I signed up for the Vermont 100 for the only reason that made sense: All my friends were going and I didn't want to miss out on the fun. I also figured that if I didn't sign up now I might never run another one. After all, eight years had passed since I had run my first 100 miler.
I went into this race with a good amount of trepidation. I hadn't raced a single ultra in the past year thanks to a foot injury that plagued me from October to mid-March. I was toeing the start line on very minimal training mileage, just a couple of hundred miles in the few months since I'd been able to resume running. My longest training run was just 38 miles and much of it had been hiking. I was only 3 1/2 months into building my training base using the Maffetone Method (it can take up to 6 months).
|Really Minimal Training|
Hubz and I drove up to Vermont in order to bring a big cooler for my real food fueling strategy. Having him as my crew was crucial. There's nobody more organized and efficient. We arrived Thursday evening and stayed with our friend Jen's parents in New Hampshire at the fabled Tofu Farm.* They made a delicious dinner for us and were wonderful hosts. Hubz was particularly thrilled that he was allowed to take a spin in Jen's father's red '64 Corvette.
|Breakfast at the Tofu Farm. *The Tofu Farm has nothing to do with tofu, I was sad to discover.|
After stuffing ourselves we drove to the race site to register. The sun was shining, the temperature was cool and optimism was in the air.
The Vermont 100 is an endurance race for both humans and horses. We share many parts of the course with the horses and riders and it's always a thrill to be running alongside them.
Past the rows of horse trailers, campers and tents dotting the grassy meadow, I found registration. Volunteers weighed me, took my blood pressure and queried me about my training and readiness and the risks involved. Gulp!
After the race briefing, a big group of us drove just across the New Hampshire border to The Common Man Pub to celebrate Bob's birthday. The usual camaraderie and hijinks ensued, and then we headed back to our hotel for a few short hours of slumber.
At 2:15 a.m. the alarm went off. I had slept fairly well. I downed a couple of hard boiled eggs, some Velvety Butternut Squash and my usual cup of half-caf coffee with coconut milk. Hubz drove us to the start and I found my VHTRC friends. We made jokes in poor taste about blueberry patches and pooping and how the French-speaking runners nearby were probably discussing the exact same topics.
I downed a Vespa Jr. We took a few bad selfies. The crowd was suddenly drifting toward the starting line. It's difficult to be half-awake and nervous at the same time but I somehow managed it. And then we were stumbling forward across the meadow.
We turned downhill on hard-packed dirt road, running easily through the dark. I kept my pace reigned in and let my friends disappear into the night. Soon we were in the woods, our footfalls muffled on the dirt trail. After a brief pit stop I found myself near the back of the pack.
I ran alone for a few miles until Jo Kappus caught up and joined me. I hadn't met her before but she turned out to be excellent company. Over the next 12 hours and 40+ miles the conversation flowed easily. We discussed many things: Jo's experiences with endurance horse racing, ultras we had run, beef liver as endurance miracle food, eye makeup techniques, juicy gossip and (literally) making hay are the few subjects I remember.
|Running with the horses|
|At the Taftsville covered bridge|
I focused on having the same mindset I'd had at Laurel Highlands the year before: I would enjoy running the miles one by one and not get caught up in thinking too far ahead. I would take it step by step.
In every ultra, when things start to hurt, I think "This seems much earlier than usual." It happened around mile 16 this time, both of my feet felt like my laces were too tight. Ironically, this same thing had occurred in my first 100 (and never before or since).
I saw Hubz for the first time at mile 21 and changed from my Brooks Pure Cadence to my Merrell All Out Rush. Unfortunately, the culprit was not the shoes or lacing, but my compression socks which were too tight on my feet. I had to run another ten miles before I saw Hubz again and could swap them out for calf sleeves and some DryMax socks.
|The "Sound of Music" meadow|
I had zero stomach issues. No sloshing or bloating. It was almost as if my stomach wasn't there at all. That's huge. My energy was steady for the entire race. I used Vespa Junior, sweet potato and beet baby food packets, VFuel gels, Epic bars and Nuun to fuel on the run, along with some occasional cold cantaloupe and watermelon at aid stations during the first 40 miles. Hubz met me at the crew-accessible stations with a ready supply of food including Velvety Butternut Squash, chicken and apple sausages, Merguez lamb bangers, olives, homemade bone broth and kombucha. I was well fed, indeed!
Jo and I ran together until Camp Ten Bear, mile 46. After Hubz restocked my pack and saw to my needs, I hiked up the road until I caught up with Jo. She wanted to slow down. I was feeling good. I knew I had to run my own race and forge ahead while I had the strength to push.
