Monday, February 28, 2011

Vermont 100 -- Take II

"I think I will never run another 100 miler again ... definitely ... maybe ..." Those were the words that I wrote on July 25, 2007, just four days after admitting defeat at mile 88.6 at the 2007 Vermont 100 miler. The more that I thought about it, the more I decided that running 100 miles was just too hard; I really didn't need to do it. But anyone who knows me knows that I hate unfinished business ... and this was unfinished business. So by September I was already looking for redemption. My first thought was to find an "easy" 100 miler -- as if there is such a thing. I thought of the Umstead 100, which is a loop-course and somewhat flat. However, the limit for this race was filled within days of its opening for registration, so my next thought was back to Vermont ... it had beaten me once and now this was my chance to beat it. So in October I filled out the entry, wrote the check, and sealed the deal. Now came the hard part - telling Joe that we were going back. I waited until I had the moral support of my friend, Lorrie, along side me and over a pre-race dinner in Maryland I broke the news to Joe. His face was pretty much blank and his only response was "Well, how are you going to pay for it?" To which I replied "I am going to quit drinking wine, take up drinking beer, and save the bottle return money." And the journey for redemption was underway.

My experience and DNF at VT100 2007 was not all for naught. I learned a lot about myself and what I needed to do differently in my training in order of having any chance of conquering the 100. So in January my training for VT100 2008 began in earnest. The long runs started as did the mental training that came with doing those long runs in some of the most frigid and harsh conditions. Thank goodness I have a few friends who are just as freaky as me (and you know who you are!) and willing to do long runs in crappy cold weather.

I also started a "support group" via e-mail. I gathered a group of running and non-running friends who I would regularly report my training ups and downs to and gather their thoughts and suggestions from. I figured that if I had to report to someone other than myself I would be more likely to stay on track with my training. It's far too easy to convince yourself that you are doing what you should be and to justify it when you aren't, but it's not so easy to justify your slacking to others. This proved to be a very helpful technique for me.

After six-plus months of training, the day of reckoning was here. It was time to head to Vermont. I was not nervous about the distance; my thoughts just kept going back to the fact that it would be a long way to redemption -- 88.6 miles to be exact. My nerves centered on making sure that I had everything I needed in order (i.e., clothes, food, crew members). And then there was the bigger issue -- the weather. The forecast was for high heat and humidity and I am so not a hot weather person. Really? What did I expect signing up for an ultra in July? But even the threat of heat exhaustion did not worry me much -- it would be what it would be and I would just have to adjust accordingly. 2007 proved to have almost perfect conditions and that didn't work for me. Being the freak that I am, I am almost guaranteed to run better in even the most adverse conditions.

Joe and I arrived in White River Junction, VT, at the Super 8 Motel where we would be staying -- about 30 minutes drive from the start of the race. Not The Ritz, but a comfy bed and hot shower were all that I really needed. It was definitely helpful to arrive a day early to just get settled and relax.

No sooner had we started to unload the car than we met a couple who looked like runners. Sure enough -- the woman was going to be running the 100-miler -- her second one. Her worries were not of the hills or of the weather but she worried most about rattlesnakes on the course. I assured her that there were no rattlesnakes in Vermont -- something that would come back to haunt me later.

Joe and I headed up to the race headquarters to pick-up my number and go through my baseline medical screening, which consisted of weight and blood pressure. I stepped up to the scale and the woman started out at the low 100s. I told her to start at 155, to which she replied "you don't have to say it out loud". I told her that it was OK -- I'm a Clydesdale and proud of it. My baseline weight was 157 pounds in my running clothes and sneakers and my blood pressure was good at 110/70. From then on Joe and I just walked around admiring the athletic physiques of the horses that would be competing along side me in the 100 mile endurance ride. What awesome athletic spectacles they were! We checked out the last bit of trail that would bring me home into the finish, which made me suck in a bit of nervous air. And then we were off to gather some last-minute supplies and rest before having to head back to race HQ for the mandatory runner and crew meeting at 3:45pm.

