Tyler and Chris Clemens both completed their first 100 mile races in the 2014 Burning River 100. This is Tyler’s story from the adventure.
The anticipation was torture. The past 2 days had been full of anxiety and excitement. There were many phone calls to my crew/pacers, messages to my ultra running friends, and A LOT of ultra running videos watched on YouTube. Finally, the time had come. It was just before 5:00 AM on August 2nd. I was standing outside of Squire’s Castle in Willoughby Hills, OH saying my last words to my crew, pacers, and family before starting on my 100 mile journey from Willoughby Hills (just outside of Cleveland, OH) to Cuyahoga Falls (near Akron, OH).
The Burning River 100 was first brought to my attention when Chris decided to sign up for the race. It was New Year’s eve and Chris, Tracy and I were sitting at Figueroa Mountain enjoying a couple of mugs. Chris had been talking about signing up for a 100 mile run, and Tracy and I, trying to be the best influences possible, convinced him to sign up.
The original plan was for myself and fraternity brothers Ryan Stemen and Jon Weaver to crew and pace Chris through his first 100 mile event. At a wedding in Indiana, only 6 weeks before the Burning River, I called Chris to ask if he would mind if I signed up and ran the race with him instead of paced. He said it was fine, and I signed up on the spot.
Six weeks later, I boarded a red eye flight leaving Santa Barbara at 7:45 PM and getting into Cleveland at 7:15 AM the following morning. The plan was to meet up with Tim at the airport and have Chris drive he and I to Radames and Laurie Colón’s house (they were putting us all up on Friday night before the race). On the way to the house we stopped off at a local liquor store to pick up a case of PBR – proper hydration the day before a 100 mile run is crucial! We got to the house and most of the crew was already there, including Jess Soco and Maria Walton who would be pacing and crewing Chris along with Ryan. My other crew/pacer, Jon Weaver, wasn’t there yet – but we had business to attend to. Around 10:30 AM it was time for an ultra marathon tradition. We were all standing on the street in front of the Colón’s house with our right hands raised repeating the Beer Mile Oath. Lucky for me, I only made it through about a beer and a half before the 2 breakfasts that I had that morning made their way back up. Less beer in the system at the end of the beer mile was a success for me!! Jon made it to the house a couple hours later, and immediately we had him ready for his beer mile. Lucky for him, Tim and Radames agreed to their second beer mile of the day!!
Burning River 100 Race
Saturday morning came very early. We woke up at 2:45 AM, and I felt like I had slept for 10 minutes. I was anxious from the moment I woke up, just wanting to get the race started and some miles under my belt to ease the nerves. We had an awesome breakfast of bagels with almond butter, bananas, and smoothies made by Radames and Laurie. I felt full and happy as we left the house for the start line. At the parking lot at the start line we met up with Mom, Tom, and Ryan and headed up to the castle where we’d start. The start line was buzzing with energy as all the runners stood, paced, and wondered around awaiting that starting announcement. FINALLY, after what seemed like hours – we all lined up at the start and the race director gave us a “Go!” And that was it, 249 headlamps bounced through the damp grass in front of Squire’s Castle and on the road in front of the castle.
We hit the road, and immediately my thoughts were trained on not going out too fast. We had started next to James Moore who we had met earlier in the year at Born to Run and Nate Stanis who we had met at the packet pickup yesterday. Chris took off with James, while I kept a close eye on my GPS watch and tried to hang back at what I thought was a more reasonable pace. I ran with Nate for the first 4 miles or so and we had great conversation about training programs, strategy for the day, and overall excitement about our first 100 miler. I was trying to focus a lot on fueling and hydration, so about 4 miles in I had to peel off for a bathroom break on the side of the road while Nate kept running. I was feeling good, but didn’t want to push too hard early on, so I hung back even more – trying to keep the miles slow and consistent.
I ran on my own for much of the next 6 miles until Chris stopped off for a bathroom break and gave me an opportunity to catch up. He and I ran side by side for the next 4 miles to the Polo Fields aid station (mile 13.61), the first time we’d see our crew. As we turned the corner to head into the aid station, screams of excitement filled our ears. “TARZAN, EL TIGRE, You’re here!! I told everyone you’d be here at this exact time!” said Maria – who was very effective all day at predicting our times into each aid station. It had been overcast and cool up to this point, great running weather. I was feeling good and was fueling well so not much was needed from the aid station. My crew switched out my pack with another containing a full water bladder and all the fuel I’d need to get through the next 11 miles until I’d see them again.
