Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 Vermont 100 Road Race Report

Today is part 19 of a 30 day commitment. To read about how I am blogging to change my life please read here first.

Something that I have been meaning to do for the last month is write my Race Report for the Vermont 100. It is hard to put everything that goes into running and preparing for running 100 miles into a single blog post, but I'll do my best. For reference, the first blog post I ever made was my report for last years race.

What a difference a year makes. After my first 100 miler last year I knew that I had to prepare a lot better if I wanted to soundly beat the 24 hour cutoff it takes to get a belt buckle. I know, for most people it sounds ridiculous that you do something so gigantic all for a belt buckle. I had messed up my foot last year trying to run across NH (124 miles). I had to stop at mile 70 with a stress fracture. That was in October. I spent the next few months trying to maintain my fitness but not cause any further injury to the foot. I incorporated biking into my training and also did all my runs over the winter on the treadmill. If you want to practice mental strength, try running 20 plus mile runs on one. It was boring, but didn't seem to aggravate the foot so I did what I had to.

In February I hired Jack Pilla out of VT to be my coach. Jack has placed 3rd at the Vermont 100 3 times and is an incredible runner. He's also a great coach. Oh yeah, he's 51! Jack won the race this year in a time of 16.5 hours. In late February I started running outside again. It felt so good to run the frozen snowmobile trails and to be outside. I switched shoes, went to physical therapy and was very careful to listen to my body. Keep in mind, the race I was training for is in July. This means that for 5 solid months every run that I did was focused on preparing for that one day.

I did a few races leading up to VT and set a PR (Personal Record) for the 50 mile distance. I did the Pineland Farms Trails 50 mile race in 7 hours and 52 minutes. I crushed my previous best by almost 1.5 hours. Jacks plan was working and I was running as high as 100 miles a week and feeling great. I was also injury free.

On July 17th me, Amy and my brother Barry met at Silver Hill Meadow in Brownsville VT to set up our tent and get ready for the 4:00am race start the following morning. I was excited for the race, but I was really enjoying just being with Amy and Barry. I love camping and it was nice having private time with Amy. I was completely prepared and much more relaxed than last year. This year I knew what to expect. I knew how hard the last 20 miles of this race are. I knew that Barry and Amy would be an awesome crew. We went to bed around 9:30pm after my medical check and weigh in and setting the tent up. It promptly began to rain cats and dogs. I like sleeping to the sound of rain bouncing off the tent, but I was really concerned that I would be running for the next full day in the rain. The forecast was changing by the minute and I had no idea what to expect. Running 100 miles is hard enough. Rain increases blisters and chafe, both things that make it a lot more difficult.

At 2:30am my alarm went off and I went in search of the porta-potty. I couldn't do it. Oh well, I carry TP with me and I've had to do it plenty of times in the woods. There are some things that you just learn to do when you are running for such long distances. At 3am the traditional "Chariots of Fire" started blaring over the loudspeakers and racers headed down to the start tent. I headed down early and Amy and Barry told me that they would see me there. At 3:58, as I was lining up, I still had not seen either of them. I was super bummed that Amy wouldn't get to see the start, but then at the last minute she found me and gave me a great big hug. Now I felt better!! It was raining, but it was time to go!

At 4:00am, with headlights on, we took off. There were 250 or so starters. I felt great. My entire focus was to just pay attention to my body and keep myself from getting to worked up. I had a bunch of friends at this race, but really kept to myself. All of them knew how hard I was training and I didn't want to let anybodys outside influence get to me. I just wanted to run and trust my training. At this point there was nothing else I could do, just let it all unfold.

The race has 30 aid stations. An aid station can be anything from a table off the side of the road with some bottles of water to a full blown manned house with all kinds of food and people. Nine of those stations are "handler" stations. These are stations where your crew meets up with you and helps you with whatever you need. One of my biggest goals in the effort to get a faster time was to have super fast aid station stops. I had prepped Amy and Barry on exactly what I would need at each station and it was written out in a book for them.

The first handler station, pretty house, is at mile 21. I came into the station at 7:40 which was already 34 minutes faster than last year. Barry hadn't quite figured out what to do first and kept asking me what I wanted. Amy had read the notes and quickly took over filling my bottles. I was using two handheld bottles and a small fanny pack to carry my gels and electrolyte tabs. I was out in a matter of minutes and feeling great. The rain had stopped and it wasn't too hot.

The next handler station was at mile 30.1. Amy and Barry had me in and out in less than two minutes with two fresh bottles of Gatorade and Powerbar endurance drink plus a new cache of gels. Barry's notes say "Cool as a cucumber". I really don't remember that much except for the fact that I was starting to get tired, but nothing that wasn't manageable. I remember thinking that I had just run a 50k in 5:24 which is only about 30 minutes slower than my PR. Was I going to fast? Would I pay for this later? I was having images of my friends blowing by me 70 miles in and telling me that they knew that I was going out to fast. Luckily that was not to be.

