Rule #1: Run happy.
Rule #2: If you can run happy then you can run harder.
Rule #3: If you can run harder then you can catch the runner in front of you.
Rule #4: If you can catch the runner in front of you then you can break 11 hours.
THESE ARE THE RULES OF THE GAME; IF YOU CAN'T PLAY BY THE RULES, DON'T PLAY.
After a disappointing DNF at mile 83.6 at the Vermont 100 in July I decided to do some soul-searching with my running and try to make some positive changes. Originally I had planned to run the Iroquois Trails 100-miler and the first change I made was to switch to the 50-mile race, take some pressure off of myself, and focus on what my body is asking for and listening to it while I run. That done, I decided that some guidelines needed to be set so as to keep myself from getting out of hand and blowing-up and having a bad day. Next I volunteered myself (and Joe and Lorrie) to man the overnight shift of an aid station for the 100-milers. This would keep me from going back on my promise to myself; and there were oh so many times when I thought “oh, I think I can run that 100.” But everytime that thought entered my head I knew I couldn't go back on my commitment to volunteer, so I was commited to running the 50-miler. Running the 100 would not have been the thing to do. I needed to stick to my guns.
Joe and I arrived out in Virgil on Friday afternoon and set-up our tent home. I could already feel the excitement – like I was running my first ultra instead of my – hmmmm, I don’t know how many I have run – but you get the point. The pre-race gathering was, as I suspected, wonderful – a regular family reunion. The best part for me was that Ian had brought some supplies to sell to runners in need and there was just what I had been looking for – Clif Shot Roks! These are a new product of Clif Bar, a package of 10 malt-ball sized protein balls, each containing 2 grams of protein. I found out about these about a month ago and had been waiting for them to appear locally and I was really bummed that I could not find any to test during this run. So finding them just waiting for me at the race was primo! I just innately felt that they would work well for me – nice to be able to have something that I could just “graze” on that would sustain me well.
Dinner of salad, bread, pasta, chicken, and coffee served-up by the staff at the Gatherings restaurant was excellent and just what I needed – not too many choices for me to make wrong decisions on.
Then it was off to bed early, a bit after 8pm. I really wanted to stay up for the Christopher McDougal (author of "Born to Run") talk, but knowing that my internal clock is usually pretty screwed-up from my work schedule and that sleep would likely be hard to come by, I decided that at least if I was lying down and resting I would be better off.
I awoke well before the 4:30am alarm, downed a Starbuck’s Double Shot, vanilla soy milk, and a cheese danish. It was a bit chilly stepping out of the tent, and I was so glad that I brought gloves and a winter cap for the start.
The starting line was about 50 yards from our tent, which I really liked. Note for next year: camping at the start/finish area was an excellent idea. At 6am the whole damn bunch of us running fools were off, running and laughing, as we headed off into the dark down Tone Road.
(reaching the alpine slope summit - me illuminating in the flash!)
I had run most of the course in sections prior to race day but the first section up through the alpine slopes was one I had not been on. Having run past this section before, I at least knew that it went up. And I wasn’t disappointed. We all hiked the hill at a pretty good clip, I thought, as I chatted with Joel Cisne as well as some new friends. The sunrise was absolutely amazing from the top of the hill and well worth the hike up. The run down the hill was a bit sloppy from the rains, but the easy pace kept me from losing control, killing my quads, and wearing too much of the mud. Note: After the race I talked with the 50-mile winner, Aliza LaPierre, who said that she was glad that she had a headlight on to see the mud on the downhill section. I, however, needed no light – the sun was out quite nicely by the time I hit this section!
Back to Joe Crew at Gatherings, a quick refill of my Gatorade bottle, dumped my vest and winter cap, and quickly head for Carson Road. As I peaked up on Carson I could see Joel and one of the other girls, Sherry, who I had run with earlier. Without really trying, I noticed that I was picking-up my speed and was even thinking about trying to catch them. Hmmm, this felt a little too much like work. Wait . . . remember the rules! I immediately slowed my pace a bit and just thought “either they will come back to me or I will let them go and hopefully I we will see each other again.”
Into the woods and the lovely single-track trail that I had been longing for. Fortunately, Joe and I had run this section before, so I knew what was ahead of me. I was still waking up and really hadn’t found my groove yet, but I was running happy. I had completely lost sight of Joel and Sherry, but with all the twists of the trail they could have been 50 feet or 500 feet ahead of me and I wouldn’t have known it. So I just stuck my with game plan and trudged along.
The sun was out but it was still quite cool when I hit the Pipeline Road aid station and was greeted by Joe and his cowbell. I filled my pack with Roks and Combos and refilled my bottles with water and Gatorade and I was off.
