Music once again blared across the fields of central Vermont while 265 runners prepared to take on this 100 mile challenge. I milled around inside the tent, chomping on a bagel and almost forgetting to fill my water bottles. When the command to start finally went off, I filled in behind the crowds nicely and just settled in for a morning stroll through the hills and back roads of Vermont. I immediately found Jim Lampman and fellow grand slammer Dominic Guinta while heading down the road towards Kings Highway. We struck up conversation, settled into a little groove and this is how the first 15 or so miles was to go.
Somewhere along the way, we caught up to grand slammer Ernest Stolen and enjoyed much conversation with Ernie. Ernie is the type of guy who mumbles a lot, telling you three maybe four stories at a time, all along you have no clue what in the hell he’s muttering on about. He used to live in Alaska, in a shack, off the grid. Now.. he travels the country, recently buy motorcycle he just bought on Long Island, running 100 mile races. He told us of a new medical condition he has called “Imploding Hymen.” I’ll let you all figure out what that is and how funny it was to hear him say it. A few miles later, Ernie is flossing his teeth while we run down the road. I couldn’t stop laughing, but lost him at the Taftsville Aid Station.
From here I hung onto Ray from Nova Scotia. If you remember back to my 2009 Race Report, Ray was the guy who was cracking the whip on his runner late at night. We joked quite a bit about this. I tried to keep up with Ray but I was feeling a bit tired early. I told him I thought we had gone out too fast… maybe it was just me. It has only been 3 weeks since Western States. Either way, Ray hung on and waited for me. We talked a bit, leap-frogged back and forth for a few miles. He’d run the roads pretty damn smooth and I’d show him how to tackle the trails. And around 8am, we trotted into Pretty House.
While in the aid station my crew was exceptional. We’ve got things down to a science now. They are quick and efficient, giving me exactly what I need before sending me on my way. I had no reason to lolly-gag, it was just time to go go go. I saw Zeke Zucker at the aid table. Once I left the aid station and got out onto the main road, I spotted him up ahead. Ray caught up behind me and then quickly took off… and then I was alone for the first time all morning… chasing down “the Gentleman” himself. I worked my way up along the dirt roads and long sections of uphills. In and out of the woods, up and down driveways.. this is classic Vermont and what I love so much about this race. It’s personal. It’s you… the course.. and the 30+ land owners who let you run through. It is an amazing balance.
As I was climbing to the top of Sound of Music Hill I heard a few runners ahead of me. I topped out in the high meadow grass, the sun blaring down all ready. The air was heavy with humidity and haze. It was nasty. The other runners stopped for a few photos. It was nice finally being up on Sound of Music without any clouds around. As I started to run down the other side, my quads let me know how they were feeling about our little adventure. We’re coming into Mile 30 and my legs all ready feel shot. I know now that 3 weeks is not enough time to rest between 100s, especially given my level of training. But I soldier on, with high hopes of success.
At the bottom of the hill I enter the woods and see Ri Fahnestock sitting on a log. I ask him if he is ok and he tells me it’s not his day. He looks tired and dejected. I empathize for him and want to walk in with him but I know he’d refuse. Ri just recently came in 2nd place in the Pittsfield Peaks Death Race and was last year, 6th in the world’s wife carrying championship. I know how tough the kid is.. something must be up. I continue to trot down the trail catching up with Laurel Valley, Kim and Zeke. We all talk and laugh as we saunter into Stage Road together.
Leaving Stage Road I was fortunate enough to run alongside Zeke Zucker. Since 2000, Zeke has run the race on even numbered years and volunteered to work on odd numbered years. Zeke is the man whom before the race gives us a run down of the course, how to run with the horses and a bunch of other tips and advice. If he finished the race today, he’d hold the record for most Vermont 100 Finishes.. more then anyone else.. ever. So to be running down the hill with Zeke was quite an honor for me. We’d run in other races only briefly, but for whatever reason, I was elated to run with him today.
Zeke was sucking on an Applesauce Pouch as we left the aid station and headed up the steepest climb on the course. We talked for quite awhile as we made our up back and forth and up the hills in this area. He told me about Wasatch, updated me on our progress in this race, and was just overall excited. At one point I even told him that his Enthusiasm for the race is contagious and wonderful. I meant it.
