Monday, May 05, 2008

Report: Green Jewel 100k

A long report for a long run.

Around Cleveland, there's a distinction that divides the region between east and west. Each side of the city lives and plays on their side with little commingling across town. As an Ohio transplant, I've discovered that a Cleveland way of life is to recognize this distinction and for residents to proudly claim their status as an "eastsider" or "westsider."

Though the region holds a geographical divide, uniting Cleveland and Northeast Ohio are it's fabulous and accessible park systems. For a metro area, Cleveland enjoys an vast amount of protected parkland. Between the Cleveland Metroparks system and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, no neighborhood is farther than five minutes or five miles from a park.

Connecting the parks are a system of paths and roads that form Cleveland's "Emerald Necklace," a route that bridges the divide between east and west. When I heard news of the new Green Jewel ultra I relished the chance to celebrate our parks with the challenge of running the entire length of the Emerald Necklace. Since my home is couple miles from the start, how could I resist?

After a solid race at Boston only twelve days ago, I was unsure of my condition to complete the distance. I have my sights set on Laurel Highlands Ultra in six weeks. The Green Jewel became a no-pressure chance to test my gear, nutrition, and to accumulate a great amount of time on feet. Mentally, I wrapped my mind around the notion of running 62 miles on pavement by allowing myself permission to drop out at anytime during the run. I took comfort in the option to stop after 50 kilometers (31 miles.)

Early Saturday morning, twelve ultrarunners embarked on the Green Jewel ultra -- a 100 kilometer run presented by Western Reserve Trail Running and the Vertical Runner store. Starting at the mouth of the Rocky River in Lakewood, the course follows the path of the Emerald Necklace and finishes in the North Chagrin Reservation on the east side.

In the back of my head, I estimated the run would take ten to eleven hours. I did my best to check my competitive instinct and to take time to enjoy all the scenery. Spring is finally here as evidenced by budding trees and the parkway's greenery. I planned to share the day with friends by snapping photos and sending text messages along the way.

Goals for the day:
1. Don't break anything
2. Accumulate time on feet
3. Complete a run of Cleveland's Emerald Necklace

The forecast called for morning rain with temps in the 60s most of the day. I prepped a bag of gear with a change of clothes and a few of my preferred foods and beverages. A bike companion would accompany me during the middle miles and provide aid to me if needed.

The run started in darkness at 5:00 AM. Being from the west side, I was intimately familiar with the first 15 miles in the Rocky River Reservation -- a path I've run many times. I carried a single bottle waist-pack, a rain jacket, and enough powdered ULTRA beverage to refill my bottle six times. With the aid stations spaced every five miles on a paved path, traveling light was an option. Though there was no necessity to carry anything at all, this day was a good day to test the gear required for more rugged ultra races.

With such a small field, I took the time in the first few miles to chat with each participant. I discovered that about half the runners intended to run 50k and six or seven would attempt the 100k. After the first aid station at five miles, the runners spread out and I found myself running with a familiar friend -- Dave -- who crewed for me at Laurel two years ago. Some of my most memorable time with Dave are my experiences as pacer and crew for Dave at the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 in each of the last two years.

I didn't load up on carbohydrates and liquids very well prior to this run. Instead of taking multiple days to load up, I tried stuffing myself full all in the last 24 hours. I felt bloated in the early miles and found myself stopping to water the trees a lot. If I were racing, I'd be frustrated the frequent stops. Thankfully, it was early morning in the dark with no one around.

The 60 degree temperature felt comfortable but the forecast rain loomed large in the dark clouds. Having completed the entire length of the Rocky River Reservation, rain sprinkles started by 7:30 AM as we passed the fifteen mile mark and started through the Mill Stream Run Reservation in the cities of Berea and Strongsville.

