Thursday, September 4, 2008

Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Race July 2008

2008 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Race

I’m not sure where to start this blog but if I could place a label on the whole experience I would choose teamwork because that is what it took to be successful for this race. With the DNF at the Arkansas Traveller 100 miler and the struggles during the JFK 50 last year, my confidence factor was a little on the empty side.

Laura and I always gather our thoughts in advance for the races I want to participate in for the year so that we can adjust our calendar and budget. Initially, my first pick was the Western States 100 in the Sierra Nevada but my name was not pulled out of the bucket during the lottery drawing. The Vermont 100 was next on the list for a summer race. The more we thought about it, this would be the perfect “first” because we could spend time with family and Vermont is my home state where I was raised.

With our decision made, now came the time to find a local race so I could get in my 8 hours of volunteer time which was a race prerequisite. Fortunately, I came across a local (Southeast) race series which consisted of 4 races in South Carolina ( Terri Hayes is the Race Director (RD) so we contacted her to see if we could help with the Buncombe Trail 34 mile run. She replied by saying we were a lifesaver because of the shortage of volunteers to support the race.

Laura, Tammy, Josh, and Renee ran two aid stations and I was the sweep (run behind the pack as a safety). This was a low key event to encourage beginner ultra runners and to provide a Southeastern race series for local ultra-runners. Terri does not charge entry fees (donations only to cover expenses) and no time limit to encourage slower runners by enabling them to finish without the agony of cut-off times causing them to cut short their run and take away their victory. At the end of a long day, my family got lots of praise from the RD and runners for the excellent support they provided. I got to meet some runners from the local area, made a few friends, and got a long run in to support my training.

I spent a good part of the day with these two nice ladies (Anne and Marcia) who were having a great time being on the trails, and enjoyed hearing about completing the Umstead 100 mile race in NC. The most rewarding part was watching a guy struggle the last few miles while his friend encouraged him to complete his first ultra. We kept telling him a lot of pain now mixed with some struggle and grind will make for a memory, and sense of accomplishment, to last a life time. The hobbling due to his legs being worn down and cramping, mixed in with moans and groans, made for a finish smile larger than his face.

After getting to know Terri a little better, and having a great time, we told her we would help out with the rest of her races if our schedule was freed-up. Unfortunately, we could not help with the Chattooga River Trail 50K race, but have plans to run another aid station for the FATS 40 in October.

Terri originally had her last race near Summerville SC, and I mentioned about considering the FATS trail which is where I do some of my training runs, and would be in her backyard making race directing more manageable. She wanted a race to be closer to home and always thought FATS would make for an excellent race. With some cooperation from SORBA and the Forestry department, Terri replaced her last race for the year.

A note about Terri, she is really amazing having run over 200 ultras including the major races like Western States and still running strong and mixing it up with runners in her age group. One afternoon, we ran a section of FATS and talked about how she was going to arrange aid stations and lay out the trail. She shared some of her previous race stories and how ultra races have changed over the years. She did this while we were running in a strong thunderstorm on a muddy trail. One of my cooler runs on this trail as it is usually 90+ degrees with extreme humidity. While the rain felt good, the lighting put a little uncertainty in my thoughts about our safety.

With my volunteer time behind me, all I had remaining was to get myself conditioned to run 100 miles. Laura and I looked at my last races and noted what went well and what not to do again. The way I was training on a physical level seemed to be working well so I kept to the same plan and stepped it up a little by adding some more hill repeats with weights and a few more long runs. I also added another weight training night to my weekly routine to work the quads and hamstrings more for the 15,000 feet of climbing and descending.

I did get a little behind in my training schedule because I had a spring refueling outage at work which means working 6 days a week, 12 hour shifts. I knew this 6 week time frame would be a real challenge so my thoughts were to just maintain my fitness level without losing any ground. Trying to make gains during this demanding time would be too difficult along with balancing family time with my wife and two kids.

I must say that I’m blessed to have such an understanding family, although they don’t run, they do support me at every chance. They will rendezvous with me on my long training runs and bring me fresh fruit, food, and water. They encourage me to keep to my training schedule, watch what I eat, and pick up gear and supplies when I’m in need. After the outage, I started to ramp-up my training with only 9 weeks until race day, while being careful not to get too crazy and end up injured. After my last long run, I was feeling really good with my progress. Although I didn’t get all the weekly miles in as I had hoped, I had no injuries.

For the JFK race, I raised some funds to help a coworker’s daughter going through some medical issues. This race was for another coworker who was undergoing cancer treatment and has been away from work for the past 8 months. He is not the type to ask for help, or lead on that he is in need of help, but I knew the medical expenses had to be getting deep. The people at work wanted to do something as well but didn’t know how to go about it. I approached my boss, Steve, with the idea to use my run to raise funds to support our friend. Before I knew it, Steve had organized reps from each department and posted a note in our “Around The Plant” to get the word out.

Following came all the typical questions like “How long will it take?” “How do you eat and take care of the “call of nature?” “What about the night time?” “Is it flat and smooth roads?” I would tell them that my pain would only be battled for 24 to 30 hours and my friend and his family had to endure pain for over 8 months. Needless to say, the money started to pour in immediately with some being one lump sum and some being by the mile. I asked Steve how much he thought we would collect and he said a few thousand at a minimum. This sounded almost too optimistic considering we were only targeting our Plant Vogtle family and not the entire Southern Nuclear Company employees or outside.

