Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Burning River Report (Part 3)

As the saying goes “Cleveland Rocks” and if you have any doubt about that you should have seen the crowd gathered in the square in Cuyahoga Falls the night before the race. The “Rockin’ on the River” event was rounding into full gear as the registration/dinner/bag drop off was ending. Northeast Ohioans like their music and they like their beer and they see no reason to hide either of these facts. Despite all of this I managed to get an hour of sleep in the back of my van and made it to the bus stop by 3 A.M.

The Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run is a point-to-point race and logistically the easiest way to get from place to place is to leave your vehicle at the finish, catch a ride to the starting line, and then run back to your car. The bus drive was one of the most amazing parts of the race. Some runners slept, some listed to music, and some quietly chatted. I looked up at the stars from the school bus window and marveled that we actually were, no kidding about it, being driven from friggin’ Cuyahoga Falls to bleepin’ Willoughby and that the actual plan (not just on paper this time) was that we would RUN back. Suddenly it seemed absurd and impossible and irresponsible. And the bus wasn’t making a return trip so once you were on the bus you were committed. And here is something that I need you to read and to understand: NO ONE other than me seemed remotely concerned about the wisdom of this plan!

I don’t know who “Squire” was but he sure had a nice castle. The starting line was right on his front lawn and off we went at 5 A.M. sharp. Knees and elbows and headlamps. There was the inevitable bustle at the start but it was not your mall-at-Christmastime variety of haste. It was rather, more of a subdued ‘Late-for-detention’ kind of rush into the pre-dawn darkness. The first 13 miles were on flat roads to the Polo field. The roads were fast, paved and absolutely spectacularly beautiful. The sun rose as we passed lovely mansions and equestrian farms glistening in the morning dew. This entire stretch I spent running with Michelle Bichsel, a friend of mine who was taking it out easy. She benefited from the slow pace and I benefited from the great company.

My main reaction to the entire first 37 miles of this race was one of shock. I had grown up around here, how could I have missed so many beautiful places? We ran through woods, fields, along single track trails and horse paths. We saw lakes and deer and I even think I may have seen an eagle. Was it really possible that it would be this beautiful all the way to the finish? I kept recalling the lyrics of a ‘Pretenders'’ song that complained that the Ohio that singer Chrissie Hynde had known had been over-developed and ruined “From Seneca to Cuyahoga Falls”. I felt like the opposite was true. My trip to Cuyahoga Falls was one of constant wonder at how much more beautiful it was than I had recalled. And how easy…at least until Station Road…

Here’s a useful ultra marathon tip: If you ever want to run 100 miles and not feel sorry for yourself run along an 1800’s era canal for most of it. Heading into Station Road we ran in the hot sun for about 3 miles. It really was pretty tough. But there, right next to us, was the canal. Immigrants, including many many Irishmen, dug that canal for one dollar plus a jigger of whiskey per day. I don’t know how much a jigger is but I imagine its approximately the same as a 5-pack Gu dispenser. I would either need more money or several jiggers of whiskey to do that work. At any rate the thought of those men toiling in that hot sun made my walk to the virtual picnic-party occurring at Station Road more palatable. And when we got to Station Road what a party it was! The place was a hive of activity as some runners came through at 37 miles and other runners came through a second time at 43 miles. Many family members and spectators were there watching and cheering and on top of that the usual string of regulars, having nothing to do with the race, were out biking and jogging along the path. Despite all of this I got my own personal volunteer who attended to my every need for every moment that I was at the station. People seem to just love to volunteer for Joe and also for Lloyd. Captain Lloyd ran this aid station like a freshman meet-and-greet and it couldn’t have been a more pleasant environment.

I'll write more soon and, if you have the endurance, you are welcome to read it : )


  1. Mark - awesome job out there !!! And I had totally forgot the reference to CF in "My City is Gone".


  2. Thanks a million for everything Joe. It was amazing!