The first twenty miles of this course are relatively flat and very runnable. Normally in trail ultrarunning, the hills or rugged terrain dictates when to run or walk. In road ultras, the strategy is less obvious. Employing a run to walk ratio is a normal strategy, but on this day I played it by ear. Recalling my only other experience with a road ultra at the Presque Isle 12 hour, I remember using a 25/5 (minutes) run to walk strategy. I planned to walk at some point, but ran freely for the first few hours without much walking.

Near mile 20, I stopped to use the restroom and Dave continued on. Leaving the Mill Stream Run, I approached the first real hill and the highest portion of the county as we approached mile 24 and the Ridge Road aid station. The rainfall was steady but not uncomfortable. At this point, Courtney, my bike companion found me and accompanied me for the next few hours. Having her along for conversation lifted my spirits and the miles started clicking by with less thought of the daunting second half of the Green Jewel course.

The next 6 miles departed from the paved path and followed the Valley Parkway -- a rolling road through North Royalton that connects to the Brecksville Reservation and the mid-way point of the course. We arrive at 50k in 5:07 and I mentioned to my companion that I was not sure that I wanted to run the entire 100k. Like good a crew person she ignored me.

The Brecksville Reservation sits on the west side of the Cuyahoga Valley and borders the National Park. After a two mile descent to the valley floor, I stopped to grab a sugar-free Red Bull from my Sherpa. While drinking, I took my first extended walk break for about ten minutes until reaching Station Road Bridge and the Cuyahoga River.

The next three miles were on the Towpath Trail that runs adjacent to the river that divides the region between east and west. The walk break and caffeine revived my senses enabling me to return to a decent running pace. The east side of the Emerald Necklace was less familiar to this westsider. After crossing the Cuyahoga River valley, the real test of the Green Jewel was just beginning with the hills of Bedford and Solon looming ahead.

I am grateful for the companionship of my bike companion on this rainy day. Before parting ways at the Alexander Road aid station (mile 37) I changed out of soggy shoes, socks, and clothes and felt ready to continue for the final 25 miles alone. The addition of headphones provided a musical companion to motivate me along the eastward azimuth.

Now passing the noon hour, based on the forecast I expected the clouds to clear up some. I left Alexander Road with no second layer or rain jacket. I don't know what I was thinking, but it's been nearly a year since I had done a longer ultra run. My training is rusty. I had forgotten how the body's core temperature drops in the later miles of a long ultra run. Now without crew, I was on my own wearing only a sleeveless shirt. Perhaps I was still thinking like a marathoner and that 55F, even in rain, was a hot day. Soon I would learn my lesson for the day.

The twelve miles from 37 to 49 are rolling terrain through the Bedford and South Chagrin Reservations; a stark contrast to the flat miles of the west side. Climbing through Bedford nearing mile 40, I resigned myself to more walking and less running. I dismissed any time goals and intended to enjoy the day more by taking more photos and making a few phone calls. Steady rain continued and my fresh set of clothes were now soaked. Since the aid station volunteers were leap-frogging, I would not see my drop bag again until after mile 50. I pressed forward the best I could, now walking more often, finally reaching the top of the hill in Solon at the Harper Road aid station and mile 49. The time was now 1:45 PM and about 8:45 into the run. The rain finally stopped.

In my experience, every run has that magical sensation when knowing that finishing is no longer a question. I arrived at this moment with 13 miles to go. Although the pavement was taking it's toll on my sore quads and feet, two downhill miles from 49-51 energized me. The rain had stopped, my second wind appeared, and all was wonderful my world. I did some calculating and figured if I could average ten minute miles that I could finish in a respectable time under 11 hours.

At mile 51 the paved path ends at Chagrin River Road. The next 10 miles head north on River Road towards the finish at North Chagrin Reservation. Dodging occasional high-speed traffic while balancing on tired legs added to the challenge. I looked forward to snapping photos of scenic farms and homes along the the Chagrin River valley.

