Cooler nights. Shorter days. Falling leaves. And the Ohio Outside Trail series. An autumn tradition among the trail running community in Northeast Ohio. Three races, one each month; October, November and December. The seventh annual running of the series, of which I have competed in at least one race a year.
I used my warm up to preview the course – a 2 loop wooded trail with small rolling hills and turns throughout. The leaves had be swept from the course, leaving a dry, clear path – setting the stage for quick times.There’s something about the setting of this race that brings back fond memories of cross-country season.
With a calming fog rising off the Munroe Falls lake, what started out as cold morning gave way to clear skies and a warming sun. As 8:30 approached, 224 runners stepped up to the starting line to await the starting siren. The race starts out in an open field next to the lake, heading off for about 200 meters before disappearing into the woods. It has always been my strategy to get out front and avoid the pack as the course narrows down through the parking lot and onto the trail. A pack of about 5 formed for the first part of the loop. Around the mile and quarter mark, down a winding flatter section 2 runners made a move a broke off from the pack. I settled into fifth place and made due with holding on to chase pack. The two leaders put some distance between the chase pack winding through the woods. As the trail takes you out of the woods we approach my favorite section – you run through some thin trees with the sunlight casting angled shadows down on the trail and then out around a little pond – Heron pond before hitting an incline in back in the woods before the end of the loop. a throng of supporters stand by to cheer you on as you head into the second loop. The two inclines that start the trail are more noticeable on the second loop, not allowing much time for the runners to regroup at the halfway point.
The pack had lengthened out by this point, 2 leaders out front, then a group of about 4 of us running single file. As the race headed into the last mile, I found myself still battling between fourth and fifth place. In addition to repeating the hills on the second loop, the most challenging aspect the course is the famous stone staircase at the end of the loop. An interesting feature on the course that challenges runners to either approach it cautiously to avoid any potential slip or attack the stair aggressively to gain some ground. Especially at the end of the race, the staircase has the ability to play a role. A seasoned trail runner will know how to use the stairs to his/her advantaged. I was able to use to the steps to close the gap to the runners in front of me. Following the steps, a long finishing straight beside the lake makes for some great finishing kicks. Despite not having the requisite the speed work under my belt, I was still able to throw down and gain one spot to finish fourth, unable to outkick the third place finisher.
Chuck Novak broke the 30 minute mark to win with a time of 28:58. J. Paul Romanic finished in second place with a time of 29:09. And rounding out the top three was Korey Smerk in a time of 30:30.
On the women’s side, Tracy Meder led the way with a finishing time of 34:00. Monika Caine came in second with a time of 36:35. And Sarah Racic came in third with a time of 37:28.
The surprise of the race may have been eight-year old Jayden Kuczkowski, who completed the race in a time of 45:36.
As always, Mark and the Ohio Outside crew and volunteers put together a great event. New sweatshirt designs, pint glasses and an array of awards; from gift cards, socks and shirts; to the more unusual – pumpkins, paintings, and growlers. Plenty of food and beverages were provided – coffee and cider from Totally Cooked Catering and a new addition – breakfast pitas from Pita Pit in Kent and North Canton. Rewards followed about an hour after the first runner crossed the line.