Burning River 2019… where do I even start? I’m still riding on the adrenaline/excitement/racing high and I honestly don’t want it to end. Months of preparation are behind me and now that race day is behind me as well, it all feels a little surreal. Let me start at the beginning.
Before I start, there are a few key elements to this story. I’ll share them here for brevity’s sake:
- We were running the 8-person relay. We had two teams of 8 — so 16 people total. Teams were “50 Shades of Trained” and “Agony of de Feet.”
- No one knew each other except a select few. It was a hodge podge team but tons of fun!
- The race course changed from past years. Usually it’s a point-to-point race. This year, due to permit issues, the race directors changed it to an out-and-back. Of course, this presented a new set of challenges such as parking, shuttles, etc.
- My biggest question mark leading up to the race was which hydration vest I would carry. I was debating between a 1L and 2L and opted for the 1L…
Months in the Making
Last year, I ran the Burning River 8-person relay on a team of women I didn’t know. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I talked my friend Marissa into joining me and we had a ball. For the 2019 race, I knew several men that would like to be involved so I decided to start my own team(s) and include as many people as I could. Late last year, maybe around November or December, I tossed the idea out on Facebook to gauge interest. Lots of people responded. We started a group text and before we knew it, we registered two teams!
As with any big race that’s far, far off in the future, through the course of the first half of 2019, we started losing people, gaining people, pairing people up, etc. The process was a bit stressful and I won’t bore you with all the team logistics but basically, very few people knew each other and it took months of preparation. Spreadsheets, group texts, a Facebook group — the whole nine! We were able to meet for a team happy hour a couple weeks before the race which was really fun and I think helped kind of solidify the teams.
New Course, Shuttles
What made this year particularly challenging, aside from the teams not knowing each other, was the course change. Burning River is usually a point-to-point 100 mile race. There’s a 4-person and 8-person relay, a front 50 and back 50, and 100 miler. Sadly the park system would not approve the permits needed this year so the race organization created an out-and-back course instead. We weren’t allowed to park at aid stations so the race directors secured shuttles. The other option was to have a teammate shuttle people back and forth, or use Uber. If I’m being honest, the whole shuttle thing was giving me some major anxiety. I’m grateful that two of my friends on another team were willing to let us hang in their hotel room and shuttle some tagalongs with them year. It honestly eased so much of my anxiety.
It’s funny the things that give me the pre-race jitters. Running? Distance? Neither. But the getting there, the parking, the starting line. That’s the part that gives me pause.
Packet Pickup Drama
The days and weeks leading up to the race were fairly stress-free. Sadly, packet pickup was not. We had a runner bow out of the race at the last minute and the person replacing her hadn’t registered yet. Apparently we weren’t able to pick up our team packets since our team wasn’t technically complete. I was on a really tight time crunch to get packets and get home to pick up my kids from camp.
My goal for packet pickup was to take a picture by the Burning River banner and shop around for 20 minutes for race swag. Instead, I had to spend my short time in Cuyahoga Falls tracking down the two runners who were supposed to be swapping registrations. It was really stressful. Luckily we figured everything out and I was able to pick up my kids on time. But geesh, I definitely could have done without that.
Race day arrived and my husband and I headed down to Cuyahoga Falls. We weren’t sure what to expect as far as parking but it was easy breezy. We pulled up just next to the start and then walked over to the host hotel to use the bathroom. All I can say is thank god for flushing toilets.
My husband was running leg 1 so it was fun to see him and his running mate, Brian. A few of our other teammates came down to the start, too. After hanging around at the start, it was finally time. It was fun to see the boys kick off our great adventure!
After the start, two of my teammates and myself headed to the hotel with two of my friends from another team. The other team was smart and got a hotel room for the weekend so we hung out with them and used their flushing toilet (again!) and their phone charger. My running mate, Julie, and I were tracking Brandon and Brian. They were booking it the first half of their leg so we decided we should get to the exchange a little earlier than planned. Andrea (the captain from the other team) took us and her runner, Stacey, to the leg 2 start.
We waited for what seemed to be an eternity. We had estimated the boys would show up somewhere around 8:30. When 8:30 came and went, I knew my husband’s IT band was acting up. They finally rolled in to the aid station around 9:00 am. All smiles, though, so that was great! When I asked how his IT band was he said, “totally shredded.” But still with the smiles! So we high-fived and then Julie and I were off.
