Saturday, August 13, 2016

My side trip into ultra trail running, with Relay Team Burning Legs

Team Burning Legs at the finish line of the Burning River 100 mile trail race

My fascination with ultra trail running started in 2010, when Dave and I volunteered at the aid station near mile 85 (Everett Covered Bridge) and spent the night watching runners suffer. We were there to offer assistance and encouragement, and to do whatever it took to get the runner to keep going. That was tough, because at that point in the race, it was like we were witnessing a zombie invasion.

But trail running has its rewards: challenging terrain, an all-weather appeal, and a foray into a zen-like state once you're miles into the deep woods. Oh, and the specially-designed trail shoes and cool headlamps for when you're out there in the pitch dark. And the smell of pine trees, and the back and forth call of barred owls. You get the picture.

So after a few years of volunteering, running the Conservancy Trail Running Series, and being inspired by people like Georganna Quarles and Andy Gordon, Dave organized a team to run the 100-mile Burning River 100 (BR100) course as a relay effort.

What made Team Burning Legs so cool was the mix of runners - some very accomplished triathletes and ultra-distance trail runners, some of us more recently to the sport. The whole day was one big party, starting with watching our teammate, Jennifer, start the race at 6 AM from Squire's Castle (in the dark, it looked like a long string of fireflies) and ending at 12:30 the next morning with Dave running into the finish in Cuyahoga Falls (with most of the team waiting for him, and then running behind him like we were chasing him).

My leg #5 route was a blur. I ran on towpath, abandoned streets, bridle trail, single track. I ran on hard pavement in the blazing sun, and then dove down into a lush and shady narrow trail into the woods. I ran over the Brandywine Falls bridge, packed with the Saturday crowd, and dodged kids and dogs and elderlies. I walked up lots of really steep, rocky, and root-strewn hills, and walked down others. I encouraged any of the ultra runners I passed along the way, but often felt like I had that trail all to myself. I tripped a bunch of times, got lost once, and ended with 17 miles by the time I handed off to Kelly, waiting patiently (thanks, Kel!) at Ledges shelter.

It was hard, and I wasn't having the greatest day. The heat and humidity took a toll, and the nervous excitement that usually propels me forward was beginning to wear me down by the time Emily handed off to me in mid-afternoon. I have no idea how those who run 100, or 50, or even 25 miles of trail at one time do this. They earn my respect, and awe, in spades.

Kudos to my teammates for a very exciting and memorable race! And congrats to all my friends who competed in this event, in whatever capacity. A special shout out to Dominic Gordon, Andy's son, who completed his first 50 mile trail race at the age of 14.

I don't think the ultra thing will ever really be my schtick, but I can see this relay team thing becoming an annual habit. I'd like to run Leg #5 again, and next time I won't get lost.

Dom (flying) and Andy (not flying) cross the 50-mile finish line!

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