At the start of last year's URINEO FA
, the results of the Massanutten lottery were already in. I was amongst a group of NEO Trail Club
members with a spot secured in the 2009 MMT
. I joined the others for two URINEO loops that day.
Fast forward to this year. This run preceded the MMT lottery yet it was business as usual for NEO Trail Club. Bob Combs, Jim Harris, Dave Peterman and Brian Musick were among the gang aiming for another MMT, as well as continuing their legacy as perennial finishers of the URINEO FA.
URINEO (pronounced any way you like) stands for Ultra Runners In NorthEast Ohio and is a fat ass fun run held on the trails of Youngstown's Mill Creek Park. Now in the fourth edition, only a handful of NEO Trail Club members have finished the entire 50 miles. I started the day with the idea to add my name to this list of esteemed runners.
BIG BEAR EXTINCT?
Technical data about the URINEO/YUT-C courses:
Those familiar with the YUT-C 50k know the 7.5 mile upper loop. It's the main trail loop at MCP. For URINEO the start/finish is at the Lily Pond, situated about two-tenths of a mile from the main loop. Therefore, running the main loop from the Lily Pond nets 7.9 miles per loop. 50k runners need four loops to complete the distance.
Fifty milers need six loops of 8.33 miles to make the full distance. Big Bear is a trail section no longer used at YUT-C. In the original days of the YUT-C 50k, the course utilized the Big Bear section. Adding Big Bear to the 7.9 mile loop creates a perfect eight and one-third miles from the Lily Pond, thus the fifty miles of URINEO requires six full loops. Big Bear included.
The "Monkey Hills" section of trail at MCP features a half-mile cut in the side of a hill with the characteristic of little to no flat spots. Uphill, downhill, or sidehill for nearly the entire way. Hearsay is that Mike Dobies came up with the idea for a Monkey Hills Marathon by repeating this section. Initial measurement of the Monkey Hills was 0.45 mile, or 29 full out-back laps to net the marathon distance. Rough estimates placed the elevation gain near ten thousand feet.
Come URINEO day, Dobies bailed but Slim Jim, the Musick brothers, and Dan K. bought in to the Monkey Hills marathon. I was mildly interested but kept to my task. I expected it would be fun to witness the monkey business.
I wasn't taking the 5 a.m. start like many of the others. That requires a 3 a.m. wake-up call which is too early for me for a "fun run." But I knew by starting at 7 a.m. I risked being the last one out on the course as very few runners aim for the full distance. This year, I was the lone one. I brought enough fuel and fluids for a day-long run. I started with optimism.
About 15 runners started together at 7 a.m. in the dark. I wore a headlamp but never used. The sun rose and along with the regulars, I was reintroduced to a couple runners I met earlier in the year. It was a pleasure to reunite with Todd Hanks, who ran with me during my pacing duties at the Buckeye Half, and hear that he went on to PR and BQ at the Towpath Marathon. Feel-good stories. Also nearby was Gavin White, who ran part of the way with me during YUT-C this year. Both Todd and Alex finished their first ultra-distance runs on this day. Congrats to them.
Loop one finished in a leisurely 88 minutes. After a short pit-stop at the car, I depart on loop two at 8:32 a.m. The day was cold - high 20s at the start with temperatures barely reaching mid-30s during the day. Brilliant sun and clear skies provided agreeable conditions for an ultra-run.
In the spirit of the Monkey Marathon, I decided to skip Big Bear on loops 1-2 and put in its place a repeat of the Monkey Hills. The math aligned well, trading roughly 0.4 for 0.45 miles. I caught up with Slim on this section as he was already on nearing his 20th monkey lap. I didn't quite know how tough this Monkey Marathon would be but I understood the monumental task better when Jim stated he was on 7.5 hour marathon pace. Incredible. I pulled Jim along to a 14 minute mile through my Monkey Hill repeat, which he stated was his fastest lap of the day to that point. Brian and Jeff Musick, along with Dan K., monkeyed around to lesser degrees.
I left Jim and finished loop two (16.67 miles) around 10:10 a.m., or about 3:10 into the run. In my mind I kept the goal of sub 10 hours, which broke down to 3:20 per two laps. On pace, for now.