We met up with our friends from Connecticut (my pacer Karen McWhirt, Rob, who would be running the race, and Will, Rob's pacer). It was a great reunion of Finger Lakes Fifties regulars.

After the meeting we headed into Woodstock for dinners. The race holds a great pre-race pasta feed, but it was much more relaxing to get away from everything and enjoy a nice quiet dinner.

After a hot shower it was off to bed by 8pm and I think I fell asleep before 8:30.

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP ... the alarm sounded at 1:45am. I wasn't dreaming; race day was here. I rolled out of bed and, barely awake, managed to eat an early morning (late night?) breakfast of crappy hotel coffee, cheese danish, and a bottle of butter pecan Ensure. A little Pepcid and Gas-Ex to hold things down, and it was time to jump in the car and head off to the starting line.

We arrived to a beautiful scene of lights on the dark mountain top and the theme to "Chariots of Fire" playing and runners bustling around. This was actually a calm time for me as I found many friends to talk with. There was nothing left to do except run. The night (morning?) was already humid and I had planned to heed the warnings of my friends and crew -- GO SLOW!!

And then, just minutes before the race was to start, the rain came. A downpour started but didn't last too long and subsided to a light sprinkle. Finally, my other friend Karen, who was running her first 100 miler, and I decided to head out to the starting line -- we figured we were going to get wet sometime, so why not now?

4:00 AM -- we're off! Neither of us heard the race director yell start, but since the crowd of runners started moving, we assumed that the race had begun. Joe's cowbell rang in the distance and I began my ultra shuffle down the hill among the bobbling lights and faceless voices.

After some time I heard the hoof beats. A testimonial to my slower pace. Last year I was a couple of miles further along when the horses caught me. This made me feel good that I wasn't going out too fast. The sun had come up and it was a beautiful morning. I think the hardest part was that I wanted to look at all of the horses and admire their beauty and athleticism, but it's not so easy to keep moving forward if your head is turning sideways. The horses all seemed to be as soaked in sweat as we runners were at this point. I don't think I had one piece of dry clothing on!

Mile 21.1 (Pretty House) - 4 hours, 34 minutes. Even though I had started out running and talking with friends, somehow I still ended up running for quite some time by myself. That is until we passed a farm and I enjoyed a few minutes of "chatter" with the cows. The cows were friendly enough, but I was ready to see my crew and hear what their assessment of my progress was. Coming down toward the aid station I could see the crew vehicles lined-up. The I heard the voices. And then THE cowbell -- Joe's cowbell. I peeled into the aid station, changed my shirt and refilled my gummy-bear bag and HEED bottles. Well-wishes from my crew and I was off. However, in all of the excitement, I forgot to eat (image ... me forgetting to eat!). So I hit the aid station smorgasbord and grabbed some snacks and headed out.

Mile 30.1 (Stage Road) - 6 hours, 33 minutes. Those nine miles were pretty uneventful, except now the sun was cominItalicg out in full-force and the humidity wasn't budging. When it gets this hot out I just cannot stomach sports drinks of any kind -- all I want is ice cold water. So I switched to my water bottle and stashed the HEED bottle in my waist-carrier. I also made a conscious effort to take my Endurolytes regularly and the gummy bears became my food staple. And then, before I knew it, I heard the voices and the cowbell and I knew I was "coming home". My awesome crew toweled me off, sprayed me with water, gave me Coke, Ensure, and potato chips. I gave up on the HEED and filled both of my water bottles with ice water. My pacer, Karen, walked me out of the station, which was a real mental boost just to have some real conversation and advice.

Mile 47.2 (Camp 10 Bear) - 10 hours, 27 minutes. The climbs from the Stage Road station were simply relentless. I got a real boost from this guy Joe, from Maine, who admired how quickly I hiked the hills. Yah, great, I told him, but eventually I would have to go down and that wouldn't be so pretty.