I must confess, I thought we might come close, but didn’t expect the response we received. The people I work with are truly awesome and have a giving heart because not only did they exceed my hopes, but they contributed enough to more than triple what Steve initially thought we could collect. I was blown away to see how much we had collected and how supportive the people were that I worked with everyday. Now the pressure was really on and the ball was in my court to perform. A couple of good buds which I talk to daily (Rudy, Jimbo, Charley, Michael, and Brent who now want to hike the Georgia AT section) were very supportive and encouraging. Although, they said I must complete all 100 miles, regardless of what the challenges laid ahead, to get Arkansas behind me.

I took no chances for my crew – I needed people that knew me best and who would encourage and support me through any unexpected adversity. I had my wife Laura, son Josh, daughter Renee, and a new member of my team - my oldest sister Kathy (Kate) – who asked to be a part of this epic adventure. Kate had never been part of something this crazy, but she knew what she was getting into based on my previous reports and editing and formatting a lot of my previous blogs.

Another new member of my team was my older brother Albert who wanted to be my pacer the last 30 miles. I was a little skeptical at first because Albert has never raced more than a 5K and he was volunteering to run 30 miles over some challenging hills in the middle of the night. But then again, this was my brother who has always completed everything he set out to do. He is an experienced hiker and a member of a hiking club in New England. The word quit is not in his vocabulary, and he has always pushed his own limits and those around him. Who better to push me in the middle of the night when the going got tough!

The Trip North

Before I knew it Thursday morning was here. The Avalanche was packed and busting at the seams, the weather was clear, and the family was ready to hit the road. The plan was to drive all day and get to Scranton, Pennsylvania before calling it quits for the day. This would give us a 6 hour drive on Friday with plenty of time to check-in at the Orange Lake Country Club condo and be at the pre-race briefing.

We have made this drive up to Vermont for the past 20+ years to see my side of the family so the map stayed tucked beside the seat. We were very familiar with the road. The first day was uneventful with the exception of being attacked by flies while stopping in North Carolina for gas. It took a good 20 minutes of going down the road with the windows open to get them out of the truck. I still think a few may be new residents in VT (but it will be a short summer for them).

Virginia had a bad accident involving several 18 wheelers on I-81 so we were down to a crawl for about 10 miles and had to take a detour around the accident scene. The accident must have just happened 30 minutes earlier and it looked really bad with some of the trucks still burning and the smell of rubber in the air. Thank God we were not in the middle of it. Maybe those pesky flies weren’t so bad after all, when you stop and think that maybe they delayed us long enough to avoid something far worse.

We hit our mark that night, got a good night’s rest just short of the New York border, and we were off and rolling the next morning. We talked to my brother while on the road and he had some bad news – in bed with the flu. He has been training hard the last three months going distances he had never experienced before – all so that he could pace me. I knew it was difficult for him to tell me of his misfortune and I knew he was disappointed. Nevertheless, he had a glimmer of hope he might be able to shake the bug and be ready Saturday night. I was skeptical because the challenge was difficult enough without recovering from a two-day flu. I told him it was okay if he could not make it and not to feel obligated to run when he did not feel well. After we talked, it did not sound good for the home team and I knew I would be running without a pacer.

About mid-day, Kate called and said she was on her way to meet us at the race brief. We were still in New York but about to cross into Vermont near Rutland. I told her we were right on time and would drive straight to the brief. My travel luck had expired and it was time for some unexpected road construction between Rutland and Woodstock. As I kept glancing at my watch, the margin was gone and now I started to stress about arriving late and missing the weigh-in and briefing.

I know Kate must have been going crazy wondering what in the world happened to us. We could not call her on our cell phone due to a lack of signal in the mountains. Last time she talked to us, I gave the impression we would be early. Then to complicate matters a little more, I missed the turn for South Woodstock and drove a few miles out of our way. Laura knew just what to say by reminding me that most of these briefings don’t start on time and I could get weighed in after the briefing. I was still tense, but she kept me from going critical.

We pulled over and she got directions to get us back on track. It’s ironic we can travel 1100 miles across 9 states without a map and never miss a beat, just get to the last town and get all twisted around. It was now time for the race brief and we were following an ambulance on the dirt roads leading to the start / finish point with a couple more cars behind us. I told myself, I hope this is not a sign of things to come. At least we were in good company. We drove by the old starting point at Smoke Rise Farm (recognized it from old blog pics) so I knew we were close. Up another hill and we approached a field on the left with horses, a large white tent, and cars lining the road.

Kate was on the side of the road with this “Where have you been?” expression. She had already done some recon work for us and quickly pointed to a parking area. It must have been the expression on my face because without asking a question, she said that the pre-race briefing had not started yet and that I had time to get checked-in. Laura said to get going and she and the kids would catch-up.


I got my bib number (#33), free shirt, and race paperwork. Next was the medical check - blood pressure was 120 over 70 at 64 BPM and a weight of 164 lbs. My resting heart rate is usually around 48 BPM, but I was a little excited with everything going on. I told the lady my normal weight was 158 lbs but she said it was okay because their scale read a little high for all the runners, and the same scale would be used for the race. Most runners try and weigh-in as low as possible to keep from challenging the 7% weight loss rule (medically disqualified so you don’t hurt yourself).