Onto Vinnedge Road where I got my first glance of the leaders heading back at me. Everyone looked to be in good spirits and were still running happy. This was the other section that I had never run so I really didn’t know what to expect. I caught up with Sherry and we talked and ran together and it was nice to have some company. I struck a pose for Steve Gallow and his camera and then headed up toward the power lines. On and off Sherry and I ran together. I was really enjoying talking with her but I soon realized that I was getting too distracted and at risk of violating my rules. I was inadvertently being pulled into her faster pace. So when we hit the next climb, I changed to walking while Sherry easily ran up the hill. I kept telling myself that it was better this way; I needed to focus on my needs and not falling apart too soon. I kept remembering the words of a runner from the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 DVD that I recently watched: “It doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as you finish. Nobody remembers you if you don’t finish.” But I would remember. I needed to make sure I finished – not to be remembered by everyone else, but more so I could remember.
The sun was coming out and I felt like I was starting to wake up and I just kind of hung back. Eventually I caught back up with Sherry and we ran together and talked until I reached Joe back at Pipeline. I refilled my stock of fuel, changed my shirt to short sleeves, and headed out. I was now running alone and able to get back into my head, a sometimes scary place. When I hit the trail off of Pipeline Road it was like magic. I was alive and I just felt at one with the trail. Eventually I came upon my friend Jim and another girl he was running with. Jim reminded me of how many times I was dying during last year’s Vermont 100 and how I would come back. I told him “I am like a cat with nine lives; I will die over and over but keep on coming back.” (And hope that I don’t reach and use up that ninth life!). So basically, no worries that I was passing him now, since I knew that my death would be imminent and eventually he would see me again. Sometimes you just gotta go with it when it’s there; you don’t know when – or if – you’ll have it again.
I felt like I was flying. It was awesome; the woods were so peaceful and I was happy. But all I could think about was Coke. I really wanted a Coke right then. So when I finally hit Carson Road, it seemed like an eternity getting back to Gatherings. When I finally did I downed two cups of Coke and it was as good as I had been dreaming. Joe was so engrossed with reviewing the trail maps with Greg Loomis’ father, Cal, that he didn’t even notice that I was there. But that was OK; I had my Coke.
(Here I am heading back from Pipeline to Carson Road via the Finger Lakes Trail. Feelin' groovy! )
The Clif Roks rocked! I felt totally satisfied with my fuelling and had not been having any low points so far. More Combos, more Roks, more Gatorade and water, new dry socks and sneakers, and I was off. Back down Tone Road to what I knew would be a grueling climb up Virgil Mountain. It’s a horrible climb when your legs are fresh – and let me say that the distance and the grade of the mountain grew ten-fold after 23 miles! It seemed like forever before I would see the old boiler on the hill; I was sure someone had moved it! I guess here was when I realized that it really isn’t always an advantage to know the trails we were running so well; I think ignorance at this point would have been better for me. Comparing how I normally go up this mountain to what was happening at this point in time just wasn’t helpful.
FINALLY, I reached Greek Peak, feeling less strong but still with a good attitude. I had been running – well, moving – alone for a long time now and it was good to see people. I talked with Joe a bit, refueled and took my 5-hour Energy drink. Within minutes my attitude improved and I felt like I could move-on to rule #2 – run harder. So I took off singing my favorite running tune “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. Me – Mr. Fahrenheit – travelling at the speed of light. OK, likely only in my head, but at least feeling fast. And then I heard the gunshots and found another gear. By the time I hit the climb up Hauck Hill Road, well, let me just say that 5-hour Energy didn’t last 5 hours. It was a long, arduous hike up the hill. I felt whipped but still not done yet. It was so great to see Joe waiting for me on Bleck Road before I entered the trail again. Just seeing him and getting to talk with him boosted me. The energy was back – only I wasn’t sure which of my nine lives I was working off from at this point. Hopefully I had a few more left. Down to the creek crossing where I really had to concentrate on my footing, and there was Steve Gallow hiding next to a rock wall snapping pics. He startled me so much that I almost crapped myself. But at least it got me paying more attention to my surroundings. Further on I passed two lady hikers who, when they heard me approaching, one yelled “runner” so she and her friend could step off of the trail. I assured them that “runner” was a far stretch of the word at this point! Again, this trail seemed much longer then I remembered. But I finally hit the Rock Pile, refueled, and quickly headed off to Daisy Hollow, remembering how hard this section always was during the old Mountain Madness race, when you would be tackling it on fresher legs.
(Watching my steps as I cross the creek on Dabes Diversion)
And then, maybe ¼ mile down the trail, my toe caught something and I flew! My water bottle flew another ¼ mile down the trail from me and I landed awkwardly on my right shoulder and knee. I sat for a bit to make sure I hadn’t done any major damage, eventually got up, and swore to myself that I would pay better attention. Right.
They told me at the Rock Pile that it was only 5 miles to Daisy Hollow. Well, it was a long and sucky 5 miles. Here I got to see all of the runners who were heading back, looking good, and giving me hope that some day I, too, would be going that same direction. Eventually I hit the aid station at Daisy Hollow and to my surprise found some excellent potatoes cooking. At this point I made a new discovery. I love the clang of the cowbell, but there are times when it can grate on me – usually when I am tired and teetering on hypoglycemia. I never knew that anything could wear on my nerves more than that bell does when I am at that point, but I found it there out in the middle of nowhere. The gong. It was loud and Joe was like a kid with a new toy. But I guess it did it’s job – one bong was welcoming, the many bongs of Joe woke me up and got me the hell out of the aid station fairly quickly.
