Burning River 100 Race Report – Part 3 – Polo Fields to Station Road Bridge

Cat Scratch Fever:  Polo Fields to Station Road Bridge

This section of the course is about half road, half Towpath. What’s a Towpath? It’s a path that runs alongside parts of the former Ohio & Erie Canals, which sought to connect Lake Erie to the Ohio River.

I run in and see Laurie Colon and Crystal Basich, who just completed Badwater two weeks ago.  I shrug off my Camelback and hand it to the young girl who’s run in with me and asked what I needed.  I request ice and Gatorade in the Camelback and grab a handful of chips while I get a quick chat with Pepper and Beth Woodward.  As the sweet girl hands the Camelback to me, we notice together that it’s dripping.  Okay kids, it’s not dripping; there is a steady stream of fluid exiting its bottom corner and the clock is ticking.

When I made the decision to run with the Camelback I knew it would take more time to fill at the aid stations than a water bottle.  I also knew that the 40-ounce Camelback held twice as much fluid as my water bottle, which would allow me to skip every other station in the morning and the evening and balance out the time expenditure.  I feel extremely off-center and unbalanced when I run with two handhelds, but recognized I might need more fluids during the hottest part of the day.  Enter trusty friend Camelback, wear-tested and beloved, though being used for the first time in a 100-miler.  (I’ve generally shied away from it due to the time expenditure at the aid stations.)

But back at the ranch…  The Camelback is dripping.  I rip open the pocket that houses the bladder, terrified that I’ve somehow ripped a hole in it.  The bladder is almost empty.  WTH?

Then I see the look on the girl’s face.  One of surprise and confusion mixed together.  So I look a little further to confirm my suspicions.

Polo Fields. 17.2 miles in at 7:52 am. Site of the Camelback fiasco.

Yes, she had filled the pocketof the Camelback with ice and Gatorade.  Not the bladder, but the pocket.  The mystery of the empty bladder was solved; the was Camelback filled properly; the Tylenol and Tums were retrieved from their unexpected swim; and the whole wet mess was hoisted back on me.

Back being the operative word.  Bare back.

‘Cause I had to take the Salty Challenge and run in nothing but a sports bra.

Wild Bill calls out to me that there’s a waist deep water crossing coming up.


So, my friends, a little quiz:  what happens a very sweet but young and inexperienced volunteer takes your Camelback and fills it incorrectly?  The Camelback is now soaked and dripping with sticky, salty fluid. You are wearing nothing but a sports bra. You are at mile 17 and have no hand-held water bottles stashed until mile 40, leaving you little choice but to run with said wet Camelback.  Discuss.

Said Camelback becomes a chafing machine.

I forge the knee-deep water crossing and continue leap-frogging with DB.  I’m enjoying running alone, and I feel guilty that each time he runs up behind me my rhythm gets broken.  It’s an odd phenomenon: I so love having him there but I really want to be alone.

I make it to Harper Ridge with DB just behind, get my popsicle and motor on.  I’m worried about my back; ever since the Camelback got soaked it’s been rubbing pretty bad.  I feel some hot spots on my lower back.  Well, they’re a little more than hot, but honestly there’s not much I can do about it and I’ve only got 3 miles to Shadow Lake.  I pull out my tube of Vaseline and smear it on the spots.  Not great, but better.

Robin, Gwen and Lexi are at Shadow Lake and they’re on me like a pit crew.  Robin tells me my back is red and I shrug it off.  We load me up with fresh Clif SHOT, blue Gatorade and my favorite chips and I’m off.  Oh yeah, watermelon.  You know how I feel about my watermelon.

DB comes into the aid station right behind me and is working on his drop bag as I head out.

My music is in my head and I take advantage of the time alone to center on my race.  I’m 26 miles in and comfortably hitting my stride.  I’ve got a good remix of “Boys of Summer” on my imaginary iPod, and I’m ultimately working toward Station Bridge now.  Fourteen miles to 40 and I know every one of them.  I feel good.

Well, except for the lacerations on my back.

DB comes up behind me as we hit some stretches of pavement, pieces of the Green Jewel 50K course.  I try taking the Camelback off and carrying it.  He sees my back and his reaction is not exactly comforting.

“I know,” I say.  “I’m going to try to get it duct taped at the next aid station.”

Running with the Camelback over just one shoulder is too awkward, and honestly, it’s just annoying.  In homage to my dear friends from the Lima Company, I mutter “HTFU,” rather dejectedly, and reaffix the chafing machine.  The situation has progressed from hot spots to chafing to lacerations to absolute fire.  My back is on fire, but I’m in shock at how I’m handling it.  My eyes are focused dead ahead and my legs aren’t giving an inch.

I make it to Egbert Shelter and see Suzanne Pokorny, which means I immediately know it’s all going to be okay.  Suzanne and another volunteer team up, blot my back dry with paper towels and cover it with duct tape.  I grab some chips and a few bites of watermelon.  They ask how I’m doing; a couple of people remark on how bad my back looks.

“Ah, it’s some chafing,” I say.  “If this is the worst I deal with today, we’re in good shape.”

I leave Egbert Shelter with a tough silver skin and a new lease on life.

DB catches up to me not long after, and we run together quietly.  We come upon a downhill and the endorphins are on overload.

“Woohoo!”  I scream, running down the hill.  “Mama’s home, Buckeye Trail, Mama’s home!”

There’s no response behind me.  A few minutes later, I ask how he’s feeling.