Shortly after, the race brief started under the big tent in what felt like a comfortable 90 degrees with some humidity. The view of the mountains as a backdrop was absolutely beautiful as a slight haze blurred the picture’s landscape. Jim Hutchison (Race Director) stood up in back of a pickup truck backed underneath the tent and started his introduction with a roaring voice. The sound equipment had some bugs in it, but big Jim did not need it. He had a really good sense of humor and we found ourselves laughing and chuckling over his explanation of the rules.

He introduced some notable runners and race volunteers who made this event possible. For a few minutes I heard Jim, but was not listening, and took a moment to just take it all in. I looked at my wife as she was enjoying the humor and laughing at Jim’s comments. The kids were sipping on an ice cold root beer soda and just glad to be out of the truck. Kate was looking around at the 500+ people under the big top tent with a look that seemed to say that this is pretty wild.
All of these people from all over the USA and Canada, and as far away as the UK and Germany – all gathering for this one event. No politics, world differences, social status, or level of education ever becomes a thought – just the simple task of running 100 miles to challenge one’s limit. One of the things I love about this sport is that there is no faking it when it is time to toe-the-line. It is all about your personal ability, months of extreme training, sacrifice, to really want something so bad that you are willing to endure physical pain – block the demons in your mind – push your limits beyond what you think you can achieve – and to overcome the unexpected. The months of training in all kinds of weather conditions, and hours of research for race info, all comes down to this single moment. Only one question remains: Can you dig deep enough to keep going when every fiber of your body says to just stop; when your thoughts say: This is not your day – maybe next time?

The briefing was most entertaining and lasted over an hour. After, we started to walk back to the truck and talk about what time we would meet in the morning and told Kate she better head back to Northfield and try and get some sleep. She had the longest drive and would not get much sleep with a 04:00 start time in the morning. It had been a long two days for us, and today had some extra stress while riding an emotional rollercoaster. The thought of checking into the condo, and relaxing some before getting some sleep, sounded really good. Especially after two long days of driving.

As we milled about, Renee needed something out of the truck so I gave her my keys to unlock the door. As we said our goodbyes to Kate, I pulled on the door handle and the truck was locked. I asked Renee for the keys and she replied she did not have them. I asked Josh for the keys and he said Renee had them. Laura was talking to the runners beside us and I interrupted her for the keys and she did not have them either. Then this really sinking feeling came over me as my mind refused to comprehend what I feared had happened. I paused for a second to pull myself together and decided to try the handle again, like it had mysteriously unlocked itself – Not. I checked the back door and it was locked also. Once more I asked Renee what she did with the keys and she replied they were in the truck!!! I looked inside and there they were on the console between the front seats.

About this time, we had Laura’s attention as she also realized this most unfortunate situation we found ourselves in. It’s a good thing we always travel with a spare set of keys, but these were also in the truck. And if this was not enough, we had no cell phone signal. GREAT, on top of a mountain in a remote location in VT on a Friday evening and we had locked the keys in the truck – NOW WHAT!

Renee felt really bad, and it showed. Laura and I looked at each other and thought the same thing. Getting mad would not resolve the issue so we focused our attention on getting help. Kate and I went to some of the support people for help while Laura tried to get a signal on her cell phone. Fortunately, one of the volunteers was able to get a signal, and after a few calls, was able to request a lock smith. Laura had some luck, after moving around, and found a signal on her cell phone and got in touch with USAA who also sent the same locksmith.

The girls told me I should go load-up on some pasta (post brief meal) while they wait for the miracle man to show-up. While waiting in the pasta line, I met one of the horse’s crew members and she asked me a lot of questions about how we run so far. I gave her the whole speech about the balancing of electrolytes while drinking lots of fluids and eating whatever you could stomach. She said the horses had similar needs.

What's unique about this race is that people and horses run the same event. From what I heard, this is the only race remaining in the country where horses and people run together. We were given instructions on the do’s and don’ts around horses so neither runners nor horses get hurt. I was more concerned about me getting hurt for obvious reasons.

After finishing my pasta and pumpkin pie, I started back to the truck to see how my crew was holding up. With great surprise, the locksmith had unlocked the truck and Laura had keys in hand. Oh what a relief! It was now late - around 8 PM. Kate started back home and we were on our way to find the condo. We stopped into a store to top the gas tank off, and get some food to snack on for the night. When all was said and done, it was 11 PM before we crawled into bed for 3 hours of light sleep.

The Race

2:00 AM and the alarm was sounding for what seemed like only a blink of the eyes, and now was time for the morning routine (shower – dress – stretch – coffee & food). Laura and the kids were great with only 3 hours of sleep and never missed a beat when getting everything pulled together and ready to hit the road at O’dark hundred.

We made it to the race with 30 minutes to spare giving plenty of time to check-in and walk around nervously. We looked around for Kate but did not have any luck finding her before it was time to line-up for the countdown. Just then, the sky opened up as a steady rain started to fall to send us on our way. I planned to get wet, but not this early. It was funny to see everybody (runners and crew) scurrying under the big tent for some shelter right up to the last minute.
Fortunately the rain eased up just in time for the start. I kissed Laura and the kids goodbye and told them that I would see them in a couple of hours. As I was standing there on the starting line, I was telling myself that this was the moment of truth. All the training and hard work was behind me and now was time to complete this goal no matter what.

