Rugged Individualist. Certified USA Triathlon Coach & NASM Personal Trainer, Men's Self Improvement Coach. President of Go Farther Sports. National Ranked Triathlete & 100 Mile Grand Slam Ultrarunner, only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pushing the Limits, My Vermont 100 Mile Ultra Race Report, 2010

Re-blogged (if there is such a term) from another website and placed here for posterity. It's good to revisit this race, especially when I have another one of these 100 milers coming up 6 weeks from now.

In my whole life, I've always wanted to push my limits, both on mind and on body. My whole Ironman triathlon experience in the 1990's was one such way. I decided to go into Ironman triathlons as the logical next step after the marathon.  

My first marathon was in NYC in 1995. I enjoyed the race outright and it was nice becoming a marathoner back then. But I always felt that the body can master much more than that, and so I entered and completed the Ironman Triathlon the next year.

During my twenty-something years, I was to finish numerous half-Ironman races and 5 more Ironman races before a new calling came to me; the ultramarathon. Unlike the commercialized realm of humongous expos, brand-name products, and celebrities, the dark, shadowy realm of running 50 kilometers, 50 miles, or 50 miles over mountains and in pretty inhospitable conditions lured me. There are no celebrities here, no expos, or no sponsors (well, maybe a couple), just a few half-crazed souls looking for enlightenment by going where few people have gone before. Races like Badwater, which is held in 120F desert conditions. Races like the Arrowhead, where temps below zero degrees is the norm for this 130+ mile race. And races like Leadville, “The Race Across The Sky” where the average altitude is over 10,000 feet.

The Leadville 100 Topograph - 50 miles out, then back. Scary, isn't it?

The Vermont 100 topograph. Oh, that wee, wee little graph in the lower left hand corner is the Boston Marathon, adjusted to the Vermont scale.

I've done a couple of 50 milers and have failed in my first attempt at a 100 miles two years ago at the Burning River ultra, when I made numerous mistakes and had to bow out at mile 75. This year, I decided to tackle one of the original 100 milers, the Vermont 100, which took place in July 17-18. This race is also one of the so-called Grand Slam events, where a few of the toughest people of the world tackle four of these 100 milers in a 4 month period. This was the second race of the Grand Slam, with the Western States 100 being the first race 3 weeks prior to Vermont, the Leadville 100 being the 3rd leg in August, and the real tough Wasatch Front 100 being the last of the series. These battle-hardy people are considered Slammers.

So my strategy is quite simple. 1) Eat early, eat often, and make sure it stays down, 2) Keep moving. Stay at an aid station for only a couple of minutes, get the food in, and GO! No matter how bad I feel I needed to keep moving to keep the legs loose. 3) Keep driving toward the finish, and never relent, even in the face of adversity. In a race of this magnitude, I knew that I will be in extremely tough circumstances. I needed to keep focus on my primary objective and finish.

This summer is turning out to be a really hot one, and the weather forecast mimicked it. Race day temperatures were high of 91 degrees F, and a high humidity at 60%. The terrain calls for 14,000 feet of climbing, so I had some pretty challenging obstacles facing me. The start was at an ungodly time of 4AM, so this will be a 2 night race. I had a pen light for the hour or so of darkness that I will be experiencing after the start; my best headlamp was stored away with my crew for the run through the darkness during the next night.

One other thing that is of note were the mandatory medical checks. There are 3 of these checks on the course, and if I lose 5% of my baseline weight on any one of them, the medical staff can order me to stay at the aid station until they deem me fit to continue. If I lose more than 7% of my baseline weight, they can disqualify me. I was truly concerned with this because I do tend to sweat a lot and did tend to gain 5 pounds of weight during my taper last week. When they measured my baseline weight before the race, I weighed in at 204 pounds.

The night before the race, I arranged everything I thought I needed. I had my extra pairs of shorts ready, my extra shoes, the Bag Balm, batteries for the head lamps, towels, bug repellent, extra salt caps, etc. all arranged in the trunk of my car. My father, who is always interested in these races, will drive to each of the handler aid stations. Since he only is one person, I told him to meet me at the mile 46.1 aid station Camp 10 Bear so that he can get a good morning of sleep.

