This is part II in my attempt to tell of my first one-hundred mile run. Part III will eventually follow. Part I can be found here. I didn’t want it to be so long, but a lot happens over the course of a hundred miles.
As the announcer’s voice began to cut through the din, tired faces slowly turned towards the start. Unlike your typical road race, there was no jostling of elbows, no subtle body positing to eek in-front of another runner while avoiding eye contact, scanning the horizon pretending to look for someone you know. No, if you wanted to stand at the front of the line, no one would stop you. People would move out of your way and allow you to pass, but a hundred mile race is a little different. While the winner isn’t predetermined, chances are very good it won’t be a neck-and-neck finish, a race that could have been won with better starting position. We stand where we are and go when told, in the beginning, a few more steps isn’t worth the hassle of moving up; of course at the end, those few more steps can seem an eternity.
The announcer stopped talking and started counting backward from ten with the help of the crowd, like a New Year’s celebration without the nip of winter. Soon enough, we got to ‘one’ and we were off. There were a few cheers and shouts, but we had been advised to keep our shouts and excitement to a minimum – at least for about a mile until we hit the woods (again, thank you cranky neighbours…) – so there were little dramatics at the start. The handful of spectators lining the side of the road waiting to see loved ones pass by was brief. This race became very real long before the start, but once I passed from field to dirt road, it had begun. The nerves were gone. It became less of an obstacle and just something that had to be done. A task I had set for myself, a chore to be done with no real overseer.
At 4:00 AM it’s dark. The sun will be coming up soon, but the world still has some travelling through darkness to be done before the faint rays of our star will announce it’s arrival for the day. The headlamps and flash-lights that had seemed to light the whole area of the corral soon distanced themselves from one another as we strung out along the road, careening down the hill and snaking around the curve, surely confusing any nocturnal beasts about and giving any early waking children nightmares of the M. Knight Shyamalan variety. I opted to not take a headlamp along with me, and instead brought a couple of handheld flash lights. While I had it in my hand, lanyard wrapped around my fingers, I only turned it on a handful of times when we got out to the trails. Between the moonlight and the plethora of headlamps around, it really wasn’t necessary. In hindsight, I wonder if I broke some universal rule, a code of conduct among ultra runners to share the burden of breaking darkness.
Icame into the race planning on running around 10:00 minute miles. Unfortunately, I’m not a real good judge of 10:00 minute mile pace. If I was pushing a stroller, I could tell you, but considering that most of my runs take place between the 7:00 and 8:00 minute range, 10:00 was something of a guess. In an attempt to give myself some help, I made a sort of table of different aid stations and what the running time would be depending on an 8:30 and 10:00 pace – as the distance grew longer, I also included 11:00 and 12:00 pace.
As I rolled into the first aid station seven miles in, I looked down at my watch, expecting to see a time under 60:00. I knew I was trying to go slow, but between the adrenalin and the effort the pace felt like, I figured I was somewhere just over 8:00 minute miles. I was wrong. I went through at 66:00 and some change. Despite being closer to my goal pace than I had anticipated, the fact that things certainly didn’t feel like 9:30 miles gave me some pause. With the new pacing information and awareness, I tried to slow down a bit and continued on my way.
I was already running on my own, and figured I’d run much of the race on my own as I approached the next aid station – an unmanned table with some cola, ginger ale and a port-a-potty – and who should step out but one of the characters I met at the beginning – and knew from previous races. We had briefly talked pacing at the beginning and his strategy was a bit different than mine. I had made a point of it in the start to let him go so I wouldn’t be tempted to run with him, and here I was, a mere 11 miles in and we were running side by side chewing the fat. Apparently his drink wasn’t sitting well and he was gearing up for a long race. At the same time, he was a little disheartened by the time he had lost hitting the loo, and was looking to make it back on this long stretch of downhill.
Everything in my brain told me to let him go, and I think I even tried physically; I ran a step behind him and tried to make it two, but there was a conversation going on, and being the socially awkward guy I am, couldn’t figure out how to exit. I felt like I was going to be rude if I just dipped off, so instead I ran with him. I let him push the pace, and I just kind of held on despite my best effort to drop off.
We crossed the bridge and rounded a turn onto a dirt road I was familiar with from a local half marathon – it’s amazing how many places you’ll unknowingly recognize when you run 100 miles in your home town. As we neared the aid station, his watch beeped as we crossed the fifteen mile mark. Knowing that we had been going too fast – or at least I had been – I asked what kind of pace we had just been running. To which the reply was 7:40s.
I imagine it wasn’t good for the quads to go ‘bombing’ down hills so early in the race. Even if the short duration didn’t hurt me, in the end it would nag in the back of my head for the rest of the race, silently gnawing away at the little confidence I had.
