Finishing time: 22:26:29
Placing: 33rd out of 156 finishers (65% completion rate)
As if the course wasn't tough enough, Mother Nature decided to up the ante this year at the Vermont 100 by throwing in temperatures that reached into the upper 80s, soupy humidity throughout, and a round of heavy thunderstorms.
As a result, over a third of the 100-mile runners DNF'd and almost everyone's times seemed to have been affected considerably. My goal of breaking 21 hours wasn't going to happen in these conditions, but finishing in under 22 1/2 hours and getting through some major mental down points made this race incredibly rewarding.
I also had a lot of fantastic support to help get me through the tough conditions. My crew member, Kate, was incredibly valuable. She was ready to help at each accessible aid station with lots of enthusiasm and her positive attitude and encouragement was just awesome.
My friend Al also helped with crewing duties in the afternoon and was my pacer for the last 30 miles. He did great and I really appreciated his company, especially after dark when the stretches between some of the aid stations seemed long. He really kept me going. I might not have felt as obligated to push it harder if I was alone.
And it was almost as if I had a pacer leading up to mile 70, as my good buddy Stephen and I pretty much ran step-by-step together for that entire stretch, which of course was great. We worked together getting each other through our low points and had a blast.
I'll start with a brief course description. First off, it's beautiful. It meanders through some of the most scenic countryside, farms, and woods this country has to offer. There is around 15000' of elevation gain and the same amount lost as it's a loop course. The terrain is either going up or down. No flat sections at all, just some that are steeper than others. 70% is on hard-packed dirt roads, 27% on trails, and 3% on paved roads. The aid stations are plentiful (30 total, including the finish), the volunteers are fantastic and the course is very well marked. It is one hell of a great event.
One of the great things about the Vermont 100 is that you can camp out right at the race site. I'm a heavy sleeper and am used to backpacking and car camping so sleeping in a tent before a race has never been an issue for me. After setting up my tent, I walked down to get weighed in and registered. Damon was handling the weigh-ins, and it was great to meet him face-to-face and hang out for a bit. His blog is excellent and has quickly become one of my favorites.
I waited for the others to arrive. Stephen came first, and was soon followed by our good friend and Trail Monster leader Ian, who was running his first 100-miler. Erik arrived soon afterwards, and so did Chuck (though he and his wife and daughter were staying elsewhere), both of whom were also running their first 100-milers.
I was sitting in my camp chair hanging out with everyone and noticed two girls approaching. I didn't recognize one of them from a distance because of her sunglasses, but as she got closer I realized it was Devon, along with her friend! After years of regular contact over the internet and phone, it was so great to finally meet her face-to-face. It would be normal for there to maybe be a hint of shyness or maybe even awkwardness, but I didn't feel that at all. I was immediately comfortable around her and we just chatted away like good friends. We're both pretty hyperactive and constantly joking around, so it's little wonder we immediately clicked.
Devon and I walked down together for the prerace meeting and the race directors went through the formalities. They warned us that it was going to be very hot and humid with strong thunderstorms, and urged us to be ready for that. I knew proper hydration and electrolyte intake were going to be even more vital, as well as choosing foods that I knew I could digest since the heat often contributes to stomach problems.
The pre-race dinner that night was excellent, just like last year. Got a full load of carbs. Afterwards, I made final gear arrangements, and double, triple, quadruple checked all of my supplies and gear. Also went over crew/pacing instructions with Kate and Al. Nothing fancy with my plans, I had all of my stuff organized in a couple of bags and a cooler, and I'd tell them what I needed when coming into an aid station and the goal was to get in and out as quick as possible. When pacing, just wanted the company along with an extra set of eyes for the dark.
I turned in for the night a little before dark, and set the alarm on my phone and as a back-up, the one on my watch to wake up at 3am (race started at 4am). Slept okay for the most part, and got in a good five hours.
Woke up, gathered my stuff and headed down to the start line. It was already warm and humid, a good reminder that extra special attention for hydration would be needed. I kept an eye out for Stephen, as our plan was to run the first 30-40 miles together if it felt comfortable but didn't see him.
Just minutes before the start, it began to rain and everyone stayed inside the big dining tent just a couple dozen feet away from where we'd line up for the start. But the rain was short-lived and with about a minute to go we lined up. 30 seconds to go and finally I spot Stephen. Whew. With a countdown, we were off.
Note: I'm writing the report based on what I remember happening between the aid stations that allowed crew access.
