I am not sure where to begin.
The beginning? The middle? The end?
Honestly, there is still a lot of processing going on.
October 3rd, 2010 – yapping with a group of dailymilers before the Smuttynose Marathon
Doug: Seriously, you should run the Vermont 50 with me.
Me: You’re crazy, dude. 50 miles? That’s just nuts.
Doug: Nah, come on!
After much prodding…and more to just get Doug to shut up…
Me: Fine. Tell you what – if I qualify for Boston today, I’ll run the Vermont 50 with you.
Damn! My logic was sound. I figured that were I to qualify I would be set to run Boston for two years. In addition, I think I thought this whole Vermont 50 idea would just go away.
After running a half-marathon on Memorial Day this year, I essentially lost my motivation to run. The summer would prove to be a time when my mileage declined significantly. After logging nearly 1000 miles in the first 5 month of the year, I went from 100 miles in June, to 80 miles in July, to barely 60 miles in August to less than 40 miles in September. I was not even running at maintenance pace. Add to that the fact that by September 25th I would have a total of 6 lifetime miles of trail running under my belt, I was in no shape, NO SHAPE, to be running 50.5 miles through the mountain trails of Vermont.
I know tired.
No, I really do.
You run 7 marathons over the course of 21 months and you’re pretty much a partial owner of the market on tired and exhaustion.
So yeah, I like to think that I know tired…
…well, hmmm, I guess I THOUGHT I knew tired because, you know, marathons are long…26.2 miles long…long enough to kill Pheidippides oh so many years ago.
So with that in mind, I began my 50.5 mile trek last Sunday at 6:35AM in the mountains of Vermont.
The start was painful…painfully slow. As our group of six runners crossed the starting line, we took off at a blistering 10:00 per mile pace. The only times I have ever run slower in a “race” is when I have bonked, and bonked badly. My legs kept wanting to push the pace, but runners smarter than me kept reining me in. I knew the first few miles would feel slow, because they would have to be slow, but I was having a hard time not running at a comfortable pace.
“Slow it down there, Luau,” JD, our experienced team leader would say. It would become his refrain over the next 30 miles.
I really had no idea what I was getting into- and I mean that not only had I never run the distance, but also that I really had no idea what my body, mind and soul were in for. I hadn’t had a run over 20 miles since the end of July, my monthly mileage had been dramatically dropping since the end of May. I really hadn’t wrapped my brain around the concept of going for 50 miles (50.5 if we’re gonna get technical – the flooding from Irene forced organizers to reroute some of the course).
My goal was to have fun, enjoy the ride and get my dear friend Doug across the finish line in under 11:00. For some crazy reason, Doug wants to be able to run the Western States 100, and one way to get into the lottery for that race is to finish the Vermont 50 in under 11 hours. More on that later.
As we left Ascutney Mountain, I was chatting everybody up, running backwards, sideways and forwards. At one point I found I could speed walk at the pace we were running. I felt like I was going out for an easy morning jog.
This isn’t so bad. I could do this ALL day! Have you ever had one of those thoughts? The “I could do this all day” thoughts. Think again the next time you have one.
We were a happy Gang of Six during the few several miles. Doug (the instigator), Jeremy D (our experienced leader), Jeremy B (the barefooter – yes, he ran the whole way in VFF Treks – my hero!), me, Adam (the streaker) and Sarah (Miss Ultra). Shuffling along, we, along with everyone else around us joked about thinking this a a 5K or a 5 miler. Everybody was all smiles. The only distraction was a runner whose fanny pack must have had a bottle or two of advil tablets in it.
Shake shake shake! Shake shake shake!
Slow down, speed up – no matter what we did, he maintained pace with us – didn’t say a word to us, just ran in lock step.
As we were about to hit mile 1 we came to our first hill. My inclination of course was to keep running, but everyone, not just our gang of six, slowed to power walk pace. I figured when in Rome. JD set the pace and we all fell in step. It was weird to me that we were walking up this hill – it wouldn’t be so weird to me later in the race.