I pulled into Camp 10 Bear ... FINALLY. I didn't remember it taking this long last year. So great, I had climbed some amazingly steep hills, but my feet were now taking the toll that came with the downhills. The bottoms of my feet were already starting to burn. Not a good sign -- it was too early for this. But my crew, ever on the ball, were right there waiting with the moleskin to keep me moving. Once my feet were re-soled I headed over to get weighed. Unfortunately, when I went to step up on the scale I stumbled a bit and the medical volunteer looked at me and said "that's not a good sign". Immediately I was scared because if the medical crew thinks you are impaired in any way they can pull you from the course, no arguments. I felt great and I quickly told her that I was OK, that this was normal for me -- I had had a brain aneurysm which had ruptured and was repaired when I was 11 years old which had affected my balance. I assume that she believed me because, really, after 10+ hours of running, who could make up that kind of story? My weight was good at 155 pounds; I could go on. I had already had my Ensure and Coke, so I grabbed some chips and Karen walked me out, encouraging me all the way.

No sooner had I left the aid station when the thunder started booming. No rain yet but A LOT of booming. And yet, as I climbed yet another steep trail, I really didn't seem to be bothered by it. What's the worse that could happen? I could be struck down by the lightening and end this agony!

And then it wasn't long before the rain started -- lightly at first and then the winds picked-up and the downpour started. And then I started to feel a bit goofy. I was running along a trail when I came upon a big black bear on its hind legs. Wait a minute ... was that a statue or was it real? I have to admit that I stared at it for a good long time before I started to tip-toe past it and then I hauled-ass! Statue or not, it was just a little too creepy for me.

At the next aid station in the middle of the woods I downed a couple of turkey and cheese sandwiches, cantaloupe, and some watermelon -- a nice change to the gummy bear diet that I had been subsisting on.

Mile 57 (Tracer Brook) - 13 hours, 6 minutes. I wish I could say that the rain cooled things off ... but it didn't. If anything things seemed a bit steamier. And now I was just plain uncomfortable in my wet clothes. Fortunately, when I came into Tracer Brook, Joe and Will were waiting right there for me with a chair just calling my name. Joe ran to the car and got a new attire of dry clothes -- the whole deal. Shirt, bra, shorts, socks, sneakers, all of it, and I was going to change right there. Will pointed out that there was a more private place over in the woods where I could change my clothes. Yes, there was. But why would I walk way over there? I got my new dry stuff on, behind the "wall" (raincoat) that Will held up for privacy. Joe re-moleskinned my feet, I grabbed some Coke and Pringles, and it was time to move on. Karen was back at Camp 10 Bear helping Rob, so Joe had to perform her duties of walking me out of the station and filling me with encouraging thoughts.

Mile 62.1 (Margaritaville) - 14 hours, 34 minutes. Unfortunately, when I left Tracer Brook, the sun came back out and the humidity just seemed to get even worser. The good news? It was mostly uphill to Margaritaville, so I was back in my glory and I really started to move. I performed a few "sanity checks" along the way and realized that I was OK when I could sing the entire chorus of "Mister Ed" (you know, a horse is a horse, of course, of course) and recite the entire poem of T.S. Elliot's "The Naming of Cats". I ate my gummy bears, took my electrolytes, drank, and was looking forward to seeing my crew and maybe grabbing a margarita soon. Only when I arrived in Margaritaville I passed by all of the crew vehicles and there was no sign of Joe or Will or Karen. How could this be? They had over an hour to get here ahead of me. Now I was worried that something had happened to them. I really didn't need anything from them except maybe a light (in case I didn't get to the next aid station before dark) and just their moral support. I started to cry -- and tears came pretty easily after 14-plus hours of running. A couple of my friends were there and offered me some encouragement and gave me a small keychain light -- just in case. It would have to do. And off I went, fighting back the tears.

Mile 70.1 (Camp 10 Bear) - 16 hours, 40 minutes. Well, I didn't need the light. And I had only momentary bouts of nausea which were relieved by sucking on crystallized ginger. My foot burn returned and I had to keep reminding myself that I wouldn't die from blisters so I just needed to suck-it-up.