My pacer was arranged through the Vermont 100 organizers. His name was Bob from New Hampshire and would also meet him the second time I hit the Camp 10 Bear Aid Station 70 miles into the race, when pacers are allowed to aid their runners toward the finish. He would wind up a very important part of me finishing the race in good shape.

I decided to get up at 2:30AM, clear out the cobwebs of my head, get some Pop-Tarts in my stomach, and head on down to the start line of the race. In Vermont, away from all the metropolitan areas, it was pretty much pitch black with lots of stars overhead, a beautiful night in the country. It was quite warm at this hour so I basically applied Bag Balm on all the critical areas of my body, dressed in my running attire, put on my race number (#212) and left for the start. I checked in at the table; the feeling that I was now an “official runner” put things in perspective that all the training that I did led to now and I was ready to go.

From Start to Pretty House (21.1 miles into the course):

Ten minutes before race time...I was doing WHAT?!!

The last hour before the race was just getting mentally ready, taking in some water and a bagel, which were made available to runners, and counting down to the start. One last check to see if I had all the gear I needed. Pen light in one hand, check. Water bottle in another hand, check. Fuel belt with salt pills, energy drink bottles, and a cell phone, check. The cell phone is there to make sure I stay in contact with both my crew and pacer and to let them know where I am.

At the start line, chatting with the other ultra runners.

Finally, the time came. A countdown was initiated, with runners going 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and then we were off! We got onto the road from the field and all settled into our own paces. I decided on a 12 minute/mile pace, well within my limits; I didn't want to burn up any energy on the first mile. Most of the runners settled into a faster pace. That's OK, I know I'll see some of them again, when I pass them at mile 60!

We're off! And...walking?

After the first mile we turn off the paved road and go onto a double-track trail with some rocks, which were a bit tricky to the small light I had. Fortunately, I settled in with a group of 3 people, who had brighter lights, and helped light the way for me. We talked about our experiences with ultras and what our goals were in this race. I also started drinking generously from my water bottle knowing that I had an aid station coming up at mile 7.

We get back on the paved road and finally got to the first aid station, an unmanned aid station with just containers of water and Hammer Heed. It took me 1:27 to get to this spot, which was on time as far as I know. I quickly fill my water bottles and off I went again.

We were mostly on dirt roads, and the hills weren't bad at this point. As a matter of fact we had some downhills that boosted confidence in the runners. But looking at the topography of the course, I know that this confidence can easily be shattered as the miles wear on. Over the 100 mile course, as I stated before, we would be climbing 14,000 feet before we finish this thing, approximately half of Mt. Everest. And what is especially critical to know is that the last 30 miles of this race is the toughest, about the same time where runners will be at their weakest.

After some descent we finally made it to Taftsville, cross over Rt 12 with the aid of some police officers, through a covered bridge which was pretty neat, past the cameraman who was taking pictures of the race, and onto our first manned aid station of the race, appropriately named Taftsville Covered Bridge (15.3 mi). Eat early, and eat often is the mantra, and I made sure I was good for it. I wolf down a turkey sandwich and started diving into the Gummy Bears. With some Gummies in my mouth I looked at one particular volunteer in the eye and said, “I'd run 100 miles for Gummy Bears!”. She chuckled at this. I thanked her and made off with some more Gummies in hand.

The next section is the first serious uphill of the day, and the first sign of horses. Let me backtrack on this a little here. The Vermont 100, like The Western States 100, its sister race, began as endurance horse races. As history states, at the Western States 100, one person, Gordon Ainsleigh, had his horse lame before the race even began, so instead of bowing out of the race, he decided to tackle the course on foot, which led to the ultramarathons we see today. So these 100 mile races will always have close ties to the horse race. With the Vermont 100, the horse race just so happens to start an hour after the runners start (5AM). So it is at this point that the cavalry starts to come.

