Friday, August 03, 2007

The Vermont 100 Mile Experience

It seems like an eternity has passed since the day I discovered there was a community of runners and races out there that covered 30, 50 and 100 miles in one go. Since then I have been fascinated by this group of endurance runners and in hope of running a similar event in the future I took my first steps on the road to distance running. After my participation in the 2006 Boston Marathon for Dana-Faber Cancer Research “I was hooked”. I spent the remainder of the 2006 season participating in the Grand Tree Trail Races. I ran six of these trail races of which two were Pisgah 50K and the Stone Cat 50 Miler. Running in these trail races and finishing Stone Cat in less than 10 hours only burned my desire to run 100 miles. So I set my sights for the 2007 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run. The road to Vermont has been filled with everything one can imagine, mishaps, injuries, laughs, milestones, disappointments, accomplishments, blood, sweat, adventures, camaraderie, and the list goes on, most of which I have tried to capture and relate into words here in my blog. Last weekends event was beyond ordinary so translating the Vermont 100 Mile experience into words has been a hard task for me.

By Friday morning my dad, my brother Craig and I were interstate bound for Vermont. Full of anticipation and excitement we arrived in Silver Hill Meadows, West Windsor, Vt. We quickly set up camp for the weekend as I attempted to spend some TOF (time off feet). We relaxed in camp and passed time talking with Laura Bleakley, John Lacroix (Sherpa John) and his crew. We were all full of nervous banter and had some good laughs/conversation. My pacer Kevin joined us for the festivities and we all made our way down to the BIG TOP for the 4 o’clock runner and crew meeting. Once the crew meeting was wrapped up, we had our fill of pasta and goodies then headed back to camp hoping to hit the sack by 9PM. It was a restless night and the morning came quickly. I awoke Saturday at 3AM to the “Chariots of Fire” theme song blaring over the loud speakers. While this song played out over Silver Hill Meadows and a vast array of stars twinkled in the sky above, I wondered if I was still dreaming? I got dressed at the car and drank some Sustained Energy for a fast breakfast, it was not the usual pre-race routine but today it would have to do. I made my way down to the tent with my Dad and Craig at my side. Just to the left of the line for the cuckoo’s nest was the runners check in. After acknowledging that I was a participant I then stumbled around the group of runners in a daze before I bumped into SJ. Tick-tock-tick-tock 4AM “GO”, and I’m off on this 100 mile journey. Reality rushes in and my feet are soon shuffling along the dirt road. SJ, myself and a few other runners hung together for the first 15 miles until we reached Taftsville Bridge Aid Station. After Taftsville I slowed my pace down a notch and wished SJ well. I guess it wasn’t slow enough because I outran my crew to the first handler stop Pretty House (21.1M). This was a quick in and out with thoughts and hopes of meeting my crew at the next handler stop. I’m relieved to find my crew at Stage Rd. (30.1M) and for the next 27 miles things go like clock work, drinking, eating, running, walking the hills, enjoying the scenery, people and horses. One memorable moment I recall during one climb I reached the top and followed a path as it wound through the grassy meadow like a maze while the endless green hills of Vermont outstretched all around me, breathtaking! I soon found out on this course the view doesn’t last long before I’m heading back down. Down, down, down, up, up, up, up, down, down, up, up, up, up endless rolling hills. I approach Camp 10 Bear (47.2M) with no complaints. The day moves fast, the sun is out and there is a cool breeze as the temps hold in the 70’s perfect considering its July. The course then takes a grueling detour as runners make a 23 mile loop back around to Camp 10 Bear for a second time. I was in new territory, the day was growing hotter and now that I look back I feel this was particularly the hardest portion of the day for me, not physically but emotionally I was thinking about covering another 50 miles and how I was going to manage to finish in less than 24 hours. The solution to simply stop thinking doesn’t come so easy. I repeat words that instill positive reinforcement, “constant forward motion”, “any progress is good progress” “slow and steady wins the race”, “chip, chip, chip away”, plus it helps that my dad and brother were just a few miles ahead patiently waiting for my arrival “THANKS GUYS”. I understand now why they have another handler stop just 5.1 miles after Tracer Brook (57M) and Margaritaville (62.1M) because between them is a crazy what felt like a 3-mile long hill. No rest for the weary…..after reaching the top of this monster hill my spirits begin to lift, I was feeling rather good and managed to run most of the 8 miles from Margaritaville to Camp 10 Bear (70.1M). I remember saying to myself “slow down” but why slow down when I’m feelin good. I was happy to finally meet up with Kevin who was going to help pace me the last 30+ miled although I think support is a better word then pace. Tho I wasn’t much of a conversationalist it was nice to have some company for this last leg of the journey, especially with the sun disappearing. It was at this point into the run when I started having some serious tummy trouble my guess was from the HEED supplied at Aid Stations and when I ran things hurt worse, so for the time being Kevin and I walked. And we walked and walked passing many beautiful farmlands and Vermont scenery, I sucked on a few pieces of ginger Kevin gave me and this did help settled things down a bit. When we arrived at West Winds (77M) it was around dusk and I was still having some stomach troubles, Kevin mentioned switching to some NUUN hydration tablets he was carrying. This was some darn good advice; these tablets tasted really good like ginger ale mixed with Gatorade. Back on the VT roads I felt so close but yet so far away from finishing this thing. Physically I was tired, mentally I was tired, I was upright and moving on pure emotion, to finish what I started. The last 23 miles comes down to kinetic energy, stopping only disrupts velocity and is negative work. Kevin kept me moving along with some jogging and walking. Encouraging cheers from a small crowd gathered at Bills (88.6M). It was nice to see my dad and brother again. I took a good five minute rest here, I had no blisters but it made my feet happy to put on a new pair of smartwools, drank some more yummy NUUN, chewed some mocha java beans and forced myself back up and at’em. Mile by mile, glowstick to glowstick, step by step, grunt by grunt; I slowly made my way. Last stop Polly’s (95.5M) told my dad and brother I’ll see ya at the finish! Kevin encourage me to jog a major portion of this section, just to ensure a sub 24 hour finish…..found some more adrenaline and kept chip, chip, chipping away and finally popped out of the woods and crossed under the white “welcome 100 milers” banner! Clock read 23:35:57…………"I DID IT", we all celebrated and even with the finishing pep and excitement I was soon in my tent off to la, la land. Around 7AM I was back up and about! Watched some more runners come in, took a cold shower and enjoyed the Sunday brunch and awards ceremony. By Sunday afternoon we were back on the road interstate bound for home.

A local writer by the name of David Ertischek contacted me before the Vermont 100, we finally talked a few days ago about my experience and he wrote this great article featured in the West Roxbury Transcript.

Man runs 100 miles in a day

So WHAT’S NEXT – My wife is happy it’s over, we’re both looking forward to welcoming our third child at the end of this month; now I’ll have to reserve some energy for the new baby.