What if there was a way to run Ohio's Mohican 100-Mile Ultramarathon...and WIN?
You know...crush all the miles, stay on top of nutrition and hydration, run through fatigue, maybe even battle self-doubt, and FINISH first.
Every ultrarunner knows it takes months of training and a never-quit mindset to go the distance.
But what if there was a secret sauce to winning a race like the Mohican 100?
The former "fat kid" turned ultrarunner Jeremy Pope wanted to find out.
Here's what happened...
Every runner takes a different path to get to the starting line and push their limits to the finish line.
For Ohio resident Jeremy Pope, running wasn't even on his radar for a long time.
"I was a fat kid in high school," says Jeremy. "I was a big kid, like 215 pounds or so."
For Jeremy, it started with a manual labor job...
"I started losing a bit of weight, slowly but surely," says Jeremy. "I thought, 'This is kind of cool,' so I kept up with it."
When a buddy invited him to run a 5K race, Jeremy laced up his running shoes and chased his own PR to see what he could do.
And you know what happened next?
"I'm really competitive, so I just ate up all the challenges to run longer and faster," says Jeremy.
When he started training for the Cleveland Marathon about 8 years ago, he took it seriously.
He trained hard. He pushed the mile pace to qualify for the Boston Marathon. And it was a slugfest all the way to the finish line.
But even after yet another PR, something was missing from running...
"There were lots of trails around me," says Jeremy. "And I started thinking that's where I want to be. That's what I want."
He wasn't sure if running 100 miles was in the cards for him, but he wanted to find out.
The Mohican Memorial State Forest in Northeastern Ohio (where the Mohican 100-Mile Ultra takes place) is just 30 minutes from his home.
So he laced up his trail shoes and started churning dirt at races like the:
"Those first ultras were just as bad as you can imagine," says Jeremy. "Every race turned into a slugfest to reach the finish, and I absolutely loved it."
But something interesting started to happen...
Running trail races, logging lots of miles, and chasing PRs made him faster.
He started finishing in the top spots at trail races, even winning some...
Last year, he ripped through the Bigfoot 50K Ultra course in Salt Fork State Park, winning the race in 4:30:01.
And it wasn't easy.
"There was like a foot of mud in lots of sections of the course," says Jeremy. "I excel in those situations. You know...give me the nastiest, muddiest conditions. I love it. I'm built for it."
He blew through all the mud with a smile on his face, even though he was slipping, falling, and tripping.
He scored a first place finish at the Bigfoot 50K, but there was another surprise at the finish line...
"Hey man, that was an awesome race," Jeremy heard someone say while he was trying to get the mud off after finishing the Bigfoot 50K.
It was local runner and cofounder of Branch BBQ Sauce Casey Koza.
"We love what you're doing at these races," Casey said. "Running a 4:30 in ankle deep mud was incredible."
They chatted about the race, the muddy conditions, upcoming events hosted by Western Reserve Racing, and went their separate ways.
But Casey's marketing mind was buzzing...
"I went back to my team, and said, 'Hey, there's this local runner I'd like to sponsor.' What do you think?" Casey said.
Their response: "Cool, man. Let's do it."
He tracked down Jeremy's phone number, and they made a sponsorship deal that looks like this:
"He's super cool, super down to earth," says Casey. "We're behind him 100 percent."
"When I met him after the Bigfoot 50K, I was really impressed by how approachable he is. If someone walks up to him and asks him about Branch BBQ, I know he'll explain the brand and talk to every person who asks him a question."
"He's got the talent and right attitude to go a long ways in this sport," says Casey. "And he's a great ambassador for our brand."
A couple years ago, Casey and some friends in Cleveland, Ohio., were hanging out and having a few beers.
At some point, the friendly back-and-forth banter turned into mixing concoctions of barbecue sauce and ranch sauce.
"That actually sounds like a good idea," said drinking buddy and food engineer Tim Skyard. "I'll make this in my lab, bring it out to taste test it, and see what we can do with it."
If you've ever chatted about business ideas with friends over beers, you already know a lot of those ideas never leave the bar.
And then one day...
"Tim shows up at the bar with the barbecue sauce he made in his lab," says Casey.
