|How long would this smile last?|
I felt great at the pre-race meeting, and it was nice to see a lot of familiar faces ahead of the race. My weight seemed the same as ever at the medical check, though someone said I looked like I had lost weight. Maybe redistributed, a little. I didn't stick around for the dinner, though, not being a big pasta fan -- the Pizza Chef over in Woodstock works just fine for my pre-race meal.
|"I swear this race is easier than Grindstone"|
Soon enough it was time to head over to the big banner, there was a quick countdown from 30 seconds, and we were off. The first miles passed easily, if a bit too quickly. I recognized many of the sections, though I missed others I recalled (like last year where we made a left turn and another runner immediately pulled over to stretch his leg. Or the spot where I used a log to retie my shoe. Never saw that log -- or that turn -- this year). In the first half mile I was just behind the lead pack of 12 or so runners. But they were going too fast, and first another pack of 5 passed, then another. I felt like I could have slowed down even a little more, but I wasn't confident enough that I could keep up my target pace into the second half of the race, and it seemed like a little time in the bank might not be a bad thing.
|Both ready to go!|
Of course, I was probably drinking a little too much for the cool 4 AM start -- judging by the number of pee breaks, anyway. Still, it felt a little humid, though it was supposed to dry off later in the day. I guess we'd see. In any case, I had to lament when I was paused at the table refiling my pack with water, or paused at the side of the trail unloading the same, and some other runner went cruising on by. But I told myself it was early yet, and it didn't much matter who was on a sub-17 hour pace now. And we tended to leapfrog as others also pulled off to the side of the road for one reason or another.
|Ocean's, um, 6?|
Thankfully that 15.3 mile aid station came around quickly, and we both stopped to refill. Mine took longer, as it was a big pack not just a handheld, and I also paused to throw down some orange and watermelon slices. One of my big concerns from 3 Days at the Fair was the way I hit the wall at 92 miles. My pace took like a 6min/mi hit right there, and I figured it was due to running out of energy -- that is, not eating enough along the way. I really couldn't take more gels, so I wanted to eat a bit at aid stations on top of the gels. But I didn't think I could take dry or solid food, so I went with fruit. This was the first opportunity (the earlier stations being liquid only), and I took it. The volunteers encouraged me to take some for the road, but I didn't want to -- there was no trash bag in sight down the trail, and I didn't fancy carrying rinds another few miles. (Seriously, other races put trash bags 50 yards down the trail from each aid station -- that would have been great. Also, at all the unmanned aid station, the trash bag was high up a tree, several yards off the road. It would have been nice to have one right there where the runners are!) Anyway, I thanked the volunteers and departed (uphill, naturally), well behind Julian. I wouldn't see him again for probably 30 miles. The next two sections were hilly and slow, as if to punish me for my speedy leg.
|There's nothing the crew can't handle!|
In this state, I hit Pretty House (the first crew station) at 20 miles. I knew I was going to need a slightly longer stop at either 20 or 30 miles to apply sunscreen, get a hat, ditch my headlamp, and so on. After debating it for a while coming into the station, I decided to get it over with. So I quickly swapped my dad for a fresh pack, but then stood around for a couple minutes taking care of the rest, and probably nabbing an orange slice or two. It wasn't the quickest stop ever, but it wasn't bad. I headed out thinking it was great to have my dad there to do the pack swaps. He had asked how I was doing and I think I allowed as how my pre-race energy had burned off, but I still felt fine. On the way out, I passed my own private cheering squadron. OK, maybe it was just the parents, friends, spouses, and crews for the other BCRR runners, but when they screamed for me it sure felt grand! Then I took a drink. Ugh. Apparently I should have applied the sunscreen to my neck before donning the pack. The bite valve tasted of it. Nasty.
|How cool is it that my parents come to these?|
In any case, I enjoyed the pleasant (and flattish) run through the woods, and turned my thoughts to U-turn. I recalled hitting it around 4 hours last year, and thinking how crazy fast that was. This year, 4 hours was still a few minutes ahead of where I needed to be, but I would be perfectly content with it. On the other hand, the flat part had ended, and there seemed to be a lot of uphill to the U-turn. Still, I hit it just about the same time, and pulled over to top off my pack (not wanting to risk going all the way from 20 to 30 on one load of water). One guy shot by while I was at the table, and I heard two more runners coming up close just as I was leaving. The watch said 4:02 as I left. Good enough. I didn't expect to keep the 4-hour-per-25-miles pace even though 50 miles, but I didn't want to fall off it as far as I had last year, either. Especially from here to Camp Ten Bear at 47 miles.
