Start to Pretty House
I've always found it easy to run the first few miles without carrying a headlamp at this race. All of us runners are so close together still, and everyone else seems to be wearing one, so I leave mine behind. I did however carry a small handheld flashlight, that I never actually used. I found this to be a lighter carry than a headlamp. After all, it is 22 miles until our fist crew stop and you'd end up carrying the headlamp needlessly for more than half of that distance.
Just a mile or two into the race and I find myself running with Zac Weiluns. Zac is the main subject of the documentary film being produced this weekend titled 100: Head/Heart/Feet. Zac has tried to run the Vermont 100 twice previously, being stopped short of the finish line both times. If his current pace was any indication of his preparedness for this years run, and how the day would come out, I felt he was going to do just fine. Zac is incredibly friendly. A quiet presence about him, he only spoke when necessary for the conversation and I found him to be quite honest yet reserved. It was an honor to share these few miles with him before I watched him pull on ahead.
At the bottom of the first hill around mile 2 or 3, another round of fireworks blasted off into the night. We are much closer to the site they were shooting them off now. I could only assume they went off to signify the leaders passing on by. It certainly did the trick in waking me up a little more. Not long after, we continue to run towards Woodstock by the light of dawn. Then, a hungry sun rises above the nearby country side. It's so humid it's foggy. Dew rests on every blade of grass and you can smell that New England summer smell of must and mold.
A few folks are running around me at mile 7 and the field has all ready begun to spread itself out. I'm sharing the road with three guys. I didn't know any of them but one certainly left an impression. It never amazes me these days how everyone is an expert at 100 milers during these things. This one runner in particular decided to run down his resume so everyone around him could hear him. "But the Hurt 100 is the last one I did... nothing compares to that one.. it's the hardest." Of course I had to chime in with, "What about The Barkley?" ... There was no response. Without much sleep last night I'm easily annoyed. Running my 18th 100, I could easily run down my list for the guy, but decided to distance myself by hanging back and letting him have his fun.
After the next unmanned aid stop, I was running down the road into Woodstock when Nate Sanel caught up to me. Turns out that Nate had stopped for a little bio-break and in that time, I had run past him. The fact that I was saying to myself, "Nate caught up to me," was an early indication that I had gone out too fast. Nate said he just "wanted to take it easy." I looked at my garmin to see us running at 7:45 pace into town, and my average was hovering around 9's. Easy my ass.. So I slowed down and let Nate run ahead, convincing myself that I needed to relax and force myself to ease up a bit. As I ran onto the pavement of Route 4 in town, I met up with AJ Johnson, a fellow Team Animal Camp runner of mine and we continued to run the next few miles together, catching up, and of course he blamed me for suckering him into running this years race.
Running through town is a new part of the Vermont 100 for me. We used to run over the Taftsville Covered Bridge. Hurrican Irene did a number on the bridge 2 years ago and it's yet to recover. While they continue to do work, we get rerouted through town. The new section is mostly flat and runs through some of Woodstock's historic district. It's still very gorgeous, but the flats allow for us runners to catch up on some time. It was good knowing where I was the whole time given my intimate relationship with the area over the years. This is calming mentally. Before we know it, we're back onto the normal course and running up and over the final hills before Pretty House. We cross over the Appalachian Trail, past a few notable farms, the "bulls yard" and then just before running down into the Crew Station, the first horse of the day catches me. This is the farthest into the race I've ever been before the horses, who start an hour later, have caught me. Besides Nate catching me, this was my next "too-fast" moment of the race.
Running down the road out of Pretty House we run back onto pavement and head uphill. I felt good so I just kept running. Typically I've walked this little incline, not this year, I had "PR" on my mind. So I ran when I could, all the way up to that next steep incline which takes us up and over a pasture abutted by a small gray house. A few years ago, the little old woman who lives here came out to cheer us on. I've yet to see her since.. but I think of her every time. The road undulates mercilessly through here. The skies were darkening and I wondered if it would rain. I didn't have to wonder long as a quick shower blew in and out. It didn't cool us off it only made things muggier.