Chris had left a few seconds before me, but by the time we hit the single track we were running together again. It was nice to get off the roads and onto the trails, but as I looked at my watch I was a little concerned. We finished our first half marathon in 2:16 – which I knew was WAY too fast. There was no way we should have been going that fast pace, and I knew that I needed to kick it down a gear in order to feel alright later in the run. Chris and I ran the trail together for another hour before he had to peel off for a bathroom break at a park near the trail. It’s a luxury to have an actual bathroom to use on the trail instead of going in the woods!! We had talked the night before that we may not be running together and we wouldn’t be waiting for each other if one had to stop or wasn’t feeling well so I continued on down the trail, trying to focus again on my pace and keeping it nice and easy. The trails were beautiful and well maintained. They were very runnable, which made it tough for me to try to hold back.
I had caught up with a small group of runners just before the Harper Ridge Picnic Area aid station (Mile 21.15). The 2 guys in front of me had a good pace going which kept me in check, and I stayed close behind them, enjoying their conversation about meeting famous ultra runners and the different events they’ve attended. It was nice to let my mind wonder and not think about the distance I had ahead of me. Unfortunately, the wondering minds may have been wondering a bit too much – as we stepped over a few branches in the trail and after a few steps heard a booming yell “Whoa lads!! Get yer asses back here – course goes this way!” As we were running and they were talking – we hopped over the branches in the trial that were supposed to make the wrong way to go and missed our turn. Luckily we didn’t make it more than a few steps before someone realized our mistake. We crossed the street and headed over to the aid station – which I was happy to see and gave me a little time to regroup while they filled my handheld. Missing the turn had messed with my head, and I felt a little nervous I’d miss more turns later in the race.
I grabbed a couple of sugar cookies and some M&M’s from the aid station and was off. I was really trying to focus on getting about 200 calories per hour – and I was a little low coming through the aid station. So I thought I’d try to eat a ProBar, one of the planned staples of my nutrition for the run. The ProBar I pulled out was a new flavor I had never had before, but I needed the calories. The flavor was pretty bad, and the consistency of the ProBar was not going down easy. I took a couple bites – and immediately know that it wasn’t staying down. I tried to spit out the ProBar and take a drink of water, but it was no use. It was only mile 22 and I was already standing on the side of the trail puking. After a couple of minutes, I was able to get going again, but had to go pretty slow. My stomach was upset, and my mind was going crazy. I anticipated puking at some point in the run, but I expected it to be much later. Mile 22? Really? How am I going to finish the rest of the race if I’m feeling like this and can’t hold down food at mile 22? At that point it was time to make a revision to my nutrition plan – no more ProBar’s. I’d have to figure something else out.
I was able to get a good pace going again, and just before we hit the Shadow Lake aid station (mile 24.38) Chris caught up with me. He had been feeling pretty good through that section and was looking strong. I on the other hand was not feeling great after puking, and my mind was going a million miles a minute. It was great to get to the aid station and see my crew. I jogged in and told them I was done with ProBar’s – it was time for something else, maybe an avocado sandwich at the next aid station. It was getting warm and I had Tim pour water over me and soak my buff. I didn’t really eat anything at the aid station, I just changed packs and headed out.
I started feeling better after cooling off and the next section started out well. I was getting my mind back into the race, forgetting about my puking session and my stomach started to feel better. We took off down a section of trail, and Chris ran ahead of me. I caught up with a couple of other runners and started chatting with them. It was a brother/sister duo, the sister was running her first 100 miler and the brother was running with her for the whole race. They grew up in that area and it was nice to chat with them about the surrounding area and what they anticipated the course to be. I was keeping my pace much slower, but still felt a little bit fast, so I let them go ahead of me. We hit another really nice section of single track through a beautiful wooded area. I could see Chris ahead of me running with a group of about 7 or 8 other runners, but I held back from trying to speed through the trail to catch up and simply ran my own race.
It was just under 4 miles to the Egbert aid station (mile 29.17) and I was feeling much better. I was a little tight and was excited to grab the roller and roll out my quads, calves, and butt. It was definitely getting warm and as I cruised into the aid station I saw they had popsicles. SCORE! I grabbed one and headed over to my crew. Maria and Jess were helping roll Chris out and Tim and Jon came to see what I wanted. They had made an avocado sandwich for me, but I wasn’t interested. I told them to save it for the next aid station (this was one of their favorite parts of the day because we had bought white bread for the sandwiches, which they informed me their wives never let them get. It seemed that a highlight of their weekend to get to eat the sandwiches I didn’t want!). I grabbed a banana and a couple grapes from the aid station and ate them as Jess rolled out my legs. I asked Tim to put ice in my buff to keep me cool – which felt amazing! Just before I left, Maria and Jess let me know I was WAY ahead of pace and really should try to slow down. Both of them being much more experienced than me in 100 mile runs, I took their advice and really tried to slow my pace throughout the next sections.
