Short version: It took me 11 hours 22 minutes to cover 53.7 miles of mud and hills! It was an incredibly wonderful and beautiful day in the woods! Thanks to Roy and all of the volunteers for a great event!!
This race was advertised as a “double marathon+” distance, and a last minute course change provided a 53.7-mile course. The race application also said that there was a chance of “really crappy weather” too! Fortunately, the crappy weather stopped the night before, but its effects were felt for the entire day.
The course consisted of two laps, each a marathon-“ish” distance, and was divided into the following segments:
- Ledges Shelter to Pine Hollow (approx 4 miles)
- Pine Hollow to the Covered Bridge (approx 7 miles)
- A loop of the Riding Run and Perkins Trails back to Covered Bridge (Approx 5 miles)
- Covered Bridge to Pine Hollow (approx 7 miles)
- Pine Hollow to Ledges Shelter (approx 4 miles)
The 5am start found us lined up at the Ledges Shelter in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park where Roy Heger, the race director, shouted “Go!” Off we went into the woods with headlamps blazing! It was really neat to see the snaking stream of headlamps as we went down and up and around the trail in the dark! The night sky was ablaze with stars and frost was forming on the exposed grassy areas! The temperature was a few degrees warmer under the cover of the trees in the woods. I spent way too much time before the start fretting over how may layers to wear and eventually settled on shorts, my tri-singlet, and a long-sleeved shirt. Headband and gloves completed my outfit. This combination turned out to be perfect!
I paused for a quick bathroom break at Pine Hollow and got separated from the group I was running with. I then fell in behind a couple of guys and started on the Wetmore bridle trail. There is a reason this trail is named “WET-more.” The rain over the past couple of days provided for a muddy, slippery mess! Of course the fallen leaves did their best to mask the true nature of the surface until you were ankle deep into the mire. It was pretty fun to be at the BACK of the group and listen to the shrieks as another mud pit was discovered! It paid to be a little slow… We finished the Wetmore trail section and then traveled around the muddy corn field(s) on our way to the Covered Bridge aid station.
Roy’s instructions were for us to get a pair of scissors at the Covered Bridge aid station and then start looking for ‘Red Skeleton” on the Perkins Trail, who would be holding a book. We then had to cut a picture from the book and hand in the photo to the aid station workers at the Covered Bridge upon our completion of the loop. As I turned onto the Perkins Trail, I made a note to myself to start to look for Red. It was not hard to find him since he was sitting in a chair, RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF A STREAM CROSSING! I laughed pretty hard when I saw him and then said a few words as I balanced on some rocks, trying to keep my feet semi-dry. Yes, they were muddy, but not totally soaked, yet!
Daybreak had arrived and I was able to turn off my headlamp and enjoy the colors of the woods! It was absolutely stunning with the leaves both on the trees and on the ground! The sky was clear and the sunshine felt good when I arrived back at the Covered Bridge. I knocked the frost off of my drop bag and left my headlamp there. I also grabbed my hat but kept my headband with me, just in case.
I started back to Pine Hollow via the hilly and muddy Wetmore trail. I was starting to feel tired and decided that I needed to back off my pace a bit if I wanted to complete lap number two. It was mentally difficult as the marathon runners would pass by, but I tried to just keep moving. Finally made it to Pine Hollow after what seemed like a very long time, and knew that in only 4 more miles I would have to do this all over again… Not a good thought so I admired the scenery some more at Kendall Hills as I ran!
I was leap-frogging a guy from Pine Hollow to the Ledges Shelter and when we arrived, he quickly went back out for lap two. I wanted to change my shirt and poor planning had me going to my car to retrieve it instead of leaving a drop bag at the shelter! I started off on lap two and caught back up with Frank. I would catch him on the up-hills, he would leave me behind on the down-hills. I started to feel really bad here; no energy, my knees were achy, and I was just tired of the mud. I tried to think ‘happy thoughts’ but it wasn’t working. I then remembered a lesson I learn from Ironman: Whenever you feel the least bit negative, eat/drink something. So I ate a Tri-berry gu. Tasted pretty good and a few minutes later, I ate a few bites of a powerbar. Suddenly, my second-wind was arriving and I was starting to feel better I took another Gu, just to make sure and I was soon arriving at the Covered Bridge aid station once again! The best part was that Denise, Gina, and Abby were waiting for me there! My friend Kirk surprised me by also coming out to see us running!
I arrived just after Frank did and we departed together. I explained that I felt pretty good again and was “going to make hay while the sun was shining!” I was feeling ok and made sure that I kept eating and drinking. I was running by myself now since the runners were spaced pretty far apart. It was a constant battle to keep telling myself to "just run" whenever I would want to stop. These ultra runs are as much of a mental test as a physical one.
I cut another picture out of the book and completed the Perkins loop for the last time. I arrived at Covered Bridge aid station, changed into a short-sleeved shirt, grabbed some food, and said good-bye to my family. Denise said they would meet me again at Pine Hollow. Off I went myself towards the finish...
There were lots of people on the trails due to the nice weather and I felt like an Ultra-public-relations person explaining what we were doing out there in the woods. It was fun to watch the expressions on their faces as I said we were running a double-marathon! I would just smile and keep moving... I was running alone now and the mental battle was ongoing to just keep moving and to remember to eat and drink. Pretzels, ginger snaps, and bananas all were tasting pretty good. The occasional GU was thrown in also for good measure. It was working and I kept moving.
Pine Hollow the last time was a very welcome sight since I only had 4 more miles to go. The sun and fall colors were blazing and it was a fantastic day! The girls were having a blast running up and down the hills, reliving the Cross-Country meet held there a few weeks ago, and Denise just loved soaking up the sunshine. Quick food stop and off for the final leg.
I was pretty happy to see the ledges trail sign and to be able to run the final section across the field to the finish! It was nice to see Dave Peterman, the overall race winner, hanging around to cheer for us slow-folks! I received my coffee cup from Roy and enjoyed some great food from Chef Bill. A perfect day!
I knew that the Wetmore and Perkins trails would be muddy and I was not disappointed. What was suprising however was how slippery the Kendall Hills section was. The grass/mud combo was like ice in places and pretty sloppy.
Keep on top of my nutrition. It seems that I am always learning this... Pretzels. ginger snaps, and bananas worked well for me.
I should have backed off the pace a bit earlier on the first lap. I may have saved myself some time on the second lap had I done so...
Spilts for the geeks in us that care:
Ledges to Pine Hollow: 44:43
Pine Hollow to Covered Bridge: 1:20:47
Riding Run/Perkins: 1:02:37
Covered Bridge to Pine Hollow: 1:21:18
Pine Hollow to Ledges Shelter: 54:11
Marathon time: 5:23:37 (would have been 16th out of 48)
5:47 spent changing shirts...
Ledges to Pine Hollow: 54:24
Pine Hollow to Covered Bridge: 1:22:40
Riding Run/Perkins: 1:11:57
Covered Bridge to Pine Hollow: 1:31:45
Pine Hollow to Ledges Shelter: 52:21
Total time: 11:22:36 (12th out of 22)