Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Race Report: 2010 Vermont 100 Endurance Race

So this big question for this one was, was I recovered from Western States yet? It was hard to tell. All my training runs were crappy, but it was hot and humid, so there could have been other reasons. The only other time I raced within three weeks of a 100, I was fine for half and then died and walked much of the rest -- but with ultras coming fast and furious this Spring, I felt like I had improved my recovery a lot. Well, I'd shortly find out…


In the hotel before Friday's meeting
One thing I was determined to do was manage my weight/salt/etc. better. I didn't want to be found in a cot until the end of the race thankyouverymuch. I'd try more electrolyte drink, I figured. The weight check the day before the start was comical. 169. This compared to 158 at Western States three weeks ago. Yes, I ate a lot in between. But 11 pounds? Was this some kind of cruel joke? OK, I think really I was 163 at Western States no matter what their bloody scale said, and the guy at the weight check said the Vermont scale was 5 pounds high, but good grief. I griped to Chris Mortensen and Gregg, who I bumped into in the check-in line, and then we headed over for the pre-race meeting.

Saturday morning with my dad/crew
The next morning I felt fine heading over to the start -- only a few hours of sleep, but the pre-race adrenaline took care of that. I saw Gregg and Jeff under the big tent, met Alan from the Ultra list, and got the all-important "before" pictures. This is the photo where running 100 miles actually does seem easy. I tied, experimented a little, and retied my shoes (I was back to my older trail shoes as they seemed a better fit for the road/trail mix here.) Actually I felt pretty good heading over to the start line too. With 4 AM coming up fast I settled in toward the front of the pack, and without further ado, we were off!

A Kickin' 50K

Both ready to go after Western States
So long as I felt good, I didn't mind gravitating toward the front -- I knew we'd head into a trail section before too long, and there was no sense in getting stuck behind people. There was a big mob at the front -- perhaps 10 or 20 people -- and I was in the group behind that. Not everyone had lights, but that seemed dicey to me -- running on the road in the dark was fine, there was enough star light or whatever. But how could you go into trails like that? I guess by sticking next to someone else, which may be why I had so many trail friends! Or maybe they were just thinking "why'd this guy bring a light to spoil my night vision?!?" Who knows. But it was a nice run, and I occasionally poked my light into the trees to see a stream or something else we heard off to the side.

Typical start photo
Then one of the guys just behind me on the trail said "Hey, this is great, we're on like a 14 hour pace!" Pause. "What's going to happen to us now?" I called back, "Well, we're not going to keep up this pace, that's for sure!" Which was true, though we lasted surprisingly long. Once we came out of the single track, I was running with a guy whose watch beeped every mile. We were under 10 minute miles and staying there (which, if not 14, was still a sub-17 pace!) He asked about the course, and I shared what little detail I remembered. We were in the middle of a decent climb when he asked about the uphills on the course. And I gave perhaps the most comically inaccurate response ever shared. I told him the only climb that really stuck out in my mind was the trail just after Camp Ten Bear at mile 70. I saw a couple others on the elevation profile -- one around 15 and another in the low 20s -- but really they didn't seem that huge in general. I guess my frame of mind was a little different after the start and canyons at Western States, but I'm sure by the end of the race that guy thought I must have been describing a different event. I sure did.

Aside: If I had my thinking cap on, I would have looked up my never-finished race report from last year. Here's what it said:

We all felt good the day before...
And the hills. They just never ended! Some of the aid stations were at the bottom of long downhills, which means you know what's coming... An uphill. I don't mind so much if it's right then and there, because I can take some food out and eat while I walk up the hill. What gets me is when it's flat out of the station but I walk and eat anyway, and then just as I'm packing away the wreckage, I get to the hill. Sigh.

But the other stations aren't any better. They're the ones where you finish two or three miles of uphill by reaching an aid station. Then you feel great, and leave the aid station thinking "Cool! I know I'm at the top and I'll get a nice downhill now." But you know what's really coming... An uphill. Especially toward the end of the race.