As I approached Camp 10 Bear I was a little nervous. What if Joe wasn't there? What if he was? Should I be angry? I shouldn't be angry; he is out here helping me. Hmmmm. And then I came upon two guys walking only to find out that one of them was a buddy of mine. It was great to have a friend out here in the middle of nowhere. I was introduced to the other runner, who gave me some additional foot care insight, and the three of us headed for the aid station. Joe greeted us about 1/4 mile before the station and it was just good to see him there - safe. I didn't even care that the reason he missed me at the last station was because he was out getting a sandwich. I stepped up onto the scale without stumbling and weighed in at 156 pounds. Excellent. I sat down and had a cup of hot chicken broth and gingerale while Karen re-soled my feet with moleskin. I am thinking about taking stock in the moleskin industry!

It was getting dark by now so I donned my headlamp, as did Karen, and she grabbed the flashlight, and we were off. The weird thing was that the fog created a beam from the headlamps which made it difficult to see the trail. The hand-held flashlight worked well shining down lower to the ground. Good thing we had this.

OK, so again, we had to go up. And up some more. And more. And the trail was rocky and muddy. And it was still humid. But I had good company with Karen and my buddy Jim to talk with, so it was actually pretty not awful.

Mile 77 (West Winds) - 19 hours, 0 minutes. After some pretty technical trails (OK, so maybe not, but it was dark out and way past my bedtime, so even flat roads were now considered technical), we started uphill again. ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! And then I heard it ... the cowbell! Uphill, AGAIN, which was actually OK this time since I knew there was a chair waiting for me at the top.

This year Joe remembered the Gatorade (last year he had forgotten to bring it to this aid station and cranky me made him run more than a half-mile back to the car to get it!). I had been subsisting on water and gummy bears but now I really didn't even want the solidness of the gummy bears, so Joe switched my bottles to Gatorade. I downed a couple of cups of chicken broth (no noodles ... too solid). The chair felt really, really good and my feet and butt were loving the rest, but being the good pacer that she was, Karen got me out of the chair before I really hunkered down. I put on my coat, now a little chilled from sitting still, and we headed-off under the full moon.

My spirits were still good and my mental faculties pretty much intact. I guess I had forgotten how far the next 11.6 miles actually would be. My feet still burned. The uphills weren't so bad, but man, those downhills were just wretched. I just had to remember ... I wouldn't die from blisters. Pain is temporary. And all that crap.

As we headed into the aid station at 83.6 miles we were zinged by a bat. RABIES! What if I got rabies and couldn't finish? Karen assured me ... just keep moving! The aid station looked like some kind of cult meeting; there was a fire burning, a guy wrapped in a blanket sleeping in a chair, and a few others slumped in chairs. I sat and had some broth. A guy came in and announced that he was dropping; he said he didn't have anything left. I remembered that feeling from the year before. Fortunately before I could linger in this thought, Karen got me moving. On to meet my nemesis.

Mile 88.6 (Bill's) - 23 hours, 10 minutes. My feet were still burning and I had already discussed my need for foot review with Karen and so we had our plan of what was going to need to be done when we reached Bill's.

The fog was so thick that we really didn't see the lights of the barn until we were almost upon it. There was no cowbell this time; I guess not everyone needed to be awake at that godforsaken hour.

It was with great relief and a big smile that I stepped up on the scale. I knew that I would be going on this year. I was hurting and tired but it wasn't time to stop. I weighed in at the same 156 pounds and then flopped into a chair to enjoy some more of that yummy chicken broth and gingerale while Karen re-moleskinned my feet. I even helped pop a couple of blisters myself.

Now, I had changed to drinking Gatorade the last time I saw Joe, so one would think that I might want to keep going with that, right? Well, Joe forgot the Gatorade and the car was parked a ways away. Fortunately, Karen's son Eric was helping crew and made the mad-dash to the car to get it. My hero.

So with my feet fixed (again!) and my tummy full, Karen and I set-off on my journey for redemption. Now I was truly going where I had never gone before. Queue "The Twilight Zone" theme and envision Rod Serling standing in the woods. I truly was about to enter a new dimension of space and time. If only I knew what bizarreness awaited me.