The temperatures continued to rise and it just simply got hotter and hotter and hotter. I think with the humidity, this was indeed the hottest it’s ever been in the 4 years I’ve run Vermont. You could see just how much it was starting to affect people. I love the heat.. or so I thought. More on this later. As I continued to make my way along the course, I ran into a variety of runners who said their hello’s and we shared miles with. It’s impossible for me to remember their names… and I feel bad about it. Maybe it’s because I was in and out of a fog for awhile. Down on route 106, I came to an aid station where there is a little place I call “The Sauna-John.” This porta-potty sits out in the sun every year and because of this, it’s an all out sweat house. While sitting on the throne, sweat just pours down my face and into my eyes. It’s terrible.
I walk over to the aid table where they scoop ice into my bottles. A little girl handed me a green ice-pop an I headed back down the road on Route 106 towards Ten Bears. Along this section I was seeing runners running down the road with pacers all ready. Friends had joined them for legs of the race. Now I really don’t care what people do… but ya gotta follow the rules. If I cannot have a pacer right now.. what makes you think that YOU can?
As I ducked off of Route 106 and back onto the trail, a car pulled up and it was Nate Sanel and Ron Abramson. They asked if I was ok.. I must have looked like crap. I certainly felt like it, but I told them I was fine and they took off. I headed off onto the trail an caught up to a Grand Slammer Friend (I think it was Shawn Krause). We both wheezed and complained while we worked our way up some short steep hills in the woods, talking about how our legs were completely toast all ready. We exited the woods and was on the Jenne Farm Rd, out in the sun, no shade for the next mile. It was like being in a brick oven as it always is. I ran down the final road, chatting with a rider and her horse before arriving at Ten Bears.
The Scales Don’t Lie
I ran into the Ten Bears #1 Aid stop and started barking out orders to my crew. I’m pretty tired all ready and had a laundry list of things I needed. My stomach had been turning and gurgling for quite awhile so I needed food. In the mean time I got on the scale and the Med staff told me I was 6 pounds down and on the verge of the 5%. Knowing how well I take care of myself during races… I was certain that the scale was off. When I weighed in pre-race they told me I was 172. Thats 6 pounds over my normal weight and there is no way in hell I gained nearly 10 pounds in the 3 weeks since Western States. Either way, they told me to sit down and hydrate. I sat down on a cot while a number of folks checked in on me. I felt awful and sure I looked about the same. I ate, I drank and I let my crew know how I was doing. I was tired and hot… and in my head… now I was down 6 pounds.
I got up and weighed in again.. my weight was the same but I told them I was leaving. As I walked up the hill, I saw John Bassette, the pacer coordinator, and I spoke to him about the scales. He told me it was fine and everyone had been weighing in light and he sent me on my way after a short pep-talk. I worked my way down the dirt roads, out in the open again and quickly over heating. This is the hottest part of the day and it’s really taking it’s toll on me. For the first time EVER in a race… I was not liking the heat. When I got to agony hill, I had a tough time getting to the top. I had to stop and rest against a few trees, catching my breath and just all around feeling like crap. My legs were killing me, I had some chest discomfort, I was overheating… the wheels were coming off quickly now.. and I knew that the next time I saw the crew we’d need to have a talk.
I rolled into Pinky’s around the same time I normally do but I felt awful. I’m just past half way through the race now and things are coming unglued. I walked over to the aid table and checked in. I sat down to another runner who looked to be on some other planet, zoned out, not even talking. He had that million yard stare going on… the lights were on but no one was home. Another runner was trying to figure out a way back to Silver Hill.. she’d dropped. I just sat back and listened to it all. This race was truly starting to get interesting. Just then Eric Ferland came in and I got up out of the chair and started to walk. I called him out and he chased me down after a few minutes. We shared a few miles as we ran towards Birminghams, Eric was a great pick me. We laughed a bit, talked about how each others race had been going.. it was nice to share some down time with someone.
After Birminghams I walked through the rutted field and back onto the trail. Eric passed me and took off, I tried to shuffle along. At one point my foot got caught up on a rock and I fell hard landing on my back and doing a roll off of the trail. I got up and walked it off. I realized that I was really in the weeds now, struggling to focus my vision, still hungry, my stomach doing flips, nausea and overall not in a good place. I was alone again and just worked my way down to Tracer Brook where my crew was waiting for me again.
