Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vermont 100

Well, I just woke up after sleeping for three hours after the Vermont 100 and I can't go back to sleep so I might as well write about it. The Vermont 100 is the race that I almost didn't do. After the failure at Laurel Highlands, I couldn't imagine trying something again where I might feel that bad at the end. After a few days to think about it, however, I had already shelled out the money and I figured I might as well see it through.

Most of the Crew.
I would never run something like this without having a crew and pacer so I assembled those first. My wife and two youngest kids offered to accompany me and drive around all day and all night to provide encouragement, food and friendly faces to look at in my darkest hours. Marvin Hall, a friend of mine and fellow Nittany Valley Running Club member, generously agreed to pace me at the end and be my rock through the dark night.

Saturday, July 16, started early for Marvin and I as he drove me to the start at Silver Hill Meadow at 3:00am. Race time was 4:00am and the start/finish line was about 15 minutes from our motel, at Silver Hill Meadow. The start of an ultra, like any race, carries an air of excitement and a bunch of nervous runners. The difference is that these runners are gathering well before dawn with headlamps on their heads and have agreed to try a run that gives them 30 hours to complete it.

At 4:00am the race director said "go" and 300 of us were off in the night, under a beautiful full moon. The moon was bright enough and the road we started on was smooth enough that many didn't even use their headlamps. During the first mile I met some of the people I would be see-sawing with for the next 100 miles. One particular person who fate would find me swapping places with until the very end I noticed first by odor and quickly dubbed him "shirtless body odor guy" (SBOG, for short). No offense is intended as he was a strong runner who seemed quite friendly in my short conversations with him and he did ultimately finish.

The Vermont 100 course traverses mostly dirt roads, with a significant amount of double-track trail, a little single-track, and very little paved road. We quickly hit some double-track after the start and had our first climb. The other thing about the Vermont 100 course is at seems like you are always running either up or down. There is very little flat road or trail on the whole thing. The ups and downs are often very steep, rendering everyone to some kind of run/walk combination going uphill and knee and quad crushing descents coming down. The ups and downs are also very long, in general.

My goal was to try to make the first 25 miles of the race feel like nothing. That may sound silly, but it is possible with some gentle running and lots of walking mixed in. The miles do, of course, add up anyway. I averaged about a 10 minute per mile pace during this stretch, which is about where I wanted to be. I knew I would gradually lose pace during the race but my ultimate goal, other than just finishing the thing, was to finish under 24 hours. I though that if everything went well I would be capable of finishing under 20 hours, but I was not going to be disappointed if I didn't hit that, as I figured that it probably wouldn't all go well.

My plan for nutrition/hydration was to take a Gu and electrolyte pills every hour, eat sandwiches and watermelon at aid stations, and eat Cheerios and drink chocolate milk when my crew had access to me.

Somewhere around 30 miles we took a long climb and came out on top of the mountain into this beautiful meadow that was the highest point in the area. There was a commanding view of everything around. It almost made the climb worth it. It was here, on the technical and steep descent that the SBOG and I changed places many times. He seemed to enjoy the technical descending as much as I did and he was quite good it. He was also still quite odiferous at this point. I eventually pulled ahead toward the bottom and this is the last I would see him for awhile.

From about mile 37 to the first medical check at mile 47 it began to get fairly hard. This included running through the noon hour and the high for the day was supposed to get into the upper 80s, although fortunately the humidity was low the whole day. The heat makes a huge difference in pace and how one feels overall and I was just hoping to get through the stretch from 11am to 4pm without too many problems.

Didn't really feel that way.
At mile 47, Camp Ten Bear, they weigh all the runners and will pull anyone who loses more than 7% of their weight (they weighed us at check-in the day before). For me, I could lose up to about 11 pounds before me day would be done. Before I got into the aid station, my crew was waiting and I had some Cheerios and chocolate milk and felt kind of bloated so I thought I would be okay. Much to my dismay, I had already lost 8 pounds, according to their scale, and the medical guy told me I would need to go sit down for a while and try to hydrate more. I headed towards the food table and just kept on walking. Fortunately, he was quickly distracted by other runners. I had already sat down for a few minutes before I got to the aid station and I didn't see what good it would do to sit down anymore.

The next medical check would be back at Camp Ten Bear, after a 23 mile loop in the heat of the day, and I was worried. I didn't see how I wouldn't lose another 4 pounds. I just tried to keep hydrating and taking electrolytes during this loop and avoided any excretions. This was a tough loop, with some ridiculous technical vertical, and it was hot. My stomach started to feel a little iffy, although I was able to keep it together. At my only other 100 mile race last year, I had really suffered during this stretch and ended up throwing up twice and passing out once. I was really hoping to avoid this.