There are 10 aid stations throughout the Vermont 50, ranging in distance to each from 3.8 miles to 7 miles. For my own mental well-being, I had to break up the day into 11 shorter runs. Our first aid station came at 4.2 miles.
Doug, JD, Sarah and me
For the first time ever, I had decided to carry to water bottles. As we pulled in, I fumbled to open them for a refill. I would have to get better at the process. JD pushed us to pick up the pace. We didn’t want to linger too long at any aid station, he said. I grabbed a few orange slices and a piece of peanutbutter and jelly sandwich and we were off.
The next several miles were a bit of a blur, running through the forest on muddy, single track trails. We had to climb up a hill to get to the next aid station.
The next aid station (Skunk Hollow) was 3.8 miles away and was the first place we could meet our crew. Doug’s wife and best friend, along with Adam’s wife had very kindly volunteered to crew for us. This entailed grabbing our drop bag, helping us fill water bottles, checking on us, etc. Without them, I don’t know that I would have made it to the finish. As we made our way to Skunk Hollow, our Gang of Six became a Team of Four. Adam’s heels were barking at him and Sarah stayed with him. As Doug, the two Jeremy’s and I continued on, we laughed and joked our way through the woods. None of us were feeling the effects yet of the rapidly warming temperatures.
In good spirits
Laughing it up
As we pulled into Skunk Hollow, I thought about changing my socks. I had stepped into a couple of deep mud puddles and my feet were soaked. We were only a little over 12 miles into our day, about a quarter of the way done. I should have taken the time to switch out, but I was eager to keep things going. We were well on pace to get Doug in in under 10 1/2 hours.
Pulling into Skunk Hollow
Still happy as a clam
I think this is me telling Doug to get his butt moving...he was greasing up his feet - I probably should have taken the time to do the same
Now came what would be one of the hardest parts of the day for me – 7 miles, no aid stations. Garvin Hill (the next aid station) would be at the 19.3 mile marker. Not only was it 7 miles away, but it was also all uphill – over 1,100 feet of climb. Two things crossed my mind at that point: 1.) I had not run anywhere close to 20 miles since the end of July and 2.) the next aid station where I could change my socks was at mile 30 – almost 20 miles away.
About 3 miles into this leg I felt an all too familiar, terrifying twinge. My left quad began to cramp. I tried kicking my heel to my butt to try to stretch it out on the run, but to no avail. 15 miles in, 35 miles to go – there was no way I could do that on a cramped quad. I began muttering to myself, somewhat in a panic. What was I going to do? Doug pulled up next to me and asked me what was wrong. I mentioned the quad and without hesitation he told me to pop a Nuun tablet right into my mouth and let it dissolve on my tongue until I couldn’t take it anymore.
But you know what? I worked. Within a few hundred yards the cramp was gone and my legs were fine. Throughout most of this leg we were in the woods, climbing, climbing, climbing. As we came out, I thought YES! Finally some flats! But to no avail. They didn’t call this aid station Garvin Hill for nothing. We still had a bit of a climb before we got to the top of Garvin Hill to refill our water bottles and snack on some food. By this time the temperatures were into the high 70′s and the humidity was intense. Still, we knew we were 40% of the way done.
Still smiling after almost 20 miles
20 miles in, 30 miles to get back to the other side of that mountain in the distance.
Attempting to Live Tweet - lack of signal made my tweets sparse
As I paused to tweet my progress I took a look at my Garmin – 20 miles, nearly 4 hours. Holy Cow. 6 miles less and 40 minutes longer than what I would run a marathon in. It struck me at that moment just how different an ultra is from a typical marathon.
There were two more aid stations and 12 more miles between Garvin Hill and Dugdale’s, which was the next spot where we could meet our crew. My feet were barking. I could feel blisters forming. I cursed myself for not switching socks and greasing up my feet when I had the chance. It didn’t help that the trails were muddy and tough to navigate.