As I sat down in the chair at Tracer my crew had shown up with a variety of amazing foods per my request. I ate a Caramello and I forget what else. I was tired of the aid station foods. Nothing was settling right or filling me up. I called my crew around to tell them what was going on. I told them about the chest discomfort and being in and out of the weeds a lot. So far in this race I’d had more extreme ups and downs then I’d ever had before. I told them that while I knew I was still on track for a sub-24 hour buckle, the overall goal is the Grand Slam and if I needed to switch my mind set over to surviving this thing.. then thats what I’m going to do. My brother-in law told me it was 5pm and I had plenty of time and still on track. I wonder if he knew what I was trying to say… but I didn’t want to be anything other then vague at this point. What I really wanted to say was, “Hey guys… I’m fuckin beat… and I’m not doing so hot out here.” Instead all I could reply with was… “Well…. Get ready for a long night.”
I joked that one year I wanted to do this on a horse and just then, I saw a girl trotting around with some kind of horse costume on. As I stood up, this was one funny sight an then… a GAC runner was puking her brains out on the side of the road. What the hell. I put my head down and started trudging my way up towards Margaritaville. Suddenly I was joined by Caitlin Martin, a noob 100 miler from New York. We talked to the top of the hill out of Tracer Brook where I promptly dunked my heads and half my torso into a horse trough. Caitlin took off in a hurry while I continued to walk uphill. The puking GAC runner caught me.. her name was Paula… and she was NOT friendly. As we made our way up Prospect Hill I tried to encourage her and talk to her. This was her 3rd Vermont 100… she was having an awful time and didn’t want to talk. So I left her..
Once at the top of the hill I picked it back up into a trot. My legs were killing me and each step was more painful then the last. I knew the station was coming quick and I walked up the final hill. Then I looked up and saw Josh and Leah… two new crew members! They were waving and hollering, taking pictures and just a welcomed sight. They walked me into the aid station and I wondered what I looked like to them. At Margaritaville I went up to the aid table and snagged a Cheeseburger and a Corona. I went back to my chair and asked my crew for Advil. “I’ve never seen someone take an advil with a corona..” Someone said, “Well… SEE IT!” I plopped the pills in my mouth, chugged some beer and ate some of the burger. My crew loved it.. and so did I.
Not far down the road out of Margaritaville my legs went numb. Was it the beer? Was it the Vitamin I? Whatever it was… I was ready to roll. I methodically worked my way to Browns School House/Grateful Dead where I saw Gary. We joked a bit, of course inappropriately before I took off down the trail. I made my way to the top of the trail and took the hard right and started hauling butt downhill towards 10 Bears 2. For whatever reason, the section from Margaritaville to 10 Bears is a magical section for me, where I am able to hammer it and make up some time. I was really booking it downhill towards 10 Bears and this was not making my stomach any happier. I had a stop a few times to walk to avoid throwing up. once the feeling went away I picked it back up into an all out run again.
I made the final turn and head back to 10 Bears 2. At the top of the hill I had caught Laura Bleakley. My buddy Drew was yelling to egg her on, telling her she was “dragging the anchor up the hill,” thats me. We talked for a short moment before I made my way to the the scales. I was fired up. I threw my waist pack to my crew, stepped on the scale and they told me 165… 2 pounds lower then the last time I was in here but they gave me a pass. Apparently someone talked to the medical teams about the scales being off. I ran into the porta potty where I sat for a bit. Drew threw rocks at the thing and it annoyed me greatly. I staggered out and ate a grilled cheese sandwich and a few other odds and ends. Katie was ready to roll… and just then a woman came over to say hello. She’d been following my odyssey since my hiking days and was excited to see me.
Kate The Great
I said thanks to the crew, grabbed my gear and Katie and I headed off down the road again. Katie is my pacer and a friend from school. At 20 years old, she’s never run further then maybe 13 miles before. I really never asked but I knew her longest run hadn’t been far. One a trip for class back in March, we got to talking about 100 Milers as she runs for school. It was then that I got it in my head to ask her to pace me here. I didn’t think she’d say yes… and she did… and I didn’t think she’d actually show up… and she did. So here we were, my struggling through the final miles of another 100 miler with Katie. I’ve made it a tradition of mine to ask someone new to pace me every year at this race… and someone who I think would be most inspired by seeing the course from a different light. Katie was a fine candidate.