Gregg had the most intimidating ankles...
Anyway, the first two aid stations passed pretty uneventfully -- I had my hydration pack full of water and was using Heed in my hand bottle. After the weight issues at Western States I had decided I should have a supply of electrolyte drink in addition to the water. I drank mostly out of the bottle, so it was a quick refill and departure. The recipient of my terrible course overview had pulled ahead slightly, but I still could hear his watch beep periodically, so I knew we were still on a crazy pace. But it felt just fine, so why not? I only had one issue in the early miles. The top of my foot hurt on the downhills. It seemed to be an issue with my shoe tying. I debated a little, and eventually pulled over when I saw a nice stump off to the side. I put my foot up and loosened the laces a bit. That helped some, but both the tops of my feet bothered me just enough to notice, here and there along the first 20 miles. I wondered if I'd have to do a serious retying job at some point.

But that aside, all systems go. Looking back, my fastest segment pace of the whole race came between the second and third aid stations. It was the first big downhill, into Taftsville, and across a wooden covered bridge. I knew we had to be getting to that big uphill in the course profile, but even after crossing the bridge it held flat until the aid station, and my pace was 8:07 -- including the time spent refilling at the station. Crazy! Also, a lot faster than last year (when I was 9:41 on the same segment). I didn't have all these statistics at my fingertips at the time, but looking back, it was probably the first sign of my big strength for the day -- the downhills. They would treat me well.

Arriving at Pretty House (21.1)
Of course the climb was slower, but the mileage was posted at every aid station, and I could tell I was still on quite a pace. When I got to the first crew station at Pretty House, my dad said I was way at the top of my predicted range, which I'm sure was true. My best possible case was really 20 hours, and I was still under 10 minute miles, on pace to beat that by 3 hours! Anyway, Diane and Jeff's mom cheered me through there as well -- it's always a lift to see friendly faces, and in this one the first time was more than 3 hours in. (Bit of a change from when I had Erin rushing around to see me 5 times during a marathon!) My dad had pulled my drop bag for me and I resupplied on gels and S-caps, topped off the liquids, and headed out. I quickly realized that I had forgotten to put on some sunscreen, but I figured I'd catch it next time (the sun was coming out, but still, it was only 7:30 AM).

I was pleased leaving here that my legs still felt good. Last year at about 20 miles my lower legs started to get really sore on the downhills, and I had to adjust my gait to emphasize first one leg, then the other -- it was a bit of a mess. Much nicer this time through when none of that was bothering me! Still, the real shocker came at the next station (named "U-Turn", though it was really more of a right if you ask me). The placard read 25.1 miles, and I got there in 4 hours. You do the math. Obviously I wasn't going to keep up this pace, but at this point, I felt like I was doing just great and I must have been totally recovered from Western States. So maybe the best case 20 hour goal was in reach?

The next section was there waiting to put that in doubt again. We went up, over, and down the Sound of Music hill. What is this? A grassy peak with spectacular views in all directions. Steep going up, and very steep going down. But I had to take a moment at the top just to look around! View aside, it was a really tough part of the course, and I thought about how I had told that guy there weren't any memorable hills until 70 miles. I mean, I didn't remember this at all -- if you had told me afterward that part was added for the first time this year I would have believed it! (And, as far as I can tell, it's just a nickname -- the movie wasn't actually shot there or anything.)

Arriving at Stage Road (30.1)
So anyway, I took it slow on the steep descent, and headed on toward the next aid station. It was a crew station, and even with the extra time I took for Sound of Music, I was well ahead of schedule. Not that I planned to put time in the bank, but I was feeling good, and it was there, so who's complaining? My dad told me I was at the top of the range again, and I told him not to worry -- I'd be slowing down in the heat and humidity of the day. I had sweated through my shorts in the first two hours, and with it getting up near 90, I didn't see how I could keep going like that -- but it was another reason to appreciate any buffer I had accumulated. He had my next drop bag with a bigger allotment of gels, as I'd be going about 17 miles before seeing him again. I asked for ice for my hat too, which was the main way I dealt with the heat.

My support squadron was happy too!
Leaving the station, I hit another stretch I remembered from the previous run. After a brief patch of road, we crossed a short wooden footbridge leading onto a very steep grassy climb. Last year, I had to wait for some fidgety horses to cross the bridge, and then we all did the climb together. They'd pull ahead, then pause at a puddle to drink while I walked on up the hill. Then they'd pass. Then a rider got off to let her horse do the walk sans rider and I passed while they sorted out. I was feeling a little down at that point but the riders were nice to me and that was a pick me up. Anyway, this year, no horses had caught up to me yet, which was great. Once the trail leveled out I was hanging right in with the runners around me, instead of slowly falling behind like last year. All good signs.

