Tuesday, July 22, 2008

7/22/08 Vermont 100 Race Report

I successfully completed my first 100 miler, finishing in 19:20 and 11th place. That's the short version. Here's the long version:

The leadup

My fiancee and I took off early Friday morning to head up to Vermont. We flew to Hartford, rented a car, and drove to the race headquarters at Silver Hill Meadow. I got my race number and did my medical check.

We had some time to kill before the pre-race briefing, so we drove up to Woodstock to hang out for a bit. Woodstock is a pretty, quaint town, and we had a good time burning a few hours there.

We got back for the 3:45 pre-race briefing. Pretty much the only part of this I remember is the race director telling us it could get into the 90s, it would be humid, and we might have thunderstorms. I nearly wet my pants. Not ideal conditions for my first 100 miler.

I loaded up on as much food as I could stomach in the pre race dinner. My parents then arrived, and we headed to the hotel we'd be staying at, which was about a half hour away.

I got all my bags and gear ready while they had some dinner nearby. We talked about the game plan for the next day, and at 9 I tried to get to sleep.

Unsurprisingly I wasn't able to fall asleep for a while. When I did finally fall asleep, the people in the next room got back and started to make a lot of noise. They were pretty noisy for the next few hours, and I had gotten very little sleep when the alarm went off at 2:30.

My fiancee got up and headed to the start line. My parents would be joining later in the day so they could get some rest first.

At 4am they told us to get on out of there and the race was on.

Part 1: Start to 21 (00:00 to 03:30)

Believe it or not, this was actually the worst part of the race for me. We took off into the night and soon hit the first trail section. It was very humid and misty, so it was a bit tough to see the trail well. My legs felt good, but my stomach was definitely not right. I wasn't able to drink a lot, and I was eating way less than I should.

I started to really get uncomfortable around mile 10, but I just focused on powering through it. I think I had actually eaten too much before the race, and my stomach just didn't want anything else. From miles 0 to 15 I had only drank one bottle (about 20 ounzes), had a Clif shot block, and eaten one gel. My stomach is always my biggest problem, so I was definitely worried that I was getting in too much trouble early on.

At mile 15 we crossed the Taftsville covered bridge, which was in a very pretty area. About a half mile later, I got to the aid station and was about to blow through it since I had my Nathan pack with me, which still had tons of water and food left. Then I saw the soda they had out and thought that I should refill my bottle with that and see if that would snap me out of my funk.

There was a lot of uphill coming out of mile 15, and I slowly sipped away at the Coke as I climbed. I could feel it boosting energy, and my stomach started to slowly settle down. By about 18 miles I felt good enough to eat a Clif Bar. I was back on track now and having a good time. There was some really pretty trail in this section and some great views in the couple of miles coming into Pretty House.

I also started talking to guy I recognized from the Diablo marathon out in California. I had come in 4th there, and he was ahead of me in 3rd. We came into Pretty House together.

I was great to see Jen for the first time here. I told her that I wanted to refill my bottle with ginger ale and ice. It was starting to get warm, and I figured the ginger ale would be a great way to get some calories and continue to settle my stomach. The aid station didn't have ginger ale, so I settled for Coke and ice. Jen said she'd have ginger ale for the next aid station. She's the best!

I got out of there quickly and headed on down the road.

Section 2: 21 to 30 (3:30 to 5:05)

The guy from the Diablo marathon caught me a little ways down the road, and we ran together for a while. There was a lot of uphill in this section, and I hiked and ran it pretty hard. I started to really notice that I was passing a lot of people on the uphills.

At all the aid stations in this section I was refilling my bottle with ice and Coke. I was drinking nothing but soda at this point. I was also hitting the S-caps pretty hard as it was already very hot.

Around 26 or 27 I had an Ensure, which was a bit tough to get down. I love Ensure in the cool weather, but I have a really hard time stomaching it in the hot weather. This time was no exception, and my stomach wasn't so happy with me.

Around mile 28 we hit Sound of Music Hill. This is one of the highest points along the course and has some fantastic views. We then started the descent to the Stage Road aid station. Some of the people who I passed on the uphill went by me again on this downhill section. This was another consistent theme of the day.

