Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vermont 100 Race Report

Since the day I signed up for the Vermont 100 in early January it has been something I have been thinking about every single day, wondering what it was going to be like, could I do it, would it hurt, what kind of psychological experiences would I go through.  Honestly, one of the biggest reasons I signed up to do the race was to answer the question "What is it like to run 100 miles?"

As you know I trained hard for this race, running 6 days a week and going to the gym twice a week for additional strength training, doing speedwork, hill repeats, running in the heat, the cold, the rain, running when I wanted to and more importantly running when I didn't want to.

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race

I did my homework, I read everything I could find about how to prepare for a 100 mile race, I read other peoples race reports on their experience running the Vermont 100 and other 100 mile races.  I spent alot of time listening to the Ultrarunner Podcast and Trail Runner Nation gleaning as much as I could from the pros of the sport and trying things out on my long run.  And finally on Saturday, July 18th the day was finally here.

We drove up to Vermont on Friday, the day before the race for the weigh in, pre-race briefing and pre-race dinner and the place was just buzzing with energy.  350 nervous, excited runners, plenty of first timers and veterans alike preocuppied with the adventure that lay ahead.

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race
My wife Erin and Maria my pacer at the pre-race dinner

I met with my crew chief/stage mother Kat Bermudez and crew/pacer Maria Campos and we went over our game plan for the next day.  My nutrition plan was to use Tailwind (a nutrition product you mix in your water bottles that contains all the carbs and electrolytes you need) all day in addition to snacking on real food at the aid stations and so my crew was going to be mixing up bottles of Tailwind and handing them off to me at the crew aid stations in addition to checking on me and making sure I am OK. 

As per the rules of the race I was to run solo until mile 70, at which point Maria would join me and keep me company as I ran through the night from mile 70-100.  Maria ran this race as her first 100 miler last year, so she knew the course very well and knew what I would be going through at different times.  And, turns out that Maria is also a trainer and knows alot about proper running form and efficiency, we'll get to that in a minute though.

So after the pre-race dinner Erin and I drove to our hotel for a little r&r and an early night to bed.  The race was to start at 4am on Saturday which meant I had to get up at 2am on Saturday morning, though some people would call that Friday night.

Anyway, because I couldn't sleep on Thursday night, tossing and turning dreaming about the weeks race, I was very tired Friday night and actually went to bed around 9:30pm and slept until my alarm woke me up at 2am.  Before I left the hotel I did a 10 minute guided meditation using my Headspace app to get my mind ready and then Erin and I fumbled around getting ready and found our way back to the start line around 3:15am, just in time for me to eat a bagel and have a little coffee before the race started.
Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race

So at 4am the race started and off we went into the woods.  The first several miles were very relaxed, everybody was talking and catching up and talking about our plans for the day, catching up on how the last couple weeks of training went, things like that.  For a while I ran with my buddy Chipp Winston and Ayako Yamazaki, fellow Trail Whippass team members and people I had run the Goat Butt 50K three weeks ago.  Both of them are super fast runners and so I knew this would be a brief visit before they both disappeared into the early morning darkness.  One thing I learned from all my research is that it is very important to run your own race in a 100 miler, meaning do not be foolish and try to keep up with your fast friends in the first couple miles of the day.  So I let my friends go and ran at my own fairly conservative pace, a pace I felt like I could maintain all day long. 

Its funny to say it, but the first 21 miles went by pretty uneventfully, I was just cruising along running comfortably and enjoying the Vermont scenery.  At mile 21 I saw my crew for the first time which was actually a really nice boost.  I was feeling ok, but it was definitely nice to see some familiar faces.  It was a brief pit stop, just got new bottles, changed my shirt, dropped off my headlamp and raincoat and back out on the trail. 

It's hard to remember all the ups and downs of the day, but I do remember before seeing my crew the first time going through a bit of a mental down, just feeling like boy this is going to be a long day and getting a little overwhelmed by it.  I remember seeing my crew and them being so positive and light-hearted about the whole thing and that being a nice counterpoint to the pressure I was feeling.