As soon as we hit what I call SOB Ditch of the VT100, I came to a near halt while I struggled up the hill. I had to stop and take a breath a few times. My legs burned and hurt again. My heart pounded hard and I was tired. Katie did her best to encourage me and she did a good job. We reached the top of the hill and walked through the expensive farmhouses and along the quite fields. The sun setting to our left and the wind blowing enough to make the tall grasses wave about. It was something to see. Just then, through the trees up ahead, we saw lightning light up a huge cloud bank. There was no thunder, but it was quite a show.
Down at the Seabrook Aid station it was dark now. This is the latest it’s ever been in the 5 years I’ve run a distance at this race. I got into the aid station and sat down again, sipping on some soda and eating chips. To my left was a runner talking about dropping out at West Winds and another guy contemplating it. I need to get away form these people.. where quitting is an option. Because at that moment.. it actually sunk into my head… am I going to make it? Should I drop too? I rose to my feet and we made our way to the Magic Meadow. This meadow is great. The grass so high this year that it’s over our head in spots while we march up along a long rock wall. I tell katie it reminds of that scene in Shawshank Redemption where Morgan Freeman is looking for the volcanic glass. The wind blew and the grass waved more, I loved it. Back into the woods and we made our way to West Winds.
Down for the Count
Climbing the hill lined with glowing bags into West Winds I felt awful. For some reason the hill felt forever long though I know its not. I was just crawling. As I entered the aid station I asked where I weigh in. They haven’t had a weigh in here since 2006. I asked where to go, no one knew what I was talking about, not even me. As we stopped, my stomach just did flips. I felt like there were people everywhere, throwing up, laying down. I went into the porta potta and while in there, I heard people outside yakking their brains out. I walked out and told Sarah I just needed to lay down. My crew wrapped me in a blanket and I used Sarah’s lap as a pillow. I laid there and told them to give me 10 minutes. After 10 I asked for 10 more.. then it started to rain a bit. Then 15… pretty soon.. I had napped for an hour and a half.
As I woke up I hear a voice. It was Bill Salmon. He asked me what was going on and I told him I’d run out of ideas. He told me to get back on the salt and it’ll help me pee. It had been 4 hours since I last peed at all. My back was starting to hurt. I was really worried. I thought for sure I’d piss blood any minute and my race and the grand slam would be over. I sat up, looked to my right and there was Shawn, he’d been napping too and was thinking of quitting. I told him to just get to Bills… walk if you have to. And while I talked to him, I was giving myself a much needed talk.. I didn’t even know I was talking.. I was listening while words came out of my mouth. I shot up and asked for my stuff and my pacer and I slowly walked out of West Winds… headed into the night.
On the way to Bill’s was tough. Even though I’d just napped for over an hour, I was exhausted. It was tough to keep my eyes open and I weaved left and right on the road. Katie caught me once from falling into a ditch. We laughed a bit as we continued on. I’ve gotten pretty good at sleep running down the road. The miles just tick by while I close my eyes and let the roll under my feet. And then I couldn’t hack it anymore. I found a flat piece of grass and laid down asking Katie for 5 minutes. I was out like a light and when she shook me awake… I had no idea where I was but knew I had to keep moving. I got up and kept going again. 20 Minutes later… another 5 minute nap. I was doing whatever it took to get myself to this damned finish line. The buckle was certainly gone, but I needed to finish this thing. The good news was, about a mile out of Bills.. I had peed… and I had been peeing ever since. Things might be turning around.
At Cowshed I sat down next to a male runner. He looked how I felt. His wife was his pacer, there was some tension there you could tell. I fed some oreo’s to an old dog wandering around the station. I got up and we ran some more. Just down the road from Cowshed I was sleepy again, and in my sleepy stuper, I started seeing cars and tents and signs to my right. In my head, something jumped me awake and I stopped us dead in the road. Now wide awake, I told Katie we’d gone the wrong way. “No this is it, I just saw 2 runners go down the hill.” “No… this is wrong.. really wrong. There are no cars like this anywhere on the course.” We turned and I forced us to run back uphill to the cop car. She asked the cop which way to go and sure enough we had gone the wrong way. We righted the wrong and kept going. I was wide awake now and broke out into telling Katie a story, anything to keep us moving and smiling now. I said, “Ya know what sucks is that we got lost and ended up at the finish line… how demoralizing to know my tent is right there!.”
