Okay, so I’ve never actually written a race report before, so bear with me!!!
The Vermont 100 Mile Endurance race was this past weekend and it was (gulp) my first 100 miler…In the days leading up to the race I was 50% basket case and 50% excited. I’m lying, actually. I was 100% basket case. Would I finally experience what it felt like hit the WALL (or ‘bonk’ as you Americans call it)? Would I hallucinate and if so, what fun things would I see? Would I end up taking a wrong turn and does two wrong turns make a right? Would I have the self-control to keep running past the Ben and Jerry’s factory if I saw it en route? How would I be able to resist the urge to leap onto the back of the horses that ran so effortlessly by me (or at least hang onto their tails for dear life)? So many questions….
As you ‘veterans’ have already learned, you just never know what will happen in a 100 miler. Training can get you most of the way, but beyond a certain point it is up to the running gods. And boy, are they finnicky. I knew I was going into the race as prepared as possible. My coach and ultrarunner extraordinaire, Ray Zahab, gave me a phenomenal training plan, which I followed religiously (y’know, to try to appease the running gods). My longest run was 8 hours two weeks before the race during which time I covered 51 miles. Heck, at least I could say that I had
trained over half the distance of the race, right? The heartbreaking hills of Central Park and the rugged trails through the concrete jungle of Manhattan were IDEAL training conditions for Vermont. Cough.
Not wanting to be up all night before making the trek to Vermont, I attempted to put together my drop bags two nights before. Great plan, great plan…I bought jerky, chips (scouring the shelves for the highest sodium content possible),
chocolate covered pretzels, perpetuem (yum), chocolate covered coffee beans, gu, amino vital, and snack-sized ziploc bags. Most importantly, I bought 4 incredibly loud, red paisley tote bags to use for my drop bags so that I would be able to easily identify them as my own at the aid stations.
I brought all of my supplies home and laid them out on the table in an attempt to arrange and re-arrange the food piles according to my very loose race plan…and then slowly but surely I began to open each new packet of food –
y’know, just to taste and make sure the contents would sit well in my stomach. Well, wouldn’t you know it but an hour later and I had almost completely devoured my precious supplies. Sigh. What can I say – when I get nervous, I eat
After one more trip the following night to the grocery store to restock on supplies, I finally got my drop bags sorted. I also worked out a schedule for my sole handler/pacer extraordinaire. The schedule was based on a 22 1/2 hr finish,
with 10 hours budgeted for the first 50 miles and 12 1/2 for the second 50 miles. I really had no idea what I would be able to run, but I figured 22 1/2 was a good number to shoot for – it left me with an hour and a half cushion to
still earn the elusive buckle for a sub 24 hr finish…
On Friday morning I hopped on a bus up to White River Junction, Vermont. In case anyone asks, the Port Authority is NOT the place to be at 5am 🙂 Anyhow, I managed to contort myself into the least cramp-inducing position in my bus seat and tried (unsuccessfully) to catch a few hours of sleep. It seemed to take forever to get there…at one point I realized that I was covering just over 200 miles by bus, which took 7 hours itself. How was ANYONE supposed to run half that distance on foot?? Although I was incredibly nervous, the beautiful scenery calmed me down quite a bit. Man, is it ever nice to get out of Manhattan.
All competitors had to check at the race site before 3:45 pm. I made it there by about 2 pm and went straight in for the pre-race medical assessment. I so thirsty after the long bus ride, but I thought it would be best to wait to
drink until AFTER the weigh in so that I would weigh in a bit light. To explain, there are weigh stations throughout the VT100 race. If you lose too much weight (or gain…but I wasn’t worried about that…) then you get pulled
out by the medical staff. My mouth was so dry when I stepped on the scale that when I tried to smile innocently at the volunteer in charge of the weigh-in my upper lip stuck to my teeth and I ended up giving him a weird grimace. Not a good idea to bare your teeth like an animal at someone who has the power to pull you out of a race, eh? The volunteer informed me that the scale was weighing heavy (oh no!) and sure enough I weighed in a full 4 pounds heavier than my heaviest weight. WHOA, either I had overdone it carbo-loading or something was
out of whack! Could it be the 4 drop bags of food I had devoured a few days ago?? I heard the running gods snickering away….
