Monday, July 21, 2008

Vermont 100 Race Report

Running 100 miles in less than 24 hours - VT100 Race Report

On Saturday June 19th I took on the biggest physical challenge of my life. I ran 100 miles throughout the beautiful state of Vermont as a participant of the VT100 endurance run. I have only been running ultras for a little bit over a year, but I have always felt that a true Ultra runner is somebody who has gone the 100 mile distance. This has been on my mind since I dived into the Ultra world and shortly after finishing the VT50 in September of 2007 I set my sights on running this race. Since I set that goal for myself almost every step I have taken in a run or race was dedicated to being ready.

I have developed a great friendship with “Sherpa” John Lacroix and he has helped me a huge amount. His experience with 100 milers and our many training runs together has helped me be prepared mentally for what to expect as well as made many of those hours training enjoyable and lots of fun.

My wife and best friend Amy started helping me plan for my attempt on the race months earlier. Who would watch the kids? Who else would be on our crew? Who would be my pacer, etc... I had prepared her for the increase in my training and the many weekends when I would be doing a long run or a race and she was always super supportive. She’s incredible. I am one of those extremely lucky people who have found their soul mate and everything I have accomplished in my life since meeting her is due to our partnership and love for each other.

After many phone calls to friends and family I had put together a crew of Amy, my brother Barry and Greg Stone as my pacer. I met Greg on a few earlier training runs and found him to be really easy to talk to. He also is an extremely strong runner and has tons of experience. When he agreed to be my pacer I was psyched. This was going to be a great crew.

As part of my training I ran at least one 30 mile run (or longer) every week for the 8 preceding weeks before the race. Included in those runs was the Pittsfield Peaks 53 mile trail race. This race is gaining a reputation as one of the hardest “50’s” in the country and it took me 12 hours 20 minutes to finish. I finished 19th and was feeling fit and ready for VT. During that race my best Ultra running friends and constant training partners decided that the four of us (Sherpa John, Jeff Waldren, Paul Kearney and myself) would get a pacifier and whomever was at the tail end of our group had to carry it. I knew that VT would be tough, but we also had to make sure we kept our sense of humor and had fun.

About a month and a half before the race we got the terrible news that Amys cousin Debbie had been diagnosed with a fast moving cancer. Debbie was only 39 years old and when Amy was younger she had lived with Debbie at her Aunt Lindas house. As Debbie’s illness progressed it was obvious that she was not going to be with us for very much longer and a couple weeks before the race I told Amy that if she did pass away I would be there for her and find another race later. She told me how much she appreciated that and I prepared mentally for the possibility. Unfortunately on July 15th, four days before we were to depart to VT, Debbie passed away. At that point Amy told me not to change any plans and to just wait and see when the services would be. I knew that services would be that weekend and mentally prepared to find another race. It was mentally tormenting to me because I felt so selfish to even be thinking about the race when Amy needed me to be there for her. I felt like the worlds biggest jerk. On Thursday we got the news that Debbie’s Wake would be that Friday and that her funeral would be on Saturday. I called my brother Barry and told him that the race wasn’t going to happen.

Amy was watching me all day. I started to look for other races that I could substitute and was trying my best to hide my disappointment when she pulled me aside and said that she thought I should still go. She told me that she didn’t need me to take care of the kids and that she could handle going to Debbie’s services without me. I was so torn. I couldn’t imagine not being there for her. I imagined her family being disgusted and disappointed with me. I called Amys mom and talked with her for a long time and she told me the same thing that Amy did. They both said that when somebody dies that is the time when you have to think about and appreciate life the most. They had watched me train for this for almost a year and wanted me to go. Amy looked me in the eyes and said (with a lot of pain), “What if something happens to you and you can’t do this? What if YOU get sick and never get a chance to do this run? I would feel terrible. Go do this”

I called my brother back and told him the news. I was going to run but he would have to crew me without Amy. He said that he was ready and planned to meet me on Friday morning.

That night I received an email from Greg saying that he had fallen the night before on a run and he wasn’t going to be able to be my pacer. I couldn’t believe it, but felt terrible for Greg as he was hurting pretty bad for the run. Greg had put some of his racing plans on hold to be there for me so he was really disappointed as well.

I told Barry, “It’s just you and me bro…” and we left for the race on Friday am. I figured that there was a good chance that I could pick up a pacer at Camp 10 bears and just didn’t worry about it. If I got one, then fine, but nothing was going to stop me at this point. I have a habit of setting tough goals for myself and I wanted to finish my first 100 in less than 24 hours and get a buckle. That was the plan. I had prepared a list of all the aid stations and what I would need at each station so Barry would be able to lay everything out. On the drive up we went over everything then we did so again after we go the tent set up Friday eve.

We hung out with John and Paul and made some new friends and hit the hay at about 9:30. I woke up around 2:15 am and took a trip to the porta potty to try to get ready. I was pretty nervous and it was funny to find a line of people waiting at such an early hour. It started to rain just minutes before the start but was only a light sprinkle as the day begun. We headed down the road into the woods in the pitch black and it felt so good to be running again. I was so relieved to finally be here and starting.

