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Mohican Trail 100: A Midwest Classic

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Northern Ohio’s 2024 Mohican Trail 100 was the 35th annual event, making it one of the oldest 100-mile foot races in the United States. Mohican is also in the Midwest Grand Slam of Ultras that includes Kettle Moraine 100, Burning River 100, Hallucination 100 and super-slammers can add the Indiana Trail 100. Having run both the Indiana Trail and Kettle Moraine, I was excited to experience another one the Midwest’s finest and oldest 100-mile races.

With experience comes confidence, or in my case, overconfidence. As someone who has run a few 100-mile races, I found myself a little too comfortable in the training block leading up to the Mohican Trail 100—at least, in hindsight. When I signed up, I incorrectly assumed I could expect roughly the same amount of elevation gain as Kettle Moraine or the Indiana Trail 100, but as it turns out, it’s basically double the amount of the Indiana Trail 100—I learned that on the Tuesday before the race. Lesson learned: know the course and course profile. While I wasn’t 100% unprepared mentally, I also knew I didn’t have proper training.

Lester (left) and friend Sam at the start. Photo courtesy Lester Burris

Race start was 5 a.m., and the temperature was a crisp 49 degrees. It was cool enough to feel chilly but not so cold that I couldn’t enjoy coffee and breakfast on my cabin porch before making the short walk from the cabin to the start. I rendezvoused with my friend Sam (who was also doing the race) with about 15 minutes to go, and we made our way into the start corral. We were not expecting anyone at the start with it being so early, but our shared crew member, Joel, made an appearance to wish us luck. After the countdown, we set off across the highway and down the bike path for the first of four loops. The loops were laid out so that we did a long loop, followed by another long loop, followed by two identical short loops.

The first section, the first aid station was roughly 6 miles in and a few hundred feet of climbing. Many of the miles passed under the light of headlamps as the forest began to come to life as the birds began to sing. Sam and I passed through the Gorge Overlook aid station with quick flask refills and aid station snacks. The next aid station at the fire tower was on the short side of 5 miles, and we arrived there in maybe less than an hour. After the fire tower aid, on loops one and two, the course turned for a longer route.

Photo: Stuart Siegfried

We passed the iconic Lyon Falls, and then headed to the “enchanted forest” section that was unique to the first loop. The enchanted forest isn’t very enchanting, just to set the record straight, unless your definition of enchanting is creek stomping over dozens of downed trees. After climbing out of the enchantment, we made it up and down the dam before reaching the covered bridge aid station. The section to the next aid station at Hickory Ridge proved to be the toughest climbing on the course.

Sam and I were greeted by my family in the campground at our first interloop period. It was nice to see familiar faces, especially my wife and kids, and distract from the task at hand. We took a few minutes for refills and changed into thinner layers as the temperature was warm, though it never became too hot or uncomfortable on course. After goodbyes to the spectators and crew, we headed out for a second long loop.

The second loop is where things got hard, which was much earlier than anyone would ever hope for. In the first couple miles, Sam and I received a text that turned out to be the most fitting and beneficial mantra for the race, from the illuminating singer and philosopher of our time, Beyoncé: “Don’t be a bitch, now.” We would lean heavily on those words. From about the 50k mark through the mid-40s, thoughts and plans for a DNF were strongly considered. “I’ve done this before, there is nothing to prove to myself or anyone else.” “If I quit at 50, I get to have dinner at a regular time, go to bed at a regular time and even get a medal.” “Riding go-karts and playing mini golf with my kids would be more fun than this.” Sam had come to the race not 100% ready and half-planned on a 50-mile day (actually, 54 miles with the length of the loops). Honestly, if he had dropped, I think I would have, too. After much discussion of the upsides of a DNF, we agreed on a pact of not dropping at the halfway point. The mental darkness had mostly lifted within a few miles of finishing the second loop, and we finished the loop in a much better time (7 hours) than you would have guessed based on how we felt.

By the time we entered the second interloop, negotiations (self and collaborative) were settled: we would continue. The fam had delayed their dinner to see us, which was nice of them. With another fresh shirt and a little chair break we prepped to head out. Then, we bid the family farewell and got ready to close out the first day of June.

Photo courtesy Lester Burris

I would categorize loop three as the most fun or our best effort. Having started the loop (as opposed to DNFing), a finish was no longer in doubt. The pace slipped a little as daylight faded away and the miles added up. The whole loop was relatively smooth and, while shorter, we were happy to complete the loop in 7 hours and 15 minutes.

We came to the tent for our last interloop with our drop bags carefully laid out by Joel. Spirits were high as we took our last break and we simply needed to count down four aid stations before our finish.

Loop four was an absolute slog. Daylight was coming back by the time we slowly clipped off the first two aid stations. The hours moved like molasses as we progressed toward the finish. A little rain had started just after sunrise, but the thick canopy of the forest was enough to keep us dry. The countdown was long, but eventually, we reached the final mile marker, and the finish was nearly within sight. I’m grateful Sam didn’t drop at 50, because I would be wrestling with what it felt like to have a DNF on my record—one that would have been purely mental. Loop four took a long time but my finishing time was 29:25:04 in 52nd place, and Sam was right with me the whole way to take 53rd. The finisher rate was only 45% for the 100-miler, which validated how hard the race felt.

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