So sure, there was a lot of walking up to Sound of Music Hill. I mean, the whole point of it is that it's a grassy knoll from which you can look around and admire the stellar views in every direction. So of course you have to go up to get there. I passed the time talking to runners around me. One woman said she was from Vermont, and it was ironic that I seemed to know the course better (if only a little -- I mistook the first "false summit" for the hill). But the good thing was, we had downhill coming on the other side, and even while walking up the hill, even while I could see a more die-hard runner jogging ahead, I felt good. I jogged one of the flatter sections, leaving the woman behind, but only temporarily -- she passed me back on the final ascent. I paused briefly to look around, and then followed her down the far side. We had some minor horse delays -- there were a few ahead of us taking the downhill gingerly -- but it was super-steep with treacherous footing in the deep grass, and I didn't mind taking it easy until it got a little more reasonable.
|He gets around|
I headed out for some alone time -- the next crew station wasn't until Camp Ten Bear (another 17 miles). Looking at the race plan I had stashed in my pack, I was still a few minutes ahead of schedule, but I had to hold to 10 minute miles for the next 3 hours in order to stay on target. Right out of the aid station, I knew this was going to be a challenge. We crossed a little wooden footbridge that I will always remember from the first year I ran Vermont -- because I got there right along with a pile of horses, and we jockeyed for position all the way to the top. The top of what? The top of the giant climb right after the bridge. This time I headed up alone.
At long last the trail leveled out, and eventually even headed down again. I picked it up when I felt like I could, and held my own on the downhill parts. I was thinking there needed to be some solid run in my future to get that average pace back down! Fortunately the leg was long enough that I did OK by the next aid station. But there was more uphill waiting there. I was blissfully alone on this climb, and it was great. Because last year, I remember trudging up while people passed left and right. I mean, I had been relatively out in front just the same through 25 miles, but by this point, I was talking to people as they went by, trying to keep up and failing, and generally having a lousy time of it. This year, nobody catching up. Yes!
I hit the top and shortly came up to the "Vondell Reservoir" unmanned aid station, another landmark I remembered. This year, there was a pickup truck parked across the way, and someone called out "Heed on the left, Water on the right!" Thanks, but the truth was, the only thing I wanted to do was dump some trash. The volunteers in the truck left down the same one-truck-width lane that I did, and politely waited for a chance to pass even though it meant a while at runner pace.
|I could have used a river crossing!|
Well, surprise, surprise, there was a huge climb in store, and I gave up that newfound time as quickly as I had logged it. I had never even realized it was coming! Oh, well, that's why I was worried about my average pace. I commented to someone at the top that I thought the climb would never end, and she said it was the longest on the course. It sure seemed so at the time, though looking at some elevation charts I'm not really sure it's true. I guess everyone just has the one that sticks in their mind.
I made good time back down, stopping at the aid station just before the most memorable road segment, and managing to tank down some fruit and thank the volunteers before heading out again, still ahead of everyone I had just passed on the downhill. Yes! Now this section starts out running on the side of the most major road we use in the race -- and it's the one the crews drive on to the big Camp Ten Bear station. It seems like every year Erin passes me here driving to the station, though how she manages the timing on that I have no clue. One of the great mysteries of crewdom, I suppose. In any case, the road has a long slow incline, and much of it is exposed to the hot, hot sun. This year was no exception. I saw a couple horses and a runner ahead, though the horses quickly disappeared. Then I heard honking, and once again, it was Erin and the kids passing on their way to Ten Bear! I'd have liked to say I could beat them to the station, but the truth was, there were miles left yet. I went back to following the runner ahead, noting where he turned off the road, and making for the spot myself. This part I remembered too -- you pass a major horse aid station just after leaving the road, and then you're treated to a grassy climb that leads to an up-and-down-but-more-up kind of trail section, before popping out to another road and the last unmanned aid station before Ten Bear.
The grass wasn't as steep as I remembered, but I walked it anyway, taking a gel and S-cap and all. I had wanted to keep my momentum up in the road (and get out of the sun!), so I was a little overdue, and it seemed a fine time to get back on track. The trail was a little shorter and easier than I recalled, and no one was catching up. In fact, I popped out to see another runner ahead, stopping at the aid station. I leaned over in that direction to look for the official distance to Ten Bear, but couldn't make out the fine print on the station's sign. The other guy asked if I wanted a cup of Coke, and I was tempted to call back "Get out of there! It's only a mile to Ten Bear!" But I didn't want to spoil his Coke. I just waved and headed on, finding the uphill a lot more palatable than last year since I knew it just led to a big downhill into the station.
|Coming into Ten Bear|
I took two steps toward my victorious departure, and then heard Erin calling desperately from behind. I turned to look, and she was vigorously gesturing down toward Caelan, who was watching me go. I waved and called out "love you all!" and headed out. I felt a little bad that I hadn't had more time for Caelan and Sean, but at all costs I wanted to avoid the 10-minute layover and sitting on the grass and all that this station seemed to require of me last year. I hit my watch and I was leaving at 7:48, with the med check, still ahead of my long-shot 7:52. Wow.