As I approached "Sound of Music Hill" I ran into Henry Peck. A gentleman who has a very long running history, is a sound marathon runner, whom I'd e-mailed with before.. and was now finally meeting. He gave a long and firm handshake which was strangely comforting for the middle of a race. He gave me a nice tap on the shoulder, and we took on Sound of Music together. After cresting the top and taking in the best view on the course, we eased on down the hill, and ran into Stage Road. Quickly, we've come to Crew stop #2, and I know it'll be a while now before I see them.
I take the hard left onto the road here, and see Jack Pilla. He says hello with a smile as he always does while I pick at the aid table for fruit. Jack asks if I need help or what not and I assure him I brought a crew. I really appreciated him jumping into action for me if I needed it. I spotted the flag and my crew was ready and waiting. I stuff my face with more gels, protein shakes, whatever.. and quickly head out of the aid station. We're 50K into this thing and everything is working like clock-work. I knew I had gone out too fast but I wasn't obsessing over it. I've run the first 33 miles of the race in 5:30... faster than my official 50K PR. I was more concerned about my stomach and my constant vurping. This would consume my mind for the next few miles while I tried to sort out what was going on internally.
We leave Stage Road and head onto the hill that climbs the backside of Suicide Six, I think. All I know is that this hill is a killer. It's steep as hell. This year, it's a mud bog and it's tough to climb without getting wet and muddy. The sun is definitely up now and the humidity and mugginess is really starting to crank itself up. As we enter the woods the deer flies come out. I'm still vurping and I've figured out the problem. Though I'm burning calories like crazy, your body can only absorb about 250 per hour. I've stuffed way more than that down my throat in the first 5 or so hours of the run. So, I threw up a little and shook it out, then, I decided to ease back a little bit on the intake to ensure that I'm really getting full value of all that I'm ingesting throughout. It worked, and a few miles later, my stomach settled down.
Back down into Woodstock, we cross a route 12 and hit the U-Turn aid station. I grab some more ice and fruit and prepare to dig in a bit. For some reason this next section over to Lillians has been a killer to me. Having gone out too fast in the race, I worried that I would struggle on these hills heading to Lincoln Covered Bridge and then into Lillians. It was certainly hot, humid, and muggy.. but I felt relatively good. So I put my head down and dug deep. I ran these sections as best I could. I was patient, picking away at them, but definitely felt my pace beginning to slow.
I approached the reservoir and was glad to see they had ice in a cooler for us. It's about 10:30/11am and my body is really starting to struggle cooling down. I'm soaked from head to toe. Sweating like a pig, even my shorts are soaked through, simply from sweat. I was used to this humidity at one time. I expected it coming back. I didn't expect my body struggling with it. I guess living in the desert has done away with that aspect of my repertoire. So I shove some ice cubes in my bottles, which was melted and warm again within 10 minutes, and a few under my hat before carrying on.
After the reservoir we run a nice relaxing downhill to US Route 4, we cross the road thanks to the help from local police, run the pavement, and then cross the Lincoln Covered Bridge. I run down into the aid station where an aid worker is waiting with the bucket of water. This aid station is known for having a bucket of cold water from the river waiting for the runners. He didn't even need to say anything as I take off my hat and sunglasses, bow, and let him douse me. It was cold enough to take my breath away and I was instantly soaked and cooled. I grabbed fruit at the aid table while the staff helped refill my bottles. Tammy was there, I have no clue who else but they knew me.. John Geesler had trickled in and I asked him how he was doing, "Not so good was his answer" as he looked for ice cubes.
I took off running up the next long and rather steep incline. Another hill that is a soul sucker for some. I put my head down and continued to run alone. About halfway up is an unmanned stop with sodas, I take a shot of coke, and winced as it's warmth went down harshly. I remembered a trough with a hose typically being out up the hill, I knew I could cool off again up there. When I made it to the trough, I just dunked my hat and slapped it back on my head. I'm still over heating in the worst way, I'm slowing, and I'm beginning to panic.
