Burning River 100 race review: Halfway to the goal
By Henry Howard
I set out to run and complete the Burning River 100, an out-and-back course near Akron, Ohio, that features a variety of dirt trails, bike paths, bridle trails and more. It would be my fourth 100-miler, and my fourth entry into the Western States lottery.
Before I get to the Burning River 100 race review, it’s worth pointing out this Instagram post I wrote the day before the July 29 race. In the post, I shared how the day would be one of gratitude. I was — and am — grateful for my family, friends, running coach, supportive brands and others who have my back.
I kept that mindset for the first 27 miles of the race, when I was on pace for my A goal, feeling great and everything was falling into place. Until it wasn’t.
After running strong for four miles after a stop at the 23-mile aid station, I hit a section that was a swollen creek masquerading as a trail and other challenges. A downpour early in the race created those conditions. The rain I could handle, the trail I could not.
By the time I saw my crew again at the mile 34 aid station, my quads were cooked and my feet were in pain. My crew tended to my feet, changing my socks, applying pain cream and getting me back on my way.
At this point, my quads and feet did not rebound, and my stomach had also turned. The last 16 miles were mostly walking to the 50-mile turnaround point. I had a lot of time to process this during those miles and I figured out that even with a 20-minute-per-mile walking pace (I was averaging about 16), I could finish the 100 miles under the 30-hour cutoff.
But what’s the point?
Sure, a shiny buckle would be cool. But would it be worth the risk of suffering a long-term injury when my body was already barking at me?
I was able to get in some running in the final miles before the 50-mile aid station. But my mind was made up at that point. Live to run another day.
I have no regrets. The race allows 100-mile finishers to stop at 50 and receive a medal and credit for a 50-mile race, so it counts as a 50-miler. When I told the volunteer in charge of my decision, she said, “Well, you’re in good company,” and added me a growing list of names on her paper.
Burning River race While I did not finish the 100-miler, I did get to see the entire course. Here are some things you should know if you are considering running this race in the future:
• There are lots of options for distances. The 100-mile (individual and relay), 50-miler in either direction and a marathon.
• It is very well organized, from registration to packet pickup to most of the aid stations, everything worked smoothly. The staff and volunteers were all wonderful.
• The course is clearly marked with pink arrows pointing one way and white arrows the reverse. The course is flagged very well, too. However, there were several two- or three-way intersections where there were no arrows and those unfamiliar with the trail had to guess which way to proceed.
• In lieu of an entry fee, 100-milers are allowed to fundraise and hit a certain minimum. I elected to do this, topped the $600 threshold and even hit my goal of raising more than $1,000 in donations to support the trail system. That’s another reason why I was so grateful to friends and family who supported this effort.
• There are more than 4,000 feet of gain per 50 miles. It can feel unrelenting at times, especially when the trails are overwhelmed with mud. There are a few sections, notably about 4 miles of bike path leading to and from the 50-mile aid station, where it is flat.
• For those with crew, be aware that you will not see them from mile 34 to the halfway point (and in reverse too). That’s a long stretch without crew. There are two aid stations you will come across but their options are fairly limited, compared with aid stations at other ultras. That’s especially true for those who are gluten-free.
Thank you once again
While the race didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted, I’m grateful for the brands who support my running:
• InsideTracker: I use InsideTracker regularly to get a thorough assessment of my health, based on my unique factors such as diet, fitness, goals and more. Here’s how my most recent test, at the peak of 100-mile training, fared.
• Gnarly Nutrition: The brand fulfills its commitment to “science-backed nutrition, delivered through transparent, natural, straightforward ingredient standards and rigorous product testing.” I use their supplements to support my training: the BCAAs before a workout, the vegan protein powder afterward, and creatine to boost brain and body functionality.
• Honey Stinger: The gluten-free waffles, chews and nut and seed bars are my go-tos for fueling before and recovery afterward. The waffles are easy to digest and have the perfect amount of carbs for a good workout or race.
• UltrAspire: I wore my UltrAspire waist pack (and waist light when the race started) and also had a handheld ready for use if needed. I’ve found UltrAspire gear to be perfectly designed for runners and their customer service outstanding.
• Squirrels Nut Butter: Perhaps lost in the shuffle of my 100-miler-turned-50-miler, was how once again SNB prevented me from getting any blisters. The combination of heat and soaked feet is a recipe for blisters but thanks to SNB, I once again did not suffer any.
• Long Run Coffee: A great combination of caffeine and electrolytes created by a runner. I use this coffee before my long weekend runs, which helps get me ready to conquer what’s out in front of me.
As for what is next for me on my racing calendar, I am looking forward to the 50K at the Hennepin Hundred. Onward and upward.