I came. I saw. I slew some monsters.
Buckeye 200 is an out-and-back race from Ashtabula to Wellsville mostly following Ohio state route 45. The format is set up as a journey run, which means no course markings or aid stations. You can either do this crewed or screwed as they say. I chose the latter option so all of the shuns were on me: navigation, hydration, nutrition, and motivation. The race started at 7am on Thursday morning with 23 runners leaving Walnut Beach having 6 days to complete the race.
I ran the 100 mile version of this race back back in 2019 so planned to use the same stores as resupply points along the course. I’ve bolded those that are open 24 hours, which was important since I was planning to take as few breaks as possible during the race. This meant I was going to have 25 miles between stores the first night followed by 23 and 18 mile gaps the second night.
- Mile 10/192 – Pilot Travel Plaza
- Mile 27/175 – Shell station in Orwell at route 322
- Mile 33/169 – Quinn’s
- Mile 38/164 – Dollar General
- Mile 50/152 – Sunoco in Warren
- Mile 61/141 – BP
- Mile 75/127 – Circle K in Salem
- Mile 83/119 – Circle K in Lisbon
- Mile 98/104 – 7 Eleven in Wellsville
For me, the hardest thing to learn about ultras was how to pace them. And the longer the race, the more difficult it seemed it was to get right. Since I have experience on the course, I figured I could run the hundred in about 22 hours so decided to start at an average 14 minute pace. Running even splits would get me to the turnaround just under 24 hours hopefully still feeling good. This was the first part of my race strategy.
The second was consistent nutrition with my patent pending 7 Flavors fueling plan. Basically, I eat/drink whatever looks most appetizing as long as I’m rotating through at least 7 different flavors. I try to get as many calories via liquids as they’re easier for me to digest. These ended up being Perpetuem (powder I brought), Cherry Coke, milk, orange juice, apple juice, Dr. Pepper, and Mountain Dew. For solids I went with a mix of nuts (cashews/peanuts), Slim Jims, gummy bears, Skittles, Twix, Doritos, and probably a couple other random junk food items I can’t seem to recall. If this sounds like the worst possible way to fuel a race, you’re probably not wrong. But this works for me and that’s the important thing.
The third leg of my race strategy was to stay flexible and adapt as I went along. I was pretty confident on how day 1 was going to play out, but I had no clue what surprises the return trip would offer up.
The early miles were fun. The temps were cool and several of the other runners were moving at about the same pace which helped distract me from what I had signed up for. Just south of Orwell a light rain started up and lasted for the next 3 hours. It was never hard enough for me to break out my rain coat, but definitely got more and more annoying as time went along.
My first bit of adversity struck at mile 69. My Garmin battery was getting low, however I couldn’t get it to charge from my portable battery pack. After a couple minutes of messing around with it, I gave up and my strategy of running by pace came to an end with me right on track (13:56). From here on out, I would be moving entirely by feel and effort. In hindsight, this ended up being a great break for me as the southern part of the course is very hilly. Seeing my pace move above my target would have either led to some mental anguish or forced me to push harder than would have been wise.
Navigating the course is rather straightforward as you’re on state route 45 from it’s beginning to end with two exceptions. The first is at Salem where the course cuts straight through town instead of looping around it. The other is at the southern end where you make a left onto Township Line road a couple miles before it gets to Wellsville. I initially missed the route through Salem when I ran the hundred and several runners missed the latter turn last year so I took extra precautions to avoid getting off track. The first was writing out directions on a card and carrying with me. Thank goodness I went the old school route instead of relying on a GPX file since my GPS watch was now just a regular watch.
My second trick was saving the address of a house right before the turn (17930 Hillcrest Rd) into Waze on my phone. This way I could periodically check how much further I had to run before turning off. The only downside was that the app would say I had 4 minutes until the turn (i.e. driving) when in reality it was more like 45 minutes “running”. Waze also came in handy once I made the turn as it was at that point my headlamp died about an hour before sunrise. I could barely see the houses to either side of me and was paranoid I’d miss the turn only Wells Hollow. Never discount the the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re still on course.
The closer I got to Wellsville, the more I started looking for the lead runners. I had passed some periodically throughout the day, however didn’t know how many were ahead of me. There was one very fast runner, Alex, in the race who I assumed would be way out in front. I entered town and still hadn’t seen him. When I hadn’t seen him a couple blocks out from the stadium turnaround, I figured he didn’t start the race. I texted the RD my selfie and she responded back that I was only 23 minutes behind him. What?!?! Turns out I was playing the tortoise to his hare as he was taking periodic nap breaks. He was sacked out in a car, while I started the return trip to Ashtabula in first place after 24 hours and 20 minutes.
I was slightly behind schedule, however now was the time for me to determine if my first half pacing was truly conservative or only felt that way. The hills out of Wellsville aren’t ridiculous, however they’re the hardest on the course. I made decent progress up them and was able to run steadily downhill. I ended up running more of the course heading back towards Salem than I had the previous day. I probably wasn’t moving faster, but I was definitely running more.
I would periodically see Alex’s support car leap frog me to start the day and I would say a couple brief words with his girlfriend who was crewing for him. Then north of Lisbon, I stopped seeing the car entirely. I should emphasize that I was not racing by any stretch of the imagination. Merely trying to make forward progress as efficiently as possible.