It's not like we runners were going to get trampled by a stampede of wild beasts though. Remember that these horses have to do 100 miles and need to pace themselves too. At most, the horses go at a trot and it is both our jobs to communicate with each other in case the horse has to pass. Sometimes they do slow the horses down to the runners pace, which is nice because I did happen to chat with one of the riders at this point. I congratulated her on a fine horse and asked what her strategy was in completing the race. Horses have a different anatomy than runners; they are built more toward speed and not stamina. The rider tells me that horses need to rest and cool down for at least one hour at each of their aid stations, which were 15-20 miles apart. After which they are fit to ride again.

One of the horse riders on the VT100 course

Some more horses arrive and go as I climb and descend the hills that lead me to the first handler station of the day, the Pretty House Aid Station at mile 21.1. Within a half-mile from the aid station I get a ring from my pacer asking me where in the race I was. I told them I was coming up upon Pretty House and that things were going swimmingly. He told me that he was on his way to the race site and should see me at mile 70 to pace me the rest of the way. I thanked him and as I hung up the phone, I was finally pulling in the the station. There were a lot of people watching at the side of the road and as I hung up the phone, I looked at an elderly couple who were watching me, pointed at the cell phone and joked, “just business.” I heard them chuckling as I ran by them. Anyway, the first fifth of the race was complete and here were my times...

From Start to Pretty House, 21.1 miles: 4 hours and 19 minutes. Pace of 12:20 minutes/mile.

Status: Strong and coherent

From Pretty House to Stage Road (21.1 miles to 30.1 miles, 9 miles total)

At the aid station I took in a turkey sandwich, some M&Ms and a lot of water, and went off into the next section. My father who was crewing was not here because I needed to rest him for the latter half of the race, I would see him at Camp 10 Bear, the 47.2 mile point of the race.

Aside from that, I didn't actually see the house to marvel how pretty it was. I guess I wasn't really trying at the time. Oh well, next time...the next segment of the race took us up another trying hill. As more horses passed us, I waved to each of the riders in turn. It was pretty neat sharing the road with horses; this is definitely something that a person from NYC doesn't see every day. We descended another hill over to the next aid station (U-Turn Aid Station), an unassisted aid station that only carried water and Hammer Heed. Well, scratch the water, it was totally gone by the time I arrived. My bottle was almost empty and I was forced to take the Heed. Ugh, the stuff was truly nasty going down. At about halfway to the next aid station I dumped out half the bottle of the revolting stuff, swearing never again to have it grace my lips again. I resorted to the “emergency” water bottles on my Fuel belt to make it through this section.

Oh, and about this section? This is about the first truly challenging section of the race, a very long, steep uphill to the top of a mountain, what they dubbed the “Sound of Music Hill”. Once you agonize yourself up the hill, the sights of the surrounding mountains are truly breathtaking!

Sound of Music Hill.

A sign indicated that we were now beyond the marathon distance at this point, and, as expected, we would be going nearly 4 times the marathon distance when we cross the finish line. Once up the mountain then what came next was even tougher, a really steep downhill section guaranteed to pulverize the quads into submission. At this early segment of the race, this is definitely NOT what I wanted right now. I know how it feels when quads are turned into hamburger in a marathon race and it wasn't a pretty sight. I really didn't want this to happen in a 100 mile race because I really needed them to function for the next 75 miles. Despite the concern, I jarred myself all the way down the mountain into the next handler station, Stage Road at Mile 30.1. Another section completed.

From Pretty House (21.1mi.) to Stage Road (30.1mi.), 9 miles: 2 hours and 3 minutes. Pace of 13:40 minutes/mile pace (very hilly section). Time from start: 6 hours 22 minutes (12:42 min/mile pace).

Status: Still coherent, a bit worn around the edges.

From Stage Road to Camp 10 Bear (30.1 miles to 47.2 miles, 17.1 miles total)

At this aid station I ate a lot, and I mean a lot. I was a bit haggard after climbing the mountain and really needed a pick-me-up from whatever food I can consume. The next handler station is Camp 10 Bear, when my father would start helping me out. After a run out onto the road from the station, a quick right into a driveway and boom, another steep hill up a trail. As I quickly realized, this was going to be the theme of the day for the rest of the course. Up the hill, down the hill, aid station. Keep that refrain going for another 70 miles and you have your Vermont 100 course. I kind of dropped hope for a sub 24 hour finish at that point and just concentrated on finishing this thing under the 30 hour cutoff. That means if I can hold each mile under 18 minutes, I would be fine by mile 90 in case I have to walk it in.

