My goal heading into the Vermont 100 Miler this year was to not have a repeat of last year's performance, and to buckle! I DID IT!
I had an excellent crew this year - Matt, who runs with my running club. He's a fast marathoner and has never run an ultra, but he crewed Nelson, Gisel and I at the Bear Mountain 50 Miler last year. (The above picture is of me and Matt, before the start. Matt paced me from Camp Ten Bear at Mile 70 to Bill's Barn at 88, and he also paced from 95 to 97. After the race, Matt told me he wants to do the Vermont 100. I told him I'd pace him. I'm so excited he's caught the ultramarathon bug.)
Deirdre, a 2:41 marathoner, was also crewing me, and she paced me miles 88-100. She ran the Caumsett 50k in an incredible time, and if she focused on ultramarathons, I know she'd be up there with some of the top women, even winning races. Both of them were incredibly helpful and motivational. They applied sunscreen, fed me fudgy brownies (and helped me wipe off the chocolate all over my face afterwards), wiped my feet of dirt, ignored me as I peed practically next to them, encouraged me to eat, pushed me to run faster. Having an excellent crew was super helpful in pushing me towards my goal time.
The race started at 4 a.m. Early starts are tough and I had, er, trouble going to the bathroom. I only slept 3.5 hours, and was super nervous. I didn't want a repeat of last year, and didn't feel as strong as I could. I was burned out/overtrained in April, had surgery and two forced weeks off in May, and have had trouble mentally and physically motivating myself to do as many long and tough runs as I really needed. All these thoughts fluttered through my head at the starting line as Deirdre and Matt pumped me up.
I met a lot of ultrarunners from the Ultra List, who recognized me from my description, including the John "Non-Sherpa" Lacroix and Alan Geraldi.
I felt strong as I went out in the beginning. I forgot about all the trails (single and double track) early on, and yes, even some hills. Wait, why are there so many steep hills? I thought this was rolling hills. Apparently, my memory blocked so much of the pain and I need to remember to re-read this blog posting before I do the Vermont 100 Miler again - which I will. I didn't have a cheap flashlight because I forgot. Last year I never got my extra headlamp back, and didn't remember it being so dark. Well, it was. Next year, I'm bringing a cheap flashlight and leaving it at the first aid station.
I met a nice guy who worked for Deloitte, where I was once a junior librarian. We chatted for a while, and I ran with him on and off a few times. I felt the pace was a little tough, but I knew I could handle it. I don't push myself enough and I need to. I ran with a lot of different people at this point, having all sorts of interesting casual conversations. It was nice to get to know so many different runners, and best of all, hear their stories of other races I should do.
It got hot quickly. I filled my water bottle at each aid station. Knowing what I should drink, I kept to just under one bottle between each aid station. That way, I wasn't overhydrating. I also enjoyed the wonderful feeling of squirting water on the back of my neck.
In the meadows early on, a la Sound of Music, I forgot about the amazing views, the hills...wow, this was a wonderful race.
In between South Pomfret and Pretty House, my stomach began hurting a lot. I tried eating gels and ended up squeezing a half a Strawberry Banana Gu out, which is my favourite gel. At Pretty House, Deirdre was there with a huge amazing smile! She gave me a Zico coconut water - and it was amazing. It really helped me feel better. I grabbed more Power Gel Blasts, changed my shirt (it was soaked with sweat already - some people started out with long sleeved shirts, which was crazy!), and ran off. She told me I was doing great with time.
I had my times taped onto my water bottle, but I taped them on poorly and I ended up ripping them off as I shoved my bottle in and out of my pack. I recommend doing this very neatly and well - I did this with Umstead and it really worked out.
My stomach felt a lot better. The coconut water really settled it. I picked up the pace a lot. I drank water, chatted with new people, and had fun. I felt strong and was happy my stomach had recovered.
When I arrived at Stage Road, Deirdre and Matt weren't there; they had to drop Iliana off at the start. I got a volunteer to spray me with sunscreen (I don't want skin cancer getting in the way of my ultrarunning - but seriously, my grandma has recurrent melanoma so I try to be good about sunscreen). I pushed on.
I met a really nice guy, Grant, who was doing the Grand Slam. I know others who have trained for it/done it, but somehow, his casual chattering about it, made me want to do it. We ran together, talking about running in the Bay Area, ultrarunning lifestyles, races, life. We got to the aid station (the one at the top of the hill) and I told him how the year before, I told the two guys I had been running with, Jon and Shane, how this should be on a calendar of pretty New England. He agreed.
I somehow lost a little bag of Endurolytes and he gave me some S-caps and told me I should switch over - apparently, S-Caps have a lot more sodium than endurolytes. (I did notice at my best 50miler I took exclusively S-caps and felt great....) We enjoyed amazing popsicles, hosed ourselves down, had some random guy hose us down...and then headed into "Agony."
