The Brokeman's #optoutside ultra was an inaugural event, which usually makes me skeptical. Since I was planning on using this as my 50 mile capstone run... first time event, what could go wrong?? Did I mention I have a bit of anxiety? "Hi! My name is Erika, and I'm currently in my peak running week for my first 100 miler, which is making me BAT SHIT CRAZY about everything!" *breathe* Well then...
I very much like Brokeman's Running Company. They are a relative newcomer on the Ohio running scene, but I would assert that they've made their own unique mark. First, they're local, which gets them bonus points. Now here is where is gets funky- they want to bring running back to its core. Take away the swag, the crazy big medals, and bring forth an event that focuses on grinding it out with the best community out there. Intriguing, right? I agree. Keep reading. They want to provide affordable, supported races, with emphasis on community, beauty of the sport, and the mental/physical connection. (See anxiety note above?)
The most personally thought-provoking part about this company is its desire to bridge the trail/road runner gap. WOW. As someone who floats between the two, that's no small task. Brokeman's has historically hosted runs on roads or multi-use trails, but the move to Lake Hope and Zaleski for this run really changed things up. This is no multi-use trail! However... Brokeman's was able to offer up distances that took the intimidation out of trying something new, and for that reason I believe they may be on to something :) Check them out, run their races- you won't be disappointed.
Elevation profile of the Zaleski Backpack Loop
Oh Zaleski. You hurt me so. I don't have a ton of experience here, but that which I do- well, I should've known better! Let me be clear- I'm training for a very FLAT 100 miler, so I've spent approximately ZERO time on hills, climbing, descending, and the like. However, as my running friends will tell you, I am a total sucker for a sweet day out in the woods and would make this decision over and over again. I needed a 50 miler right around now and Brokeman's just happened to be offering this run... clearly, a cosmic meant-to-be situation!
If we are looking at signs, I do believe the night prior to the race really did its best to provide me with a neon, blinking, bar-window sign telling me to go home. I happen to be an optimist, so sometimes (read: always) I ignore those not so positive cues. I rented a cottage on site, and actually thought I might get murdered. It was just one of those ridiculous feelings. I was by myself for a few hours before my friends came down, and really got the creepies! Self, put on your big girl pants, and ignore the creepies. You are being silly. Okay then, let's unpack. Oh wait, let's not do that without tripping and falling over every stinking curb/rock/step/water spout in existence. Oyy. It's cool, I probably didn't need any of those things to feel good tomorrow. NBD. I am a hot mess. Eventually others arrived, and I felt much less like I was going to get murdered or impaled by a rock. (There was a porch light. Who knew.)
We planned on taking the 6AM early start, so the alarm symphony started playing around 5. Ugh. When we arrived, Brokeman's already had volunteers and the like flitting about. The coolest idea I've seen at a trail run was on the bibs. THEY PRINTED THE MAP ON THE BIBS!! Not only that, but the RD took the time to then go over it with us, marking tricky parts along the way. It's these little things that make all the difference, folks! I pinned that sucker on upside down and off we went. I ran with new and old friends for the first 3 miles, and then we split up pretty quickly. By mile 4 I was alone, heading up towards the first of a few challenging climbs. I skipped up this one pretty easily, knowing the next few miles were pretty and rolling. I came through that section pretty uneventfully, which is always nice on a trail run. This feeling would be short lived, as the wheels were about to come off. There's a sweet descent just past mile 4 of the Zaleski loop, and I was enjoying the heck out of it (I'm a reckless downhiller- I make up a ton of time here usually!), when out of nowhere a trench popped out from the leafy ground!
That trench reached up out of the leaves and grabbed a hold of the outside of my foot. My ankle turned in an all-too-familiar way, and that was the beginning of the end. I went flying out in front of me, and the first thing my eyes landed on was a log laying across the trail. Seemed like a good thing to aim for? I reached my hands out (I know I know BAD IDEA) for the log, made contact, and went down hard. Initially, my body collapsed in a very forced push-up motion, which my arms couldn't really support. My right hand slipped and twisted on itself, and then all was still. I got up, assessed my body, and realized that while my ankle was sore, the worst of the fall impacted my hand. This is now the SECOND RACE IN A ROW where I have injured my HAND while RUNNING. (There was an NYC incident involving a port-o-potty and an iron gate. Long story.) I need my own hashtag. Something along the lines of #whathehell, #whoevendoesthat, etc. After I assessed myself, I kept moving. The thoughts I should have had a week ago were now surfacing. I probably should not have chosen a trail 50 to cap off my 90 mile week of running. This was supposed to be the hardest week of my training, My legs are tired. My body is tired. My brain is foggy. I probably should have opted for a nice flat bike trail where I wouldn't be nearly as likely to roll/fall/impale myself with things. In hindsight, running this race with an angry peroneal tendon at the end of a peak week might have actually been irresponsible on my part.
