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As my namesake, Roy Rogers used to say, when singing the closing song of his television show, Happy trails to you! The rest of the song said, Until we meet again.
I had never run on the Buckeye Trail and some of the others I would compete on at the Burning River 100-mile endurance run, so I did not know if they were happy trails or if Id be meeting them again.
When I arrived at the packet pickup at the citys natatorium, one of the first people I met was the race director, Joe Jurczyk, who also is involved with other fine races.
Joe commented he was surprised to see my entry because he thought I was a road guy. I told him that I had run many trail races, including more than 20 times on the Ice Age Trail 50-mile, the White River 50, Golden Gate Headlands 50K and Wheres Waldo, to name a few. He just said he just did not think I was known for trail racing because of my accomplishments on the road.
I guess I am primarily known for 24-hour and 100-mile races on roads and tracks, but if you would examine all of the 174 ultras I have done, a considerable number of them were off road.
Trails are part of my daily training. Roads beat people up, especially high mileage runners such as myself. I did those big miles on the roads when I was younger, but now take it easy on the trails and save my joints from the punishing concrete and asphalt.
Using different muscles because of the constant variations of the trails surface improves muscle tone and function. On the other hand, it also can mean tripping and falling. I have done my share of that as well.
As the coach and mentor to a runner who asked me to help him prepare for the BR100, I was fortunate to have a place to stay in Cleveland, about 30-minutes from the 5 a.m. start at Squires Castle. Greg Kearney and I first met as members of the Badgerland Striders Running Club based in Milwaukee, while he was working there. Eventually, he returned to his hometown of North Olmstead, a suburb of Cleveland, just off I-480 and began work with NASA. Last year, he saw I was entered in the North Coast 24-hour Run, in Clevelands Edgewater Park and we went to dinner the night before the race. At that time, he asked me to train and coach him to run the BR100 this year, which once again was serving as the USATF 100-mile Trail National Championships.
That was the start of a new friendship for us. We had been casual friends, but during the months of preparation we became closer, he gained confidence and always asked questions and listened to advice.
We ran the first 6 miles together as planned and once it was light he took off. I expected him to do well. He ran lots of miles, long runs that were required and also walked many miles at my suggestion. His walking actually paid off when he became so chafed he could no longer run. His strong training background moved him forward and he broke 22 hours to win the Masters (40-44) and his first national title, in his first ultra.
He then waited, and waited, and waited for me to finish. He was there, just before I crossed the finish line and the first to congratulate me on my finish. After getting out of all of my wet clothes, caked with dirt and mud, we talked about our races on the drive to his house, for a shower and a few hours of sleep, before returning to the finish area to see the final runners complete their adventures on the trails, across many streams and on the roads connecting the Metro Park System between Cleveland and Akron.
Greg told me of his problems and how he overcame them and then it was my turn.
Just before reaching 75 miles, I was blinded by anothers headlamp and went down hard. Stubbed my toes, scraped my knees, gashed my chest and ribs, sprained my right ankle, left thumb and 2 fingers on the right hand and then planted my chin firmly on the ground.
I shook it off and continued. I found the worst pain and most annoying too, was the chafing caused by the stream crossings depositing sandy soil on my skin. Greg agreed. I went through 4 small tubes of Aquaphor to keep me from stopping. The chafing actually helped keep my mind off the other things that were hurting.
My feet were starting to burn once we reached the Ohio-Erie Tow Path, which had both asphalt and crushed limestone surfaces. The shuffling meant the sand deposited between my Compressor socks and the Wigwam sock liners I chose to wear on the outside acted like sandpaper and ground away at my foot bottoms.
I wore the liners on the outside to help pull away the wetness I knew I would experience with the many stream crossings. Both the Compressor and the liners performed as expected, wonderfully. No blisters. My feet looked white and mushy from being wet most of the day and night, like my skin looks after pulling a wet bandage off a finger.
An aid station volunteer at the final aid station, mile 96.1 miles along, sent me the wrong way when I asked which way I had to go. After 2.5 miles I finally reached an intersecting road. I told Greg I thought of looking for the road to the finish, but knew the rules said to return where I went wrong. I ran an extra 5 miles before doing the final 4.8 to finish.
Managing what happens during a race has been something I have been accustomed. Keeping going to see what happens is all part of the journey from the start to the finish. In this case it took 24 hours 15 minutes and 29 seconds, but was good enough to win the national title for my age group, my 71st to date. It was my 174th ultra finish and one I certainly will not forget.
I was thinking of Roy Rogers singing, wondering if Id ever meet these trails again and after I finished I knew I would. In spite of what goes wrong, there is always more that goes right and they truly are happy trails.
See you in a few miles.roy