I came into the summer Buckeye Trail 50k with a couple very simple goals: #1 finish the race, which I didn’t do in the winter 50k due to injury, and #2 don’t get sick or blow up! I’ve managed to throw up in every ultra I’ve done so far, which I wanted to remedy at the BT50k. I haven’t really been able to test my limits physically because of my stomach issues and I wanted to have a race where I ran strong all the way to the finish. My plan was to average 10 minute miles the whole way, which would equal 310 minutes or a 5:10 finish. Looking at previous year’s results I figured that would slot in right around a top 10 finish most years. I’m new to the running scene so I don’t know who all the good local runners are but just glancing at the list of registered runners it was clear that this was a very competitive field. If the weather cooperated we could see a course record fall and my hopes of a top ten finish might not be realistic.
The weather on race day was pretty great. The hot and humid temperatures of mid-week were replaced by temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s. We got a slight rain overnight and it was going to rain on and off all day but nothing heavy, so I was expecting decent trail conditions. I woke up at 5:20 am excited about the race. I threw on my race shorts and top, put my socks on and then it dawned on me. My shoes are in my CR-V and my wife insisted we driver her car to NE Ohio for the weekend. I HAD NO RUNNING SHOES! I was in panic mode for about 5 minutes. I thought about calling Vertical Runner at 5:30 am to see if someone was there and if they could bring a size 9 of any trail shoe they had in stock. After I took a minute to assess the situation I remembered that I had thrown an old pair of Asics in my wife’s trunk. They had about 600 miles on them and had been retired about 4 months back but they would have to do. C’est la Vie.
With the worries about my shoes behind me, there was nothing I could do now so why worry, I started to get excited about the run again. It’s always great to see all my ultra friends, most of whom I hadn’t seen since Mohican, and I arrived early to ensure I had plenty of time to chat before the race. I was excited to hear how their training had been going and get a chance to run a few miles with them. The race started promptly at 7am and we were off and running. One of the nice things about ultra races is that the majority of people take it out pretty easy and you don’t feel pressured to start too fast. We settled into a comfortable pace and started tallying the miles. I had never run on any of the trail until we reached the Blue Hen Falls trail that we ran on Nick’s waterfalls run over the winter so I was happy to just follow the pack’s pace for the first 10 miles, not knowing what I was in for. I was pleased that there are actually a lot of run-able stretches between climbs and descents, some over a mile long. It’s often hard to get in a running rhythm in ultras so that was nice to be able to get an occasional 10 minute reprieve from hills.
We arrived at the Boston Store about 5 minutes earlier than I had expected but I wasn’t too worried that I had gone out too fast because I assumed there would be more hills in the first 10 miles and I felt quite relaxed. I had run the section from the Boston Store to Pine Lane several time so I knew what was in store for the next 8 miles. The leaders came flying by around 2/3 of the way to Pine Lane and I was shocked at how fast they were running! Shortly after the leaders blew by we ascended down the stairs, too quickly. I usually take them very slowly, for good reason. About halfway down the stairs I landed hard on one of the logs, which create the stairs, and I felt something pop/pull in my right foot. It hurt just as bad to run as it did to limp so I continued on but I wasn’t very confident about my ability to make it a lot further as my foot was hurting bad and it was tightening up on me. I arrived at Pine Lane and I just wanted to get out of there quickly. If I stopped or sat down I would have talked myself out of continuing on.
I kept moving forward, crossing paths with Michelle and Ron Ross on my way up the stairs. Michelle said she had fallen earlier and was stopping at Pine Lane…I think she said she hurt her knee. I was really bummed out about that and I hope it’s nothing too serious that will jeopardize her Burning River race. I stopped at 30k in winter BT50k because of knee pain and injury or not, it still bothers me that I DNF’d. I couldn’t let that happen today. If I could still run or walk I would finish, even if I was risking further injury. Patrick passed me a little ways up the trail, either he was speeding up or I was slowing down…hard to tell but I had to just keep my pace and make it to Boston Store. I was hurting really bad the last couple of miles to the store and the thought of a DNF was almost overtaking my will to continue on. I got at the store, took my shoe off and wrapped some tape around it popped some Advil. My foot was killing me but I was pleased that I got in and out of the aid station without even thinking about DNF’ing. Dave Peterman and I left the Boston Store together and I was pretty confused. I think I asked him, did you pass me or did I pass you? I thought he was way ahead and was really surprised to run into him. Whatever I said I’m pretty sure it came out wrong, but Dave’s a good guy and hope he knew I wasn’t talking trash or anything like that. I kept plotting along and the foot was still really bothering me but it hurt less running than it did climbing up the hills so I continued to run. After about a mile or two past Boston Store I stopped, took my shoe off and tried to massage my foot. The pain I can handle, it’s the foot locking up on my that I couldn’t…it was really affecting my stride and I didn’t want to injure something else because I was limping. I was able to work out whatever knot I had in my foot and the pain meds were starting to kick in. I was feeling pretty good again and was able to pick the pace back up.