Out of nowhere came a downpour. There was no escaping the drenching rain. The only was to stay warm was to continue running. My second wind disappeared soon after I found it but at this point I was not going to be denied. I arrived at the Polo Grounds aid station (mile 53), but my drop bag was with the other volunteer. This was the last planned aid station that left nine miles to the finish. Now at 9:30 into the run, I held the motivation to finish strong and under 11 hours. I head back out into the rain with the goal to secure the treasured Green Jewel.

When I thought rain could get no worse, I witness fast-moving dark clouds above. I push ahead. By mile 55, I am caught directly in a rain squall. The torrential rain was so heavy and drenching that I ducked under a stand of trees to call for help. My poor phone became water logged and I'm still wondering if I caused damage to it. My core temperature dropped further as I questioned my sanity and I yearned for a rain jacket. There was no choice to stay warm other than to keep running in the downpour. At this moment I felt a connection to Forrest Gump. Running in sideways rain, an incredibly nice couple pulled along side to ask if I wanted a ride. As tempting as it was, I left them perplexed when I said, "No, I'm just out for a run."

Vince the race director pulls up to me by mile 57. Although the rain continued, changing into dry clothes felt great, if only to head back into the rain. What a difference a second layer makes as I instantly felt warmer and comfortable to run. I learned a valuable lesson to always carry an extra layer in marginal conditions, especially in the latter miles.

Ready for this journey to end, I continued along River road through the towns of Moreland Hills and Gates Mills. Finally reaching the North Chagrin Reservation, the final 1.5 miles rejoined the paved metropark path and up the hill to the finish near the picnic area.

Wouldn't you know it, but the clouds break up and the sun shines brightly at the finish. The treasure hunt ended and the Green Jewel found in 11 hours 26 minutes.

Dan, the first place runner, was motivated by a five o'clock plane flight to Europe. At the start, Dan stated that he had to finish in 10.5 hours in order to make the flight. Amazingly he did so. I can only imagine the leg stiffness Dan endured on his flight. Dave also finished ahead, but not without excitement of his own. He missed the final turn to the park and was found headed towards Pennsylvania before being redirecting back on course.

At this time, the final results are not published. I did hear that everyone finished at least 50k and that 6 runners completed the 100k. I am grateful to have celebrated the Cleveland Metroparks by covering on foot the distance of the Emerald Necklace. Though the story of the day was the dreary and rainy day, I will not forget our region's real treasure -- having a great park system so close to a great city.

Special thanks to the folks from Pure Fuel for providing the delicious energy bars at the aid stations.

Click here for my photo album of the day.


Blogger Meredith said...

Holy cow! You really pushed thru some tough times during that race. first off, the shear lack of participants must be hard, where you find yourself basically alone for the race. That was so nice that you had a bike pacer for the middle miles. You had a great run, a pretty decent time, and got a lot of good training for LH in! I really enjoyed all the updates thru your run :) Thanks for including me.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Blaine Moore said...

Sounds like it was well worth doing! I'll have to remember the lesson about the extra layer late in a race. That will come in handy when I venture beyond the marathon and 50k distances.

1:24 PM  
Blogger cr said...

Lloyd! You are in phenominal shape. Reminds me of me in 2006 leading up to Laurel Highlands. You are going to rock at Laurel. What a confidence boost leading up to the big day. Congrats! Dave must be in great shape for MMT. At least he looks like it. Train smart these next few weeks. Good luck to you my friend. -cr

8:28 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Lloyd, way to persevere and congrats on a great run! I enjoyed reading your report. I'll see you at Laurel next month. Looking forward to it!

8:54 PM  
Blogger JJ Jessee said...

Great run, pretty gutzy to tackle 100k 2 weeks after a hard Boston.
Well done, photos were great. My DW grew up in Bay Village. We visit occasionally still, so I've heard of alot of those places.
Good Luck at LH,

9:51 PM  
Blogger Tim Looney said...

Lloyd - congrats on a great race. You continue to inspire. You are well on your way for Laurel Highlands. You are training well and you are strong.

8:28 AM  

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