Beast of Burden 100 - Race Report
Beast of Burden 100 - Lockport, NY
March 10, 2010
February 27, 2010
A few months ago, I was visiting a friend in Portland and I received an email from someone I didn't know. Basically it was an invitation to come and run a 100 miler in February. It was a first year race being put on by a novice race director. I had my finger poised above the delete button when I saw one word that caught my eye; BUFFALO! No, not the animal, the city. In New York. Hmmmm, a 100 miler outside of Buffalo NY in February. That sounds awful. I should check it out.
Twenty minutes later I am talking on the phone to the race director, Sam Pescari. He has never directed a race before and he doesn't have the proper permits yet. He is still working out the details of the course itself. He doesn't own a running or triathlon shop. In fact, he's a barber. Red flags should have been smacking me in the face because this has the makings of a disaster. But something about Sam's enthusiasm and matter-of- fact determination kept my attention. He was passionate and excited and he really wanted me to come and run his race. I told him I would think about it. I didn't really mean it.
A couple of weeks later, Sam called to say that he had just brought in a great new sponsor. Rohto, a Mentholatum brand that makes eye drops, has just decided to support the race. Rohto has products that are specifically designed for athletes and non athletes alike. Sam wants to know if I have made up my mind about the race. Honestly, I had decided not to run it. Too cold, too new, too many unknowns. Then I realized that I had just given myself all of the reasons that I should be doing this race. The Beast of Burden would be an adventure, a race completely out of my comfort zone. So I said yes. What had I done?
I arrived in Buffalo on Thursday afternoon. It was snowing lightly and the temperature was around 25 degrees. Not too bad really. Sam picked me up and we drove to his house in Lockport, about 45 minutes from Buffalo. Sam lives about 2 minutes from the Erie Canal towpath, the location of the race. This was the path that Sam has been running for years and a very popular path for local runners and walkers. At Sam's house, I met his wife and two kids, Dominic and Sarah. Everyone was very welcoming but Sarah, aged 7, seemed to be the happiest about having company. She became my helper and waitress for the weekend. And when it came to talking, I had found my equal. I loved it.
It continued to snow most of the day Friday and I began to worry just a little. Living in North Carolina, I had the chance to run in the snow maybe once or twice a year at the most. In fact, it occurred to me that running 100 miles in the snow would probably equal more running miles in the snow than I had logged in my entire life. Leading up to the race, I had boldly wished for a big storm on race day because I figured that if I was going to run in upstate NY in February, I may as well have the full experience. Why do I say things like that?
Packet pick up took place on Friday late afternoon at a local restaurant. I ate some pasta and a salad and chatted with a few people. I was happy to see Richard Strassburg there. He is the creator and owner of a product called the Strassburg Sock, a therapeutic recovery sock that can ease the pain of plantar fasciitis. PF is a debilitating condition that can dog a runner for years and has ended more than a few running careers. I have used it several times through the years and it has saved me more than once. And it was good to see that he is a really nice guy that doesn't mind taking the time to speak with each individual runner. In fact, late in the race, I saw him going out the door at about midnight to run as a pacer with someone. I don't think he had planned on that so he must have been compelled to jump in and help someone. That was cool.
Race morning dawned cold, about 21 degrees. And big surprise, it was snowing. It hadn't really stopped snowing since my arrival and the accumulation was pretty significant, at least a foot of new snow. I packed up my gear and headed to the start area. In typical fashion, I arrived only a short time before the start. I don't like to stand around for too long before a race if I can help it. Especially when it's cold. And snowing. I was pretty well prepared as far as clothing goes. Lots of layers. I was wearing Newton Running shoes and Balega socks. This would be the first time that I would wear Newton in a 100 miler. Balega is the only sock I have worn for the past year or so. Once I discovered Balega, I never could wear anything else. I was wearing CW-X compression shorts under CW-X compression tights. And I had three layers of CW-X on top, including a thermal layer that was just amazing. A knit hat and gloves completed my choices for the day. It wasn't going to help me run but at least I looked like I knew how to run in the snow.
Next came the "lube" part of my routine. Yes that's right, you heard me. I grabbed my Mission Anti Friction cream and went to work. Get your mind out of the gutter. I started with my feet and worked my way up. This is why I don't really get blisters. Then I spread a generous amount of Mission in the crotch and butt area. There is nothing worse than chafing in these areas. Okay there is probably something worse but I can't think of it right now. Then I covered under arms and even my neckline. By the time I was finished with the Mission anti friction, I could have just slid the first miles if it was down hill.