New Friends, Old Friends, and Beef Cows
Last April I hosted a Fat Ass in town. I’m usually pretty good with names and faces – a tool I’ve honed teaching – but when sixty people show up and they’re not wearing name tags and email is the only form of communication you’ve previously had, remembering names can be a trick to say the least.
Shortly before we lolled into Pomfret, I fell in with a guy and started chatting. As it would turn out he showed up to the Fat Ass I put on, but had to drop due to a bruised foot – he ended up tweaking his hamstring on this day, but would go on to a strong finish. As we chatted, and started the long climb, I started to recognize some of the trees and mailboxes, and despite going up a monster hill, I started to feel a bit of energy as I realized where we were. For some reason, knowing where I was gave me a bit of mental energy.
I exclaimed to Tim that last year I had bought a cow at this farm. He shot me a semi-confused sideways glance. He knew I lived in town and had no space for a cow. Quickly I assuaged his confusion telling him that it was just half a cow, that I split. He caught my drift, and didn’t seem as amped as I was. I continued to tell him how good the cow was and how the tongue is still in my freezer waiting to make tacos, when we arrived at the sign for Cloudland Farm.
My eyes are loosing their ability to see far away. Signs are blurry, faces are a mystery until awkwardly close inspection renders them recognizable. As we approached the Cloudland Farm driveway, there was a couple standing there, cheering us on. Strange place to cheer. As we grew closer, I recognized an old face from college. One I hadn’t seen in 10 years. While I didn’t stop to chat, it was another of those little things that gave me a little more push forward.
Having already taken a fair bit of time away from my family by training over the past eight months, and not really knowing where to tell them to meet me, I told them to stay home. There were a couple of places designated for spectators, but that would mean my wife packing the kids in the car, driving 40 minutes to see me for a minute, then packing the kids back up and driving some more. It wasn’t fair.
Of course, my wife, had a problem listening and so as I came down a hill around mile 39, I started to hear shouts of “Yay, Daddy!” It took me by surprise, and while 39 miles isn’t that far, I had been awake since 2:45 in the morning and emotions were starting to run raw. I ran down the hill, gave my wife a kiss, bent down and kissed my son, and picked my daughter up and gave her a kiss, too. Seeing them in that moment made me appreciate them more than I usually do. I always tend to appreciate them more on a personal level after a long run, and this was one of the longest runs I’ve been on so far.
As I waved good-bye and told them I loved them, I started to get bleary eyed and choked up. A tear actually welled up before I wiped it away. Apparently running long distances makes me feel all sappy.
Time to Pee
I had managed to pee shortly after the race started, and my pee was clear. It probably had to do with the coffee and water I had for breakfast. I felt good and continued my slow march forward. That was around 4:30 AM. By the time I got to mile 40 or so and noticed the guy in front of me dip off to the side to take a leak, it dawned on me that I hadn’t peed in the last five or six hours. That was not so cool. I had been drinking what I thought was enough fluids, but was apparently not. As I ran I thought about it, checking internally to see if I had to pee, and there wasn’t an inkling of urination. I started to be a bit more conscious about drinking and really tried to force the fluids. I was still sweating pretty good, so that was positive.
Shortly after I noticed I wasn’t peeing and tried to drink more, I had the urge, so I stopped off behind a tree, and did my thing. Expecting to see a dark yellow I was much surprised to see something come out of me that looked similar to radiator fluid. For a moment I kind of panicked. Not because of my health and what my kidneys were doing, but because Camp 10 Bear was coming up and there was a medic check at that point. I would be weighed-in and I was worried about loosing too much weight and being forced to take a seat. I kept running and pounding HoneyMaxx when about a mile out from the medic check I started to wonder if I was drinking too much HoneyMaxx, and not enough water. Was I overloading my body with salts and electrolytes? If I put weight on, I was really screwed. There’s no taking a break from that; it’s game over.
I wanted to consult with my brother at 10 Bear, but the whole time I was there, the medics were in ear shot and I couldn’t let them hear of my dilemma. I continued to drink water and the occasional HoneyMaxx. I had lost a pound or so at the medic station so at least I wasn’t putting weight on. When I eventually found time to tell my brother of my issues he called me a few choice words and threatened my health a bit more. Always positive. In the end, I would pee twice more, and twice more it would be a red, radiator fluid color.
Camp 10 Bear
The Vermont 100 is essentially a big loop with one lollipop loop built-in, that lollipop starts and ends at Camp 10 Bear; it’s also where you pick up your pacer (I think) the second time around. Coming into 10 Bear I met my brother, grabbed some water, weighed myself in and continued on my way. It was a slight incline out, but the path would soon lend itself to some very runnable parts, especially for 50+ miles in. I managed to pass a few people on the flats and really felt like I was moving. It was comfortable, but flat. The only flat part of the race, and it was good. I passed the 50 mile mark at some point – there’s a sign that says 50.2 miles – and despite only being half way done, I felt accomplished. It was the furthest I’ve run in my life and only the second time I’d surpassed 50 miles. It also gave me a bit of hesitation as everything from that point forward was totally new.