I came into Stage Road feeling pretty decent. This was a much more involved stop than Pretty House. My Nathan 020 pack had served me well up until now, but the aid stations would be close enough together from here on out, so I dropped it off with Jen. She had also bought Ginger Ale, so I filled my bottle up with that and ice. I grabbed a baggie with more S-caps, and Jen had a baggie ready for me with pretzels, cheez-its, and fig newtons. She told me she needed me to eat more. She got my hat out and we put a bunch of ice it in before I took off. Jen was doing a fantastic job taking good care of me.

Stage 3: 30 to 47 (5:10 to 8:05)

I took off running from Stage Road. The bottle full of ice and ice in my hat felt great. I continued doing this for the rest of the day, and I think it was hugely important in keeping me cool.

On the big climb coming out of Stage Road the lead horse passed me. It was really fun to see the horses throughout the day. I used the time spent hiking uphill to eat some of the food Jen had packed for me.

I felt great over these 17 miles. I continued drinking tons of soda (a full bottle every 3 miles at this point) and was keeping pretty cool. I was pushing the pace pretty hard over these 17 miles. There were also some more great views, and I was having a fantastic time. Around mile 35 or so I passed the guy from the Diablo marathon (I guess he had beaten me out of the aid station). I told him to keep at it and went by.

It was around mile 35 that I also started feeling my legs get tired. Not bad tired, but noticeably tired. Now the run was getting serious. There was a monster of a climb around mile 38. It seemed to go on forever, but I was making good time up it and felt good.

From the top of this hill we had a nice long downhill into the next aid station. I had a half PB&J sandwich here, which would be the first of many. As we got close to Camp 10 bear, I made sure to finish my bottle since I was worried about whether my weight would be down. I came into Camp 10 Bear feeling great and excited to see my crew.

My Dad joined Jen here and would be with her crewing for the rest of the race. They hooped and yelled as I came in, and it was a great feeling. They were a bit worried and asked how I was feeling. I said "are you kidding me? I'm still enjoying this!" I weighed in and had only lost one pound. Fantastic! I asked Jen to get me more Ginger Ale, ice, and a baggie with PB&J and turkey. I also took a few Tylenol 8 hours here.

Stage 4: 47 to 57 (8:10 to 10:05)

I took off feeling really great. As I ran down the road I munched on the PB&J and turkey. The turkey wasn't going down so well, but the PB&J hit the spot. Then we hit a completely ridiculous uphill. I hiked this as hard as I could and finally hit the mile 51 aid station.

They refilled my bottle with Coke and asked how I was doing. I told them I felt great and took off down the road. My stomach started to feel a little worse. I wasn't totally sure why, but something felt off. When I got to the next aid station at 54 or so, I grabbed a boiled potato. They asked if I wanted salt, so I said sure! I ate the potato and nearly threw it back up. At that moment I realized what the problem was. Salt. Too much of it. With all the S-Caps and soda I was drinking I had somehow gotten way too much salt in my system.

I eased off drinking the soda and tried to just cruise the rest of the way to the mile 57 aid station. I ran a bunch of the way with a guy I'd been see-sawing with along the way. He'd run Vermont 4 times and was giving me lots of good tips on the course. He's also stopped at the mile 54 aid station and taken a swim in the pond. Gotta love that.

I came hauling into the 57 aid station feeling better already now that I'd slowed down drinking the soda. I asked for water this time instead of soda (the first thing aside from soda I'd drank since mile 15). I also took some Tums to help settle my stomach. Jen made me another bag of food, I refilled my hat with ice, and I was off.

Stage 5: 57 to 62 (10:07 to 11:05)

The guy I ran in with had already taken off with another guy who got in before me. I quickly caught up with them but was moving faster and went right on by. This is the longest climb of the course. It is 3 miles straight uphill and the top is the highest part of the course. I felt great in this section. I actually ran a good amount of the uphill and hiked hard up the rest. I was eating pretty steadily at this point as well. I was still having PB&J and also ate some boiled potatoes. Jen had been slipping them into my food bag all along even though I wasn't asking for them. They were actually going down really well, and I was grateful.

