There was an electric buzz in the air at Squire’s Castle in Willoughby Hills, Ohio last Saturday. The buzz was being created by the ultra runners gathered to run in the Burning River 100 Endurance Run which was also the USATF 100 mile championship race. The day began with temps in the 60’s and high clouds covering the sky with a chance of rain in the forecast.
The race started at 5 a.m. after a few brief announcements from Joe, the race director, and the singing of the national anthem. The race starts in a big field in front of Squire’s Castle and runners run out to the main road where they turn right and its nine miles to the first crew station at the Polo Fields. Eric Grossman, Jack Pilla, Scott Dunlap and Nathan Yanko were the first group of runners to come into the aid station. Seconds behind them was previous winner Mark Godale along with Jay Smithberger and Phil Kochik. It seemed that no sooner had they come in then they were off.
The lead runners were still bunched together coming into the Shadow Lake aid station at mile eighteen and a little more time was spent here refueling. The sun still hadn’t come out yet but the humidity level was high, so keeping up with their hydration would be a key part to success.
The Station Road aid station at mile thirty-three is located at a train station where the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad stops to pick up riders and cyclists. The cyclists enjoy a one-way train ride and bike back on the Tow Path Trail. The lead runners were on pace to arrive at about the same time as the train which from a crew point-of-view made waiting a little bit more stressful. The train arrived first and fortunately was parked far enough ahead that the runners could go around the back of it (or wait for it to move) to access the aid station. Eric was the first to cross the Station Road Bridge followed closely by Todd and Jack. This order held through the Ottowa Station at mile thirty-nine with Jay, Mark, Phil and Scott Breeden all close behind.
The Boston Store aid station was another busy spot with cyclists on the Tow Path and the scenic railroad going through. Runners come to this station twice at miles 49 and 54.5. Eric was the first to arrive again, but unfortunately by car. He dropped from the race at the previous aid station with a hamstring injury. With Eric dropping, Todd Braje became the leader and literally ran with it. Todd was about ten minutes ahead of Phil, with Mark, Jack and Jay following. The order changed at mile 54.5 with Jay leaving the aid station before Jack.
By the Happy Day aid station, Todd had a commanding lead over Phil by twenty-six minutes. However, Mark passed Phil while he was refueling. With the humid conditions, the runners were taking the time to soak themselves down with sponges full of cold water as well as fill their hats with ice to keep from over heating. Jay came in ahead of Jack and Nathan Yanko, who was never far off to begin with, was still in the lead group mix and came in next.
From this point on, it was anybody’s race behind Todd. Getting to the Pine Hollow aid station (another station the runners use twice) may have been one of the more challenging sections of the race with the afternoon sun periodically peaking out and parts of the course going through fields which included Sound of Music Hill (where incidentally, Nathan was serenaded by his extended family cheering squad who was dutifully following him). Positions changed slightly here with Nathan passing Jack to become 4th and 5th respectively since both of them had passed Phil earlier. Phil walked up the hill and upon reaching the aid station dropped due to a foot problem.
The lead group held their positions up to mile 85.5 at the Covered Bridges aid station. This is another aid station the runners come through twice with a little 4.7m loop in between. Todd came in the second time with a thirty-seven minute lead over Mark. However, thirty minutes later it was Nathan who came out of the woods in third place with Jack behind him and Jay following.
Waiting at the Car Wash aid station, mile 93, there was a nervous excitement amongst the crews. Todd had already come and gone and Mark blew through a little over a half hour later. With 1st and 2nd place pretty well determined (short of any major blow-ups) 3rd, 4th and 5th were still up for grabs. With the sun setting, it was starting to cool off which felt good to everyone. Jay’s family was his crew and the kids were keeping a watchful eye up the Tow Path and suddenly began to yell a runner was coming! Through the trees we caught a glimpse of a half-naked runner so it was either Jay or Jack since they were running without shirts on. As he drew closer, I recognized Jack’s gate.
We quickly swapped fuel belt bottles and got him refueled for the next seven miles. The next crew station was only three miles away but I wasn’t confident I could make it there and still make it to the finish line in time. Nathan and Jay came through soon after and the race was on!
Todd won in 15:29:24 setting a course record. Mark finished second in 15:48:35 bettering his winning time from last year. Jack was able to keep his third place position by still feeling strong in the hills through the last metro park and came in at 16:22:54. Jay finished fourth in 16:43:15 and Nathan finished fifth with a time of 16:43:26.
On the women’s side Annette Bednosky won in 16:44:21. She’s posted a full report on her race. Nearly two hours later, Connie Gardner crossing the line in second with a time of 18:36:16. Larissa Abramiuk (19:15:09) edged out Karen Kelly (19:28:43) to claim third. Elizabeth Carrion rounded out the top five in 21:00:58.
A big thank you goes to Joe Jurczyk for organizing a great race and to his volunteers who provided great support with a smile. Also, thank you to all the sponsors for their support as well.
Call for Comments and Questions
Who’s run Burning River? If so, what did you think of the race? Anyone at the race this year to run, crew, or support the race?
Kelly Wilson is an RRCA-certified coach living in Vermont. Find out more at www.trainingbykelly.com.