Up the hill, down the hill, Route 12 Aid Station (Mile 33.9), then up the hill, down the hill, under another covered bridge to an aid station (Lincoln Covered Bridge, Mile 39.2), then once again up the hill, down the hill and into Lillians Aid station (Mile 43.5). At this point I called my father and told them that I would be in Camp 10 Bear by 2-3 in the afternoon.

The stretch after Lillians was on a paved road for about a mile, then a right onto an uphill trail, then a dirt road for the rest of the way. Camp 10 Bear is the largest aid station in the area, since we hit it twice, and also includes a mandatory weight check. Hoping I didn't lose a lot of weight in the first half of this race, I decided to eat a Clif Bar and finish off all my bottles of water to add to my weight.

My arrival at Camp 10 Bear was heralded by many people cheering all of us on. It's a great feeling to pull in to this aid station knowing that almost half of the race is already done. Plus the cheering people here tended to uplift my spirits here. I met my father at the aid station and was escorted on to the scale for weighing. 204 pounds was my baseline weight, I got on the scale and...202 pounds, not even a 1% drop. NICE!!!

Mandatory Medical Check - Weigh In

Yes, I sweat a lot, but I was holding my food and drink down nicely, and so I didn't lose much. I was quickly cleared by the medical team and free to move on. At the aid station I slammed down a peanut butter sandwich decided to get to the car and have some of those orange and spearmint slice candies, waved to my father, and left the aid station.

Done with Camp 10 Bear!

From Stage Road (30.1mi.) to Camp 10 Bear (47.2mi.), 17.1 miles: 4 hours and 13 minutes. Pace of 14:48 minutes/mile pace (very hilly section). Time from start: 10 hours 35 minutes (13:27 min/mile pace).

Status: Still coherent, but now slowing down a bit.

From Camp 10 Bear to Tracer Brook (47.2 miles to 57 miles, 9.8 miles total)

Coming out of Camp 10 Bear, the thing that I now noticed first was the heat of the day. At 2:30 in the afternoon, the next couple of hours will be the hottest. I just need to endure the heat for 2 more hours. The road out from Camp 10 Bear was a nice gentle downhill, a nice respite from the hills, little did I know...(OK, CUE THE JAWS MUSIC). I was running pretty well, even passing another runner on the road (DA DUM). After a mile, the road levels out, and was still nice to run along (DA DUM). I took in some more water and hoped that the rest of the course was like this (DA DUM, DA DUM, DADUMDADUMDADUM...)

One quick right and all was shattered! I later found that they dubbed this monster of a hill Agony Hill, a 650 foot rise over just a half mile, on a single track with lots of rocks and roots. UGH! The people that I passed, well, they re-passed me going up this hill. In the middle of this horrific climb my left leg locked in a humongous cramp and I had to stop to message it out before resuming my climb. This would be one of the climbs that will be forever etched in my memory with this race. I wasn't feeling well at all and the hill just didn't relent. It was a battle of wills. After what seemed like forever the hill finally lessened a little, giving a little confidence to my fragile ego. I staggered into Pinky's Aid Station (51 miles) with no water and shattered confidence. At Pinky's one guy who did the race in the past told me that the hills were just beginning (turns out he was right).

Another uphill out of Pinky's, then finally a downhill toward the next aid station (Birmingham's, Mile 54.1). At this point I was just sick of all the food that they had. One other runner that I came in with asked for turkey without the bread, and that did appeal to me. So I asked for the same thing. I wound up eating a whole bunch of turkey at this aid station before leaving.

