Sunday, July 24, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run

How long would this smile last?
Question of the day: would Vermont cap off my hot streak of races, or end it?  I had great runs at 3 Days at the Fair and the Equinox, leading up to Vermont.  But my training for the last few months has been dramatically different...  next to no midweek miles, unless you count 2-3 here or there with Sean in the jogger or bike trailer while 3-year-old Caelan rode his bike -- an irregular "workout" at best.  I did start CrossFit at the end of April, which seemed to be the counterbalance, but I didn't know if I would keep going strong, or if the lack of miles would catch up to me.  It sure made me nervous to hear Chris and Chris talking about 100 mile weeks, 200 mile 15 days, and so on...

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"
I still felt great when I got there to check in during the wee hours of Saturday morning.  At the time, I saw no reason why I couldn't make my most optimistic goal.  I figured if I could do 17 hours on a flat course, I'd aim for 18 here, which should also put me in the top 10.  Never mind there was likely to be much more serious heat and humidity, in addition to the hills.  This is what comes from tapering, I tell you.  All that energy you usually spend in training and working out, suddenly it's just sitting there making you cocky.  But it was nice to see all the BCRR folks a little just before the race, get some group pictures, and so on.  I jogged out of the tent for a quick potty break, and I guess that was my "warm-up".  I mean, it's not like a short race where you feel like you'll burst out of the gate and pull a muscle if you haven't warmed up in detail.  Here we'd all be taking it slow and warming up as we went.

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!
But the time flew by until we hit the first aid station, just over an hour in, where I topped off my pack.  It was an unmanned station -- just a table with a bunch of water and Heed jugs off to the side of the road.  One of the first-time runners later told me he never would have seen it if I hadn't stopped.  My plan was to try to fill up every hour or thereabouts.  In cold, dry weather, my pack can easily go two hours.  But if I get at all behind on my hydration on hot, humid days, I can blow through it in 40 minutes.  Guess which a July ultra on the East coast would be?  So my plan was to fill up every hour and not get behind.

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?
I chatted with a guy named Julian, who turned out to be from sort of close to Philly, running his first 100.  I though to myself he was crazy for going out this fast on his first 100, but he said he'd run several 50 milers including sub-8 finishes, and was going slower than that pace, so he felt fine.  I wished him well and hoped he wouldn't crash during the second half of the race.  We sped down to and across the Taftsville covered bridge together, and along the flat road next to the river.  We had both agreed that we didn't feel like strictly scheduled walk breaks were a necessity, but I was starting to think it might not be a bad idea to take one, as I was going along at a somewhat faster pace than I really needed to.  (This, in fact, turned out to be my fastest leg of the whole race, between the 11.5 and 15.3 mile aid stations.)

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!
Meanwhile, a few issues cropped up before we hit the mile 20 aid station.  First, the top of my right foot was getting a little sore.  I couldn't tell if I had tied my shoe too tight (I felt like the left was looser and it didn't hurt at all), or if it was just from the camber of the dirt roads, or what.  Needed to monitor that one.  Second, I tweaked some muscle along the inside of my thigh (so much for no warm-up needed).  It seemed to hurt a little on uphills.  It wasn't bad now, and I forecast two possible outcomes.  1) It could hurt more and more until it disabled me, or 2) it could utterly fade into the background compared to the rest of the pain about to come my way.  I hoped for the latter, and resolved to ignore it until and unless it presented a greater problem.  (The truth was somewhere in between -- it annoyed me all day long, but never enough to really be a problem.)  And third, all that pent-up taper energy was spent.  I no longer felt like I was guaranteed my best result.  Now I was going to have to work for it.

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?
Still, I was looking forward to the next unmanned aid station -- "U-turn" at 25.1 miles.  (Though really, it's more of a right!)  Leaving Pretty House, I quickly came to a road section I remembered, and there was a runner in an orange shirt just within sight ahead of me.  There was some uphill I didn't take too hard, and then shortly after that I saw signs for a left turn off the road.  But the orange shirt was way on down the road.  Had he been in front of me all the way from the aid station?  (That is, was he in the race?)  I pulled in a breath to call out, unlikely as he might have been to hear, and in that moment he rounded a turn out of view.  As I headed off the road, I wondered if we'd be close enough to parallel that he could just jump back over, but it didn't seem to be the case.

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.

Happy couple
Somewhere around Sound of Music Hill (perhaps 27, 28 miles?), the problems had started last year.  Then after Stage Rd (30 miles), it got much worse.  By Lincoln Covered Bridge (39.2), I was trudging.  The last mile into Ten Bear was horrible (15 minute pace, and that's largely downhill!).  I really, I mean really, wanted to do better.

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 did pretty well in the final couple miles before the 30-mile crew station at Stage Rd., then pulled into the aid station to see my dad again.  He had my other pack ready for another quick change, though I paused to dig out my full hat rather than just the visor.  I figured we were heading into the hot part of the day, and I wanted full head cover so I could fill it with ice at the aid stations.  Though the heat wasn't bothering me yet, I remembered icing my hat all day long last year, starting quite early, and I wanted to be ready.  The cheering squad was smaller here, though they said everyone was doing well, not too far behind.  Nice!  I headed out.  Again, it wasn't a super-fast stop, and I worried that I was hurting myself by not cutting down on the stops more ruthlessly, but if I missed the calories from the fruit or the hat or anything else, I might well pay for it in spades later.  I'd have to let my result be my guide.