All that my family had done and sacrificed for me to be standing here was enough to motivate me, not to mention what I was doing for my friend at work. But more than anything, to convince myself that Arkansas was truly an equipment problem and not because I lacked what it took to run 100 miles. I had placed a lot of pressure on myself, although I don’t always display it for others to see, to complete this race.

As I heard the countdown, my mind was very focused on reminding myself to stick with my plan and not to get caught up with the excitement of the race. No baby grand piano playing “Chariots of Fire” or grand display fireworks, as occurred in the past, but a simple 3, 2, 1, GO.

The legs felt rested and the body full of energy. I really wanted to run fast, but kept reminding myself to go slow and enjoy the moment while it lasted. It was very dark, with flashlights in hand, as the light beams bounced off the surface of the muddy dirt road and onto the trail. I heard a lot of conversation around me between runners trying to get caught up on lost time. It felt great to be running, and after a few miles, I just turned on the cruise control and maintained a steady pace. The trail was a little wet, but smooth and comfortable, as the darkness swallowed us up except for the little beam of lights bouncing on the surface. With all the lights from other runners, several times I turned my light off without any problems. The trail was wide enough for two runners to run side by side.

During this one muddy incline section, I and several other runners ran up to, and passed, a gentleman who sounded like Darth Vader with this loud mechanical breathing sound like he had a small oxygen bottle to aide his intake. Some of the other runners assumed this might be the case and started commenting that this should be a violation of the rules. I assumed he might have had a real medical issue and was the only way he could compete in this type of a race to get him across the finish line. I viewed it as no different than someone wearing a support brace to aid an injury. The only condition would be that he would have to verify his medical condition so that it would not be viewed as an unfair advantage over others.

My road shoes felt great, and so far, thought it was a good choice (vs. trail shoes) based on reading other blogs about the hard dirt roads taking a toll on the feet. I planned on changing to my next size up road shoes somewhere between 30 and 50 miles into the race based on how my feet felt.

Before I knew it, the sun was rising, and there was no more a need for flashlights. I dropped my flashlight off at Densmore Hill aid station (mile 7), topped my water off, had a banana & potatoes, and back on the road. Before I knew it, Dunham Hill aid station (mile 11.5) was within site, and it too was a quick stop to top the bottle off. The long downhill run into the town of Taftsville was really enjoyable as the course took us down through the center of town and over the first of two covered bridges for the day. Some of the town’s people were out cheering us on and reminding us that we looked strong.

It wasn’t long before we were at the first attended aid station of the race and the support was most excellent (mile 15.3 / 06:48 A.M.). Some more water, gels, banana, figs, and back on the dirt road. This would be the main pattern for most of the day. Up to this point, I’d had few conversations with other runners other than a casual Hi, how’s it going, where are you from…

I met up with a guy from Massachusetts who has done the Vermont 100 two other times. He said to go easy on the down hills so I had something for the last 30 miles. I thanked him for the advice, which only confirmed what I read in other blogs. I forgot his name, but he has been doing ultras for over 8 years. Before that he was doing ironman events (and still does as a training tool) before getting into ultras. I asked him how the two compared, and he replied that an ironman was like running a 10K when compared to 100 miles of running. I found that hard to believe, but who was I to question this since I had not done either! I enjoyed talking to him, but unfortunately I had to take a short pit stop to water some trees at the next aid station while he continued on.

A few of the horses started going by and it was pretty awesome to watch these animals so gracefully go trotting by with such a sense of ease. The riders were very friendly and encouraging as brief encounters only allowed for the usual hi and looking good. Although this one guy came riding up on us and we picked the nicer of the two paths to run on. He passed by saying “I noticed you took the better path.” For some reason his statement didn’t sit well with me and I told him that he would have also if he was the one running and not riding a horse. He didn’t respond and the runners around me just smiled.

The next aid station was Pretty House and it would be the first time I would see my crew. But before I would see them I had a good size demanding hill to climb over. The trail was in great shape, but it was starting to heat-up with the sun now making its way out of the morning sky. It took awhile to reach the top, but the view was spectacular, as I was running across an open field. You could see the tops of all the surrounding mountains which kept going as far as the eye could see: Just an incredible view. The trip down the other side was fast, but I tried to hold back to save my quads for later.

21.1 miles (8:07 A.M.) into the race and there my crew was on the side of the road waiting to support what ever it was I needed. I can’t say enough great things about them because they set everything aside in their lives to give me two days of undivided attention to see me through this race. That is a moving and powerful motivator. They wait for hours only to get a few minutes of my time, and then I’m gone again. They must really believe in me and care enough to put up with the hot sun all day and the dark nights only to see me through this epic challenge. I’m so grateful for the caring and supportive family that I have – What more could one possibly ask for. I drank a bottle of Boost, restocked my gels, and topped the water bottle off. The Porta- Potty was a rock’s throw away so I took advantage of the opportunity. My crew chief told me I better get moving, so I thanked the kids and my sister for their help, and gave my wife a kiss to keep the luck going.

The next 9 miles were more of the same hard packed dirt roads on rolling hills. I was ahead of target with my pace which only put time in the bank for later. Nevertheless, I was being careful not to push myself too much for it would be a long day and night – this was just the beginning. In my mind, I divided the race into three sections: the northern most loop of 47 miles from the start to Camp 10 Bear. The second loop was 23 demanding miles in a southwestern direction back to Camp 10 Bear. The last loop was 30 miles in a southeastern direction to the finish.