But there would be no down hill today. The Erie Canal towpath is about as flat as it gets. The snow had really built up on the path so when the gun went off, we were really trail breaking. Well, I wasn't, but the leaders were. I decided to hang back a bit and see if the trail would get packed down. This approach worked for a while but as the race continued, the path got kind of chewed up, both by runners and a couple of well intentioned snow mobile riders. The footing was uneven and because of the temperatures, the snow became really slushy. This meant very wet, cold and sore feet for the entire race.
The course was a basic out and back. 12 miles or so each way so we did 4 complete loops and a little extra to equal 100 miles. This is the perfect course for first times 100 runners and those wanting to run a fast time. Because of the weather, there would be no super fast times today but there would be a couple of really good efforts.
For my part, I stayed in second place for most of the race until I was passed by Ryan O'dell sometime during my third loop. He flew past me with a pacer and they were just making it look way too easy. One thing about a 100 miler is that it's pretty tough to "race" against anyone else. I was doing the best I could and I just focused on my own effort. Of course I secretly hoped that Ryan would trip and fall in the Erie Canal. Instead, he just smoked me.
Overall I had a pretty easy time of it. After getting passed, I took a long time at the start/finish aid station before beginning loop 4. There wasn't really anyone close behind me and I needed some dry clothes and shoes. I hadn't changed anything for the first 75 miles because I wanted to keep the pressure on and for the most part, I was comfortable. But now it was 11:00 PM and cold and still snowing. I was craving comfort but experience told me not to stay too long. I used to have a t-shirt that read "The Chair is the Enemy". I try never to stay comfortable for too long during a race or I might not want to get started again.
I downed two bottles of Infinit Nutrition drink mix, my own personal blend made by Infinit. I like the one that has a few grams of protein per serving. I am a vegan and it is tough to eat enough solid food during a 100 miler so I really just stick to using Infinit and a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I did inhale a couple of donuts too.
I headed out on the last loop with the basic attitude that went something like this, "let's get this over with." Not so much negative as just impatient. I wasn't going to catch the guys in front of me and I didn't want to get caught by anyone else. So I just put my head down and ran hard. I had been listening to music for the first three loops but I cut it off now and just enjoyed the peaceful quiet of the snow and my breathing punctuated by occasional cursing.
I even grabbed my phone during the final loop and called my girlfriend Norma and my so Brett. It was fun to talk to them on speaker while I was running. Norma wanted to be on the trail with me and Brett was heading to meet his girlfriend but was happy to hear from me. I love talking to he or my other son Kevin during a race. I want them to know that they are always with me.
I finished at about 5:00 AM, a little over 22 hours after I started. I was greeted by some of the diehard volunteers at the finish line. The overall support for this race had been superb. Sam had really pulled out every stop and called in lots of favors to get so many great people out to help runners that they didn't even know. I am always grateful for the help and support.
The most impressive finish of the race was by Vince Donner, an 18 year old high schooler that finished 100 miles in the 24 hour race. I saw him out on the course very often and was truly impressed by his fearless approach. He had no real idea what to do or how to run 100 miles. But he proved the point that I have said so many times. Just sign up and show up and see what happens. In his case, he did something that will likely change his life. I have no doubt that he will become a regular at the 100 mile distance and beyond if he chooses.
The highlight of my race happened during the second loop as I neared the turnaround. There were some kids off to my left and they were sledding down a hill. I would guess they were about 12 years old. One of them looked at me and yelled "hey, what are you doing?" This is always one of those moments where I wonder if the truth is worth telling. But I said, "I'm running 100 miles." He looked at me kind of blankly and said, "why?" To this I said, "it's a race. It doesn't sound like a good idea does it?" He looked at me and said, "not for somebody as old as you." I seriously had to fight off the urge to run down the hill and pummel this kid with snowballs. The look on my face told the kid that he had hit pay dirt so he decided to swing for the fences. Next he said, "how old ARE you, like 40?" Okay, my vision went blurry and I thought I was going to pass out. The other kids were laughing and I truly could not think of a thing to say. It was like middle school all over again. But unlike middle school, this time I couldn't help but laugh. I smiled and said something clever like "very funny kid, why don't we see if you can even run a mile." I might as well have said I was going to go home and tell my dad. Smart ass kid.
Overall, the Beast of Burden was a great success. I think the race will grow and be a regular stop for those that are looking for a well supported race in a good location. Sam is talking about running a summer version this year which would be very fast. For now, I am just happy to have survived the snow.