Would a citizen climber try Everest without a sherpa? Would a golfer play the British Open without a caddie? Would Dr. Evil attempt to extort one million dollars without his Mini-Me? The likely answer is "no" to all of the above, as it would be to: Would you want to run the Vermont 100 without a crew?
At runner check in on the day before the race I was greeted by volunteers Laurel and Randy at the temporary tent serving as race headquarters. While checking my blood pressure and weight Laurel asked, "Do you have a crew?"
"Nope, not this year... I'm doing four 100's this summer and my regular crew couldn't schedule this one", I confessed.
She marked her clipboard, "Oh, you're one of those grand slammers, huh? Well have fun and be careful... it's going to be hot out there!" Laurel wasn't exaggerating. The forecast was warning 95°, sun and high humidity. Not ideal conditions for the 260 registered runners who were arriving from locations all around North America, Cuba, Scotland, Japan, and Australia.
The big top tent for race headquarters is pitched in Silver Hill Meadow of Windsor County, Vermont. To get there you have to travel at least 5 miles of wooded dirt road. Get accustomed to those dirt roads because similar roads make up some 70% of the race course. In addition to runner check in, at the tent you're treated to the pre-race meeting & dinner, race morning breakfast, finish line festivities, and post-race barbeque & awards. Proudly furnished in kilts the Scots were a big hit at these functions. Conventional running shorts were their choice, however, while running the race.
Come 4:00am Saturday race director Jim Hutchinson synchronized his race clock then sent us on our way. Dawn was still an hour and 23 minutes off so all runners were guided by their headlamps and flashlights. The moon, a waning gibbous assisted with luminescence as fresh muscles optimistically propelled our early miles. John Spannuth of Oak Forest, IL and I found ourselves sharing an early pace. We moved through the first aid stations along with Gary Knipling of Mason Neck, VA.
Gary is a member of the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club... known as the club's snake charmer for his talent in handling the venomous reptiles without getting bit... most of the time. Turns out this year while on a club run he got a little too lax with a copperhead which preferred to be left alone. To commemorate the incident the VHTR Club presented Gary with a snake bite kit at pre-race dinner. The kit was self contained in a zip lock bag. Not sure if Gary ran with it on race day.
Dawn met the mountains and John & I were in the company of local legend Zeke Zucker of Jeffersonville, VT. As part of the race committee he is involved with course layout & logistics, pre-race briefings, hands out awards after the race, and has run the race three times - always comfortably under the magical 24 hour mark. Zeke was liking the overcast skies, which were not predicted, thinking that it might keep the temperatures down.
And it did... the skies stayed overcast and the temps never climbed above mid-80's. The humidity was a tradeoff as it was high all day and night. I was sweating heavily from 5 miles on, with wet shorts that looked more like swimming trunks just out of the pool.
Before 20 miles the first group of equestrians thundered by. Vermont features a concurrent 100-mile horse race that starts one hour after the human race. It's an extra element of excitement to witness the magnificent steeds and intrepid riders as we traveled toward a common finish line. Random posses would catch up then leapfrog by runners all daylong and into the early hours of the night.
Descending a lush forest hill around 33 miles I was running alone and came upon a big black bear who saw me and tore up the mountain at a 90 degree angle to the trail. Momentarily stunned I didn't think about going for my camera 'til it was too late. About a mile later my heart rate leveled from its sudden spike.
At 44.7 miles the course makes its first of two passes through the medical checkpoint, Camp 10 Bear. "Oh, how I miss Michelle and Peter", I thought stepping up on the scale. At 142½ I was only slightly underweight - but so very undermanned without the dependability of my usual Vermont crew / pacers. My wife Michelle and friend Peter had accompanied me to three previous Vermont 100's... each time an overwhelming success. With four 100 mile races scheduled for this summer, instead of my typical one, choices / schedules had to be made. And like it or not this was a race I had to do solo. I changed socks for the second time of the race and packed my camera & fanny pack into my drop bag. The miles were wearing on me and the extra weight seemed too much to tote.
From 45 miles through the unmarked halfway point I found myself in an agreeable pack along with Tim Englund of Ellensburg, WA, Claire Gilles of Reno, NV and my buddy John of Oak Forest, IL. We shared tales and the trails as we ran station to station. At 55.4 miles, the Tracer Brook checkpoint I made a tactical decision to throttle back. Figured I'd be able to pickup the pace after sunset if the temperatures cooled and my incessant sweating eased.
