Race morning started off appropriately. My clock was somehow behind by 10 minutes. I didn’t even realize it until we were about to leave the hotel. I hadn’t eaten yet and wasn’t really hungry. My husband drove me to the start and was insistent on finding me something to eat, but that 10 minutes had me feeling uneasy about stopping. We arrived at the start line about 30 minutes before the start at 5am. We dug through my crew bags and fished out a bag of mixed nuts. Breakfast!
Burning River 100 was more than just a goal race to me. Training and preparing for this actually began back in 2013 with the running of Highlands Sky 40 mi and WV Trilogy 50 mi. These were just stepping stone races towards what I termed my “Year of 100s.”
After multiple logistical complications in the last two months leading up to the race and even almost coming to the point where I was probably going to have to DNS, my husband stepped up to the plate and became my crew. Him crewing for me was a logistical feat all of its own. We both knew this time a finish was certain barring any injury especially since I had my failed 100 mi attempt at Outrun 24 driving me. The 81 mi I did at O24 in April taught me the tools I needed to run BR in a time I could be happy with. My biggest fear was that I would be running without a pacer, and I would be forced to face my fear of running alone at night.
Once the race started, we headed out across the field from Squire’s Castle and onto road for quite some time. I actually don’t remember a lot about the early miles of the race.
I was cruising along at a comfortable speed but much faster than I anticipated holding throughout the race. I wanted to get the first quarter out of the way and get into my stride. I took advantage of the fast road mileage at the start and came into Polo Fields (13.6 mi) in 2:13. The course changed to easy bridle trail, and I found myself still running way too fast and constantly trying to slow myself down. Somewhere after this point I met David Corfman who has quite an extensive 100-mi resume. David gave me excellent advice and “coaching.” I was so fascinated with his expertise and willingness to share his experience with me that I ended up running almost all but the last 10 miles with him as well as the very seasoned ultrarunner, Keith Straw. The good conversation, jokes, and stories made the entire day fly by.
My husband met me at Shadow Lake (24.38 mi) for the first time since the start. I ate a few aid station snacks, gave him my headlamp, filled up one of my bottles with Red Bull, and drank Ensure. Then I was off again. By the time I got to Oak Grove (39.73 mi) where my crew was set to meet me again, my toes were starting to blister from the Hokas. When I arrived at Oak Grove, my daughter had come with my husband. It’s so awesome to have family crewing, but it was so hard to not stay and visit with them!
Anticipating mud after Oak Grove, I put on my Speedcross. My poor swollen and blistered feet were not happy. I really enjoyed the trails from Oak Grove to Boston even though my feet were in bad shape. It started to rain a little and thunder, but under the canopied singletrack, we all stayed relatively dry.
At mile 54.59, Boston was my next crew meet. I came into Boston, and saw so many familiar faces! Boston was booming with people, crews, and spectators. I wanted to stop and greet all my friends, but I knew I had major foot surgery to do here and it was going to cost time. I grabbed some aid snacks and found my husband who had brought our teenage son along this time. It was lightly sprinkling. Nervously, I ripped my shoes and socks off to reveal massive blistering on both big toes. I lanced the biggest one with scissors and taped it with Leukotape. (Surely, I’d regret that tomorrow when I tried to take it off. Leukotape is some serious stuff!).
I knew there was no way I’d get away with wearing the Hokas at this point and resorted to my back up shoes which were my daughter’s street Reeboks which were a good half-size bigger. After eating a couple slices of pizza my crew brought, drinking a Red Bull and an Ensure, I headed back out again. For the first several miles, every step was blister torture. I was concerned that I had made a huge mistake popping that one. After some time, however, the pain slowly subsided. The shoes were comfortable, and while they lacked any manner of tread, I instantly knew they had saved my race from many long hours of suffering.
Time passed really fast between Boston and my next crew point at Pine Hollow I (72 mi). Other than taking a fall that could have been really nasty, everything was going pretty good. I was starting to have some thigh chafing but felt it was nothing a big slab of Aquaphor couldn’t fix. I ate just a little from the aid station and took time to lube up extensively. This was the last time I would have crew access until mile 91 at Botzum. It was starting to get dark. I grabbed my headlamp and was physically feeling okay but starting to hit my first mental low. It got dark really fast during the Pine Hollow loop, and about a mile out, I realized my headlamp was dimming and I had forgotten my spare batteries. I contacted my husband and asked him to meet me on my return to Pine Hollow with batteries. By the time I got back, it was very dark. I grabbed two sets of spare batteries and changed my old ones out. I set out into the dark and regrouped with Dave and Keith.