At the top I ran into a woman who I had seen in front of me at various points throughout the day. We chatted for a while, and she said she wasn't feeling so well. I ended up moving on ahead to the Margaritaville aid station (she later smoked me going into the next aid station, and I never saw her again).

I felt fantastic at Margaritaville and had another quick stop. I sat down for a few seconds and let my crew get me ready to go. I was pretty excited that the next section would be my last section run alone, so that got me all fired up and ready to go.

Section 6: 62 to 70 (11:08 to 12:40)

Well it rained pretty much the whole way in this section. I had taken my singlet off at Mile 62 since it was just getting so wet. This was probably a smart move since it would have really been soaked in this section.

I passed a lot of people in the first half of these 8 miles, but most of them re-passed me on the downhill coming into Camp 10 Bear.

I still felt good at this point, but I wasn't thrilled about how wet my feet were and how muddy the course had gotten with the downpour.

My spirits were certainly lifted when I came to Camp 10 Bear though. My mom was there this time along with Jen and my Dad. They all cheered loudly as I came in. I weighed in, and my weight was exactly even. What a relief.

I got my shoes off quickly and popped a blister. Apparently no one around had a pin, so I had to take one of the safety pins holding my number to pop it. I duck taped over the former blister, put my socks back on, and got laced up again. Another bottle refill and food baggie and I was ready to go. Best of all, my Dad would be pacing me for the next 7 miles!

Stage 7: 70 to 77 (12:46 to 14:20)

This was by far my favorite part of the course. I always love running with my dad, and we were having a great time. We hit a long, steep uphill right away and immediately passed two runners.

I was feeling great and charging hard thanks to the mental boost from having dad there. It was also great to get him to see what this ultramarathoning thing is all about. He's a big runner himself and does half marathons. We had a great time enjoying the views and hammering away at the course.

Somewhere around this point I also developed a race motto. At my charity site, one person who donated left the simple message of KATN. Kick Ass Take Names (thanks, Rita!). Well that's what I was doing. I ended up not being passed once after mile 70, and I just kept picking off runners.

Dad and I passed four people in this section. As we came to mile 77, I was sad to see him go, but looking forward to meeting my next pacer.

I still felt remarkably good after 77 miles. I couldn't believe I hadn't crashed yet. I was still running hard, my stomach felt good, and my legs were holding up well. I grabbed some potatoes, refilled my bottle and hat, and took off with Gabrielle.

Stage 8: 77 to 88.5 (14:12 to 16:40)

I didn't know anyone other than Dad who would be able to pace me, so I requested one from the folks organizing the race. They found Gabrielle, who was kind enough to offer to help out in this race after really enjoying the Vermont 50K.

We chatted for the first few miles and got to know each other. It was really great to have company out there. After I few miles I started to really tire for the first time. It became much more of a mental struggle around mile 80.

Running hurt a lot, so I actually dreaded the flats because I still refused to let myself walk flat parts. Running the downhills was also getting really painful. I actually looked forward to the uphills as I got a break from running, and hiking still felt ok. Even running the more gradual uphills didn't feel too bad.

Bit by bit we made our way towards Bills aid station. I really wanted to get there before dark. I had planned on grabbing my headlamp at 77 but had forgotten in the excitement. Gabrielle had one, so we could make do if we had to, but I was really hoping it wouldn't come to that.

Gabrielle was doing a great job at distracting me. She kept up a pretty consistent stream of conversation, which was great. We finally made the climb up into Bill's and did manage to get there in daylight.

I was certainly happy to see Jen and Dad again. I weighed in with my weight still dead even. I couldn't believe it. 88.5 miles, and I hadn't lost a pound! I ate a bit of fruit, which was the only thing that looked good. It was getting harder to eat at this point. Since my weight was still even and I only had 11.5 miles left, I wasn't planning on eating a whole lot more.