I was sure that this race was going to end up like every other ultra to date…with a miserable shuffle to the finish. I assumed the foot pain would quickly return so I was going to make these miles count. On the flat sections I was running about 7:00 pace, with two or three miles clocking in at 7:30 on my Garmin. I caught up with Patrick at about mile 24 and he was still on pace to achieve his goal so I tried to encourage him on and hoped he would let me pull him along for the mile or two until my foot locked up on me again. I arrived at the final aid station before the finish, still feeling good, and someone mentioned that there were a couple guys just a minute ahead. Thank you! You’ll take any motivation you can get 25 miles into a race, and I pressed on. I carried on at my pace, clocking the marathon split in 4:08. Well I’ll be ____, I’m actually on pace to hit my time goal of 5:10, injury and all…another little motivator late in the race. I was going to keep up my pace as long as my foot allowed because everything else was feeling great. I think my foot was actually distracting my brain from any other ache or pain I might have otherwise been feeling…maybe this was a blessing in disguise. At about mile 27 I was passed by a guy in a white cut-off Vertical Runner top and I was kind of ticked, not at him of course, he couldn’t have been more encouraging as he went by. I was just ticked that I got passed when I was running so strong near the end of a race, but he was charging up the hills and I wasn’t. Who is this guy, what’s in his bottle? He did provide some additional encouragement the last few miles, knowing there was someone ahead of me also running strong. Could I run him down on the flat sections? I kept up my 7:00-7:30 pace all the way to the finish but couldn’t really pick it up any more because it was muddy coming back. With my worn out road shoes I would just slip around when I tried to go faster so I kept up my steady pace.
I was THRILLED to exit the trail knowing that I was only a few hundred yards from the finish and that I was going to crush my time goal. My finishing time was 4:46…awesome! I really didn’t expect that and it was cool to not only finish, which had been all I could say about my other ultras, but actually achieve a respectable time. Hopefully this is just the start of good things to come.
I’ve got to rest the foot a bit, I woke up Sunday and it was really sore and tight. Who knows if it will keep me from running for a couple of weeks or not, we’ll have to wait and see. I feel really good about how I handled it during the race though. Six months ago I would have stopped and used the foot as an excuse to drop or to just walk it in to the finish. I’ve never battled through something quite like I did last Saturday. It certainly slowed me down when it was really tightening up but I kept running, not allowing myself to walk unless I was climbing up a hill. It certainly isn’t a serious injury, otherwise I couldn’t have run on it, but I’ve always had a hard time pushing myself through that physical pain barrier so hopefully this race has made me stronger.
Congrats to everyone who started and finished the 50k last weekend. I know why these races fill up as fast as they do, it really is an awesome race. Thank you Vince and everyone at Vertical Runner who organized the race, and thank you volunteers! I hope to see you all soon.
A couple final comments:
After looking at the results I now know that the runner who passed me with a few miles to go in the race was Tim Clemment. I’m sure BT50k was just a tune up run for him but it’s still pretty cool to run with such a great runner late in a race.
I had zero stomach issues during the race, which is a first for me in a marathon or ultra. The recipe for success? Stawberry Heed in my bottle to start the race, which I replaced with water at each aid station. I don’t think it ever got more than half empty on any stretch. I ate a handful of gummy bears at the first aid station and a Hammer Gel on my way to Boston Store. At Boston Store I grabbed some saltines and a PB&J square ate them very slowly throughout the entire stretch towards Pine Lane. At Pine Lane I grabbed another PB&J and a banana, again eating them very slowly. I took nothing at Boston Store the second time through, I just taped my foot up and took some pain meds. I took a second Hammer Gel during this stretch. At the last aid station I took a banana and some more gummy bears. That was it! I don’t know if it was the fewer fluids or more solid food, but it worked well. My biggest concern going into the race turned out to be a non-issue.