Revenge of the WS100

Unfortunately, things started to take a turn for the worse from there. The most minor first: I had forgotten sunscreen again. I worried about burning my neck. But beyond that, I hit a bit of a mental low, just wishing to get to Camp Ten Bear. That's the biggest aid station on the course, which you pass twice, and it would be the next time I'd see my dad at 47.2 miles. Getting there would definitely be a lift. I had a brief moment of excitement when we hit a road with fast-moving traffic around 34 miles -- I knew we'd run on Route 106 shortly before hitting Ten Bear. Somehow my brain had fogged and wasn't acknowledging that 34 miles was not shortly before 47 miles. When we hit the aid station marked "Route 12" I realized we just weren't there yet.

Right after this, I just started to feel physically beat too. I had been running great, and I know mental lows are part of the game. You just keep on keepin' on, and things will come around. But this was different -- it went beyond mental. I just felt drained, like someone sucked all the energy right out of me. I remember going up a hill, and I had been doing just fine on hills, and this was not one of the more severe ones. But I had a lot of trouble doing more than a trudge. There was an older guy who jogged on by, very slowly. But he kept up his slow jog for 100% of the hill. Other people walked (faster than me), and occasionally ran (much faster than me). I tried to pick it up to a jog here and there, but it never lasted. That slow-jog guy came from behind and I leapfrogged a bit with any jog I could muster, but he clearly beat me to the top of the hill. Suddenly I was losing places. I picked it up a bit on the downhills, passing the jogging guy again, but it didn't last. I pulled over at the unmanned aid station near 36 miles and more people passed. More ice for the hat helped, but not enough.

Grand Slammers
It was like that for quite a while. I knew what this was. This was Revenge of Western States. This was me not being fully recovered in three weeks. This was not what I was looking for just over a third of the way into the race. If this had just been for fun, I might have bailed anywhere between 35 and 47, because I sure felt like it was in danger of turning into a 60 mile death march -- but the Slam pulled me on.

We passed another covered bridge close to 40 miles. It was maybe the third of the day? Either this area has a lot more covered bridges than Philly does, or they designed the course to pass through every single one!

About this time, Chris caught up to me. I hadn't really known where he was, except somewhere behind me. I didn't know what kind of goal he had for the race, since he had done more marathon-type training lately. But he looked pretty strong coming up on me there, and I thought he was probably in for a pretty good race. We chatted a bit, and came into an aid station together. I just put fresh ice in the hat and left first, but he caught up quickly as the course trended uphill, and I wished him well as he went on by.

Not long after that, I started having stomach trouble. This was the part of the race where you think "and the hits just keep on comin'…" It was unsettled, and on top of that I felt like I had a lot of gas in there. I wondered where that was coming from -- I was drinking Heed and water, and eating only the gels I've trained with and the occasional watermelon or oranges. Going slower seemed to help. Yay. There was a guy without a shirt on that I was leapfrogging periodically and after about the 10th time we started chatting every time it happened.

Finally I came out to Rt. 106, meaning Ten Bear was close. Not too close -- there was at least one more station beforehand -- but it was a milestone. This was a sunny, hot, uphill mile along the road before turning back onto trails near a big aid station for the horses. At least I was keeping up with the runner ahead of me in the far distance. Some horses passed, but that's to be expected. I got to the turnoff, and passed all the horse trailers and tents at their site. I was doing OK through the grassy climb there, and then the single track that sort of paralleled 106 for a while. It was a funny spot with all kinds of cables rigged through the woods. They seemed to be more than just keeping you on the trail, but not enough for anything else -- except maybe the world's biggest collection of wet laundry. Who knows?

I stopped at the aid station when we came out of the woods. I was surprised to see it was Jenne Farm, only a mile and a half before Ten Bear! I don't know how I was so disoriented I still thought we were close because we had passed 106, but far enough that we wouldn't have been at the last aid station before Ten Bear. Anyway, more people popped out of the woods -- bare chest guy was there, and a woman who charged off up the road. Last year I think I skipped this one, but this time I needed the stop. I pressed on up the hill, trying not to lose too much more ground.