The next miles were a mixture of highs and lows. I was pretty much on my own for most of the next 10 miles before I saw my crew again. The section between Egbert and Alexander Road (mile 33.51) was pretty much all on trails, and I loved it. However, from Alexander Road to Oak Grove (mile 39.73) there was a long 3.5 mile run on a crushed limestone path next to the river. Yes, it was flat. Yes, it was a nice surface to run on. Yes, it should have been easy. No, it was not. I was trying to run, but was not succeeding and spent a lot of time walking. I was starting to feel the pounding on my feet. It was hot, and exposed. It was so flat, I could see people who were probably ½ mile to ¾ mile ahead of me, still on this dang path. I was looking at my watch trying to calculate how much longer it could possibly go on, and it seemed to never end. Finally after what seemed like hours, we took a turn down a road. It was pavement, a worse surface than the crushed limestone, but I didn’t care. I was happy for a change of scenery and some hills! We turned off to another single track and it was about another mile to the aid station and my crew. Running through the woods, I could hear it start to rain. I left the trail and came into Oak Grove feeling refreshed by a light sprinkle.
I can’t stress enough how awesome my crew was. They were ready at every aid station to give me whatever I needed, and if they didn’t have it they would sprint to the car to grab it. At this aid station I changed from my buff to my Caballo Blanco Ultra Marathon hat. I sat eating pieces of turkey and cheese sandwiches, drank some Mountain Dew, and had the crew grab me a Naked Juice out of the car. That Naked Juice could have been one of the best juices I have ever had. I was glad we had a few to last for the remainder of the run. I remember joking with the crew as I rolled and ate, and it was such an uplifting experience. I left that aid station to hoots and hollers from the crew and I was on top of the world and having blast.
The next section was a loop around a single track back to the Oak Grove aid station. I left feeling so good I couldn’t help but run a majority of this section (probably too fast). This was the first time I remember relay runners passing. When they ran by they would yell “Relay” so that we knew they weren’t some crazy 100 miler who was feeling amazing at mile 40! I cruised through the loop, which offered some pretty nice views through some breaks in the trees and got back to the aid station in pretty good time. The crew checked in on me and told me I needed to eat more. At this point, I was feeling a little chaffing, so I used some body glide while my crew (or just Maria) tried to block me so other bystanders wouldn’t see… unfortunately, I think she stood on the wrong side of me, so everyone watched! It was pretty funny. I was still feeling really good – I gave Mom a hug before I left, and took off. I was at mile 44.05 and the next time I’d see the crew would be mile 54.59. I remember thinking, when I see them again – I’ll have run the furthest I’ve ever ran!
I took off from the Oak Grove II aid station feeling confident and happy, however, that did not last. The trail leaving Oak Grove II we were on a single track that had obviously been rained on pretty heavily. As I started into the woods, I was running into some very long, wide stretches of deep mud and water. I had two choices. I could try to go off trail and navigate around the mud, or I could run right through it and just deal with it. For the first couple of miles, I tried to navigate the mud and keep my feet dry. I was keeping an eye on my times, and miles were slowing down considerably because of this. After a couple of miles taking 18+ minutes, I decided it wasn’t worth it. I was getting frustrated with the mud and I just wanted to get by it (little did I know this is what I had to look forward to the rest of the race). I started running straight through the mud slowing down a little when I went through so I didn’t slip. It was faster, but still very frustrating. A couple of other runners were catching me from behind and I could hear them yelling “I didn’t sign up for the freaking mud!” Finally we started a climb to the next aid station and the trial cleared up a bit.
Snowville Aid station was at mile 49.62. I could not believe how long it was taking me to get there. The mud on the trail was really doing a number on me mentally and physically. I finally got into Snowville, but was feeling tired. My legs were tired from navigating through the mud and my mind was tired from being out for over 10 hours. At this point, I really hadn’t been fueling very well and my stomach was feeling a little off again. There was no crew access at Snowville and I surprised myself with some of the things that went through my head at this aid station. I remember thinking that I could sit down because no one was there to tell me I couldn’t. I started to question the rest of the run, I was just under ½ way into the run and I was feeling beat. I was in a pretty bad low at this point. I grabbed a couple of salted potatoes but had a tough time putting them down. I knew I couldn’t sit down, so I got out of there as soon as I could. It was probably one of my quickest aid stations of the day.
The section from Snowville to Boston (mile 54.59) was not much better than the previous. I was still feeling mentally down and I was having a really hard time motivating myself. I couldn’t seem to get myself to run. I knew I was going to pick up a pacer at the next aid station, which should have been a positive thing – but it wasn’t helping. This was one of the lower points of my day. The 10 mile section that I didn’t see my crew seemed to last a lifetime. There were some pretty amazing views coming out of Snowville, but I couldn’t enjoy anything. I had one goal in mind, just keep moving and get to the crew. I finally got off the single track and started running into Boston. There were people lining the streets and cars everywhere. Spectators where cheering and clapping and encouraging me. I was so happy, I started to tear up. I just wanted to see my crew, and I knew they were within reach now. The second I saw them standing in the field at the aid station, my spirits immediately lifted. Not only was my whole crew there, but Dan Crouse (who we had met run into at Western States; and was pacing Nate later in the race) was hanging out with the crew! It was great to see so many familiar faces after such a low point.
