Monday, August 1, 2016

Vermont 100

A"bridged" version:
Ha! Get it?

I blew out my quads by mile 20. ??!!???   Suffered through 80 more miles.  Finished in 22:42.  Well off of my goal of 17-hours.  Proud to have gutted it out and found the finish line.

You can quit reading now if you would like.  If you're in to minutia, please feel free to continue on.

Unabridged version:
I had not raced an ultra since last May at Massanutten.  This occurred for a variety of reasons, but the major limiting factors were family responsibilities, lack of desire to race, race directing responsibilities, work responsibilities, and lingering injures.  Lots of responsibilities in there and other excuses, but you get the drift.  Running just hasn't been on the front burner in the last year.  Don't get me wrong, I've still been running.  There's just a big difference between "running" and "training".  Regardless, I was excited to head to VT to finally run what I intended to by my first 100 in 2007, but was side-railed with a jolly case of mononucleosis.  With five other 100's under my belt, I was excited about what I could do at a "faster" 100.  I was excited about certainly getting a new PR since my PR is 21:37 from MMT in '08.

My lack of racing in the last year would lead the casual observer to two possible conclusions: 1) I would be well rested and ready to run well.  2) I would not be sharp and probably not race well.  I believed I was ready for option one, but option two was certainly the reality to come.  Cue the excuses: I had dealt with some lingering left achilles bursitis since the winter, but felt like I had it mostly under control in March, but was unfortunately sidelined most of the month that I planned on building VT base by the flu and resulting pneumonia.  Frankly, by April I was a little doubtful that I was going to do the race considering the fact that I had not run over 20-miles for a single run since October.  Since this was my only race planned for the year, I decided to let it all hang out and I dove head first into the training. 

April 16 was my first serious long run and I put in the work the best I could from there:  Seeing it all in black and white makes all the issues I ultimately endured painfully clear.  I was undertrained, but I had worked really hard for about 11-weeks prior to the race and I had sincere belief that my 12+ years of running ultras would prevail and that I was capable of running VT around 17-hours.  That seemed reasonable to me -- and still does -- but that simply was not to be.

Now for the blow-by-blow: 
I traveled up to VT on Thursday with my friends Dan Lehmann, Pete Daly, and Jim Stemple.  We got a hotel room in Rutland and attempted to get a little rest before the pre-race hustle ensued.  Sleep did not go well for me . . .  Made it to the race headquarters on Friday and set up our tents.  The pre-race was very nice and I really enjoyed the camping, horses, race history, and simply the whole feel of the race.  Vermont is cool and this race had the same aura.

The 4:00 a.m. start was nice and cool and I felt ready for the task at hand.  I slept horribly again, but that really is irrelevant; and expected.  I felt like I was going out very easy -- almost too easy.   I was going to run my own race until around mile-70, then let it all hang out -- a strategy that has always served me well.  The sun came up faster than I thought it would and I was happy to kill the headlamp.  I was looking forward to dropping it at the first crew-able aid-station, Pretty House, at mile 21.  Unfortunately my crew had some navigational issues and missed me at Pretty House.  I glanced at my watch, I was about 20-minutes faster than what I had projected for a 17-hr. finishing time, but felt like I was running super controlled.  Missing my crew didn't bother me.  I quickly grabbed a few things from the aid-station and let missing them evaporate from my mind.

Somewhere in the next 5-10 miles I realized I was in a little trouble.  My quads felt way worse than I've ever experienced at this point in a 100.  They started feeling like what they inevitably feel like in the last 50K of 100.  They felt trashed.  I focused on slowing down a bit and really started pushing the S-Caps, fluids, and calories.  It was really starting to get warm now too -- adding insult to my injury.

I finally got to my crew at the Stage Road aid-station at mile 30.  I told them that the wheels were starting to come off a bit and that I was going to slow down and take care of myself.  By the time I saw them next at Camp 10 Bear at mile 47, I knew I was in big trouble.  I was starting really have a hard time running -- especially any downhills.  I just had no quads left.  From Camp 10 Bear to the Margaritaville aid station (mile 58), things really came undone.  I simply could not run anymore around mile 50.  The pain in my quads was too unbearable.  I never cramped, my muscles just felt busted apart.  I took the two Tylenol I had with me (that I was hoping to only need after mile 80) and hoped that it would give me some relief.  It didn't even touch the pain.  I would have gladly quit at Pinky's (mile 50.8), but I had to go all the way to Margaritaville to pull the plug.  The demoralization of watching runner after runner glide past me was almost more than I could bear.  I simply walked it in to Margaritaville, convinced that I was done.

In every 100, there's always some time of introspection.  Some races it's shorter than others, but it's always there.  It was in these miles that I was looking internally and coming to grips with this failure.  I was a little sad, but I was mostly angry.  I was angry to have come all the way up here to VT -- used my valuable vacation time, time away from my family, wasted all those Saturdays training away from my son,  burned family finances, and wasted my friends' time in helping.  Plus I was thinking, "There goes Western States."  All this was in my head and I felt like there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it.  I refused to hike the last 40-miles.  I would like to say that I somehow dug deep and decided I was going to find a way to get to the finish, but I simply was convinced that my quads were absolutely cooked and that I was well on my way to inducing rhabdo since I hadn't urinated in several hours and when I did it looked like Coca-Cola.  (Even in hindsight, I was probably correct and in very dangerous territory.)  Fried quads, hot weather, and 100-miles is a good way to get there and that's somewhere I did not want to go.

