My first real exposure to the 100 Mile distance was back in July of 2006 at the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run. I showed up to simply check it out and see what it was like in the aid stations so I could get a better handle on what I wanted my crew to do in future races. I ended up lacing up my running shoes and running through the night with the lovely Claire Gilles from Reno, NV pacing her to her first 100 Mile finish in 3 tries. What I experienced that night in Vermont changed my life forever, and helped me to realize what it was going to be that got me through this life. Below is my recount of that amazing adventure.

“Report from Saturday, July 15, 2006

Saturday Afternoon, Sarah and I fought traffic and headed for North Conway to book our reception locale for our wedding. We also visited a nearby church to get the info on having our ceremony there. I had nothing to eat all morning… juts a Luna Bar. So after parting ways with Sarah, I stopped at Burger King and got myself a burger before heading off to Vermont.

Now the plan was to drive 2 1/2 hours to Vermont.. to meet up with Drew in Woodstock, VT. From there we would make our way to one of the aid stations for the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run. Yes… people were running 100 Miles in Vermont and trying to do so in under 24 hours OR at most under 30. This is just ONE of 38 such events nationwide. It is a dream of mine to one day win a silver buckle.. which is what a runner receives for finishing the run in under 24 hours. I have 2 races on my mind.. Next years VT 100 and the Western States 100. So today was just a day for doing homework.

We made our way down into South Woodstock to the Camp 10 Bear aid station. Runners had all ready run through this station once at Mile 44.7 and then a SECOND time at mile 68.7 of their 100 Mile Run. We were looking for a Pittsfield, VT man named Joe Desena. We had been in shotty contact with Joe for the last week ro so trying to figure out if he needed a pacer and if so.. where he would need him. So we waited at Camp 10 Bear for Joe.. and we never saw him. Drew and I walked about the checkpoint and watched each runners crew go to work on them as they entered. Each runner would weigh in (to monitor weight Loss), see the doctor and then head over to a seat where their crew refilles their bottles and shoves food in their faces.

At about 7PM I overheard a woman talking to a race official. “My runner is #82 and she needs a pacer badly.” The official looks over his clipboard and sees only ONE pacer available. He calls out his name and there is NO answer. So I jumped up and offered to pace the young lady, figuring i could do so for a while anyway. I figured on running maybe 18 to 20 miles with her. The race official starts asking me questions about my credentials and then he says, “OH… so you’re going to run with her to the end?” And as I was in the middle of the ” ahhh wa, bwuah.. ummm..” Drews answers for me with a “Sure… He’s Sherpa John.. He’s all over it!”
I looked like a Deer in headlights.. .. it is just after 7PM… and I’m about to pace a runner 32 Miles through the Vermont Countryside… AT NIGHT.

I went to my car and threw on my running gear much like Clark kent in a phone Both. (I’m no superman by any means). I put Drew to work filling my bottles and snagging me some food. Afterall… I was COMPLETEY unprepared for this. Running a 50K takes some prep.. usually TONS of carbs the day BEFORE and then the morning of… all I ate today was a Luna Bar and BK! UGH! what was I thinking! We were ready to go and walked back up to the aid station. Drew asked what runner it was and when I found her I pointed and hesitently said, ” That woman there.. breast feeding her baby.”

7:15PM. Claire and I introduced ourselves. She is 29 year’s old and a mother of 2 from Reno, Nevada. She had NO clue how bad New Englands humidity could REALLY be and she was unaware that the terrain really is rolling hills forever and ever. This was her THIRD attempt at a 100 Mile Endurance run.. she did not finish the other two. I learned something else about Claire which you’ll have to wait for till the end for… She gave me instructions on how she wanted to be paced. I had no clue WHAT I was doing.. I had never paced anyone before. But alas.. I went to work.

It was now Claire’s 69th Mile and my 1st. For the rest of the night we would trudge along the countryside, her in unimaginable pain and I… in pain with no right to complain given the circumstance of my new running partner. Drew left in my car headed for the Aid station at Mile 76.7 (West Winds). I hoped to find him there and knowing he would be was great motivation. Drew would end up making an AWESOME Crew chief. In the meantime.. Claire struggled over a MASSIVE hill. She was in what is known as a “low” or “bonking.” Pretty much.. she was exhausted not only physically… but mentally. I tried my best to talk to her and keep her mind off of the pain. But… it is difficult when you are both perfect strangers. We made it to an aid station at Mile 72… after she was certain it did not exist… and I made her sit down. Here she drank some broth and had a PB and J. I… ate whatever I could find… I was famished!

As we continued on towards West Winds.. we walk through a hillside pasture and watched the sun set to our west over the Green Mountains. We HAD to stop and take it in… it was an emotional moment, and simply breathtaking. We then put on our headlamps and continued on through the course except now.. it was night time and we still have 28 Miles to go. I had NEVER run ALL night before. But hey… homework is what I came for.. and Homework is what I was doing… to its highest extent.