Coming back into 10 Bear I would have to be weighed in again and figured the pause would be a good point to change my shirt. I had been wearing the same shirt for nearly 70 miles (I didn’t realize it was that far at the time), and it was pretty salty and gross to say the least. I pulled into the aid station, took off my pack and looked around for my brother. I didn’t see him. I hopped on the scale. My weight was still okay, so I put my pack back on, wandered over to the food table and filled up with water hoping to find my brother. I didn’t see him and after a short minute I decided that waiting was not the right answer, and so continued on my journey.
Every aid station was marked with the miles in, and the miles to the next aid stop. I didn’t typically pay them attention. All I was worried about was getting to the finish at this point. The little goals didn’t help a whole lot. I’m not sure why, but in my head I had figured that 10 Bear was at 64 miles in. I headed out with over 30 miles to go. I was starting to really get tired, mentally and physically at this point, but I figured I had made it this far, forward was the only way to go. I think I passed an unmanned aid station somewhere along the line, but the next time I got to an aid station, feeling exhausted and dragging, and looking for the 70 mile aid stop, where the pacers were, I saw no pacers. I cursed and couldn’t believe I still had 30+ miles to go. I started to doubt whether I’d make it.
I handed the volunteer my water bottle and asked how far I had made it. His reply shocked me and gave me the boost I needed. Apparently 10 Bear was 70 miles, and I had made it to mile 74+. I had made it nearly three-quarters of the way. Soon I would be on roads I was familiar with. As someone said, I could smell the barn at that point. I expressed my disbelief and gratitude and hurried onto the next aid stop.
A New Crew
As I approached the Spirit of ’76 aid station, I wondered if my brother
would be there, or if something had happened to him. It was a short hike up a little hill to ’76 and at the top of the hill I saw my family, again. Apparently, they had gone back to the house with my brother and all piled in the Man-Van to help daddy out. My son came trucking down the hill on hard pack gravel, barefoot, making me proud, and grabbed my hand. We hiked up the rest of the hill together and stopped at the aid station.
My brother came to meet me and I finally switched shirts. I had managed to pick up some nasty chaffage under my armpit, and I needed help switching shirts. I gobbled some food. I took off my shoes and dumped out the dirt. In hindsight, I think this was the longest I had stopped at any aid station. The path leading out of the aid station was downhill, and it was miserable. My legs felt tired and sore. They were heavy and didn’t want to move. I knew it was going to be a long 24 miles to go, but it was less than a marathon, I could do this.
I like mushrooms. It’s something of a hobby of mine, and when it comes time to run in the late summer and fall, I have a hard time focusing and find myself stopping every 200 yards to kick over some ‘shroom and see what it is. Over the last few years I’ve learned a good handful of them.
At some point during this race – I’ve no real recollection how far it was maybe 60-80 miles – I found myself stopping mid-stride. Previously the only time I actually stopped was to go the bathroom and to take my shoe off at an aid station to dump it out. I only stopped for a second and reached down to pluck up a gorgeous chanterelle. There were a number of them, all nice size and solid looking, just starting to unfurl their semi-rolled caps; in my head I could smell their faint earthy apricot smell. By the time I was almost halfway over, I realized the ridiculousness of what I was doing. There was room in my pack, but no way they’d survive the sweaty, bouncy remainder of the race. By no means was this a take my shoes off and play in the mud at the Barkley’s event, but all the same, I think I started to get a taste of that situational lostness that can occur in a hundred mile event.
As I ran away from my little trove of ‘shrooms, I tried to remember where I was so I could go back and pick them later. This would happen again later in the race, as I stopped to pick a Painted Suillius before again I got halfway bent over before I realized what I was doing.
The Great Mistake
Sometime after ’76, I started to recognize where I was. We passed by the start and we were onto roads that I had run numerous times. To some degree, it gave me a mental boost. I knew where the turns would be, where the big climbs were; I had an idea how far it was to the finish. At the same time, I think it made my brain more hurried and less aware.
As I approached the Cow Shed Trail aid station, I made a mistake. I knew Bill’s was at mile 89 and I knew from there it was essentially “over.” The home stretch so to speak. Planning my finish in less than spectacular fashion, I forgot to think about the here-and-now. I grabbed some water, a quarter of a grilled cheese and some gummy bears and was on my way.
As I left the aid station, I started to think about the next aid station and realized I had little to no food with me. It was going to be a long haul. I could turn around and back track for a tenth of a mile, but that far into a hundred miles, the last thing I wanted to do was retrace my steps. I should have.
