Friday, July 20, 2012

Buckeye Love: BT50k Race Report

Buckeye Love: BT50k Race Report

For those of you who don’t know, I love the Buckeye Trail. My favorite part is the section that goes right through the CVNP. I love it so much, that last year during Burning River 100 after 40 grueling miles where the majority was on road and wide bridle trails, I shouted “I LOVE THE BUCKEYE TRAIL!” at the Ottawa Point Aid Station.

BT50k starts about 1.5 miles before Ottawa Point at Oak Grove. In other words, this race is an out and back on my favorite trail, my home trail. The turn-around point at Pine Lane is less than 10 minutes from my house in Hudson (plus I live in walking distance of VR, the library, Panera, and ice cream…talk about a great location!). Partially due to some hip and hamstring issues, more because I love trail so much, I run in the CVNP about every day, and on the Buckeye a few times a week.

In addition, BT50k was my first ultra distance race in July of 2010. My time was 5:47, 5th woman. For not knowing what I was doing (I carried a Cliff Bar in the strap of my sports bra to eat halfway, and carried a Gatorade bottle) I did fairly well, but more than that, I was hooked.

Last year I didn’t run the race but go the chance to give back and volunteer at an aid station. I knew that my newbie ultra legs couldn’t run a 50k and recover in time for Burning Rive 100 two weeks later (I still think I went in over-trained because of too many long runs). Even then I was anxious to run it. There is so much energy flowing around that race. For us North East Ohioans, BT50k isn’t just a race, but a huge party of all our trail friends…a family of Buckeye lovers.

Needless to say, I was pretty excited for the race.

I had a few goals in mind; a goal A, B, and C that is. Goal A was to break 5 hours. Goal B was to break 5:15. For goal C, I just figured if I my time from 2 years ago it would be good!

It’s not that I didn’t believe in myself (well maybe a bit) that I decided on additional goals. I was just being realistic in my review of past paces and the course, the weather, and knowledge of good days and bad days.

For one, I thought about my training runs, my set-backs, and my 5:07 at Fools 50k, which is almost flat compared to BT50k…the times just didn’t quite add up to a smooth sub-5.

However, I did know I blew up at Fools, and loved the hills at Mohican Forget the PR 50k. I was also looking for a happy medium in how I ran each race. At Fools I went out too hard and ran all the hills in the first half…and then died. I didn’t run like I normally do, enjoying the moment and having a big smile on my face. At Mohican, I went out for fun, took it easy and hiked all the hills, and was able to finish strong. I had a wonderful time for all 5 ½ hrs, but I did feel like I could’ve went a tad bit harder at some points.

So I had a bit of a game plan for BT50k, and I was probably 80% successful.

The plan really was to go out a bit fast, that was not just by stupidity. I wanted to be in a decent place when we got onto the single track trail after short 200 yards down the drive. The problem may have been that when I found my place, I need to slow down a tad, which I did not.

I was pushing it a bit, but my breathing was still calmer than in Fools. I stayed around this pace, for the next 6 miles or so, and probably near the effort level for the whole race (I may have been going slower in the second half, but the effort was still the same!). I should also note that I did not wear a watch and had only a guessed time in my head until I crossed the finish line. I prefer to do everything my effort level, self-measuring my heart rate and breathing. (I think this is particularly helpful in a 100 mile race!)

A few miles in I heard someone plodding up behind me, right to my shoulder. His breathing was a “bit” heavy for just starting. I knew who he was and he started chatting with me and I asked him how he was feeling for his 100 miler, Burning River, in two weeks and probably mentioned it wasn’t a good idea to race this…which he acknowledged and dismissed.

Before he “surged” ahead of me, I told him “I probably don’t know that much, but I don’t think you should be breathing so hard so early in the race”. I believe he was ahead of me for about a half mile, before I passed him going uphill.

That brings me to the second part of my race

 plan, that I didn’t really have a plan for. Hills. Hike or run? Lately I had been testing out a new strategy to run uphill in baby gear, which had worked out quite well. I always knew to take short strides when running uphill, but this mental picture was helping. Thank you Scott Jurek who mentioned it in his book, and even more so to my friend Jim who I had run with at a BT50k training run. He is also an avid cyclist, and he told me that running hills in this manner (in a way similar to how he cycled in the lowest gear) helped him to keep going when he crested the top, where as when he walked it was hard to get going again. At the same time, I did not want to over exert myself too early.

Again, I went by effort. All the smaller or more gradual hills I baby stepped. If they were extremely steep, or extremely long followed by extremely steep, I did “half” hills. I ran half, and let my body tell me when it was time to walk. (This is also the technique I used during BR…I can’t tell you how many minutes this took of my time!)