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race, Trail Whippass
This is me running into Pretty Horse Aid station at mile 21.3

So after a quick visit with my crew and a few snacks at the aid station mainly watermelon and bananas I was back out on the road for another 10 miles before I would see my crew again at the Stage Rd aid station.  As I would advised it is best not to think about running 100 miles and counting down the miles from 100, but to break the race into smaller chunks, like running from one aid station to the next and not think about the whole project.  So that's what I did, I put down my head and did my best to get to the mile 30 aid station in the time my pacer told me I needed to get there in order to stay on a sub-24hr pace. 

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race
A brief rest in the chair

I don't remember much about that aid station stop other than Maria telling me to pick up the pace if I want to finish in sub 24 hrs and her giving me a time goal to get to the next aid station in which I would see my crew which was Camp 10 Bear at mile 47.  I think the time she told me to get there was between 2:30-3:30pm.  I got there around 3pm. 

This section between mile 30-47 was a tough one for me.  I started having minor stomach issues from all the watermelon I was eating (I won't get into the gory details of how I know it was the watermelon) and also my time goal was actually really stressing me out and ruining the experience for me.  I was spending too much time thinking about the end results of coming in under 24 hours and getting a belt buckle and not enough time being in the moment and enjoying the experience as it was unfolding.  But it was a beautiful course with so many different types of scenery that though I struggled I was constantly being pulled into the moment by the beauty of our surroundings and also by meeting runners out on the trail and talking to them as we ran along.

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race

We ran through country roads, trails with running streams, meadows covered in fog, covered bridges and up and down so many mountains.  I have never done so much climbing in my life and surpisingly so much walking/power hiking.  I knew there were going to be alot of hills and that my best strategy was going to be to power hike up them and then run the downhills and flat sections, but I don't know that I realized that maybe half if not more than half of my day was going to be spent walking.  This is not something I trained for and something that I have always struggled with, so I know I lost alot of time out on the course walking too slow. 

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race
Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race, covered bridge

At Camp 10 Bear I saw my crew again, got weighed in for the first time and got to see my wife.  I was actually 3 lbs down at my first weigh in, which meant I was probably a bit dehydrated and needed to start drinking more. 

It was great to see my wife even if briefly, I was a little down, but I definitely felt like I needed to hide it from her so she would spend the rest of the day worry about me, maybe it was good because those feelings went away pretty quickly as well. 

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race
mile 47 Camp 10 Bear
So after visiting with my wife, getting new bottles and eating a bit of food I headed out for more. It had been cloudy and cool all day and during this stretch the sun finally came out to pay us a visit.  It was hot and I felt it, but nothing like it would have been if the sun had been out at noon, that's when I realized that we had been incredibly lucky with the cool mild weather and that it was making things alot easier for us.

This was a tough stretch from mile 47-58 with it's stomach issues, morale issues, but luckily no muscle pain or other physical distress.  Its about at this point that I realized how much a stomach issue was bringing me down emotionally.  If my stomach was upset I just really got down on myself, I guess the fear was that the rest of the days was goign to be like this and that I was going to be miserable forever.  But weirdly I had an amazing uplift a few hours later after eating a banana covered in peanut butter giving to me by the nice people at an aid station.  It sounded like way too much to eat on an upset stomach, but it actually was the miracle cure to my discomfort.  Who the hell know's why, maybe I was actually just hungry.

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race, volunteers
This is how you finish a 100 mile race, with the help of crew, pacers and volunteers!

I saw my crew again at mile 58.5 at the famous Margaritaville aid station, weighed in 2 lbs over weight somehow, and had the best dry no condiment veggie burger of my life.  I realized I was off pace for a sub-24 hour finished and was actually relieved.  I headed out of that aid station with a new lease on life, feeling good and not at all how I would have expected at this point in the day.

