30 July 2016

Seven Times the Charm? Vermont 100: Cookies, Lightning, Hills, and Fun

Vermont 100 has become a tradition, a staple in my annual racing schedule. I skipped it one year, and I spent that entire weekend, jealous out of my mind with FOMO. A bit overwhelming.

And a mistake I won't make again!

The course is not that easy. While it's not technical like Hardrock, or with the altitude of Leadville, it has a lot of hills. A lot. Some sections have lovely nicknames like "Agony," and some hills seemingly go on forever. Like, "Are we ever going to get to Bill's? This hill never stops." My pacer last year pronounced it cruel.

But it's gorgeous. Meadows and hills and oh-so-scenic. Imagine you bought a calendar of Vermont. These vistas would make the pages. There are rolling hills and meadows and barns and silos and adorable cows and greenery and a section called "The Sound of Music Hills."

worship the oreo-choc chip cookie hybrid

And the food. I have never eaten better food at an ultra. Homemade cookies and grilled cheese and so many other things. I stuck mainly with my staples (gels, chews, those biscotti cookies Delta gives out (I found them on Amazon and bought them in bulk) and coconut waters) but went kind of crazy at Margaritaville (mile 58.5). I mean, maple coconut cookies and chocolate chip cookies baked ON TOP of Oreos. Please, just hand them all over.

Jen was excited to pace me, even though she had never run more than a marathon. She was really nervous, and I tried to explain, "Seriously, it's not a problem. The main things you need to be good at are making sure I don't get lost and keeping me awake."

She was stellar at both, and more.

This girl held my hand as I had a total breakdown - crying hysterically, thinking I was going to die and get struck by lightning. I went to the bathroom way too close to her far too many times (much to the delight of her adorable 4-year-old daughter. Oh, and by bathroom, I mean I squatted in the bushes or on a patch of dirt. I think I did use one port-a-potty, but they are few and far between.

at the start. i want to puke. i feel like i'm going to puke. omg. omg.

Jen and I drove up the day before. She's been through a bunch of major changes in the past year, and we talked abt them, and some changes I've been going through (You know, quitting a job I'd be at for ten years, re-discovering how awesome happiness is, studying yoga for four months while traveling around India, starting a new career of yoga teaching and freelance writing while trying to figure my life out.). She had never been to Vermont before, so I got to impress her with the amazingness of The Vermont Country Deli. (Those cookies in the front...just get one. No, get two. And also - the lemon blueberry tart. And the mac and cheese. And the sandwiches - get one on the marble rye. And the carrot cake. And the...and the everything.)

I had packed everything into drop bags a week earlier, so after getting lost (Another VT100 tradition for me.), I dumped off my drop bags, got my bib, greeted Amy (the awesome RD, and a fantastic elite ultrarunner in her own right), said hi to lots of friends. Then we found some friends front and center and sat down for the pre-race meeting. Rules and talking, and then dinner.

And then I got back to our adorable Airbnb (Fluffy free range chickens everywhere!!! I want to move to VT!), I discovered ALL of my gels were in my drop bags. I remembered finding a few extras that must've been with my first 20 miles stash. Jen hooked me up, and then I tried to go to bed at 8pm. 

That didn't happen.

Finally I fell asleep and then we got up at 230. I force fed myself half of a bagel, drank some smoothie, and then dragged Wayne out of bed. Jen seemed the most ready, and I felt like I was going to vomit.

But then I started. I settled into a rhythm pretty quickly and felt kinda decent.

I also knew I had no business shooting for the moon. But you try anyway, right? Because if you don't, well, what's the worth of living in mediocrity?

My training had been crappy. I didn't have a strong enough base from being in India in yoga-land (I often started meditating and chanting and asana at 6 or 7am, which meant I had to get my run in before...and there weren't too many safe places or enough sunlight for me to run enough.) and then dealing with my weak ankle...I had one 100k, an 18 miler, two 16 milers, and a handful of 13 milers. Ummmm, yeah.

