OK, I haven’t learned yet. At the end of my previous 100 mile races (one DNF, one finish) for the past two years I have said “enough”. But I guess I have never really meant it – obviously. I can’t help myself. I find myself drawn to the challenge – and all that comes with it. But mostly I think it is the social aspect; spending time with friends and having a good time. So with that it was back for the tie-breaker run at the Vermont 100. Who would win – me or the mountains?
I have had many good trips with Lorrie and Joe and I knew that we would have a great time, no matter what the outcome on race day. But it was really exciting to have Lorrie’s daughter, Sheleana, joining us for her initiation into our kooky club. I have to wonder what her thoughts were when she attended the pre-race briefing on Friday night with us and got to witness the eccentricities of the runners. Outhouses? We don’t need them. Beer? Of course it’s normal to walk around a wide-open field drinking beer in the early afternoon. Dinner? Who knew that there were such precise decisions to be made?
After a dinner of pizza (OK, maybe five slices was a bit much), we all headed back to the hotel room to try to get some rest – the night would be way too short. Despite having a rough night of very little sleep and ridiculous GI upset, I awoke on Saturday morning at around 1:35am without the alarm. My gut was still in a bit of turmoil and I worried about what I could possibly eat that would not send me running to the bathroom. So I got up and dressed and made some coffee, hoping that the activity would soon let me know how my stomach was doing. Things seemed to settle and I was able to tolerate a couple of bites of pop tart and some liquid calories in the form of Hammer Perpetuem. Soon Joe, Lorrie, and I headed out to race headquarters and left Sheleana sleeping, to be picked-up and begin her crewing duties at a more civilized hour.
We arrived at the race site – it was clear and cool. It had been raining at our hotel and I was glad to find that the rain had stopped and the skies were clear. Some good chit-chat with friends – it’s amazing how you can find so many people that you know among such a large crowd, especially when you are barely awake – a couple of runs to the porta-potties, and it was time to start. A momentary downpour of rain subsided to a mere light mist and the mass of bodies and excited voices disappeared into the sea of darkness and bobbling lights.
Rollin', rollin', rollin'
Though the streams are swollen
Keep them dogies rollin'
Rain and wind and weather
Hell-bent for leather
Wishin' my gal was by my side.
All the things I'm missin',
Good vittles, love, and kissin',
Are waiting at the end of my ride
- Frankie Laine
I ran with Charlie Leonard and John from State College, PA, who had recently run at the Finger Lakes Fifties, feeling relaxed and my stomach more at ease. Maybe things would be OK. Somewhere around nine miles into the race the horses started coming through. OK, I thought, this was about where they first caught me last year. Hopefully this was a good omen. And I jogged on. Unfortunately, that easy-stomach feeling didn’t last long and I was forced to make a pit stop among the trees. And then began the never-ending downhill. Going uphill seemed OK but the jarring of downhill running was just awful on my gut. I was so grateful when I got to some flat road, crossing through Taftsville covered bridge and seeing my friends Karen and Will. It was good to see familiar faces again and lamenting my stomach issues aloud seemed to be quite cathartic (pardon the pun). However, I still was not able to tolerate much in the line of caloric intake and I knew that even my dogged pace needed some sort of fuel to keep it happening. So I tried some melon and PB&J at the next station, listened to the grumbles of my gut attempting to revolt, ignored it, and walked on. At this point it seemed that sucking on gummy bears and sipping water would have to do; occasionally I would run along pretty strong – thinking that this had happened before and went away, so why would I think that it wouldn’t this time?
We the people, shedding skin
Age of reason lies within
Explanation, the club of Rome
Meditation and staying home
Moving forward, the chosen few
Teach your children what is new
Bang the table, beat the drum
New messiah, overcome
- Graham Russell
Pretty House – mile 21.1 – this was the first chance I would get to see my crew and I was so excited and hoped that just seeing them and getting their support would make me feel stronger. I could hear Joe’s cowbell LONG before I made the final turn down the road to the station. It just brought the hugest smile to my face and I started running a little faster and feeling better. Joe, Sheleana, and Lorrie helped me change my shirt and shoes and refilled my gummy bear supply and my bottles. I downed a bottle of gingerale and at that moment my stomach was feeling pretty not bad. I wasn’t too far off from the time that I had arrived at this station last year, so things were looking up. And then as I was making a quick stop in the porta-pottie I heard Joe yell out as he drove by “Way to go, Honey! Let it out, let it out, like a good girl scout!” I’m sure everyone thought that I must have the weirdest crew! But what awesome cheerleaders they were!
