By Daven W. Oskvig
A balmy 68-degree 4 a.m. start greeted runners as they set off into the inky black from the front of a castle in a gorgeous park at the Burning River 100. While there were those with the requisite whoops and over-eager adrenaline surges charging down the grassy slope, most held their energy in quiet reserve, hoping that doling it out in tiny amounts would help later. Early miles clicked by uneventfully, for the most part, for both crews and runners.
Up to the first crew-accessible aid station, it was all road. Then, from the polo grounds (from a castle to polo grounds–just where in Ohio is this?) the course shifts to bridle trails. Around this time, as light slowly crept into the sky, the quiet of night was broken by the cacophony of nature’s awakening. Birds singing, frogs croaking, insects humming… from the sound of one’s own footfalls to a symphonic wonder in mere minutes.
As dawn arrived, the heat began to creep toward its afternoon high of 88 degrees. Like trail conditions, weather is one of those factors beyond a runner’s control. Yes, complaints will be legion and used liberally to make excuses, but it simply is something that cannot be changed. No, this is not the furnace heat reported in some races. But 88 degrees in this part of the country is a humid, sunny and soupy inferno that demands respect. And it was this factor that excised the greatest toll, claiming nearly 50% of the starters.
The race profile shows a moderately flat course boasting some 9,000 feet of total climb, but this too fails to do the course justice. Those early miles lull runners into a false sense of ease, but the roads and bridle trails yield to plenty of single-track. Though there are no monster climbs dragging on for miles, the course continues to dish out elevation in small doses.
Most of the course is multi-use trail, plenty of rain had fallen in previous weeks and horses had helped to leave many sections chewed up and still muddied. Between trying to pick their way through these endless stretches, runners danced around other … deposits left by horses. Certainly trail conditions were much better than in past iterations of the race, but by no means were they completely dry and runnable. Thankfully, the vast amount of covered trail left runners largely in the shade throughout the day, providing some relief from the intensity of the sun. On those occasions when runners popped out of the woods into clearings, it felt like the ground itself radiated heat, while wild raspberry plants, now heavy with fruit, tore at flesh.
Any 100-mile race is epic. Whether one is the first runner in or the last to cross before the course is closed, the task is the same and the accomplishment monumental. This experience showcased incredible parks in Ohio, warm and hospitable people and great support. Due to the shared toil, the runners and crew have become family.