Those of you that read this blog (thanks to the now whopping 40 members, you all rock!) know that after last year's bucket filler of a race, I had something of a score to settle with the mountains in Vermont. After entering 2012 at my heaviest weight in a few years, I vowed to transform myself into what I jokingly called "lean mean mountain running machine". The plan: burn fat, build lean muscle, grow my hair and a beard. Then, the mountain running would just happen.
So this is what I did. I dropped the weight. I didn't cut my hair. I grew a beard that was often met with sideways glances. Women and children ran for the hills when I approached. All the while, I ran every day. Every single day. I ran in the morning. I ran at night. I ran by the river. I ran up the mountain. Repeatedly. In August, I finally pulled the trigger. The deed was done. All that remained was for me to show in Vermont and run.
Son of A (IT)B!
Three weeks prior to the race, I went out for my last long training run. I ran from my house to the summit of Wachusett mountain. For good measure, I ran back down to the base of the mountain and back up again for some added elevation. The wrist bitch said 3088 feet of climb over 17.5 miles. I felt strong the entire way, managing a sub-11 pace while running the entire length of summit road. It was a great confidence booster for the 50. Until the day after.
The next day, I ran a ten miler on the local trails. Two to three miles in, my knee starting complaining. I gutted it out and went home for the usual treatment of stretching, ice, etc. It didn't help too much. My right ITB was incredibly tight. I foam rolled. Tried to run - painful. For the next few weeks, I did everything possible to combat this issue. I rolled, bought "the stick", iced, took salt baths, stretched, had deep tissue massage, etc.
It got a little bit better each day, but I was still worried, even up until the day and night before the race. Screenshot from my day-before workout below...
"Knee made some noise every now and then, but I'm just going to have to deal with it."
This ITB issue really messed with my head. I was a nervous wreck leading up to the race. I probably wasn't all that pleasant to deal with prior to race day, so hats off to our crew for putting up with my demeanor.
This year, we smartened up and rented a farm house that was only about 20 minutes from the start, and was a few miles from the Skunk Hollow aid station (first handler station). So, we had a much more relaxed time getting ready. We finished up and headed out, arriving at the mountain sometime around 5:45 (this could be completely wrong, I forget).
After checking in, we hung out with the rest of the crazy people in headlamps. Returning this year to run the race out of the crew from last year were Doug and Jeremy. We ran into Gene, who crewed for Sarah last year and was crewing again this year, and Amanda, who we joked was going to straight-up win the race.
|L-R: Amanda, Doug, Jeremy, Me|
|After a "fist bump of fury", we were ready to go.|
And We're Off!
The race started on time this year. As planned, I went out really, really easy. Jeremy and Doug were already beginning to pull ahead within the first mile. I went very gingerly, quite worried about the ITB and knee, especially on the opening downhill/flat stretches. On the uphills, however, is where my mountain repeats came into play. I was power walking with alacrity, passing people on the ups. Doug and Jeremy would get ahead, and I'd catch up or overtake them on the hills in the beginning miles.
After a few miles, we kind of spread out a little bit. With D & J ahead a little bit, I fell into a nice groove of my own and ended up chatting with a woman named Lauren from California for a bit. She had some ultra experience so it was great to talk it up with her about 100 milers and what-not. We caught up to Doug and Jeremy at the second aid station (about 8 miles in) and for a brief stretch, the 4 of us were running together.
It wasn't too long before I found myself pulling ahead with Jeremy. Gradually we distanced ourselves from Doug and Lauren. Surprisingly, my knee was feeling pretty good, and the ITB was behaving. There were some downhill sections that were actually a ton of fun! The course in the first half was in much better shape than last year, after Hurricane Irene had devastated much of this region.
By the time we reached the first handler station, we were probably a handful of minutes ahead of Doug. It was great to get to see Jenni and Lex (Doug's wife) and the rest of our crew, but I was determined not to dawdle at the aid stations this year. We were in and out quickly, and back on the road for a stretch, leading up to Garvin Hill.
This is the longest stretch of the race between aid. It's about 7 miles, mostly uphill. Long country roads, maple syrup tap lines, and beautiful farmland along this stretch. But even at the top of Garvin Hill, the highest point on the course, there wasn't much to be seen through the fog and misting rain.
At Garvin Hill, I knew we were making great time. I think we were sub-12 up to that point, which really made me feel confident, despite the fact that both of my knees were now starting to complain, especially on the downhills. Our ad-hoc plan was to run the first half of the race at whatever comfortable-push pace we could muster, banking time for the second half, which features more single track, more switch backs, and more little climbs. So Jeremy and I stuck together for a few more miles until he eventually began to pull ahead somewhere around the 25 mile mark.
And so it went. I ran when I felt comfortable, I walked the steeper uphills. I enjoyed some chicken broth at an aid station (Margaritaville?) and stuck to my nutrition plan - Nuun in the handheld and water in the 2L hydration pack. Honey stinger gels or chomps every 45 minutes or so, and a handful of potatoes, chips, bananas, or whatever else looked appetizing at the aid stations. I hit a real wall in the 40's last year and wanted to avoid that at all costs. Eating was a priority.
