Vermont 100. A struggle to finish.
Usually after an ultra marathon, I'm spent, and within a few days I have the blues. A kind of post-race depression that can sometimes last weeks. After Vermont though, I feel pretty good, mind and body. Tired of course, but for screwing up yet again, I'm very satisfied and hopeful. The kindness of strangers had a profound impact on my experience; one I hope not to forget.
The trip up to Vermont was tedious, with some of slowest drivers on planet earth in front of us. It took us over 3 and a half hours to get there, of which, 30 minutes was spent being lost between Woodstock and the race. We arrived from the opposite direction I expected, but we found the big white tents and parked.
It's all very exciting...
- Picked up packet.
- Medical check in.
- Set up camp.
- Placed dropped bags (changed Tracer Brook to Seven Sees!)
- Listened to pre-race meeting.
- Ate dinner.
- Sat around.
- Went to bed.
|The view from our tent.|
Sometime before midnight, hell was unleashed outside the fabric of our tent. Lightning, torrential rain, and powerful gusts of wind kept us awake for at least an hour. In a tent, exposed on the side of big hill, is not the place I want to experience those those forces of nature. Especially when I have to wake up at 3am, and the tent we're in is at least 10 years old, and never water tested.
Never the less, we survived, and I managed to get some sleep. With the sound of alarm clocks going off all around me, I woke up and slipped into my running gear, then we made our way to the start. The grass was wet, but the temperature was tolerable, although it was 4 in the morning, so it better not be too hot. A few minutes before the start, we treated to some fireworks, far off in the distance, on another Vermont hillside, just like the one we staying on. It was actually pretty cool, although anyone living around there might not have thought so.
|10 minutes from the start|
I started with the intent to make the most of the cool morning hours, like most of my fellow runners. We didn't fly, but I think we were moving faster than most had planned. We were expecting crazy hot day, but we were blessed with a cold front, so why not take advantage, right?? Cue foreboding background music.
Really, I wasn't going that fast. I held back, just maybe not as much as I should. What did surprise me, was how aggressive many runners were, weaving in and out like it was the start of a marathon or something. Madness I tell you! I started to eat right away and realized my first major mistake... I didn't bring enough of my own supplies to make it the first 22 miles. How did I miss that? Smart Jim, real smart.
I finished my Try Chips, almond butter, and dates, within the first 12 miles. Now, given I finished in 29 hours, it's not going to spoil the story to say this was the first nail in the coffin. By the time I got to Pretty House, the first handler access and drop bag station, I wasn't feeling too good. Looking back, it was likely because I was already off my nutrition plan. That and the humidity.
I asked Talia for my extra bottle, a full 2 hours earlier than planned. This one was for spraying myself with water. So here it is, 9 or so in the morning, and I need to dump some water on me? I'm screwed folks, and I know it, right then and there. My mood reflects it too, as I dip into some negative thoughts.
My nutrition plan continues to slip, as does my stomach and legs. At Stage Road, my quads are already sore and I've given up totally on my prepared food. Not that anything sounds good, but I'm trying to eat water melon and drink some calories. In fact, Gatorade, my enemy, is probably responsible for the majority of my calorie intake at this point... NOT F'ING GOOD! NOT F'ING GOOD! I know this is bad, not eating that is, but yet I do it... why? I don't do this in training.
|There should be a line connecting the triangle and square... WTF Suunto!?|
Out of Stage Road is one hellish climb, certainly the most memorable for me. If I had to guess, this is the one that finally broke me. Once again, I found myself in survival mode, at mile what? 40 something? God help me! A nice runner that I remembered from last year, tried to point out some of the beautiful surroundings, but all could muster were grunts in response.
Camp 10 Bear seemed to take forever to reach. Mile 49. I'm toast, but I won't realize it for a moment. I see Talia and my Mom is with her. I do the medical thing and my weight is fine, and honestly, not feeling too bad for 49 miles, just lethargic really. I'm thinking that this thing could go either way, I might still be able to buckle if I can hold it together!
|My Suunto obviously knew I went a hundred miles, but why did it stop recording at 90?|
So I sit. I need to change my sock on one foot. While I'm being serviced, I describe the humidity, the mile long hills, and how nothing sounds appealing to eat. Then I get up with the intent to eat something and it hits me, nausea. Even a touch of dizziness. I can't fault my crew for this, but at this point I need to eat, big time, but they don't realize how badly, and I'm wasn't in the right frame of mind to tell them I need to be forced. This, my friends, is when my fate was sealed.
|Talia's crew bag|
God knows I tried. I'm no quitter. I ran as much as I could, but the relentless, punishing, mile long hills mocked me and were quickly eating away at what ever reserves my body had left. At Seven Sees, I said farewell to my Mom, drank some pickle juice, and had a Popsicle. I actually left feeling decent, but it didn't last long. Especially since I had to ask for my headlamp so early... failure.
|First weigh in, Camp 10 Bear|
I kept trying to run where ever possible, but "where ever possible" was a dwindling list of circumstances, that eventually became, well, only slight downhills. How the mighty fall!! I was pissed, but too tired to show it. I got to Margaritaville in a nasty funk. Jimmy Buffet music be damned, I was wasted and unamused. I didn't even go for my drop bag, what was the point? Grab some dates? Yeah, I could still stomach them, but I still had a whole pocket full!