I still was not able to take much in the way of solids, but I made an attempt with a few potato chips and some melon, hoping that this would settle OK. It seemed to and I still felt pretty energetic, now renewed with new socks, shoes, a dry shirt, and the good spirits of my crew.
Hot sun as warm as the kissing of the wind
Footsteps in perfect time
Heartbeat as loud as the whisper in the wood
Hold me this dance is mine
The dance is mine
- Graham Russell
Stage Road – mile 30.1 – after running some beautiful open pastures, mountains, and trails, it was downhill on the road to the station. There was Will again, about ¼ mile before the station, making me feel right at home. Again, I hit this station at about the same time as last year and was now feeling great and looking forward to eating some PB&J. Joe rang me into the station with the cowbell and his own musical symphony, Lorrie filled my bottles and Sheleana got me food and worked as photographer. Karen was also there giving me words of wisdom. It was great to be surrounded by friends and even better that it seemed my stomach had finally calmed-down. The sun was out and it was getting hot, something that I had not been accustomed to over the last month. But I knew this next section was mostly uphill and that I would be walking quite a bit, so I felt that the heat shouldn’t affect me much. I was feeling strong again and felt physically and mentally ready to take-on this race.
A thousand years, a thousand more
A thousand times a million doors to eternity
I may have lived a thousand lives, a thousand times
An endless turning stairway climbs
To a tower of souls
If it takes another thousand years, a thousand wars
The towers rise to numberless floors in space
I could shed another million tears, a million breaths,
A million names but only one truth to face
Camp 10 Bear – mile 47.2 – the hills were just unrelenting leading up to this point. I remembered that there were hills here and that they were long climbs, but somehow today they seemed longer. And yet, through my struggling but having the good fortune of long legs, I was still able to pass a few people. By now the heat just seemed ridiculous and the nausea was starting to creep back, although sucking on gummy bears seemed to help limit the damage. The heat just seemed to be sucking the life out of me and when I finally reached the aid station and saw my crew, I only felt relief. It was so good to see them; I needed their mental boosts.
It was time to re-sole my feet with new moleskin (this early prevention seemed to be working as my feet, despite how they looked, actually felt good and there were very few hot spots). Time for a new pair of sneakers – switched from my Brooks Cascadias to my favorite Brooks Adrenaline ASRs, cushy but with good support. I stepped-up for my first weigh-in and surprisingly weighed exactly the same as my pre-race weight – 162 pounds. I can’t even lose weight after running over 47 miles! Now it was time to eat a bit before moving on. Problem was that solid foods still did not appeal to me. So I had some more gingerale, some melon, and walked-off with some chips, hoping that this would be enough to sustain me. As I was leaving the station one of the front-runners was coming back through (his 70-mile point). He looked great. I knew how far I still had to go to get where he was – and I was certain that I wouldn’t look nearly as good!
When we believe in our reality
In the words that we say
We’re all searching for sanity
Till it drives us away
To that place in the wilderness
In the deep of your mind
You remember that happiness
Wasn’t easy to find
- Graham Russell
Pinky’s – mile 51 – the heat was still out in full-force and now not only did I have rocky uphill trails to climb, but they were wet and muddy in spots, creating a tactical challenge! Nothing like the mud we had at the Fifties, but at this stage of the game any muddy, rocky sections just seemed overwhelming. And just when I thought my stomach issues had settled, the nausea rolled around again. I got to this aid station in the middle of nowhere, manned by three older women, who were just wonderful. They had melon cut-up and were making fresh sandwiches. I tried some melon and that seemed to stay down. I grabbed a sandwich and started walking, but quickly found that this was not going to stay down, so I tossed it aside and tried to jog a little. I really needed to see my crew and hoped that they would know how to fix me.
