we're heading to up to vermont today for check-in and the pre-race briefing. the 21st edition of the vermont 100 miler kicks off tomorrow morning at 4 a.m. - bright and early. last year i dnf'ed at 48 miles - it wasn't pretty. the year before i finished in 28:30 - all smiles! this time around will be a tie-breaker, of sorts.
here is my 2007 race report (from my pre-blog days), originally published on runners world and coolrunning on-line forums.
Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run
West Windsor Vermont
Saturday, July 21, 2007
I ran my first 100 miler this weekend! What an experience it was covering that much distance. Prior to this weekend, my longest race had been 50 miles (JFK). In training for Vermont, my farthest run had been 40 miles (Highlands Sky Trail Run). The short version of this race report is simple: it took me 28 hours and 30 minutes to finish. But the details are much more fun and interesting.
It took about four and a half hours to drive to West Windsor, Vermont, on Friday afternoon. My wife, Pat, and my daughter, Katie, and I stayed in Springfield, a 40-minute drive from the race. We drove straight to the race site for the check-in and mandatory race meeting at 4 p.m. for runners, crew and pacers. I had no crew, but my friend Emmy was my pacer. At the medical check-in, I weighed in at 169 pounds. There were 3 points on the course that runners would be weighed and a significant drop in weight could result in getting pulled off the course.
I had drop bags planned for 3 aid stations at mile 47.2 (Camp Ten Bear), mile 70.1 (Camp Ten Bear) and mile 88.6 (Bill's). After the race meeting, I switched my plan to run in road shoes and, instead, took my trail shoes out of a drop bag and decided to wear them at the start. That turned out to be a good decision because there was more mud on the course than I anticipated. Still, as would become evident, without the benefit of a crew, I should have spent more time planning out the content and disposition of my drop bags along the course.
We had planned on having dinner at the site. But the long dinner line was probably the only low of the weekend. Dinner was slated to start at 5:30 and by the time we got there the line stretched entirely around the tent. We stood in the same spot, without moving an inch, for 20 minutes. Since we were all hungry, and still had to check into the hotel, we decided to skip what seemed to be an excruciatingly long wait and make due on our own. That decision had an unpleasant consequence on my race the next morning because I didn’t eat until almost 8. My dinner consisted of a McDonalds Quarter Pounder with cheese, two regular cheeseburgers and two large fries, capped off with an ice cream sundae. Hunger can lead to bad decisions.
I was in bed and sound asleep by ten. Then up at 2 a.m. to get ready for the race. Unfortunately, my fast food dinner got up with me and was still sitting in my stomach as we drove to the race. In another poor decision, I neglected to take my headlamp with me to the start. I had put it in a drop bag because I wouldn’t have anyone to give it to once it got light enough to see without it. Bad idea. Well, Pat saved the day by liberating my daughter’s mini flashlight from the car. Katie told me it was okay to toss it once I didn’t need it anymore. I didn’t have the heart to get rid of it, so I carried it on my belt until Camp Ten Bear.
The race started without much fanfare, save the ringing of a cow bell. We left Silver Hill Meadow and, according to the race director, had an “extra” two miles added at the start, to make up for the short course they had discovered had been used in the previous years! The aid stations were all at the same places, but the mileage markers were different to reflect the new measurements. Densmore Hill, aid station one, was 7 miles from the start. I would run the bulk of that distance in the dark and was constantly giving silent thanks to Pat and Katie for that flashlight.
It took me 1:19:44 to run the 7 miles, way too fast. Most of that time was spent wondering about my physical condition. I felt still felt bloated from all the food the night before, and had no appetite whatsoever. I drank water in an effort to settle my stomach, but that was it. The first aid station was unmanned. The table holding the water and Heed was littered with discarded flashlights. I didn’t stop at that one, but a few minutes later I pulled off the road into a field for the first of 4 such sidetrips during the first 20 miles to deal with digestive issues - ugh. The second aid station, Dunham Hill, was kind enough to have a porta-john, where I stocked up on some toilet paper in anticipation of the next few miles.
The only major drawback this seemed to cause was a disruption in my nutrition plans. I had no stomach for anything but water. I didn’t have any solid food until mile 21.1, aid station 5, “Pretty House.” It was also the first location for crew access. On either side of the food station/drop bags/porta-john were rows of parked cars and cheering supporters. I filled up on potatoes, watermelon and took my first drinks of Heed. This was all in an effort to get in the calories I should have been consuming for the previous 10 miles.