First 21.1 miles - our ka-tet
For the first hour or so, we ran under the light of headlamps, running downhill on a dirt road until heading up a trail into the woods. Another runner we know, Ron Farkash, joined us for the next several miles until he pulled ahead.
The sun had risen now and we put away our headlamps. Though it was hot and humid, at least we had cloud cover for much of the morning. We reached the dirt roads and soon began the climb. It was here that our ka-tet began to form when the aforementioned Chuck (who paced me last year, but went on to DNF this time around which was a bummer) joined us, as well as another runner, Frank, from Connecticut. Frank was a really nice guy and he fit in perfectly with our little group. He's a vegan chef and really knows a lot about nutrition, which I found interesting to listen to. Great company for sure. This was his first 100-miler, and he ended up rocking it.
One of the cool things about the VT100 is that there is also a horse race of the same distance (with 75 and 50 mile options for them as well). We started to see the first few come through and it's neat to run alongside them (on steeper grades going up or down, you can actually pass them). Ian also caught up with us around this time.
I really liked our group, so I was a bit disappointed when I needed to duck into the woods for a bio-break. Fortunately, I was able to catch back up to everyone with little effort and together we reached the first aid station where crews were allowed at mile 21.1. If I remember right, we got here at around 7:40am.
Miles 21.1 through 30.1 - moseying along
We pulled in and I had Kate spray me down with sunblock. Grabbed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the aid station, some Mountain Dew (my favorite ultra drink) and was off. Ian was going to do a shoe change and it was here that he left our ka-tet, but the rest of us soon grouped back together.
We flew down a long downhill stretch to an unmanned aid station at mile 25.1, and I proclaimed "awesome, we're already a quarter of the way done!" This was met with groans from some other runners nearby. I really meant it to be positive.
Five miles later we reached the Stage Road aid station at mile 30.1, where crews were allowed. Was in and out of here quickly after refilling my water bottles and grabbing another PB & J as well as some fig newtons.
Miles 30.1 through 47.2 - feeling the heat
The sun was starting to break out of the clouds now, magnifying the already brutal heat and humidity. This combined with a grueling climb out of Stage Road really made it tough. Stephen and Frank caught back up with me during this stretch and we climbed and climbed and climbed.
What goes up must go down, and then we had a long downhill. Eventually, we reached the covered bridge that precedes another ridiculously long and grueling climb. Around here I took off my shirt pretty much for good until the finish. It was just so fricking hot out, and not having that additional layer helped, just had to make sure I was fully covered in sunscreen, and I was (the spray-on kind worked perfect, quick application and easy to cover everything). We were probably around 40 miles in when Frank dropped behind a little and it was just Stephen and I. However, it wouldn't be the last time I'd see Frank on the trail.
Somewhere within this section was where the major ups and downs in energy would begin. It'd continue until dark. My energy would be zonked and mentally I was just in such a low point that I almost hoped I'd get yanked at some point. But after a few miles, I would be back to myself, able to hold and enjoy a conversation, laugh, run well, and all systems go... then crash... then feel good again... repeat. This is common in ultras, but no doubt the heat magnified it all greatly. I found it to be quite intense.
I hit a major low point along one stretch here that follows a paved road for about a mile. Even when the route ducked into the woods again, it didn't help much. I concentrated on just getting through it and getting to Camp 10 Bear, the next aid station.
Fortunately, I was on an up point when I pulled into Camp 10 Bear at mile 47.2, the first medical checkpoint. No doubt a big concern of the day for all runners was losing too much weight where they'd make you sit and eat and drink until you got your weight back up, or even worse, they'd pull you (talked to several runners where this was the case).
The medical team asked me to step on a scale and read my weight to them. I'm guessing the reason they did this was a test for mental alertness. My weight was 178, down just two pounds. Whew. Drinking like a mule, taking an S-Cap electrolyte pill every hour along with the Clip-2 sport drink was working well.
I was starting to have some chaffing issues, so I applied another coat of body glide and then doubled up with some Vaseline. This worked well and kept it at bay for the rest of the race.
Al joined Kate here for crewing duties until it was time to pace, and they informed me I was off my pace to break 21 hours here by about 20 minutes. I wasn't surprised or disappointed given the weather. I just wanted to finish the darn thing.
Miles 47.1 to 57 - more heat
I honestly can't remember much of what happened between these two aid stations. I just know it was full of more big mental ups and downs. Stephen and I at times would both be in a low point, both be in a high point, or one in a low and the other in a high. We really worked together to get each other through our down points. He was a huge help, and I hope I was to him at well. Just knowing you are running with someone is enough to keep you going rather than slowing down or stopping.