I needed a change at this aid station. I told the crew I wanted to change my shoes. They all looked at each other a little worried. Unfortunately, this was the only aid station they had to park far away from, about ½ mile. I didn’t ask them for my shoes at the last aid station, so they didn’t bring them to the aid station. I was a little frustrated, but I told them I’d just get them the next time I saw them. As I was telling my crew how tough the last 10 miles were and rolling out my quads, some ripped guy with no shirt on strolled up. He had gloves on his hands with padding on the knuckles. “Want me to punch them?” he asked me. “No…” I replied, not quite sure what was happening. “It’s what their made for, it’ll feel really good” he said showing me his gloves. “Still no…” I said – still not quite understanding. “Why?” he asked. “Because you’re a big dude, and that looks like it would hurt” was the only thing I could come up with. My entire crew laughed, and the big guy that wanted to punch me in the quads at mile 54 walked away. It was a good distraction, but I’m still not sure why that guy wanted to hit me in the legs, I guess it’s a mystery I’ll never solve!
Leaving the Boston aid station, it was a huge relief to have a pacer. Jon was going to pace me from Boston to Pine Hollow I (mile 72.05). He started helping immediately. The crew had made me an avocado sandwich but I was having trouble even putting down half of it. Jon made me walk until I finished. Then it was time to go. Finally having someone to run with again was amazing. We walked up hills, but we were running the downhills and flats. Yes! Finally running again felt great and I felt the confidence building back up that I would be OK for the second half of the race. Boston to Pine Lane (mile 59.55) was about 5 miles, and it seemed to fly by. Having time to catch up with Jon was definitely one of the highlights of my race.
At the Pine Lane aid station we stopped briefly so I could grab some chicken noodle soup and broth, pretzels, and more Mountain Dew. We took off down a Single Track, but soon after we were facing another long, straight, flat road. My ankle and knee were starting to hurt a bit from slipping and sliding through all the mud and the pavement seemed to be exacerbating the issue. I was getting upset with myself that I couldn’t run on what should be an easy part of the course, and I think Jon realized it. He was encouraging and he kept on talking while I was getting more frustrated. The road seemed to last forever, and when that ended, we turned right onto a blacktop bike path. Same issues persisted. I tried to run, and was pushing myself hard to get through the road section. Jon was great about pushing me when he thought he could, and holding off when I needed to walk and let my knee and ankle rest a bit.
Finally we got back onto the single track and were on our way to the Ledges Aid station (mile 66.32), the next time I would see the crew. I started feeling really low and I was shutting down. I asked Jon to just keep talking, even though I was responding with not much more than a “yeah”, “no”, or just a grunt. The aid station seemed forever away. My ankle and knee were really hurting, and I couldn’t seem to run again. I was glad to have Jon there to keep me company and keep me moving forward. I wasn’t in nearly as low of a mental place as I was between miles 44 and 54. I couldn’t wait to get into the aid station to change my shoes. My feet were feeling really sore and they were wet from the mud and from going through creek crossings. I finally heard cheers from the crowd and knew we were close to the aid station.
As we rolled in to the aid station I told Jon that I didn’t want to spend more than 8 minutes there. He ran ahead to start getting things ready for me. I jogged to my crew, who had a chair sitting out for me. I sat down and Jess started to take my shoes off. When the shoes and socks came off, I was a little worried. They were pretty white and wrinkled, and I wasn’t sure if the entire bottom of my foot was a blister. Regardless, there was no stopping now. Jess cleaned up my feet with wet wipes, and put on new Injinji toe socks and my Altra Lone Peaks. It felt great to get new shoes on. I ate a piece of pizza, took an ibuprofen (much needed), and rolled my legs. Jon let me know it was time to go. We had just under 6 miles to get to Pine Hollow I (mile 72.05) where Jon would swap pacing duties with Tim.
We left Ledges, and I could hardly walk. I think sitting down was a bad idea. I was stiff, my feet hurt, my legs hurt, and mostly my knee and ankle hurt. We sort of looped around a field which meant the crew could see us again and cheer while they watched my struggle by. Later – they said next to Botzum Parking aid station (mile 91.03), Ledges was probably the worst I looked at an aid station.
Jon told me he’d let me walk to the trail head, but then we were running. I agreed, but when we got to the trail head I couldn’t get my body to do what my mind was telling it. I told Jon he needed to go ahead of me and run at the pace he thought I should be running. He was really happy to do so, and once he got in front, we went. It was hard, it was painful, but the only thing on my mind was keeping up with Jon, and with that to focus on I was able to keep moving. We were putting in 12 minute miles, even doing a sub 12 minute mile around mile 69. Unfortunately, soon after that I had my second bout of puking. It hit me very suddenly. I pulled over to the side of the trail. I didn’t have a lot to puke out, I think it was mostly the Heed I had just drank. I stood there for a bit dry heaving after I puked. Nothing else was coming out – so I told Jon to keep moving. We didn’t get far before it hit me again. A little more Heed, but not much solid came out. Again – the dry heaving continued for a minute after I puked. I wasn’t ready for this to slow me down – we were running a great pace, and I wanted to keep it going. We started off slowly until I was certain we could keep pushing.