The actual taste testing begins, and pretty soon someone asks the question:
"This is really good. Where can I buy it?"
"Now we're in over 100 retail stores, mostly in Ohio," says Casey. "And we're selling our sauce at some stores in Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida and Kentucky."
Once they dialed in the ingredients, manufacturing process, distribution and sales, Branch BBQ started developing their marketing plan to grow the brand by partnering with:
"We've even been to a BMX Jam event in Applecreek where we took our sauces, some pulled pork, and watched riders launch bikes all afternoon," says Casey. "We want to grow this brand, but we want to have fun doing it."
Chasing big goals
"In the short term, we want to grow as much as we can regionally," says Casey. "Our sauces are selling really well in a couple different chains. And we're having some organic growth in the national market."
"Ultimately, our goal is for Branch BBQ Sauce to become a national product that's in every refrigerator next to the Hein's ketchup and ball park mustard."
At 2:30 a.m. on June 4, Casey Koza left his home in Akron, Ohio, headed for the Mohican Memorial State Forest.
He wanted to give ultrarunner Jeremy Pope a proper send-off at the Mohican 100.
"I got pulled over by the police on my way there," says Casey. "That's when the bars close in the area."
He wasn't speeding. But when Casey's car crossed over the line, it caught the attention of an officer.
"I promise I'm not drinking," Casey said. "I'm on my way to watch my buddy run 100 miles on the Mohican Trail."
Fortunately, he left with just a warning and made it to the starting line...
"It's only 30 minutes from my house," says Jeremy. "I started thinking, 'Man, if my running ended today, I want to be able to say I ran the Mohican 100.'"
So he started training to take on the 100-mile distance for the third time:
"That's the way I like to train for races," says Jeremy. "I like to put in as many miles on the actual course as possible if I can."
His race prep also included the:
Jeremy took off from the Mohican 100 starting line and tried to find his groove.
But that can be elusive for runners trying to go the distance on this course.
"The Mohican Trail is constantly up and down," says Jeremy. "There's really never a place where you run a long stretch of downhill or something flat. It's really a lot of up and down. And that can really beat you up."
At first, Jeremy ran with a small group of experienced ultrarunners.
But with some of the biggest contenders competing in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in California the same weekend, the competition begin to fade.
"I was in third place for about the first 15 miles," says Jeremy. "Then I moved into first place through one of the hardest sections of the course. And from then on, it was just me and my race."
He ticked off the miles trying to finish before dark.
But it wasn't easy.
"About halfway through I started to have some struggles," says Jeremy. "My time started slipping because of stomach issues, but I just kept going and trying to work through those."
By mile 60, it started to feel like the course was winning.
"I got very dizzy," says Jeremy. "I walked for at least two miles. I was really struggling. I was tripping and stumbling over stuff."
Calorie deficit takes a toll.
"I knew I had to get more calories," says Jeremy. "I grabbed some gels and said, 'These are going down.' By the time I saw my crew, those gels hit, and I was gone. I ran another six miles to the next aid station."
At a point later in the race, Casey Koza made it back to the Mohican 100 course to see Jeremy in the lead.
"He was crushing it," says Casey. "He looked pretty strong to me, but he didn't have anyone to push him. I'd like to see what he can do when he's running an entire race with other runners."
Maybe something's wrong?
But he wasn't out of trouble just yet.
"With about 20 miles to go, I started getting this high diaphragm pressure and some nausea," says Jeremy. "Then I started peeing blood."
He switched to only drinking water, thinking he may have overloaded on sodium.
"This was only my third 100-miler, so it's still new territory to me," says Jeremy.
The not-so picture-perfect finish
With the second place runner nearly 2.5 hours behind him, Jeremy spent most of the race running alone.
Instead of thinking about the miles he had left, he just focused on reaching the next aid station.
"It seemed like the tallest task," says Jeremy. "I've never wanted to be done with a hundred more than this race.
But he kept going all the way to the end.
"When I finished, I just basically fell over and collapsed," says Jeremy. "They swooped me up, took me to the medical trailer, and pumped me with fluids through an IV. That was the ticket. I mean, it was 80 degrees outside and I was freezing cold."
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