I ran for awhile with a guy from NYC who had a calm and positive demeanor. I enjoyed his company and he told me that this was his first race which his fiancé was crewing for him. They were getting married in two weeks and he wanted her to see what he does so that she can consider the runaway bride club before it’s too late. He wanted her to see what she was getting into. He had an accent and said he was born in India, lived in NY for the past 9 years, and was moving to Orlando in 4 weeks. He was wearing a white shirt with a lot of handwriting on it from a sharpie. From what I could tell, it had simple words of encouragement from friends on it.

The time passed by quickly and before I knew it, I was at Stage Rd aid station (mile 30, 10:13 A.M.) and a chance to see my crew again. Kate was waiting for me on the side of the road and directed me to where Laura and the kids had staked their claim with a chair and supplies waiting. Laura asked if I was ready to change shoes and socks, which I was because I had a spot under my right big toe that was a little irritating. Laura found a small blister and performed surgery to relieve the pressure. A band aid did the trick, Vaseline, fresh pair of socks, and my next size up road shoes. The temp and humidity felt high for being so early. I looked around and saw a lot of other runners changing socks and shoes as well. Some also looked like they were having some serious blister problems. Between the soggy trail at the start, and a combination of heat and humidity, this makes for great conditions for blisters.

I took a few minutes to drink another Boost and Vault while Kate gave me a heads-up on the next section with a good size hill to climb and being exposed to the sun due to the open areas. Laura said I was way ahead of schedule and needed to be careful not to push too hard. I could tell by her tone that she was a little concerned that I was going too fast too soon. Before I knew it, my shoes were on, belly full, and out of excuses for staying longer. My feet felt great, my legs strong, my stomach good, and I was ready to complete this first loop. I gave my usual thanks and kisses and told them I would see them at Camp 10 Bear.

It wasn’t long before I was going up a long steep hill and open to the sun. Just what Kate had warned me about! My hamstrings were starting to feel it, and I remembered I was currently on a 21 hour finish pace, so I took it easy on the long trip up the hill. The term ‘hill’ is relative and means anything from a mountain, if from the flatland, to a small hill, if from the west. Most of these so called ‘hills’ had an average of 500’ to 1000’ of going up. I read in someone’s blog from a couple years ago that Vermont does not believe in switchbacks, and the trails go straight up the hills. They’re right.

Just ahead of me about 100 yards was an older man who was talking to himself as we traversed up this hill. Soon, he started to yell and mixing in a few bad words. As the slope got steeper, he would get angrier. I guess he was getting himself more motivated by yelling at himself. He looked backed and saw me, and was quiet for a few minutes, but soon started up again and getting even more angry. He picked up his pace and I would not see him again – But that was ok with me.

Later on, a nice lady on her horse cruises up and asked if I would talk to her horse. She said her horse was lonely, tired, and needed to hear someone else’s voice other than hers. This was good for me because I’d had very little company up to this point, even if the horse didn’t talk back – which was a good thing! The lady said she was concerned with her horse and wasn’t sure if the horse would make the journey. I felt for the horse, and was glad to see the owner concerned for the horses’ health and not putting her needs ahead of safety.

After a few more aid stations, I arrived at Lillians (43.5 miles, 1:35 P.M.) and ate some potatoes and figs. I realized I had not been taken my gels like I should have been and was a little concerned about getting behind on my calorie and carbs intake. Like electrolytes, you never get caught up once you get behind. A couple of runners were on the side talking about dropping because their feet were in too bad of shape. The aid station captain said I looked really strong and won’t have a problem with a sub 24 hour finish. He said to keep doing what I’ve been doing and he would see me at the finish line. I thanked him for the encouragement, grabbed my bottle, and went out of the aid station like a storm and feeling good.

Shortly, there was another long climb up a hill that would not stop. Just as I thought I was at the top, the road would turn and go up some more and more and more. This was the first time I felt my hamstrings start to tighten-up and cramp a little. I remembered what Laura said, and the last aid station captain, and throttled back some. This was too soon in the race to be cramping. I made sure my electrolytes were balanced, taken plenty of water, and a S-cap every hour. My stomach was not slushy, and I felt hydrated. The only thing I wished was I had eating more food earlier. I was worried I might pay for this later.

I finally reached the top of this dreaded hill, with more exposed areas, but was rewarded with a nice downhill run into Camp 10 Bear (47.2 miles, 2:40 P.M.) where my crew was waiting. It is so uplifting knowing they are there and ready to help me. It really drives my thoughts between crew aid stations. This was the major aid station of the entire race because we got to see it twice. There was also a medical check for both stops and a common drop point. My crew had setup camp just prior to the weigh in and I had a chance to drink another Boost. Laura messaged my legs to get them to loosen up after I told her about my cramping.

After a quick stop to water a tree behind the truck, it was time for the weigh in. Now was the time to determine how well I’d been managing my intake and what kind of shape I was in. I should have peed after I got weighed but it would not wait. I hopped on the scale and the medical Doc asked how I felt? I replied I felt great considering I’d been running all day. He said I was doing well and was only down 2 lbs. I could continue. The girls said they would see me at Tracer Brook, and off I was to start my 2nd loop of three.

