Thursday, July 30, 2015

Burning River for Ben: We Did It!!!

Pallav, Ben F, Larry, Ben, & Alex at the Finish
I have to say the Burning River 100 was WAY harder than I thought it would be. Several sections of relentless short steep climbs with short steep descents over tangles of roots and technical trails took its toll; between 80 and 90 miles I was seriously wondering how I was going to finish. In the end my crew and pacers pulled me through and I not only finished the 100 mile but our incredible team and donors surpassed our goal of raising $10,000 for “TheShowers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at the AkronChildren’s Hospital”. I can’t begin to describe my appreciation for the support we received on this adventure. Thank you so much! The whole experience was incredible.

Roswitha and I flew in to Akron on Wednesday before the race and met Ben and his family as well as our incredible hosts Garret and Michelle Farrar and their two beautiful daughters. The excitement of Ben’s neighbors and hospital staff was incredibly touching and humbling. We visited the Akron Children’s Hospital and had the privilege of meeting Dr. Hord and the amazing and dedicated children’s hospital staff. These are a special breed of people working day in and day out to do everything they can to save kids’ lives. While there, we received great news that Ben was going to complete his treatment in October, just three months away. I was truly touched by the love, dedication, and passion displayed by Dr. Hord and his staff.

Larry, Dr. Hord, & Ben at Akron Children's Hospital
Thursday we held our crew/pacer meeting and I got to meet my pacers (with the exception of Alex) for the first time: Ben O, Ben F, Pallav, Alex, and Jarred. Roswitha, the best crew chief in the world headed up the crew, which included Ben’s parents Beth and Chris. In the meeting we had a change of plan; instead of Ben running the last mile he would pace me to the finish from the last aid station starting at approximately 95 miles.

Friday runner and pacers took and easy run together into the Gorge Park, the same trails I used to run while running Cross Country at Akron North High School back in the 1970s. Very little has changed and it brought back some very good memories.

The Burning River 100 Race

The starting gun went off at 4:00 am and it was already warm. A couple young shirtless racehorse looking guys went off the front easily running sub 7:00 minute per mile pace. The first 30 miles were relatively flat, most of it paved, and fast.  Combine this with the lower altitude and it was a real challenge not to go out too fast. I had planned to go out at a 10:00 minute pace but then I screwed something up with my Garmin and really couldn’t tell how fast I was going. I ran what felt comfortable and after a few miles got my Garmin working and it indicated I was running about 8:45 a mile. Too fast, I backed down to about 10:00.

All Smiles at the Start of a Long Day
After 30 or so miles things began to change. We began running more technical single track trails as well as the first set of hills that would be typical of many sections of the remaining 60 – 70 miles.  It was also beginning to warm up quite a bit getting close to the day’s high of 88 degrees F. One of the nice things about this course is so much of it is in dense forest, which although very humid, provides shade from the sun beating down overhead. I was very conscientious about my hydration and nutrition. My primary fuel was Hammer Nutrition’s Perpetuem mixed with water and my hydration consisted of a bottle of water mixed with one Hammer Endurolytes Fizz per hour. I sipped each bottle approximately every 15 minutes.  At the crew stops I drank chocolate soy milk or a smoothie and a couple pieces of watermelon.  In the later stages of the race when I was feeling a bit nauseous and craving salt I drank V8 at the crew stops. I also occasionally nibbled a bit on a Hammer Energy Bar. I was very careful not take in more than 300 calories an hour. With the heat I felt even less was better.

Coming in to the Crew at 53 Miles
Photo Courtesy of Garret Ferrara
Coming into the Stanford House aid station at 53 miles I was still feeling pretty good and I was blown away at the supporters that came out to cheer our “Burning River for Ben” Team on. The cheers were so loud and many had homemade signs. It was awesome and certainly a huge lift.

Some of our Awesome Burning River for Ben Supporters
Photo courtesy of Garret Ferrara
Fist Pump with Ben
Photo courtesy of Garret Ferrara
Center of Attraction
Photo courtesy of Garret Ferrara

Miles 53 – 65

At 53 miles I picked up my first pacer, Ben’s older brother Alex. Alex is 18, ran cross country and track at Kent Roosevelt High School and will be a freshman this year at Kent State University. He was ready and raring to go and asked me if I was “ready for the best 13 miles of my life” and we were off. At this stage of the race it is always very painful to start running again after taking a break.  Once pushing through the initial pain of getting started again we were cruising the flats and negotiating the steep climbs and descents. We talked about school, backpacking and aspirations. Alex was perfect at keeping us on the trail, making sure I was sticking to my nutrition and hydration schedule and taking my mind off the miles. Before we knew it we came into Ledges at 65 miles to meet the crew and change pacers. This was an awesome segment and a great run with Alex.

Heading Out for "The Best 13 Miles of My Life" with Alex
Photo courtesy of Garret Ferrara

Miles 65 – 75

At Ledges we had a quick crew stop and I picked up my next pacer, Pallav. Pallav is a good friend of Alex, just finished his freshman year in college and runs collegiate track. He is pursuing a computer science degree and is incredibly smart and polite. The ten miles we ran together was all single track, hilly, and technical. It was slow going and unfortunately it got dark a couple miles before we finished and we forgot to bring our headlamps. This made the last section much slower and difficult as we felt our way along a technical trail up and down steep hills in complete darkness. Now and then a relay runner came by but they were going much too fast to try to stay with and use their light. We continued, slowly feeling our way through the dark, looking for markers and eventually making it to our crew at mile 75. It was a pleasure to share this little adventure with Pallav.