It wasn't long after we crossed some trails and started down a road that it was time to re-enter the trails. At this point I felt the need to let Karen know that my head was feeling a bit messed-up (OK, those of you who know me know very well what word I used!). I sat down on the side of the road, turned my headlamp off, put my head between my legs and closed me eyes, hoping the feeling would pass. Karen reassured me that this feeling would pass; that it was just my body trying to go to sleep. So maybe I should let it?

Guess not. I don't even know how long I sat there but finally Karen helped me jup because we both knew that the longer I sadt there the harder it would ge to get mogving again. And, no matter, how slow, forward motion would be progress. You don't get to the finish line by sitting on the road.

Now I was having some difficulty focusing and even walking straight. So Karen took me by the arm and kept me upright. And I think this is the point where coherent conversation ended and I was reduced to whines and moans, intermingled only by pleas to just let any oncoming traffic hit me.

I was relieved to reach the next aid station at 92 miles. Maybe I could just stop here. I passed last year's point; why did I need to do the whole 100 miles anyway? I contemplated my bizarre logic as I drank some broth. Fortunately Karen saved me from myself andd pulled me out of my seat and back to the road.

OK, so I have read about people having hallucinations during 100 mile races but I figured that it just would never happen to me. WRONG! What were those giant hogs, moose, and cows doing out on the trail? And was that a giant grizzly bear in front of me? Since Karen didn't seem alarmed by these creatures I figured she must know that they were friendly.

Karen tried to reassure me that when the sun came up I would feel better. Somehow I just didn't know. And now I was crying like a baby ... but still moving forward. My feet and back were killing me so every once in a while Karen allowed me to stop, squat, bend-over, and take a "mental minute". And she meant one minute. She was timing me -- although I am sure that her watch was moving in double-time! But the rule is that your pacer is smarter than you. She is your brain because you don't have one at this point. There is no sense in arguing; your f*#@!#-up logic is no match for hers. You will try anyting to get her to let you stop, but she will know better and just keep pulling you forward.

Somewhere around 94 miles I had a revelation. I looked at my swollen sausage-fingers and decided that I needed to take an electrolyte capsule. What if my potassium was too low? What if my heart stopped? OK, case in point ... medical knowledge has no place in the mind of someone who has been running for more than 24 hours. The mind just doesn't know what to do with it and it can only hurt you!

Karen patiently listened to my concerns and flat-out told me "you're not going to be paralyzed; come on". So, tears streaking down my face, Karen pulling me by the arm, we headed into the Scary Forest (my friend Jim's title for this gnarly section of woods ... something like out of that scene from The Wizard of Oz where the flying monkeys swoop down and attack the scarecrow -- and that is exactly what it looked like).

Mile 95.5 (Polly's) - 26 hours, 18 minutes. Still crying (OK, bawling) I came walking into Polly's. And there was Joe. How could I possibly go on? The volunteer at the aid station offered me a blanket ... oh, yes, I wanted a blanket. But no, Joe and Karen wouldn't let me have one. Instead Karen told me I coiuld sit down for five minutes. Ten minutes, I said. No, five. The pacer rules. I succumbed and drank my cup of broth while Joe ripped my shirt off over my head to put on my "Diane's Team" shirt. This shirt would give me strength. This was the shirt that I was supposed to wear into the finish last year. Diane was fighting to survive and so would I. But I just didn't feel like I was right now. So I had blisters ... she's having chemotherapy ... who wins? Guiess I needed to just cowgirl-up, as Diane would say.

And then I was told that my five minutes were up. Where did Karen get that damn watch, anyway? I know my head was a mess but rest times sure seemed to go by fast. Once we were out of sight from the aid station I decided that I had to pee. OK, so maybe the first clue that this was not a real needed pee stop was that I was talking to Karen the whole time instead of peeing. Finally she realized my game; the jig was up. That was the last time I would pull that stunt.