Tired, but not broken, I shuffled on. Within a few minutes the potatoes kicked-in and I was able to run a bit. But the footing is very tricky in that first ½ mile leaving Daisy Hollow and I didn’t want to chance falling again, as there would be a good chance that I would either fall into the small ravine or that my body would just break.
I finally reached the Rock Pile aid station again and was rewarded with a chair to sit down in – not that I was really that tired, but it was just nice to take the pressure off of my back. I sat for maybe a minute while I refilled my Gatorade bottle, chatted with some friends who were volunteering, grabbed a bag of Cheetos, and headed out. Those Cheetos were really good but I just didn’t have enough room in my gut to finish the entire baggie and my waist pack was still full of Roks and Combos. Not wanting to waste them and thinking that I would likely need those Cheetos in a little while, I tucked them into the waist band of my pack.
Another fall – I let my concentration waiver for a minute – and I quickly woke back up. Wow – it really is true – I found out that the bigger you are, the harder you really do fall. Oh well, keep moving, I told myself. After the momentary deflation from the fall, my attitude did get a little boost when I saw that it looked like I could tackle rule #3: catch the runner ahead of you. Eventually I did catch up to and pass Ed Eddington; however, Ed was running the 100-miler. Oh well; the rules didn’t say that the runner ahead had to be in the same race as me!
And then it happened again – a momentary lapse in focus, I think a blade of grass grabbed my toe, and I was down again. A long line of very loud expletives escaped my mouth as my left leg completely went into spasm. Tears came to my eyes as all I could do was lay there and massage it. At least if total paralysis overcame me I knew that Ed would be coming along shortly and could let someone know where to find me! However, a few minutes of rest and crying (that always helps), a mixture of Cheetos (thank goodness I didn’t land on them and crush them!), Combos, Roks, and I was at least able to get myself vertical and moving forward again.
Eventually I reached Joe and the Greek Peak aid station crew and just seeing them and getting their cheers brought some new energy. I knew that overcoming rule #4 – breaking 11 hours – was out of the question, but it didn’t matter anymore. I was ready to head home and so far things had gone quite successfully. I left one of my water bottles with Joe, hoping to make myself a little lighter for the final 3.5 miles, and changed into my “Diane’s Team” shirt. A quick kiss from Joe and I headed out of the aid station as fast as I could, knowing that I would soon be in tears. Just putting that shirt on and thinking of Diane and her strength and struggle always does it to me. But it makes me feel tougher and I know that would make Diane happy. She will always be there helping me.
OK, that long climb up Virgil Mountain is a hell of a lot longer going in the other direction. And a lot more painful. My quads squeaked just a bit with each step. And there is no walking here; walking is way more painful and just prolongs the agony. Get it over with. Finally, and fortunately with no falls, I reached Tone Road. Now you might think it would be a relief to finally hit the flat after all that downhill, but really, it’s like getting newborn baby legs. They just don’t know what to do with it. After about 20 feet of walking to reacclimatize my body position, I was able to run. And I was going to finish this thing running. Finally I saw Joe ahead and heard the cowbell and I knew I was home. Around the bend, into the parking lot, across the line . . . 11 hours, 21 minutes, and change. I didn’t overcome rule #4 but I came close, and I was happy with that, so it was a very successful day.
A HOT cheese quesadilla and everything was all good. All I needed was a hot shower, a cold beer, and good company. My camp shower was no longer warm and I couldn’t bear to hold a cold beer in my cold hands at the moment. Thank goodness for Audrey, Jim, and Jackie living so close by and having a hot shower so readily available. That hot shower did such wonders that my quads barely winced when I walked back down the stairs. Back to Gatherings for a nice sit-down meal of a very excellent mushroom cheeseburger (my traditional post-ultra feast; the rare occasion that I eat red meat) and salty hot fries and then it was back outside to park myself in a chair at the finish line with a cold Dundee Oktoberfest brew in my hand and time to catch-up with friends and watch the race unfold.
At around 10pm, Joe, Lorrie, Tam, and I headed out for our night shift duties of manning the Greek Peak aid station, but that’s another ultra story in itself. And better left for another day and many more pages of writing.
It was a great day spent with great friends and good memories. It was good to have that kind of day running again and I am very happy that I made the decision to go with the 50 instead of the 100. I have a new respect for the mountains in Virgil and running the 50 definitely gave me a better perspective of what I would need to do to successfully tackle the 100. So with that, I’ll be back again next year, hopefully to take on the 100. Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, keep them doggies rollin’, keep them doggies rollin’, RAWHIDE!
Many thanks to Joe – we are a team and I am so lucky to have his support; I couldn't do it without him. Thanks to all of the volunteers and to the other runners, their families, friends, and crews. Many times we don’t even know each other, but the spirit of the run brings us all together.
(photos courtesy of Steve Gallow - thanks, Steve!)