We arrived at Covered Bridge I (81.96 mi), and I was still feeling physically pretty good but a pinch tired mentally. I started wanting to just be done. The singletrack Covered Bridge loop was somewhat demoralizing for me. There were often muddy sections, and the road shoes I was wearing were not performing well at all. I had to really hold back and watch my step. My blisters were screaming at me on every downhill, and I was afraid I’d slide right down every decline with those shoes on. I was very appreciative to have company on this section, because I know I would have been really freaked out running it alone. That 4.45-mile loop was the lowest point of the whole race for me. It seemed like it took an entire lifetime and required so much more focus than I was prepared for.
I was so relieved when I left Covered Bridge II and hit road. It was immensely uplifting. Soon I would get to see my husband again at Botzum (mile 91). I was running down the road and turned onto towpath as I neared the Botzum aid station at mile 91. My husband texted that he was there waiting for me. I finally heard cheers from the aid station. I wondered if those were cheers for my friends who had gone on ahead of me. I stopped for a moment. I had been alone for a little while running in the dark. The sky was decorated full of stars, and I turned my headlamp off and took a second to take it all in. Soon I would be only 10 miles from the finish. “This is it,” I told myself. I came into Botzum feeling a little tired and woozy, but I was so pepped up again to see my husband waiting for me. I downed a Red Bull at Botzum, grabbed a flashlight, switched GPS watches, and headed out for Memorial Parkway.
During the stretch between Botzum and Memorial I had multiple lows. It was a long mental rollercoaster. At many points I asked myself, “Why push so much? Won’t you be happy with just finishing?” Yeah… that sounds good but is so not true. I just kept running with whatever I had left and reminded myself to clear my mind. I had spent too much time dawdling at Botzum to walk much now. I didn’t have time to spare anymore if I was going to get that sub-24. I already felt like the podium was out of question, but I still had sub-24 within reach. This section was very runnable. I kept looking at my watch and finally forced myself to quit when I realized only seconds separated my glances.
I finally came into Memorial where my husband was waiting for me again.
I arrived at the aid station feeling so renewed. It seemed like I would never get there. From here it was home-free! I ate a few snacks and left my iPod and one of my water bottles and headed onward for the final 5.59-mi stretch to the finish. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about the run to the Finish except that I gave it my all. I was feeling a lot more highs than lows and started seeing the finish in my mind. I was climbing steps on the trail and found myself suddenly thinking how much fun I was having. I had speed back in my legs and felt like I was flying though the dark almost effortlessly!
I emerged from a trail onto the road which I knew led to the finish. Finally cresting the hill my eyes filled with tears, I could see it. My husband ran towards me from a sidewalk and ran beside me for the last quarter mile to the finish. It was incredible. The moment I had been dreaming, training, and craving for the last 8 months was real. I crossed the finish line in 23:20:01. I placed 25th overall and 4th overall female. It was done, finally. I had missed the podium, but I had my sub-24. The first few words out of my mouth I think were along the lines of, “I don’t know if I’ll ever do that again.” Yeah, that’s a load of crap, and I’m sure my husband knew it!
There was some degree of suffering, but it was not as bad as I had anticipated. I was more than prepared for the mental anguish. I was prepared for the blisters and chafing. I was apprehensive but prepared to face my fears of running alone at night. I was prepared to let nothing come between me and that finish line. I set three goals for myself. First, I wanted a podium, crazy, but I am driven, and so far it’s not been a bad thing. My second was finish sub-24. The third was just to finish at all costs.
There is no way I can properly express my enormous gratitude towards my husband for helping me pull this off. The effort it took on his part alone was incredible. He not only managed to take care of our 3 teen kids, one of which is severely disabled, but was also there for me hand and foot every time I needed him. I am without words enough to describe how grateful I am.
I once read somewhere that running 100s changes or takes something away from you every time you do it. I don’t think it took anything from me other than I have little desire to run anything less than 100 now. I gained a true sense of patience and calmness. I experienced more human emotion than I knew was possible during the last 10 miles and again during the last 2 miles. I don’t know if I’ve ever cried twice in the same hour for two completely different emotions. Seeing the finish line of a 100 mile race is an experience unlike any other I can describe and know of no other way to duplicate that. It’s incredibly addicting.
I starting getting bad blisters all over my toes by mile 40. Maybe these would be better if they were a half to whole size larger. The toebox is a bit narrow for my feet and not good for long, long miles – very unfortunate for what they cost. They do drain well, surprisingly, but I’m not too impressed with their performance in muddy conditions.
This would have been my shoe of choice from mile 40 onwards, but my feet were so blistered and swollen by mile 50 from the Hokas, they only aggravated the situation. I dearly missed being able to wear lugged shoes during the singletrack sections at night.
