the race, I should explain my sometimes controversial race strategy. In the past, I’ve tried a variety of methods. Most race strategies involved starting VERY at a VERY slow pace to conserve energy. This idea was manifested in a run/walk strategy. My favorite was an “eight/ two” ratio: run for eight minutes, then walk for two. Additionally, I would walk all uphills and run all downhills.
This strategy presented two major problems. First, it never felt good. I never felt like I was able to find a groove. The transition from run to walk and back again was too distracting. Second, it was too slow. From the beginning of the race, I would be close to the cutoff time. The conservative nature did not suit me well.
I found a new strategy thanks to Jeremiah Cataldo, my ultrarunner friend mentioned in the first part. He would run as long as possible, then switch to a more conservative run/ walk ratio. Given that he is a MUCH better runner, I listened. Through experimentation, I found it suited me well.
For Burning River, this was my plan:
- Run at a comfortable pace for the first 30 miles, likely between 10 and 12 minute miles, and walk all hills;
- From mile 30 to 50, slow down as needed, maybe to 12 to 14 minute miles;
- From mile 50 to 70, implement a 10/2 run/ walk ratio
- Walk from 70 to finish, run when possible.
For the most part, this is what I did. If I had more training mileage, I am confident I could move the mileage back at each level. This plan was realistic, however.
The Race- Start Line to Old Mill Road (4.8 miles)
A stampede of runners made their way across the dew-covered open field. A few people commented about having to run in damp shoes. I smiled as my bare feet would be dry within minutes.
After a few hundred yards, we turned onto the asphalt road that would carry us for the next nine or ten miles. This section was uneventful. A lot of runners were engaging in conversation. I answered a myriad of questions about the kilt are bare feet. I settled into a comfortable 10:30 pace for this section.
As we neared the first aid station, darkness gave way to dawn. This area of Ohio is quite striking with what appear to be large horse ranched dotting the countryside.
The aid station at Old Mill Road was a very fast stop. I refilled my lone water bottle with HEED and quickly headed out.
Old Mill Road to Polo Fields (4.8 miles, 9.6 total)
Section two was nearly identical to section one. The entire section consisted of rolling hills on asphalt roads. There was at least one fairly long road that required walking, and it showed in my average pace which dropped to 10:40.
I met up with Scott Handley, a fellow Kickrunners forum member and Michigander. He had recently finished his first 100 miler at Javalina late last year. He would go on to finish the race shortly after me. I also met a gentleman from Sacramento, CA. Since that area would be one of my dream destinations for future relocation, I asked him a ton of questions. He graciously answered them all. As it turns out, he had also considered moving to Auburn, CA, the finishing point of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Western States is the highest profile event in ultrarunning.
At the end of this section, I met my crew for the first time. The Polo Fields aid station was quite busy as the runners were still fairly close together. This would also be my first experience with the spectators cheering for “the barefoot guy in the kilt”. The reception was definitely warm and welcoming.
My crew, despite this being their first aid station, quickly and efficiently exchanged my water bottles, replaces my supply of electrolyte capsules, and had a large selection of food waiting. I chose a pint of chocolate milk and a handful of Pringles from the aid station. The crew offered my a Toronado from the local gas station, but I declined. I had asked them to get me a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich from McDonalds, but they were closed. We should have learned our lesson during the Mind the Ducks trip; we should have checked closing and opening times for area stores and restaurants.
I said goodbye to the crew and headed out to the bridle trail that made up the next section.
Polo Fields to Harper Ridge (5.8 miles, 15.4 miles)
The first half mile of this section was a bit rough as the chocolate milk did not sit well. I normally do not have this problem, but it could be the result of this being the first dairy product I had eaten in three weeks. Regardless, the problem resolved itself quickly.
The bridle trail was relatively smooth. It was mostly gravel-covered, but it was easy to dodge the injurious rocks. It was uneventful as I chatted with the occasional runner and focused on maintaining a steady pace.
The slightly rough terrain and a net altitude gain of almost 500 feet slowed my pace to about 11:25 miles. I was still feeling great at this point, though I was anticipating a mini-crash at the end of this section.
I was in a zone for most of this section. I missed a turn at one point. Thankfully, another runner yelled to warn me. Luckily I had only run about 50 yards. I have no idea how I missed the turn, it was VERY well-marked.
Harper Ridge to Shadow Lake (3.2 miles, 18.6 total)
This next section was quite uneventful. The trails were easy; there were no significant climbs.
The most significant event was the aid station- I met my crew for the second time. When coming into the aid station, I got the same applause and cheering due to the kilt and lack of shoes.
This aid station went even smoother than the first. My crew was becoming a well-oiled machine! This time, my crew found an open McDonalds. They managed to score me a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit and hash browns. I think they may have also had an orange juice. I decided to drink another pint of chocolate milk along with the OJ. I’d carry the sandwich and eat it on the run. I declined the hash browns. Lucky me. My crew showed me this picture later after the race:
Since the temperature was increasing, I’d begin carrying my second handheld water bottle at this point. With two water bottles and a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich in hand, I hit the trail.
Section for pace: 11:15
Shadow Lake to Egbert Station (4.8 miles, 23.4 total)
This section was equally uneventful. There were some short but frequent climbs which slowed the pace, but they did not provide any problems. Feet felt good, legs felt good. I was drinking and taking electrolytes on a regular basis. I was urinating about every 90 minutes or so. Sidebar- kilts
have many advantages, one of which is ease-of-access.
As it turns out, I didn’t eat the sandwich. I tossed it in a ditch after about a mile. At this point, solid food was not palatable. I wasn’t worried, I still had a huge supply of Slim Fast, Frappucinno, Mike’s Hard Lemonade iskiate, and Red Bull.
The Egbert Shelter aid station did not have crew access, but the aid workers were great! I got the usual questions about barefoot running. A few of the volunteers had recently tried Vibrams so I gave them some advice. I didn’t stay long, as I knew what was ahead.
My big worry: the next section. Based on my 2008 attempt, I knew the next section included some VERY gnarly gravel. This was the beginning of the end to my attempt that year. This section gave me nightmares.
I was ready, though. I trained on the roughest trails I could find in West Michigan. I ran on chip and seal asphalt. My feet were as tough as they have ever been. My gravel-running skills were honed to perfection. I was ready… or so I thought….
Section pace: 12:18
To be continued…
Crew pictures… this is what they do when not tending to my needs: