Saturday, July 25, 2015

Burning River 100: July 25th, 2015 "Second Time is a Charm!"

In 2013 my attempt at Burning River 100 miler came up short.  A severe pain in the arch of my foot caused me to limp for 18+ miles and I ultimately timed out at mile 74.  I was really bummed out because I had put so much time and effort into training and a bunch of family and friends came out to support me.  After I dropped I was not sure if I would try Burning River again but when Joe Gatton read my blog post he decided that he wanted to run Burning River 100 in 2015.  I agreed to run with Joe in 2015 and get this monkey off my back!  I was definitely nervous about going into this race and the possibility of failing a second time.  It would certainly be a huge letdown if that happened.  Joe and I both had excellent months of training leading up to the race and our crew and pacer logistics came together nicely.

About three weeks before the race I was feeling burned out from all of the training miles.  I struggled making it through most of my short taper runs.  The weekend before the race I was up on my roof cleaning off some debris and I somehow strained my lower back,  The whole week it killed me to just get up from my chair at work.  I thought all of these things working against me were natures way of telling me I was doomed and not going to finish the race.  The day before the race Jess and I left work early and got to the hotel around 5:30 pm.  The race was going to start at 4:00 am the next day so by 6:30 pm I had all my race stuff organized and set out and we were already laying down to get some sleep.  Joe and Debra were arriving at the hotel later so we told them we would talk in the morning.  Of course I laid in bed for a good two or three hours before I actually fell asleep.  Then before I knew it a text came into my phone at 2:45 am.  It was Joe "hey Jamie, do you want to run 100 miles today?"  I got good laugh from that text and got out of bed while letting Jess sleep a little longer.  She did not need much time to get ready and she was going to have a long 30 hours crewing so I wanted to make sure she was rested.  I went over to Joe and Debra's room and Joe came out looking all oiled up like he was about to head to a body building competition.  He had applied a decent amount of Vaseline to himself in order to prevent chafing issues which was a great idea since it was going to be the hottest day we had all year.  Joe was super amped up and proclaimed he only had slept for a half hour, yikes!

Winter had extended well into April this year and we had a wet and cool summer right up until race day.  For the first time all summer temperatures were going to climb into the upper 80s and the sun was expected to be blazing along with high humidity.  An ultra runners nightmare!!  Oh well, one of the reasons we participate in this sport is to challenge ourselves to overcome adversity and the weather is just one of the many things we must conquer.  Joe and Debra followed Jess and myself to the race starting area at Squires Castle.  We had a GPS snafu and turned down the wrong road although we quickly realized what we had done and it did not cost us much time.  I spotted some familiar faces at the starting line including my friend Steve Pierce who was running his third 100 miler of the summer because he was trying to complete all four of the midwest 100 mile grand slam events.  I wished him luck and went over last minute crew plans with Jess and Debra.  Joe and I were getting psyched up and I kept having to remind myself to not start out too quickly like I did in 2013.  The key is when the race first starts to hang in the back of the big group so there is little pressure to go faster then what you plan on.

The gun went off and we settled into a nice pace toward the back of the 300 runners.  Cars were driving by us honking and cheering.  We stuck to the plan early on and did not go out fast.  We kept a steady pace with a few walk breaks leading up to the first aid station.  We flew through that aid station and kept the same pace to the next aid station.  Jess was there with our mobile aid station, her car, and that is where I introduced salt and vinegar Pringles as a race food to Joe.  He was pretty stoked about that because they really do hit the spot especially when it is hot outside.  We also heard that Joe's step-dad Larry had cooked 2 lbs of bacon for us and forgot it at his condo.  Not to worry though, he had already gone to the store and bought 3 more lbs and was at Jessica's sister Natalie's house cooking it up!  Then we got off the roads and onto the dirt trails which were a welcome site after running the first 10 miles on hard pavement.  On our way to the next aid station we were crossing a road and we were waiting for a car to pass.  I said it looked like Joe and Debra's car and oddly enough it was Debra driving by us!  We flew through the next aid station and then we were starting to get into some really scenic trails.  In fact, we were running along a cliff edge and it was a long way down to a river.  I told Joe to check out the view and when he looked over he tripped a root and almost launched over the edge.  I decided not to point out anymore awesome views to him!

We got to the next aid station at a park where Debra had some egg Mcmuffins for Joe.  He had been craving them the whole morning and took no time in smashing his breakfast.  I was still only drinking my endurance fuel Tailwind at this point.  Trying to hold off on solid foods as long as possible.  My digestive system does not like to function properly when all the blood is in my legs running these ultramarathons so liquid calories are very beneficial.  Tailwind gives me everything I need from electrolytes to calories and all in a dis solvable powder.  It was at this aid station about mile 24 where my back was hurting.  Jess put some deep blue essential oil on it along with some ice and it really helped me out.  It was also starting to get hot out and Jess and Debra began filling our water bottles with ice and water.  The miles were going by and we were having great conversations and Joe was loudly singing "The Gambler" from Kenny Rogers.  The inspiration behind the Gambler is that Joe and Debra were listening to books on tape during their 1,600 mile drive from Colorado to the starting line at Squires Castle.  The books were about how to play Texas Hold'em because they knew in the week after the race that we would be having a few poker games on our family camping trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The books must of really helped them because they each won when we ended up playing!  Anyway, they were also listening to the Gambler to get psyched up so it was stuck in Joe's head.

We ran into the land shark who is this guy that dresses in a full shark costume for every race he does.  It must of been boiling in that thing!  We also met a guy named Kevin who ran with us for a long time.  Joe was telling him some great stories which kept all three of us laughing out loud.  When the conversation would go silent Kevin would ask Joe to tell him another story!  It is important to keep a good sense of humor during miles 30 - 50 because you start getting tired but are a long way from the finish line.  We spent a few miles on a gravel path with no shade and the sun was blasting us in the hottest part of the day.  It was so hot during that stretch that we walked a lot of it.  If we got a moment of shade then we would resume a light run.  We were overheating but our rock star crew, Jess and Debra, were really great about putting ice in our bandannas and would tie them around our necks.  This would allow cold water to slowly trickle down and also keep the neck area cool.  This really was the key to surviving the heat.  I would not have made it through this if Jess was not there to lead the way with these tricks on staying cool.  We got to one aid station where the volunteers had buckets of cold water and sponges.  As I was filling my bandanna with ice I looked over and there was three girls practically giving Joe a sponge bath with that ice cold water.  I have never seen a bigger smile on his face than in that moment.  That kind of relief from the intense heat is pure gold.  We were laughing as we left that aid station, I think Joe called it heaven, because they really went all out for us runners.  All of the aid stations and volunteers at Burning river were top notch.  It really is a great course and a well structured race.

Half way point and morale is high!
We were at mile 48 and a getting pretty close to the halfway point in the race.  We both felt really good at that moment and we passed a lot of people on our way to the next aid station.  As we were going through a little town the cop directing traffic mentioned that we better hurry in order to beat a train so we sprinted as fast we could and barely made it through before the barricades came down.  We were pretty proud of ourselves for not getting held up by the train but it turned out to be a tiny little train of about 5 cars so it would not of mattered.  Joe was pretty psyched up because some of his family and friends had gathered at he next aid station to cheer him on.  Everyone was there when we arrived and as Joe was caught up in the excitement he missed the check in booth which was poorly located after the crew and supporter area.  After visiting with family and friends along with getting refreshed by the crew we were off once again!  About a mile later Joe realized he did not give his number to the check in person.  He was very concerned about that and as we were in deep conversation about what to do we missed a marked turn in the trail.  Two girls behind us yelled up to us that we had missed the turn.  I will chalk that up to both of us getting paid from our good Karma bank accounts.  We may have realized it at some point but the thought of running a few extra miles during a hundred miler is very defeating!

We got to the next aid station and Joe told them they might of missed his number at the previous aid station.  They told him not to worry about it and he is accounted for.  That was a big relief to Joe and I was happy to hear that it was all good.  Throughout the day he started to get a blister on his toe.  The next aid station we arrived at was the Ledges shelter where family and friends were waiting for us.  It was a good spot to change socks, get our bearings, eat some of Larry's bacon, and get ready for the darkness to set in.  This was at mile 65 or so and after we took care of our business we were off once again!  The next section is where the wheels started to fall off for Joe.  His blister was getting much worse and the light of day slipped away which caused fatigue to set in.  We took it easy in this section and were looking forward to seeing our crew and also our friend and pacer, none other than Frozen Ed Furtaw who is well known in the ultra marathon community.  Joe met Ed in Colorado and they became friends.  Ed was in Michigan taking care of a family member and was gracious enough to offer to drive down and pace us at night.  We hobbled into mile 71 and Ed immediately was surveying the nasty blister Joe had developed on his foot and toe.  He determined there was nothing they could do but lance the blister and tape it up because the major damage had already been done.

The emergency blister surgery on Joe's toe!

After Joe was fixed up and taped we set out on the trail with Ed.  Joe was struggling pretty bad at this point as he was limping and being very quiet which was a big sign to me that he was in major pain.  Joe was telling us that he was happy with what he has accomplished and was planning on dropping out at the next aid station.  I felt bad trying to convince him to keep going but I was hopeful he could pull out of the funk and finish.  Ed tried everything he could to get the pain off Joe's mind but with the lack of sleep and extreme discomfort from the blister it was probably better that he did not continue on after mile 75.  That is a huge accomplishment and I know it is something that Joe is proud of.  I wished Joe well as I headed out into the trails with Ed still by my side.  Miles 75 - 90 went by pretty quickly because Ed was keeping me entertained with his mental library of knowledge on ultra running and also hearing about all of his fantastic adventures and accomplishments.  It was really getting me psyched up in general.  We were power hiking all of the hills and sprinkling in a bit of slow running every now and then.  I called Jess at mile 87 to let her know we would be at the next crew point in a half hour or so.  I had developed some pain on top of my left foot where it meets the leg and it kept growing worse through the later miles.

I was happy when we reached mile 90 because it was pretty much a flat course from there until the finish and also the daylight was starting to come out.  I wished Ed a huge thanks for driving all the way down from Michigan and pacing me through some tough miles of the race.  His experience really shone through as he got me past my lowest points with ease.  The pain on my left foot was actually in my lower shin and had grown severe.  I hobbled down the towpath to the mile 95 aid station where my friend Mitch who was also doing the 100 had showed up.  He assessed my situation and was thinking it was a stress fracture which kind of made sense.  His wife Amy had some KT tape and she was kind enough to tape me up for the last 5 miles to the finish.  Jess was at this aid station and due to the situation with my foot she sprang into action and decided to pace me in the last 5 miles.  It was nice to have her by my side talking to me and keeping my mind off the pain.  In all actuality I should not have continued on but I was not going to be denied this buckle on my second attempt at Burning River.  I had enough time left to limp it the rest of the way in.  We were on the tow path about a mile and a half away from the finish and a huge limb on the street above us fell into a power line and it was on fire.  A crazy site to see at that delirious moment.  A kid on a bike said he was calling the fire department and I was glad I did not have to deal with doing that.  The last half mile goes through a residential section of Cuyahoga Falls and there were a lot of people out cheering as I ran by.  This was awesome motivation to finish this thing once and for all.

It felt great having Jess lead me right up to the finish line.  She did such an awesome job crewing for me all day and night.  I am so appreciative of her efforts.  She knew exactly what I needed at all times and she kept me going even though she was running on limited sleep.  I don't think I could of made it through this race without her.  As I crossed the finish line I was excited to finish what I started in 2013 and now two years later the buckle was mine.  As I crossed the finish line Rob Powell was there cheering me on.  It was unexpected but great to see him there as he's had a huge influence on me since I started ultra running in 2012 and his race Forget the PR 50K was the first ultra I finished and it was with Joe!  I understood Joe's decision to drop from Burning River and I am extremely proud of him for what he accomplished.  He crushed the first 70 miles on that course which is a huge deal and I know that he will be able to finish his next 100 miler with just a few minor adjustments to avoid one of those epic blisters. Joe is a great running companion and friend.  Our conversations literally made the made miles fly by and I am grateful to him for that.  We laughed a lot even though we were participating in a 100 mile race with high humidity and temps in the high 80s.  It is rare for two people to be able to start a 100 mile race together and stay together for that long.  We worked well as a team by staying positive through the difficult miles.

The week after the race we hung out for a few days in Detroit with Joe and Debra and also went camping in the UP with most of Jessica's immediate and extended family.  It was a really great time and perfect way to cap off the post race week.  Well, 2015 was a great race season and I am excited for some good stuff coming up in 2016.  Joe was initially not going to attempt any more 100 milers but I think he has regained his senses and is already planning an epic 100 miler for us in Oregon for 2017!  The J&J express will be steam rolling through the Mountain Lakes 100 in September of 2017!  We are going to get Joe that much deserved 100 mile belt buckle!  Stay tuned for some of my 2016 races which will include the Mohican 100 in June,  It will be my toughest 100 mile challenge to date.
Disclaimer: I have a bunch more pictures to add to this blog post.  They are on a flash drive at Jessica's office but we will post them up as soon as possible.


  1. Hi Jamie,

    Nice write-up and congratulations again for a great 100-mile finish. I really enjoyed sharing part of the experience with you.

    Frozen Ed

    1. Thanks Ed! It was an honor and a pleasure sharing those miles with you. Hope to share some more miles in the near future.