The single track opened up to a wide open field and the sun was starting to set. It was a really beautiful view. As we were running through the field, Jon pointed out some deer on one side of the trail, and I saw deer on the other. Jon was a little nervous to run between them, but I was feeling like I could run, so a couple of deer weren’t going to keep me from doing that. We ran through without incident. I was having a great time running with Jon when he told me he saw the aid station. We took off down a hill hitting top speed. Jon ran up the other side while I power hiked. I was incredibly happy to be at Pine Hollow I, mile 72.05 of the run.
I got some food and drinks at the aid station and Jon talked to Tim about how I was doing, giving him advice he had learned along the way. Jon had it good. I had some low points, but I expected Tim to get the worst of my lows for the day since he was pacing me to the finish. From Pine Hollow I we had a 3.7 mile loop back to Pine Hollow II (mile 75.77). When they told me that, I figured I’ll be back soon, so told Tim “Let’s get going!” Tim and I grabbed our headlamps, I plugged in my GPS watch to a portable charger and we took off.
I think Tim expected to have to run in front of me as Jon had told him, but I was feeling pretty good again, so I took the lead. We headed into the single track and again were running at a pretty good clip. It was starting to get dark, and Tim put on his headlamp. I think Tim was a little caught off guard by the muddy conditions on the trail. Jon had experienced the mud as well – but during the day when it’s easier to see. We were running some pretty quick miles and in the dark it was very difficult to differentiate between the ground and the mud. The second half of the loop was really muddy and it was getting frustrating. By the time we got out of the single track, I was ready to be at the aid station and take another break.
When we got back to Pine Hollow II (mile 75.77), I grabbed some food, sat down, and rolled out. I didn’t want to hang out too long, but I did put on a long sleeve shirt and buff. It was starting to cool off with the sun going down. Not long after we left the aid station, I was already hot again and wanted to take my long sleeve, but that would have taken too much time. The section after Pine Hollow II had A LOT of mud. I was already frustrated by the mud on the last section in the dark, and it seemed to be getting worse. We had about 6 miles to get to Covered Bridge (mile 81.96) and while I normally enjoy running in the dark, the mud was making it pretty miserable. My ankle had already been sore, but hitting these mud patches in the dark while trying to push the pace was really tweaking it. I was hurting, getting sleepy, and starting to bonk. Fog started rolling in across the trail and it was a really cool site at night with the moon and our headlamps lighting up it up. We turned into a corn field, and I was confused, and started to get angry. By my calculations, we should have been getting close to, if not already at the aid station. We ran between the corn field and the road, and then turned the opposite way from where Tim said the aid station was. I was pissed. Tim was definitely starting to experience my lows. We were running along the corn field, and I didn’t see any course markings. I started to tell Tim I didn’t see any markers when another runner behind us let us know that we missed a turn. Again? DAMN! How did we miss another turn? That just compounded my anger.
“I feel like we are running in circles” I told Tim. I thought we had already ran by this place (I have no idea how I’d know, as we were next to a corn field which looked exactly the same no matter where you were in the field). Tim was calm and collected, and encouraged me to keep going and told me we were almost there. We passed some houses where people were out on the balcony having some beers. Tim yelled “save some for us!” and I chuckled a bit. I realized that I was being a bit difficult and I apologized to Tim. We finally saw the lights under the covered bridge. It was like heaven and hell. I was so happy to get there, get some Mountain Dew to wake myself up, get some real food, and take a seat. But I knew that I was only at mile 81.96, and I had 20 to go. Could I really do this? At this point, I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t thinking about quitting, that thought didn’t come until later. But could I physically make it through? We weren’t running much anymore. My body was tired and sore. How could I possibly go another 20 miles? Tim got me my Mountain Dew and chicken noodle soup, got me to eat, and got us out. He was very good about letting me sit for a moment, but then get me back on the course and moving toward the finish line before my muscles could get too cold.
Covered Bridge was another aid station with a loop bringing you right back to the same aid station. It was a 4.45 mile loop, which seemed like something I could do at the time. We took off down a road and turned on to some single track. I don’t really recall too much from the beginning of this section. I remember some really steep uphill climbs. Tim told me later I kept telling him I wasn’t going very fast, although he thought we were going at a good pace for the terrain we were on. At some point, we could see headlamps ahead of us. Again, Tim told me this story, I don’t’ really recall. I asked him “Do you see that guy up there?” “Yes,” Tim said “he’s another runner.” “Is he going back to the place?” I asked him. “What place? You mean the Covered Bridge?” “Yes.” I replied. “Yeah, we’re all going there.” Tim answered. “No, I mean right now!” I snapped. Tim was confused at this point “Yes Tyler, we’re all going back right now.” I don’t know how long this conversation went on, but all we can really guess is that I thought that runner was on a magic trail that would take him straight back to the aid station, and I wanted to be on it.