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race
The view leaving the Margaritaville aid station around mile 60

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race, cows
happy Vermont cows

At this point I have run more miles than I have ever run in my life, my previous longest race being 50 miles, and I don't want to say I didn't feel it and I didn't struggle physically to continue, but honestly it wasn't nearly as bad as I would have expected.  It definitely helped that I had been conservative earlier in the day, maybe too conservative in retrospect.

Now the run from mile 58.5-70 when I was to meet up with my pacer and start my long journey through the night was a varied stretch of running with great highs and incredible lows I remember at one point popping out of the woods to see an amazing view of the Vermont hills and valleys and saying to myself this moment is one of my best ever running experiences.  I knew it was a moment and that it would pass, but I was intent on living in that moment for as long as I could.

But soon the moment passed  and the sun set and I was once again running through the night with nothing but my headlamp to light the way.  And then it rained, hard.  Somewhere in there I developed a pain on the top of my foot that would get worse and worse as the race continued, so when I hit the mile 70 aid station I changed my shoes hoping that would fix the problem, I also changed my shirt.  I spent a little time in the chair resting up, gearing up for the night, got new bottles and food and off we went my pacer and I to finish this thing up one way or another.

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race

Now the run through the night was very challenging, probably the hardest part of the race for me, mainly the hours of 1-5am when it was very dark and I was very tired, physically yes, but mainly I just wanted to sleep, just lay right there in the middle of the road take a little nap.  As I ran down the road with my pacer Maria I would take these really long blinks, not sleeping while I was running, but just resting my eyes a little bit as I fantasized about sleeping in a nice warm bed.  No I don't know how I would have fared without my pacer at this point, especially as we passed other runners giving into this urge, one woman literally sleeping right there on the road.  It looked ridiculous, but secretly I was jealous.
Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race
This is at Bill's Barn aid station, mile 88.  Can you see the carnage behind me?  Very scary stuff!

But Maria and I powered on through the night, Maria giving me pointers on how to maintain my form, how to run downhill on exhausted legs, how to power hike efficiently and helping me eleviate the fatigue I was finally starting to feel in my lower back from being on my feet for 24+ hours at this point. 

Eventually the sun rose again and as a fellow runner had told me my energy level began to rise.  We were clicking off the final miles faster and faster as the new day dawned and I could fathom the idea that this thing was almost over.

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race
Maria very nicely pushing me into the finish

At mile 95 I saw my crew/stage mother Kat for the last time with only 5 miles to go, had a little coffee and a bite to eat, new bottles of Tailwind and we were off to finish this race.  Now it makes no sense at all, but I know that I ran that last 5 mile stretch faster than I had run any other 5 mile stretch in the last 8 hour period, which makes absolutely no logical sense.

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race

Before I knew it we ran into a sign that said mile 99, 1 mile to go!  What a relief!  at this point we stopped to take photos and took photos of another runner and his pacer before running it in.  As some point shortly after that one of the runners with us said, "hey if we run we could finish this thing in just under 28 hours" and for some reason this sounded really exciting to me and I took off!  I don't have splits for that last mile, but judging by the amount of time that passed I think I did it in about 8.5 minutes, way faster than any other mile that day and some of it was uphill!  I gotta say it was really fun and I don't know where the energy came from, but it was not difficult at all. 

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race

I ran it all the way to the finish line knowing it was going to be a matter of seconds for me to break 28 hours and when I hit the finish line the clock said 28:00:04, I had missed it by 5 hundreds of a second.  My official time is recorded as 28:01:04 a second longer than what I witnessed, which actually really annoys me, but who's going to quibble over a second in a one hundred mile race (me I guess).

It was an amazing beautiful experience and one I cannot wait to do again, whether it be another Vermont 100 or something out west I have definitely caught the bug.  The I want to run a 100 mile race every year for the rest of my life bug, don't worry it's a very rare bug and I am not sure if it's contagious.

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race

Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race
The Dream Team
Vermont 100, ultramarathonn, run, ultrarun, Vermont, race
Me and my wife basking in the glow of that beautiful finish line sign