Doug leading the way as I trail behind trying to step where he stepped
The heat continued to rise and on the advice of JD the Texan, I grabbed some ice at one of the aid stations and put it in my hat. I would do that at every aid station the rest of the way. At this point the legs and feet hurt, but the pain was manageable. However, a couple of miles before Dugdale’s my right forearm began to tingle. Not a lot at first, but it was definitely there. Initially I thought that maybe it was because of fatigue. I had never carried two water bottles before and normally, I carry my hydration in my left hand. The tingling continued to intensify. As it got stronger, it began to spread up my arm. I have to be honest here and say that I began to get a little scared. When we finally pulled in to Dugdale’s I went straight to my drop bag to switch socks and shoes and restock my supply of Nuun and Shotblocks.
As I squatted down to reach into my bag, that’s when it hit me. The tingling quickly spread from my forearm to my bicep, up the right side of my neck and my face. My nose and teeth were numb. I looked over at Doug. He was busy restocking.
pulling into Dugdale's aid station - I was hurtin'!
I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t see straight. I stumbled over to the food table to refill my water bottles. I couldn’t get them open. I felt like I might pass out. My day was done. I had made a promise to Jess a long time ago not to risk my health in these runs that I do. There was no way I could cover another 20 miles, no less one more mile, feeling like this. I looked around for Doug or either of the Jeremy’s to let them know I was cooked.
But that is when a woman, I wish I knew what her name was, came up to me and asked me how I felt. I explained to her what was going on and she very calmly, almost divinely calmly (I know, that’s not English) offered to fill my water bottles. She then brought me a cup of ramen noodles in soup. I watched as she sprinkled salt onto the already salty soup. Take this she said. You just need salt. She then handed me a couple of endurolytes. As I began to down the ramen, the rest of my crew came over. I looked at them, told them how I felt and that I didn’t think I would make it. They all said there was no way they were leaving me behind, but honestly, I was cooked.
Then a funny thing happened. As I downed the last bite of the overly salty ramen, the tingling and numbness disappeared, just like that. And with that, I was back. As the boys began to leave Dugdale’s, I ran back to the food table and grabbed another cup of ramen. This stuff was the food of the gods.
I caught up to the group and we were off again.
Our pace had slowed considerably, but we were still in the running to get Doug in on time. I don’t remember much from the next 10 miles or so. We were all just focused on moving forward. At this point our bodies were spent – we were moving along only because our minds were forcing us to. I do remember that at this point the transitions from power walking the uphills to running the flats and downhills was becoming increasingly difficult. In some ways running was much easier than power walking – maybe because I hadn’t done any power walking to prepare for the day.
Somewhere around mile 38 my Garmin conked out. It had helped me to know how much ground we were covering and not knowing was killing me. Mentally I kept thinking that the next aid station HAD to be right around the next corner. More often than not I would turn a corner or come out of the woods only to see more trail.
Physically I was on empty.
Mentally I was on reserve.
Emotionally I was running out of fuel.
At around 41 we hit another aid station.
I'm in the blue shirt, looking for ramen and ice
We would now hit the second longest leg of the day – a 6 mile trip to the final aid station, where our crew would have one last chance to see us before the finish. It was a hard push. I kept trying to guess how far we had gone based on the time that had passed, but it didn’t help me in the slightest. Still, the views were incredible. Occasionally I had to take a moment to take it all in.
Somewhere after mile 42, I heard Doug whimper. Something was wrong. His knee had decided to act up and it was affecting his gait. As the two Jeremy’s began to pull ahead, I told Doug to set his pace and I would stay behind him. A few miles later he seemed to right himself, though I think it was more out of sheer will than anything else. Still, we were all struggling. At one point I asked out loud why there weren’t any mile markers on the course…and as if the running gods had heard me…
5. Miles. To. GO!!!
5 miles to go. 5 MILES TO GO! I have told myself in past races that I can do 5 miles. No matter what, I can do 5 miles. We had covered over 45 miles and were now just 5 miles away – and only a little over 2 away from the next aid station.