Granted, I walked the hill out of Ten Bear. I saw a guy ahead of me running it with his crew, until they turned back well up toward the top. I remembered some favorable terrain ahead before the next big climb, and figured I'd use my energy there, not here on this hill. Indeed, I passed that guy a couple miles down the road. Then the flat part ran out.
The climb to the "50.3 mile" marker was brutal, as I recalled. (And why, you may ask, is there a special course marker for 50.3 miles? You wouldn't be getting a sensible answer from me!) Then it was a long and undulating trip to Tracer Brook, the next crew station. I passed Pinky's, where last year I had seen some other runners crashed in chairs in the heat. I might have hoped for more of the same, but apparently those in front of me were content to stay in front of me for now. I did perhaps take some ice for my hat at one of these stations -- I know I did it once this year. I also recall coming on a large familiar metal bucket, fed by a hose, with a sign reading "fresh water for horses and humans". Well, if you looked into the bucket, as a human, you wouldn't be very tempted to drink. But while the hose was firmly attached to the bucket, it had enough play that if you leaned over, you could drench your head in cool water quite satisfyingly. I must have really raved about it, because another runner who was just past turned back to do the same. Now I really can't recall where on the course that was, so I just have to offer up my thanks to some random farmer somewhere in the fine state of Vermont. It was great!
Shortly after halfway, I came across James, a runner I know from other races. We are of pretty similar speeds -- enough so that he mentioned using my splits from last year in planning his race. (I didn't get the opportunity until the pre-race meeting to tell him how crappy the middle miles were for me!) He said "Hey, you're more than an hour ahead of last year!" Which of course meant he was, too. But he looked to be in a spot of trouble. He said his IT band was hurting, and he was considering changing shoes to see if that helped. I couldn't offer any thoughts on that, having never changed shoes mid-race myself. But we talked a bit before I felt ready to press on ahead, so I wished him well. It sounded like he was keeping close behind, for the moment.
|Hydrating at Tracer Brook|
So I left Tracer Brook, and it didn't take long to determine that I was unlikely to make up ground here. A strong runner I had passed at the aid station passed me right back. It was only five miles to the next crew station at Margaritaville, and the first three were up, up, up. I asked a runner nearby whether he knew what the course was like to Margaritaville. I had a vague memory of "up, then down", which I hoped to confirm. He just said "more of the same, I guess." It turned out he hadn't run the race before. And really, what does that mean? More of the trail same was a lot different than more of the road same. And was it long climb same or rolling same? In retrospect, the course does have a lot of "dirt road with a canopy of trees on either side", but at the time, I grumbled to myself. Well, it turns out it went straight on up, until it momentarily leveled out, and there was an unmanned aid station. I hoped that designated the top. It did -- we turned down down down to Margaritaville. But there had still been more up, and I was now ten minutes behind.
|I finally got a look at it this year!|
On the up side, I knew there was a long downhill coming, where I made up a lot of ground last year. I remember passing people who said things like "wow, what a recovery!" Of course, it didn't start out that way. Inevitably, it was somewhat uphill first. My plan showed 4 miles to an intermediate station, and I was pretty surprised to hit it in only a half hour! But the sign on it said it had only been three miles. So either I went crazy fast or just plain darn fast, but either way, it was well faster than my plan at that point. Nice. Also, as it turns out, this was the highest point on the course. And then we hit the downhill. It was just as fast as I remembered. Again, I passed people, though perhaps not as many. It felt pretty good. I walked a bit when we came off the trail onto pavement, just to rest my legs. And then carried on down the paved part of the downhill. When it finally leveled off I thought we must be pretty close to Camp Ten Bear, and I looked for the left that led back to the aid station.
An intersection... but not the one. Another... not it. Where was it?!? Finally I saw it -- easy to recognize because it was the one part of the course you actually run twice, so there are signs in both directions. I made the turn toward the station, right next to a horse. Someone called out from behind, "go straight!" The rider next to me yelled at me "wrong way!" I took a moment to look back, but I knew that was BS. I shook my head and carried on. There was a little back and forth and then eventually the rider apologized (for trying to add 23 miles to my race!). Give me a break.
|Heading for the scales, hat in hand...|
Everyone cheered me down the hill and over to the scales. I offloaded the pack and hat and climbed on -- 4-5 pounds up. The doctors were totally OK with this, but it concerned me. I had been taking a lot of salt and drinking a lot, and not suffering as much from the heat. I resolved to cut back a bit. Erin said there were pacers available, but I really didn't feel like I needed one, and wasn't ready to deal with it if I ended up with one that didn't help. She also said they thought there had only been seven 100-milers through before me. Wow. But, 30 miles was a lot of race left, and I had no idea how accurate that figure was anyway -- my mental math put me at more like 15. I was pretty darn happy if I was actually in the top 10, so I figured I'd try not to get passed, but didn't want to make more specific plans at this point.