It was the heat of the day, humidity was up from all the rain last night, but this was about as bad as it was going to get. I told myself I can do this: Only 2 lbs down, legs still moving well, and no significant problems. The first couple of miles were fairly flat, which was a nice break from all the ups and down, but it did not last long. The course drifted off the nice smooth dirt road and straight up another hill with a few more rocks and roots (but not that bad).

Out of nowhere, the blue sky turned dark, and there was a rumble of thunder in the near distance. About halfway up the hill the bottom of the sky fell out and it was a deluge. It actually felt refreshing, although I was soaked to the bone. The crackling of lighting was popping all around me with no place to go - Nothing but more hill and trees. The trail became really muddy and the road shoes started to lose traction. Nothing to do but keep moving forward, hope no trees fall on me, the lighting doesn’t get too close, and the storm passes quickly.

I approached Pinky’s and the rain was steadily coming down, but that didn’t stop the nice older lady from helping me and the other runners that arrived just before me. She was pretty amazing making sure all the runners were taken care of, despite the rain. You can’t measure the human spirit and willingness to support others so they can succeed. She was the role model for others to follow, and it made me very thankful for all she endured. I thanked her for her support, and I was on my way to Birminghams.

I caught up with a group of runners and just trailed them for a few miles, which had about the same pace as me. The rain finally stopped and the next aid station was within sight. It was the same routine of filling my bottle, grabbing a handful of boiled potatoes, figs, and banana, before I was out across a large wet field. The horse flies had a field day with me as they were dive bombing around my ears and landing on any exposed skin for an easy meal. Soon, there were about 4 or 5 buzzing around me as I started swatting at the air and getting mad. They must have had their fill because before I knew it, they were gone as fast as they had appeared.

I cruised into Tracer Brook (mile 57, 5:23 P.M.) and time to see my crew again. Kate was meeting me at the entrance to the aid station and walking me to where the crew was setup. It was a brief stop but Laura was concerned I was not getting enough food. She was right, but I told her I was eating potatoes and figs at the other stations. I drank another Boost, told them I would see them in 5 miles, and off I went.

It was too good to be true, but time for another long uphill climb that would not stop going up. My hamstrings were cramping pretty good which made the uphill worse than it really was. I just kept my focus on seeing my crew at the next aid station. It seemed to take forever to get to the top of this hill. Another one of those, turn the corner, and still going up with no end in sight. I could not wait for the downhill part to stretch my legs out a little. It took forever, but finally the top, and the end of my quads. The smooth downhill run didn’t workout the way I had hoped, and my quads started to get really tight and almost on the verge of cramping. I knew this moment in the race would occur, just not this soon.

At the famous Margaritaville aid station (mile 62.1, 7:23 P.M.) stood my awesome crew on the side of the road, like they have all day in the heat, waiting to support me. Kate was a little worried because it took awhile to cover that last 5 miles. I told them there was more going up than anything else. Laura was not concerned, for she knew I would start slowing down about this time of the race.

This was a cool aid station with the lights, party atmosphere, and a margarita if desired (which was the last thing on my mind – or stomach). It was after 7 PM so I grabbed my light before leaving. Laura said she would have a change of cloths for me at Camp 10 Bear, and that my brother would be there to pace me the last 30 miles. She said Albert had a fast recovery and felt good today. This was great news and I looked forward to running with him.

I didn’t get ½ a mile down the road when I had to visit Smokey the bear and take care of some business. What goes in, must come out. This is why a bathroom kit is the first thing you put in your waist pack. It was mostly downhill all the way back to Camp 10 Bear. I hooked-up with two guys and a girl and cruised with them as we tread lightly for all of our quads hurt. It was comforting to know, in a strange way, that I was not the only one hurting and still moving.

It soon got dark, lights went on, and Camp 10 Bear (mile 70.1, 9:30 P.M.) was just down the road. Tiki torches and cars lined the road entering the aid station, and my crew was there again waiting for me with one new addition – my brother, Albert. What felt like only a few minutes, was more than 30 minutes, but it was worth spending a little time with everybody. I had already figured out that any hopes for a sub-24 hour finish was gone with my legs starting to cramp, so I might as well take a little time and get regrouped.

Laura had a plan, and before long, it was off with the old soaked clothes, and on with the new. Got a change of socks and swapped to my trail shoes. About this time I was not thinking too clearly, but knew I wanted some caffeine for the night time to stay alert and give my energy level a jump start. I chugged a starbucks espresso and took a nodoz – First big mistake of the race.

I told Laura I would grab a chicken soup when I weighed in. It was hard to get out of the chair and start walking with the legs getting stiff. I was pretty excited Albert was there and would be pacing me. I thanked everyone again, kissed my wife, and said see you on the dark side. We went down for the weigh-in, and this time I limped on the scale. Doc asked how I felt, and had my same reply of good considering the situation. I was only down 2 lbs and informed I could continue. I looked around and saw some carnage, and told Albert we better get going.

It did not take long before we were going up another hill. I had read that this hill would be rocky with some roots. This was true. What was unique was the trail was marked with glow sticks, and it gave a new perception as the glow went up into the dark sky. I told Albert my legs were really stiff and it might take a little while for them to loosen up after spending all that time in the last aid station. I really slowed up and was reduced to a death march with 30 miles ahead of me. Half way up the hill, I realized I forgot to get some chicken noodle soup. I remember being pretty bummed about this because I had been looking forward to it for the last 5 miles.

