He was just trying to stop the bleeding in the final 15 miles as a first-time competitor during the 13th Burning River 100-Mile Endurance Run on Saturday and Sunday through Cuyahoga Falls, Akron, Peninsula and Stow.
Joe Maduri, a 2006 Solon graduate, had run during the dark hours of the race before, but his prior involvement was as a crew member and pacer for various friends, notably fellow Comet classmate Matt Wieczorek, who won back-to-back Burning River 100 titles in 2016 and 2017.
But Maduri, 31, had never pushed his ultradistance limits beyond 50 miles before he embarked on this year’s 102.3-mile trek, which began at 4 a.m. Saturday at the HiHo Brewing Co. in Cuyahoga Falls.
The 264 runners who started the race had 30 hours to traverse the trails of Summit Metro Parks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the midway mark at Silver Springs Park in Stow and turn around and head back to Cuyahoga Falls with 22 aid stations along the way.
Before 10 a.m. deadline on Sunday, 103 runners dropped out of the race or did not finish, and, at times, Maduri said he questioned if he’d be one of them.
“Everything after 50 miles was kind of new territory for me,” he said. “So, there’s still a lot of running to do in the second half of the day, and you hope to be running, but it’s pretty unknown at that point. But my team, led by (Wieczorek), really helped out a lot to make sure I didn’t try to pull out of the race or anything.”
Maduri has competed in the past four JFK 50-Mile ultramarathon runs, which began in 1963 and take place annually in Maryland, as well as numerous road marathons. He plans to compete in the Chicago Marathon this October.
But Maduri was too busy crewing and pacing his friends in past Burning River 100 events to give it a go himself. Last year, he paced his buddy Dennis Roche, a 2006 University School graduate who won the Division II state wrestling title at 112 pounds his senior year.
Roche, now a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces, suffered a stress fracture during last year’s Burning River 100 but still managed to finish in 27:30:13.
“My friends started giving me a hard time because I was kind of the next man up,” Maduri said. “So, I signed up a few months ago, and I was fully committed. It’s not something you want to do unless you’re 100 percent in.
“And I was able to train pretty decently the last couple of months. You know, you always wish you could do more and life doesn’t always get in the way, but I was excited to finally be able to do it myself and have those guys help me instead of the other way around.”
In much of the same preparations for a 26.2-mile marathon, Maduri said he was training a little more than 70 miles a week with a focus on getting back-to-back 20-mile runs in on Saturdays and Sundays to train his body to compete on tired legs.
In addition to Wieczorek, fellow 2006 Solon graduate Mike Fakler flew in from Denver, Sam Winegardner, a college friend from Miami University, flew in from Chicago, and Todd Phillips, a local friend, crewed for Maduri and paced for him on the latter half of the run.
But in the first 40 miles of his race, Maduri went out with Will Connell, 36, of Astoria, New York, who ended up finishing second overall in 18:25:21, bested only by Joey Miller, 31, of Springfield, Illinois, who clocked a triumphant 17:25:08 – just after sundown.
“I got out pretty strong,” Maduri said. “I just had really good rhythm, and I felt really good. But, in the back of my head, ‘OK, you’re not even halfway.’ You know, ‘Nutrition, nutrition, your stomach.’ You’re thinking like that. And after 40 miles, there’s a section called bike-and-hike for about 6 1/2 miles. So, you’re kind of exposed, it’s a little bit warm, and I started to feel a little bit goofy. But, once I got to mile 50, I figured I’d get my first pacer.”
Burning 10,000 to 15,000 calories, ultradistance runners train their bodies to digest on the go in order to fuel their way through a 100-mile race.
But when runners get overheated, they tend to get an upset stomach and want to stop eating. If that happens, it won’t be long before they keel over.
For Maduri, drinking Tailwind nutrition mix, available at the aid stations, helped fuel him, along with handfuls of M&M’s, watermelon, pretzels, peanut butter and jelly and even some Coca-Cola, he said. Some competitors even go to pizza later on in their runs.
By mile 60, however, Maduri said his quads were pretty much toast, and the mental battle truly began.
“I had some real difficulty kind of coming downhill,” he said. “The up-hills weren’t as bad. So, I just tried to manage that and run smart, just depending on the sections, and really run the flats when I could, rather than blasting down at that point.”