When I got to Margaritaville -- way after my crew expected me, and probably 40+ positions behind -- they knew I was in dire straits.  They sat me down, massaged my quads, fed me, got me cold drinks and tried to help me triage the problems.  My head was perfectly square, as was my stomach.  I just could not run.  Game over I thought and told them . . .  I offered them to call it quits, they could go for a run on the AT then we'd go out for a nice dinner on me.  They quickly declined and convinced me to go on to the next aid-station before quitting.  They weren't pushy at all, but assured me that they were here to help me finish and that's what they wanted to do.  I asked, "How far is it to the next?"  Dan said, "About three miles."  "OK", I said.  "But we can't crew you there", Dan said in a few moments.  "We can't see you again until Camp 10 Bear in about 11-miles", he said. 

I felt like I owed my crew an opportunity to rally.  I simply didn't know how I was going to make it 11-miles with how my legs felt.  I knew this would be terrible.  I popped a few more Tylenol and slowly started down the road.  Minutes later, I returned to the parking lot where they were getting ready to leave.  I told them that I really thought I was done and tried to enumerate the reasons.  After another spell of sitting, somehow either they cajoled me back out on the course or I just figured "what the heck."  Regardless, I found myself back out there wondering what in the world I was doing and wondering how I got here.

This is where I found some mental magic.  Somewhere in those slow 11-miles I decided that:1) I didn't come nearly 70-miles to just hang it up.  I would cover the 30-miles.  2) I couldn't stomach telling my son that I quit a race.  In reality, my 3 y.o. son could care less whether I finished or not, but out there in the backwoods of VT, I was convinced that it would be the hardest conversation of my life.  I got teary-eyed just thinking about it.  Game on . . .  it's going to be slow, but I was going to give it all I had.

I stumbled in to Camp 10 Bear with a renewed mental vigor.  I needed new quads, but I knew I was going to get this done with the help of my friends and pacers.  Pete jumped in with me and we intentionally didn't take headlamps to make darn sure we made it to the Spirit of '76 station (mile 76) before dark.  Kind of dumb, but it made sense to me.  I think we had two hours, but in my state, that was risky.  The miles went by quickly with Pete even though I was in a really low spot the entire time.  I was feeling really sleepy and groggy.  We made it to the aid-station right at dusk.  Dan took over at Spirit of '76 and would be my tour-guide until the end.  We donned our headlamps and moved on toward the night.

Really everything gets rather hazy from here on out.  The groggy, tired feeling progressed.  So much so that I remember holding on to Dan's shoulder a time or two to steady myself.  I was falling asleep on my feet.  I will give Dan credit for intelligently handling the situation.  When we got to Cow Shed (mile 83), he knew I was in bad shape and graciously offered me a 10-minute nap by the fire.  I pulled up a log and rested my head on it and was out immediately on the ground.  The world was spinning and I had vivid dreams of a woman with weird teeth eating strange noodles.  Go figure?  After what felt like thirty seconds, Dan woke me up saying we needed to get on the road.  Surprisingly, I felt like a million bucks.  I was back to joking and really felt ready to suffer through to the end. 

The climb up to Bill's aid-station (mile 88) was really cool.  You could see the aid station from a long distance up on the hill all lit up by the lightning from the approaching storm.  We grabbed some food and I grabbed my jacket and we got out.  Soon after leaving Bill's, the heavens opened up with a good one.  I was cold even with my Houdini jacket, but Dan didn't have a jacket and was really getting cold and had to keep running as much as possible.  This really pulled me into gear.  I had to start really running for him.  I didn't want him to suffer any more on my behalf, so I tried my absolute best to motor up anything he was running.

The rains continued on and off, but they had washed away my pains.  I was hurting, but I started moving better and better and was so happy to be where I was and with who I was with.  Sometimes I feel lucky to have the power of hindsight in the present  -- it's never often enough, but I'm grateful for the times I can.  This was one of those instances.  I knew I was making some great memories and really enjoyed the rain, the mud, the discomfort, the sights, sounds, and the company.  Those last 10-miles were better than any physical award I could have received for finishing.  This was some gold for the memory bank.

The finish line came in after 22 hours and 42 minutes of running.  The four of us hung out in the big tent for an hour or so; eating, laughing, and mostly waiting out the rain.  By around 4 a.m. we meandered through the camping area in the rain and pulled off the wet and sweaty clothes for a few hours of rest on the hard ground of our tents before starting an ultramarathon trip home.

Running 100-miles always finds a way to scratch the outer covering of my soul.  There is always so much to learn about myself and others, in what feels like a week, but in reality is only a day.  This race did not go according to my expectations of time, but it exceeded my expectations in experience.  I got to foster some grit that I will use in my next race and all my life.  I am thankful to be able to run these events and so thankful for the support of my family and friends.  I am a truly blessed.


  1. Congrats on pushing through. You've got more grit than many and I'm sure Vernon is super proud of you. =)

    If you're going to Western States this year (?!?) best of luck!! Another epic gnarly course I'm sure you'll conquer. =)

  2. Thanks Liz. Western States could possibly be next June. It's a lottery, but I should have a pretty decent chance. Thanks for the comment and kind words. Hope to see you soon.