Egbert Shelter to Alexander Road (5 miles, 28.4 miles total)
I took a deep breath as I left the Egbert Shelter aid station. I knew this part was going to get dicey. In 2008, this is the section that forced me to don my one-size-too-small Vibram KSOs, which ultimately led to a host of foot problems. I was ready, though. Through training, I forged by body and mind into a fearless gravel-running barefoot ninja.
The loop starts out smooth. Hard-packed dirt mixed with an occasional rock… as my daughter would say “It was easy-peasy!” That false sense of security vanished quickly. The gravel starts out fairly smooth. Then you hit a climb. It took a little evasive hopping around, but it was still doable. At the top of the hill, the rugged trail REALLY began.
My thought process:
The first 100 yards as I am still running: “Damn! This is more rugged than I remember.”
The second 100 yards, still running despite stepping on at least ten VERY large, sharp rocks: “Okay, this is a lot harder than I anticipated. Be cool, Jason, be cool. Just relax and float over the trail…”
By the 1/4 mile mark, now walking: “What the Hell was I thinking? This shit is impossible to run on!”
By the one mile mark as about twenty runners have passed me and my pace has slowed to a 30 minute/mile tap dance “Oh my god, what am I doing?!? If there’s any chance of finishing this race, I’m going to need some protection! I think I packed my huaraches. This was the stupidest idea I’ve ever had! I have almost nine more miles before I see my crew!
After the two mile mark, the trail smoothed out to allow some occasional running. The damage had been done, however. My average pace shot up like a rocket. I was passed by what seemed like forty runners. My feet were badly bruised from the relentlessly tight-packed sharp rocks. I tweaked my left Achilles on a particularly rocky climb.
I had to make a decision. Do I continue the race barefoot and accomplish a long-standing goal, or do I change to my huaraches and dramatically increase the chances of finishing. At that point, I seriously doubted I could run another 70 miles or so on bruised feet over terrain that will be just as rugged in select sections. I agonized over this decision for the next seven miles or so.
It’s worth noting- many of the runners that passed me commented how brave I was for running this barefoot. I have to be honest… if I saw someone doing what I was doing, I would think they were idiots. There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity… I think I overshot that line by a safe distance.
Eventually I came to the Alexander Road aid station. Barefoot Johnny O was one of the volunteers here, so he was a welcome sight. I know I didn’t represent barefoot runners very well as I’m sure I did a lot of whining and complaining about the rocks.
Johnny and the rest of the volunteers gave me a very good description of the next section. I’d be on relatively smooth trails for two or three miles before hitting the crushed limestone towpath. I could handle this…
Section pace: 14:12
Alexander Road to Station Road Bridge (4.9 miles, 33.3 total)
This next section was a breeze compared to the last. The trail was comprised of hard-packed dirt with large, flat shale-like stones protruding in various places. It took some focus to avoid tripping, but this section allowed for a MUCH faster pace than the last. I ran as much as possible to make up for the time lost in the previous section.
Eventually I hit the towpath which follows the river (Cuyahoga I’m guessing). This was a welcome change. Even though crushed limestone can be somewhat tough on bare feet, it was like a relaxing shiatsu massage compared to the meat grinder rocks of the previous section.
Since I was more or less on auto pilot this section, I did a lot of soul-searching. I still had to make a decision about the huaraches. I knew I was in great condition to PR the course despite my bruised feet and tweaked Achilles, but I would need to be able to run over the rough gravel sections. I couldn’t afford to walk. My competitive side kicked in and I made the decision to go with the sandals.
Towards the end of this loop, I ran into Buzzie, a fellow Kickster. We chatted for a minute, she was looking strong. Two runners in from of us had missed a turn. She shouted out to them. Good thing… I didn’t notice the turn either. I would have absent-mindedly followed those two.
This aid station seemed to have more activity. As I turned the corner and crossed a bridge, I saw Jimmy V.’s crew waving frantically. I thought they were cheering for me, which made me feel great! As I got closer, I saw my crew right next to them. All three were breathing hard. Later, I found out they had just arrived. Shelley V. and crew were waving at them to signal I was coming in.
I immediately asked for my Injinji toe socks and huaraches, which they did not have. I knew the huaraches were in a Rubbermaid container that was still in the car. The Injinjis were in a black duffel bag, still in the car. I think Shelly may have replied “But they’re not here.”
All four of us silently stared at each other. I didn’t want to be rude, but I needed the shoes. I fully expected one of them to go to the car and get them. Jesse piped in “I’ll get them!” and sprinted off. I went through my normal routine of eating what I could.
The crew had bought me a Wendy’s hamburger, so I ate that. I think I may have drank another Slim-Fast, which worked very well. I started applying some lube and wondered where Jesse was. Damn, I hope I did pack the huaraches…
He came sprinting back carry the large bag. The socks were in there, but the huaraches were in the large rubbermaid container. When I came into the aid station, I told the crew the socks and huaraches were in the bag. Jesse took off again as I put on the socks.
Amid this chaos, I briefly saw Lloyd Thomas (Roots) from Kickrunners. He’s this aid station’s captain and does a wonderful job.
A minute later, Jesse came sprinting back with the huaraches. I put them on, thanked the crew, and was off!
It wasn’t until later that I learned the car was actually parked about a half mile away. Jesse had actually sprinted about two miles trying to recover my shoes. Thank you, Jesse.