Not long after this, we ran up behind the headlamps I had seen before. At this point we were moving pretty good and running the downhills again. As we got closer, I saw it was Maria and Chris. Chris was having some pretty tough sections too, and with some of the solid sections I had run with Jon and first picking up Tim as a pacer, I had gained a lot of ground. I was glad to see Chris, and was happy he was still moving pretty well. We were both hurting, mentally and physically, but it was nice to see him out on the course and get some encouragement from Maria as well. Tim and I ran by and started a pretty aggressive climb up a hill. I was ready to get back to the aid station and was pushing the pace (I really wanted more soup). We were heading down a hill and Tim’s headlamp was dying so we stopped to change the batteries (and get me another ibuprofen). Chris and Maria ran by while we finished changing the batteries and we started off after them. At this point, my legs weren’t working well again and I couldn’t seem to run. So Tim and I walked it in to the aid station at mile 86.41.
I sat down in the aid station and asked Tim for soup with lots of broth. I ate one entire cup and asked Tim to refill it. Chris and Maria were out of the aid station in no time (Maria has some funny stories about that), but I felt like I was bonking and needed the food. I ate another cup of soup and Tim filled my handheld with Mountain Dew. I had been complaining about being tired and we were hoping for a jolt of caffeine. We left the aid station, and the aid station volunteer told us the worst was over. Nothing we’d hit on the rest of the course was as bad as the loop we just did. Let me say, I truly appreciate the volunteers being out there and events like this could not be put on without them, but I was cursing that aid station worker later in the race, it was TOUGH!
Tim and I hit a long stretch of road right out of the aid station. We could see headlamps ahead of us, and I wasn’t sure if it was Chris and Maria or not, but I wasn’t too worried about that. I was really hurting at this point and couldn’t run on the roads. The pounding was too much. We walk/jogged a lot of the road until we got on the single track. I honestly can’t remember if we ran much of the single track or not. I can remember a couple of things: #1 – Tim pointed out a bench that seemed oddly placed (it was in the middle of nowhere) which would typically be funny but I really wanted to lay down on it (Jon had pointed out a bench earlier too, and I had the same reaction), and #2 – I was getting really tired of aid stations being further away than I thought they were (according to my GPS watch). I don’t know how Tim dealt with me for so long complaining about aid stations and getting pissed when they weren’t there. “Why could the distances just not be right?” I kept thinking – and probably saying. Finally we saw a volunteer who told us the Botzum Parking aid station (mile 91.03) was less than ¾ mile away. We walked. I couldn’t run. But we finally made it.
This was by far the worst I looked (and felt) coming into an aid station. I was exhausted. I saw Chris sitting in a chair – he didn’t look that great either. I walked around him to the center of the tent, and fell down on some mats in the center of the tent. My crew kept telling me not to close my eyes. It was so hard not to. I tried to pick myself up off the ground and sit down in a chair, but was having trouble even getting into the chair. I tried to eat some soup, but felt too tired. I asked my crew for my tooth brush. After trying to eat and rolling my legs I stood up and brushed my teeth. I can’t explain how good it felt to brush my teeth. After that Tim and I started out of the aid station. This was one of the toughest stations for me on the course, but it was also one of the toughest moments for Mom. Seeing both Chris and I looking so rough, tired, mentally drained, and still having 9 miles to go. She did well and let us continue without saying anything – and at the end of the day I think she’s glad she did so she could see us both finish.
Leaving Botzum Parking I was incredibly tired. Physically tired, yes. But what made it even tougher was that I was sleepy tired. We had been on the course for over 20 hours and I wanted sleep. The section between Botzum Parking and the last aid station before the finish, Memorial Parkway (mile 96.4) was all crushed limestone, a flat path that should have been really nice to run on. But I couldn’t run anymore. Tim and I were walking, and I tried to power walk as much as I could. I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes open. “I need to sit down” I told Tim. “No – you can’t sit down, buddy. Just keep on walking.” Tim replied. I kept walking. Minutes later – “Tim, I need to sit down. I’m so tired” I said. “No, Tyler. You need to keep walking. If you sit down you’ll never get back up and finish this race” Tim replied. With no response from me, I kept walking. In my head, I was pissed. How could he not let me sit down? I had completed over 91 miles, I just wanted some rest! Who was he to tell me I couldn’t sit down! In the back of my mind, I knew that he was right, so when he said keep going, I did. That didn’t keep me from being mad at him though, or continue to ask him if I could sit down. I probably asked/told Tim I needed to sit 100 times throughout the 5.37 mile stretch between these aid stations.
