Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Running on Emotions - Vermont 50 Race Report

Vermont 50.  The fall hits, leaves start to turn, and it's Vermont 50 time.  Way back, Vermont 50 was my first ever 50-miler.  Then, it was my first 'good 50 miler' when I surprised myself with a 2nd place finish.  Next, it was my first ultra DNF as the mud forced me to drop.  I feel like I've experienced highs and lows and everything in between here.  I've won the race (both 50k and 50 mile), watched Brian win 50 miler many times, and had friends pace me only to fall in love with ultra running.  Through it all, it is an annual reunion with New England trail running friends that ushers in the fall.

With the recent passing of Chad Denning, whose presence is everywhere at VT50, I knew it would be an emotional weekend.  The absence of his spirit was certainly felt by those who knew him, and by anyone who had experienced the race when he was there.  I was certainly overwhelmed with emotion just thinking about it.

(Chad's spirit was everywhere - the VT50 was dedicated to Chad)
On the other hand, I was ecstatic to have several of my Western Mass Distance Project ladies at the race.  There would be 5 of us starting the 50-miler (each with a teammate pacing us), 2 in the 50k, 1 on a relay team, and another few out there crewing - in total, we had over a dozen of the baby blue representing through the trails of Vermont.  I was so pleased that my passion for trail running seems to have inspired these ladies to challenge themselves. 

Brian and I arrived at Mt. Ascutney early Saturday morning - we volunteered to help out and fill the gap that Chad's absence left.  I spent the day putting up signs, marking out parking, moving donated product, and helping out at the Kid's Fun Run.  Perhaps not an ideal way to rest up for a 50-mile race, but watching the kids race and talking to them after they had finished their 1/2 mile, 1 mile, or 5k race was incredibly inspiring as they clearly showed the passion for the trails.  Of course, volunteering was helpful for me as I continue to learn all I can as the 2015 VT100 RD.
(Volunteering at the Kids Race on Saturday)

Sunday morning was a flash, as I got ready to line up - maybe I've done enough ultras to feel more relaxed and calm in the hour before I start.  I was pleased to see the WMDP ladies all geared up and ready to go!  Of course, the pre-race moments are full of hugs and high fives to friends before we embark on our 50-mile adventure.

(Most of the WMDP crew, pre-race)
The runners quickly strung out, and I found myself running with my husband - just another training day!  Since he is running Grindstone only 5 days after VT50, his plan was to run the first 12 and drop, then pace in his friend Jan for the last 10 miles.  Luckily, he chose to run with me and keep me company in the early miles.  I enjoyed his company, as my emotions were high and I wasn't in the mood to make small talk with strangers. 

(Brian peeling off behind me as we enter mile 12)
At mile 12, I was feeling good, and I kissed Brian before he stepped off the course.  I got a quick bottle change from the enthusiastic WMDP crew, then hurried along.  Quickly, I realized I had a shadow, my teammate Kelsey had been stalking me so far in the race.  I encouraged her to run with me, and we kept each other company as we ticked off the miles. 

(Leaving mile 12 with my 'shadow' Kelsey behind me)

I was feeling good, but was emotionally flat - my typical passion wasn't there.  Sharing the miles with Kelsey helped me enjoy the beauty as we crested Garvin Hill and got into the fun single track sections.  It was awesome to see some of the VT100 race committee and volunteers along the way - they lifted my spirits as they encouraged me along.

(Climbing Garvin Hill with teammate Kelsey)
Somewhere around mile 30, Kelsey and I were power hiking up a hill - and as we crested the top and she started to run, I didn't.  I don't know what happened, but it was like someone flipped a switch - I didn't want to be out here, I wasn't enjoying this at all.  I kept walking down the trail, drinking water and getting in nutrition, hoping this was just low blood sugar.  But, after several miles and no improvement, I knew my day was over.  My heart wasn't in this - I secretly wished I had signed up for the 50k, since I would be done now. 

Maybe it was the emotions of the day, especially once I was on my own and could wrestle with my feelings about the loss of Chad.  Maybe it's been too many races this year and I didn't have the emotional capacity to be mentally strong and push myself.  Maybe it was fatigue from traveling so much over the last month.  Maybe it was the heat getting to me.  My legs felt great, my mind was a complete wreck, I was just wasted.

(Shuffling in to mile 31, ready to quit)
I ran into the mile 31 crew station, and collapsed on the blanket in front of the WMDP crew.  I told them I was done, and that I didn't want to do this anymore.  They were having none of that, and did what they could to make me happy, handing me cold fluids and watermelon.  Jan, who Brian was supposed to pace in, filled my handheld with ice - I looked at him with jealousy, since he was allowed to drop! 

Vanessa, who has crewed for me at VT100 and knows that I have rough patches, gave me my space but reminded me that she's seen me like this before and that dropping wasn't an option.  After a few minutes, she told me it was time to get up and go.  Vanessa told me to be strong and show her what mental toughness was - she was supposed to run VT50 this year and couldn't due to injury so she was looking for inspiration for next year. 

