Baker Trail UltraChallenge 50 Miler Stories and Memories (2021)

Mahoning dam

Before the race started, we were standing around and I happened to look down at my legs, a tick was crawling up my left leg. I pinched it, tossed it into the grass and checked myself for more nasty bloodsuckers. The rest of the time that we stood there, I examined my legs and other’s legs, watching for more black specks. Friends around me chatted, but I felt like I had to keep on the lookout. My husband, Stephen, was next to me talking with our Oil Creek friend, Tony. I alerted them of ticks, but they were like, “Whatever, the race is starting soon.” Stephen had Lime disease in the end of 2020 after completing an FKT on the Gerard Hiking Trail, a tick bit him in the back of the knee, so that was on my mind. I was ready for adventure, the race hadn’t even started and something was already happening.

Unfortunately, the night before the race, I had insomnia, so zero sleep. The final 9 miles could have been much stronger for me, but I didn’t have much energy to manage. I was physically and mentally drained.

The evening prior to the race, someone posted a picture on social media of a copperhead they saw on a single track section we’d be taking. With that in mind, I kept my eyes peeled for snakes the entire time, hoping to see one, but I didn’t see any. Every stick was a disappointment.

What ultra doesn’t have it all? All ultras should have it all, in my opinion. Baker had hills, a gnarly trail section, heat, humidity, mud, thunderstorms, wasps (I didn’t get stung, but my husband and other runners did). Most of this course (Baker Trail) goes through countryside, where we ran past friendly locals who waved, cheered and left water and snacks out for us. The race could have easily been the most interesting part of people’s day, as it’s a quiet, rural area. We were passed by Amish buggies on the road sections. Some of the Amish people waved. Amish kids stared at us from the safety of their yards. I don’t know if the kids were allowed to wave because they either didn’t or hesitated. None of them smiled and some hid, but would peek out from behind what they were hiding behind to watch us.

Stephen and I paused on the trail to take a picture with the Mahoning dam, it was a pretty cool sight.

The day was hot (upper 80s?), I didn’t notice though because my heat prep was so on point for crewing and pacing duties at Badwater 135. At the end of Baker, we found out that 25/96 runners DNF’D, many due to heat-related issues. Throughout the race, I was mindful of how much I was sweating and how my body felt, so that was how I gauged water intake.

33 miles were road, rolling county hills. Mix of dirt and asphalt, which was eventually painful. It made muscles ache sooner from the repetitive pounding. One section of trail around the 20-ish mile mark was gnarly. It reminded us of McConnell’s Mill State Park, where the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge and NCT are. I loved this part, though it was slow going. I felt at home and we passed 5 people. Stephen is strong at going uphill, like a mountain goat. This section is where he was stung by a wasp. I didn’t see the wasp, but I’m guessing it was flipping huge. Stephen was behind me and let out a yell. I turned around to find out what was going on. He told me that he was either bitten or stung by something. When we reached a safe spot, I checked his back, as he held up his sweaty shirt. There was a big welt in the middle of his back, under his UD vest, not a good place to get stung. He didn’t feel the best after that, but continued to rock the Baker Trail, anyways. By the end of the race, I think he felt fine and had more left in the tank than I did.

I saw a bunch of friends at this one (local race), which was cool. Katie, my pacer for Oil Creek 100 was also racing! I didn’t know this until we were miles in, and my friend, Miriam (going for her 3rd Baker rolling pin, which meant her 9th finish at this race! – she did it!!), connected us at an aid station. Katie and I were similar pace, so we ran together for several miles and chatted. She’s going to be awesome at Oil Creek! I found out that her and I both have Oil Creek 100 DNFs. We missed the same cutoff time at the same aid station in 2018, what a small world. We talked about the crazy storm that rolled in that year. That darn race is so hard. The storms that day at Baker brought up flashbacks of Oil Crick. More like nightmares, we joked.

The weather got crazy bad. Thunder, lightening, wind, heavy rain. A few stormy patches. I think Stephen was nervous and he doesn’t worry about this kind of thing. As for me, I’m afraid of storms, but will run in them if I have to. Ultras don’t really get cancelled or postponed for weather, it’s part of the experience. We were running down a cornfield road, I kept thinking, Coach Kyle would not approve of running in this weather if it weren’t a race. I was feeling a mix of calm and “This could get dangerous.” Lightning flashed from sky to whatever was closest to the ground. I worried about my GPS watch being a lightning attractor. When we weren’t running in the storms, we could see them approaching or rolling away in the distance. The wind blew across the cornfields and the rain filled the spaces in-between.

For me, the race was EZ-MOD effort until the last 12 or maybe just 9 miles, I got very tired, which made it crazy hard to stay mentally strong, which meant it was hard to manage the physical pain. The worst and longest feeling of the race was all road. Everything else was great feeling. My husband put it “riding on the struggle bus.” He stuck by me when he could have burned the runners slugging along just ahead of us. I had a countdown of miles and multiple positive affirmations I repeated to myself to just keep going. I stared at the ground a lot, but also tried to distract myself with the happenings of the small town we were running through.

I was so tired because we couldn’t drop my daughter off at my parents’ house until 11:30 PM. Which meant that we got to race location around 1 AM. The plan was to sleep in the Jeep, which we’ve done before, but it was so late that insomnia kicked in, so I didn’t sleep at all. We needed to arrive at the race location before it got dark, in order to have a restful night. I’m not happy with how the end of my race played out, which wouldn’t have happened if I had sleep, it was a perfect day until I got utterly exhausted.

When I crossed the finish, I don’t know how I reacted, but I don’t think I had much of a reaction or I seemed bothered, ticked, or “off”. The RD kept congratulating me and even excitedly asked, “do you know what you just did!?” My response was less than pleased with the end of my race, even though I finished. I told them that I was tired and upset because I didn’t sleep the previous night. Then that was that.

I’m disappointed because of the race ending not going the way I planned, but it shouldn’t take away from an amazing day. Our day truly was amazing.

Of course, I paused my watch at the finish, but forgot to end the activity. This impacts how it displays the overall time when set in race mode, meh.

This was a great race! HUGE thanks to friends for cheering us on and to volunteers for keeping us moving!! Thanks to my running coach, Kyle, for helping me have a near perfect race. Thanks to my parents for watching the little.

I’m not sure the next time that I’ll get around to this event, but I do plan on returning to complete the other two Baker Trail courses to receive my rolling pin. That will be so awesome! The rolling pin is sweet! It will also be nice to see and be challenged by more of the Baker Trail. I hope that I can talk Stephen into running these with me, as well. It is very low-key, low-stress and makes for a fun run date.

I woke up the next morning missing a pinky toenail, which was hanging on by a thread before I passed out.

Running in a storm
My friend Katie (right)
Coming into the finish

About the Race

Part of the Butler County Milers

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