Once again, I was able to hit a high point a few miles away from the Tracer Brook aid station. We picked up the pace on a long downhill and cruised on in. As we were leaving, we saw Frank coming in. Good, he wasn't too far behind. I was hoping he'd do well for his first 100 and it was good to see that he was looking strong.
Miles 57 to 62.1 - thunderstorms
Coming out of Tracer Brook is an insanely long climb. Fortunately for Stephen and I, thunderstorms were rolling in and they hit us on the way up. This was most welcome, as we really wanted to cool down. Also, this stretch is normally pretty exposed and we didn't have to do it with the sun beating down on us. Instead, we had a nice full-on downpour to shower us off. Ahhhhh. We later heard that runners on other parts of the course got haled on. Ouch.
Pulled in to the Margaritaville aid station, grabbed a turkey sandwich, refilled my bottles, said hello to Kate and Al, and we were off. Kate and Al said I looked pale and were a bit concerned, but I wasn't feeling any different and thought it was probably just because it had rained and my body cooled down. My color apparently returned so that was most likely the case.
Miles 62.1 to 70.1 - the worst low of the day
My lowest of lows happened early on in this stretch. Just had zero energy, my feet ached badly and I felt pretty miserable. Stephen was on a high point here, and I'm surprised he didn't go on ahead and I urged him to do so. But he said he'd rather stick with me and have the company since he didn't care about his finishing time anyway. Not necessary, but incredibly unselfish of him and greatly appreciated. We hooked up with a few other runners during this stretch, and I can't remember their names but they were great guys. Wish I had more energy to hold a conversation.
And then... boing! The food I ate at the last aid station must have kicked in because on the downhill I felt great again. I was talking with Stephen and we were moving along quickly on the descent into Camp 10 Bear for the second time around. Here we'd pick up our pacers, which was nice.
We reached Camp 10 Bear and got weighed in. I weighed in at 180, my starting weight! I had gained two pounds over the last 32 miles. Excellent. I high-fived Kate upon that news and then Al joined me for pacing duties and we were off.
Miles 70.1 to 77 - down and then up for good
We began the first half mile or so with Stephen and his pacer Brian, but I had to stop for a pee break and they went on ahead. They hadn't realized I had stopped, but I was glad as I knew Stephen could let loose a little.
I then hit my umpteenth low point for the day, but fortunately, this was my last one. As I slowed down during my low point, Frank caught up and passed us, saying he got his "eleventh wind", which made me laugh. Seems like most runners I talked to were all going through some extra-dramatic highs and lows with the heat.
As I pulled out of my low, Al and I picked up the pace and caught up with Frank as we came into the West Wind aid station at mile 77. Here I downed some chicken noodle soup, just as I did last year. Good stuff. Frank (running without a pacer), Al and I then headed out together. Below is a picture of us doing that, and I like this one so much I made it my wallpaper (thanks for taking all the pictures Kate).
Miles 77 to 88.6 - shot quads
The next stretch had us on some pretty neat trails going through the woods and we encountered a lot of the horse riders here. They were all great and fun to talk to. Every rider I encountered throughout the race was super encouraging and friendly, and their horses were absolutely beautiful. A really nice and unique element to the race for sure.
Once out of the woods, we hit a loooooong stretch of downhill on the dirt roads where we ran at a pretty good lick and played leap frog with a few other runners, including the runner Damon was pacing (I forget his name). Nice to see Damon out there, he's a great guy.
I also knew that this would probably be it for me with running downhill as my quads couldn't take it anymore, and just like last year, at around mile 85 that was the case. It showed that I have to really focus on building up my quadriceps. I'm beginning to think now that Western States being canceled might have been a blessing in disguise, as now I have another year to get them stronger. I definitely have some work to do on that front.
Fortunately, I guess my strength is I'm a good power walker. All in the genetics, as I have relatively long legs (thank you Scandinavian ancestors). I can pretty much power walk at the same speed as a slow jog, and for whatever reason I can do this easily even in the later stages of a race. That definitely helps tremendously.
Shortly after the unmanned aid station at mile 81, the headlamps were turned on, and if I remember right, nobody passed us for the rest of the race.