(No matter how grumpy I got, you can't deny the beauty of Vermont in the fall)

I gave her my death stare (which she was familiar with, I had given her that at VT100 also) - thinking 'haven't I already shown you mental toughness with all my other races?!?  Didn't I show you mental toughness at VT100?!?'  She put her face literally 2-inches from my face and glared right back.  It was mid-day, in a field in Vermont, surrounded by beauty, and Vanessa and I were having a glaring contest.  It was ridiculous.  After a few minutes of this, she just grabbed my arm and picked me up.  She pushed me down the trail, then ran ahead of me (in a super goofy run, with her arms and legs flailing everywhere) saying 'I'm going to run goofy and be super annoying until you catch me'.  I glared as I shuffled towards her, and ultimately the trails.

(Karin, getting crewed by WMDPers Dawn, Janet, and Wayne)

Once I was away from the aid station, I walked again.  Again, the legs were fine and energy was ok, but I just didn't want to run or push the pace.  I strolled through the woods, over some of my favorite trails.  I wondered how I had somehow lost my passion for the trails over the last few hours.

At least I was making steady, but slow, progress.  Finally, about a mile before I picked my pacer, I had a surge of energy and enthusiasm.  I ran, passing folks as I powered up the hill, who had passed me as I walked the previous downhill.  I think I was just trying to rally my spirit, feeling bad that my friend Ashley had dedicated a day to help me through this race and I wasn't even trying.

As I approached the pacers, Ashley was fired up, and several other WMDPers (who were pacing my teammates) offered enthusiasm.  I was grateful for Ashley's company, although I explained to her that this would be a long 10-miles. 

(Kristin, embodying the WMDP team support)

She was awesome, and certainly encouraged me to move as well as I could muster.  We jogged through the twisty single track, gabbing about her son (Anders), our two pregnant teammates (Abby and Sara) whose due dates were just a few days away, Ashley's selection for the US Snowshoeing team, whatever we could think of to occupy the time.  Actually, it felt like a training run to share miles with Ashley, which got my head back a bit.  We slowly ticked off the miles - sometimes jogging, sometimes running, but at least making forward progress.  Ashley was a miracle worker to keep me moving and get me to that finish line.

(Finishing with Ashley)
Finally, we were on the last downhill and headed for the finish line.  I opened up my stride, knowing that this self-imposed torture was almost over.  At about 9 hours and 40 minutes after I had started my day, I had officially finished - I was immediately embarrassed with my efforts out there.

The highlight of the day was hanging out post-race with my teammates, as we eagerly awaited watching the rest of our team finish as we swapped war stories from our day.  Kelsey had run strong through the end, finishing just under 9-hours for 5th place female (1st in our age group).  I learned I finished 10th female and 2nd in my age group.  Kelsey Battige and Danielle had both done the 50k, finishing well - it was Danielle's first ultra! 

(Karin finishing strong - I love the sight of 'Western Mass' under the finish banner)

Karin finished strong, practically dropping her pacer Kate with her late race surge of energy.  Just two weeks after her 50th birthday, and she finished her first 50 miler.  She got 2nd in her new age group with that effort.  Nancy, also celebrating turning 50 (over the summer) finished the 50 miler, however she had a rough day and struggled to the end.  Luckily, she had an enthusiastic and prepared pacer in Kristin to keep her motivated. 

(Cheering at the finish with my teammates)

As the sun was setting, we watched Meghan make her way down the mountain and through the finish, with Jess pacing her in, as she finished her first 50-miler.  Meghan had attempted her first 50-miler at Bull Run Run this year, and got pulled on time at mile 37.  Watching her finish, the emotion of the day overwhelmed me, and I got misty.  It took her finish to remind me how incredible it is to run 50 miles in one day, and how much time and passion go into this endeavor. 

I was grateful to have been surrounded by friends on this emotional day.  While my race wasn't anything I am proud of, I was incredibly proud of my teammates who challenged themselves and overcame the distance to reach the finish line.  On a rough day, the WMDP ladies had a 100% finishing rate - showing our determination is strong!

(Meghan, early on during her first 50 mile run!)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Amy, we haven't met but I first came upon your name when researching the presi traverse. I was hoping to run into you at the VT50 after reading your blog but it sounds like you were busy! What a great race! I am considering starting a blog and as I Google other runners it dawned on me how awesome it'd be to connect those like minded women MUT runners! Living where I do I'm quite a distance from any other running clubs and surprisingly there are no trail running clubs in the Lake Placid area. In 2015 I hope to make it to some of the events you have participated (and won) in the past and it'd be great to meet and mingle, etc. Being new to the scene I can use all the advice I can get! I just wanted to reach out say "hi" and congrats on your running!