The closer we got to the top, the worse I felt. I was sweating bad and was worried I might run out of water. My legs hurt more at this time than at any other time that day. They were really stiff, and painful, when trying to muster-up a shuffle. I told my brother it would be slow going from this point. He encouraged me to just keep moving and do what I could. The steeper downhills were very painful with each footstep as shear pain shot through my legs. I tried running the easier downhills, although I must have looked pitiful. I could tell the lactic acid buildup must have been maxed out - It felt like it. I just kept reminding myself that everyone else out here is suffering and still moving – to just suck it up. Ironic enough, it got really bad, but never worse.

My body was still moving, with the same amount of pain, but it was my mind that got worse. I found it difficult to think of anything more complicated than keeping myself moving. I was wondering if this was the dreaded bonking stage when everything stops working and the body just quits. I was almost out of water and still had a way before the next aid station. Albert had already figured it out and said I had too much caffeine at one time which dehydrated me. This was the first time all day I ran out of water, and the coolest time of the day. My thoughts were consumed by getting to the next aid station for water.

What seemed like eternity, Seabrooke (mile 74.7, 11:35) appeared on the side of the road like a lifesaver of light. I drank water and had a cup of roman noodles. I sat down in a chair next to this young girl who was in bad shape. Neither one of us could muster up a hi, how's it going. Out of nowhere, my stomach started to turn and within seconds I was trying to figure how I was going to get out of this chair to keep from hurling in front of this girl. All in one motion, I managed to get up, while empting my stomach. Not once, but several more times until I hit the dry heaves stage.

I looked over my shoulder and apologized to everyone for the mess. The aid station captain was really nice and said no problem, I’m not the first, nor will I be the last. I was thinking to myself, this was not good – dehydrated – low on fuel – and losing everything in my stomach. This is when big brother takes over and does what I was hoping he would do at this point of the race. He got me some more water, a handful of pretzels, and said we needed to get going. Unfortunately, the young girl was dropping, and there was nothing I could think of to change her mind – she was done. I remember feeling bad about this because I was in her shoes just 9 months ago, but for different reasons.

We started down the road, and I was feeling a little better. Running was still difficult, but I was still moving forward. Albert kept track of our pace and time to ensure we would finish on time. He would encourage me to run the downhills, and take it easy on the uphills. I remember a few times saying “not another hill” as the glow sticks looked like they went forever up into the dark sky. He would say don’t look up and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I felt like cussing, like the guys I ran into earlier in the day, but that would take too much energy.

Before long we were at the West Winds aid station (mile 77, 12:37 P.M.) and another chance to see my crew. Renee was sleeping in the truck and Laura was keeping an eye on her like a good mom. Kate and Josh met us and had everything in place for us. I sat in the chair and I told Kate to just give me 10 minutes to close my eyes, and get me going. I was really sleepy, and low on energy, so maybe 10 minutes would give me a quick charge of my batteries. What seems like a blink, Kate was tapping me on the shoulder telling me 10 minutes was up. Josh had my bottle filled, and I had no reason to not get on my feet and get moving.

I had now gone further than I’ve ever been, and announced that I was going to do this. Albert insisted I eat some more pretzels on the way out of the aid station. I forced about half a handful down but my mouth was too dry to swallow any more. I remember for a brief minute what Barry told me about the difficulty with eating food after his cancer treatment with his saliva glands not working. He had to have water to help swallow his food.

From here on, it was really foggy outside, and inside my mind too. It was really wild only seeing the thick beam of light piercing the darkness. It was like running in a tunnel. On one section of the trail, my foot hit a rock and I didn’t have enough strength to keep myself from going down. I hit the dirt and rocks and rolled forward hoping to not damage anything. I got up, brushed the dirt off, and Albert ask if everything was ok. No pain or blood, that was lucky, I was thinking to myself.

We ran by a couple of runners in the woods sitting along side the trail resting when we heard some noise in the woods. We shone our lights in the general area and saw some large deer making their night run through the forest. For a minute, I thought of the video of the deer attacking a man in his backyard, and then laughed to myself.

I remember seeing the road split and not seeing any signs. To the right was up another hill, to the left was a downhill: We veered left. I was thinking to myself we always end up going up hill. Downhill would have been too easy. I asked Albert if he saw a marker and he said no. Vermont uses yellow pie plates with black arrows and the letter “C” as markers. The arrows indicated the direction of travel, and the “C” stood for confidence which was about 1/4 of a mile down the trail to make you feel good that you were going in the correct direction. We went a little further down the road and ran into two other runners with a look indicating that they had taken the wrong turn. One of them sent his pacer down the road to look for a plate. Shortly after, his pacer came running back and did not find a plate. She said this was the wrong direction and needed to turn back. It was only about a half mile off the path, but a half mile feels like 5 miles at this time in the race. Back up the hill and we found the yellow plate behind a road sign, nailed to a tree – difficult to spot from the angle we were running.

I remember very little about the next two aid stations, and Bill’s (mile 88.6, 5:00 A.M.) was a blur. I remember Laura and Kate on the side of the road in a parking area asking what I needed but I don’t remember replying. This is when Laura was really concerned with my well being for she has never seen me in such a depleted and non-responsive state. I can’t imagine what must have been going through their minds seeing me like this.

After what felt like a few minutes, Albert said, “Let’s go.” It was a short walk to the medical station for my last weigh-in of the race. I dragged my feet up on the scale, and was greatly surprised that I was still only 2 lbs down. The Doc told me I could continue, as I looked around and saw some runners on medical hold and sitting in chairs.