Throughout the afternoon, I had been thinking about when I wanted to sleep overnight. I wasn’t tired and didn’t feel like I needed to nap, however it was only a matter of time. I managed to make it till 8pm or about an hour after dark when I stepped off the road near Lordstown for my first nap. I took my pack off and used it as a pillow and set an alarm for an hour as I didn’t want to sleep too long. Twenty minutes later I was awakened by Alex’s girlfriend cheering him on. Turns out she had stopped directly across the street from where I had laid down. This jolted me into full consciousness (it’s a race!) and I grabbed my pack to give chase. Well, turns out one of my bottles had been partly opened and my pack was soaked. I didn’t have any choice but to toss it on, but was a little discouraged with the execution of my sleep strategy.
I was back on the road only a couple minutes after Alex, however I couldn’t see him ahead of me. I still wasn’t really racing him and settled back into a solid run/walk pace. A little further on, I see a homeless guy laying beside the road looking at his phone. It seemed like a really odd spot for a homeless person to be hanging out and he didn’t seemed dressed for the cooler temperatures, but I just shrugged and kept going. About a mile up the road, Alex’s girlfriend comes out thinking I’m him. Ahhhh, that was Alex laying down back there. Yeah, that makes much more sense. I told her what I saw and that she should expect to see him soon. It wasn’t too much longer until he caught up with me. He was cool enough to slow down and we chatted for a couple minutes about our race and what we had coming up later this year. It’s a shame our paces were so yin and yang as he seemed like someone who would be great to chat the miles away with.
I managed to go 3 hours before needing to sleep again (11:20pm). At this point, I was at the north end of Warren almost up to route 82. I decided to sleep sitting up this time (no more bottle spills, thankyouverymuch), which worked out better for me. I was good to go after another 20 minute nap. I was a little stiff to start out, but loosened up after maybe half a mile.
My next nap break was only 2 hours later. It was getting colder out, which was only heightened by the foggy/misty conditions. Twenty minutes was enough for me to get up and move along. I had really slowed down by this point. It was hard to accurately judge speed, but I guess I was moving about twenty minute miles. The deepest, darkest parts of night are always the slowest for me as it’s just impossible to keep the calories flowing into me at a high enough rate. They’re still going down, but just little bits here and there. After about 90 minutes, I pulled out my phone and checked Waze to see how far out I was from Quinn’s. It was only 2.8 miles so even though I could have used another nap, I decided to push on and wait till I got there as I know they have a very comfy bench I could sack out on. I grinded those miles hard to get in there and pushed harder than I had up until that point.
Eventually, I made it. I texted the RD that I was there only to immediately get a response back that Alex was only 8 minutes ahead of me. Again, what?!?!?! It was only a very brief instant where I considered heading out after him, but a nap at Quinn’s was my reward for the past hour of exertion. I needed sleep so that’s what I did. This time when I woke up after twenty minutes, I proverbially rolled right back over (still sitting up). I woke up and went back to sleep a couple more times before eventually getting up forty five minutes later right at 5am.
There was a detour just north of Quinn’s and I once again had Waze fired up to confirm I was going the right way. It took my legs about 10 minutes before they were loosened up enough that I could start running again. And boy could I run. I thought it would take the better part of three hours to get up to the Shell station in Orwell, but 90 minutes later saw me step into the store for my next to last resupply. I couldn’t believe how fast I was running. I knew it probably wouldn’t last too much longer, but I enjoyed the feeling of moving well.
A little while later I met Tom Nesterick who was driving south and volunteering with the race. We ran together for about 20 miles here back in 2019 so it was nice to see a familiar face. He said I was only 4 miles behind Alex and I couldn’t help but laugh. Whatever competitive bones I possessed had been ground into a fine dust and spread over the preceding 180 miles of state route 45.
I was 8 miles out of Austinburg when I realized I was going to run out of fluids and food before I got into town. I had done a great job up until now and it was a little frustrating because the exact same thing happened in the exact same section back in 2019. I thought I had enough to get me through the 18 miles, but nope. I’m constantly amazed at how I need to learn lessons over and over again. Sigh.
So I grinded out the miles at slightly over 3mph as the sun climbed and it got hotter and hotter out. Once I got into the Pilot, I spent 10 minutes just sitting in a chair sipping my orange juice. I took my shoes off, rubbed my feet a bit and just relaxed. This was the first time in 53 hours that I had not been making forward progress while awake. Every other minute of the race I had been slowly (ever so slowly at times) getting closer to the finish.
Then it was 10 “short” miles to Walnut Beach. I literally put my head down and walked it in slightly faster than a 20 minute pace. I tried to run a slight downhill at one point, but my feel were so sore from pounding all that pavement that I just couldn’t. I didn’t need to, so I didn’t.
And finally I stepped into the water with an elapsed time of 55:55:35.
I absolutely love that this race exists and am so thankful that Feral has kept it going long enough for me to come back and run the whole thing. I love the journey run format and the old school vibes of just a couple fellow enthusiasts out to tackle the open roads. I love the hand made bibs and finisher awards. I love the generous cutoffs which welcome all runners and the comradery among the “competitors”. This is a truly unique snowflake of a race and I can’t recommend it highly enough.