I don't remember "Agony." I must have a terrible memory. This section was awful. Steep hills. Roots. Walking. Running and tripping. Up. Pant. Inhaler. Inhaler. Pant. Ow. Sore. Slow. Trip. Run. Conversation doesn't distract enough. Keep pushing.
It was lovely to finish "Agony."
Grant and I probably ran together for nearly 20 miles but my stomach started hurting again. I let him go ahead, and when I got to the next aid station, I paused to get ginger ale on ice, clutch my stomach. I left the aid station with the cup of iced ginger ale and walked for a little bit, sipping the drink. It sucked because I was walking this flat part across a meadow, but I just could not run. My stomach hurt too much.
Eventually, I felt well enough to run. I began running, and pushed myself to make up for lost time. I chatted with Norm, and with random ultrarunners.
I got to Camp Ten Bear, and Deirdre and Matt were amazingly positive. "You're ahead of your pace, you're doing wonderful." Matt sprayed sunscreen on me; I was just wearing a sports bra and running skirt at this point. It was too hot to wear anything else. They bought me an amazing fudge brownie and I chowed down. Yum. I drank another coconut water. I changed my socks and Matt insisted upon wiping the dirt from my feet - nicest friend ever. Best of all, I lost one pound - excellent for a day in the upper 80s! (Last year I had gained 5 pounds between Camp Ten Bear 1 & 2, and a lot of people usually lose weight with dehydration.)
I left Ten Bear feeling good. I ran with different people. It was sunny, it was hot, but I felt good. I enjoyed the scenery, chatting with strangers who became friends. I thought about how my life had changed since last year, how much I loved the sport of ultrarunning.
At Tracer Brook, Deirdre was there again with Matt, about to win most cheerful crew of the year award. They gave me more Power Gel Blasts, and I didn't think I'd see her until Camp Ten Bear, but she told me she'd be at Margaritaville. Matt would need to rest before running.
I pushed it. I felt strong. I ran as fast as I could. I never ran so many of the hills. When I had to walk, my pace kept slogging slow (despite trying to "walk with a purpose" like another ultrarunner told me at last March's Umstead 100 Miler), so whenever there was a "shallow" hill, I ran it. I passed a lot of people.
At every aid station, I asked for my bottle to be filled to the top with ice and then have water added. By the time I'd get to the next aid station, the ice would all be melted, and the water approaching lukewarm.
At Margaritaville, I chatted with the friendly, amazing volunteer, ate two chocolate chip cookies (and took one for the road; I wish I had taken more later on!). I gave Deirdre another hug, and drank another coconut water on ice.
About 50 meters after I left the aid station, my stomach went south. I headed behind the nearest tree. I began walking for a bit, and then slowly running. For almost a mile after I left the aid station, I felt awful.
And then I felt amazing. Hill? Ha. I'll run up you. Downhill - I'm speeding down. I felt so great, I ran so amazingly fast.
The next aid station had Capri Sun, Wild Cherry Flavour. It was amazing and so delicious and I think that should be a standard ultrarunning drink (along with coconut water!). Yum.
I passed a bunch of people. Feeling great, I even started singing. I'm embarrassed, but it was a Pink song that dominated my run ("So What?") along with a Sarah McLeod song ("He Doesn't Love You"). I'm sure the runners I passed thought I was insane.
When I got to Camp Ten Bear, it was VERY unlike the year before (when it had been dark). Deirdre was shocked I came back so quickly ("You were so fast!") and Matt had just woken up. I drank another coconut water on ice (I drank a total of seven during the race, and they REALLY helped. They settled my stomach, gave me electrolytes, did not make my stomach feel "sloshy" like water or Heed does.), told them how my stomach had been hurting.
I completely changed my outfit, grabbing a long-sleeved tshirt I never wore (but that helped with the awful chafing my fuel belt was giving me). My weight was stable with just one pound having been lost. I strapped on my head lamp, which I didn't really need until I almost got to West Winds.
I ate a bit of a grilled cheese sandwich. I grabbed more sports beans and Power Gel blasts, and pretzels. The race I mostly consumed just these items (and animal crackers, with the occasional random other thing). Matt and I took off.
Matt was a great pacer. He was super motivational, pushed me at times when I didn't want to be pushed, and was really genuinely enjoying himself. "This is so cool. How beautiful!" He identified trees, birds singing, owls. I told him stories from the race, dating stories, stuff about my life. He told me funny stories as well, including Boy Scout Camp stories.