The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur. I remember dropping off my red paisley drop bags, eating an incredibly large buffet dinner and downing copious amounts of desserts. I also remember seeing a few seasoned, gray-haired men with pants pulled up around their armpits were walking around wearing giant, shiny, glorious belt buckles. I decided that the silver belt buckle was the little black dress of ultrarunning and damn it, I wanted one!!! I called it a day back at the hotel around 8 pm that night with visions of perpetuem dancing in my head. Oh yeah, and just before bed I squeezed in a few short intervals as well (as my coach instructed) in order to get the blood moving again.
After what seemed like 2 seconds after I closed my eyes, the alarm went off. 2:45 am. Oh my gosh, race day had finally arrived. AAACK! It had been raining all night and the thought of stepping out onto those muddy trails with 100 miles ahead was daunting…but then I reminded myself that it was only going to be one day. I had only really done multi-day events before, so knowing that I just needed to get through ONE stage this time helped keep my faculties in line.
Vaseline? Check. Hat? Check. Hydropel on the feet? Check. Injiji socks, full nathan camelbak, power bandana? Check, check, check. Okay, I was as ready as I’d ever be.
I’d gone off caffeine for two weeks prior to the race, so I was REALLY excited to have diet pepsi and coffee on race morning! My pacer (Cat) and I got to the start area around 3:15 am and joined the other runners under the white tents to stay out of the rain as long as possible. Chariots of fire was blasting from the speakers and I immediately pictured myself crawling through the course in slow motion… Three last minute trips to the porta potties (nerves!!), a check of
the batteries in my head torch, and all of a sudden I was lined up behind the start banner and everyone was counting down until 4 am…
The first couple hours of any of my long runs are always the worst for me. My legs just need time to wake up and realize what I’m asking them to do. It makes it mentally tough at the start of the race because so many runners breeze past me at warp speed and it makes me think that I’m some lame turtle who shouldn’t have been
allowed to enter the race in the first place. I just kept telling myself that it was a long race, and more importantly, it was MY race and my race alone. It didn’t matter how fast the others were going. I have actually learned to love the fact that my body lacks the ability to start out fast – it is like my own little internal defense mechanism to keep me from burning out too quickly.
I had three priorities going into the race: (1) don’t get lost, (2) finish, even if it isn’t before the official cut-off time and (3) try to buckle as a bonus (sub 24 hr finish)! I find it really helpful to identify my goals ahead of time
because then no matter what happens during the race – good or bad – I can always bring myself back to these goals and stay on track…otherwise I am prone to losing my head and blowing the whole thing.
I met a few really nice runners at the start and we chatted our way through the dark. The trails were muddy and it wasn’t long before I already had wet feet. No problem though – my race in Vietnam last year was dubbed the amazing mud fest, so I had experience weathering 6 long days of soggy feet. Again, this was just going to be ONE day. Piece of cake!!!
I had arranged a drop bag at aid station 5 (21 miles) because Cat wasn’t going to meet me until later in the course. It would be just as long of a day for her as for me and I was concerned that she would be exhausted if she didn’t go back to the hotel to sleep. The race plan had Cat meeting me at aid stations 7 (30 miles), 14 (47 miles), 17 (57 miles), 19 (62 miles), and then pacing from 21 (70 miles), 23 (77 miles), 26 (89 miles) and maybe 28 (96 miles) to the finish.
Everything was going like clockwork. Every item I needed at each particular aid station just happened to be there in my pre-arranged pack. I was so pleased my uber-planning was paying off!! Finally my annoying type A, lawyer-like qualities were coming in handy. Just when my muscles were cramping (the hills, oh the hills!) Cat was there at the next aid station with The Stick to roll out my quads. Soggy shirt? There was a fresh one waiting for me just a few miles ahead. Damn, could I ever go for another couple of tylenol. Wouldn’t you know there were two lovely rainbow pills waiting for me around the corner?
