It was March of 2009 when myself and a group of my peers showed up in Pittsfield, VT to run a marathon before the snowshoe marathon. Our reason for doing this was far more then just trying to run 50 miles in snowshoes. It was to prove to RD Andy Weinberg that people want to run further on snowshoes than the marathon and that a Snowshoe Ultra was indeed viable in Pittsfield. After the eight of us ran our 50 Miles, Andy agreed and in 2010, the first ever Pittsfield Snowshoe 100 became a part of the Snowshoe race weekend. To my knowledge some 12 runners lined up last year and 7 finished the 100; a 21 year old being the youngest. I was sad to have missed it while I was down in Boston fulfilling a requirement fot a class. So this year was my chance to take part.
I knew before even lining up this weekend that there was no way in hell that I was going to make it 100 miles on snowshoes. Four os us stood around at the farm before the start. Courtenay Geurtin who says he hasn’t trained for this but regularly runs on snowshoes and is what I consider to be one of the better “Dark Horse” runners in the Northeast. Tom Page, a regular to these types of events.. I’m certain could pound this out if he wanted to.. though admittedly he didn’t seem to be too convinced from the get go. Jason Jaksetic, who had only been on a pair of snowshoes for the first time in his life 3 weeks ago, a leab looking chap who appeared to be in the right shape to accomplish such a feat but.. unknowing of the real mental challenges before him. Then there was me.. a guy out of his league before we said start.. a guy who ran all of 4 unmotivated days in February after having run every day in January. Coming into the race I thought about telling Andy I was dropping to the marathon, but I felt like it was my duty to run the 100.. it was my idea two years ago, I begged for it, I ran for it.. now I have to run in it.
We were supposed to start at 12 Noon, but at 12:10 we were still gathering ourselves, milling about. I showed up at the barn and dug a hole in about 2 feet of ice and snow to set up my NEMO Mio to be used as my personal aid station. Inside the tent was my inclement weather gear, changes of clothes, a sleeping back and a sack full of jackets. Outside, It looked like a yard sale. A bin full of food and goodies with jugs of water strewn about. Jason and I both have a flip cam so we’re taking video of each other, joking about how stupid we are. After the usual jokes had been abound, one of the Aimee Farm workers said, “Go” and at 12:15 we headed off for the mountain.
The course is pretty straight forward. A 6.55 Mile loop that gains and loses 1800′ of elevation (approx.) per loop. We start on the snowmobile trail and head down to the river, cross on Fuster’s Bridge then head up towards riverside along the swith backs that weave their way back and forth up and along the side of the mountain and the Tweed River. After a few short and steep climbs known as The Stairs and The Escalator, we zig and zag our way to the Western side of Joe’s Mountain. Here, instead of hitting the road as we traditionally would, we endure a long slog of a climb up to a place known as The Labrynth. The Labrynth is a section of dark fir trees that are so thick that even during the brightness of a noon-time sun, it’s dark in there. After emerging from the Labrynth, you top out at the top of Joe’s where there is a cabin and a magnificent view of Vermont’s Green Mountains. From here, it’s all downhill back to the Farm. We head to the Eastern Flank of the mountain where we hook up with the trails over on Fusters Mountain. A few steep downhills have us bleed elevation before returning to the bridge and eventually The Aimee Farm. All in all, the loop is 4 miles uphill and 2.55 Down… and it’s TOUGH.
As we hit The Stairs on loop one I was in the lead. I heard the other three, marching together, coming up behind me pretty quickly. So I opted to step aside and let them pass. Just like that I was in last place and would stay here until the bitter end. I found myself alone pretty early and enjoyed my time to think and decompress from the mountain of stress I’ve been going through with School, moving, work, etc. I thought about quite a few things on this loop, a kid at school who is the definition of “know-it-all” and the antithisis of “humble.” Projects I’m working on for a class and how it relates to a project I’m working on for my upcoming employer. The infected finger I was sporting and how much it hurt and how my finger was swelling to the size of a cuban cigar. Before I knew it, I was back at Aimee Farm. I expected the first loop to have taken me 2:30 but when I checked the watch at the farm it read 1:55. I was way too fast, yet I felt pretty good. There is no doubt that the loop is tough and as I headed out for my second loop, the gears were now turning.
Drew for Two
My gears were now turning in terms of the math. A few times I caught myself, got angry and yelled at myself to stop trying to figure it out and just move. I usually equate this to a testament of how difficult a course is. When I’m taking the time of my first loop, and starting to do the math in my head for A.) When I’ll complete my first 4 laps. B.) How far I want to have gone by 6 or 8 am Saturday C.) When I’d actually finish 100 miles… One could drive themself crazy doing this math in their head and it’s tiring. The amount of energy you waste doing such a practice is alarming. I had to stop, I just needed to slow down a bit and get into a groove.
Not far into the second loop, I saw Drew in the woods at the base of The Stairs. I saw him towards the end of Loop one waiting about half way down Fusters. He told me he’d be waiting here to do the second loop with me. I met up with him here and we took to the hill. I lifted the televators on the back of my snowshoes to give me some ease on the uphill sections. Instead of my foot being at the hill’s angle, I was now walking the steeper hills as if they were a set of stairs. I figured this saved me a bit of energy and I cold only surmass that it worked in that, on these uphills I found myself gaining on the others in the race. But now, Drew is a local who shows up at many of my races and razzes the racers, including myself. At about 60 years old, he’s in great shape for an old buck. He’s retired and works as a guide over in Killington through the summer, bringing spa guests on hikes into the woods.
Drew and I took the opportunity to catch up. He filled me in on all the New England hiking Scene Gossip I’ve managed to distance myself from, thankfully. Drew is a riot. As aggrivating as he can be sometimes, he’s equally as fun. I guess I’ll put up with it though admit that from time to time, the things he says and talks about.. gets you riled up.. and you waste energy in being angry and appalled.. some of what he shares are reasons why I’m glad to be moving west.. Regardless, I enjoy my time with Drew and about half way to the top of JOe’s, he bails and heads to the top “the quicker way” while I continue to wind myself around the backside. Back at the cabin, we hook up again, and instead of running down across Fusters I walk briskly with Drew to continue our conversation and enjoy some time together with my friend. In the end, as much as I’m in a race, I understand that this is likely one of the last times I’ll get to hike with Drew before I leave.
1 and 1 and 1 is 3
The second loop had taken me about 2:45 to huff around with Drew. As much as I enjoyed my time with him, I headed out for loop 3 alone. Drew had told me that another old friend, Charles, who had paced me during my first VT100 was going to show up later to help out. Knowing his time table, I knew that he’d be there for loop 4 and I’d have fast company once again. This was helpful because.. I was under the impression that another friend of mine was going to keep me company for a loop at night but in an email a few days earlier he pretty much bailed on the idea. I felt like I was getting help back. So I headed out for loop 3 with thoughts of company to come. Except, on this loop the sun was going down, the temperatures were dropping and this mountain loop was actually really starting to suck. I wasn’t moving as fast as I would like. Before this loop I had all ready been lapped by my peers in the race. I was feeling prtety discouraged and that feeling of being in over my head had returned. I continued to push forward and by the time I made it to the Labrynth, it was no night time. I reached the cabin and sat down on the stoop of the door. I pulled out my block of cheese and started to eat some dinner.
While sitting on the stoop, I saw a light and heard a snowshoer. It was Courteney and he was now lapping me for the second time. He was still running, looking fresh. I was stuffing my face, labored breathing, wet from sweat and now frustrated. I got back up and chased after Courteney. There was no hope in that. He bounded down towards Fusters in a hurry and soon his light had disappeared into the night. I followed at a pace that was as fast as I could muster. My leg was hurting, my leg throbbing, my feet sore and blistered all ready.. I was fallign a aprt early and I knew that not only was I not finishing the 100, but I’m wondering about my ability to go even 100K.
Back at the Aimee Farm was Charles. He and Drew had been waiting for me to come in. I’m whipped all ready and starving. I checked myself in for having finished lap 3 then walked to my tent. I got out my Jetboil which I hadn’t used in 3 years. I didn’t know if the fuel was still good. In firing it up the answer is “no” but good enough to boil water still. So, I made some chicken noodle soup and headed over to the fire to eat it. While taking a break, the greatest show of the weekend had started. The Peak Death Race is in June and this weekend they were having a training camp. So I stood there as I watched about 15 idiots dig up stumps and pieces of wood then begin to split the wood with axes. They may has well of used rubber mallets to chop the wood because it was so frozen that the axes just bounced off the top. After this, they were tasked to hold a length of rope over their heads for some 60 minutes. Sounds like fun. Meanwhile, Charles told me that his plan was to do a loop with me tomorrow if I was still going around. I all ready knew my fate at this point. I put my soup down and headed back out for one more loop.
Charles and Drew followed me for the first 100 yards down the trail. I had to show them the bull head hanging on a tree. It was disgusting. On my way in from Loop 3 I saw it hanging there and it scared the crap out of me. A frozen head with muscle still somewhat attached and it’s eyes still frozen in place. Obviously a death race item that I was sure 199 of the 200 in Saturdays races could care less about seeing. They heaed back to the farm while I headed out into the night alone. As soon as I hit the first little incline on the trail, I came to a screeching halt. My legs burned, with my right leg swelling. My feet are sore and blistered and my ability to climb hills has significatly diminished. So much so that I knew that this should be my last lap.
As I got to the clearing at about 2 miles into the climb, I took out my phone and called anyone who would answer their phone. I called Leah as I held back tears and stood there with a lump in my throat. I was so disappointed and had it in my head that this was dumb, my efforts are worthless and it’s time to go home. I got Leah on the phone and could hear Josh and Grant joking in the background about getting me some Vagisil. Now was not the time to be egging me on.. I was in a dark place.. and as I began to lose signal I simply hung up. I had spent 30 minutes on the phone with friends, rationalizing my decision out.. wanting to make sure I was going to make the right one, I had told Leah and the rest of “Team Robert” to not bother coming out.. to just go to their place and have fun in the morning when they hoppied into their races. Me? I knew I was fine with my marathon.. that is tough enough especially for a guy with ZERO training.
So, I continued to push myself around the course. I had left the barn at just before 8pm. I had no idea what time it really was but figured I’d be in the barn for 10. I moved as fast as I could, dragged my legs on every uphill section as I struggled to even lift my knees high enough to get these snowshoes to move along with me. At 11pm, I made it to the barn and there they were.. Team Robert. I wanted to quit.. I had had enough for sure. But they convinced me to stay the night with them and return the next morning fresh and ready to roll. I agreed.
So, we went to Josh’s friends house where we started a fire in the hearth and I feel asleep on the couch. We talked for an hour or so, cracking jokes and reminiscing about old times. This is my favorite part about Ultra-Running, the family. Being alone out in the woods for 11 hours certainly sucked. I knew as I fell asleep that I was only going to do one more lap in the morning. I knew that I wasn’t prepared, in the least bit, to take on this challenge of 100 miles on snowshoes. I knew deep down that I had all ready pushed myself to my mental limit for the weekend. My body could go further, but I don’t want to. And so.. I fall asleep.
I woke up in the morning and we all drove to the General Store where the packet pick-up was for the big race. After just the 4 of us groomed the trail yesterday, some 200+ runners were about to show up to do a one loop fun run, a half marathon or a full marathon. The trails were to be crowded for sure. I ordered an Egg Sandwich and as I waited I said hello to the dozen or so familiar faces I enjoy seeing so much at races. I can’t help but get choked up. If this is my family.. I know I’m leaving them and many I wouldn’t see for a long time to come. Today was turning into a long painful good bye and I was pretty emotional about it. I got my sandwich and headed back to the barn. It was there that I learned that Tom had gone to bed as well, after 6 laps… Courteney was still out there having gone all night and was soon to be finishing his 10th lap. Jason was having a hard time, shuffling along, delusional and unsure of who his mommy is. At the big race, pre-race meeting, Andy Weinberg introduced me to the crowd as Fourth Place in the Snowshoe Race. HA! It was true.. but as the questions started pouring in, all I could do was hang over my hiking poles, look at the crowd, and mutter “I’m only doing one more loop to make it 50K.
As the big race got underway, I hung back at the end of the line and took off as a hiker. I tried to trot a bit, to get a little run in me, but my legs feel flat and tired. My night of slumber rested my mind but my body is pissed. I slow right down to a trot when I see Drew and Charles again. These guys keep me company as we chuckle and laugh our way up and around the switchbacks. We continued to wonder if the hardware store sold “Plaid Paint.” Those two left me again, deciding to meet me at the top. I took off alone again, leap frogging the back of the packers and struggling to reach Joe’s. Once I got there I saw Leah. She was all smiles and had waited for me while the rest of Team Robert pushed on. I saw Charles and Drew.. and the three of us made it some 200 yards before Leah and I tried to make a race out of it.
Yesterday when I started the snow was granular and rough. The Fuster’s side of th course was nothing more then a trough carved out of the 2″ Ice Sheet on top of it all, rubbing your ankles as you shuffled by. Now, it was a sticky mess. Every time I lifted my knees I took up a ball of sticky snowball snow with me. My snowshoes are heavier now then they were before, and it’s a real pain to move about. There is no room for shuffling, as we’re forced to lift our knees with every stride. Leah and I enjoyed each others company, catching up, yadda yadda.. and then… we see Drew one last time at the bridge. He walks in with us. At the Bull head we see a Death Racer struggling to carry his buckets of rocks that he had picked from the river. Drew asked, “Do you need some help?” And this guys response was epic.. with a quivering verge of tears voice “please don’t talk to me.. please don’t” as he whimpered and lifted his buckets and kept going. Yes… he paid for his race.. I paid for mine.. I know when to go home.. he doesn’t. ; )
I cross the finish line with my 50K in hand. My elapsed time is 22 Hours and 22 Minutes. Actual moving time on the course was 13 Hours 22 Minutes. I knew that my body could keep moving forward, I could do another lap.. but I didn’t want to. My finger is now severely infected, pussing and painful. I knew I need to get to an ER to have it checked out (I did.. it was bad.. I got meds) and I had had enough as the rain started to fall from the sky. It was time to go. I said goodbye to all those who I had the chance to… including Michelle Roy.. who has a blog of her own, and whom I admire greatly. She’s the toughest woman I know.. a death race competitor.. and someone who has an open door in Boulder for life. Watching her zip up and down the mountain this weekend, carrying logs, holding rope over her head, building bird houses and even taking a 60 second dip in a frozen pond.. she did it all without complaint. She made a lot of men look bad.. so when I hugged her I had to tell her, “I Admire you.”
So… My weekend didn’t go as I had hoped but I suppose it went as expected. A tired, has been of an ultra-runner lined up for another 100 mile event and failed to find the finish line. I’m back at the drawing board trying to figure out where I’ve gone wrong.. it all starts with training… which starts with my current lack of free time while I finish up school. One things for sure.. come Leadville.. I’ll be ready.. and the fall is going to be like Sherpa of old.