22 July 2012

Vermont 100 Race Report: I Swear I'm Never Running 100 Miles Again*

"There's no such thing as a bad 100 mile race, Cher. There's only a challenging 100 mile race. Any 100 mile race you complete is a good one." --My mom

You have to be stupid to run 100  miles. Run through the night, through the pain, through the tears, through the nausea, through the dizziness, through the blisters, through the aid stations, through the cold, through the hallucinations?

But I must be stupid, as I signed up for the Vermont 100 Miler for the third time, and yes, I completed it.

I felt pretty excited and stoked about the race, but a week going into it, I started feeling a pain in my foot - just under the pad. A trip to present at Chicago's SLA conference meant that I only had time to visit my fabulous Dr. Morgano the morning I left. He determined I need to stretch more, the pain in one foot was overuse, the pain in the other foot was minor pf. Okay, I can still run. Not like I wasn't going to anyway.

My flight being delayed a day from Chicago due to storms left me with less time to prep - and more time to be stressed. Charlie and Deirdre, my pacers, and I left with heavy rain and lots of traffic. My right leg was aching early into the driving, not used to the heavy use of driving, especially for stop-and-go traffic. So that was a very, very bad idea. Ow. I was so stiff from driving - I felt it during the drive and unfortunately, yes, during my race.

The race started at the bright and perky time of 4am, and I was excited. I was ready to run beautiful Vermont 100 Miler! I was dressed in pornj, the colour of Disorient. (A combo of pink & orange.) People liked my outfit, and would tell me how pretty I looked, how I won best dressed, how I couldn't possibly be miserable dressed so brightly. Well, sadly, it is possible!

I started out pretty hard...Running my heart out. I chatted with a bunch of people, felt like the pace was good, if a little fast. As I checked my Garmin early on, my pace was 8 minute, 9 minute. Ouch, who did I think I was, Zach Gingrich? I pushed it because, hello, I had goals. I was going to break 22 hours. I am strong, I've been training smart, so I know I can do it.

The question is, would my body let me do it today?

Sometimes, it's just not your day.

The Vermont 100 is a race I've done twice. It tends to be hot, humid, exposed, beautiful, and hilly. Up, down, up, down, sweat pouring down, long straightaways that go on for way too long, another hill, another hill, another hill, another hill, and now, BAM, for a soulcrashing, footsmashing descent. Ow.

But it's Vermont so it's just gorgeous, the course is well-marked, the volunteers are wonderful, the aid stations well-stocked and oh-so-plentful, plenty of drop bag stations, pretty views, lots of hills, and it's just a really fun race. Plus, grilled cheese at aid stations, YAY!

I was really feeling the impact of driving in stop-and-go traffic....ow. My hamstring was especially sore and I blinked back the tears in my eyes and thought of the pain my Papa went through and how I was dedicating this race in his honour. I tried to hear his English accented voice scolding me and telling me to push it up the hill.

We ran through a path on a dark forested area with nasty-sounding mooing cows on either side - it felt spooky.

I felt dizzy. I ran into Dovid at this point, who told me he wouldn't leave me if I was dizzy. We ran together for a few miles, joking and laughing and having fun. 

Mile 50. 10 hours. Still on pace for sub 22, though I was struggling. Push it. Push it.

Mile 50ish sucked. We ran up two brutal hills. Long and brutal and exposed. And then we entered the section "Agony." Brutal. Horrible. Sweat pouring down the face. Struggling. Push on. 

My hamstring grew worse. It was excruciating. I blinked back tears and desperately tried to think of my Papa. All I could think of was the pain, the pain in the now. As I ran into Deirdre at the Margaritaville Aid Station (Mile 63), I began bawling. She calmed me down, being very Deirdre. She convinced me to eat, really forced me to eat (Margaritaville is known for amazing homemade cookies as well as burgers and hot dogs and Boca Burgers, which I tried to eat and discovered don't work for me.), while she massaged my hamstring. Good friend. I left the aid station, bawling, suffering, wondering if I should DNF. I mean, this wasn't fun anymore. What was the point?

I pushed on. This weird collection of maybe 40-70 antique pickup trucks rode by too fast, for some sort of annual drive. The dust they kicked up in the air was frustrating; some of the horseback riders (Yes, there are 50mile, 75 mile, and 100 mile horseback races going on at the same time.) were frustrated.

I ended up meeting a nice guy Henry. We began chatting, and ran together for the next five miles. We pushed each other more than we would have if we had run alone.

And mile 70! Yay, Camp Ten Bear. Third weigh-in - and I had lost three pounds. I needed to drink more. At the aid station, I took care of chafed breasts (which involved wiping down with baby wipes, drying, lubing them up and putting on a new bra...free show for the ultrarunners), changed my shirt, running skirt, socks, shoes, switched from a waistpack to a handleheld, choked down two square of grilled cheese, took a 5 hour energy shot, began talking a mile a minute...and Charlie and I were out!