At one point pretty early on one of the volunteers told me I was amongst the top 25 runners and third female. He told me that the first female was WAY ahead and I’d never catch her, but I had a shot at overtaking second place. Holy crap!!! But wait, just remember my priorities…First and foremost, don’t lose my way (and don’t lose my
head). Concentrate on finishing and maybe, just maybe, getting a buckle. For all I knew, I could trip rounding the next turn and wind up with a face full of dirt and two bad knees. However, when I passed the second female shortly thereafter at one of the aid stations it was hard to keep myself from getting excited!
There were minor pains along the way and some major pains fluctuating in and out…but all in all, I was astounded at how good I felt. My coach’s plan was working!!! The biggest problem was the top of my right foot where my foot pod
was resting. I was wearing the Brooks T6 racers (not the very lightest shoe, but close to it) and the weight of the foot pod over this very thin shoe was taking its toll. I knew with each step that I was bruising my foot further and further,
but I stubbornly insisted on keeping it there. I know, stupid, I should have at least changed it to the opposite foot, but I just didn’t want to stop!!!
Endurolytes every hour, aleve and tylenol interspersed at 8 and 4 hr intervals, espresso beans after 62 miles…all going according to plan. The biggest time saver I think was having Cat fill up a spare camelbak in between aid stations. I would run up and pass off the one I was wearing and take the fresh one. Camelbaks are so much more time consuming to refill than the handheld bottles, but I love having my hands free during a race so this was a great solution to keep me moving through the aid stations as quickly as possible.
Cat (aka Pacer for the Caser) joined me at 70 miles and we battled up and down the hills together. I made it tough for her – she is SUCH a positive person, but I respond better to negative reinforcement. Ha, Cat simply didn’t know how to do that…It turned into her using positive words of encouragement in a scary, growly voice. Too
There is a horse endurance ride that coincides with the running race, which makes VT quite unique. The horses actually gave me huge bursts of energy each time they passed. Listening to the sounds of their hooves behind me and watching their powerful legs move back and forth and they galloped by was inspiring… Sometimes, however, the horses would slow down to our pace and walk beside us for stretches. It was nice to have the company of the riders.
Once the sun started to set I got an intense craving for a slice of pizza. Scrap that – I wanted a whole pizza.
Somewhere around 90 miles Cat and I joined up with another runner from NH, Tom, and his pacer. It was getting dark by this point and we definitely moved faster as a group of four, rather than just two. Tom was a VT100 vet, so it boosted my confidence a bit that I was actually running alongside him. At some point around 93 miles we spotted the silhouette of two runners up ahead at the top of the hill. Tom’s pacer turned around with a glint in his eye and said, “wouldn’t it be great if that was the top female?” I laughed and told him not to say such things…but he turned serious and advised me that you “just never know” and that’s why you always have to push it in the race. You don’t know what is happening ahead, so you shouldn’t ease up — even at 93 miles. Then we all got silent and concentrated a bit harder on those two silhouettes in the dark…wouldn’t you know that they DID start to look like female shapes!! Tom’s pacer whispered that he was running ahead to check. A few seconds later he rushed back to us and said
excitedly, “IT’S HER!! YOU CAUGHT UP TO HER!!” A ripple of excitement went through me. Holy crap!!!! I looked at Cat and said “Don’t say anything.” She knew immediately what I meant: STICK TO THE PLAN. Remember my priorities. And don’t lose my head. There was still 7 miles to go…and the thought of having to actually RACE race those last 7 miles was almost too much to think about.
Cat pushed me up the hill and we cheerfully said hello to Jill Perry, the top female, and her pacer as we ran past. Trying to act nonchalant at this point was probably fruitless. We left Tom and his pacer behind and forged up the hill. Was Jill following close behind? Would it be an out and out race to the finish? We didn’t dare look back behind us until a couple minutes later. Cat thought she saw a light — but maybe it was a glow stick? Or a horse? Hard to say. Keep
I let myself start thinking about victory around 95 miles, which was a MISTAKE. After chattering away about the race doors that might open with a first place finish, Cat reminded me to STICK TO THE PLAN. I said, yeah, I guess it doesn’t matter how fast I was going if it was in the wrong direction. Priority #1: don’t get lost. Just at that moment we passed a glow stick and I looked behind me – wait, there was another path going up the hill! We were so busy talking about passing Jill that we just about missed a turn! That would have been disastrous!!!!