Along the way I came across Hiroko Suzuki who was running in her second Vermont 100. She's a great runner who lives in Japan but comes stateside often to participate in ultra marathons - this summer running three of the four 100 mile races which make up the grand slam. Keith Knipling of Chicago was plugging away at a steady clip. Both he and Gary are also participants in the slam... perhaps the first ever father & son team!
While resting at Brown School House at 63.3 miles Andy Weinberg of Pekin, IL came running into the aid station. Andy is the race director for the McNaughton Park Trail ultra runs of Illinois - featuring a 50 mile, 100 mile, and new for 2007 a 150 miler. It may be difficult to believe but 7 runners have already registered for the 150 Miler - 10 months in advance of the race! Andy was traveling with John Carey of Sunderland, MA. Looked like they had a good thing going so I followed them out of the station and we headed down the long hill to our second and final pass through Camp 10 Bear. On our descent we picked up Paul Grimm of Littleton, CO.
Though Michelle and Peter remained absent I did recognize a face this time through Camp 10 Bear, mile 68.7. Chris Martin of NH and I raced to the line of Vermont in 2002 finishing within seconds of each other in 18:45. Since then Chris has run the slam (2003) and has had two kids. Paternal instinct was apparent as he helped me with my drop bag and a change of socks. He sent me off renewed then awaited the arrival of his runner whom he would pace to the finish.
Vermont had an unusually wet spring that soaked and kept the trails under water until summer when weather patterns shifted giving the area a chance to start drying out. But 3 days prior to race the region received a 2½ inch deluge... then another ½ inch 2 days before. This left the roads clean and dust free - the trails... not so pleasant. Sections were moistened soft devil's food where you were forced to tread lightly... worse sections were saturated shoe sucking oatmeal. Mix this with a couple dozen horses and you've got a shell-no-pest-strip trap for runners.
For me darkness set in just after the West Winds aid station at 76.7 miles. An hour later I felt a slight cooling in the forest and noticed that my shorts were finally drying a bit. What a luxurious relief! My quads were sore but my only other complaint was the silver buck-n-a-quarter sized blisters on the bottoms of both feet (a full day of running plus the combination of wet mud and sweat had created a blister incubator within my shoes). So I pushed the pace and started catching up with other runners. Around 83 miles I ran by a family party going on along the side of the course. Friendly kids offered up a popsicle... an orange popsicle, my favorite flavor which I savored while trotting along the darkened dirt roads. After a unexpectedly long climb I arrived at Bill's aid station - 89.2 miles.
The scales caught me a few pounds down from my pre-race weigh in but the medical staff gave me permission to continue. Gently I strode into the forest trying to avoid the mud trappings and watching closely the trail markers. In 2004 I ran off-course at this point and wound up missing a finishing p.r. by 3½ minutes. Suddenly Zeke and his entourage of two other runners caught up - I noticed that they were back at Bill's aid station upon my arrival. I tucked in behind and tracked... no way Zeke would get lost on this course - his course. We cut through rough trails and opened grassy meadows. A delicately lit dark orange half moon hung low on the horizon. Optic green glow sticks lined the roads and speckled the trails. The last three aid stations came and went as Zeke and his group broke free of me.
2.7 miles to finish... the course had a few tricks left as it kept zigging up & down steep hills then zagging through deep mud. I cursed in the darkness, stumbled and splashed on. With a half mile to go I was passed by fellow grand slammer Dan Brenden of Phoenix, AZ. "How did you keep your shoes and move so fast through that slop", I asked.
"Yeah, that was tough", he smiled and pressed forward - his disposition awfully cheery.
We hit dirt road. I stomped the latest mud from my shoes and felt their weight cut in half. Plastic bottles glowing with translucent blue chemicals lined the path meaning two things... we were almost home and we could not get lost! Down the trail I chased hearing cheers from the sparse crowd at the finish. A few moments later I was among that crowd and the banner which read "Welcome 100 Milers"!
It felt fantastic to be back at Silver Hill Meadow. The timekeeper told me I was 22:44 - that checked with my watch - and that I finished in 36th place. Slow for me but not slow for me as an uncrewed grand slammer. I limped to my car, brushed my teeth, rolled down the windows, blasted the radio and drove one hour of hypnotic dark twisting Vermont roads to my hotel room.