|Leaving... without the hat|
Meanwhile, I quit the s-caps, until I could actually feel muscles tightening. Usually I get a warning in my neck before I really get leg cramps, so I figured I'd look out for that. I cut back on the water a bit too. I hoped to have my weight back to where it started by the time I got to the medical check at Bill's. On the up side, I continued to pee regularly, so I was going to lose a little that way, and I sure wasn't burdened by a lack of sweat, so I should lose some that way too. I hoped it would all sort out. Physically I didn't feel that great, but I was ready to push for a decent 30 miles and see what I could do.
|Coming into West Winds|
I was sort of looking forward to the temperature dropping, and it took its sweet time. I hit West Winds a little before 5:30, and while I had lost all the buffer I had built at Ten Bear, that was pretty much to be expected. The question was how I could do from here. I said hi to everyone and got my new pack, heading down the steep, grassy hill onto another trail section. I wasn't feeling the love for the trails, this year. I did OK on them, and they relieved all the oddball pains probably caused by the cambered dirt roads, but they just seemed slower and more uphill than the roads.
|Aid at West Winds|
I remember last year, running on a road with heavy traffic, which later turned out to be crew vehicles heading to Bill's. This year, I kept looking for that, but there was never a road I recognized, or with so much traffic. Hopefully because I was ahead of it, but who can say? At one point I came blazing down a hill to an aid station, to see a runner and his pacer leaving it just ahead. They turned the corner just down the road, and then the pacer popped back out in a mad dash for the aid station. A volunteer shouted "What, what did you forget?" The pacer made it 80% of the way back to the station, then turned around and headed out again. Ha! I knew what that was. That was him checking whether I had a red (100K) or black (100M) bib. If you saw a pair of runners then you could pretty much count on it being a 100-miler and pacer. But an individual could be in either race...
|Leaving West Winds|
It was still a long run to Bill's, and I kept thinking I must be at the turn where I'd see the big field on my right, with cars parked, and the big red barn in the distance. It never was that turn. I jumped with joy when I finally saw the cars, though the barn didn't look red at all. Well, I'd still take it. I came in just the slightest bit ahead of schedule. How about that? 88.6 miles and right on. I ditched the pack and hat and jumped on the scale. They asked what I started at. I told them. They fiddled with the scale -- a balance kind, like at the doctor's. I was clearly right at my start weight, but the volunteer on the scale jiggled the smallest weight back and forth in half-pound increments for so long I almost screamed. Close enough, damn it! In reality, it was probably 10 seconds, not nearly enough to matter. Sometimes you look back and wonder where your head was.
In retrospect, this was the high point of my race. According to the post-race splits, I was in 6th, the best of all my stops. I was feeling great (mentally, anyway), I had just hit my targets, it was still daylight, who could ask for more? The next 7 miles to Polly's did not go as well. There were two practically equal sections of 3.5 miles, which I needed to hit under 40 minutes each in order to leave myself an hour for the last 4.5 miles. (You wouldn't think an hour was needed, but there were a lot of hills and my previous best was 1:08!) But it seemed to be largely uphill, and it took 45 minutes to make it to the midway aid station. Plus I was passed, by my friend super-fast-walker-guy. We had just crossed a huge field in the waning sun, and I heard some hooting behind me. I didn't look back (why bother?), but pressed on as best I could. He passed with his pacer on an uphill shortly thereafter, and seemed stronger on the downhills too. Catching him seemed pretty unlikely. I also had some chilly moments, when I was walking a hill and a breeze hit. I wondered whether it was a mistake to skip the warmer shirt, but that at least did not last.
|Feeling good at Bill's!|
Anyway, I hit Polly's at 17:15. A fantastic time, but 15 minutes behind my best case. I didn't see cutting 23 minutes off my time for these 4.5 miles, so an 18-hour finish wasn't going to happen. Still, if all the reports had been right, I was still in the top 10. So my new goal was to keep everyone behind me, behind me. It took a half hour to make it to the final aid station, but I couldn't remember the mileage, and hadn't seen it posted. Did I have a mile to go? Two? In fact it was 2.3 to go, which was more than I had figured. So I spent a lot of time wondering where that "1 mile to go" sign was!
|With 11 miles to go!|
So, at the end of the day, I guess there is something to this CrossFit! Despite the lower training mileage, it seems to be working for me. Next up, Grindstone! We'll see if it does the same for the real gnarly climbs! :)
|Guess who digs the lunch?|