I ran on and off with a couple people I know and a couple I didn't. One was a guy from CA who was super optimistic. He had a lot more experience running 100's, but hadn't run VT before. He kept telling me that we were on sub 20 hour pace. I shared with him that the last 20 miles are the hardest part of the course and that we should be careful. We enjoyed some nice conversation but continued to run our own paces. I found that I was pulling away from a lot of people running up the hills while they walked. Again, I was wondering if I had built up the endurance to keep it up for the full pull.

Camp 10 bears is at mile 47.2 and again at mile 70.1 as it is a loop in the middle of the course. I pulled in at 12:38pm. I was already almost 3 hours ahead of last years time. This was the first medical check and I was only one pound lighter than the start of the race. I had my longest stop of the race as I decided to change my shoes. My feet, socks and shoes were still we from the morning and from sweating and I had a few blisters starting. The stop took 11 minutes, but it was worth it. I left feeling like a million bucks. I had just run almost 50 miles in 8.5 hours which would be a great time in a 50 mile race. Although I felt good, I did question myself again whether or not I was going out to fast.

I don't remember too much about the next handler station, Tracer Brook, at mile 57. I was only there for 2 minutes and everything went off well. Barry's notes say "looking good, Halitosis". He's such a wise ass. I came into "Margaritaville", mile 62.1 at 3:45. Again I had a two minute stop and was out. I had to get out quickly. I can't stand Jimmy Buffett and the music was driving me crazy. I thought it was mile 66 and I told my crew to call my Pacer Joe and tell him I would be at Camp 10 bears in about 50 minutes. This set off a chain of events that I didn't know about until later. Joe had been waiting at Silver Hill Meadow for the shuttle bus to take him to Camp 10 Bears I would pick him up. He thought that he had plenty of time. But my miscalculation along with my way faster time that we expected had him changing buck naked in the bus and lacing up his shoes just in time to pick me up at Camp 10 bears at 5:20. Last year it was almost 8pm when I came through and it felt great to not need my headlight yet.

Joe and I instantly settled into a nice pace and great conversation. I was really psyched to have Joe (Holland) to be my pacer. Last year Joe finished in 20th place in under 21 hours. He knows the course and he knows what you go through to do this. He made me feel great and told me that he was amazed at how I was doing. We came into the West Winds aid station, mile 77, at 7:02pm. Last year it was dark. Joe told me that we would be able to run at least another hour without our headlights and it became obvious to me how much better I was doing this year. It wasn't just my time either. It was how clear headed I was. Last year by this time I was starting to get really really tired. I was already whining to my pacer at how bad I hurt. This year I was kidding around with Joe and drinking Chicken noodle soup. Amy's notes say "Great!"

The next handler station was Bills Barn, mile 88.6. Last year this is when things got so miserable I didn't know what to do. I was a fuzzy headed mess. This year I was running well. I came in at 9:40pm. Last year I came in at 12:30 in the morning. As I was running down the road to get into the station I started to feel sick. I was super nauseous and thought that I might throw up. This would not have been a good place to do that as it was a medical check. I jumped up on the scale and tried to hide the fact that I was sick. If the medical staff sees you being sick or underweight they will hold you until you are better. They can hold you as long as they want and this station has a reputation for being super cautious. I was only one pound down and they let me go. As Barry and Amy were refilling my bottles I was telling Amy that I was going to puke. Barry quickly told me to get out of there because he didn't want the medical staff to see me boot. I choked down a bottle of boost and started to feel better a couple of minutes later. I had forgotten to eat for the last hour thinking that the previous chicken soup would have enough calories and that is why I felt sick.

The last aid station is at mile 95.5. It was 11:15 and I knew at that point I was not going to finish in under 20 hours. Honestly I didn't care. I had set a super secret goal to try to break 20 hours, but I wasn't unhappy with my performance and just wanted to enjoy doing what I was doing. I was gabbing with the aid station worker when Barry and Amy told me to get the hell going. Their notes say "great, but had to push to leave". I guess I started to ask the lady where she was from (it was in front of her house!!) and tried to have a conversation with her. Joe was telling me to "come on!!". I asked the lady what place I was in and she said "are you sure you really want to know?" After I said yes she told me I was in 18th place. Wow!! It was time to go! I only had 4.5 miles to go, but they are incredibly tough miles. Joe and I pushed and I was actually still running up a bunch of the hills (not all!).

A little after the "1 mile to go" sign I looked back and saw lights. I told Joe that there was no way in hell I was going to lose a spot with less than 1 mile to go. I started running as fast as I could through this woods section of single track. It went up a hill then started to descend. As I was twisting and turning down the path I had my first full blown running induced hallucination. I thought I saw a skunk running up the path towards us. I screamed "Look out Joe!" and jumped off into the brush. Joe started laughing his ass off and I did too when I realized what had just happened. Soon I saw the famous light up milk jugs and I heard somebody at the finish line yell "runner whats your number?" I yelled "199, Nathan Sanel" and heard screams at the finish line. I crossed the line in 20 hours 29 minutes and 24 seconds. I finished in 18th place happy as a clam. Until I took off my shoes and looked at my feet....


Tony said...

this is really awesome!

Meredith said...

glad you got around to sharing your race report. You kicked ass at VT this year. I have done long runs up to 6 hours on the treadmill. I just get zen with it and watch movies.