10:00am Sunday, 30 hours after starting the course closed and the race was officially over. Back at the tent we congregated for another feast... this time barbequed chicken, hamburgers and lots of pasta. Every finisher was recognized and challenged to step forward and collect their award - good thing no time-limits were imposed on award collection! Congratulations to Dean Karnazes of San Francisco and Beverley Anderson-Abbs of Red Bluff - the two Californians who won their respective divisions of the Vermont 100. This Vermont race is really something special... thanks all volunteers, Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports, race director Jim Hutchinson and everyone else who went without sleep to make sure we could enjoy this weekend. My gratitude goes out to all those runners, crew and aid station volunteers who make it so much fun to spend a full day and night on the back roads and trails of Vermont!
I have been asked by several people to write something about my second 100-mile experience. After WS last year, I vowed to continue running, however not at that distance with 50 being my tops. However, as the year progressed I was more willing to consider another century run. I knew I wanted to complete one in a state in which I have not run a marathon or longer; so after checking the calendar and with an unused R/T to Hartford, Vermont (state #29) became the most logical and cost effective choice.
Although, I am well read and talk to other runners and ultra runners, I am no running expert. This is what I did and how I made it to the starting and finish lines. Again Shawn McDonald and John Hemsky, who are both accomplished veterans, were able to provide great advice. A local runner Eric Smith, who like myself is relatively new to the ultra community, also gave me advice.
Due to the late commitment or lack of judgment I was only able to get a solid marathon in January at Disney and Little Rock in March, while the ultras consisted of a DNF at Kentucky's LLTH 50K in February, the annual trip to Kettle for Ice Age 50K in May, and returning the next month for the Kettle 100K (1st time at that distance).
My training was less than last year averaging about 160 miles per month. Some run 80-100 mile weeks; everyone is different and I averaged about 40 miles per week. Yes, I think more would have been better, however you must balance family, work, and personal commitments. My wife and family were very supportive as running ultras is a huge selfish commitment.
I tried to modify my diet as best as I could, however I was still bad eating processed sugars and caffeine until one week prior to the race. Again quitting the caffeine was hard, however waiting until night and about mile 75 when I drank Coke gave me a boost.
I arrived in Hartford late THURS PM and stayed at an Air Force reserve base, so by the time I arrived and my head hit the pillow it was past midnight. I decided to get up early FRI and have a good breakfast, well little did I know since this base was a reserve center it was a ghost town with no galley so a bagel and apple it was. I then checked out camping gear and drove the 2 hours to the race site; it was a hard location to find but several locals helped me. I set up camp in a soggy field as Vermont had a record spring rainfall and 3&1/2" just 2 days prior. I then attended the race brief on a HOT FRI afternoon and chatted with the other runners for the camaraderie and trying to obtain insight into the course. The camping may be hard for sleeping, however I enjoyed waking up and only having a 2-minute walk to the start and knew when I finished I could crawl into my tent and crash out.
There was energy and electric at the start. Within a mile I was wet with humidity I knew this would be a long day. I stayed relaxed and enjoyed the beginning running slow. There were some muddy stretches of single track where everyone slowed. I then remember feeling well reaching our 1st covered bridge in Pomfort, at mile 14. Despite the use of Vaseline and to my dismay I discovered that by that time my "boys" were chaffed and bleeding which made it very uncomfortable. This experience is something I hope to never have again. I then continued to Stage RD 28 mi where I changed my socks and powdered my feet. From Stage Rd to Tracer Brook (55MI) I felt great and was running in and out of a group, which included, Bill Thom(IL), Bill Tryon(PA) who was in his 1st 100, and Claire Gilles(NV) who was 1-year post-partum and recently diagnosed with Diabetes! What an inspiration she is, truly living the motto "THE ONLY LIMITATIONS ARE THE ONES YOU BRING WITH YOU".
My previous efforts had me hurting and in a low point to Camp 10 Bear (68 mi), where I changed shoes, ate, drank and then took off again. One great thing was a young boy with his Mom handing out Popsicles about 85 miles at 10pm. I was disappointed in the course marking from Keatings to Polly's, there were very limited chem lights even at turns, I wasted about ½ an hour back tracking I just sat down and whimpered until Zeke Zucker a local runner came upon this misplaced soul to guide me in the right direction. I crossed the finish in sub 24 in 22H 30M, not to bad for a lack of training. I suggest Vermont to all runners and bring your friends & families.
Things I would do differently:
Run earlier for more family time
Have 2 pacers committed
Add 2-3 very hilly 4 hours plus hikes
More hills both up and down
Another 50 miler or 100K-race effort on challenging course
Increase monthly mileage to 200, 220, 240 for the 3 months prior