We hit the top and started down, and that was a disaster too. That gas problem turned real bad. Running down a hill just sent stabbing pains into my gut on every step -- but right where I was it was too steep to jog. I walked, and bare chest guy blew on by, trading places again. (I'd see him again at Ten Bear, but he'd leave first.) Thankfully I was eventually able to leave the gas behind and jog on down the hill into the station. I resolved to quit the Heed, as it was the only thing I had been doing different (though I've had it at prior races without trouble), and hoped that would clear up the stomach woes.

Leaving Camp Ten Bear (47.2);
At least one of us was happy
I saw cars parked ahead, and that brought a smile to my face. Then I saw Erin's car go by! She was heading into the station, but apparently hadn't seen me coming down the road as she passed. I wasn't sure whether I'd see her -- I figured if she parked on the left fork, no, right fork, yes (we left in different directions the two times through the station). She was going pretty slow (there's not a lot of room to drive with runners and horses going through), so I tried to pick it up in case I could catch up enough to wave her down, but it didn't happen. But it did kill the time for the last quarter mile and then I was at the station proper.

First surprise: there was Harris, Jeff's mom, and Jeff cheering me in! I asked Jeff what happened? He said it was a long story. I went on through to the tents.

Teamwork, baby!
They sent me right to the scales, and the good news was, I was at most a pound off from my starting weight. I had meant to weigh in at the voluntary medical check station earlier (after the weight problem at Western States), but forgot at the moment I was actually there. So this was the first check and I was happy it was on. I went over to talk to my extended crew -- my dad, Harris, Jeff, Diane, everyone seemed to be helping out. It was really nice. My dad had my drop bag and I crammed my pack full of new gels. Jeff said he had an achilles problem and dropped. I told Harris if he was still looking to pace someone, I'd be happy to have him (starting at mile 70, next time through Camp Ten Bear). He seemed willing, which was great. For the second race in a row I had been ready and planning to go it alone, but for the second race in a row I was at a low point when the pacer opportunity presented itself. I was happy it worked out again!

Meanwhile, back in the present, I looked at my drop bag where I had marked my time last year and my best case goal for this year. Surprisingly, I was still right in the middle. I figured I must have lost a lot in the last 10 miles, but I must have been doing really well before then. Still, I told my dad that Western States had really beat me up, and at this point my time goals were basically out the window. I just planned to go on and finish, in whatever time it happened to be. I still had plenty of time to make a sub-24, but honestly I just wanted to cross the line and keep my Grand Slam attempt alive.

Now here's the other thing about this stop. I sat down on the grass while I was repacking my gels and stuff. It wasn't so bad. There was a bit of a hill there, which made it easy to get up again afterward. I have been scared of ever sitting since my first ultra, where I felt like I spent as much time on my butt as on my feet. But it felt nice to have a minute or two off my feet and then get going again. OK, well, perhaps it cost more than a minute or two, but it wasn't as bad as I might have feared. Some ice in my hat, cold water on my head, and I was at least mobile again.

My smile for the camera didn't
reflect my condition at the moment...
I eventually trudged on up the hill out of the station, and met Erin, Caelan, and Sean heading down to meet me. We chatted a bit, and they turned around and walked with me for a spell. I told Erin what had happened, and she said don't worry, just finishing 100 miles 3 weeks after another 100 was accomplishment enough itself! That pretty much mirrored my thinking at that point. Mental lows I could handle, but the physical blows were hard to get around. I just wanted to make it to the end.

At any rate, I headed on. I knew I'd be coming back into Camp Ten Bear this way at 70 miles, so I tried to remember the lay of the land. We headed up for a while, then down a bit, then got to the T where I was leaving to the left and would be returning from the right. So from the point I got there on the return, there'd be a small climb, and a nice downhill. I headed out into a shockingly flat part of the course. I mean, I can't think of really any flat parts of the course, except for this one right here. Jeff, his mom, and Harris drove by and cheered, which was great. I hope that was on purpose and not because they were lost! :)

But the flat didn't last long; there were more uphills ahead. I passed the 50 mile point just over 9 hours. I had to take a moment to think about goals again: under the circumstances I didn't figure I could do the next 50 in 11 hours, but 15 ought to be doable (I mean, I was feeling lousy, but could the second half really be more than 6 hours slower?), so a 24 hour finish could still be within reach. Well, whatever, I figured I'd see what developed.