Reebok Dual Turbo Fire
I brought these shoes as emergency backup. They are my daughter’s running shoes and are a half size bigger than mine. I didn’t foresee using them, but they were the only thing comfortable enough with the swelling and blisters. I wore these from mile 54 to the finish. They certainly changed my outlook on paying a lot for shoes. Having that extra room for swelling makes a huge difference. This was the first time I had experienced this degree of foot swelling especially this early on in a run.
Skins A400 Compression Shorts
These shorts stay put… period. They don’t ride up and are nice and cool considering the length. I do not particularly like shorts this long, but these perform so well. The little back key pocket felt like it was irritating my skin after 60ish miles, and a little Aquaphor solved this for the rest of the race. I did have to constantly reapply Aquaphor to my inner thighs which wasn’t surprising, but the chafing was much less than I had earlier this year at Outrun 24. They wick sweat really well. In the future I think I will consider changing into clean clothes around mile 50-60. I’m a very, very salty sweater, and the accumulation of salt becomes somewhat abrasive after so many hours of running. For now, these shorts remain my choice for long distances.
I started out in a really cheap brand of thin polyester socks that I have been running in for years. However, I speculate if these enhanced my blister issues in the Hokas. They don’t wick water as well as other socks, and once they got wet they probably fueled the blister fire even more. I will probably not attempt to wear these over 50 miles again. I switched to my thin Injinji toe socks at mile 54 which not only helped keep the tape on my toes but definitely helped keep new blisters from forming. I have yet to say anything negative about Injinji socks. Had I worn these from the start, I likely would have prevented a lot of issues early on.
LED Lenser H7.2
I truly love this headlamp. For the price, you really can’t beat the features. It’s extremely adjustable both focusing and dimming, and very bright on the highest setting at 155 lumens. There is a rechargeable model, but I prefer batteries. I only changed batteries twice, but easily carried 6 extra AAA batteries in my bottle pocket for backup. It’s not that comfortable to wear for a very long time directly on skin, so I always wear it with my visor, and this works really well. I forget I even have it on.
LED Lenser flashlight
I didn’t grab this until I didn’t even really need it which was about the last 10 miles. It would have helped a lot on the singletrack at night. It’s a little heavier than I like, but it’s pretty bright. It was awkward trying to carry it along with 2 bottles, and I think a second headlamp worn at waist or chest level might be a better choice if I am carrying two bottles.
My poor Garmin 305 battery has just about had it and is only getting about 5 hours now. While I would have liked to have recorded the whole run, I would have had to carry my mini USB charger and worn my pack. I didn’t see the need to wear the pack and felt like I could eliminate a lot of extra weight by carrying bottles.
I switched watches constantly with my husband and went between my 305 and my daughter’s Forerunner 10. This set up was plenty good enough to keep an eye on my pace and distances between aid stations. Since I was calling/texting my husband about 7-10 miles before I needed him, this helped me give him a good idea of when he should arrive and eliminated a lot of long waiting on his part.
I still have yet to have any stomach issues whatsoever with running. I’ve been really lucky, because it seems this is a huge problem for a lot of runners. I honestly didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to eating and just ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I carried one bottle of water and one bottle of HEED or Red Bull at all times.
My crew gave me several Ensure Plus’s, a sausage biscuit, and 2 slices of pizza. At aid stations I would generally take a couple S-Caps, refill my bottles, and mostly ate lots of M&Ms and cookies, a little pizza, and a few salty potatoes. I carried one gel for backup and never needed it.
- Running a 24-hour timed event prior to Burning River was an excellent way to prepare me for the challenge. It will test your mental fortitude at 3am when you have to leave the comfort of the aid station every lap. It’s also a great way to test drive all kinds of nutrition and gear in a scenario that you would not otherwise be able to easily recreate in training.
- Aid stations are huge time drainers. They suck you in especially at night and become harder and harder to get away from. While they can be great mental/physical rechargers, they have to be used efficiently and strategically. Have a plan before you arrive.
- Any minor issue or irritation realized in training is significantly magnified over such a long distance.
- Focusing on running from station to station works. At mile 85, it seems like the end will never come, but by mile 90, the light at the end of the tunnel appears, and I found a new energy I didn’t know I had.
- Finding new friends and good conversation can make the miles fly by.
- Be prepared for the night…seriously prepared. The comfort of having others to run with at night cannot be underestimated especially if you’re not used to being alone in the dark. It can get weird at night! I did not have a pacer but was very lucky to have the company of 2 other runners throughout most of the night for which I am so grateful. My husband told me about a terrified runner who came into an aid station at night who said she’d never run at night again.
- 100 miles is not really that far; just keep moving!