Have I mentioned I was tired? Well, I was REALLY tired. Tim kept telling me not to close my eyes, but I didn’t listen. Multiple times I closed my eyes and literally fell asleep while I was walking. I’d walk toward the side of the trail and Tim would have to grab me and wake me up so I didn’t walk right off the trail! Finally I had had it. I was done. I needed to sit down no matter what Tim said. I stopped walking. “I’m sitting down” I told Tim. “No, Tyler..” he started to respond but it was too late. I was already crouching down on the trail. “NO, TYLER!!!” Tim started raising his voice. “You can’t sit down, you just have to keep moving. If you sit, you’re not going to be able to get up and finish this race!” He grabbed my shoulders to keep me from sitting all the way down. I rested in that position for a few seconds, really considering sitting, not caring what Tim said. I knew he was right, but I really didn’t know how I could go on. Another runner came by and asked if I was OK. It was the little jolt I needed to get back up. If he could finish, so could I. Another couple of runners passed us soon after. “How you guys doing” they asked. “Good” Tim replied, “Just need a Red Bull for this guy” He said pointing at me. “I’ve actually got one” said the guy running by. And as he passed, we could see a Red Bull in the outer pocket of his pack! Tim thought it was pretty funny the guy actually had a Red Bull, but at this point in the race I didn’t think anything was funny. All I could think about was finishing so I could stop walking.
When we rolled into the Memorial Parkway aid station at mile 96.4 I was mentally gone. My watch had just buzzed to tell me I completed mile 100. WHAT?!? According to my watch, I should have been done. According to the race, I had 4.59 miles to the finish line. Can they just bring my buckle here? No, of course I have to go on. I didn’t even want to talk to my crew. Anything they said was responded to with “I’ve already ran 100 %$!#ing miles!! Why does nobody on this course know what the damn distances are?!” Again – I want to reiterate how awesome the crew was. At 3:00 AM, Jon and Ryan had driven through town, found a gas station that was open, and Ryan made coffee (later hearing it was double strong, which was AWESOME). They brought the coffee at that aid station and it was a life saver. I sat in the chair while my crew tried to pump me up. The coffee was good, but I wanted nothing to do with encouragement right then. I drank my coffee, and at every encouraging word I retorted with some nasty remark about how I should already be done and I can’t believe I have to keep going. They fed me some grapes and other food. When I finally got out of the chair I threw off my pack and gave my handheld to the crew. “I don’t want these anymore” I told them, and Tim and I walked off into the night, me with nothing but a large, double strong coffee.
Soon after we left the aid station, things started getting a little weird for me. My mind was pretty gone, and I was hallucinating. Before we even made our first turn onto the brick road, I was asking Tim why there were inflatable objects in the fields next to us (it seemed like an odd place for this). He thought this was hilarious and it helped lighten to mood a little. About a mile down the road, I finished my coffee and gave it to Tim to throw away. We had a long stretch on a brick road before turning off onto yet another single track. I had had it with the single track. The mud had really messed up my ankle, and the uneven surfaces were killing me when I tried to run. But I wanted to get done, so I tried as much as I could to run. We went up hills, down hills, up stairs, down hills again, followed a river bank, and the trail just kept on going. I knew the race finished on a road, so I knew that was my home stretch, but it wasn’t coming fast enough. “Enough with this $#@%!$# SINGLE TRACK” I was screaming at the top of my lungs to no one other than Tim and the trail. Tim kept encouraging me, “we have to be getting close.” And finally, as it started to get light, I saw the couple of runners in front of us turn onto the road. THANK GOD!
Tim and I turned onto a road, which immediately crossed a bridge. Tim sent a text to the crew to let them know we were there and they took off from the finish line to run the last stretch of road with us. The problem was I couldn’t see them. Instead I saw a long gradual hill in front of me. I was already at 103+ miles according my watch, and I wanted to be done. As we started crossing the bridge, I stopped, crouched down a little next to the side of the bridge and told Tim, “I’m done. I don’t even care if I finish anymore.” Less than 1.5 miles to go and this is when I actually thought of quitting. I think Tim was speechless for a moment, how could I say that when we just got onto the road I had been waiting for so long!?! “Come on, Tyler. We’re almost there, just keep moving forward. How can you quit now? We’re finally on the road. Get up, let’s keep going!” Thank God for Tim. We started trudging slowly along the road. I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other. As we were about half way up the hill, we saw some people coming down the sidewalk towards us, and Tim let me know it was our crew. I couldn’t even talk at this point. I was so emotional, if I spoke; I thought I might break down. I couldn’t believe we were so close. My crew was coming to finish with me. These folks had traveled to Ohio from all over the country to sacrifice the last 25+ hours of their lives sitting around at aid stations for hours on end waiting for me to show up, and then catering to my every need when I got there. I can’t thank them enough for being there for me, and I know I couldn’t have done it without them.
