Aurora -- Just before the crack of dawn on Aug. 4, more than 150 runners from across Northeast Ohio and the nation will line up for a 100-mile trail race called the Burning River 100.
It will be an "ultramarathon" featuring a challenging course winding through Cleveland and Summit County Metroparks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park and other scenic areas.
Auroran Mark Godale plans to be among those lining up at the start. He is the American record holder for the most miles run in 24 hours with 162.4, and has completed several 100-plus mile trail races.
He and his brother, Steve, also an accomplished runner who plans to participate in the BR 100, have been driving forces behind the event.
"My brother Steve and I have always talked about a 100-mile race in our area. Steve wanted it to start at Squire's Castle in the North Chagrin Reservation, and I wanted it to finish in Cuyahoga Falls.
"We're thrilled it's finally happening thanks to the hard work of so many. I hope the surrounding cities and communities will embrace and come out and support it."
Godale thinks the BR 100 will shine a positive light on the region.
"We could show other communities around the country that Northeast Ohio is a strong supporter of running and fitness," he said. "Living and training here, I know this is one of the best areas in the United States for running.
"I THINK the Burning River 100 has the potential to be one of the nation's premier 100-mile endurance runs, where the beauty of our region and our amazing park system can shine."
With sponsorship from Summa Health System, Teva, Fox River, Timex, Hammer Nutrition, Vertical Runner, PowerBar, Die Co. and Kurtz Brothers, the Burning River 100 will start at the North Chagrin Reservation in Willoughby Hills, follow the scenic Cuyahoga Valley River Corridor and end in downtown Cuyahoga Falls.
Most of the point-to-point course is on dirt trails, with a few towpath and paved road sections.
Race director Joe Jurczyk, a longtime runner, said the Burning River 100 will shine a positive light on Northeast Ohio and one of the region's greatest assets -- its trails and parks.
"From start to finish, the course showcases our world-class parks and trails network, which many other areas of the country can only envy," said the Brecksville resident.
"It symbolizes our region's commitment to bringing people together to enjoy exercise, fitness and true quality of life."
Jurczyk added one runner is coming all the way from South Korea and one from Germany, with entrants from north of the border also expected.
Each runner completing the 100-mile course in 30 hours or less will receive a commemorative belt buckle, which holds great significance in the ultrarunning community.
But the most important takeaway will be the achievement of having completed a challenging 100-mile trail race, Jurczyk said.
What is ultramarathon?
An ultramarathon is any race beyond marathon distance. Common distances include 50K (31 miles), 50 miles, 100K (62 miles), 100 miles and more.
Some ultramarathons are time-based, such as 24-hour events in which runners attempt to cover as many miles as they can within the time limit.
The sport's popularity is rising, with many ultramarathons reaching record-high registrations.
Jurczyk said many people are lured to ultrarunning as a way to test the limits of their physical and mental endurance.
"Ultras like the Burning River 100 are a way to find out what you're made of and become a better person, while in the process forming strong friendships," he said.
BR 100 entrants will have trained for months. To build endurance, training runs may reach as high as 30-, 40- or 50-plus miles.
Idea becomes reality
Jurczyk said the BR 100 has been in the works for several years. He heads a committee charged with recruiting volunteers, securing sponsors, planning the course, organizing aid stations, coordinating with local officials and promoting the event.
"The Burning River 100 started as an idea that turned out having a lot of support among ultrarunners in the region," he said.
"The committee was formed to make the idea happen -- to put on a premier race where runners can test their limits, enjoy great camaraderie and ultimately accomplish something in-credibly meaningful.
"All those who have supported and are working so hard to make this truly historic race possible are to be thanked for their efforts and dedication."
Plotting a 100-mile, point-to-point course with 21 aid stations is anything but easy, Jurczyk said.
The process spanned several months. As the course came together, organizers secured support from Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga National Park and Metro-parks, Serving Summit County, and also worked with Cuyahoga Falls and Mayor Don L. Robart, a runner, to secure a finish line location.
Sponsors also had to be secured. Vince Rucci, owner of Hudson-based Vertical Runner, a popular specialty running store and sponsor of many area races, including the Buckeye Trail 50K (July 14), was asked to head up sponsorships.
"We've gotten great support from our sponsors," said Rucci, an ultrarunner himself.
"Northeast Ohio is a hotbed of running, and so the BR100 provides our sponsors with both great visibility and an opportunity to support health and fitness.
"We thank each of them for their contributions, and we look forward to more sponsors joining us in the coming weeks."