As I begin to run off the top of the hill and down towards Lillians, I see something crashing down through the woods. After quick examination, I realize it's a moose. I must have scared him as he scurried off into the dense forest. I ran into Lillians where I had another bio-break. This porta-potty is known for sitting in the sun and being hot like a sauna. Last thing I needed, but I needed it. I emerged and walked to the aid table. Geesler had caught up to me again and he was looking for ice. He spoke softly to the little girls who were working the station, cutting fruit. He was sounding weary. I dared not talk, it took too much energy. I grabbed fruit and ice and took off up the road.
The longest paved section on the course is here. The horse hold used to be up the road where we duck back off into the woods, it's back at Lillians now. This confused me a bit, but thankfully I'm not a horse. I run down 106, careful not to be killed by any traffic. It's obvious that many of the locals don't like us or want us out here. Over the years this seems to have gotten worse and worse. I was beyond counting on one had how many times a driver has nearly hit me or refused to slow down for us runners on the road. Rte 106 was the worst of this all day. They speed by at 60 mph, and even though cones are out in the road to slow em down.. they don't. I was glad to get off the road, and back into the wood. I climbed the steep embankment through the maple farm, and dumped out at Jenne Farm.
One last short hill and I was running down into 10 Bears. I was so excited to be here. 47 Miles into the race. Almost halfway done. 9 Hours and 20 Minutes. Still a personal best split for me to this point. But in my head, I've slowed down to barely running sub-24 hour pace. I'm obsessing about it now and a huge cloud of worry falls over me. I run into the station and step onto the scales. 159 lbs. I'm up 2.6 lbs from the start. Right where I want to be. I walk to the aid table and look for grilled cheese. It's after lunch now, and I need something solid. A female aid worker asks me what I need. I tell her, "grilled cheese" she says, "I'm not cooking yet.. next time through." This was the first time they hadn't been cooking at lunch here.. so I kinda stared at her waiting for her to say she was kidding. Instead, we engaged in an intense stare down before she started barking at me that she "wasn't cooking yet!" woof!
10 Bears Loop
As I was running out of the aid station I ran into Jack Pilla again. He asked me how I was doing and I hemmed and hawed over the answer. I told him I wasn't sure, I felt like I was behind. He looked me dead in the eye and said, "Well... just be patient John. You know how to do this. Be patient and it'll come to you." I knew he was 100% right. To this point, over the last 8 months, I had done everything right.. except for patience on race day. With that golden nugget of advice from a decorated veteran, I settled in to patient mode and let some miles come to me.
Up an over the sharp hill out of 10 Bears, I was amazed at the places cars were parked waiting for runners to come in. Some of those crews were in spots I'd never expect mine to be, and they were simply waiting there for their runners. I took to the next flat section which is notorious for being hot. Luckily, the skies are overcast now and it's not too bad. I didn't even notice being done with this section and taking to the next few hills. Here we run through a few yards, where the home owners were all out offering to spray us down with hoses or pesticide sprayers. I took up the offer of the first person I came to, and was sure to thank all of them for allowing us to pass on through. Despite being hosed down, I'm still having trouble cooling down. It was sucking the life out of me, yet I pushed on.
Agony hill is next. It's a steep S.O.B. Someone finally bought the property near the top of the hill, so a large section of it, which used to be a drainage, is now a long steep gravel driveway. A lot of trees have been removed to make way for phone lines and electricity. It's not here now. It was a bit demoralizing to look up and still see more hill in front of you, with no end in sight. So I kept my head down and just plugged up the hill. I saw no runners in front of me, or behind me, the entire climb. Another first.. in fact, I haven't seen many runners or horses all day, and I began to wonder if I was missing something and the race had been called off.