I had asked at mile 77 for dad and Jen to find out what place I was in when I came into Bill's. Dad told me I was in 13th. Good lord! 13th place in my first 100 mile race! I was really fired up now. Then a guy who came into the aid station after me left. My dad sad "well, guess you're 14th now." He didn't have to tell me twice. I shot up, grabbed a bag of fruit Jen had made me and took off with Gabrielle.

Stage 9: 88.5 to 99.5 (16:45 to 18:10)

I quickly caught the guy who left the aid station just before me. Gabrielle and I took off motoring at a good pace. It started to get quite dark, and it was pretty tough to see when we hit the next trail section. It was getting really misty and foggy again.

Nonetheless we continued to make good time. Around mile 90 or 91 we saw a porcupine, which was pretty cool. At first I though I was hallicinating and then I got worried that it was a skunk (the mind doesn't work so well after running 90 miles). I finally realized what it was, and I guess I can say I've seen a porcupine in the wild now.

There was a big climb into the mile 92 aid station, but we finally made it. I spent very little time here and we kept on chugging. I was just trying to run as much as possible at this point. It was really getting tough, and I was starting to have to dig deep. We did pass someone in this stretch, and the poor guy looked terrible. He could barely stand, and I hope that he was able to still finish.

I willed myself to keep running, and we finally go to Polly's. Polly's was pretty cool. It was really foggy and misty, very few people were there, and there was a guy playing bagpipes. It was very surreal.

I didn't need anything else at this point. I said bye to Jen and Dad and took off on a mission to finish the last 4.5 miles.

Stage 10: 95.5 to 100 (18:12 to 19:20)

We ran a lot coming out of Polly's. Gabrielle and I ran most of the next 2.5 miles. I just really wanted to finish. At this point I knew I was going to make it. I also knew I would make it under 20 hours, which was insane to me. I never thought I'd get anywhere close to that time. We passed one more guy, putting me in 11th place.

The last two miles were brutal. We hit a steep, rugged uphill trail that had thick, thick mud. A few steps trying to run in that, and my legs just gave out. My right calf pulled or something and I was just toast. I knew I was close enough that I would still finish, but I had no choice but to slow down some.

We kept inching closer and closer. I had thought I would start to get excited and feel a rush of adrenaline, but I was just so spent. I'd been pushing so hard all day I just wanted to get it over with.

Gabrielle gave me some great motivation and kept me on the right track (I almost certainly would have gotten lost without her). We finally saw the glowing gallon jugs and crossed the finish line. I was ecstatic. I hugged Gabrielle, hugged Jen, hugged my Dad. I couldn't believe I finished the Vermont 100 in 19:20. I was overwhelmed. And tired. And my legs hurt.

Aftermath

I limped over to the main tent and collapsed on a cot. A medical volunteer asked me how I was. I said I was very tired, but felt fine and was very happy. He asked if I was cold. I said I was extremely warm. He responded by putting a blanket around me. I've done enough races by now to know that I would get cold very soon, so I didn't fight him. Lo and behold, I asked for another blanket a few minutes later.

The plan was to hang out for a bit, have me eat some food, and then head back to the hotel. Jen got me some chicken soup, but one sip of that and I almost threw up. My stomach just totally shut down. I ended up eating nothing for 12 hours! Trying to sleep that night was quite an adventure. My legs hurt so much I could barely sleep at all.

It was such an amazing experience running this race. I still can't believe how well it went. I also want to thank everyone for making this possible. I couldn't have done it without Jen, my parents, and Gabrielle. They were the best crew and pacers I could have asked for. I also owe a lot to the volunteers who put on such a fantastic race. They do such a great job with aid stations, course marking, and everything else.

It was truly an unforgettable experience.







Wednesday, July 16, 2008

7/16/08 The Final Countdown

Well, it's almost time. Just a couple days left to the Vermont 100.

It's been a wild ride training for this thing. I've definitely pushed very hard. Training started about six months ago at the beginning of this year. I've run over 2,100 miles over these last six months.