Luckily, within a couple more miles all the digestive problems were gone. I just focused on getting in the miles. It seemed one hill after another kept getting tossed at us. For a loop course that boasts a 14,000 feet elevation gain, I couldn’t figure out where the equivalent elevation decline was hiding. It all seemed up to me. And the one of the steepest climbs was lurking just beyond the sixth aid station, Stage Road, at mile 30.1. Stage Road was also a crew access point so there were plenty of cheering supporters lining the way in and out of it. My appetite had returned with a vengeance because I was suddenly in the mood to wolf down pb & j sandwiches.
Just after Stage Road we encountered the climb at “Suicide Six.” It kicked off the 3.8 mile stretch to the next aid station with a wet grassy hill that kept getting steeper with each step up. I have no idea what the “Six” refers to, but dealing with one of those climbs was good enough. It took me 1:07:13 to cover those 3.8 miles. I was walking all the uphills but they had become so numerous that some of them had to be selectively run (or jogged) if this wasn’t going to turn into a marathon walk! I focused my attention on getting to Camp Ten Bear at mile 47.2 where I hoped to see Pat and also had my first drop bag.
It took me 10 and a half hours to reach Camp Ten Bear and I was still on pace for a sub-24 hour finish. I hoped to finish in 24 hours, but I wanted to just finish, first and foremost. While Pat wasn’t there - her plan to drop Katie off at summer camp that morning had changed a bit - my friend Nick was there. I was weighed in and, at 167, had lost only 2 pounds from my starting weight. In fact, my only physical ailment was a pair of swollen hands - for which I had absolutely no explanation! They stayed swollen for practically the entire race. I also took the opportunity to switch into a dry shirt and hat and took the bag of “Nori Maki Arare” (rice crackers wrapped in seaweed) that Katie had gotten for me as a special treat.
The next leg of the course was basically a 23-mile loop that returned us back to Camp Ten Bear at mile 70.1, which was where we met up with our pacers. I basically pushed on, from aid station to aid station, logging the miles. But I could feel the fatigue beginning to creep up on me. I reached mile 51, aid station Pinky’s in 11:38:03 - which marked the longest distance I’d ever covered in a race. That made me smile and gave me a nice little mental boost. But just up ahead, after aid station Tracer Brook, at mile 57, was a sprawling 2-mile climb, a short dip, followed by another mile uphill! That 3.2 mile stretch took me 1:00:49 of serious power walking. The only nice thing about reaching the unmanned aid station at the top of that climb was having reached 60.2 miles.
But just around the corner was my biggest surprise of the day. I hadn’t seen Emmy at either the 21 or 30 mile crew points, and I hadn’t seen Pat at Camp Ten Bear, so I was a little disappointed at having gone almost 16 hours and 60+ miles without seeing them. But that was totally erased when they were both waiting for me at mile 62.1, “Margaritaville!” Wow! Seeing them was an awesome mental boost for me. I also asked Pat if she could get my sweatshirt from Silver Hill Meadow over to Camp Ten Bear because I realized it would probably be chillier than expected during the night. But unfortunately, I forgot to ask her for the extra flashlight she had in our car. That would become an issue for me in a couple of hours. Emmy told me that just up the road, aid station “Brown School House” was decked out in a Grateful Dead motif! I was stoked!
As I approached mile 65.1, I could see the “Steal Your Face” banner and heard Jerry Garcia singing “Dear Prudence.” What a cool group of volunteers! I razzed them a little by mentioning the song selection wasn’t the Grateful Dead, but rather the Jerry Garcia Band. “What are you going to play next? Ratdog? Phil Lesh and Friends” They got a real kick from finding a fellow Deadhead out on the course! In fact, they offered me venison, which is what they were having for dinner! It blew my mind after having eaten so much pb &j during the day! Wow! These last few miles had really been a long, strange trip.
But since I had fallen off my pace, anxiety had started to creep into my psyche. I didn’t think I would make it back to Camp Ten Bear - and my headlamp - before dark. That’s when I realized I had forgotten to ask Pat for that flashlight. It was 5 miles from Brown School House to Camp Ten Bear. After about 2 miles of walking, it was now around 8:15 and I was worried enough (scared is probably a better adjective under the circumstances) to break into an all-out run. I just kept running into the darkening sky until I spotted the volunteers spread out on the road into Ten Bear, then the headlights of the cars down at the camp! Phew! That was a close call.
Once there, I was weighed again - still at 167 - and collapsed into a lawn chair. It was the first time I had sat down in 19 hours! Emmy was there and got me some coffee and handed me the turkey sandwich Pat had gotten for me. Between sips of coffee and bits of sandwich, I searched my drop bag for a dry shirt - which wasn’t there! Neither were the spare batteries for my headlamp. My long-sleeved shirt and extra batteries were in the drop bag at mile 88.6 (Bill’s). Ugh. There were fresh batteries in my headlamp, but the spares were for emergencies. So Katie’s flashlight to the rescue! I hooked it back on to my fuel belt like a long lost friend!
