Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Blast from the Past

My sister recently found this race report that I wrote after running my first 100 miler at Vermont in 2004. The race was still being run on the old course. My pacer, Bill has since passed away and reading my own account of the race brought back fond memories of him. I've posted a slightly abbreviated version below, leaving out some of the more tedious stuff, one hundred miles is a long way to run and the race reports can seem even longer! I had been running ultras for several years leading up to this race, but was still overwhelmed at the thought of running 100 miles. I hope this report inspires a few of you to try something difficult.


About 250 people lined up at 4:00 AM on Saturday morning to run 100 miles over dirt roads and trails in and around woodstock, Vermont. Statistically, 60-65 percent of us would accomplish our goal. I had been training specifically for this event for over 7 months so I knew I was well trained and as ready as I could be. I wasn't really nervous, I felt like I was on a mission! The miles went by pretty fast for the first 50 or so. I met a lot of runners out on the trail and talked a little with each one. Somewhere in the first 5 miles or so I caught up with Joe Hayes, a fellow Mainer and a very experienced 100 miler. I ran with him until the afternoon and enjoyed his company greatly.

The scenary was fantastic! There was a lot of farmland, forest, and mountains. The day was beautiful, but warm and humid and I had to make sure I was drinking and eating enough. I was amazed at how much I was sweating and a little concerned that with all my drinking, maybe I still wasn't keeping up with my fluid loss.

The aid stations were pretty frequent and well stocked. Some were unmanned, just tables set up beside the road or trail. Others were manned with enthusiastic and supportive volunteers who would fill my water bottle for me and tell me and all the other runners how great we were doing. I tried to stop at each aid station only long enough to grab what I needed and then move on. It is tempting to sit down and rest. Some runners do, but I thought it would be hard to get up and get moving again.

I was getting concerned about sore feet early in the race. I was wearing expensive synthetic running socks because I had grown tired of listening to everyone giving me grief about still wearing cotton socks in this modern age of blister-proof socks. What a mistake. I felt friction points on the bottoms of both feet and on the top of the toes on my left foot. The first "handler" station was around 19 miles and I couldn't wait to get there. I arrived in 3 hours 18 minutes. A local woman named Betsy who I had met the year before was there waiting for me with a bag of supplies I had given her the night before. I had my tried and true bargain brand cotton socks in that bag and changed them as soon as I got there. What a difference!

Betsy, a retired school teacher, was a real trooper and held up all day, appearing at each handler station being supportive and enthusiastic even into the wee hours of Sunday morning! I found out later that she even took the time between handler stations to call Tom, the friend who had introduced us the year before, to give updates on my progress and he in turn passed the updates on to my family! When the running started to feel monotonous, despite the good company on the trails and the great scenary, seeing Betsy at the handler stations was something to look forward to.

I lost Joe somewhere after 10 Bear, but enjoyed running alone for a while. The stretch between the frist and second visits to 10 Bear seemed especially hilly. I specifically remember turning up a trail with a road sign that read Agony Hill, this was about a mile of difficult trail that lead straight up. I also remember a long stretch over dirt roads that seemed to go on for about 3 miles to the top of Prospect Hill. I got back to 10 Bear at 4:55PM. I was still feeling good. I got on the scale and was still up a pound. I thought I'd be on my way, but the medical director grabbed my arm and said in a worried voice, "you're covered with hives." I looked down and realized that it was true. My chest, upper arms and upper legs were all red whelts and they told me my back was even worse. Because she wouldn't let go of my arm, I started thinking that maybe whelts were grounds for pulling someone from the race. I had to think fast and blurted out, "I have a skin condition." This set everyone at ease and Bill and I headed back out on the course. (I've never had whelts like that before and they did go away by the end of the race. I don't know what they were from.)

I was moving along OK, no pain or anything, but my energy level was falling by the 75 mile point. I didn't feel like talking and it seemed to take a lot of energy just listening to Bill talk. This was a sudden change for me and I should have recognized the first signs that my blood sugar was falling. It is very difficult to eat and drink as many calories as one uses in a run of this length and I was going into debt. I fell silent, I couldn't hold my head up, and I started walking for longer and longer stretches. I don't remember much of this part of the race, but I do know I got to a point where I felt dizzy and was loosing my vision and broke out in a cold sweat. I thought I was having a stroke or something and told Bill I needed to sit down. He found a rock beside the trail and I sat. This was the low point of my run. I didn't think I could finish and I didn't even know how I was going to get out of the woods. I don't know if it was Bill or me who thought of it, but I ate something (I don't remember what) and slowly started feeling better. I was able to get up and walk for a while. I fueled up well at the next aid station and was able to mix walking and running to mile 85. For the remainder of the race I had good spells and bad spells, but never felt fully recovered from my episode on the rock.

Anyway, from mile 85 it was mostly walking. The more I walked the tighter my quadreceps got. I knew I would finish and break 24 hours but I was so tired and sore that I remember thinking that I wished there was something slower than a walk. You know how if you get tired of running you can always walk? Well I was so tired walking that I wanted to drop back to something slower than a walk, but that would mean stopping and I wasn't going to do that. Bill was a saint to put up with mile after mile of slow shuffling. It must have been a long night for him!

Finally it was down one last steep slope and there was the finish line. I said to Bill, "I'm going to run these last few steps to the finish line," and he said, "why bother." It was true, we had walked most of the last 15 miles and here I was going to muster up a few steps of running to get over the finish line. This struck me as funny and I ran across the line laughing. Betsy was waiting at the finish line, looking fresh as a daisy at 2:30AM. I was happy, but too tired to be emotional.

I had just accomplished something I had been working at for almost a year but it didn't really strike me until the next day during brunch. At around 11:30 Betsy and I, all the other runners, handlers, pacers, friends, families, and volunteers were sitting under a huge tent with open sides finishing up a great meal. It was a beautiful sunny morning and the finish line was 200 yards away, visible from the tent. The finish line had closed at 10:00AM, 30 hours after the race started. If you couldn't finish under 30 hours you weren't considered a finisher. Now, 31 1/2 hours after the race had started, someone in the tent yelled out, "Here comes a runner!" We all looked out at the finish line to see a woman struggling down that last slippery slope. She was stumbling along, making slow progress. Everyone in the tent started cheering for her. She got to the short level stretch before the finish line and like I had done 10 hours earlier, she broke into a hobbling run, crossing the line to the sound of cheers from the tent. Suddenly I realized what a tremendous accomplishment running one hundred miles was.

1 comment:

  1. Great report. It makes want to run a 100 miler and not to ever run a 100 miler all at the same time.