Record trend continues at the Buckeye Trail 50 km
Fourteen years ago, Joe Jurczyk introduced the first Buckeye Trail 50 km as a low-key birthday fun run. Twelve runners participated in that inaugural event. According to Jurczyk, the main reason for the run was to “introduce runners to some of the local trails that we have here in the Cuyahoga Valley.”
Back then, runners would simply sign their name and time on a clipboard after finishing. The summer 50k continued this way for the first 10 years under Jurczyk and the race grew to a modest number of 50 runners.
In 2004 Vince Rucci, co-owner of the Vertical Runner trail running store, took the helm of the event and has grown the fun-run into a highly competitive and popular trail race. In each of the five years under Rucci’s direction, the number of participants and finishers has increased – from 50 participants in 2003 to a record 185 starters this year.
Part of the reason for its growing popularity is Rucci’s grass-roots efforts in the community. In addition to race directing and promotion, Rucci leads group familiarization runs on the course in preparation for the race. “The Buckeye Trail 50 km is a popular first-time ultra,” says Rucci. “After the spring marathon season, it’s fun to switch it up from road running and get dirty on the trails.”
The 15th Buckeye Trail 50 km was held July 19, starting from the Oak Grove picnic area of the Cleveland Metroparks Brecksville Reservation. The course is an out-and-back on the Buckeye Trail, Ohio’s Millennium Legacy designated trail. The Buckeye Trail is a 1,400-mile trail that circumnavigates the state, although it’s not all developed. The 50 km course covers a 16-mile section that stretches north-to-south between the Cleveland Metroparks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The trail wanders through the forest and traverses the valley several times throughout the race. The Cuyahoga Valley is only a 300-foot river valley, but its roots, rocks and mud gives this trail its character. The terrain is hilly enough and the trail, save the road crossings, is a beautiful and mostly single-track path. Running in the valley, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine being only minutes away from downtown Cleveland.
For the second consecutive year, registration reached capacity and closed by mid-June. This year there were 185 starters and 156 finishers – both new event records.
Also for the second straight year, a course record was broken along with several age-group records. Despite humid conditions and temperatures climbing well into the 80s, the lack of rain preceding the race provided a dry, fast trail conducive for speed. The trail’s typical mud was avoided on this day.
Kam Lee finished first with a time of 4:10:16, claiming his sixth win in seven years. Damon Blackford placed second, setting a new master’s age record with his time of 4:19:10.
Beth Woodward had never run an ultra or trail race and started showing up to Rucci’s group runs last month. In her very first ultra and trail race, Woodward placed first among women and third overall. Her time of 4:37:15 set a new women’s course record that shaved two minutes off Allison Had’s 2005 effort.
Jeff Ubersax placed fourth and reset his own Grand Master’s record in 4:41:23. Denise Flores broke the women’s Grand Master’s record in 6:26:45.
Elizabeth Hansen improved upon her 2007 Buckeye Trail debut, placing second in 5:01:37. Dawn Malone, 2007 Burning River 100 champion, placed third in 5:30:19.
Steve Godale finished sixth and became the event’s only 15-time finisher. The oldest finisher of the day was 79-year old Leo Lightner, who came in with a time of 9:14:35 and a smile on his face. Leo aspires to run this year’s JFK 50 Mile at age 80.
If there was a different vibe at this year’s Buckeye Trail race, it was because some participants were running the 50 km as a last “training run” for the Burning River 100 mile, to be held only two weeks later on August 2. Rucci and Jurczyk have teamed up to form a seven-race Western Reserve Trail Running Series in northeast Ohio, including the BT50K and BR100.
For more information on the Western Reserve Trail Running series, visit www.wrtr.org.
Thanks to race sponsors Merrell, Vertical Runner, and to chef Bill Bailey for the post-race grub. Also thanks to the local park systems that permit the race to take place: The Cleveland Metroparks and Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Full results (156 finishers)