The rest of the run was beautiful. These trails are some of my favorite to run on, and I was so excited that Brokeman's had this run! My ankle however, did not enjoy itself. I kept rolling it, and the more I rolled it the more I realized that this was a bad idea. I made my decision to drop about halfway through the loop, and tried to be careful the rest of the way. There is absolutely nothing I hate more than facing these decisions. Ultras are immensely mental and I always second guess myself, wondering if I'm just being a baby or if I'm legitimately making the right choice. Almost unfailingly, I err on the side of stubborn and gut it out. Having this massive goal in front of me has really forced me to examine the risk/reward of EVERY decision, which I think has been good for me as a person overall. I can't say it's a real comfortable position for me to be in, but perhaps it's what I was meant to learn this cycle. Introspection and bruised ankles aside, the run was a good time. And I only got lost once!
The volunteers and RD were on point. They were READY an hour before the actual start, which was really nice for those of us who opted to take off early. If you've ever chosen to take an early start, you know that this is an anomaly. You're typically on notice that you're on your own until the regular start peeps can be expected at respective aid stations. The first aid station we came to was at 3.5ish miles, and the gentleman there even volunteered to take things back to the start/finish for us. The markings were good. I typically like a heavily marked course, because I lose focus like nobody's business. I didn't have that reassurance here, but I DID have a map literally pinned to me and markings at every potential "get lost" point. Speaking of getting lost... I only got lost one time! That's a really strong showing for me. In fact, I chose the GPS watch I wear mostly because of the "track back" feature it offers- that's how often I get lost on trails. I don't mind, It's an adventure! I got un-lost at the second aid station, which was unmanned as expected. There was a giant bag of Peanut M&Ms, water, and Tang. Not a bad station. The course detoured a bit due to controlled fires, but I met some nice dudes from Akron on the road and they showed me where the trail I missed was. Thanks new friends! The volunteer at the 1st/3rd aid station was super nice and he told me the other group just started. I was looking forward to seeing some of my running buddies on this out-and-back section, and heckling them appropriately.
As I neared the end, I was a little sad that I was done here for the day. I knew it was the right decision, but these choices just weigh so heavily. I informed the volunteer that I was a DNF because I thought I might have a problem with my hand. The RD was really nice and went over to her first-aid kit and asked if I needed ice. I was bummed but it was nice to feel so cared about :) I hung out for a few minutes and checked in with some buddies, then took off for Columbus. I could smell the chili on the fire, I'm certain the folks who stuck around enjoyed some quality time and good food! Time to head home and finish this 50!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the swag. Brokeman's, for a low-frills company, had some of the BEST swag I've ever gotten! The hoodie is maybe the softest thing I've ever worn. I haven't taken it off much since getting it. And it even stayed super soft after washing it! I have been the recipient of many a race hoodie, this one is hands down tops. We also received a big coffee mug, which is now in heavy tea drinking rotation. I thought these items were really well thought out and high quality, not just a token prize thingie. I would check out the stuff on the Cordova Ink website, it's high quality with great graphics. I now own a few pieces and I love them :)
Location: Lake Hope/Zaleski State Park
Entrants: Maybe 60? I'm guessing from the bib numbers. It felt like a nice, small field.
Cost: 60 bucks, any distance! No swag option offered as well for less.
Swag: Hoodie and big coffee mug.
Nutrition: Since I blew it really badly during last week's 50k, I tried harder this week :) I alternated PowerBar fruit squeezes and Honey Stinger GF waffles, every 2 miles. I chugged a full pack of Skratch emergency hydration (lemon lime, didn't taste awful) at the end of the loop (18ish miles). For the remainder, I ate the fruit squeezes, waffles, and my sister's Thanksgiving potato disaster cheese cups every 3 miles, Skratch again after 15 miles.
Thumb update: Still hurts! I think I might just be old. Plus my job necessitates I use it a lot, so no rest!
Ankle update: I think it's just a POS. It hurts, goes back and forth between behind the ankle bump and the front of ankle. I'm trying to formulate a plan to get through the next 4 weeks rested, but prepared.
One of my all-time favorite quotes, which was also posted at the run :)
To read more posts from Erika, follow along her running journey on her blog Wander. Run. Smile. Repeat.