As it turns out this was a big mistake. I forgot about this little tidbit about turkey. It has an amino acid called tryptophan that tends to put people to sleep, and, as I found out, it has a PROFOUND effect on people who just ran 55 or so miles. This section from Birminghams to Tracer Brook was all about keeping awake and fighting off sleep. It was a rotten feeling; I did not want to stop at all because that can complicate things. So for a good 2-3 miles I was basically running with half-closed eyes. Turns out that the other runner who asked for turkey didn't fare so well either; as I passed him I found him lying on his back on the side of the road staring into the sky! Not wanting to end up like that I was determined to press on. By the time I got to Tracer Brook, the next handler station, the drowsy feeling finally abated, thank God.

Tracer Brook Aid Station

From Camp 10 Bear (47.2mi.) to Tracer Brook (57mi.), 9.8 miles: 2 hours and 50 minutes. Pace of 17:20 minutes/mile pace (still below 18 minute/mile and 30 hour cutoff pace). Time from start: 13 hours 25 minutes (14:07 min/mile pace).

Status: Feeling like a used condom.

From Tracer Brook to Margaritaville (57 miles to 62.1 miles, 5.1 miles total)

At Tracer Brook, my father fetched my headlamp, at my request. It was 5:30 in the evening and even though I felt that I could make it to the next handler station (Margaritaville, 62.1 miles) It was good to have just in case I had to walk the entire next section. He mistakenly gives me the older headlamp, which was designated for him during the night-time hours. I decided to take the lamp instead of waiting for him to retrieve the other lamp. I would swap it for the newer headlamp when I get to Margaritaville. Always have to keep moving...

The road away from Tracer Brook went up...and up and up and up. This hill, I learned, was Prospect Hill, and although it was on a nice dirt road instead of a trail, the hill had some teeth to it. As a matter of fact, Prospect Hill happens to be the highest point of the course (1900 feet). I was forced to resort to walking up all 3.5 miles of this hill. At the top, appropriately, was the Prospect Hill Aid Station, unattended. I filled up with water, and continued down the other side of hill. I was still running the downhill sections here so I wasn't completely a mess...yet. Rest assured, I had more than 38 miles of running to achieve the status of “total mess”. A nice downhill section of running saw me into Margaritaville at a pretty decent time, despite the Prospect Hill climb.

Coming in to Margaritaville

From Tracer Brook (57mi.) to Margaritaville (62.1mi.), 5.1 miles: 1 hour and 32 minutes. Pace of 18:02 minutes/mile pace (on cutoff pace). Time from start: 14 hours 57 minutes (14:27 min/mile pace).

Status: Partial mess, can only run downhills now

From Margaritaville to Camp 10 Bear (62.1 miles to 70.1 miles, 8 miles total)

Wasting Away at Margaritaville...

If runners didn't know which aid station this was, the Jimmy Buffet music definitely tipped them off. At this aid station, intrepid runners can get themselves some margaritas from the Parrotheads running the station. As for me, I wanted none of it, instead going for the regular standby ginger ale, gummy bears, and yes, some grilled cheese sandwiches! Something different to whet the appetite. The sandwich slices definitely went down well here. I traded in my older headlamp for the “technologically superior one”, and went off into the waning daylight in search of Camp 10 Bear again.

...searching for my lost shaker of salt...

The first half-mile away from the aid station was a gentle downhill, and I wound up running and catching a runner who was walking at the time. The road then turned left, and started a pretty significant climb that had me walking most of the way to the Brown School House Aid Station (65.1 miles). There was when I received the good news; it was mostly a gentle downhill all the way to Camp 10 Bear. After rehydrating a little at the aid station, I run up a smallish hill, turned right and headed downhill. This was a really nice part of the race; so nice that I caught and passed a couple of runners coming down the hill. The road turned into a tight double-track trail. The only pause I had in this run downhill was to allow a pickup truck with race organizers through as they were attaching glowsticks to the trees on the course in anticipation of the approaching darkness. And in some of the darker areas, I did indeed have to put on my headlamp to navigate the way. Once off the trail and onto a wide dirt road, I turned the headlamp back off since I still had enough daylight to see my way. And the road kept going downhill at such a nice grade that I was able to run beautifully. A left-hand turn, up a small climb, then finally down into Camp 10 Bear, where my father, the 2nd Medical Check, and my pacer awaited me. Things are about to get very interesting, I thought.