The first handler station is at mile 21. As I ran into the station I saw a house on the right that had beautiful flower gardens and landscaping and I said to the person next to me, “what a pretty house” and they said, “um..yeah, that’s why they call this aid station “Pretty House”. I felt like such a moron, but certainly understood the name now…
I got into the station at 8:14 and was 40 minutes ahead of 24 hour pace. Barry had a bright yellow “Yoo-Hoo” umbrella out which made it super easy for me to pick out where he was. He had my stuff laid out and after we fumbled a bit replacing the bladder in my camelback I was off.

After 10 more miles I ran into Stage Road, which was the first medical check. I jumped onto the scale and was still at my pre race weigh in weight so I was doing a great job of getting enough salt and food. It was 10:16 am and pretty muggy. I was expecting a lot worse weather and we were lucky to have great cloud cover which prevented the sun from beating down on us too much. I was now 45 minutes ahead of 24 hour pace and feeling great. I had just finished a 50k worth of running and only had one bad patch which I pulled out of pretty quickly. After a few minutes of running I reached into the strap pocket on my camelback to pull out my baggie of electrolyte tabs and found that they were not there. Holy shit!! Keeping my electrolytes in balance was super important to doing well and without them I wouldn’t make it to the next handler station, which was 17 miles (at my pace, almost 4 hours) away. I decided to just relax and at the next unmanned aid station I mentioned it to one of my fellow runners who immediately pulled out a baggy of them and offered me as many as I needed. I only took 3 as I didn’t want to hurt his race. This is one of the reasons I enjoy doing this as much as I do. A total stranger just possibly jeopardized his race to help me. I managed to get a few more caps from another runner a couple hours later when I ran out again and made it safely to Camp 10 bears for my second medical check.

Barry was parked BEFORE the medical area and I became confused with what to do first. In my confusion Adam Wilcox gave me the news that his runner had dropped and asked me if I wanted him to pace me. I said hell yes, as I had run with Adam at Pittsfield Peaks in his first 50 miler and I really enjoyed his company. It was awesome news. I switched to my handhelds as it was getting hot and didn’t want to use my camelback anymore. I drank down my Boost and got a new bag of electrolytes and ran to the scales for my second check. I had gained one pound and was in great shape. I took off to the cheers of the crowd and quickly realized that I didn’t have any gels with me!! I had to run back to Barry and grabbed some more. I only lost a couple of minutes but I used a lot of energy sprinting back. I was trying not to be grumpy to Barry but I left feeling bad because I had been so. I reminded myself that what he was doing for me was amazing and made a promise to be more careful and make sure he knew how much I appreciated what he was doing for me. I was still making good time as I was now 1 hour ahead of pace goal.

At the next handler station, mile 57, I had a great stop and me and Barry were really working well. I was in and out in 3 minutes and I was still 50 minutes ahead of 24 hour pace. So far so good, except my right toe had a hot spot and I could feel a blister starting. I told Barry to have my new shoes and socks ready because I was probably going to change them at 10 Bears (70 miles), but I might need to do it at our next stop, Margaritaville. As soon as I left I realized that I should have done it there. The next 5 miles were tough as I had a major blister forming on the bottom my left foot as well. I just kept focusing on the fact that it wouldn’t be too long until I could fix my feet. I just told myself to suck it up. It was also here that I remembered something that Amy had told me. She said that when she is riding bikes with my daughter and they get tired they recite the song from “Finding Nemo” when Dory says, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”. I must have looked like a lunatic. I’m a sweaty dude running down the road with a smile on my face singing “Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming” and laughing. I have read that people come up with Mantras to keep moving in times of fatigue and I swear that this helped. I repeated it all day long to myself and thought of my supportive family.

When I got to Margaritaville Barry had my new shoes and socks ready. I was hoping that there would be some medical staff there to help dress my blisters as I have no clue how to tape them correctly. I took off my socks and found a HUGE blister on my right little toe. I told Barry to give me the scissors and lanced and drained it. I tried to tape it, but I knew I would just make it worse, so I relubed up my feet with Hydropel, put on my new Injinji’s and outer socks and put my shoes on. It hurt so bad to put my shoe on I started to panic. I was thinking that I just had made a huge mistake and should have left it alone. I could hardly walk and limped out of the aid station in immense pain. Luckily about ½ mile away the pain wore off and it went numb.

Barry was amazed when I got into the next handler station, Camp 10 bears (mile 70) and had a big smile on my face. I felt great and his notes even say “looks good”. I was about 50 minutes ahead of 24 hour pace. I weighed in at 1 pound up. I grabbed my headlamp and picked up Adam for the last portion of the race.