On my way into Pinky's I see a guy standing next to his pick-up at the end of the driveway. He asked me if I was doin' all right, I was walking some. I told him yeah and he said, "Hey.. is your name John?" I said, "Yeah" and he jumped with excitement. "DUDE! IT'S CAVE MAN!" Unfrozen Caveman to be exact. A guy whom I'd hiked a few New Hampshire peaks with 5 or 6 years ago. It's been a long time since I've seen the guy, maybe 4 years. So he walks with me a bit and we catch up. As we enter the aid station, the volunteers look at us puzzled, like if I had an illegal pacer or something. I think I was pacing him to be exact. The aid volunteer asked, "You ok? You're walkin in here a bit." I looked at him and said, this is mile 51.. I tend to walk from time to time after running that far (with a smile). I said by the Mr. Chadwick and was off on my own again. I was giving chase a female whom I had caught before the aid station but passed by while I was in it. There was another runner sitting down checking his pulse in there.. I'm sure his heart was still beating.
Down the road I went, crossed through the cemetery, down the road, and caught the female again. I let her run in front of me for a bit as we started up the next climb. About half way up the hill is a horse trough where they usually leave the hose running for us. She stopped, picked up the hose and sprayed her entire body down. She was obviously having a cooling problem as well. But I was amazed when she shoved the hose down the back side of her shorts and sprayed her ass, then she took it out and soaked her feet. In that moment, I knew she just screwed her race up a bit.
I went past her and kept running for Birmingham's. I saw a few runners there volunteering whom I'd spoken to during pre-race festivities. The conversation was light and after grabbing fruit and ice, the theme for the day, I was out of there. Across the soggy field and into the woods, I emerged onto a driveway and headed down to Tracer Brook. I ran right past the unmanned station here knowing my crew was a mile and a half up the road. I reached them at Seven Sees. A new aid station to relieve previous congestion at Tracer. My crew was once again ready to go, it was starting to spit from the sky a bit. I told Sarah, that I really just needed it to rain. Something. Anything.. to cool me down or this is going to get ugly.
Along the way to Margaritaville I picked up a few runners on these long hills. One of which is the highest point on the course. You can see the attrition on some of these folks now. Some of whom went out even faster than I and were beginning to crumble. One chap was limping. I asked if he was ok and he said he had a blister on the ball of his foot. I've been there before, and told him it wasn't a blister, but a skin fold. Basically his feet have been wet for so long that they're wrinkled and are macerated. The fold of his skin on the ball of his foot is irritated. I told him to get to 10 Bears, DRY his feet as best he can and change his socks and shoes and he'd be good to go. Funny thing is, after that downpour and really having my feet soggy for much of the day, I was experiencing the same problem and I had the same plan. Kindred spirits.
So we run into Margaritaville together. I told my crew to skip it this year as I tend to loligaging here. My plan was to get in and out. Especially there. Their hospitality is way to good. A typical place to drop out of the race. While I picked at the table offerings, they offered me a cheeseburger in paradise, beer or margarita. I laughed and said, "I need to just get the hell outta here." I ate some watermelon and pulled the limping guy out of that station with me. And we were off, heading for Browns School house.
After Brown's School house we climb to the top of the hill just outside of there. On the way, some guy came tearing down the hill in a pick-up truck hauling a trailer loaded with 4-wheelers. He really had no business going that fast, ever, on those dirt roads giving his haul and how narrow the roads are. He didn't care one way or another that we were out there. This was the 8th time I'd cheated death this race.
The last downhill into 10 Bears 2 is long and grueling. It's the muddiest I've ever seen it and Irene did a number on it. A rutted mess. Rocks everywhere. The Deer flies were notoriously bad. It was a tough section. It's also a great segment of the course to really make some time up on and I took advantage of it. Passing a few more runners along the way, feeling great, and thinking about new socks and shoes. I'm plenty cooled off now, and the heating of the day is done. It's starting to cool outside.. and I'm feeling 100%.. finally!
