I’ve never waited until 12:30 in the afternoon to run in a race. The morning filled with the pent up energy of anticipation as I waited for my teammates to run the first two legs of the Burning River Relay.The 100 mile course winds through the rollings hills of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. In the ultra world, the race is known for those who run solo for 100 miles, but also includes a 50 mile and relay option.
I was invited to join the relay fun by my friend, Michelle Rupanovic who later had to drop for surgery. Two parallel teams formed which gave us a tandem partner for the journey. Although I didn’t know anyone on either team, I was lucky to be paired with Carole Krus who is a strong, yet humble, runner who showed me a lot of grace.
After a short time of cheering people at the transition point, our teammates popped out of the woods and we were off. Our 13.6 mile portion of the relay included a little bit of everything. We started on towpath, ran through fields of corn as gunfire echoed to scare off the crows. Some short portions of ankle-deep thick mud nearly pulled off a shoe, but most of the afternoon was spent in the woods. While the course features continually rolling hills it is also very runnable. Never having run in this part of Ohio before I must’ve commented on how beautiful it is a dozen times. I even did my best Julie Andrews impersonation while descending the “Sound of Music” hills.
A couple of miles in, Carole and I picked up a companion. This young man had all of the energy and lightheartedness of youth. He was running the same 13.6 miles as us, but he had just started running and his longest run in preparation was three miles. He also was wearing a two year old pair of ASICS that were already causing a blister. However, his youthful energy was stronger than his lack of preparation and he soon left us in the dust. (Epilogue addition by Carole: To add an epilogue to your blog post, I saw the young man with the worn out Asics and blisters at Kendall Lake where our leg was finished. He was hobbling around barefoot with visible blisters and bloodied cuts on his ankle. He may had only trained for 3 miles, but he sped off down the trail after spending a few minutes with us and finished the 13.6 miles loooong before we did. He and his coworkers were running in two relay teams after raising $33,000 for the City Dogs rescue in Cleveland!)
A few miles later we saw someone running back in the opposite direction from us. At first, we stopped this man asking if he was alright or lost. Turns out he was running the solo 100 miles and was on his way back. We saw the leaders of the 100 running against us. They were in the 70-80 mile range and moving faster than us mere relay people.
An afternoon filled with natural beauty, good conversation and company, and a fair amount of heat and humidity soon came to an end. We descended in to the Kendall Lake Station and while others would run through the night, our miles were finished. But not merely miles checked off on a map, but friendships formed and memories created. Among the list of races completed, one segment of a relay may not sound like much in comparison. However, the joy of dancing over trails and being among creation and community is just as powerful in 13.6 miles as it is in 100 kilometers.