We pulled into the Bills aid station at mile 88.6, the last medical checkpoint of the day. I heard a voice ask "Are you number five (referring to my bib number), the friendly runner?" I replied yes, and I like to think I'm friendly, and she replied my friends were up ahead. It turns out she was Cathi, Frank's crew member. Apparently both Frank and I were always smiling and happy when coming into aid stations. If only they could see me at some of my real low points out on the course. :-)
I was feeling great mentally and the pace was moving along just fine. My weight was 182, so now I was up two pounds. Cool. Off we went.
Miles 88.6 to 95.5 - getting closer
Trucking along, and once we mused we were past mile 90, it was great to know that we just had single digit mileage to the finish. Like last year, this was a huge mental boost. Al was musing that I would still break 22:30, but I didn't believe him and was thinking it'd be closer to 23 hours. We'll see.
We came into the Keating's aid station and it turns out they had lemonade in one of the coolers. Boy, this hit the spot. It tasted sooooooo good. I filled up one of my bottles with it and enjoyed it for the next few miles.
A few miles later we pulled into Polly's aid station, the final manned aid station and final one with crew access. Got out quick and we were off to the finish!
95.5 to the finish - final stretch
Leaving the aid station, we came down a hill and the dirt road ended at a paved roads. No sign of glow sticks or the yellow plates that marked the path. Uh oh. I started to panic a little, but just as we realized it, we heard horses and knew we weren't off by much. We backtracked and about 50 feet back up the dirt road, we saw the turnoff. Whew. Ended up being no big deal and not costing us any time. Truth is, the adrenaline rush I got out of it probably more than made up for the minute or two we might have lost.
We reached the final aid station, an unmanned one at mile 97.7. From here on out, I really pushed it with all I had. Al was really encouraging here and was urging me to keep it going. There was a lot of steep uphill, technical trail, which made it fun. Seriously, it was truly fun. The fact that the finish line was so close and all that hard work I had put in was about to come to fruition, I was relishing what I had left.
The final stretch (maybe quarter of a mile?) is mostly downhill to the finish, and I brushed aside the pain in my quads and ran. Soon, the milk jugs filled with water and glow sticks lined the trails, signifying the finish line was very close. Then we could see the lights at the finish through the trees!
I booked it with all I had and sprinted across the finish (at least I think I was sprinting). 22:26:29 was my time. Ah, sweet. About 16 minutes slower than last year, but the level of difficulty was much higher this time around (weather was nice and cool last year). Very happy with how I ran considering that.
I sat down in a chair to watch the other runners come through. Not too much longer later, Frank came through. Was really happy for him and he rocked it, especially considering this was his first 100 and he did it without a pacer. No doubt he'll only get faster.
Kate helped me take off my shoes and literally gagged when helping me peel off my socks (I never changed them during the race). Hee hee.
Ian also came through, breaking 23 hours, another fantastic performance. He immediately went to the med-tent as he had a hurt ankle. You'd never know it the way he flew through into the finish! Well done. I learned that Stephen had finished about an hour ahead of me. He must have been flying that last 30 miles, which is awesome.
I began to nod off and Kate drove me back up to the tent, saving me a few hundred yards of walking. Took a sponge bath and went to sleep, getting in a short but very refreshing three hours of sleep.
I woke up to a surreal dream. One of Stephen's kids was softly singing in their tent next to mine, and another runner was talking about the race from another nearby tent. The singing provided the background music to the narration of the runner, and my dream provided the mental images. It was pretty cool.
My legs were sore upon wakening, but I was way less stiff than last year. Headed down at 8am to watch the other runner's finish, with one fellow beating the 30 hour cut-off by a mere 11 seconds! Talk about drama! That was awesome to watch.
We ate at the post-race brunch, got our buckles at the awards ceremony and then packed up and headed home. Great race.
- Congrats to Ian, Erik and Frank on their first 100-milers. Also congrats to Devon for not only running her first 100-miler, but winning it for the women as well! I can't say I'm too surprised about that though, she's obviously wicked fast.
- Nice to see Paul and Kathleen Braun from Wisconsin there. I saw them out at Western States, and we brought microbrews from our respective areas to trade with one another.
- PB and J's continued to work well for me, as did the Mountain Dew. Have to remember the lemonade for next time. Clif shot blocks also worked extremely well.
- Volunteers were fantastic. They'll bend over backwards to help out and were always cheerful and encouraging. This is one amazing race.
- Legs are recovering much faster than they did last year. I'm walking up and down stairs with some discomfort, but nothing terrible at all.
- Got home Sunday and slept 11 hours. Looking forward to another good night's sleep tonight.
Link to album
L to R: Stephen, me, Erik and Ian.