Some more training stats:

  • 31 runs over 20 miles
  • 17 runs over 25 miles
  • 11 runs over 30 miles
  • 4 runs over 35 miles
  • 1 50 mile run
  • 18 weeks of 80+ miles
  • 11 weeks of 90+ miles
  • 3 weeks of 100+ miles

I definitely feel ready and well conditioned now. The only doubt in my mind right now is the weather. It's supposed to be 90 degrees on race day with thunderstorms. Not quite ideal. Oh well. I've come too far to let weather stop me.

Hopefully I'll be posting a victorious race report here shortly. Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

7/6/08 Back in the saddle again

As I mentioned in my last post, training wasn't going so well for while. Well I definitely had my comeback this weekend.

On Friday July 4th I did 22 miles, which was pretty rough because I hadn't been running much in the prior week. I took it pretty easy on Saturday and then headed out to the Massanuttens on Sunday.

I woke up at 4 and drove out to the trailhead where I volunteered for the MMT 100. My plan was to run 8-10 hours if things went well. This would be a pretty long run given that I was only two weeks out from Vermont, but I hadn't done a run this long in training yet. This was my last chance before the big day.

I brought a ton of stuff with me and planned to swing back to the car once in the middle of the run to restock.

The run went even better than I could have expected. I ended up running for 9.5 hours on an extremely rugged, mountainous course. I estimate that I covered 50 miles and 20K of elevation change based on the MMT 100 course description. It was a beautiful area, and there were some fantastic views whenever I got to the top of a mountain.

My legs felt great and my stomach held up really well. I was eating and drinking a ton and still felt like I had a lot of energy when I finished. The only tough part was that the course was very wet from all the previous rain, so my feet were pretty soaked for the whole time. I ended up with some pretty nasty blisters, but they were nothing that taking it easy for the next few days won't fix.

By far the highlight of the run was when I circled back to the car to restock. There was a family hanging out by the trailhead, and I said hi to them. The father said hi back and asked how far I was jogging. I said that I'd probably run about 32 miles. He asked how long that had taken, and I said about six hours (it was not quite even noon at this point). He looked pretty sure that I was crazy at this point.

I then proceeded to chug 20 ounzes of ginger ale, eat three handfuls of cheez-its, refill my pack with water, refill my water bottle, grab a few more clif bars, call jen quickly to say I was ok, and headed back out the trail. I think I might as well have been an alien.

Anyway, this run was a fantastic confidence booster for Vermont. If I feel as good as I did today, I should definitely be able to finish.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

6/28/08 Tough Times

On the whole my training has been going really well since the start of 2008. This last week hasn’t quite been ideal though.


Last Saturday morning I planned to wake up at 3:30 in the morning planning to run 50 miles on some trails that are 15 minutes from my parent’s house in New Jersey. I was up for the weekend for Jen’s first bridal shower.


I made some careful preparation and hit the trail while it was still dark. It was a beautiful morning with great weather. My legs felt good, and I really love running these very scenic trails. Unfortunately my stomach just didn’t cooperate.


I don’t know if it was eating Quiznos at a rest stop on the drive up the night before or something else, but I was not doing so well. I made it through 30 miles and then called it quits.


I really wanted to get a run of around 50 miles in before the big race in Vermont. However, this weekend is my bachelor’s party (woohooo!) and then I’m only two weeks away from the race.


On Thursday night, I decided to give running 50 another shot. I took off from work around 5 and started running. It was extremely hot and we were supposed to get thunderstorms, so I decided to run on the treadmill at least until it cooled off.


Yet again it was not meant to be. My stomach was bothering me again, and I had started getting sick the night before. I think it’s just a relatively minor cold, but it started slowing me down after 25 miles. Between that and my stomach acting up, I had to call it quits after 30 miles again.


My stomach is a big concern for me up in Vermont. I just seem to have a really hard time stomaching enough calories to keep me moving. I’m going to take another shot at a really long run next weekend even though it’s only two weeks out from Vermont. I think I’m in good enough shape to recover in time.


It seems like me finishing Vermont will definitely come down to my stomach. A few years ago I would not have guessed that would be the hardest part. I guess I’ll just hope for the best.