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.

Future ultrarunner
Now 30 miles isn't so far into the race that jogging a hill should be out of the question.  But not this one.  You're walking in grass with the occasional mud bog, mostly under tree cover but often right on out in the sun.  You'd think you could dodge over to avoid the bad spots, except the grass and brush is at least waist-high off to the side of the trail.  Every once in a while it sort of levels out for a moment, except then the trail turns to revel the next phase of the climb.  A guy came up on me as we were getting to perhaps the top third, and asked if I had run this before.  "Yes, twice," I got out between huffing up the hill.  "Well," I amended, "not this part.  This part I've never run."  He agreed, and went on to say that he didn't run any of the hills, it just wasn't worth it.  Then shortly, he proceeded to leave me in the dust.  His walk must have been 50% faster than mine, and it didn't look like he was working any harder.  What am I missing?

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!
Better yet, this section seemed all downhill, and I crushed it!  I felt like I had little wings on my feet.  Someone gave me directions as I came to another town, and I followed them across the Lincoln Covered Bridge to the aid station of the same name.  This was another major milestone.  First of all, I had asked for ice for the hat last year and been denied (it's only for drinks, they said), which frustrated me -- and this year, I didn't even feel like I needed it!  I took some fruit and a cup of water, thanked the volunteers, and departed quickly.  Second, this was the part of my death march where Chris had blown by, and there seemed little danger of that after the segment I had just posted.  Finally, I distinctly recalled trudging up even the slightest incline out of this station, and this year I largely kept to a jog.  All good.  I had added serious time to my buffer in that last segment, and if I could run evenly for the next 8 miles, I was golden.

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
That other runner caught up, and hey, it was Julian!  We chatted briefly, but then I pushed it down the steep part of the downhill, and he seemed to fall back slightly.  Probably just enough to see me whoop and raise my arms in victory as I saw parked cars, meaning I had made it 47 miles, not just meeting my aggressive race plan, but slightly ahead!  So long as the medical check didn't take too long, I was golden!  We ran into the station together, and the volunteers ushered me to a scale.  I stripped off my hat and pack as I arrived, handing them to a waiting volunteer.  They asked my starting weight (I assume just to see if I was conscious enough to recall it, since they had a big chart of all the runners and weights right there), and it turned out I was right on -- maybe up a pound if anything.  Erin and my dad were right behind them, so I got a fresh pack and turned to go.  The guy holding my old pack asked "water or Heed?" and I said "nothing, I got a whole new pack right here!"  He seemed flabbergasted.

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
The next crew station at Tracer Brook (57 miles) was another quick pack change, though I think I at least took the time to ruffle Caelan's hair.  I felt better having not utterly ignored him like at Ten Bear!  The bad news was, I was now five minutes behind my goal time.  But I wasn't super worried.  I knew there had been a big climb in there, and also this was just short of where my goal pace slowed down.  In reality I was probably on a more even decline rather than the strict cutover from faster to slower in my plan.  So I figured I'd catch up again sooner or later.  Well, I hoped, anyway.

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!
No matter.  I took the time to look around a little at Margaritaville, the 100K mark.  I remembered last year, having no memory whatsoever of what Margaritaville actually looked like, despite the outstanding name.  This time I saw streamers and banners with bright alcohol-looking logos, and it all looked rather like a lively pub.  I was only a little tempted to ask for an actual margarita.  If it had been a bad day, maybe, but I was hoping to make up some time into Ten Bear, so I passed on it.  I did get in the quick pack switch, and then it was off again.  No more fruit this time -- my stomach had started giving me a little trouble, off and on, and I knew that was a potential disaster -- so I cut back to just gels and water.  Hopefully the extra fruit early on would be enough to keep me going past 92 miles.

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...
I walked up the last hill, greeting all the runners heading out of Ten Bear for the first time.  In nearly 12 hours, I had gone 70 miles, and they were just past 47.  I was still more than an hour ahead of last year's time, though it seemed like I hadn't done that last downhill quite as fast.  I'd have to make up for it by not loafing on the grass at the station.

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
With that, I grabbed my new pack and headed out.  11:54, back ahead of my scheduled 12:01.  Yes!  "Hat!  Your hat!"  I looked back.  Half the station seemed to be waving at me.  Erin had it, and I started up as she started down.  Then someone, perhaps a waiting pacer, grabbed it from her and ran it down to me.  Thanks!  I turned back and headed out again.  I was ready for another gel but I rememebered that the huge climb didn't start right away...  I had made that mistake before.  So I carried on maybe a quarter mile into the woods, passing a 100K runner, and made it to the real climb.  It was everything I remembered, only not quite so bad.  How's that?  Maybe I was just on a high from that top 10 remark.