To compound my difficulties, once I put on a dry singlet, my wet, sweaty, tech shirt that I had been wearing earlier, and my sweatshirt, I immediately got the chills! It was a pretty ridiculous sight, actually. Then Emmy gave me her windbreaker, which I wore over the shirts and under the sweatshirt! Unfortunately, I didn’t pack a wool cap - ugh. This was an inauspicious start to the final 30 miles. And I still had one more curve ball to deal with: when I got up from that lawn chair - aside from the teeth chattering and chills - my legs had stiffened up. So I ambled about to get my circulation going again, and made a pit-stop at the porta-john before we went into that dark night. I was so happy that Emmy there. I don’t know if I could have dragged myself back out onto the trail after that series of misadventures without her.
We basically walked the first few miles since I had burned up so much energy running 3 miles into Ten Bear, and having a turkey sandwich in need of digestion sitting in my stomach. It was 4.6 miles until the next aid station at 74.7 miles, Seabrook. Along the way we picked up an unwanted (in my mind) running companion in the form of a black lab. We had met the owner as he drove his pick-up truck up and down the road looking for the dog. As luck would have it, once he drove away we came upon the dog! He was friendly enough, running in and out of our headlamp beams. When another pair of runners overtook us, he decided they were going more his speed and took off after them! We found him again, this time on a leash, at Seabrook, where Emmy gave the volunteers his story and they made plans to reunite him with his owner!
We quickly set off for the next aid station, Spirit of 76, at mile 77- or as Zeke, the director of that station, would say, located at mile 76.9999. It was a great place. I don’t know where they found it, but I had a can of Trader Joe’s Triple Expresso! Zeke was a friend of Emmy’s and he was kind enough to give her spare batteries for her headlamp. She had fresh batteries in her headlamp as well, but had forgotten to put spares in her fanny pack. Once we left Spirit of 76 I got hit with another case of the chills, so it was rough going for a while. At this point I was really annoyed with myself for having put so much important stuff (such as a long-sleeved shirt and my buff) in my last drop bag - which was still 11.6 miles away!
While reaching the next aid station at mile 81, Goodman’s, was uneventful and we reached yet another decade marker, most of the miles in the mid-80's would be difficult for me. At first it was simply fatigue, as I fell into a patch of slower and slower walking, coupled with heavier and heavier eyelids. Emmy was did everything in her power to keep me awake, when all I wanted was to curl up in ball and fall asleep. At one point, even the shadows from my headlamp started playing tricks on me. Maybe I was sleepwalking because I suddenly thought the edge of the light, with my head pointed down, was a fence or some sort of barrier that I was just about to crash into. It startled me so much that I snapped to attention and resumed my march forward with renewed intensity.
That only got me to mile 83.6, Cow Shed, where I sat down for a few minutes and had some coffee and beef broth. It was still another 5 miles to the next aid station - and my final drop bag. The first mile out was touch and go, but miraculously I managed to find enough energy to start running again! We had a pleasant stretch along a stretch of roads along some pine trees - and suddenly it smelled like Christmas! We eventually reached Bill’s at mile 88.6 and I had my final weigh-in. I was at 166 and felt fine. But as I sat down and changed into dry clothes Emmy had mentioned to the medical personal that I was having trouble staying awake. So they insisted I take in some sugar and eat some food.
I wasn’t very happy with this development. I did drink a coke and have some coffee with sugar. But I didn’t want to eat. Somehow they presented me with a breakfast sandwich - egg, cheese, bacon on an English muffin. Wow, I was happy again - that was the best thing I’d eaten all day! It really did the trick. After we left that warm and toasty barn I got hit with the chills, despite the dry and warmer clothes I had just put on. But after a slow start with that breakfast sandwich in my stomach, we started running again! There was a huge climb, which we walked, before reaching Keating’s aid station at mile 92. I was elated because I suddenly realized there were four hours left to finish up the remaining 8 miles!
But that celebratory mood was premature. We ran the most of the next two miles, but once again there were more hills to contend with. It took 1:01:31 to cover 3.5 miles - a good portion of which we ran. There was a 2.2 mile stretch to an unmanned aid station at mile 97.7 - and that took 44 minutes. These were hilly miles! But the final 2.3 miles turned out to be the worst of the bunch. It took 55:23 to cover 2.3(!!) miles. It took every ounce of determination to keep going. Emmy must have tried every trick in the book to keep me motivated. Somehow – I’m still not sure how - I managed to drag myself across the finish line. I don’t know if I was smiling when I crossed it, but I was relieved, and very happy.