At West Winds/Spirit of 77, Deirdre was there with tons of energy. When we ran up to the aid station, they had white paper bags with candles in them. The aid station was decorated with fun red, white and blue lights and decor. I ate some animal crackers, drank half of a 5-hour energy shot, and we took off.
"My stomach hurts..."
Again, we did some walking. Matt entertained me with stories. At one point, we stopped to walk for a minute and Matt was like, "Let's run. It's a downhill."
I replied, "My stomach hurts. I can't."
"No, it's a downhill. Let's run."
"NO! My stomach hurts. I CANNOT RUN!"
Matt pushed me so much. At one point, he simply said, "Buckle," and I pushed faster.
At one of the unmanned aid stations, Matt accidentally got me lemon-lime Heed. I only drink water WHILE running, and he ran over a quarter mile back to the aid station to get me water. Amazing.
Mile 88. Finally. I was out of it. I wasn't consuming enough calories because my stomach hurt, but again, I only lost 1 pound. I drank my another coconut water on ice. Matt wanted to continue on, but there was confusion about the car. It was agreed he'd meet us at 95.
Deirdre was super cheerful. We exchanged all sorts of stories, and hit some pretty tricky trails. At one point, we had to stop and wait for this woman and her horse to climb some stone wall, and the horse was really freaked out.
We saw beautiful stars. There was heat lightning in the distance which miraculously, never came close enough to us.
I began hallucinating a little bit. I saw this big brown-and-white house that was only trees. I saw a deer. I saw a weird-looking man with a beard, lying down, hugging a tree. I saw a few other random things. It was nothing too crazy.
My stomach kept hurting on and off. Somehow, the Power Gel Blasts Matt and Deirdre packed for me didn't make it into my pockets...or they fell out. I kept being like, "But I wanted them! That's what I want to eat!" Deirdre tried to rationalize with me, "But eat something else. You don't have them. Have your jelly beans."
was a little irrational - no, very irrational, and she was very patient.
At Mile 95, we met Matt. He started asking me what I wanted, and I said, "We gotta leave! NOW! WE ONLY HAVE AN HOUR AND FORTY FIVE MINUTES!" The previous year, that is what it had taken me to get to the finish from Polly's. I needed to run faster to get sub-24 hours, which is what I wanted more than anything else. They tried to calm me down, but I was insane. "I have to make it. I need to. I can't not make it!"
Matt gave me coconut water on ice, and I walked fast while drinking it. "More!" He looked confused and I grabbed it out of his hand. "I wanted more! Faster!" I was a little insane at this point. I chugged the coconut water, chewed on some ice and tossed the rest of the ice on the ground, and ran with the container and cup in my bra. Matt looked confused but didn't take offense.
We pushed it as fast as I possibly could, and Deirdre commented on how tricky some of the final trails were. "That's mean!"
I felt awful. Matt had ran back to the car around Mile 97 so he'd be there at the finish. "Tell me a story. Distract me. Tell me a story!" I asked Deirdre.
She couldn't think. "Uh...a minute...uhh...."
"I'm trying to think...I'm sorry!"
"What did you do for your birthday?"
And that is how we discussed what Deirdre did for her birthday.
I cannot begin to thank Matt and Deirdre enough for all they did for me. They were wonderful.
I pushed on, passing people. I'd think, "Buckle," and pick up the pace, even if we were on a hill.
And the one mile sign...and then the half mile sign....
And the finish. Victory was so sweet. Sub-24 hours! I raised my hands, I was so grateful and so happy. I was screaming, hugging, so full of joy and happiness.
I had worked so hard, wanted it so bad, and completed it. Iliana (who ran 40miles of the 100k) was now volunteering and put a medal around my neck. Tom took a photo of me for his "Before and After" photo project. I began exchanging stories with the other runners and volunteers.
45% of the runners dropped out. It was in the upper 80s, humid. Some aid stations (the unmanned ones) were out of water/running out; many lacked ice. The heat messed with a lot of people's stomachs.
I think a few things pushed me to get a PR for this course of 5.5 hours:
Matt & Deirdre's amazing help
My desire for revenge - I wanted to prove myself on this course!
The helpfulness of other runners - I lost my electrolyte pills twice and had strangers help me
The amazing, friendly volunteers
The beautiful scenery
Changing into shoes a half size bigger at Mile 70
Good songs in my head
Good cookies at Margaritaville and that brownie at Camp Ten Bear the first time
On the course:
They weigh you the day before, at Mile 47.2, 70, 88
The food at the aid stations is pretty decent - watermelon, chips (no pretzels!), m&ms, potatoes, bananas, oranges, plus some aid stations have homemade cookies (I LOVE Margaritaville), grilled cheese, burgers, sandwiches, more.
Not too many technical trails
Lots of drop bags
Lots of aid stations