Signs of a Turnaround

Now the interesting thing was, during the next 10 or 15 miles I started to get to aid stations and see runners standing, sitting, or hanging onto poles for dear life. So I guess I wasn't the only one having trouble out there. That guy who had been the steady jogger up the hills was the first one I recognized as having passed me, and here I was getting him back (I found out later, he did finish, just slowly). It was nice to be the passer instead of the passee for a change!

Recharging at Tracer Brook (57.0)
About 10 miles out of Ten Bear, I hit the next crew station at Tracer Brook. Surprisingly, my dad said I was making up time! I mean, I was just trying to get by, so how could I be actually improving? I wondered if he was doing his math right. But according to my drop bag notes, I was still in the middle, so that was good. I'd hang on as long as I could! Everyone was there again, which was great -- Jeff and Harris and Erin were all chipping in with filling my pack and getting ice for the hat and everything. I caught Diane holding Sean at one of the stations. Man, what a team! I sure felt like a V.I.P.!

Practicing my heat-resistance...
I was actually showing some life on the uphills in the next 5 miles, which was great. I mean, it was only a slow jog, but I caught people who were walking, slowly but surely. They sure pulled me on! Suddenly I was just feeling better and getting faster. The one wrinkle was that I had apparently not packed my new set of S-caps at the last station, so I was going to run out. I really, really didn't want to do that, given my salt balance issues at Western States. I stopped and rooted through my bag at the unmanned aid station, but came up dry. I took my last one, and then switched my gel order around to at least get a double sodium gel after I missed an S-cap.

Margaritaville! (62.1)
Then we got to Margaritaville, which I thought was hands down the best-decorated station on the course. It was nice to see the whole crew out here again, and again my dad said I was making up time, which again seemed sketchy. I mean, I was doing better than earlier, yes. But I felt like I had dug myself a pit in the middle there and would be happy to get out, much less improve on anything.

In any case, I was a little sad that some runner asked if they could get a margarita, and someone seemed to be saying yes. I don't drink a lot, but when I do, it's margaritas, so I was almost bummed to be running better again -- with a little more spring in my step I wasn't ready for a margarita. If I had still been hurting, I might have. It sure would have been a nice way to get some extra salt down! I wasn't ready for solid food either, and I heard they've had great cookies. So I feel like I owe Margaritaville an apology: I let you down. Maybe next year!

Should have had a margarita in hand
But for now, my dad produced my crew bag and I dug out more S-caps, taking one immediately. Then I headed out, to the tune of more uphill. About this time, I was thinking that Sherpa John is a little nuts. I'm pretty sure he said that if you're feeling good, you can make some good time on this 23 mile loop between Ten Bear stops. But man, there was a lot of uphill! I kept waiting for the downhill to materialize where I could make up some time! No such luck. Still, my pace was improving, and I was happy about how things were going. We got to the last aid station before Ten Bear and this was great -- I knew there was a big downhill leading into that T-junction before Ten Bear, and I planned to make the most of it. One of the runners was just leaving as I arrived, and she must have seen me earlier because she took one look at me and said, "Wow, what a recovery!" Boy that gave me a big old grin! I had been following her up the hills in the last section and never quite caught up, but I got a lot closer. We'll see what I could do on the downhill.

Kickin' A**

Scales! That way!
Well, I'm not sure I've ever been as happy in a race as I was on that downhill. Man, I tore it up. Everyone I saw, I passed. After tracking down several more folks, I passed the woman from the aid station, and she said again, "Nice recovery!" It was great. I kept going, and passed more people. My memory of the layout of the leg betrayed me (I kept looking for a right turn that never came), but it was all downhill, and I crushed it. Even the little uphill right before Ten Bear wasn't much -- I jogged most of it and then booked it into the station. And I got in just at 13 hours!

No problems with the weigh-in
Now first, that was an undeniable improvement over last year, when I got in at 13:45. Second, I was feeling great, in contrast to last year when the last 30 was okay, but more of a struggle. And third, it was 13 hours! That struggle through the last 30 lasted nearly 8 hours last year, but going in this time I had thought that 7 hours for the last 30 miles was very achievable. Out of nowhere, everything was back on track! Chris was still somewhere ahead of me, which meant he must be having a fantastic race -- I wondered if he'd break 20 hours, even without the long runs in training. (At some point in the station my dad said he was 5 minutes ahead, but I didn't know if that meant he arrived 5 minutes before me or left 5 minutes before me -- could be a big difference at a crew and medical check station.)