Still whining, crying, and moaning that I hurt, we proceeded forward. I can't believe that Karen just let me piss and moan like that and never told me to just shut-up! And then I heard it ... it was an eerie rattleinng sound. RATTLESNAKE! Who the hell said there aren't any rattlesnakes in Vermont?! We couldn't possibly go on; there was a rattlesnake out there. Again, pacer being the wiser of the two of us, I was forced to carry on, hoping that I wouldn't cojme to my demise at the fangs of a rattlesnake after all of this time and hard work. That would really suck.

Mile 100 -- THE FINISH LINE -- 27 hours, 51 minutes, 35 seconds. Despite it all, even the deceivingly placed mile markers coming into the finish, I FINISHED! It was such a wonderful feeling, one that I really still have trouble trying to describe to myself. I know that I could not have done this alone. My crew of Joe, Will, Eric, and Karen kept me going throughout the day and night. They were the best, putting-up with so much of my crap. When Karen agreed to pace me she said that she would get me to the finish line and she knew that was what I wanted and, more importantly, needed. And even when I thought I wanted to stop, she knew better and kept me going. And really, I was just a bit too scared to defy her. And I am so grateful for that. I really would have had a hard time accepting another DNF. And I had also decided that if I didn't finish this time that I would have to come back again in 2009!

As I layed on a cot in the mecical tent, waiting to get my feet assessed, Karen brought over the celebratory breakfast beers. As we clinked cans I could finally relax and revel in what I had just done.

As usual, Joe and I can't travel anywhere without the dark cloud of motel voo-doo following us. Last year the key card didn't work to let us back into the room when we got back from the race. So what happened this year? Of course, the key card wouldn't work to let us in. The motel girl came out with her little tool and diagnosed that it was a dead battery in the lock system. So after an eternity, someone broke-in the room and got the lock fixed. FINALLY, I got to shower and go to bed.

After about five hours of sleep, Joe and I decided that we needed to go and get more eats. Onlhy this time the door wouldn't lock! So I sat in the room while Joe ran out for the exquisite cuisine of McDonald's. After a couple more beers and two filet o' fishes, it was back to sleep.

But I knew that I would be hungry again and I was prepared. I shared my bed with a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips and peanut M&Ms. Every once in a while I would wake up, eat a little snack, and go back to sleep. It worked.

I'm still hungry and eating everything in sight. My head is still a bit foggy. Case in point: I had to go to Ithaca to pick-up my nephew and I drove right on by the location where he was waiting. About a mile after I got past him I remembered that he was the reason that I was driving into Ithaca and went back to get him.

My right big toenail has been lanced with a hot poker a couple of timjes and is till leaking. The blisters on the bottom of my right foot finally popped-up and open, much to my relief. I am still using moleskin on the bottom of that foot. Other than that, the rest of my body feels good. If it weren't for my right foot, I think I cvould actually jog a little. The quads, the hips, everything, actaully feel better that after my first marathon (OK, so I was more than a little ill-prepared for that race, but that's another ugly story)!

So will I run a 100 miler again? Never say never. And I have thought about it over the last few days. When you do something that is this great it really takes on a huge significance in your life and it changes you. And I think that when you do something this great over and over each time it diminishes the significance of that first time a little more each time. So right now I want to cherish this and if I decide to do another 100 miler I think it would have to be a different one than Vermont 100. I don't want to diminish anything that I have experienced this first time.


100 miles is a long way.

I only needed 12 miles to find redemption; after running 88 miles, 12 miles might as well have been another 100!

Anyone who says that running 100 miles is easy or that with practice you willl "get the hang of it" is LYING!

Running for so many hours is like a bad bout of PMS ... eating everything in sight, ongoing irritability, and lots of cramps and mood swings!

Always take good care of your feet; they are your lifeline when it comes to this type of event.

Ensure really isn't so bad.

Find a pacer who really knows you and your needs ... one who knows when you are just full of crap versus when you are really hurt and one who you have a deep-seeded fear of disappointing.

People who will touch you when you are covered in layers of grime, crying, and have snot running down your face and who will pop your blisters for you are truly your friends.

There is just something about the lure and mystique of running 100 miles ...