From Margaritaville (62.1mi.) to Camp 10 Bear (70.1mi.), 8 miles: 2 hours and 7 minutes. Pace of 15:52 minutes/mile pace (ticking in ahead of cutoff pace). Time from start: 17 hours 4 minutes (14:36 min/mile pace).

Status: Somewhat recovered for the time being

From Camp 10 Bear to West Winds (70.1 miles to 77 miles, 6.9 miles total)

As I run into Camp 10 Bear I was immediately escorted to the scales for my mandatory weigh-in. I give my belt and cap over to my father and stepped on the scale. 201 pounds. Only 3 pounds lost and cleared to go! The medical crew did ask how I was eating and I told them that some foods were hard to keep down, but I managed to keep them down. An announcement came over the loudspeaker for my pacer, Bob, and he came over to introduce himself. Apparently Bob and my father did chat a little before I arrived at the aid station, so they were already familiar with each other. I had some more grilled cheese sandwiches, refilled my water bottle and went off into the night for the next aid station.

Meet Bob, my pacer!

And came upon another nasty trail climb, Call it the Sister of Agony Hill, because it was basically the same nasty grade and the same nasty terrain. I found out later that this hill was called Heartbreak Hill, definitely not to be confused with the one on the Boston Marathon course. If that hill in Boston were replaced by this hill, there would definitely be a lot of DNFs in the race. The hill basically climbs about 500 feet over one mile; you can guess the grade here. Ahead of me, the glowsticks just kept going up and up, and I trudged on.

Of course, this was where I familiarized myself with the pacer. Between grunts I told him who I was and why I was crazy enough to do this stunt. He turned out to be a doctor in New Hampshire and routinely hiked up the White Mountains. I had a mountain goat for a pacer; he was in great shape and knew that I had good pacer right off the bat. He also tried a 100 mile ultra and had to drop out several years back, but he seems to want to try this distance again sometime in the near future. I told him if he needed a pacer, I would be available.

We finally got up the steep hill onto an open dirt road at the ridge of the hill. Somewhere to the back of me, a half-moon was shining the way a bit but we noted several flashes of lightning ahead of us. It was still humid out there and scattered thunderstorms were in the forecast. At the rate I was sweating, some rain showers would actually be welcome.

We met up with some runner and her pacer from the Gills Athletic Club, a prominent ultra running club based here in New England and we ran basically together for several minutes. Bob knew people in the club and was chatting to them as I concentrated on the task at hand, getting to the next aid station. The road turned onto a single track trail and that was when things started to get rough again. Not only were the uphills killing me, but now the downhills were conspiring against me. My quads were already on fire for some of the steeper downhills that I've experienced before, but now, the steep jarring downhills were here in force. Every step I took I winced in pain as I descended these hills. As a result of being very slow and the distance to the next aid station being quite long, I ran out of water about half-way to the next aid station. Now thirsty, I was frustrated at every corner when the next aid station didn't show up. Bob noted my frustration and tried to calm me down, indicating I was still doing well in terms of time. After what seemed like forever, the trail finally exited onto a road. To my left, there were a couple of race organizers standing around a truck, I asked them where the next aid station was, and told me that it was a half-mile down the road. Clearly relieved, I settled down to a walk in anticipation of some nice cold water.

The weather at this point became a bit windy here, as it looked like some of those storms in the distance were about to reach us. We did feel a few drops of rain, but the weather eventually cleared and I was able to retreat back into my own little painful little world.

I got into the Seabrook aid station (74.7 miles) as haggard as can be. I drank large quantities of water, refilled my bottles, ate some stuff, then left. Yet another significant climb awaited afterward. This was what made Vermont so tough...the last 30 miles of the course is perhaps the most difficult since the hills just came relentlessly at the runners. As bad as the course was at this point, yes, it got worse later on.

A small downhill of quasi-running and I finally made it to West Winds. The road immediately before West Winds were dressed up in candles inside paper bags, and it made for an eerie sight as I approach the station. I met my father at this station. He wanted to know what I was doing, and I said that I was still moving forward, despite the discomfort. I also told him I was in uncharted territory. I bowed out in the Burning River 100 Miler at precisely 75 miles. I have now run 77 miles. Hooray for that.