I was briefly energized and we trekked along, keeping our eyes open for the next mile marker. It was at mile 46 that my complete lack of training finally caught up to me. As I said before, I had run very little this summer and almost not at all on the trails. Try as I might, I could not keep up with the rest of the crew. They began to pull away. At one point Doug turned to look at me. I waved him on. He had a time to beat, I just needed to finish.
I was able to keep them in my sites, but I was fading fast. I tried to close the gap as we pulled into the final aid station.
If you look carefully, you can see me over Doug's right shoulder
Less than 3 miles to go at this point and I was spent. Doug was on a mission. He had 38 minutes to get to the finish to get in in under 11 hours. Under normal circumstances I would laugh at covering 2.8 miles in 38 minutes, but with 47.7 miles under my belt, I wasn’t sure I could do it in that time. It didn’t help that the next 2 miles would be all uphill. Doug and JD rushed through the aid station and were off. I took my time and told JB that if he caught the other two to tell them to get it done and I would see them at the finish. He took off after them, I grabbed some more ramen and ice and walked back onto the course. I could see them off in the distance, but the switchbacks made them look like they were much closer than they really were. I power walked for about a quarter mile and realized that I had a little left in the tank – ramen, it does amazing things on the trail! I started to jog and slowly began amping up the speed. I didn’t let the climb slow me down. I wanted to catch my crew. As I ran past other runners I could see I was closing the gap on my friend.
I passed the “2 miles to go” marker and that gave me a little zip. I broke into an all out run, bounding past other runners, receiving “WHOOPS!” and “GO GO GO!’s” as I went. Big mistake. Though I was able to catch my friends, I was now completely spent and there was still at least a mile and a half to go.
They were surprised to see me. I said hello and proceeded to say goodbye. I needed to walk. I encouraged Doug to go.
During my all out sprint, I had managed to tweak my right knee. I hobbled along for maybe a half mile, cursing myself but determined to finish. With maybe a little less than a mile to go, I began to jog again. After two more rolling hills, it was now time for the downhill ending. I started to pick up the pace again. With a little less than a half mile to go, I saw a sign that said, SMILE – Camera person ahead. I did my best to smile.
less than 1/2 mile to go!
After a quarter mile of downhill switchbacks, it was straight down the mountain.
Chugging down the hill - trying to get rid of my water bottles
realizing that I might not be able to stop myself...
Thank goodness you guys caught me!
Asking myself if I really just ran 50.5 miles on no training...
I had crossed the finish line in 11:04:37. I finished. A moment later I was elated at what I had done. Doug? He had finished in 10:57. He qualified for the Western States 100 Lottery – he’s crazy. JB actually finished first from our group with JD coming in right after Doug.
My favorite picture of the day! Me, JB, Doug and JD.
After the race, we grabbed some food.
Doug and me...happy...exhausted
20 miles of mud...the other pair are way worse!
I have never been more exhausted in my life. At the end of the day I was completely spent on all levels – physically, mentally, emotionally. I walked around afterward saying that this was it for me and Ultras. Scratch it off the bucket list. I woke up the next morning wondering, if I actually train for this sucker, maybe I could get in under 10 hours! Watch out VT50 2012! I’m gunning for ya!
Our friend Sarah came in just under the 12 hour cut off. Adam unfortunately had to call it a day at 47 miles.
I had promised Jess that I wouldn’t have a beer right after the race because we had no idea what alcohol would do to me after a day like this. With a 3 hour drive home, I had to agree. So when I finally got home, I pulled two bottles of my new favorite beer out of the fridge – Left Hand Milk Stout.
Finally! My post race beer!
I went upstairs, crawled into bed, kissed Jess goodnight. I took 3 sips of my beer and I was out.
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