Out of the aid station we traveled as the sky started to get lighter. My energy was starting to return with the darkness going away. I remember a few sections we were shuffling along and passed some runners. This started to feel good, so Albert kept encouraging me to get the next group of hobbling runners. This continued for awhile until we met up with this younger lady from DC. I was not in the talkative mood, so Albert was being nice and responded to her questions. She would not stop talking, and started to get on my last sore nerve. This lasted for awhile until she picked-up her pace, and Albert and I looked at each other and said – let her go, thank God. She was a nice person, but I was not in the mood for long random conversations. Not too much longer, she was back in view as we caught up to her. Fortunately, she needed a break, and sat over by a tree, as we forged on to get some distance between us.

Polly’s (mile 95.5, 7:12 A.M.) was the last crew aid station, and Albert said do not stop – keep going. The girls were on the side of the road waiting, and I handed Laura my waist pack and said we were not stopping. They sensed I was feeling better, and was ready to get this over. They yelled “4.5 miles to go”. I was thinking 6 miles in my mind, so this sounded really great.

Albert had done an excellent job of keeping me moving and watching our pace to ensure a finish. I asked how hard do we need to push this last section, and he said, “It’s in the bag. We could walk in from here and finish in 29 hours.” I was concerned because I had heard the last section had some nice size hills. In my frayed state of mind, there were some hills, but not as bad as I was expecting. I kept waiting for a big hill, but it never showed up: Maybe because I was just ready to get this race over.

Although the sun was up, it felt like time had stopped at dawn with the foggy thick air as we emerged from the woods. We were greeted by my sister Sue, and Albert’s girlfriend Maria, on the side of the trail just before the finish line. They walked with us for a short distance before returning to the finish line. I remember Sue telling me how amazed she was in what I had accomplished and it made me feel good. She said how awesome it was to see Albert and me emerging out of the woods, in a thick fog, like it was a movie scene from Vietnam. Another individual on the side of the trail said the end was just around the corner and out of the next short section of woods.

As we approached the banner tied between two trees, I looked around and saw my awesome crew that stayed with me the last two sunrises. My mom and sisters were there to watch me complete my first 100 mile ultra in the state I grew up in. It never felt so good, yet so fatigued, crossing the line as the time keeper announced 28:55.

I went over and gave my wife a kiss and a hug as she whispered “You did it baby” in my ear. I hugged my sister Kate and said thank you for being apart of my crew. Laura took our picture and I saw a tear in Kate’s eye. She just said the whole race was such an emotional experience for her. Kate is not the type to tear up easily so I knew it really meant something to her, as it did with all of us.

I was so glad everybody was there to support me, and my mom was able to see me finish this epic journey. I credit my mom for being able to dig deep and find the strength to run these distances. My little sister, Toni, was actually there, and I didn’t imagine it like I did at the JFK-50 in 07 (see my JFK blog).

Like I said in the beginning of this report, the only reason I was successful was because I had such a great team supporting me. The whole experience was more than words can describe: My incredible crew, support of my family, pushing my limits, and a greater force looking over me.

Post Race Thoughts

Kate was amazing in all the support she provided as a first time crew member. She was most patient, stayed up the entire time, and never missed a beat. She was often the first one I saw coming into an aid station as she guided me to where Laura and the kids had camp setup. Thanks Kate for everything you did and I will always have a very special memory of you for this moment in time. You took time off work, went without sleep, endured long anticipated stretches of time, to only name a few, to be there for me and my family.

To my brother who trained so hard and battled the flu, to be there for me and get me to the finish line. You pushed me when I needed it, encouraged me to keep me motivated, and believed in me when I had doubts in my darkest moment. You kept me out of trouble, and protected me, when we were kids, and you did the same to get me across the finish line. Thanks is just not enough.

My wife and kids who supported me in all the training that was required to toe the line. All the late nights of bring me food on those long runs. Making sure I had all the gear, and more, to succeed in my passion. Although not runners themselves, they would listen to me talk of some running topic everyday, and always show interest. Other runners have told me how lucky I was to have my family support and crew for me. A lot of ultra runners toe the line with little to no support. How blessed I am. I can’t say enough about my wife and two wonderful kids.

After spending a great week in Vermont with my family, it was time to get back to reality. When I returned to work, Steve had informed me that we raised $10K for my buddy fighting cancer. And the donations were still arriving. As for the race results of the 20th Vermont 100 mile endurance race, 266 started the race and only 59% finished. One of the lowest finish rates in the history of the race. Also, and most unfortunately, the Race Director, Jim Hutchison, passed away just days following the race. He will be missed by many.

This race taught me a lot about what went well, and what I need to change to improve in this type of event. I got behind in my nutrition plan within the first 30 miles and never recovered. I was strong up to about 65 miles into the race when my lack of nutrition started to catch me and turned the race into a survival feast. This also impacted my stay time at crew aid stations and lost too much time. It’s like life, you learn as you go, and your experience and confidence grows in time with each success or failure. This was a success in many ways, and I look forward to pushing my limits again.

Driving 1200 miles (one way): An arm and a leg in gas.
Daughter locking keys in truck in remote location in VT: Frustrating.
Running 100 miles to raise funds to help a friend: Priceless.


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