My plan for shoes was to run the whole thing in New Balance MT10's. I had a pair to change into at the 32 mile aid station. Before the race, I told my wife that if I hit the 32 mile station in a time anywhere close to my Pineland 50k time from May (6:35) that I'd be pretty happy. I think I rolled into the aid station somewhere between 6:15-6:25.
|Approaching the 32 mile aid station|
|Some foot maintenance at 32|
I took a handful of ibuprofen at this aid station as well, as my knees were really killing me on the downhills. After a change of shoes and socks and some preventative foot maintenance, I was off again, feeling really good about the time.
As I made my way up the hills following 32, I had my head down. It wasn't long before someone called out to me that I had started to go down a wrong path. I'm super thankful for that woman, as it would have been less than ideal for me to take a wrong turn at that point in the race.
The next stretch was just as I remembered it. Winding switch backs that left you wondering whether or not you had already covered the terrain. Just keep moving forward. Relentless forward motion. Keep moving. Move. There's another aid station not too far from here. Just keep going.
The rain was making the terrain increasingly slippery. The downhills were turning into mudslides, and balance was getting tougher. I was worried about my knees just blowing out several of the descents. The uphills were actually a welcome distraction from having to acutely focus on the downhills.
Around mile 35 I started to feel very confident about beating the cutoff times, which allowed me to relax a little bit. I remember more than one stretch where I kept reminding myself to breathe and just let my leg muscles calm down and relax. Deep breath in, visualize the ITB and knees relaxing. Repeat.
By the time I neared the 40 mile station, I was gaining more confidence. I stopped a little longer to chat with the aid station staff. Kudos to them for having potatoes this year! I left the 40 mile aid station with high spirits, knowing that I was getting close to the section that chewed me up and destroyed me last year - 42 to 45.
This was the "best" part of the race for me. The ibuprofen had provided some relief for my knees, which let me run some of the more "runnable" single track. It was incredibly empowering to look at stretches of the course where I was wobbling around in a nutrient-deficient haze last year and think "I feel good enough to run this stretch. It's not as technical as the trails in my backyard. Let's do this!"
Alone by myself on the single-track that took me to some dark places last year, I felt in control, confident, strong. I may have even teared up a little bit.
As I neared the 47 mile aid station where I was cutoff last year, I knew that there was no way (barring injury) I would not finish. In fact, I was damn sure that I could pretty much walk the rest of the course and still break 11 hours. I was so excited to get to the station this year that I ran up the hill leading to it!
|At the 47 mile aid station. Everything hurt, but I knew I was in great shape to finish sub-11.|
I felt relaxed at the last aid station. I got there in just under 10 hours. With just about three miles to go, I knew I was in fantastic shape. After a few minutes over at the food table, I made my way out into the fields that would lead to more single track on Ascutney mountain, and the ski slopes themselves. During this section I walked whenever I felt like it, which was quite a bit. The rain was pouring and the footing was slippery in the woods. As we got onto the slopes, it was even worse. I fell twice, while walking!
After a maddening couple of miles on the ski trails, I was almost there. To my surprise, Lauren caught up with me as we made the final descent. It was about 10:53 into the race and she came up with another guy. There was a palpable excitement in the air as they exclaimed "Western States!" and made their way down the final stretch.
I slipped a little bit on the final hill before the last stretch. As I made my way down, I could hear my crew cheering. I reached over to my right arm and touched the bracelets that the kids had made for me. I was overcome with emotion. Then I saw Jeremy coming back up to run me in. He yelled some words of encouragement to me as we made our way down.
After crossing the line, there were hugs and tears and all that good stuff. I made my way over to get my medal from the kind little girl handing them out. The wife snapped this pic immediately after. Tired and exhausted, but oh so happy.
|Done and DONE!|
A few minutes later, Doug crossed the finish line. He missed the 11 hour mark by 30 seconds, but finished the race despite not having really trained heading into it, and nursing his own injuries.
Afterwards, we enjoyed our drink of choice. Doug had beer, I had wine. We ate a burger at the food tent, and then we all made our way back to the farmhouse for more food and drink.
* Vermont is not flat
* Losing 30 lbs makes a huge difference
* Long hair and a beard is the look for ultras
* Ultras are freaking awesome, and I want to do more.
I must say a huge thank you and job well done to the race organizers and volunteers this year. The aid stations were stocked and everything went pretty smoothly from my perspective. Huge thanks to the private land owners that allow us rights to their land for this one day a year.
Thank you to Doug - who continually talks me into "doing stupid things" that, in the end, are usually pretty damn fun.
And the biggest thank you of all to my biggest supporter - my wife Jenni. She and our kids extend a phenomenal amount of support to this crazy ultrarunner, and I am eternally grateful. You are the best!
As it was last year, there's a lot of stuff swirling around in my head about this experience. Some of it is tough to put into words. You've got to experience it. Go through it. Keep moving forward.
|Medal, shirt, and bracelets that the kids made me to get me through this race. =)|
I did continue "the streak" after the race. Day 280 was tough. But as of yesterday morning, I'm on day 291. Today I'm planning on going for a trail run with my daughter. One day at a time people, one day at a time.
Relentless forward motion. Run, run, run.