And this was only like half of my crew!
There was a little wrinkle with my drop bag, but we had time to work it out. I had to get weighed (168 I think, or still just about level), top everything off, and so on. I didn't take my lights because I was well ahead of sunset (awesome!). Finally Diane found my drop bag (did I mention this huge crew [even though most of them were borrowed] was totally the best!) and I sat down on the grass again and got everything sorted out. Harris was ready and waiting, so we headed out. I normally walk out of the aid stations and take a minute to get up to speed, but this one we jogged, because I knew there was a nasty climb coming. Sure thing, we crossed the road and walked up the rise, but then it flattened out a bit, which I didn't remember at all. So much for that monster climb coming out of Ten Bear! Oh wait, there it was -- just a few minutes further down the trail. We walked more. I went over my pacer thing with Harris -- I wanted him to lead and find/follow the trail markings, and to push the pace just a little, pulling me along from ahead. When I had a fresh bottle he could tell how close I was by the sound of the ice. He was welcome to talk, it would take my mind off things, but I probably wouldn't be answering much. I apologized in advance for not being very good company. That kind of stuff. :)

Yeah, it was a shock, but in a good way
Neither one of us had noticed the distance to the next aid station, but we pressed on. After the big climb, I felt like I was getting back up to speed pretty well. When we saw people, we passed them, and it's hard to argue with that! In fact, I don't think I was passed by anyone except horses in maybe the last 40 miles. Nice. Looking at my splits, I took almost 15 minutes off my time coming into Ten Bear, more than 10 into the next leg to Seabrook, and another 5 into the crew station at West Winds. Man, this race was really turning around!

The beginning of a long 30 miles for Harris
We also had some funny experiences with the trails. There were a lot more of them in the last 30 miles, and I had a love/hate relationship. On the one hand, you can walk up a much steeper trail than you can drive, so the climbs on the trails were always beastly -- it was a relief if a climb was on a road! And I stubbed my toe a few times, once windmilling enough to narrowly avoid a faceplant, seconds after passing someone on the trail (how dumb would that have looked?). On the other hand, I was crushing the downhill trails. Harris actually had me go ahead on the downhills so he didn't slow me down! I mean, he always got by me again 30 seconds after when it turned up again and I started walking, but any time your pacer is worried they're slowing you down, you just have to grin. I think those downhills must have accounted for a lot of my improvement!

West Winds (77.0)
First time I saw Chris since maybe 39 miles
On top of that, there was a surprise waiting for me at West Winds -- Chris was just wrapping up there when I pulled in! I told him I was sorry to see him -- I wanted him to be out there ahead chasing down 20 hours. He said he was sorry to see me too (though perhaps not for the same reason). I heard Diane say "20 hours?" as in, "could you do that?" and Chris saying yeah, it was within reach so far. I went to resupply from my drop bag while he took off again. But man, I was feeling good, and I think everyone could tell! What a change.

You get about 10 steps before it goes straight down...
We headed out and I grumbled again because it went straight downhill from the station -- no possibility of walking out, just too steep. I started jogging down, and missed when Diane turned to Erin and said "Alright, it's game on!" But then I did hear when after a little verbal sparring, Diane called down the hill "Hey Aaron, you forgot something!" I looked back, wondering what they were talking about when I was carrying everything right there on me, and Erin shouted "No, no, go on!" Girls.

I'm sorry to say, the game ended sooner than perhaps they would have liked. Early in this section, there were a lot of trails, with some serious downhill. I blew past a lot of runners, including Chris. He was taking one of the downhills kind of gingerly, which has certainly been my experience there before. I felt bad that I had snagged Harris, but I found out later he had offered to Chris first, so at least I felt a little better about it.