I’m not sure that my failure to really eat anything made the end of my race the nightmare that it would be, or if it was a gradual buildup of everything that just came crashing down in the last eleven miles. But halfway between Bill’s and Cow Shed Trail, I knew the gig was up. It was going to be a battle.
The Man From Jersey
As I approached Bill’s I saw my wife and kids again sitting at the driveway in. My son, of course marching up and down the side of the road, barefoot, stick in hand, growling “dun-da-dun,” in his best attempt to be a solider. It made me chuckle and I felt okay, but I could tell by the look on my wife’s face, and the way she asked how I was feeling, that I was not okay.
I arrived to the garage and said hello to some of the local volunteers I recognized. I stepped up onto the scale doing my best to look collected. I had lost two pounds so far. The medic asked me some questions and voiced some concern as to my well-being. I assured her I was okay. I don’t recall a whole lot, but I remember telling her I was local and had run these last eleven miles a number of time. I also told her more-or-less, that I was finishing this race and that was that. She agreed and said I hadn’t lost enough weight to keep me there, and I seemed with-it enough. She just wanted to make sure I ate something. I perused the table and grabbed some more gummy bears and a handful of potatoes. I threw a couple Chia bars in my pack along with another handful of potatoes. (I should have learned from Napoleon Dynamite that potatoes in pockets don’t work, but I tried) and tried to leave.
As I went to leave, the medic kind of got in my way and put a gentle hand to my back asking where my pacer was. I told her I had none, and I could see a flash of concern on her face. She quickly rounded up a pacer for me, and told my brother to go with me as well. It took them sometime to get their stuff together, but I told the medic they could catch up, and away I went. In the end, having my brother and the guy from Jersey with me meant I finished sub-20 hours, as opposed to sub-24 or even sub-30.
Eighteen Minute Miles
Going into this, I knew there would be ups and downs. I knew that the wheels would fall off, and I would be sorry heap of scrap doing whatever it took to get where I needed. My goal was to push that demise off for as long as I could. I haven’t gone through all my splits, but I know that going from Cow Shed to Bill’s things really started to slip. My pace started slowing as the walking increased, but to say that the wheels wholly fell off would be a lie (I think…).
Rather, the explosion that left me wasted from which there was no recovery, occurred somewhere after leaving Bill’s. As I entered the woods, and came back to trails, the waning rays of sunlight disappeared and made me slow even further. We had lights, but my legs were tired, and mentally I was spent. My thoughts were no longer of running, but of avoiding rocks so as to not fall.
Even on the roads, I did more walking than running. My pacers ensured me that my walk was brisk, and when I did run, I obviously had something left in the tank. I kind of believed them at the time. In the end, it would take me almost three hours to ‘run’ the last 11 miles – a stunning 17:52 per mile.
The House Party in the Trees
Due to cranky neighbors and noise restrictions, the finish had been moved into the woods, and we had all been reminded numerous times to keep our volume down after 10:00 PM. As it stood, I wasn’t expecting much of a welcoming committee at the end of the race, especially at 11:30 at night, but as I approached what I imagined to be the finish, I grew surprised.
As we ventured through the woods on horse mangled trails for the last two miles, I started to hear some chatter. It grew louder as we continued forward, but as trails do, we looped around with the noise refusing to come closer. Part of me knew it wasn’t the finish. After all, we were told to be quiet, and the voices and music I was hearing certainly wasn’t quiet. But none of it made sense, why would there be an emcee, and 90’s hip hop banging through the woods? Why would there be a 90’s hip hop party in rural Vermont? Parties in Vermont consist of four-wheelers and bonfires. As irrational as it was, part of me believed they were there to welcome runners to the finish of the Vermont 100.
In the end, the music finally grew quieter and eventually drifted off to nothingness. I asked some local friends afterwards if they had heard of any shindig happening that evening. No one could give me any answers.
As the neon glow of the ‘Finish Line’ sign got brighter, I continued to walk. It wasn’t until my pacers peeled away and told me to run across the line that I started to do my best impression of some sort of trot. I saw my wife sitting on the ground with two passed out children in her lap. There was an immense sense of gratitude and guilt at the same time. There was some disappointment that it took me almost 20 hours to finish, that I fell apart as much as I did toward the end. There was also a huge sense of relief that it was over. Accomplishment that I had done what I set out to do. I had just run more miles in one day than I have in an entire week.
As I crossed the finish line, I paused and let the volunteer place the finisher’s medal around my neck. Perhaps as I do more of these things, the finisher’s medal will lose it’s importance and will join the half-marathon and marathon medals as clutter and children’s toys, but for now, it is important.
I took my pack off as I walked back to my wife. I gave her my thanks, and my brother picked up my son as we started the journey back to the car. I had just covered 100 miles in less than a day. I thought I was done. I had no idea the next 24 hours would be more arduous than the last 20.