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
The two legs into the 77-mile crew station at West Winds were slower than I would have liked, but what can you do?  There was a lot of climbing.  We'd climb a long way on trail, hit a nice level road that would promptly turn uphill, cross a nice level field, onto a trail that turned uphill, you get the idea.  Somewhere in that last 30 we made the right I recognized onto a narrow path up a grassy slope, but I couldn't remember what came next!  Still, it all made me very glad to be fast -- two years ago I ran all these sections in the dark, and they were so much easier in the daytime!

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
Still, overall, I had a pretty good time from West Winds to Bills.  I continued to pass people, if at a slower rate.  I'd first see a pair of runners in the distance, and think "Aha!  I've got you now!"  I mean, if they were going to stay in front of me, I'd never see them at all, right?  Inevitably, the pacer noticed me too, and they picked up the pace, often enough to disappear again.  But inevitably, I caught up again.  One I came up on again just as his pacer took his bottle and dashed ahead to an unmanned aid station.  The one disadvantage I had going pacer-less -- no one to run ahead and fill bottles for me!  But the runner ended up at the table too, and I passed while they were there.  The advantage of a large hydration pack, I guess.

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
I still had to stop at the station, but I knew that was another guy I'd be catching.  If he was that concerned, he wasn't going to stay ahead for 15 or 20 miles.  In fact, I was taking all the downhills faster, so while he held me off for a while on the climbs, I caught up on a descent.  We chatted briefly, and I noted that I saw him checking out my bib color back there at the station.  "Yup."  "Thought so.  Well, good luck to you!"  I headed on.

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.

Last weigh-in
My dad had a headlamp ready, but I wanted both of them, causing another small delay while he fetched my crew bag.  I had considered throwing on a long sleeve shirt, but it didn't seem that cool and I didn't want to stay any longer.  So I took the light, left the hat (on purpose this time), and headed on out.

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!
The second half to Polly's was pretty much the same.  Largely uphill, and as it went on I was passed by a woman and her pacer -- seemed like the same woman I had talked to at Sound of Music Hill, way back when, though I couldn't be sure.  I kept closer to them, but I was going about as well as I could, and never managed to actually close any distance.  Apparently I was keeping her nervous, because we had donned our headlamps, and I could see her pacer's turn back to check on me approximately every 35 seconds for the rest of the race.  Note to pacer: if you shut off the light before looking back, you'd see my light, and I'd never know you were there.

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!
I also kept hearing voices behind me, and whenever I looked, I saw a light in the distance (and the visibility wasn't that far).  This part was almost all trail, and uphill.  I pushed as hard as I could to stay ahead, jogging every hill except for the very steepest parts.  The voices were still there, pressing me to stay ahead.  This seemed much different than previous years, but I was a lot more motivated.  Someone passed, but thankfully it was horses.  Finally I hit the mile-to-go sign, just as I passed another runner (though not a 100-miler).  I pressed on down the trail for that eternal last mile, finally hitting the glowing milk jugs in perhaps the last quarter mile.  They carried me up to the torches, and I crossed the glowing finish line in 18:13:58, for a massive PR, and my first top 10 in an actual competitive ultra.  Yes!

My parents and Erin and the kids were all there to celebrate my finish, though it was a short lived party as suddenly everyone yelled "out of the way!  Horses coming!" and a pair of horses crossed the line.  ("Some of them go *really* fast!" someone noted, once we were safely off to the side.)  My excellent crew had a chair ready and waiting, so I hung out at the finish line for a few minutes, before meandering back to the most welcome cots in the medical tent.  This is something I wish every 100 miler would copy -- a warm tent full of cots and blankets, close to the food -- there's no better way to finish, if you ask me!

Happy finishers
Unfortunately it didn't take very long for the leg pain to kick in, and I wasn't able to entirely avoid the usual shivering spell, though it didn't seem as bad this year (at least in part due to the heat pack that the medical team produced!).  I was able to eat and drink a little, and was just starting to feel a little more human when Chris strolled in and settled down on the cot next to me, having handily beat his 20-hour goal.  He didn't even lay down, just sat on the side of the cot and chatted.  How does he do that?!?  James also came through, though I don't even think he stopped for a cot.  Seriously?  I had been laying there moaning and begging for a leg transplant!  (Medical team diagnosis: "Hey, you brought that one on yourself, buddy!")

Top 10
Still, it felt great.  From 19:41 to 18:13, and a top 10 to boot.  For the first time I got called up right at the beginning of the awards ceremony, and got to stand up there for the little photo shoot before they handed out the rest of the awards, from 30-hour finishers on down.  (Though I almost missed it!  They started the awards early and we rolled in as the second-place finisher was being called!)

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?
In closing, thanks to my dad for excellent crewing -- he was there at every station with a fresh pack ready.  It was great to see my mom and Erin and the kids out on the course too!  Plus the BCRR retinue at the early stations.  Those friendly faces mean a lot.  And thanks to all the volunteers, always ready with some fresh fruit, cups of water, jugs to top of my pack between crew stations, or cots at the finish line.  Couldn't do it without you all!