Yeah, I was feeling good again
And actually, even after we got off the trails, I was running fantastically well. We hit the next unmanned aid station, and I had done 10 minute miles, or a 17-hour pace. For this stage of the race, incredible! Ridiculous, even! I couldn't believe it. Harris helped out by filling up my bottle while I headed right out -- something that felt a little sketchy to me, but at the pre-race meeting they had explicitly encouraged pacers to run ahead, refill bottles, and catch up again. Apparently that's not muling here, so it definitely pays to have a pacer at Vermont!

You look at this mountain ahead
as you're running toward Bill's...
Well, I couldn't keep that pace any longer, but I kept running well. The next goal I set was to reach Bill's (88.6 miles) in daylight. Sunset was officially like 8:30, but I figured we'd still be able to see until maybe 9 PM. I told Harris I wanted to hit 20 hours, and if we hit Bill's by 9 (17 hours), I'd have a great chance -- that would be 3 hours for just under 12 miles. I knew the end would be tough, but I'd have a lot of buffer.

Everyone smiles when you get there in daylight!
I again remembered the course all wrong. I thought it was all downhill until just before Bill's, but it wasn't. I kept looking for a left turn up to the final ascent, but it was a right to a slight downhill. We did cross a road that I totally recognized, but I couldn't place it in terms of distance to the aid station. Oh, well. Time was slipping, and slipping… I was remembering an uphill out of Bill's, and gazing at the giant mountain behind it… Was 3 hours really enough? Then when the road passed under heavy tree cover, it got very dark, and I felt dumb for not getting out my light -- but I didn't want to waste the time. When we came out it was still plenty bright… And then we saw cars parked! Always a great sign! The station looked to be a little further down the road, but it was within reach!

Happy scale, thankfully.
We pulled in just a hair before 9 PM, still in daylight (but close enough that it was dark before we left). I got a scare at the weigh-in, when the person said I was 167.5 and over there were the fluids but she wanted to examine me before I went on. Definitely didn't want to spend time on an exam! But then I noticed she wrote 180 right before 167.5, so I said, "Wait, I started at 169!" and she said, "Oh, you're fine then. But the fluids are over there." Whew!

I did end up sitting around there for a while, packing my last set of gels, having an S-cap and gel and all (which I probably should have done after leaving), and just recovering from the mad dash to get there by 9. But I got up and got my hatful of ice and my dad dumped some cold water on my head. We left at like 9:03, and I asked my dad to have my long sleeve shirt ready for the last station, as we had hit some cooler spots on the course. Then I took 10 steps out and started shivering -- and went right back. "Never mind, I need it now!" I took off my soaking wet T-shirt, put on the long sleeves, and headed out again. Erin confessed later she thought I was a bit crazy, since it was still 80 degrees out when I did that. And yes, I warmed up once I got moving again. But I get cold at night -- I didn't want to take a pee break and have a shivering spell set in or something. It was worth it.

On my butt again at Bill's (88.6)
From Bill's to the finish, I basically got slower and slower -- but apparently I didn't decline as much as the other folks on the course. We passed a few more, either in stations or on the road, until the last crew station at Polly's. One more guy said "Hey, great recovery!" I confessed to Harris that I loved passing people who had gone by when I was hurting, because they said nice things and it was so motivating!

New shirt felt great
But there was a different challenge now. Lightning. In the dark, we could easily see the sky lit up every few minutes. Harris said something about what a nice display of lights it was, but I was really worried. I had an unbelievable 20-hour finish almost within reach, and now this? I had visions of getting to Polly's and being told I couldn't continue until the lightning passed. Or just getting hit by a torrential downpour and not being able to follow course markings, or not being able to go fast enough. Bottom line, I didn't think it was very nice at all.

Is *this* why we saw them on a random
back road on the way out of Bill's?
At least we saw Erin and my dad one more time -- whether they knew it or not. Maybe a half hour after leaving Bill's, they were driving down a road as we were jogging up it. At least, the headlights were the same as our car and his rental, and what were the odds of another pair just the same in the middle of rural Vermont? Erin dimmed the lights (which she often does for runners at night) but they drove on by without comment. I told Harris that was them but they must not have recognized us -- or maybe just the kids were asleep and she didn't want to yell. Whatever, it was nice to see them again! And the course here was generally nice too, the only problem being when we crossed a big field with tall grass, and had a bit of trouble finding the mowed path in the dark.