Upon entering 10 Bears I get back on the scale. I weigh 157. I'm down 2 lbs from the last time. I'm good to go. I tell my crew what I need while I take a bio break. When I come out, my brother Bill has arrived to help. My brother-in-law Mike is ready to pace, Kenny is still waving that flag.. and they've got what I need. I do a sock and shoe change, eat a grilled cheese sandwich, drink some ginger ale, and get to my feet. With my hand held flash light in my bag, with plenty of day light left, I'm 70 miles into the Vermont 100 and fully charged. Mike and I head off into the woods together.
Mike has paced me here before and it's really great to have his company. We catch up and tell stories as we head off up into the woods. The next hill is known as Heartbreak. And some say that if you can make it to the top with energy to spend, you'll finish the race. I think it's still way to early to predict that. The start of the climb is a driveway now, I assume washed out by Irene as was much of the rest of Vermont. I see a runner walking slowly ahead of us, not that we were speedy on the steep climb. As it turns into a drainage, I can hear the runner talking to himself. It was Keith Straw. This guy is a machine. Usually he is wearing a pink tutu. This year, just pink gaitors. Keith had run in and finished the Badwater 135 just 4 days prior to this race and now here he is on sub 24-hour pace. Incredible!
Keith is talking to himself, and I asked him who he was talking to. Our conversation was of course light and full of whit. My brother-in-law was certainly entertained. Keith and I are all ready doing the math in our head of a sub-24 hour finish. I want more than that. I'm still chasing 23:19. I feel like I'm up against it, so we leave Keith and soldier on. At the top of this climb, we pace the "party house" and head back into the woods. Some great singletrack winds steeply downhill through here. Tonia Smith from Colorado Springs passes me with her husband who was pacing her. She looks very strong and I knew her goal was 21-22 hours. I'm starting to get more life in me and I decide to try and keep up with them a bit. Mike comes in tow and he forgets how these steep downhills can easily trash your quads. After 73 miles of running, he's preaching to the choir.
We check in at seabrook. Grab some soda, and we're off. We run to the end of the road and enter this gorgeous pasture. This is my favorite spot on the entire course. The sun is setting, the sky turning pinks and reds, the clouds are moving out, two horses trot uphill ahead of us. We walk along a long rock wall, large maple trees adorn the field.. it is amazingly peaceful. At the top, back into the woods, and we quickly run the single track down to the road, cross it, and we're all ready at Spirit of '76.
Wahoo! We're super excited. In 2010, I took a two hour nap here...
Spirit of '76 to Polly's
We negotiate the next hill through some dark woods, leaving Spirit, and when we top out at the top of the hill, we're back onto the farm roads and it's still a bit light out. It's not a quest to see how far I can go before it's officially dark. Definitely the furthest I'd run before dark yet, and I'm getting more and more hopeful for that PR finish. Mike and I continue to talk, we continue to leap frog and joke with Keith Straw, and all three of us keep doing the good math in our heads associated with pace and possible finish times.
We approach a female runner, it's the girl who hosed her backside and feet earlier. She's hurtin' bad now, and it's obviously blisters and chafe. I'm sure she'll she think before hosing herself off. We come to another runner. A young guy in yellow, being paced by Gary Bennington. He's walking slowly, mad at something or someone, we leave him be and joke around with Gary. Then suddenly, we're at Bill's Barn. We check in to the aid station and I weigh in. 154. I'm down 2 on the day and 3 from last check. The med staff looks me in the eye and asks, "Are you good?" I've been forced to sit here before in a previous race.. I'm not fond of the VT100 med staff.. I look him dead in the eye and say, "Another day in paradise bud.. where's the soda?" I chuckle and grab some mountain dew. Walk out of the barn, check in with the crew and we're out.
Not much time has been spent in aid stations all day. I've certainly struggled with my ups and downs. I still have plenty of energy left. But my legs are truly starting to hate me. I sat in the chair for a minute at Bill's and when I stood back up I really needed a hand to straighten up. Creaky little bugger I was.. I knew I just needed to get this thing done.
