Monday, July 18, 2011

VT100 … A Different Way … OR … How I Was Possessed By The Honey Badger

(pictured ... RD Julia, Kim, who I would leap frog with throughout the race, & me).

I love the Vermont 100. It is just a great time with wonderful people and just such a nice location and a really fun time. It was where I had my first attempt at the 100 mile distance, my first 100 mile DNF, and my first 100 mile finish. The downside to this event is the timing … it occurs just two weeks after The Finger Lakes Fifties. Unfortunately, this means that in the weeks leading up to The Fifties I haven’t gotten in much training as I have been getting things ready for the race and in the days following The Fifties I am still bogged down with cleaning up from the race and getting reports and thank you’s taken care of. It’s just not good timing to switch from race director mode to runner mode … especially to 100-mile runner mode. I know … I’ve tried it. And two out of three times I have failed miserably at it. Thank goodness the VT100 has added a 100K option. The 100K hasn’t really gained the popularity that the 100 mile event has, but it is a great option for someone like me; someone who wants to be there in the midst of a great party and run … just not so far.

After a year away I was excited to be going back to Vermont; excited to be able to be a part of this great event again. I have a few 100Ks under my belt now; some of them done in pretty brutal conditions. So despite my not so great training, I felt pretty confident that I could have a decent run at the VT100K.

It’s always hard to put these big events into words, especially just a couple of days after the event when my brain is still a bit mushy. So I will just hit the highlights that really stood out for me.

Joe and I arrived on Friday afternoon, got me signed-in and weighed-in and then we went and set-up our tent. This was a first for us, camping at the race site. I generally like creature comforts like a shower and bed but being cheap and having successfully completed some 100Ks where I have camped, I felt OK with the idea of camping and running. Plus it would be much easier to get up and watch the 100 mile start and go back to bed to rest before my race start.

Friday evening pre-race meeting. Pretty much the same old thing. OK, it’s a meeting where you are reminded of all the race rules and regs and updates, but really, for those of us who have been there and done that, it’s a formality. Truly, it’s a meeting of friends.

Joe and I were set to eat dinner at the race site; they always serve a great spread. But just sitting in the midst of all those people during the meeting I soon realized that it was just too much; I needed to be somewhere else where there was less stimulation. I didn’t want to be overwhelmed with everything running all at once. So off to dinner in Woodstock with Karen, Rob, and Will we went. And it was a good choice … very relaxing.

Friday night was the official full moon and it was so very cool. The light coming into the tent was amazing. Fortunately I was tired enough that it didn’t keep me awake and I easily fell asleep.

Saturday morning, 4am. Woke up to watch the 100 mile start and wish all of our friends good luck and felt very good that I was not running right then. Not even have a twinge of want crossed me when the runners took off.

Thought it was really great to not have to start running until 9am … but at 8am I wished it would just start. I was ready to go.

9am … 25 100K starters walked to the starting line where we would start our run uphill. How wonderful. Fortunately when we went to dinner the night before we had driven the start of the 100K course … and saw that the uphill start would be short-lived. There was a way long downhill that I knew I would have to go easy on to save my quads and knees.

Just a few miles in there was an elderly gentleman who was out working on his tractor who stopped to pick me a tiger lily when I ran by. He wished me well and it was just so nice to have someone make me feel special. I ran with the flower until I hit the paved road section, where I laid it down … just like laying a flower on a grave, as I knew pavement was my death, but maybe somehow this flower would ward-off those evil spirits on this dreaded section.

Just after the aid station at 5.3 miles (around 43 miles for the 100 milers) I was passed by Leigh Schmit, who was leading the 100 mile race. It is so nice to watch him run … so smooth, so easy. And it wasn’t long before he ran away from me.

I hit that first section of trail and felt so glad. It had been more than 6 miles on dirt road (and the short paved section) and I was so ready for trail and its forgiving surface and rolling terrain. It was heaven.