After some more heinous climbs on trail, then more road, I passed the halfway point. No one else was near.
The hills were long, steep, and relentless. The downhills were punishing. I focused on my form and using my glutes with every step. My body was weary and I hurt, the kind of hurt where things start to tingle but don't yet go blissfully numb. Still, I felt strong down deep.
I had been at the back of the pack all day, but well ahead of the cutoffs. As the daytime turned to dusk, I kept making steady progress. The solitude was taking its toll, however. With no conversation to distract me, my mind wandered to dark places. When I saw Hubz around mile 60, I begged him to find me a pacer to accompany me the last 50K.
As darkness fell, I began to overtake other runners. I chatted with them briefly, eager for conversation, but soon I ran ahead. Almost all of them were death marching and staying in their company too long can be deadly to both your mindset and your pace.
The section between Margaritaville (mile 61) and Camp Ten Bear II had nearly been my downfall eight years ago. I was very glad to share a mile or two with Amelia K. when she followed me out of Brown School House (mile 65). I had gotten a much needed cup of coffee there and was starting to feel revived. We walked for a time on this gnarly piece of trail and chatted until we decided we should run again. Soon I had pulled ahead and found my own rhythm.
Indeed, it was as tough and dark and hilly and long as I remember it, though better marked this time, the glow sticks making it easy to have confidence I was on trail. Finally I arrived back at Camp Ten Bear (mile 69), plopped in my chair and started eating. My pacer, Devon, introduced himself.
I got my hydration pack refilled and some leg and foot rubbing by Hubz, then we started the final 50K. Devon remarked that I was still climbing strongly and running downhills well. I was just happy to have his company and that the trail was mud-free.
As we trotted along many of the trail sections seemed familiar. This was a comfort to me, despite the fact that my last time on these sections was during one of the biggest pity parties I've ever thrown. This time I was prepared for the pain and fatigue in my legs. I focused on how much I love running at night. I thought of eight years ago on this night and what Bob was saying to me along our journey. Stop focusing on the pain in your feet, focus on your legs. Pick up your feet. My mantra most of this race was not something soothing like "serene, strong, swift" but "Use Your Ass to Run" to remind me to engage my glutes and use proper form.
The hills just kept coming, steep and long. The downhills followed and they were more painful, though they had the advantage of allowing me to make up some time.
|Did I mention the hills? Course profile courtesy of Keith Knipling.|
I caught Gary Knipling at the Seabrook aid station. He was clearly suffering and I felt almost guilty about my happy tummy. I gave him a quick shoulder rub and then I was on my way.
The arch of my left foot felt as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. I didn't know if it was residual effects of the tight compression socks or if it was a stress fracture waiting to snap. It worried me but I figured it wasn't bad enough to stop.
Gary somehow revived enough to catch up with us, though I could tell he was still in a bad way. We shared the trail til Spirit of '76 aid station where Hubz crewed us both. I gave Gary some of my olives since nothing else seemed to be appealing to him. I changed back to my Brooks in hopes that would help my foot pain.
We had scarcely gotten a half mile down the hill when a woman ran up quickly behind us. Zeke, the aid station captain, had sent her to accompany Gary the remainder of the run. He immediately took off and abandoned me. So fickle!
My next problem was sleepiness. It was the middle of the night, I'd been awake for more than 24 hours and I could hardly hold my head up. I was like Dorothy in the field of poison poppies in the Wizard of Oz. My pacer was super nice but not exactly loquacious. Normally, this is a quality I would prize but at this moment I needed real help staying awake. I was constantly scanning the landscape for a nice spot to lie down, just for a few minutes.
|So sleepy ...|
We caught Gary about mile 80 at one of the unmanned aid stations. I tried to figure out how I could take a nap atop one of the big coolers there. Gary offered me a Vivarin tablet which I gladly accepted. It didn't seem to do much, but I didn't get any worse so it very well may have saved my race.
Dawn arrived, always a welcome sight for a tired runner. Not long after, we arrived at Bill's (mile 88). One last weigh in, more coffee, more begging Hubz for JUST A FEW MINUTES to nap. Though I still had almost 12 miles and probably 3 hours to go, the finish line was within reach. Don't think, just run.
The last miles are a blur of more road and hills. Oh, the hills. The old finish was much gentler, this year's course change wound up, up and around and up some more. It was downright cruel until we were running the last quarter mile.
As I ran the last few yards toward the finish as Hubz and my friends cheered, all I could do was bawl, overwhelmed with relief, pride and exhaustion.
The asterisk I'd always tacked onto my first 100 miler finish when Bob had wheedled and cajoled me the final 31 miles was finally banished. I had dug deep and I had come up triumphant.