This is pretty much how I felt by Polly's (95.5)
We eventually made it to the last crew station, Polly's, at just about 18:30 into the race. This left me 90 minutes for 4.5 miles, which was excellent. On a normal day, I could walk it in and make it! (Of course, my walk was a lot slower at this point.) Still, I barely stopped at Polly's, pressing on hard, not wanting to take any chances. Erin said they better hurry to the finish, and I said come on, I'll be at least an hour, if not 90 minutes. She wanted to take no chances, in case I pulled a Western States out of my hat and crushed the last hills.

Home Stretch

We were all a little tired!
Alas, it was not to be. My legs were really hurting. Well, not so much hurting, perhaps, just not wanting to move much. A walk felt just right, and I had to work hard to jog. But I pushed and felt like I was making pretty good progress. Only the last unmanned aid station at 97.7 miles just never arrived! We thought we saw it only it was something else lit up at night. Then we saw it again, but it was just a house. Then Harris figured we must have missed it, because we had been a half hour and we were still moving well and it was only like 2.1 miles! I was OK getting to the finish on the water in my pack, I just would have preferred to top off the bottle because it was a little more convenient.

And then, after 32 minutes, we saw a pile of lights and glow sticks and we were there. So I was really slowing down. But now, I was on the home stretch. We hit the trails and I told Harris I had walked every step from here to the end last year, and this year I just wanted to jog more and walk less. 5 seconds later we hit a really steep part, and I started walking, and had to add, "you know, jog more where it makes sense". That steep part went on for quite a while!

Finished! With another stellar pacer!
In fact, most of the last 2.2 miles was pretty steep, and I didn't jog that much. Harris said "No wonder you walked it!" But I did what I could, especially on the few downhills. One last time I didn't remember the course right, clearly envisioning key turns that just never materialized. I remembered candles in white bags lining the end of the course, and saw them in the distance, but they were not for us. We got green glowsticks in milk jugs instead. I don't know why everything seemed different, but then out of nowhere, there were torches and cheers and we had arrived!

Crew captain Dad!
I crossed the line in 19:41:07, completely thrilled, and feeling a lot better than last year! Despite feeling utterly crushed in the middle, I had pulled it together and beat my best-case goal! Actually, finishing a 100 under 20 hours was sort of my long-term ultra goal, and here I did it three weeks after Western States! (Now I need to figure out what my new goal should be!) We got some pictures, got my place and time, chatted briefly, and then I headed over to the medical tent to claim a cot. But even so, I was doing better afterward than previous 100s. I got right into warm, dry clothes and didn't get too cold. Gregg and Harris came over to talk, and Erin and my dad got me some food and hot chocolate and stuff. Caelan gave me some good "Hip hip hooray!" and generally made me feel even better, if that's possible. After a while the medical folks checked out my feet and pronounced them not very bad at all. A blister on my heel, which has been a regular lately, and some very small ones on my toes. I got off easy!

Umm, would these help?
After maybe an hour we headed back to the hotel, where I had plenty of time but couldn't even sleep. I guess there are still too many caffeinated gels in the mix, but I'm not sure I'm ready to change anything in my recipe this time (except perhaps the Heed?). My feet even looked decent, though they swelled up pretty good Sunday on the way home.

The awesome ultra family!
Now it's two days later and I'm still sort of in shock. Just can't believe it. It was an awesome race. I got the whole stories and found out that Jeff hurt his achilles in a pothole at like 7 or 8 miles, and just couldn't press on past 30 (!). Gregg had stomach problems, like practically everyone else I've heard from, and just couldn't push on through it on this day. Chris slowed down on the leg where I passed him and took some R&R at the next aid station, but then carried on and finished under 22 hours, still a great time. I didn't recognize very many of the runners at the awards ceremony from seeing people on the course, but they said there was only a 55% finish rate this year -- the heat and humidity seemed to take a serious toll.

Picking up my buckle
Anyway, I owe big thanks to Harris (you kept me going real well for those last 30 miles!), my dad/crew for toting my bags around and helping out at every station, Erin, Sean, and Caelan for showing up rather unexpectedly at every crew station from 47.2 to the end (I love seeing you guys out there!), Jeff, Jeff's mom, and Diane for cheering and helping me out at the crew stations even when I'm not your runner, and all the staff, volunteers, and land owners who made this race possible. I could not have had a better finish! Wow!

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