At the start of loop three, I sacrificed a few minutes for a warm restroom at the Riverside Gardens up above the Log Cabin. After a short pit-stop, I returned on course and caught back up with Bob C. and Kim B. After a short chat I went ahead. While Bob was on his final lap, I was only on my third and not even half done for my day.
For those unfamiliar with Mill Creek Park
, the trails offer a degree of rock-laden difficulty that the closer-to-home Cuyahoga Valley does not. Running in MCP requires more attention to the trail to avoid an ankle-twist or face plant. In my opinion, the rocky footing is the reason why the times are slower at YUT-C than at the summer BT50k.
I finish loop three at 11:49 a.m. but minus Big Bear, which leaves me still short of 25 miles. While refueling at the car, witnessing Todd H. finish up his debut ultra-run was way cool.
I head out on loop four alone until reaching Jim at the Monkey Hills. Last time around he mentioned going for the 50k - some 33 laps or so. When I arrived this time around, I joined him for his lap 29. Though he looked whipped, we worked together to get his Monkey Marathon done. He was done alright as he called it a day at that point, finishing in 7 hours, 40 minutes. I've never seen Jim so worked over as on this day. He can thank Dobies for that.
WHY ULTRA RUN?
The day shaped up terrifically. The dry trail, coupled with relatively benign conditions made it easy to stay out there. For me, fat ass events like this make it easy to come and go as I please. One loop or six loops, it's all good for all involved. No pressure of a race to perform at a certain level.
On this day with cooperating weather and trail, approaching the end of loop four (33.33 miles) I start doing the math. Coming in the parking lot at 1:34 p.m., all the others were in full post-run party mode (except Slim who was still worked over). I think I surprised them all when I said I was heading out for a fifth loop.
I've been on a long run hiatus since MMT - completing only two 20+ milers since May. One was pacing the Akron Marathon and the other the Bills' 50k four weeks ago. I'm not entirely sure why I run as I do, but witnessing the many locals tackle the ultra distance runs this fall in places like Oil Creek, Run with Scissors, JFK, and Mt. Masochist helped elevate my attitude. I wanted some of that. Ultrarunning certainly isn't rocket science but there comes that time when the legs become heavy and the stride shorter. So true is the ultrarunning saying that at some point it does not get any worse. I felt that.
Adding my name to the list of 50 mile finishers provided strong motivation. I admit that a sub-10 hour finish sounded sweet too. I pushed on.
Heading out on loop five at 1:37 p.m. allowed 3 hours, 23 minutes to beat my goal. Since no monkeys remained, I opted to conclude the final two loops with Big Bear instead of Monkeys. Kimba was still moving along - the two of us the last ones out there.
Finishing loop five at 3:12 p.m., I get a hand from Slim refilling my water bottles and quickly turned-around and started the last 8.33 mile loop at 3:15 p.m. and 105 minutes to get to my 50 mile finish goal. The gang let me know that they're taking off for the day but left me with a finishers award bottle o' brew.
Though I was fueling well throughout the day, I hit my lowest point in the initial mile of loop six. I ended up walking all the way to the Mill Creek Furnace and wolfed down an extra energy bar (actually, it was the product CLIF Roks) before returning to my shuffle.
Breaking ten hours kept me focused and while running the sixth loop on the same course was somewhat mind-numbing, my thoughts returned the last time I ran this far at MMT.
The credit for my MMT knowledge and experience goes to the loyal members of the NEO Trail, all part of my inspiration for my URINEO run. I consider it an honor to add my name to the list of Ultra Runners In NorthEast Ohio who have ran 50 miles in Mill Creek Park.
I figure the Big Bear routing, rather than the Monkey Hill repeat, to be the faster path. If only marginally. When I finished at 4:51 p.m. (9 hours, 51 minutes total) only two cars remained. Kimba finished her 50k and waited for me. I'm not exactly sure what attracts NEO Trail runners to MMT, but Kimba too stated that she entered the lottery. Good job, Kimba.
RESULTS"Slim" Jim Harris - first finisher of the Monkey Hills Marathon