Your own worst enemy has come to town
Your own worst enemy has come
Everything is falling down
Your own worst enemy has come to town
- Bruce Springsteen
Birmingham’s – mile 54.1 – the nausea was just overwhelming now. Liquid nutrition didn’t even seem appealing and I couldn’t even begin to make a decision of what to try to do about it. Fortunately, I caught-up to my friend Jim Lampman here. Unfortunately for him, he was also having stomach issues. So we just stood there talking to the volunteers and trying to sample a few things to see what would stay down. Jim suggested some ice tea (sweetened). Wow, that really tasted good. Maybe this was my new magic elixir. I drank more and tried a bit of turkey sandwich. OK, good for the moment, but my energy stores were pretty zapped from lack of decent nutrition for so long, so Jim and I just walked and talked and headed for the next station where we would meet our crews. The company was really great and this mentally helped me, but my “stomach-ease” didn’t last long and soon the nausea was back. What the hell?! This was ridiculous and I was getting really tired of it. Heading into Tracer Brook I thought that if I looked pitiful enough my crew would let me stop.
Tracer Brook – mile 57 – I walked into the station with Joe who had come out to meet me. I was crying, wasted, and nauseous. I had had it! I plopped into a chair and nearly fell over backwards! Despite my pleas to stop, Lorrie and Joe bitched me up, force-fed me, and changed my mole skin and socks. Lorrie walked me out, I whined, she would not play the game and participate in my pity-party. Eventually I felt like I could be left alone and not harm myself, so Lorrie left me and it was onward and upward for me. And just like that . . . BAM! . . . I felt GREAT! WOW! Back in the game! Again, this was a long and unrelenting uphill but the uphills are my strength and I was flying!
I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky
Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I’m a racing car passing by like lady Godiva
I’m gonna go go go
There’s no stopping me
Margaritaville – mile 62.1 - eventually I caught back up with Jim and we ran into Margaritaville together, surprising Joe that I had made it there that fast (remember, Joe made this same mistake in judgment last year and missed me at this station, so I was really grateful to see that he made it here this time!). I tried some more of my Hammer Perpetuem, which worked wonders at Tracer Brook. I still could not tolerate anything solid, which really sucked because there were some really great looking cookies there.
I grabbed a flashlight and Jim and I left Margaritaville. I was feeling OK but about ½ mile later the nausea returned. I tried sucking on some crystallized ginger, which has worked for me in the past, but even this didn’t help. I was totally at a loss of what to do. So Jim and I just kept moving forward at a pretty brisk walk, talking and trying to distract my mind from my body. Although, mind and body were rapidly becoming two separate entities without a whole lot of help from me.
The night getting darker
Baby the darker it got
Struggled with why and what
But I could not fight what I knew was true
I was not gonna get through the night
Without the power of two
Me and you
- Neil Diamond
Camp 10 bear – mile 70 – I was still fighting the nausea but it seemed that soon I would be stronger because now I would have my better half to lead me; someone who could make me get over myself. Lorrie knew what her job was and I was confident that she knew what to do, but did she know how really bad I had gotten? I arrived at the aid station and was directed immediately to the scale for weight-in #2. Crap . . . 164 pounds. Weight gain is not good. It should have occurred to me that maybe I was over-electrolyted, but my logical thoughts were few and far between. Unfortunately, even if it had occurred to me, the answer to solving this problem would have been to decrease my intake of electrolytes and I had no caloric reserves to pull from so I needed to continue to eat or drink whatever I could tolerate, high in additional electrolytes or not, and hope that I would sweat or pee out the additional unnecessary electrolytes. Anyhow, I still felt boosted by seeing my crew and having them help me make some food and clothing choices (my brain was not functioning well enough for me to remember everything that I wanted all at one time, so Joe got a wonderful sprint workout running from where I was to the car, as I recalled each thing I needed, one at a time, only after he had returned from getting the first item!). After a brief reprieve in the chair, it was time for Lorrie and me to venture off into the darkness.
Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who’ll be the last to die, for a mistake
- Bruce Springsteen
West Winds – mile 77 – initially I felt great and having Lorrie there to guide me and give me some distraction seemed to be working. We jogged and walked on and off. The stars were amazing. Lorrie pointed out that she saw the Big Dipper; I tipped my head skyward and - big mistake - the nausea hit me like a cinder block and I nearly fell-over. Won’t do that again, I thought. I sipped on Gatorade and thought I was turning the nausea corner. But it was not to be. By the time we reached Joe and Sheleana at mile 77 I was crying and sick of being sick to my stomach. My energy stores were limited, at best. I tried some soup which made me dry-heave. I cried some more and considered ending it all here. But Lorrie and Joe were great and made me realize that this could pass. I had bad spells last year and they passed, so why not this time? So I downed some tummy pills and No-Doz. Just walk, they said. Go easy. It will get better.
Save, save, save me
I can't face this life alone
Save, save, save me ...
I'm naked and I'm far from home
The slate will soon be clean
I'll erase the memories
To start again with somebody new
Was it all wasted,
All that love?
I hang my head and I'll advertise
A soul for sale or rent
I have no heart I'm cold inside
I have no real intent
Save, save, save me
I can't face this life alone
Save, save, ooooohhhhh ...
I'm naked and I'm far from home
Cow Shed – mile 83.6– although Lorrie and I were still passing other bodies in motion in the night, I was moving on auto-pilot. My mind now seemed to be completely dissociated from my body. What my body knew was that the nausea and lack of caloric intake was killing me. My brain kept screaming “you can’t quit!” Lorrie tried to distract me but my mind couldn’t register the words and my stomach couldn’t be made to be rational. It was time. Time to end the suffering. No regrets. I had done my best. It was then that I was able to make the mental connection enough to know that I had other races ahead of me that I really wanted to tackle and was killing myself in this one shot really worth it? I thought of the recovery time that it would take me after this was all said and done, considering that I didn’t die trying, and made the conscious decision that I wanted more out of my racing. Finishing this race at this physical cost would cost me more in the end. And there it was – before I knew it, the words “how do I get a ride out of here?” escaped my lips. The aid station personnel radioed ahead to the next station where Joe and Sheleana were waiting, covered me in a blanket to calm my shivering, and I came to terms with my decision.
I did my best; it wasn’t much.
I couldn’t feel, so I learned to touch.
I’ve told the truth,
I didn’t come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my lips but Hallelujah!
- Leonard Cohen
Taking from my two previous attempts at the 100-mile distance, I have discovered a few things that it takes to go the distance. Of course, you have to have the physical preparedness. I believe I had that; I had put in more weekly miles since January than I ever had before. But physical preparedness is not enough; your head and your heart are the soul that you need to get you through. Unfortunately, it took 83.6 miles for me to discover that I really didn’t have the latter two. Despite how much I wanted to convince myself that my head and my heart were into this race, multiple distractions over the previous months had dictated otherwise.
Regrets – do I have any? Absolutely not. I had a wonderful trip with wonderfully supportive friends and we had a blast. Lorrie got to experience running at night with a headlamp and experience the awakening of the senses that comes with night running. She got to see me at my worst and I got to witness, once again, the very heart of a friend who will try to pull you through that crap. Sheleana got to babysit Joe and drive all over the woods in the dark. Joe got to do what he loves – hang out with friends and support every runner. And ring his cowbell. I really do have the best of friends.
This defeating run made me come to some big realizations about my running and what I want out of the rest of my races this year. I want to run some good, strong races. I want to not just finish. I want to get some competitive spirit back. So, that said, I forced myself to make a big alteration to my Fall racing schedule. I had signed-up for the Iroquois Trail 100 in September and feel that I have the capabilities to complete it. But I know that, although a huge accomplishment, this would turn out to be another just finish run for me and likely have a longer recovery time, limiting some of the other races that I want to do after that. So I have decided to change my focus to running a strong Iroquois 50. And I am totally excited about this – it’s time to get in some quality rather than quantity miles and get my race nutrition figured out. And I will also get to do what I am really excited about – hang out with good friends, have fun, feel good about what I have done, and help out others where I can.
Notice that I have not included any times throughout this report. Time is irrelevant; it’s the journey that counts. It’s good to have a bad run once in a while; it’s good to have to re-examine yourself and your goals. And what I found through this self-exploration is that I didn’t DNF at the Vermont 100 . . . I am the official winner of the unofficial Vermont 83.6 mile race!