Section pace: 12:02
Station Road Bridge to Ottawa Point (6.3 miles, 39.6 miles total)
This next section went very well. The huaraches made a world of difference. This section consisted of some paved trail interspersed with long sections of hard-packed dirt trails. It would have been very easy to run barefoot, but the huaraches allowed me to run a little faster.
Admittedly, the pink-laced huaraches, black Injinjis, and Sport Kilt looked a little ridiculous. If I would have planned on using them, I would have opted for the black laces.
About two miles into this loop, there was an unmanned water stop. I topped off my bottles as a precaution. The day was beginning to get warm, and my increased pace was causing a fair amount of sweat. I also began to closely monitor my electrolyte intake.
One third of the race had been completed. I was well below a 24 hour pace, which is exactly where I wanted to be. A sub-24 hour finish was a pipe dream, though. I knew my pace would slow considerably after dark. Right now, I was just riding the good feelings.
At some point I hit the Ottawa Point aid station. This was a quick stop. I changed shirts, ate a bit, took a leak, and was off. My crew was beginning to really gel at this point. This stop felt very smooth.
Section Pace: 14:36
Ottawa Point to Snowville (4.2 miles, 43.8 miles total)
This section was also mostly forgotten. Except for a single bizarre. I was cruising along around mile 40. I was feeling pretty sore at that point, so I was likely running at about a 13-14 minute pace. Suddenly, I felt an incredibly sharp, shooting pain in my right heel!
My immediate thought- “Oh my god, my Achilles tendon just snapped!” A second later, I realized it was a bee sting. A few years ago, Ava (age 4 at the time) and I were stung multiple times by wasps in our backward. In a panic, I took off sprinting as fast as I could. According to the Garmin, I hit an 8:00 mile for about 400 meters.
Once I thought the coast was clear, I stopped. I looked down at my right ankle AND THE BEE WAS STILL THERE! It was trapped in my huarache strap. I beat it a few times with my water bottle, then flung the sock and sandal off. I looked for a protruding stinger, but found none.
Once I put the sock and sandal back on, I took off again. The pain interfered with my gait, but subsided by the time I reached the next aid station.
The Snowville aid station was pretty busy. About five or six runners all came in at the same time. I think I ate some bananas and drank a lot of Coke… maybe a few gels, too. The aid station workers asked a lot of questions about the kilt, including the now-common “What do you wear underneath?”
Section Pace: 14:32
Snowville to Boston Store #1 (5.3 miles, 49.1 total)
This section starts with a large climb. As I was climbing, I was surprised my legs felt as good as they did. After 40+ miles, my only problem was my tweaked left Achilles. Everything else felt great! Fatigue was setting in and my knees were getting a little sensitive on downhills, but there was little muscle soreness. The crosstraining I do was clearly paying off.
This section has a lot of hills… 2000ft.+ of elevation change. I was still running the flats, power-hiking the hills, and gingerly navigating the downhills. I was traveling at about the 24 hour pace at this point.
Like several of the earlier sections, I do not have too many memories here. I do remember following a group of about four guys. I would catch up on the up hills, they would pull away on the downhills. I passes a few people that were hiking… most stared at my kilt/pink huarache combo.
As I neared the aid station, I could hear the voices and music. At least I remember music. As I crossed the bridge, my crew was easy to spot since they were still dressed in their blue and orange “Crew” shirts. I think this was the first aid station I sat down to actually rest. The juxtaposition next to the road gave it a pit stop-esque feel.
I sat down and my crew jumped into action. I’m not quite sure who did what, but Art, Jesse, and Shelly efficiently swapped my water bottles, refilled my electrolytes, gave me a cup of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and a cup of chia (I mixed the two to create an iskiate-like mixture), a can of Slim Fast, and a gel or two.
There were tons of people surrounding us on all sides. This made lubing somewhat difficult, but Jimmy V.’s crew acts as human shields. Thanks guys!
After resting and chatting for a minute, I meandered over to the aid station table and downed a few cups of water and Mountain Dew. At this point, I was draining both water bottles regularly. The little extra hydration would really help.
I wandered back over to the chair and Art firmly told me to get going. For the first time, they had to kick me out of the aid station. I’m glad, otherwise I would have lingered even more.
Section pace: 14:20
Boston Store 1 to Boston Store 2 (5.4 miles, 54.5 miles total)
This section is a loop. At the end of the loop, I will be able to pick up Shelly as a pacer. Since I was near the half-way point, I would begin a 10 minute run/ two minute walk strategy.
I was definitely feeling the effects of around 10-12 hours on my feet. The walking sections were a welcome relief, and it was somewhat difficult to get back to a respectable pace once I began running.
This section starts with a flat bike path, jumps to a pretty cool trail, past some waterfalls I decided not to stop and admire, back to trails until reaching Boston Store again. During this loop, I chatted with a few runners, but mostly ran by myself. I was eager to get back; Shelly would provide some much-needed company and distraction.
This section had some relatively tough climbs, but it was the downhill sections that were really slowing my pace. This was the section that caused me to completely break down in 2008. I was pleasantly surprised to find I still felt good mentally.
Eventually I came back to Boston Store. I really don’t remember much from this stop other than a brief discussion about lights. Based on the pictures, i also lubed my feet for the first and only time. I wanted to take my headlamp, but Art insisted we’d make it through the next 9.6 miles well before dusk. I hesitantly agreed, grabbed a few things from the aid station, and Shelly and I headed out.
Section time: 16:18