I did it!
“Unless you test yourself, you stagnate. Unless you try to go way beyond what you’ve been able to do before, you won’t develop and grow. When you go for it 100%, when you don’t have the fear of “what if I fail,” that’s when you learn. That’s when you’re really living.” Mark Allen, world champion triathlete
“If humans could really walk on water, we’d run across the oceans. But then again, some humans enter the water up to their ankles, some to their knees, some their waist. I’m a dive in kinda guy.. and these 100 Mile races are my ocean. Amazed at how these green mountains of Vermont remind me of waves on the ocean.. I’ll just have to dive right in and let the tide take me to magical lands.” ~ “Sherpa” John Lacroix
God I love this sport… Thursday night Sarah and I had the opportunity to have dinner with Phil Rosenstein and Dave Yeakel. Friday’s pre race festivities were also a great joy as we had the opportunity to match faces with names, talk with old friends and even make a few new ones. The overall sense of community is part of what makes all of this so appealing. However, in terms of how I felt about the race at hand… I was in a fog. I was excited to be here for sure, but I made a point not to make it show. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself for sure. I mean 100 Miles is a long way!
My initial goal is to always finish. My training hadn’t gone as I had hoped since McNaughton in April. I was unsure if I had a sub 24 in me.. especially here. Back in May I asked the Ultra-List why I was running so sluggish… I got many responses… but this one was sticking out in my head the most, “”I’ll never tell someone a goal is not achievable, but prior to your sluggish comments today, based on your previous performances, 24 hours at VT is not realistic. Going under 24 at ANY 100 miler that contains trails, hills, mountains, heat, humidity, etc. is no certainty. Given your McNaughton time (I understand conditions were very bad) 24 hours at VT is not expected. You averaged 16:15/mile through the first 70 there. Even if conditions didn’t deteriorate, you would normally slow down after 70 miles so conservatively, let’s say you could average 16:45/mile through the remaining 30. That’s another 8 hours and 20 minutes giving you a finish time of 27:20. Well VT is no cakewalk albeit not the toughest 100. Somewhere you’d need to find 200 minutes in order to give you 24 hours.
That’s 2 min./mile – sound realistic?”
No.. it didn’t sound realistic.. but impossible is NOTHING. This sport is much much more than training. Its attitude, heart and desire. My parents ALWAYS taught me that I could do anything I put my mind to. And so many times in the last 2 years.. I have come up short. Even one of my crew members was sure to mention that. But this time, as I ran for Diabetes Research… coming up short was not an option but more something very real. Could someone run 100 Miles In under 24 hours while still having a life at home? This I was also hoping to prove.
My crew consisted of my fiancé Sarah, brother-in-law Mike, my friend Paul from Burlington and my best friend Drew. I had assembled a blue 3 ring binder for them with a rough outline of what I would need at each handler station, what my max handler station arrival time should be and a way to keep track of my progress through the race. This binder became their bible and I think creating it and having them implement it so well is one of the things that would contribute to success.
After only 3 hours of good sleep, and 2 more hours of tossing and turning. I rolled out of the tent to gaze up at the star filled sky. One could easily identify the Milky Way up above and the stars were so bright it was like we could reach up and pluck one from the sky. I still think of my grandfather often during ultra’s, and so I reached up and grabbed whatever star he was on… gave a kiss and sent him back. I was still in a relaxed state, unsure of what was about to transpire.. but I felt great. It was race day.. lets get it done.
I ate breakfast and got dressed for the race. Having bib #100 was an omen in my book and I started to think that perhaps this sub 24 hour finish WAS realistic and at the very least… possible. I think many of us runners were caught off guard as the race start quickly approached. Many of us ran to the starting line as the RD counted down the seconds to start.. 3, 2, 1… GO! We were off…. The adventure that lay before us is very real and I intended to enjoy all of it.
It felt great to finally be running again and participating in the sport I have grown to love. Ryan Prentiss and I enjoyed some conversation as we meandered our way through the early morning silence. Not many runners were talking.. it was still peaceful. I kept it in my head for us to take it easy and try to hold back.. but I felt so good. I just went with it and hoped it would all come out in the wash later. As we reached Densmore Hill it was hard to believe we were all ready 7 minutes in. I caught up with Bob Dunfey and Jason Patch and enjoyed a few laughs with them. Both of them are class acts.
Soon I found myself still running with Ryan and now we had Phil Rosenstein with us. Phil is running the “last great race” and making his 3rd attempt at buckling here in Vermont. The last 2 years in a row he has received a plaque.. both with some kind of spelling error on them. So.. he vowed to buckle to avoid any mistakes. We all agreed that we were probably running way to fast as we arrived at the Taftsville Bridge Aid (15.3). I had run through all of the previous aid stations to this point since I didn’t need anything and at this one I made sure the stop was quick. I took some Heed (yuck) and mixed it with my Succeed! Clip 2 jus to ensure I had enough electrolyte.