Jon ran next to me when we finally met up. “How far do we have” I asked. “Not far” Jon replied. “A mile” I asked? “Maybe a little more” he replied. Seriously? Still more than a mile? At my pace that could take another 20+ minutes! Time to run and get this over with, I thought. I started off at a jog, probably no quicker than most people walk, but it felt like a sprint. About half a mile from the finish Jon ran ahead to grab my “Team Clemens” t-shirt so we could all finish in our team shirts. Maria moved up to run next to me and tell me where the finish line was. “Maria, when I finish can the first thing I do be to take my shoes and socks off” I asked? The crew had been catering to me all day and making sure I did all the right things, so I thought I might have to ask to take off my shoes when I finished! “Of course you can!” she said. That simple statement made me so happy I again started tear up. I was almost there, almost finished, and then I could sit down, take off my shoes and socks, and sleep.
Jon got back to us with my shirt just as the finish line came into sight. I put on my shirt and started walk/jogging again to toward the line. I could see Mom standing at the finish line, and Maria was screaming at the top of her lungs, “Mom!! Get out here and hold your son’s hand!! Get out here and finish with your son!” It had started sprinkling, but Mom still shed her rain jacket revealing her Team Clemens shirt and ran out to meet us. We all grabbed hands; Jon, Mom, Maria, Tim, and Ryan (Jess was at the finish photographing). “Mom, I’m going to run to the finish” I said. I hadn’t thought this all the way through. Mom is used to seeing me run when I’m in much better shape than I was at mile 100 with 25+ hours on my feet. She was very excited and took off at what could only be described as a sprint (in my mind). We were all holding hands so I was along for the ride! “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom!!! Whoa – that may be little fast” I said laughing. And we all slowed back down to my slow, trudging pace and crossed the finish line. After 25 hours 27 minutes and 52 seconds, I had finished my first 100 endurance run.
After a round of congratulatory hugs and a volunteer slipping my finishers buckle over my head, I walked over toward a wall to sit down. “Let’s get you out of the rain” said Maria. I ignored her and continued on to the wall and sat down. Chris walked over, “Tyler, let’s get you out of the rain.” I ignored him as well. “Tyler, come on, let’s go over here” Chris said again. “Dude, shut up, I am taking off my shoes.” I was still being a little irritable from the run. I sat down, took off my shoes and socks, and told the crew “OK – now we can go wherever you want.” We got out of the rain and Jon handed me a finisher’s beer. Maria and Jess tucked me into some blankets and elevated my feet. I took 2 sips of beer, and passed out for the next hour and a half.
I want to give a very special thank you to the crew that stuck with me and help me accomplish such a huge goal.
Chris – thank you for allowing me to run this with you (and steal some of your crew). It was an amazing experience to finish our first 100 mile endurance run together. Thanks for the encouragement along the course, especially at mile 91 when we both felt like so horrible. Congratulations on finishing in 24 hours and 15 minutes!
- Jon – thank you for the conversation on the trail, keeping a positive attitude, laughing with me and pushing me through the tough times. Thanks for pushing me even when I thought I couldn’t run. And thank you for understanding when I had to stop and puke!
Tim – thank you for dealing with me. You got the short straw when you agreed to pace the last 30 miles. There were many more low times than high – and I appreciate you staying positive, staying calm, and encouraging/pushing me to continue on. Without you on those last miles, I honestly may not have made it to the finish line. I am forever in gratitude.
- Maria, Jess – thank you for making the trip and crewing. I was so happy that Chris and I were so close throughout the race and I was able to see you guys at every aid station. You guidance and encouragement meant the world to me, and I was incredibly happy to have you there with me at the finish line of my first 100 mile run. The stories and laughter than ensued after the finish will be a memory I cherish.
- Ryan – thank you for being out there to crew and for the encouragement throughout the day. Thank you for always anticipating what was needed out on the course, and taking a late night (or early morning) trip to find coffee! Thank you for being there at the finish line. You were there at the start of this journey when Chris first signed up, and I was incredibly happy to have you there to finish with me. Thank you for your hospitality and putting us up in your home for some post-race recovery!
Mom and Tom – thank you for making the trip. Mom, I know this experience was tough on you, and that you worried. But you did a great job out there. There were definitely some high times, and some incredible lows, but I couldn’t have been happier to have you there to cross the finish line of my first 100 miler. Tom – thanks for being there for Mom. I don’t know if she would have made it through the low patches without you there.
- I also want to say thank you to all the friends and family who were not at the race but still supporting. It was amazing to have the support from afar. There are so many folks who have been significant in the journey to this race. The advice from seasoned ultra runners, amazing training runs with great friends, and the experiences of pacing and crewing for many friends through their ultra running events all made this event possible for me. I can’t thank you all enough for sharing this journey with me.
– Tyler Clemens, 2014