Charlie was quickly introduced to the hills of the Green Mountain State when we began climbing several hills. "What?" Exactly. We chatted with others around us. My legs felt trashed from going out super hard at the start. Maybe not smart? I could barely run downhill as my legs hurt so badly - running was horrid. 

Charlie told me about his day of getting lost, going to NH, going to a farmers' market, how the other runners looked, while I updated him on pains, on people I met, on what I saw. We ran on.

And Spirit of 76! I love this aid station because as you climb the hill ("You didn't say this was a hill!" said Charlie.), there are paper bags with candles lit up inside them. They have red-white-and-blue Christmas lights, hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheeses, my drop bag, sweet Wayne waiting there with pink el-wire. I choked down some food, and kissed my boy goodbye and we left. For the darkness.

Hills. Hills.

I began burping nonstop, these scary burps I have never heard in my life that left me dry heaving and on the verge of vomiting. Really fun. Poor Charlie. We'd run, stop so I could burp/dry heave, we'd walk, burp/dry heave, walk, run, burp/dry heave...not fun. I began to talk about quitting. This wasn't fun. Charlie was discouraging me.

Then we were on a path, with some headlights a ways behind us, and we looked into the bushes and saw eyes. Two eyes. An animal. "I HATE WILD ANIMALS!" I shouted, my method of trying to scare a wild animal. It didn't move. Charlie shouted. He clapped his hands. Finally, it ran away but watched us. Then came closer. We were SO scared.

And then we ran on, but the incident freaked us out for a while.

Finally, Bill's Barn. I weighed in, and was one pound more than I had been before first weigh-in. Argh. I couldn't get pulled. I just was sick of the misery, the pain. My feet were killing me, so swollen and blistered. Two medics cleaned and taped up my feet, which were so instrumental in me running and finishing the race. I tried to quit and no one would let me. "You'll regret it!" "I don't care." 

(But of course you do.)

I have never felt this low, except maybe in Rio del Lago. But this - it was hurting, so much, everywhere, and WHY? WHY?

I couldn't find an answer but I know that stopping wouldn't have provided one. So I kept on trucking. 

Deirdre and I ran through fields where I hallucinated the grass was in beautiful streaks of light a la Burning Man. I cried when it hurt. We talked about blisters and work and love and ex-love and running and people and dreams and babies and life. She listened to me cry and talked me out of stopping. I don't think anyone, even me, was ready to let me stop.

Yes, it was miserable. But what did I learn? I learned that I'm tough. I knew that already. I learned that I can push past pain. I learned that I can suffer more than most people. I learned that I can run my first 50 miles in 10 hours and the second in just under 15 hours plus and still that was hard. I learned that you have no reason to take illegal drugs when you can just run 100 miles - those hallucinations are priceless. I learned that your boyfriend will drive over 10 hours in a car to see you for mere minutes at two aid stations and the finish and really, that's love. I learned that your friends will listen to you cry and stand next to you when you're peeing or spitting up - and they're friends, really good people. I learned  Power Gel blasts melt and get all mushy in the heat, and that two many grilled cheese sandwiches during a 100miler might not be the best thing. I learned that you have to feel pain to feel joy. I learned that glowing eyes are scary and glowing sticks are the right direction. I learned strangers can truly help save me, and friends are always there as well. I learned that suffering is part of life. I learned that really, as much as I complain, I cannot DNF. I learned that joy follows suffering, and are sometimes simultaneous. I learned that I am carving a path for my life with my running shoes.

*Note: I probably will run another 100. Not right now though. But I don't think I'll do three more this year. I'm thinking of focusing on 50 milers, which I'm much better at and which I like more and which have most of the highs of 100 milers and less of the lows...Umstead 2013, probably, and oh yeah, Headlands Hundreds, or Western States, or Vermont or....


Derek said...

great race report Cherie, congrats!

John LaCroix said...

Good job pushing through for the finish. That was me yelling and pointing at you at camp ten bear - sorry I missed the show. My quads were so trashed at the end that I had to push to run 14 min/miles downhill! How sad is that?

Congrats again,
The 'other' John LaCroix

spelunker said...

That was amazing. Looking forward to seeing you on the trails soon!

RIch Lacey said...

Excellent story! Reminded me of those days when I, too, used to run 100-milers (I still wear my buckles every day: VT is the most "wearable" as Tony Rossman observed. This post illustrates that it's what we learn from the experience that matters!

And congratulations to your boyfriend! Now, there's what I'd call a stand-up guy!
Rich Lacey, NYC

Steve McLarty said...

Damn girl.....just damn :)

Ryan Martin said...

Cherie, I believe you and I ran a lot with each other. I am the guy from Colorado with the sun protecting hat. Congrats on pushing through and finishing. I have a race report too on Tales of the Running Hophead (you are in the background in my video and one picture).

Rebecca Sudduth said...

I think I saw you when you were leaving 10 bear for the first time on the roads walking or running with a guy. I was running the 100k.

Great race report! Keep it up, no matter what distance you choose.

Stacey Pomerleau said...

Awesome RR! Glad to hear you stuck it out :)