Whew. Crisis averted. As we were coming up on the last aid stations I told Cat we weren’t stopping. Only a few miles to go – we could push through anything for just a few miles. Heck, both my arms could fall off and I’d still hop the last couple of miles. Merely a flesh wound!!
At 98 miles I left Cat behind. I couldn’t even feel my legs. I was running as fast as I could, pushing it to the max up those last hills. The last 2 miles of the course was all on winding trails…I could hear cheering for the runners
finishing ahead. Okay, now at 99 miles I realized it was in the bag. Screw my priorities – I was going
As I approached the finish line a spotter called out “Runner?” (as opposed to horse). I shouted back my race number and sprinted to the finish!!! IT WAS OVER!!! I WON!!!!
Immediately after finishing my eyes landed on the boxes upon boxes of pizza stacked up under one of the white tents. It was as if the running gods were finally rewarding me and the pizza boxes almost seemed to glow in their own incandescent light. Sure, the buckle would be a nice touch, but at that moment, all I cared about was the pizza. You can’t eat a buckle, after all. I made a beeline straight for the tent and grasped a hot, cheesy piece of pepperoni pizza. Just as I was lifting it to my mouth and a little bit of drool was escaping down my chin, I looked over and saw
a volunteer staring angrily at me. I then realized the pizza was meant for the volunteers, not the runners, and sadly relinquished my slice…The volunteer looked at me with disdain. Seriously though, doesn’t 100 miles deserve ONE slice of pizza?
I went back to the finish line and cheered Cat in. The finish line volunteers thought it was hilarious that I was waiting for my pacer, but I explained what I had put Cat through that day. Not only had she never run more than a marathon
before, but I had made her crew for me ALL day as well. What an accomplishment for her to finish her first ultra!!! Go Cat!
A few people asked me if I was Jill Perry, the second place woman, and I cheerfully responded, “I’m nobody!!” To think that I had actually given Jill a run for her money was unthinkable. Her reputation precedes her and I was honored to have competed alongside her.
Three cups of ramen later and Cat and I headed back to the hotel. I couldn’t believe I finished 4 hours ahead of schedule! 18h38 min!!! I thought I would fall fast asleep, but the pain set in — ooooooh the pain — and I was up all
night. Threw up. Ate chips. Tried not to move. Even my hair hurt.
Morning finally came and Cat and I gorged at the breakfast buffet. I still couldn’t believe it was all over.
In the end, I ended up winning first female by almost an hour! I finished 1st female and 9th overall, which earned me a special buckle 🙂 Now that the pizza incident was over, I was pretty happy to be holding that buckle and wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Well, maybe for a slice of double-cheese. I looked up my splits and I consistently moved my way up the pack from 44th at the start to 9th, never moving down in the rankings. I may not be fast, but I kept a consistent pace from start to finish, which really helped me gain ground in the second half.
It was a tough year of training leading up to Vermont. A pelvic stress fracture in January had me off the trails and in the gym until mid-April, and a distal tibia stress fracture followed very shortly thereafter. I was so thrilled to simply be MOVING again that it never crossed my mind I would actually do well in the race!
I am disappointed about one thing though, I must admit. I was told by so many other runners before the race that I would definitely hallucinate…and nothing happened! No strange visions to keep me entertained during those 100 miles! At least I had all of those Canadian geese stationed at the end of every driveway from 80 miles onward to cheer me along. Amazing that they flew all the way down from Canada to support one of their own (Canadian, that is, not goose). Cat said they were mailboxes, but I know better.
I learned a few lessons during my first 100 miler that I know will serve me will in my “non-running life” (if such a thing exists). Number one priority? Don’t lose my way (and don’t lose my head). Recently I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter how well I’m performing if I’m not on the right track. It is easy to get distracted by things that don’t really matter, but if we take a moment to stop, look, and take stock of where we are, we can better evaluate where to go next.
[And on that note, I should mention that I’m taking a one year sabbatical away from my job in the corporate world to do human rights work overseas. I leave Manhattan on Friday!]