At this point in the race everything was working perfectly. I had been eating and drinking properly. I was keeping up with my electrolytes, no major issues with cramps or kinks.. Everything was going good.. almost too good and I was beginning to fear the worst as time went on.. SOMETHING… ANYTHING had to go wrong at some point. As we ran along, we climbed some steep sections of trail can come out into a mountain top meadow. As I ran across the top, I remember being with Kevin Sayers and a buddy of his.. we all gazed out at the view. The wind blew lightly and we could see for what seemed like forever. The mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, the valleys and towns below.. how could I be so lucky to witness and marvel at this. A serious appreciation for life came over me and I took a deep breath as we ran off the meadow and down towards our First Handler station.
At Pretty House my crew was ready for me. As I ran down the chute of other crews and spectators, I really enjoyed the cheers and bells ringing. So many times in ultra’s you get to aid stations where its quiet and all business. I felt like this race was a big party and I was so happy to be apart of it. I grabbed some grapes at the aid table and got to my crew. They refilled my bottles quick and I informed them I was going way too fast! It was only 7:57AM, I was an hour ahead of schedule running 11:30 min miles and 21 miles in. I wanted to ease off.. but still felt good. I went with it. Ryan’s crew was late and he needed new socks, I was so glad my crew reached out to him and helped him with whatever he needed. New socks, gels.. whatever… we’re all in this together and my crew helped accordingly. I ran out with a smile.
Out at U-turn I saw Phil Rosenstein for the last time and I also saw Ryan shortly after.. he yelled, “What do you think this is?? A RACE?!” Hell yeah! I kept moving forward and felt good. I had soon caught up to Kate Pallordy from Illinois. We ran together for a little bit and she told me she had a knee injury from Wakeboarding that was starting to hurt. We kept positive and ran into Stage Road. I reached Stage Rd. Handler station and was a bit stressed out. “Too fast, too fast!” I told my crew… “this is way too fast, I gotta find a way to hold back!” They relaxed me as we re-loaded and ate. I was drinking Boost at all handler stations as well as sucking down 2 power gels and an E-cap while my crew refilled bottles. Things were like clockwork in stations and I was in and out in 3 minutes at best each time. I couldn’t believe how well things were going still… way ahead… 30 Miles in at 9:40am.. that’s a 5:40 run time and only 5 minutes faster than my 50K PR! I was now an hour 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
Right after leaving Stage Rd the course goes UP UP and UP a hill. I now had no choice but to slow down. Somewhere before Camp 10 Bear the first time, I saw Laura Bleakley.. she wasn’t looking so good and was complaining about Stomach Problems. As I ran up behind her she said, “You’re awfully speedy today.” I wished her well and carried on my way. Kate Pallardy was still around and I watched as she ran downhill backwards. She had fallen and taken a digger, palm all bloody. Her knee was very sore and couldn’t carry weight so well. She mentioned dropping at Mile 70, she also had missed her crew at Stage Rd… she was doing OK and I wished her well.
At 10 Bear I ran in with a smile and weighed in. My left pinky tow was feeling sore and smashed but knew I could go on it still. I was hurting pretty good but still laughing and cracking jokes with my crew. They fed me PB and J, a slice of Pepperoni Pizza, Banana’s and orange, gels, water and I got a massage on my sore legs. I weighed in at 152lbs which was what I weighed in at during pre-race. I was 47.2 miles in at this point with a run time of 9:10. After taking off from 10 Bear I ran as good as I could out to Pinky’s. I finally started having stomach issues. I ate too much of the wrong stuff at 10 bears and I was vurping a good deal. At Pinky’s they ushered me in but I just kept running.
Arriving at Tracer Brook (57 Mi), I was finally starting to feel the effects of the run. I was wobbly but struggling against fatigue. My energy was low but my body hanging in there. I wasn’t sure what I wanted at the station but my crew took care of me. For the first time during this race, I was tired. Still almost 2 hours ahead of sub-24 pace I was in good spirits. As I got up to walk out of the station, my brother-in-law Mike walked a bit with me. He was so excited, “Do you know how far you’ve just ran?! This is amazing!” I’m glad he was enjoying the experience as he thanked me for inviting him to crew. It’s been important to me to have someone… ANYONE.. in my family come to a race to see what it is I do. And Mike was all in. It was hot though. They had to cool me down at Tracer with a cloth and not far up the road I was over-heating again. I saw an old woman on the left side of the road wearing a straw hat, holding a hiking stick and waving to us runners… I was alone as I had been pretty much since Mile 47. As I reached the woman I started to laugh in thinking how nice she was. Why? Because it was a yellow plate on a fence post.. I was hallucinating. I chuckled and headed up to Prospect Hill.
I did the next 5.1 Miles to Margaritaville at a 14.5 min mil pace. I ate watermelon and cliff blocks. Mentally I was crumbling a bit, tired from running alone. I couldn’t wait to have some company. I wasn’t sure what was going to work for me here so I just rested. My energy was fading but my body was still holding up well. 62 Miles done in 12:50. I knew from here to Browns School house had its mix of ups and downs, but from there it was mostly downhill into Camp 10 Bear the 2nd time. I took it easy to Browns, stopped quickly and then continued on.. alone. I wondered where everyone was. At handler stations the crowds were getting smaller. No other runners were in sight ahead of or behind me. I was starting to go crazy with myself.