Night time running, with its new challenges.

One other thing I noted were that there were about 3-4 runners sitting at the aid station looking utterly defeated. One thing I have learned from the DNF at Burning River was that I had to keep moving, no matter what, or my legs would stiffen up. So against my body's protestations, I waved goodbye to my father and to see him at Bills. And Bob and I walked off into the gloomy unknown.

From Camp 10 Bear (70.1mi.) to West Winds (77 m.), 6.9 miles: 2 hours and 22 minutes. Pace of 20:35 minutes/mile pace (survival mode). Time from start: 19 hours 26 minutes (14:36 min/mile pace).

Status: Blathering mess

From West Winds to Bills (77 miles to 88.6 miles, 11.6 miles total)

Approaching midnight, in the inky darkness, determining what was next, I struggled on. The road was a bit kinder at this point, with more downhills then up, but I had extreme problems going up any kind of hill. Bob basically encouraged me up these hills helping out whenever possible. Outside the sphere of light the headlamps shown was just a deadly still pitch blackness that was unnerving to me, a person usually surrounded by lights. The onset of the wee hours of the morning presented a different, and more terrifying type of challenge, the onset of sleep. Darkness is the stage for a titanic struggle between body and mind over trying to stay conscious. After some time I basically sleepwalked into Cow Shed (83.6 miles). No wait, I think this was the time where we went slightly off course; some friendly police parked in the area guided us in the right direction of Cow Shed...I think it was here. Thoughts tend to get so jumbled up when fighting consciousness that I seem to jumble up the events a little. Anyway, it was a slight miscalculation of several feet and we found our way again. Cow Shed was a blur; all I had in my mind was to keep moving, and don't stop. The problem is that now blisters have formed on both my feet and are now being made known. I decided to push for Bills anyway and maybe address the problem there (or hoped that the problems went away so that I didn't have to stop).

Running in the wee hours of the morning, fighting sleep...

Bills is the last medical check of the course; if I pass here, I'm cleared to the finish. Bills is also notorious for another thing; the people and the atmosphere is so nice in the barn that most runners tend to stay around for a mile, stiffen up, then drop out of the race. Through multiple sources, the ongoing advice is to get in, get weight, and get the heck out of there as soon as possible!

Getting to Bills was a nightmare also, it is on the top of a huge unforgiving hill and the blisters were starting to hurt a lot. After what seemed like forever (everything seemed like forever at that point), we finally crested the hill and walked into Bills a complete and utter mess.

From West Winds (77 mi.) to Bills (88.6 mi.), 11.6 miles: 3 hours and 54 minutes. Pace of 20:10 minutes/mile pace (survival mode). Time from start: 23 hours 20 minutes (15:48 min/mile pace)

Status: An incoherent blathering mess, the lowest point emotionally in the race

From Bills to Polly's (88.6 miles to 95.5 miles, 6.9 miles total)

A quick weigh-in determines my weight at 198 pounds, 6 pounds underweight. A significant drop but still within safe levels. I was cleared to go on. Despite the warnings about Bills, I had to address the blisters issue and the overall condition of my feet, so I sat down in one of the cots and slowly managed to get my shoes off. My right foot was a total bloody mess, with numerous blisters on my small toe, some larger blisters underneath the balls of my feel, and a huge massive one on the back of my heel. Bob got the Vaseline and slathered it on both my feet. My father was about to fetch a new pair of socks from the car, but to save time, Bob graciously gave me his socks to wear the rest of the way. At the same time I was given 3 cups of chicken broth for a desperate refill of my electrolytes. We gingerly put the shoes back on to my feet, limped into the Port-a-john to get some needed business over with, and gingerly walked back to the barn. At this time my worst fears were realized; I had stiffened up to the point where just walking would be difficult to do. With with only 11 or so miles to go, I was determined to keep moving. So I managed to limp away from the aid station and into darkness again.