Leg 2 Recap
When I’m on a run and talking and relaxing, I tend not to remember all the details of the leg. So this is a foggy recollection at best. But there were a few main parts that are vivid. In the first couple miles we traveled along a very populated path in Sand Run metroparks. It was lovely and everyone cheered us on along the way.
After a while on this path we met up with a woman who was very confused. She said she was off course and I honestly didn’t think much of it. Julie was concerned that we hadn’t seen a yellow flag in a while but I was looking for arrows on the ground and we hadn’t seen any. Well, as it turns out, we did miss a turn by about a quarter mile. There was a hard right onto Mingo trail that we all missed completely. Oops.
Once into the woods there was a fair amount of climbing. Roots and rocks galore. Some steps, too — though not as many as in later legs. There was a fairly steep downhill section which I would have loved to have run but seemed like a smarter idea not to. At least that’s what Julie said so I followed her lead.
After a brief section on the towpath, we finally arrived at our first aid station at Botzum. I was thrilled to see one of our friends, Laurie, who happened to be the aid station captain! It’s always such a fun surprise to see a friendly face at a race. Although I should have probably taken in more calories, I opted for a handful of pretzels and some Mountain Dew. Damn did that Mountain Dew taste amazing. And it was just enough, too. If I had any more I would have been fizzy and burpy for several miles.
After our quick stop, Julie and I continued on. Our next aid station was unmanned with water only. I briefly considered stopping to fill up but I thought I had enough water to get through to the next aid station. This would come back to bite me in the ass. As would opting for the 1L vest instead of the 2L. #lessonlearned
After the unmanned aid station, we ran along a road for a while. It was actually really pretty and I rather enjoyed it. The road section here did seem to take forever, though, and just when I had enough of the pavement, the hills, and the sun, we were back into the woods.
The next section wasn’t too bad. It was fairly easy trail, meaning not a ton of ascent or descent. There was one sizable climb which dumped us out onto a road eventually. And sadly, this is where I ran out of water. We were about a mile out from our next aid station and by this time it was fairly warm out. I knew we were close to aid but I was still getting a little nervous about not having enough fluid. Luckily, no sooner did I start getting really thirsty did we come upon our last aid station. The lovely volunteers filled my bladder with water and ice and I never felt more refreshed!
The next section would be the easiest/hardest 4.4 miles of my life. On the one hand, in a road race 4.4 miles is literally nothing. On the other hand, in a trail race 4.4 miles is an eternity. And we both knew there was a massive downhill section coming up but it was incredibly hard to gauge exactly when it would start during the race. So the last section of our leg was a bit of a mind f%ck. Thankfully it did go rather quickly and in true road runner form, we picked up the pace quite a bit for the last two miles.
We cruised in to our relay exchange zone perfectly on time. I estimated it would take us three hours and 43 minutes. It took us three hours, 42 minutes, and 55 seconds. And that was with our slight detour at the beginning. #micdrop
Leg 2 finish time: 3:42:55
The following legs went fairly well for the most part. Leg 3 was off by about a half hour, leg 4 was spot on (actually 17 minutes early!), leg 5 was spot on, leg 6 was off by an hour but they were a night leg, leg 7 (despite being a night leg) was also fairly close to predicted time, and leg 8 was right on target as well.
In Burning River there are obvious challenges. Some parts of the trail are more difficult than others either by way of hills, mud, stairs or some combination of all three. Then there’s the added bonus of running trails in the dark. All in all, our teams were slower than anticipated but the fun level was much higher than expected. As a team captain, that’s all that I can hope for!
There are so many stories that came out of this experience that I would love to share — like my husband training for his first trail race and distance race, the nighttime legs and the unique challenges presented there, and so many more — but those aren’t my stories to tell. From my perspective, this was a really fun experience. There are things I will definitely do differently next year should I be a team captain again. But there are also things I would keep the same. Overall it seemed like everyone had fun. There were no major injuries. We weren’t DQ’ed or DNF’ed. We might not have made our (very soft) time goal, but we had fun and made some new friends along the way. Teams 50 Shades of Trained and Agony of de Feet rocked it and we had a blast doing it!
The Burning River relay is a phenomenal race. Of course the 50 and 100 mile options are great, too, but if your endurance (or desire) isn’t quite up to par for an endurance run, the relay option is really great.
Next up I’m looking at a half marathon in the middle of August, my first trail 50K at the end of August, a smattering of other road races in September and beginning of October, and then Marine Corps Marathon 50K at the end of October! I’m so looking forward to all of these fun activities coming up. Wahoo!
What races do you have coming up?
Have you participated in a relay before?