It wasn’t too much after that when the fatigue really started to hit me. I was flat out getting tired. I knew this was coming but it was hard. My legs really hurt and I was slowing down. It was taking me longer to start running after walking and I was starting to get concerned about falling behind 24hour pace. Adam was awesome. We got to know each other a little better and he was great about just letting me be quiet when I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t know how to express it, but it was a huge help just having somebody next to me. I didn’t have to worry about getting lost and he helped me keep track of when to eat and when to take my electrolytes. We got into West Winds (mile 77) at 9:35 and I was starting to feel pretty bad. John had told me that if you can get into West Winds before dark you can pretty much walk it in and still get a buckle. I had become dark about ½ hour earlier and I started to feel like my goal was slipping away. At this point I learned that I was only 25 minutes ahead of 24h pace so my fears were confirmed. Barry refilled my bottles and I grabbed what I needed then Adam got me some chicken noodle soup. It was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted!! It was magic and put some spring in my step for a little bit.

It took me 3 hours to go the next 11.6 miles to Bills and I was really starting to have a hard time. My pace was slowing a lot and I had chaffing that was starting to hurt in a major way. I had been using vasoline at every handler station but it was getting to the point where nothing was helping. All I could focus on was the pain and I was fuzzy with fatigue. I have never been so exhausted and raw in my life. On top of that, my mental game was going away as I was almost resigned to change my goal to finishing, not getting a buckle. I went between wanting to cry and going back to fighting for the buckle.

When I got into Bills there was an ambulance there and I couldn’t find Barry. I was dazed and confused but needed to get onto the scale as this was the last medical check. I was now 4 pounds over my start weight. Trying to keep my head on I said “Oh, I just have a bunch of extra shit in my pockets” and pulled out my 2oz flashlight to prove it to him. He looked at me and gave me a laugh and I laughed back and he said, get out of here. The entire time I didn’t notice that John was sitting in a chair right behind him. Adam told me they were holding him so I went back into the Barn and saw him sitting in a chair looking like a little school kid who was sitting outside the principals office. I asked him why they were holding him and he said that he didn’t know. I yelled at him to get out of that f’n chair and demand to know why they were holding him. That got him motivated and he quickly got the ok to get back into the race.

Now things got interesting. We had 11.4 miles to go and 3 hours and 40 minutes to do it. At my current pace I was right on the edge, but John took off running and I followed. Every time I ran for a while I felt like I was putting time back in the bank and started to believe that I might be able to do it. That’s exactly why the mean, cruel, sadistic organizers of this race begin to throw in some incredibly long and steep hills. John kept pulling away on the hills as he has that hiker stride that I haven’t developed yet and I kept reeling him back on the downhills where I felt ok to run.

I got to the last handler station (Pollys 95.5 miles in) at 2:30am and was now behind my preset 24hr pace. I knew that I could make it and then John said to get ready for some of the toughest climbs of the entire run. Crap… I was too close now to give up and just got as focused as I could on making it. I didn’t want to be that first guy that crossed the line in OVER 24 hours.

After some insane climbs Adam and I saw the 1 mile to go sign. We had about 45 minutes to go and I finally knew that I was going to make it. It’s hard to explain the emotions. I was more wiped out then I have ever been and elated with the idea of crossing the finish line. As one last sadistic joke the course comes close enough to the finish line to hear people cheering and then sends you back up steep trails away from the sound. I didn’t care, I knew it was just a matter of time. Finally I saw the lights in the gallon jugs that marked the last few yards of the course and heard the roar of the finish line. I crossed that finish line and saw Barry and John cheering for me. What an incredible journey. I crossed the line in 23 hours and 42 minutes. I thanked Adam for getting me to the line. I am positive that I would not have made the 24 hours without him.

Barry drove me back to the tenting area and told me to wait in the car while he got my bed ready. I was dying to take off my shoes as I now had many blisters and my feet were killing me. I had the door to the car open when I heard “Mother f’r” from Barry inside the tent. Oh oh. I yelled, whats the matter, are you ok? He called back that the tent had about “50 gallons” of water in it and his bed was soaked. Being the thoughtfull brother that I am I yelled back, “How about my bed, is it ok?” He said it was and I climbed in and went to sleep. Barry emptied out the back of his Honda and slept there. I felt so bad for him and I just realized that he too had been up for over 24 hours and he was exhausted as well. I tried to go to sleep and realized that my legs hurt as bad as they had when I was running. There was no relief from the pain. I started to shiver uncontrollably and realized I probably was in shock. I bundled up and tried to get warm. I tossed and turned and moaned trying to get away from the pain. It took me more than an hour to fall into a light sleep and finally gave up at about 7:30 am. I got up and went to the finish line with John to watch the runners come in. I found out that Jeff had dropped at 71miles with a stress fracture of his heel. I thought that Paul had come in hours ago and found out he was still out on the course. He came in at around 9:30am and I had tears in my eyes as he and his fiancĂ© (and pacer) Jill hugged and cried. He had the pacifier tied to his camelback and wore it with pride.

I do not have the words enough to thank all the people who helped me achieve my goal. Barry, Adam, John, Paul, Jeff, my kids and especially Amy, thank you from the bottom of my heart.