But mentally, I was good. All this yoga has really settled me. I have never felt so mentally good. The miles flew away. I kept running. I walked some atrocious hills. I did what I could. I didn't feel bad when I knew I wasn't running as strong. I caught up with friends. I enjoyed the views. I ate tasty treats.

Jen was the best crew. She showed up at all the aid stations with so much energy. It really kept me going. (That, and the popsicles...."I want the red flavor." Not cherry, red.)

It was hot, but not too hot. I enjoyed the peacefulness of my mind, the beauty of the hills. I reflected on so many of the changes, and hydrated in between.

My feet were also in pretty good shape. Farm to Feet had offered me an ambassadorship, which meant free socks - but I have never had such good feet after a race. (Usually I am covered with blisters. This time - whew!)

And then somehow - I was back at Camp Ten Bear again. It was time to start running with Jen.

So glad Jen joined me at Camp Ten Bear my second time...just over 69 miles run!
We had a good time. We talked and laughed, told each other tales about our day.

It was dark just before Spirit of 76, and I was glad to get there. Wayne was there! Always a great pickup.

A few miles beyond, we picked up another runner at an aid station. Riley was only 21 and so full of good energy. We chatted as we ran.

And then the lightning began.

I am totally afraid of lightning. You can die it if hits you.

Riley and I were holding hands. We were both crying. I'm pretty sure if was not either of our finer moments in ultrarunning.

The rain began. In buckets. It sucked. I have not been wearing my glasses very long, and this was my first time racing in glasses (I only wear them at night). The rain was hitting them sideways. It sucked.

Bill's was a haven. I peed in the port-a-potty and then we didn't stay too long. It was kind of like carnage. Wayne never showed up (He got lost with the thunder and lightning.) and I figured he was asleep in the car.

When we took off, the rain had stopped. Everything was somewhat magical and dewy and beautiful. My hallucinations were intense and things were glowing and gorgeous. I could do this. I could do this.

And then I couldn't. The rain picked up. It drenched us. I fell apart. My hallucinations went from gorgeous pieces of art to scary things. I stopped looking off trail; there were too many scary things popping out that weren't really there.

Riley took off. I began almost falling asleep. The rain in my eyes. It was all too much.

The lightning. I was pretty sure we were going to die.

I got to Polly's, mile 94.5 or so. I didn't want to leave. I was shivering. They fed me warm plain noodles in water. I didn't want to leave. What? I figured I'd wait out the rain. (Bad tactic - it never stopped and I just wasted time.)

Then we left. More lightning. We were running through open fields, and I was pretty sure I would never go to Burning Man or do anything. I was going to get torched by lightning. (I somehow never thought Jen would; just me.)

But we made it. The trails became horrendously muddy and difficult and barely runable. I slogged. Mudfest.

And then, I saw the sign for a mile. I wanted to cry. It still felt so far.

Jen was there. We saw a huge hill. "Are you going to run this thing?"

"This course is eating me alive."

And we pushed. And we pushed and we pushed.

I finished. It was pretty miserable at the finish line, but Amy was super nice, giving hugs, buckles, amazing shorts (great schwag!) and then I had hot cocoa. 

The race was a big deal for me and Jen. She's never run further, and I never ran a 100 on such poor training. It pulled us closer together, we shared so much about ourselves, and I'm so glad she was there for me.

Wayne was there with hugs and rain jackets for both of us, and I am so grateful that even though life isn't perfect, he's always there to try to make it as good as possible.

And obviously...this will not be my last time at my fave 100 miler!

The end. See ya next year, VT100!
Post finish. Best hot cocoa. Seriously, it was a packet, but tasted divine.

All pics by the best pacer, Jen Cwiok! (except maybe Wayne took the ones of us together, but Jen was the photo director)

06 July 2016

Life Is the Road

Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy. - Nisargadatta Maharaj

02 July 2016

Take flight...

“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you're going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”

― C. JoyBell C.

01 July 2016

What I'm listening to....

You can get the girl out of India, but you can't get India out of the girl...