He’s struggling, he says.  No energy.  Just not clicking in.

He hasn’t seemed quite right all morning, and I’m trying to work around it.

He’s lost his pace chart, he says.  I tell him that our charts were only five minutes different, he might as well just run with me.  I’m not entirely sure about this arrangement, since we’re both racing today.  That time we ran together at Umstead, we were just trying to finish on our ridiculous 40 days of training.  This is different.  This is racing.  But it’s easier than constantly answering questions about how far to the next station and what time we’re supposed to be there.  Cause Star, well, she’s not a big fan of math.

It’s taking too long to get Alexander.  I’m getting confused, worried.  Either I’m crashing or I did the math wrong when I made the pace chart.  I mention the aid station must be coming up soon.  “No,” he says, “we’ve only been running XX minutes since …”

“Please,” I say.  “Please with the numbers.”

He gets quiet.  We work our way to the station.  The five minutes I had been up are gone.  I’m not worried about the minutes, I’m just hoping there aren’t any more math mistakes on my pace chart.

I don’t need much there; I grab a couple bites of banana and move on.  We’ve got 4.9 miles to Station Bridge, 2.5 of which are Towpath.  DB is still struggling; I remind him to take it very easy on the trail section, because he assigned himself an 11-minute pace for this section but half of it is road.  Pull it together and recover on the trail, I tell him, because you’ll naturally make up time on the towpath.  He seems relieved, grateful for the reminder.

I turn “Boys of Summer” back on and go to my happy place.  I think of Rachel and plaster a smile on my face to get some endorphins pumping.  I’m actually feeling terribly guilty.  Horribly guilty.  DB is having a really tough day already, and I’m not.  I feel good.  But I feel like too much of my energy is going to worrying about him, which makes me feel selfish.  I work hard to smile, to remind myself that we agreed a million different times sitting on the couch to run our own races.  I have to run my own race.

On cue, he comes up behind me.  We are hitting the towpath.

I’ve got to slow down, he says.

It’s okay, I say.  You’re going to be fine, it’s just a bad patch.

He knows.  He thinks he just needs to eat.  The food is only 2.5 miles away.  Actually, yes, there it is.  The wooden towpath marker proclaiming “Station Bridge:  2.5 Miles.”

I take a deep breath and hunker down.  I promised myself I would run it this year, no taking bonus walk breaks just because the section is “fast.”

And then another sign, a Burning River sign, that says “Station Bridge: 2.9 Miles.”

I am frustrated and pissed.

“That’s crap,” I mutter.  “Why the hell would you do that?”  Now I don’t know if the bridge is 2.5 or 2.9 away, and I don’t know if my pacing skills and pace chart are a damn mess again.  No mind, I tell myself.  You’re running straight down the scorching towpath to the bridge either way.  Not that complicated.

But from behind me, he starts to say that the 2.9 must be right, because we’ve only been running 41 minutes since …

“STOP!” I said.  And not nicely.

I snapped.  I hate math, and he knows it.  When we’re doing a 40 mile run, I don’t want to know that we’re now 2.34 miles into a loop, or that it’s been three hours, 34 minutes and 17 seconds since we left.

I just want to run.

This isn’t working.  This really isn’t working.  And I feel selfish and mean because I know he’s struggling and not having a good day but I really need to get away.  I need to run my race and I can’t.  I’m worried about him, I’m frustrated with the constant math, and I know that my head isn’t where it needs to be to do what I need to do.

I drop back a couple of steps and apologize.  He apologizes as well, tells me he knew better, he knows I hate math.

“Friends?” I ask him, invoking our super-secret password for trail quarrels.

Trail friends,” he answers, though I can tell he still doesn’t feel good.

I tell him I’ll see him at the aid station and pick it up a bit.  I know that Courtney will be there, and Rachel and Jay, and I can talk to them.  They will get my head on straight.  Somehow.  I don’t know how, but I am so emotionally overwhelmed I can barely see straight.

Station Road Bridge, approaching mile 40.3 just after noon. If you look behind the tree to far left, you can see someone behind it …

I see Courtney first, and I’m almost in tears.  I tell her what’s going on.  She tells me the very last thing I want to hear, that this is a selfish sport and I know it.  Confirming that I am, indeed, being selfish.

Then she reminds me that he knows it too.

I know I’m going to have to be selfish.  That this isn’t about our marriage, this is about our race.  We promised each other to take the marriage off the table during the race (barring injury or illness), and I’m going to have trust in that agreement.

I tell Robin that DB is struggling and I want her to focus on him, that I have other people there.  We’re getting the Camelback filled up and I’m eating watermelon and potato chips.

At just the moment that I remember I was going to switch to my handheld here, Robin confirms that I don’t have a drop bag at this station.

“Huh?  Yeah, I have a drop bag here,” I say.  I’m thinking it’s got my next four gels, a pack of Stinger chews, and my purple handheld with the big pocket.

Jay runs over to check again; they lost my drop bag.  Not there.  No handheld, no nutrition.  Great.

I check on DB, grab more watermelon, and head out to Ottawa.

Into the abyss.

Trail and adventure enthusiast. Girl who swears like a sailor but not when she's teaching Sunday School. Survived infertility without a successful pregnancy. Self-employed, primarily working for Clif Bar and Company. Thirteen 100-mile race finishes with seven top 3 placements. An original Saltine.

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  1. I’m curious to know, Clove – did this experience make you change your opinion about running with no shirt? Or did you merely learn a lesson about Camelbacks…?