The course zigged and zagged down logging and snowmobile trails all night long. If we were lucky we hit a dirt road and were able to get some good running in. Otherwise, we mostly powerwalked and shuffled. Claire and I made our way to West Winds where we found drew and a whole slew of crews waiting for runners. It was around 10PM (I think) and Claire took a seat. She was in rough shape indeed. The doctors couldn’t get a strong pules out of her, she couldn’t eat anymore, her speech was slurred and mumbled then suddenly she got up and yells “LETs GO JOHN!” What do ya know.. we were off. Drew followed us out of the aid station and then claire stopped to vomit. Drew was getting a full taste of insanity, unlike anything he had ever seen. I thought it was great… because I wanted someone else to witness it and here HE was. Drew gave us some motivation before heading for the car and the next Aid where he could meet us which was Bills at mile 89.2 Claire and I headed off into the night.

Now that it was night time the course was marked not by your typical painted blazes… but by glowstick hanging from trees. We used to to our advantage and renamed them “GOALsticks.” We would run from one to the other then stop and walk to the next then run to the next then walk then run. Soon we would run 2 or 3 in a row and walk one or maybe two. We walked all the hills… briskly. Claire had her speech back, her spirits were again high and our sights set on that silver buckle. This girl is TOUGH. We ran and walked and walked and ran and ran somemore. Before we knew it we passed 2 through 2 more Aid.. and were on our way to Bills.

As we were running dirt roads we saw horses in the pastures and even some in trailers. We heard bears and owls in the distance and unfortunately the Birds had stopped their daily songs. But we however… carried on into the night ONE STEP AT A TIME. We saw a light cutting through the dense darkness… it was Bills.. and we ran in ready to go. We were in and out. Next stop… Pollys… 95.3 Miles

We were on great pace to finish this race in under 24 hours. I was totally confident we would do it.. until we found the hills once more. Claires quads felt as though they were about to explode off of her legs. Her calves screamed. The blisters on her feet the site of half dollars. She made a statement that says it all. “Ultra-Running prepared me for childbirth.” Wow… the pain is WORSE the childbirth… think about that.

Our pace turned from a run to a shuffle… to a fast walk.. to a slower walk… and slower and slower. It only got later and later got EARLIER. But as the moon shone above I experienced something truly magical. Something I will NEVER forget. For the entire night we felt like we were running in a steam room. But an eery fog settled in the pastures and fields that slowly glided across the land. The mountains rose above this fog to be black shadowing figures in the distance, the moon caused the fogg to slow and enhance the effect of the mountains. And the stars… well the stars were what made dreams come true. We slowly progress together… just enjoying the moment. Heck… here it was… 3 AM. We arrive at Pollys to see Drew… And I’m pacing a runner on her 95th mile in the last DAY! I am in utter AWE.

We leave Pollys and Claire is completely DONE. She is spent. As we make ou way across muddy sections of trail, she throws tantrums as the blisters on her feet all burst and hurt. The uphills hurt.. the downhills hurt more and the flats.. well.. they hurt to. Me… I’m still in disbelief that its after 3am and I’m running 32 Miles on a BK STACKER!

We moved at a little.. LITTLE over 2 miles per hour for the last 5 Miles. It was rough going. The longer we were out there, the more emotional Claire got. I had no idea what to tell her.. I was a little scared for her but knew deep down she was well. This was just part of the game. She was winning. We saw the silver buckle go out of our sights as 24 hours came and went. But we knew.. Claire would finally finish her first 100 Miler. And like I told her 5 minutes after I met her… there is NO WAY IN HELL I’m going to let her quit.

Claire and I ran together for 10 Hours covering just over 32 Miles. She crossed the finish line with a time of 24 Hours and 59 Minutes. But what was SO special about this woman… and what will be held close to my heart for YEARS to come is what I found out after 5 minutes of running with Claire. She’s a Type 1 diabetic.

I wrote this report, rewrote it… and I am truly unsatisfied. I cannot truly find the words to describe to all of you the experience I had last night. I’m truly blessed to have met Claire and helped her complete her Journey. She is beyond an inspiration. I cannot also describe to you the magic of what I saw and experienced in the fields of Vermont, I’m still in shock and humbled.

So… I did my homework and then some. I got my training run in for this weekend for sure and gained invaluable amounts of experience. I am also now finally a qualified All Night Runner after seeing the sun set and then rise as I reached the finish line. I cannot wait for the VT 50 this September and the 100 Miler Next July. As for Drew… I give the guy TONS of credit for staying up all night and driving around hunting us down. It was NOT easy finding the aid stations. I also thank he and his lovely wife for allowing me to catch 4 hours of Z’s in their Pittsfield Home. Drew is going to be on my crew for future runs.. couldn’t as for a better guy.”

For those of you out there who are planning to run your first 100, DO YOUR HOMEWORK! If you cannot make it to another 100 between now and race day, read as much as you can about the experiences of others. Every little bit helps, and I hope this small piece has helped you.

Happy Trails!
SJ

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2 thoughts

  1. Holy Smokes, what a f’in jam!I’m doing my first 50 miler this year at McNaughton, you are one of the reasons I decided to give it a shot. I never thought I could do it, so that is why I am trying it!Thanks, Sherpa John, keep on jamming!

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