Anyway, I was blessed to have my boyfriend, his 3 kids, and my puppy, Pacer, come see me at each aid station. The kids were all in a surprisingly good mood each time I saw them (after some tantrums on the way to the start) and I was always happy to see them. I know it couldn’t have been much fun, as they saw me for about 15-50 seconds before I popped into the woods again. In the car earlier I had said “only positive energy!” which they exuberated when they saw me…at least until the end of the race.

After climbing the “Stairway to Heaven” after crossing Snowville, a section of the trail plateaus off for almost a mile. I hate, well highly dislike, that section. I think it’s boring, and going south, it’s a gradual uphill. Ideally, this would be a great section to pick it up, but alas, my leg does not like to pick it up on fast, flat sections. It forced me to slow down, shorten my stride, and await the single track where things would get better again. I harnessed the energy to use on the next hill.

Within a few miles, I was getting excited. It was almost time for the roller-coaster! This is the name given to the long, winding downhill right before you reach Boston Store. It the perfect section to pick up the pace, put out your arm, and fly all the way down. Some people have even been known to go “weeee!” on the way down. I don’t know what the hill is called going upward, I no longer call it the roller-coaster hill. I usually just say “it sucks”.

When I reached the bottom of the hill I ran along the road towards Boston Store, always my favorite aid station because there are so many people there to cheer the runners on and give a boost of energy. Then it was just 4 miles to Pine Lane, the turn-around point!

I was feeling a bit tired hear. The goes were “okay” in my stomach. The e-cap helped balance out my electrolytes, which I really needed even though the weather was quite pleasant in the 80s and overcast skies.

I started wondering when I would see the top guys and Beth. (Side note: Beth is a machine, having set the course record and winning BT50k many times. I had no plans on trying to stay with her, knowing that would be digging my own grave.) I actually made farther than I thought I would, a bit past the rooty section that takes all your concentration just not trip, before I saw that Shaun was very much in the lead and running well. I awaited the next guy, which took some time. He was running great himself, but Shaun was flying through his home course. I saw Beth at the water crossing. She’s awesome and super friendly, so we both told each other how great the other was doing and kept charging on. I still can’t believe how fast she is! But, it’s even cooler knowing what a great person she is too.

Then it was about a half mile climb up to Pine Lane.  Here is where I met up with quite a few other runners…the guys who went out too fast and were starting to suffer, and the guys who ran the first half smart and were ready to pick it up.  One of these runners was George Themelis, aka Zeus. 

He was on my shoulder up until the aid station.  Once I got there and said hi to Steve and the kids, I hurriedly tried to get my waterbottle filled with HEED, poor water over my head, and grab some other fuel.  Usually at the halfway point of a 50k I like something with a little sustenance like a bar, but I had not carried one with me.  I figured there’d at least be some PB&J, but somehow this ultra staple food did not make the cut and I had to settle for 2 Fig Newtons and a gel to go.  This stop was a bit longer than I would’ve liked, and by the time I turned back to the trail George was already off about 100 yards ahead.  I saw the flash of his shirt later on, but never caught up as he actually picked up the pace as he got closer to the finish.  Very few people do that on this course.  I believe he finished in about 4:55.  What he did takes great body awareness and confidence in personal ability.  Looking back, I should have stuck with him from mile 1.

After the turn-around I started to hit a bit of a low point.  I was trying hard to keep a good but comfortable pace, and get some calories down.  My stomach wasn’t feeling it.  On the bright side, now that I was going the other way I got to see all my friends heading toward Pine Lane, and we cheered each other on.  I can’t say this exactly gave me an energy burst, but it kept me happy and grateful to be out there running with so many great people.

On the downhill back to Boston Store, I decided this was a great time to just let Mother Nature do the work while I focused on calming my breathing.  I started to take some deep, relaxed breaths and then…boom, I was on hands and knees with my face in the dirt!  Of course, I had to fall at least once.  I re-bruised the skin on my left hip bone, where I already had a permanent scar from falling on it so many times.

Back at Boston Store, roughly mile 19, Steve handed me and ice cold bottle of HEED. Alleluia! I think this saved me and my stomach!  On the climb after the aid station, on the no longer roller coaster hill, I tried to ignore the tired feeling in my legs and recalled something I heard a few weeks back.  I don’t know what I had been listening to, but the question was asked to a doctor whether it was better to drink cold or warm water.  He replied that warm water fills you up more (so better for dieting), but cold water hydrates better.  So warm water, or HEED, was not what I needed during a race.  Luckily, Steve made sure  I had a water bottle full of ice and HEED at the Snowville Aid Station too. 

Here is where the race really makes or breaks a person.  There is 6 miles left…either a death march, like the person who I had run some of the last few miles had called it, or an easy training run, as I tried to put my positive spin on it. 