We got into Bill’s sometime close to day break. I’d never seen this place in the morning light and it’s gorgeous. Mount Ascutney right near by. I went in and weighed in at 165 pounds, same weight I was at back at 10 Bears. They asked if I was ok and I said yes. I just wanted to lay down. I went outside where my crew was and wrapped myself up in a blanket. Told them I wanted soup and grilled cheese and I wanted it in 10 minutes. They let me sleep a bit and when I woke up, I had soup and grilled cheese.. Sarah helped feed me. I overheard my brother-in-law talk to someone about me only having 4:30 to get into the finish line from here. I had about 12 miles to go. I was pressed for time and getting worried now.. how was I going to do this? My legs are shot, my brain is fried, the sun is coming up and its getting warm all ready.. it never really cooled off last night. I still feel terrible.
As I sat there wrapped in the blanket I just wrapped my head around the task at hand. There isn’t much time left. I’ve always said that there is an A and a B. It doesn’t matter what happens between A and B, or long it takes.. the only thing that matters is that at B you look great. I knew a ton of folks had dropped out of this race in what had shaped up to be one of the toughest Vermont 100s on record… and my toughest go at this race as well. My 4th time running here and it’s my worst time running here. I wasn’t going to get my 4th buckle… but damn it I wanted to stay alive in the grand slam. This sport is all about coming back from the dead… no matter how many times you need to resurrect yourself. Its why the skeleton is running on my leg.. it’s about stripping yourself to the bones and still running on. I got to my feet once more… and we kept running.
Now I don’t know what it is about the section between Bills and Polly’s but Katie and I somehow found an hour out there. I howled down any trail downhill there was and shuffled on the roads. I filed in behind my pacer as she settled into a comfortable pace and led me down the road. We made up a lot of time, running through more fields while enjoying the sunrise. I’m a blaze of glory running out there, finding m way along the course and then there it is… Polly’s. We run in and the crew is waving for me and yelling. I run right to the aid table. I lean against the water cooler sipping some ginger ale. This is truly where the ultra-runner is defined. I’d been defining it all night. When the going gets tough the tough get going. When things feel bad… wait.. it’ll most certainly change. When you feel good your bound to feel bad and when you feel bad your bound to feel good.. even if its after you finish. This is Mile 95.8, there is no quitting here. Only those who thought of quitting before they start get it in their head to start here. The last 4 miles of this race are virtually cake… its time to get to work. I grab my handhelds and I’m off.
The Final Struggle
I saw Samy running around out there. He runs NH Crossfit and is Laura Bleakley’s crew. I asked where she was and he told me she dropped at 84. I felt awful for her… this was her redemption race. Myself, I was doing what has come to be known as “The Sherpa Shuffle.” I scooted along the roads while Katie egged me on trying to get me to move. I moved at the fastest clip I could for the time being. When we finally go to those final hills, Samy was out there with some crazy guy picking Berries and a runner named Len. Len was doing great.. it was his first 100. I tried my best to encourage him as we moved along and before you knew it.. other runners had started coming out of the woods too. Everyone was just really pushing each other on, encouraging each other, I’ve never quite seeing anything like it. It was as if we were all on the verge of death… and our peers were out there holding our hands.. we were in this together till the bitter end.
At the fire tower we went back into the woods. I thank katie for her help.. I couldn’t have done this without her. I started to tear up, knowing the struggle I had just survived here in Vermont. If it could have gone wrong.. it just about all did out there. We made our final turn and I could hear the finish line. Adrenaline kicked in and I picked up into a sprint and for the last 1/4 mile… I ran as fast as I could across the finish line. When I got there I spiked my water bottle…. I was done.. it was done.. 3 weeks is not enough time between 100s but I’d beaten the clock. I was still alive in the grand slam.. and my summer of 100s continues..
28 Hours 58 Minutes 21 Seconds
136th out of 153 finishers
11 out of 12 in Class
284 Starters – 55% finishers Rate
ON TO LEADVILLE!