Somewhere between there and 10 Bear, I had to switch on my lamp. I was still able to run, just in short bursts. My stamina had plummeted so much, I couldn't even walk up an incline a hundred feet without losing my breath. It would get worse, I just didn't know it. 10 Bear eventually came, and I walked in feeling better than I had left the first time, mainly due to the cooler temps, but still in desperate need of food. I weighed in perfect, and grabbed some grilled cheese, then sat down.
|I planned to be at 76 before dark.|
John Bassett, the race's pacer coordinator, called out, "Does anyone need a pacer?" Right in front of me. "Yeah, I do!" I said. With that, Chuck became the unluckiest guy in the world. For the next 20 miles, I would complain and complain some more. We had discussions along the way, but just having someone there with me was an incredible boost mentally. Unfortunately, I was still running on empty, so running wasn't something I was doing a lot of. Not that I didn't try! We would bang out what I thought was a mile or more, only to realize it wasn't even a half.
Chuck, from Worcester, had an interesting accent, Boston, but not quite. The guy he was supposed to pace, dropped at Margaritaville, so I was the next best thing, haha. Towards the end of our journey together, the long road up to Bills, we started to fall apart. I could tell he was tired, and of course, I could tell I was tired. I started to see things in the corners of my eyes, and I couldn't focus on the ground in front of me... I was literally nodding off while walking, even running! That was a first.
My expectation was that Chuck was going to see me to the end. So at Bill's, I weighed in, perfect again, and grabbed a seat. I wanted to take a nap, just 10 or 15 minutes, something to take the edge off. I just put my head back and Chuck comes over to ask if I can make it the rest of the way on my own. What else could I say, but sure, go take care of yourself, and thank you. He assured me that he would be at the BBQ in the afternoon, I had to thank him properly after all!
The truth is though, this hurt me mentally. I was in real bad shape and this was as devastating as anything. I'm not kidding, I was holding back tears (89 miles can do that to a man). Fuck it, I didn't come 90 miles to quit, I will death march this in if I have to. So with no vigor whatsoever, I walk off into the night. The next time I'll see Talia is the finish line, I hope. I totally forgot to take my nap too.
|Mile 89, between pacers|
I just get over the hill from Bill's when I hear someone running up from behind, and this clear woman's voice asks if I want someone to run with. Apparently the person she was pacing just dropped. I said sure, but I warned her, I was very nearly a zombie and would be the worst company, ever. Apparently that was better than nothing, so Vicky would be with me for the next several hours.
I was so out of it at this point, I thought she said her name was Jen. Vicky though, was a pro. This just happened to be Chuck's first time as a pacer, but Vicky knew what she was doing. It was truly a blessing for these two wonderful people to show up exactly when I needed them the most. Vicky was the first person all day who saw that I was weak from no eating. Slowly, I came back to life, eating more and more. My legs were still shot, and stamina gone, but at least I was clear headed for the first time in hours.
|Vicky in the middle|
Vicky, from Burlington, had done some 50 milers and seemed to be in a second act of her career, from what my simple mind could gather. She talked in a very clear and calm manner, that was strangely reassuring. For a while, I was literally walking in he footsteps. Later on, when I would try to look for her after the race, I realized that I had never really looked at her face much at all, feet sure, but I couldn't pick her out of a line up.
Anyway, I finally took that nap. I have no idea how long I was out, Vicky said it was only 10 or 15 minutes, but I don't know if I should believe her. I must admit, that nap helped a lot. Combined with some food, I felt the best I had all night. Then, with about a 3 or so miles to go, it hit me that I was actually going to finish. Out of nowhere, I cried. At least it was with a girl, and not tough guy Chuck, not that girls aren't tough, but you know what I mean ;-)
We eventually caught up with a bunch of other zombies, dragging their feet towards the finish. Finally, with a mile to go, there was Talia. The three of us ran, well, walked, towards the finish together. I told Vicky how appreciative I was for her support during some very bleak times and made sure that I would see her after the race. Then, Talia ran a head to catch us cross the finish line...
It was over! What, no fireworks!? No band!? I was done and happy as hell. Even 7 hours later than I had planned. Talia kissed me, even though I probably stunk like I was digging around at the dump all night.
|My crew... it had to be hard
doing it all by herself.
After a cold pond-water shower, I took a nap in the medical tent, while Talia packed up camp. I also asked her to pick up something, anything, that I could give my two pacers. I fell asleep almost immediately, and woke up blurry eyed to Talia standing over me, saying something. I have no idea what though, even her words sounded blurry. I wouldn't have minded a few more minutes, but the message was clear none the less, let's get moving.
We walked over to the mess tent, and prepared for the BBQ. All the while, I was staring at everyone, hoping to see either of my pacers. Where were they? Was I looking right at them, but not recognizing them? I was hoping they would say something if they saw me, but nothing. I was really bummed by this, I wanted nothing more than to shake their hands and tell them how much they did for me. Maybe even a couple hugs.
|The most comfortable bed I ever
I guess I can tell Michelle, the runner I paced last year, that I get it. I understand now what a pacer can mean to a person, I didn't get it when she said it, but now it's clear. Without Talia, Chuck, and Vicky, I couldn't have finished. I might not have a buckle, but I have something more, a reason to continue in this crazy sport. It's an amazing feeling to be touched in this way, and I want to spread it around as much as I can.
Within the next few days, I'll be doing a more technical write up. What went wrong, what went right kind of thing. Plus maybe some thoughts for next year, or whenever I get around to doing the VT100 again.