It was mentally tough knowing where I would have been in the 100 mile distance but I felt clueless as to where I was in the 100K. I just couldn’t help but think in terms of the 100 mile race and the mileage of the landmarks, but I just couldn’t grasp the distances and landmarks in terms of the 100K event. Each time I recognized a landmark and thought of the distance in the 100 miler, it sounded so far but in 100K reality, I hadn’t gone that far. This was very mentally draining.

But there were the cheers from the spectators, crews, and landowners who were out watching the race. Normally by the time I would have passed through these areas, not too many spectators would have been left. So that was cool to be out there early enough to have people watching; yet I somehow felt very small, knowing that they may think I was in the 100 mile event when I was just a poser.

And then there were the homemade cranberry and nut and white chocolate chip cookies at mile 16.2. These sat amazingly well in my stomach after a period of, ummm, GI distress. At first I was afraid to try them, thinking they might really set my stomach off, but they were excellent! Who knew?!

I did not see any of the 100 mile horses until Tracer Brook (mile 57 for the 100 milers). In the 100 mile race all of the horses would have way passed me before this point.

100K … 100 miles … it apparently doesn’t matter. As usual, I felt like crap coming into Tracer Brook (only 19.1 miles for me today), getting some ginger beer and tapioca from Joe, going easy on the long hike up and out on my way to Margaritaville, I eventually came back to life again.

I reached Margaritaville and wanted something solid to eat. I looked at the veggie burgers and thought that would require too much energy to chew. But there was this sweet, wonderful aid station worker who MacGyvered me up a grilled cheese sandwich from a hamburger bun and it tasted sooooooooo good.

I got back to Camp 10 Bear, knowing it was still 30 miles to the finish, but just kept reminding myself that I only need to go 18 miles until I had Joe with me … company that I so needed.

But let me go back a bit; somewhere before Camp 10 Bear things started to fall apart.

Somewhere before reaching 10 Bear I was overcome and eventually possessed by the Honey Badger. My give-a-shit factor just fell out. Those of you who don’t know what the Honey Badger is absolutely need to go to youtube and watch the video ( It’s hilarious … and so so appropriate for how I was feeling at this time. Honey badger doesn’t give a shit and at that point, neither did I. The mental wearing from thinking about the 100 mile distance at each aid station and then realizing I was not that far and still had so many miles to go, the heat, and just being alone for so long was starting to wear on me.

Now let me clarify on why I was running alone for so long … believe it, it certainly wasn’t because I was so fast. With only 25 of us starting the 100K, the group had broken up rather quickly right from the start and I was running alone pretty much from the start. Starting somewhere around 5.5 miles the first of the 100 milers passed me and then it was few and far between that the faster 100 milers would come and go. Although I was really enjoying the run and having fun, I did get rather lonely and each time I came up to an aid station it was just so good to chat with the volunteers, who I have to say were stupendous!

When I finally got back to Camp 10 Bear and saw Joe, Karen, and Will, my spirits improved momentarily. I so wanted real food to eat and when Will brought me grilled cheese, I was just so excited … until I took a bite. Horseradish! Ugh! I think they used horseradish cheese and it was disgusting! OK, when it comes to food, this Honey Badger does give a shit! So I had to settle for PB&J and chips, which was OK but not exactly what I wanted. With my tummy full and my spirits lifted, I headed out and just kept thinking only 18 miles until Joe gets to run with me. That’s what kept me going.

It was really neat seeing the trail leading up to the Spirit of ’76 aid station for the first time in the light … and still being passed by horses there. They looked so awesome. Wow … I had never seen how the horses looked so far into their ride before and they looked marvelous! I was just so amazed. And in the light of day this section of trail was really nice to run … not like the dreaded death march in seemed like in the dark.

OK, the Honey Badger attitude was getting stronger and I was getting cranky. I got a 5-hour Energy with extra caffeine at mile 39.1 and hoped for an attitude adjustment. Here I took my headlight, even though it was still light out and somewhere around 7pm; I knew it would be tight with reaching mile 50.7 (the only place where I could possibly next get a light) before dark. And it was pretty good timing … I reach Bill’s (mile 50.7) at around 9:15pm and it was very dark at that time. The full moon was just rising and hadn’t reached its peak light and there was too much leaf shade over the road. It was dark.

And now here’s where I have to give a shout-out to my new headlamp … what a great purchase that was. If you have to get only one light get the Black Diamond Spot Storm … 75 lumens. Don’t get the 50 lumens; splurge the few extra bucks for the additional 25 lumens. It’s worth it. The thing is AWESOME! I usually wear a headlamp and carry a hand-held, but this thing totally obliterated the hand-held. When I arrived at Bill’s the volunteers said I got the award for the best headlight!

At Bill’s I was down only 2 ½ pounds. I chowed down on their very excellent grilled cheese sandwiches, praised the cook, got my bottles filled and headed-out with Joe. But Honey Badger still didn’t give a shit … it would be a finish and that was that, no PR here tonight. The original plan was that I would go the distance alone, as I have been able to in the past. Well, factor in that it was dark and I was tired, it was very fortunate that we figured out a way for Joe to join me for the final miles. I was still in the midst of the faster 100 milers which meant they would come and go and then I would be alone again. I needed the company and someone to drive me along.
The full moon was awesome. We probably could have turned our lights off when crossing through a very non-technical field, but I was just totally entranced by the beam of my light. Those 75 lumens were something. In case you haven't figured it out, I'm a real gear-head.

We ran (slowly) and walked. And it was so strange to have horses still coming by me in the dark. It was definitely a different experience. I was still in awe of these amazing creatures.

We sort-of ran through a sort-of technical trail section (OK … dark = very technical, even with 75 lumens). Honey Badger didn’t give a shit and cursed with every step over the rocks and roots.

We got to Polly’s (last manned aid station with only 4 ½ miles to go to the finish) in the dark. The horses also got to stop for a snack here too. Apparently Polly (who owns the house at this aid station) is a real horse person and she sets up a great spread for the horses. So the horses were snacking on carrots and water while I downed some broth and contemplated just how hard this 100K was feeling. Joe tried to do the tough-love pacer thing and get me going but … you know … Honey Badger. I sat right there until I was good and ready to make a move.

But Joe was a great pacer and did manage to get me out of there once I had two cups of broth. We jogged and walked and still had mostly coherent conversation (probably more so on is his part than mine). And we passed people … granted, they were likely 100 milers who were just cooked and deservedly so, but I didn’t care … I was passing people.

It was pretty much I just want to finish from there on in. No more comparisons to how I felt or what I was seeing that night versus how it was when I finished the 100 mile there. I just wanted to be done. There was just one focus.

The finish was actually pretty anticlimactic. I always thought it would be so cool to finish in the dark but the reality is, those who finish in the dark have been putting out a lot of energy. They are pretty much spent when they get there and there aren’t too many people just sitting around at 1am to watch the finish. The finishers finish and go to bed. So that was really different. And although I thought that when I had finished the 100 miler there I would cry, I never did. Tonight I did. Maybe somehow I thought this was my “fast finish”, although it was actually my slowest 100K finish to date (15 hours, 52 minutes). But I was finishing with 100 milers who were finishing in the 21 hour range, something that will likely never happen to me. And that was overwhelming. And having Joe experience it with me was definitely overwhelming … and really nice. I am so lucky to have the best crewman and he showed me just what a wonderful pacer he is. I am so glad that he was able to run with me and we could experience this together. I will always remember this.

Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers who make this event happen and to Julia, the race director, for keeping it going after her father, the race director when I ran the 100 miler, died. I did enjoy this 100K; it was so different in so many ways from the others I have done. I totally underestimated it and realized it was tougher than I gave it credit for. So many factors, not just the distance, make a race hard. Heat, time of day, nutrition, attitude. You just never know. I have come to really enjoy the 100K distance and I would definitely like to come back to Vermont again and take it on again. If I am faster, I am, if not, then no worries. Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit.