It’s hard to believe that its only been two years. The 2004 Buckeye Trail 50k was the scene of my first ultra. I had recently moved to Cleveland and instantly grew fond of the various trails within the Cuyahoga Valley. To this date, the BT50k is the only 50k I’ve ever run (to go along with a 50M and 70M.)
The week shaped up to be hot, humid and waterlogged. The area received 4 inches of rain on Thursday night alone. Twenty-five miles to the east in Painesville, flood damage flushed many residents out of their own homes. With the heavy rains, there was no doubt that the dry trail and course records from 2005 were but a distant memory.
The course is an out-and-back on the Buckeye Trail, Ohio’s Millennium Legacy designated trail. The ‘BT’ is a 1400-mile trail that circumnavigates the state (though not all developed.) The BT50K uses a 16-mile section that stretches north-to-south between the Cleveland Metroparks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (yes, Cleveland has a National Park) and traverses the valley several times throughout the race. It’s only an itty-bitty 250-foot river valley, but it’s the roots, rocks and mud gives this trail its character. The terrain rolls and the trail, save the road crossings, is a beautiful single-track trail. Running here, its sometimes difficult to imagine only being minutes away from downtown Cleveland.
If there’s anything such as home field advantage in trail running, for me this is it. After spring marathon season, there’s a regular weekend group out of the Vertical Runner store that runs some portion of the trail. For the past couple years, several of us have helped out with trail crew before and after the race. I ran about 8 miles on Thursday morning marking the course. No doubt it helped out a lot for me to know every inch of this trail.
The race starts in the Brecksville Reservation. With 5 minutes to the start and hardly a soul assembled for the start, I got a good chuckle from my noob friend Louis who said “Are ultras always this low-key?”
After a few announcements, we were off. After the field spread out a bit, I hooked up with Jim Harris (from Cortland) and we ran side-by-side for the first 75 minutes. We talked about his great Laurel Highlands run, the upcoming local races, and we shared the rumors we’ve overheard regarding the new Burning River 100 that is coming to our area next year. Jim was also to RD the Bulldog Duathlon the very next day!
It didn’t take long and we were drenched. The sweat had no place to evaporate in the 90% humidity. We reached Snowville Road inabout 59 minutes and leaving the first aid station together (mile 6) Jim went ahead and we ran within earshot of each other for most of the first 25k. Nearing the last stream crossing before the Pine Lane turn-around, I catch Jim. We make it to the turn (16 miles) in about 2:31. I was 10 minutes behind last year’s pace and I knew sub-5 was out the door.
Two prominent landmarks on the course are the Pine Lane and the Piano Keys. The Pine Lane is a 3/8 mile alley of roots-running and an ankle twist in the making. Piano Keys are the nickname for the 88-step staircase that resides between the Boston Store and Blue Hen Falls. Here's shot of the Piano Keys from last year's race.
The neat thing about an out-and-back course is that you get to see the entire field during the course of the run. It amazes to see the front-runners and how far ahead they really are. I knew a good many first timers this year and its interesting to observe their emotions, whether good, bad, joy, or even sometimes despair. Inevitably in these races, some folks get in over their head. This year was a record amount of starters. Yet only 107 finished from 150+ starters.
After passing the last outbound runner, I knew that the real race began at the 20 mile mark as we depart the Boston Store aid station. In years past I knew how lonely it gets from this point forward as most of the field has by now positioned themselves close to their final placing. Not much passing going on from here.
I have a running partner who has trained with me on the Buckeye Trail for each of the past 3 years, but has not been able to run the race. This year finally, I brought my buddy Roxi along for the last 12 miles. It made me so happy to finally bring her along. We’ve run some road 5k’s together before, but the BT is her domain. For as speedy as she is, and as much as she tries, she never seems to catch the deer.
I hit the Boston Store aid station in 3:12, and now 12 minutes slower than last year. Rob Lisy was the aid station captain for the second year. He had a nice cold water bottle waiting for me. The sun was climbing higher in the sky and temps rising. For hydration I used exclusively water and suceed!caps. For nutrition, my main fuel drink was a mix of Sustained Energy (Hammer) and Ultima Replentisher. I consumed one bottle each in the 2nd and 4th hours. I filled in the gaps with a package of Clif Blocks. I figure I consumed about 900 calories in the race.
I carried two bottles (44 oz) throughout the race and I noticed that those who carried only one were running out of fluids. For me, it turned out to be the right choice. The aid stations here are 4-6 miles apart.
The last aid station of the race is in the valley floor at the Snowville Road crossing. I arrive there in about 4:08 and a full 15 minutes slower than last year. The last leg of the race is the most rugged and for that reason its my favorite section. This year the rain washed out several sections of the trail. There is one infamous washed out side-slope where about a ½ dozen down trees skewed the trail. To pass this section, at one point its hopping from log to log. At the next moment I was crawling on my hands and knees in the mud to get up over the last slippery log. Yet Roxi had no problems…hmmm.
While the trail was wet and muddy, the story of the day remained the heat. It was now into the mid-90s at the 5 hour mark and the temp stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. I knew it was a tough day as I slowed. I fully expected a charge from the pack behind me. I used the fear of being passed as a motivator to keep me moving forward. The single-track trail ends at Ottawa Point and with about 1.5 miles to the finish the trail transitions to a mix of bridal and double-track trails. I tried to keep a little reserve for the last runnable 1.5 miles.
When the day started, my goal was 5:15. As I crossed Snowville, I knew it was going to be close--needed to pick up the pace a bit to make it in 67 minutes. But on this day I did not have a good finishing kick like last year. I survived the heat and wandered to the finish in my best run/walk mix. I made it! Unofficial 5:21 and 14th place.
Normally, Roxi has no problem with the distance as her PR is 20 miles of BT. But even on this day she was wiped out. Poor thing. But after a short rest it didn’t take long before she was up again playing crowd favorite with the tennis ball.
The race was over and the camaraderie was just beginning. Of course, the front runners are talking about how tough it was. Most everyone was about 25-30 minutes slower than last year. The men’s winner was Kam in 4:31 and the women’s winner was Connie in 5:00.
While satisfied with my accomplishment for the day, my absolute favorite part of the race was kicking back near the finish line watching them all come in. Especially talking to the the first-timers. To see the smile on their face is one thing, but to hear the stories flow is priceless. Special kudos to first-timers Doc Louis, Mel, and Kellie. Too cool. Also kudos to Vince at the Vertical Runner. Thanks to him, the Buckeye Trail 50K has become a wildly popular local race. For $25, we got an amazing value. I waited to the end with Vince as the last runner came in just shy of 10 hours.
As for the local ultra scene, the post race chatter centered around the announcement of a new local club called the NE Ohio Trail Runner’s Club and the news of the Burning River 100 in August 2007. The 16 miles of the BT50K course is going to be part of this 100.
Yeah, this year’s BT50k was a bit hot. I pushed on knowing that our weather was nothing compared to the heat of Badwater, eh? Yet I cannot imagine yet what its going to take to finish the Burning River 100 in AUGUST 2007! Triple today's distance in the hot, humid Cuyahoga? Egad.
Leave a trail,