65 Miles and Starting to Feel It
Heading out with Pallav just before Nightfall
Photo courtesy of Dr. Hord

Miles 75 – 90

Mile 75 began at Pine Hollow where I picked up my next pacer, Jarred. Jarred is a software engineer, friend and co-worker of Ben and Alex’s dad Chris. He is also an ultra-distance runner, having completed a 50 mile race just a few weeks before. Jarred has the patience of a saint. I struggled big time during this segment and there could not have been a better person for getting me through this. I truly owe completing this segment to Jarred. The first 3 – 4 miles went well enough; we ran a descent pace along a bridle path with Jarred keeping me entertained with corny jokes and great conversation. Once we hit the single track and hills things started to go south.  A 4.5 mile loop at Covered Bridge over what seemed like the toughest terrain of the course destroyed me. This truly became the “Dig Deep” part of the race. I can’t describe it but anyone who has run 100 miles knows what I’m talking about. This is where you reach the point that your brain thinks you’ve hit your limit and then you somehow push beyond.  This may be why we do these things in the first place; to push beyond what we think is possible. I was at that point. Jarred was the perfect person to pace at this time. He was patient but pushed me when needed and knew how to encourage and keep me going when it seemed I no longer could. As the constant up and down continued taking its toll, Jarred kept me moving as I staggered and tripped over roots and rocks throughout the night. Everything hurt so badly and stubbing my toes every other minute wasn’t helping much. I thought about why I was doing this; the kids at the hospital. I asked Jarred to stop just for a minute or two. I laid face down on a log and searched deep down inside myself for the courage to keep going. I found it. I decided that even though I don’t know HOW I am going to finish I WILL finish. I got up and we started walking. Eventually we came out of that loop and the 5 miles into Botzum Parking was not as bad. I honestly don’t remember a lot about these five miles but Jarred got me there. I think we may have even run some of it. I’m sure it was a very long night for Jarred and I can’t thank him enough. Finally in what seemed like a lifetime we came into Botzum Parking, 90 miles done.

Miles 90 – 95.4

Coming into Botzum Parking I was a wreck. Ten more miles seemed like an eternity. Before the race I said I would finish even if I had to crawl. This was now beginning to look like a probability. At the crew stop I took two Advil. Now this is something I would never recommend to anyone as there is a significant risk of severe kidney damage. I had been peeing regularly throughout the race and it was still clear so I decided to take the risk. Additionally I ate an Enduro Bite Expresso energy bar. I also changed shorts as mine were so crusted in salt no matter how much Vaseline I applied I was still chafing. I set my mind to change my thoughts from “10 miles to go” to “90 miles completed” and got ready to do the next segment.

Ben’s best friend, Ben Fredrick was my pacer for the next five miles. Ben is 17 and will be a High School Senior at Kent Roosevelt High School this year, plays for the school soccer team in the Fall and runs track in the Spring. He is an awesome kid and was so impressed with this race that he wants to run it next year; I advised against it.

I cannot come close to explaining this but as we started I felt like a new man. Maybe it was the Advil or the caffeine or Ben’s enthusiasm. Maybe if was a combination of all three - we ran. And we ran. Ben talked of running the 100 next year and I told him I didn’t think it a good idea, I’d hate to see him scarred for life. He asked about the 50; I suggested that he and his friends put an eight man relay team together. I think he liked that idea. Ben kept me on course, made sure I was sticking with the nutrition and hydration plan, and we cruised through this section so fast we caught our crew off guard as we came in to Memorial Parkway way earlier than expected. We were elated, I was feeling good and we had less than five miles to go!

Miles 95.4 – 100.2

Ben and me getting ready to run the last 5 miles!
Ben was amped and ready. This is what he trained all summer for. This is what he wanted to show the kids at the hospital. This was what this run was all about. It wasn’t that long ago that Ben needed braces just to walk. Now he was running the last leg of a 100 mile race and showing the kids at the hospital that anything is possible.

As I’ve come to learn, Ben is an incredible kid. He was diagnosed with Lymphoblastic Leukemia type B cell a little over three years ago. He has been incredibly brave and positive through this whole experience. Throughout it all he has maintained honor roll status in school (when he could go to school) and has been accepted into a special bio-medical engineering program as a junior in high school. Not only that, he has taken up cross fit and trained exclusively for this run.

Over the next four miles Ben pushed the pace and as I walked the steeper hills he pushed me to run immediately upon reaching the top. We were cruising and Ben was in charge! He nailed it as a pacer and kept me moving as we continued to pass many of the people that passed me when I was having the bad patch back at mile 80. At approximately 1 mile from the finish, where originally I was supposed to meet Ben, Ben’s dad Chris, and Ben Fredrick met us and a little further up the road, Alex and Pallav joined and we ran the last mile together. There is a slight hill just before the finish and we flew up passing another finisher and his pacer who were walking. We crossed the finish line all together. It was done! We did it. What an incredible feeling that I and I hope the others will never forget. I still get choked up thinking about it.

But completing the run was only part of “Burning River forBen”.  The whole purpose of Burning River for Ben is to raise money to help kids and families experiencing this terrible disease as well as provide hope and inspiration by showing anything is possible. Well I am extremely happy to say that with the incredible help of so many people who dug in and got involved we exceeded our goal of $10,000. As of this writing we’ve achieved $10,240.00! This absolutely could not have happened without the generous support of every donor and those who went the extra mile to help us raise funds. Particularly Garret and Michelle Ferrara our incredible hosts who ramped up the marketing campaign which dramatically helped raise funds; Holly Pupino, Media Relations Specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital who wrote an awesome article that helped get things rolling; Cheryll Powell wrote a front page and follow up article in the Akron Beacon Journal; and so many friends, co-workers, and people from around the country that came together to help us reach our goal. This is going to help a lot of kids and their families and I’m so proud that I could be part of an amazing and passionate team. 

We did it!

Thanks so much for everything. 



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