Just before coming in to Camp Ten Bear for my next medical check, I had tried to take some electrolyte pills and and gagged on one of them. I knew that would be my last one and I would need to find another way to get my electrolytes for the last 30 miles. My daughter came running out to me before I got into the aid station and I had her run back and get me a chocolate milk so I could get something down before I got there. They were quickly pulling runners in to weigh them and I was very worried they would pull me from the course and my day would be done. I stepped on the scales and got the verdict. I had gained three pounds during the last 23 mile loop and was out of the danger zone, for now. The last medical check would be at mile 88.

My daughter paced me from mile 70 to 76, as Marvin didn't really want to do 30 total miles. She talked my ear off, just like last year, and I didn't say a whole lot as I was applying all of my energy to the run. It was a tough stretch for me but she was great. At mile 76, I picked up Marvin and we were off. I was spending some time at each station now, because I seemed to feel better after I sat awhile. While my pace was still under the 12 minute pace that would get me to a 20 hour time, I knew I would have to give that goal up. My stomach was not allowing me to run too fast and I was spending too much time at the aid stations.

We ticked off the miles as it got dark and we switched our headlamps on. At times, I was putting in some good miles but I just felt on the edge, stomach-wise. I stopped eating Gu somewhere around 60 the sixty mile mark and wasn't eating much or getting many electrolytes. At mile 83, the last aid station before the medical check, I tried to take a little bite of watermelon and felt a wave of nausea hit me. I quickly ran for the bushes and promptly emptied the entire contents of my stomach. I immediately felt better but knew I could be in trouble with the medical check coming up. I was able to get down some chicken broth (good sodium content) and we moved on.

We notched some fast (relatively) miles in the next five miles as there were some good downhills and flatish sections. We pulled into the mile 88 aid station and I went directly to meet my fate on the scales. I didn't bother trying to prehydrate and was scared that they would try to pull me at this late hour. The medical volunteer had to keep nudging the weight to the lighter end of the scale. I couldn't see the numbers but she finally got it to balance and she looked up at me with a disapproving and evaluative look. She said I was down 8 pounds. I thought to myself "Yes!" and she asked me if I was okay. I said "yes" and got the heck out of there before she could say anything else.

My knees, especially my left knee really started to bother me during this time. There were a few times I tried to run and couldn't. I was limping when I did run. I thought I might have to just walk it in from here, and was disappointed. I massaged it a little and ended up pulling up my one compression sock so that it covered my left knee and this seemed to help. I was able to keep running at that point.

After a few more aid stations (Vermont has a lot of them), we got to see my crew one more time at mile 95. I didn't sit down this time or take much because I could smell the end of the race. No, I didn't smell the SBOG, although we had started to see him again. We would pass him on the course and he would pass us while I was in the aid stations. Funny thing, he didn't seem to smell bad anymore. Either he sweated it our or my own stench was so powerful that I couldn't smell anything else anymore. I'll go with the "he sweated it out" theory.

There was one more aid station but I didn't stop for this one as there was only 2.3 miles to go. I told Marvin I felt like I needed to finish as quickly as possible. We entered single-track again, which would take us to the finish. I was worried at this point because I hadn't been processing fluids for awhile (not enough electrolytes) or putting many calories in. All I knew was that I had to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. I started running like a man possessed. The single-track always picked up my spirits but now I was running up and down the hills. I pulled from an energy source that wasn't dependent on calories or hydration. I can't explain it. I dropped Marvin (sorry Marvin, I felt bad, but I knew you would understand) and was just blowing by everyone. I think I passed at least 12 runners in those last two miles. Most of them were doing the death march to the finish. I even blew by the SBOG one last time. I flew across the finish line at 1:08am with a gigantic fist pump and headed straight to the medical tent.

I was worried about hyponatremia (too much water, not enough electrolytes) so I wanted to make sure they thought I was okay. They told me to lay down for 10 minutes so they could observe me, which I did, but I was very talkative and excited. There were others laying on the cots in a somewhat less effusive state. Sounds of vomiting filled the air. After 10 minutes, it was time to get out of there. They gave me their blessing and my crew took me back to the motel where I took a shower, downed a vanilla milkshake, and went to bed.

My final time was 21:08 something.What a day (and night). It is a long time to struggle with your thoughts, fears and body. There are people that run a lot of these things, and I don't know how they do it. It is thoroughly mentally and physically exhausting. Thanks again to my pacers and crew. I may never need to do another 100 miler. I know better than to make promises, but I'm pretty sure I can find plenty of challenges at shorter distances.