The slight uphill was great to help me loosen up the legs for walking again and within 10 minutes, my legs were loose enough to get some ground covered. With 6 hours left in the race and under 12 miles to go, I actually achieved one of my goals, to comfortably get to the finish within the cutoff time. At this point I can cover a mile every 30 minutes and still finish under 30 hours, so I was completely relieved that I had achieved a victory of sorts here.

Another bit of good news was that, after an hour, dawn was starting to break. This then broke my body's insistence on sleeping; I had won the war there also. I was in better spirits at this point and tried to keep a fast walking pace down some of the hills to cover some ground more. The blisters were still killing my feet, but with less than 10 miles to go, my will was stronger. I could beat this thing! Some rehydration at the Keating Aid Station (92 miles) and it was on to Polly's, the last handler aid station before the finish. I thanked the volunteers for being out all night with us and pushed on.

At about a mile before Polly's something bad happened. I felt a shot of pain coming from the small toes in my right foot and had to stop a bit. I was in agonizing pain and told my handler that I may have to switch to my open toed-sandals at Polly's to give my toes some breathing space. After getting approval from me he immediately ran ahead toward the next aid station to ready my father with the sandals when I came in.

As I limped in toward Polly's I saw Bob coming back with the sandals I requested. The pain was somehow subsided, but I decided to put on the sandals to see how they feel. If there ever was a description for heaven, the sandals were it! They were a godsend! The feet felt immediately better; I knew I can traverse the last 4.5 miles in them. I got to Polly's, rehydrated, dropped the fuel belt and gave it to my father to lessen the weight, and off I was, step by step, toward the elusive finish line!

From Bills (88.6 mi.) to Polly's (95.5 mi.), 6.9 miles: 2 hours and 47 minutes. Pace of 24:12 minutes/mile pace (survival mode). Time from start: 26 hours 7 minutes (16:24 min/mile pace)

Status: An incoherent blathering mess, the lowest point emotionally in the race

From Polly's to The Finish Line (95.5 miles to 100 miles, 4.5 miles total)

With the sun finally up, the black flies were out again in force and had to swat at a couple of them to keep them away. Other than that, it was just sheer determination to get to that finish line. The hills weren't going to stop me now. I had the finish line lined up, and now nothing was going to stop me. The feet were doing better in the sandals and my spirits were raised. I talked with my pacer and thanked him for his help through the darkness, especially leading up to Bills. It was a tough, long journey and finally it was coming to an end, a good and victorious end.

We got to the last unassisted station, Sergent's at mile 97.7, then onto an uphill trail that led us toward the finish line. A couple of runners that still had some running legs left in them passed me, but I wasn't really worried about place, just finishing. At the top of a hill we came across a sign...99 miles done, 1 mile to go! Bob egged me on, up, the down some hills, then to a sign indicating only a half mile to go. At that point I finally found my running legs again and started to run in toward the finish. Down a sharp hill, around a bend to the right, and...the finish line!!! With a crown of people in their lawn chairs cheering me on I sprinted the last 50 yards in toward the finish and finally stopped the clock...28 hours, 9 minutes, 15 seconds. I immediately fell to the ground and looked up to the see a guy with a finisher's medal standing over me. I took the medal, smiled, and thanked both Bob and my father for getting me through this.

This is a race I will cherish for the rest of my life. I had covered 100 miles. Oh, and about the toes, even though my feet are healed 1.5 weeks after the race, my toes are still a bit numb, maybe a little nerve damage perhaps? Nevertheless, they will heal eventually. Secondly, I found that the weather took a toll on the runners in the race...only 55% of the people who started the race wound up finishing it. The heat, the distance, and the hills combined for a lethal combination that felled a lot of the runners on the course. I might be doing Vermont again one day, and if that day comes, it's probably because I'll be going for the Grand Slam of 100 milers (Western States, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasach Front, 4 races in 4 months). Hey, I can dream, right?

From Polly's (95.5 mi.) to Finish Line, 4.5 miles: 1 hours and 52 minutes. Pace of 24:53 minutes/mile pace (relief mode). Time from start: 28 hours 9 minutes (16:53 min/mile pace).

Status: A smiling, stinking, dirty, blathering mess that has a finisher's medal to show for it!

No comments:

Post a Comment