The worst part of the race from Miles 47 to Mile 70 was that I had to go to the bathroom. No.. not peeing as I had been doing that every 3 miles or so. But.. I had to poo. Yeah I know.. too much info. But everytime I planned on doing it, my crew would put Vaseline in my face, I smear it on and then go “DAMN!” I forgot to ___! I climbed the final hill into 10 Bears and saw the race volunteer with the radio. He radioed in, “#100!” I told him, “100! Tell me its Sherpa John!” He radioed back as I ran down the hill hooting and hollering. I did some Clubber Lang “I want you Balboa.. I want you!” I felt great. I weighed in at 153 lbs and FINALLY got to use the rest room. When I got out, my crew washed my feet which had ZERO blisters. I put on a new pair of Injinji toe socked which I noticed were a bit worn. I thought it’d be fine and was ready to go. I was solid – no longer weary and felt competitive. Charles Dona was my pacer, a hiking friend of mine from New Hampshire. After napping himself he was good to go as we took off for West Winds.
It was great to finally have a pacer with me. I had someone to talk to since I had run the last 24 Miles alone. I had pretty much the rest of the course memorized from pacing last year. I was describing things to Charles as we went. Some of the hills on the way to Seabrook were so steep I had to walk them. My quads were turning to trash and running was getting harder. Charles had great jokes, and great hiking stories. We watched the sun slowly set and we didn’t need our headlamps yet though we had them. This section was probably one of the best for me and it helped out immensely with my comfort level. When we got to West Winds (77 Mi), I was weary yet cogent and determined to finish this thing. I reached West Winds before sun down.. and this I knew meant that sub –24 was now very much realistic. I was still an hour up and I hoped the night would be good to me.
The hills between West Winds and Bills Barn are brutal. I was really tired of walking up hill and tired all together. The distance and the sleep deprivation were finally catching up to me. I tried to stay in good spirits and Charles noticed I was getting quiet. Concentrating on the task at hand was tough. Trying to process what folks were saying to me was getting harder. I want nothing more than to go to bed. Just before Bills we saw Red Glow sticks in the trees, we followed them to a Vet check for horses.. we had gone off course by about a quarter mile. I had a blister on my inside left heel and on the backs of my heels. I was going down hill fast but glad it took 88.6 miles to do so. As I ran into Bills, a crowd cheered and it hurt my ears. My crew rushed me and asked what I needed.. I had to stop them. I put my hands up and said “Stop!” Sorry guys… sensory over load.. I need to weigh in and get out of here. I weighed in at 152 lbs. 88.6 Miles done in 19 Hours 45 Minutes.
Charles had traded off pacing duties to Paul who really wanted to try it out. I felt bad as Paul talked because I had nothing to say back to him. I tried to crack jokes and not be rude. But I was grumpy and tired, running hurt.. walking hurt… everything hurt. But it was to be expected. We ran into Polly’s (95.5) and my crew let me sit in a chair. I was ready to be done.. so I didn’t sit long. We continued on down the trail and I was amazed at how all day long I didn’t do any math, I kept my hopes down and all I did was run. I ran with comfort and ease. I didn’t push it. I just went with what felt good. I had a great nutrition plan and the best crew out there. I had zero problems aside from getting tired and my legs giving up… as I rounded the final hill with Pauk we saw head lights behind us. I tried to speed up so to not let the runner pass me.. but with less than a mile to go he did. It was Norm Shepard. Someone said later, “How dare he pass with you less than a mile to go.. that’s not cool.” Hey… it’s a freakin race and he was doing a lot better than I at the end.. GOOD FOR NORM!
Finally we came upon some water jugs with glow sticks floating inside. I started singing to myself.. “Amazing Grace.” I thought of my grandfather once more.. I thought of Sarah whom I had just run 100 Miles for to raise money towards diabetes research. I thought about my nephews who I hope will be inspired to engage in their own adventures as life goes on… and then I heard Drew, “100 Yards Buddy! Don’t get all emotional on me now!” I was all ready crying… I couldn’t hold it in.. I ran down the final hill and sprinted across the finish line with tears flowing down my face, my arms raised “WE DID IT!” I fell into Sarah’s arms and just cried as I told her I loved her.
They sat me in a chair and I got my time: 23:19. I started to shiver and go into shock so they got me to my tent quickly. What a long day but amazing experience… Realistic?? No.. it was real. I’m glad I proved to myself that one can train to run a sub-24 hour 100 Miler while still having a life. These races really are more heart than training… certainly training has something to do with it but in my opinion.. not as much as some put out to be.
A HUGE thanks to my crew and pacers as well as my fellow runners who all helped inspire me to run the PERFECT race. The weather was great and everything came together. Congrats to all other finishers and to those who even dared to try! Next up.. GRAND TETONS 100 Miler – Labor Day Weekend!
Place: 52nd out of 142 finishers
6th in my Class