At some point on the way to Polly's, I do the math, calculated with my pace and figure I could do this in 22:45. It would be a PR by a little more than a half an hour. Once the sun went down, things start to change for me, as they often do. We hit this long section of seriously dark woods. A near full moon is lighting up every single road we're on and a headlamp isn't even needed. In this densely wooded section, its seriously pitch black. I yawn, and yawn, and yawn.. Mike counts some 20 yawns in a row.. no joke. We make conversation about it, and I take out my secret weapon. I chug an extra strength 5-hour energy. 5 Minutes later, I'm making Mike work for it. We're running hard, charging down every down hill, running some flats, and even a few ups. We're making great time. I'm carefully mixing my walk breaks in to strategic spots where I know I could rest while doing work.
We're just ticking off miles now, running past aid stations after quick check's in. Leap frogging with Keith Straw. Everything is going perfect. Then, we're at Polly's. Now I say goodbye to Mike, and pick up Kenny. Kenny is Mike's son, and my 16-year old Nephew. I always wanted on of the kids to pace me during one of these, and it was finally happening. Kenny and I take off together into the night, he's ready to go and excited, barely awake even.. but lovin it. And so am I.
Pollys to the Finish
I wanted to be sure I told Kenny why I run these things and what I hope he's gotten out of watching me, and hearing about me, doing these silly things over the years. After all, I've been running ultra's since he was 8 years old now.
Beyond that... Kenny's not much of a talker. What can I say, at 16.. the kid loves to sleep. So does his uncle at 31. Bed is calling me, we just need to run there. We hit the final aid station and I suck down one last 5-hour energy. I was immediately fighting off throwing it up, but I knew whatever energy was in that bottle, would help get me to that finish line faster. We walked some of that last uphill, but once I knew there was a half mile left, even Kenny was working for it. We ran down the hill and started seeing the lit milk-jugs. Usually I get emotional.. I guess I was.. but it was different this time for some reason. We could hear the generator running at the finish. I give a loud "Hoo-Hoo!" into the woods, no response. We run a little further.. I do it again.. the folks at the finish line make noise back.. Then, I yell on the top of my lungs, just as my pacer did the first time I ran the Vermont 100.. and just like I have every year since.. now for the fifth time.. "NUMBER ONE ZERO ZERO!!"
Man... It's really hard to describe my feelings crossing the finish line this year. This was my 18th 100 Miler, having run my first in 2007. The 2007 Vermont 100, was my first Vermont.. my second 100 ever.. and stood as my Personal Best Time ever since. 23 Hours and 19 Minutes. Those who have followed my blog or followed on Facebook since October, know what the mission was. Lose 20 lbs. and show up at the 2013 Vermont 100, weighing the same as I did in 2007. Then, go out and run the thing in a PR time.
It's been six years. I was 25 then, I'm 31 now. Things do get harder the older we get. But in the last 8 months, I've found that they're more worth it as well. My friend Lara, told me on the way to the airport, "Even if you don't PR.. look at what you've done over the last 8 months. You've turned your life completely around. You've lost 25 pounds, eat healthier, live healthier, are happier.. you've busted your ass.. you did that.. You DID THAT." She was right.. the PR was icing on the cake compared to all I've accomplished in 8 months.
Kenny and I run across the finish line. I see my crew standing there. They're yelling, I'm screaming. As I cross the finish line I jump high into the air. I'm yelling, "Yeah!!! YEAH! YEAH! Wooo!!! I DID IT!!" I didn't even know what my time was yet. I just knew I had done it. I did it.. I was honestly.. in disbelief. I believed every step of the way that I could do this.. and.. I doubted myself every step of the way as well. There was no crying.. just sheer happiness. I freakin' did it. Sarah told me to look at the clock.. She said, there's a 2 on that board." Yeah.. 22:42. My new Personal Record for 100 Miles.. 22 Hours and 42 Minutes. 37 Minutes faster then the time I set, here, at this spot.. 6 years ago.