Admittedly, at this point I asked Steve if I kept my current pace I would be okay for second place.  I was feeling a bit light-headed, but felt relatively sure I could keep up my current effort.  I don’t think he heard me right, and has saw a couple not running the race a few minutes behind me and was a bit confused, so he told me “No” and I got my butt going.

As I climbed the next long hill, I began to doubt Steve, thinking he may have just said to get me going faster.  I always do my best in a race, the pace I’m going is almost always by best effort, without a pacer or what anyone says.  Last time Steve told me the next woman was right behind me in a race, I ended up falling on my face in a mud pit. 

Running up half-way on the next hill, I was pretty sure Steve had been full of it.  I couldn’t see anyone behind me and I knew few people could keep the pace I was going, especially up the hills, this far into it.

This is where a new thought entered my mind, transforming from my previous mantra at Forget the PR.  Then, I had told myself on each climb “This is an opportunity to make yourself strong.”  Now I was thinking “This is an opportunity to prove how strong you are.”  I like how that sounded in my head, and it carried me through the next 3 miles. 

I can’t deny it, I had some fun passing some of the male competitors who were doing their death march to the finish.  I know that is not very nice, but I can’t help it.  Some were very nice as I passed, running the last hills while others shuffled, but others cringed at the idea of getting chic’d…  especially one  guy in particular, who I hate to say beat me by a few seconds. 

As I passed, he started to running a few yards behind me, until he latched on to my shoulder.  Usually, when someone gets that close, that means they want to pass, which was fine and I moved to let him go, which he didn’t do.  Then, as we reached a small fork in the path, he took one way and I took the other.  When he ended up a foot ahead of me, he seemed a bit chagrined.  When we reached a very short, but steep downhill, he said “I’m not very good at downhills, so you go first.”  I didn’t hesitate; I was just pushing myself as hard as I could toward the finish line, now less than a half mile away.  As we hit the pavement for the last 300 yards, he came up to my shoulder.  I picked it up as much as I could, as I always do.  However, he had more left in his legs than I did (probably for not pushing himself hard enough earlier and needing a woman to get him going) and he sprinted in, a few second before me.  Ah well! I had done my best!

I crossed the finish line at 5:10, making goal B and cutting 37 minutes off my time from 2yrs ago.  I really would have like to break 5 hours, and one day I will, but I pushed myself to the best of my ability, and I was satisfied with that. 

And I was really happy to be done running!

I plopped myself down a bench and briefly chatted with Shaun, who had won, and told him it was probably good he started puking in the second half, which slowed him down considerably, but may helped preserve his legs for Burning River 100.

I grabbed some food and coconut water, let Pacer lick my face, and stayed for about another hour to cheer more people on.  I would’ve like to stay longer and see more people finish, but it was time for the kids to go back to their mom’s house.

Steve and I almost had to drag Marie away, who was having a wonderful time volunteering and handing out medals to the finishers (great kid!).  As we walked back to the car, and I hope she heard at least part of it, I tried to answer her question that she asks week after week when she sleeps over on Friday night: “Do you have to go running in the morning!?”  Now Steve and I have significantly changed our running schedule to accommodate the kids.  When they’re with us, we run for 2hrs or less, starting around 6-6:30 and being home between 8-9.  This would mean that we are home before the kids wake-up, except I think Marie now purposely wakes up early, or jumps out of bed when she hears the garage open, to let us know she already been up!

Anyway, back to my answer.   I told her “Marie, you know that one, I wake up early Saturday mornings to run, simply because I enjoy it.  It makes me feel better.  Two, I do it because today, no matter how I did, whether I came in first or last, I wanted to know I gave it my all and did my best, and that’s what I did.”

Hopefully, even if she doesn’t get it now, she will one day.  Hopefully I can be a good role model for her, so that she too can find a path where she really enjoys what she does, and always gives it her best.

To the Buckeye Trail: Thank you, for bring out the best me.  You’ve taught me how to fall and get back up, to conquer my pain and climb my way to the top of the most challenging hills.  You’ve engulfed me in your beauty and nature’s healing nourishment.  You have my love…and probably some of my flesh, blood, and sweat.

Thank you to all the volunteers, and congrats to all the finishers!

Until next time…Happy Adventures!

Rach J


  1. Excellent report Rachel! I was wondering why you were running the hills early on (now I see, it was part of the plan). I agree with a lot of what you write (for example the comments about what happens after Snowville coming back: "here is where the race really makes or breaks a person"). Again, excellent report and congratulations for a great race! Next year you have an under 5 hour finish in the pocket :)

  2. Sorry I didn't get a better picture of you. Everyone else came up that hill walking, but you were running :). Did you see this one from 2011 BR100?