At mile 68, Maduri picked up Wieczorek as his pacer and got a little bit of a second wind, he said.
“Matt really got me moving pretty smoothly,” he said. “So, I came into mile 78, which was Oak Hill, feeling great. Like, my stomach felt great. I think I got into eighth place when I left that aid station. There’s a pretty fun photo of me and Matt running mile 82, and it looked we’re moving pretty well and I’m kind of smiling.”
Ironic enough, Maduri paced Wieczorek during a similar section of his 2017 title race – from miles 76 to 92 – on the old course, which was a point-to-point trail that began up at Squire’s Castle in Willoughby Hills, went through the South Chagrin Reservation and the Cuyahoga River Valley corridor, before heading down toward Cuyahoga Falls.
Nonetheless, ultradistance runners can hit a wall no matter the course but especially when they’re that deep into a race and it still feels like they have forever to go.
“Shortly after mile 82, I would just say that’s when I started having some issues,” Maduri said. “There’s still a lot left, even when you’re down to like 15 miles, because at that point you’re running in the light of the headlamp, and I found that technical part pretty difficult, and you need your crew to get you through and just keep you moving.”
Picking up Phillips as a pacer with about 15 miles to go, Maduri said he began to feel nauseous.
“I was running with Todd, and I just laid down on the trail for like five minutes,” he said. “And the negative thoughts were like, ‘Oh, can I really get there?’ You know, you start overthinking how far you have when you should be really thinking, ‘Let me just get to the next aid station,’ because sometimes at the aid stations you can reset, whether it’s food, or I started drinking Coca-Cola to get a little bit of caffeine, and I thought that helped.”
Once he arrived at the North Hawkins Aid Station at mile 92.8, Maduri said he was confident he would find a way to finish. It was just a matter of stopping the bleeding at that point.
While Maduri was in the top 10 just miles earlier, he started to fade a little.
“I was seventh at one point,” he said. “I gave away all those spots in the last 10 miles. I mean, I was still in 10th at mile 85, and then I was kind of bleeding and trying to stop the bleeding, because you see someone coming behind you and their little light bouncing. If you see two lamps, normally it’s someone in the 100 with their pacer. So, if I saw a light, I’m like, ‘Oh, shoot, is there one light or two lights?’
“At that point, I slightly adjusted the goal and was like, ‘Let’s just through the finish line.’ Getting passed didn’t bug me out too much given that it was my first one.”
Maduri ended up taking 20th in 22:22:39 among the 161 finishers. He completed his first 100-mile run with a 13:26 pace and was fifth out of 46 males in the 30-to-39 age group.
Of the 161 finishers, 47 completed the course in the final hour, between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Sunday, including Elizabeth Bibza, 40, a teacher at Kenston High School, Brian Turk, 34, a 2003 Kenston graduate and teacher, Maxwell Fay, 19, a 2017 Kenston graduate, and Alex Cook, 35, who used to chaperone the Kenston Out West Trip. All four of them finished together in 29:12:33, with Kenston head cross-country coach Chris Ickes helping out with some pacing.
Fay was one of just 15 finishers under the age of 30, while there were 62 finishers in the 30-to-39 age group, 49 finishers in the 40-to-49 age group, 29 finishers in the 50-to-59 age group and six finishers over the age of 60. Gary Dudney, 66, of Salinas, California, was the oldest finisher at 28:24:25.
“I think a lot of the sport just comes down to experience and toughness from years of doing races,” Maduri said. “You can run some of your best times in your 40s or even older than that. If you look at the results, it’s pretty amazing. I think the experience just pays for itself.”
Officially a 100-miler after crossing the finish line at 2:22 a.m. on Sunday, Maduri said he plans to put another ultradistance run on his schedule for next year.
He said there’s nothing quite like the finish.
“It’s a little anticlimactic because the race so spread out, but I think you’re just kind of fried,” Maduri said. “But on the way back and this morning, getting messages from people, I started to reflect a lot more about how it was a pretty long day and a pretty big effort. I had a lot of help and a lot of people to thank. So, I was definitely happy and smiling when I finished, but, at the same time, I was just trying to find a chair to sit down.”