The week before Vermont 100 was incredibly hot and humid. While I was gladly tapering in this weather, I still have difficulty sleeping and found myself dripping with sweat anytime I wasn't in my office. As we drove up to Vermont on Friday, we watched the temperature gauge in the car hovering in the high 90s, and I started to get worried. As much as I was trying to stay hydrated, I weighed in for the race up 5 pounds from my usual weight, so I must have been retaining fluids. Camping out on Friday night was a sticky evening - I woke up several times covered in sweat.
(The beauty of Vermont)
Saturday morning dawned a bit chillier, but just as humid. As is tradition at Vermont 100, campers were awakened by 'Chariots of Fire' blasting from the loud speakers at 3am. We were even treated to a fireworks display on the next hill before our 4am start. In what was likely an omen for the day - somehow ants had crawled into my running shorts overnight, so when I got myself dressed, I literally had ants in my pants. I got at least one bite in a delicate area...it was not the way I wanted to start the day.
In the first few hours of the race, I ran easy and enjoyed the downhill. I passed the first hour with another racer, but quickly found myself alone. My mind wandered as I took in the beauty of Vermont, and as I reflected on the miles and hours of training that has gotten me here as well as the amazing people that I share those miles and hours with. I thought about my trip to Wales and what an incredible opportunity that was. I was simply enjoying the act of running. I was doing my best to ignore the heat and humidity, as my body was already covered with a sticky sludge of sweat.
Around mile 15, my hamstrings started to seize up, and my happy bubble was burst. My legs must not have been recovered from the World Championships if they were already tweaking out - that typically happened much later in the race so I was worried about having to shuffle for 85 miles. A few runners passed me as I settled into a much slower stride and shuffled along. At mile 22.5 (Pretty House), I told Brian's crew (Nick, Steph and Meghan, which I was sharing as crew for the morning), that I wasn't feeling it today and it would be a struggle.
Quickly after Pretty House aid station, my stomach started to rebel - again, this was happening too early. I felt nauseous and struggled to fuel and hydrate. Where I typically enjoy the runnable sections of the course and marvel at the beauty of Sound of Music Hill, I found I was favoring the climbs where I had an excuse to hike and spending too much time staring at my feet. Things were going downhill for me fast - I only hoped it would turn around. I did my best to channel thoughts of last year's race - knowing that everyone struggles at times, and that things turn around as quickly as they worsen.
(The crew set-up for Brian and I)
I got to enjoy the company of many runners as I dropped back in the pack and struggled to make progress. Luckily, I fell into stride with Nate as we crested Sound of Music hill, and he helped me put it into perspective - this might be a day where I let my 'dream goal' go, and just focus on earning a buckle...I should keep my head up, enjoy the day and the company of so many trail friends out there, and not feel disappointed if it wasn't my dream race day. With that pep talk, I cruised into mile 31 (Stage Road), and explained to Nick, Steph, and Meghan my newly adjusted goals. This would be a long day, but I was going to have fun and enjoy the day...but this might take me a while.
As I was leaving Stage Road, I saw Zac, a trail runner from Trail Monsters who was attempting to finish his first 100 mile race (it was his 3rd attempt). As I passed him, I patted him on the shoulder and told him to come with me - I needed the company. We used each other's energy to push through the next 10 miles - at times I would make us jog a small uphill, and at times he would tell me it was time to run at the top of a climb. It was great to have his encouragement there and I was grateful for his company. However, at the climb after Lincoln Covered Bridge, I had to let him go - he could cruise the flats and my seizing hamstrings weren't allowing me to do much of anything at this time - even a slow shuffle was painful and challenging.
Once I didn't have Zac's company, with the state of my hamstrings, I really thought my day was over. I slowly trudged up the Lincoln hill - I even stopped to stretch a few times, and sat down at the aid station at the top of the hill, utterly defeated and out of ideas or inspiration. I was trying to hold on for just 5 more miles until I could see my crew and tell them that I was officially dropping from the race. I felt guilty - my crew was driving up from home, and would be meeting me for the first time at Camp 10 Bear. I had recruited an amazing group of ladies who were basically new to the ultra and trail running scene - I got training buddies of mine who had been hearing my stories about these crazy ultras...I told them that if they wanted to live it for real, they should come on up! How could I now tell them - 'thanks for volunteering to be here, but you can go home now'?
With my crew in mind, I decided to give it one more attempt to salvage the race - I turned to 'Vitamin I' and crossed my fingers. As I walked down the hill towards Lillian's, I wasn't optimistic. However, just a mile after that, the painkillers kicked in, and I was able to shuffle again. Greg caught me at this time, and we worked together to cruise in to Camp 10 Bear (mile 47.6).
(Karin & Liz, scratching their heads wondering what they're supposed to do with the pile of stuff handed off to them. Luckily, they then found 'the binder' with my OCD instructions for everything.)
As I came through the crew station, I first heard enthusiastic cheering, and then saw a pack of ladies in florescent yellow shirts and pink flowers in their hair running towards me. My crew, officially 'Team Amy' according to the shirts they were wearing, was exactly what I needed to see. Once I saw them, I immediately knew that I was going to finish this race - they filled me with such enthusiasm and excitement that I was willing to suffer immensely to complete the 100 miles. After being weighed in (up 3 pounds - yikes) which lead to a scary chat with the medical folks, I gave my crew the run down of my status. It went something like this 'my hamstrings seized up over 30 miles ago, so I can only shuffle, I am already relying on Vitamin I, I feel like crap, things are going really badly...we're in for a long night - but I'm going to get this done!'. They hiked me out of the aid station with a pep talk about how 100 miles is never easy, and I just needed to focus and keep moving forward.
At that point, I started to break the race down into manageable chunks. I focused on making it up Agony Hill, then getting to Birmingham's where my friend Kenny was volunteering (and, as per our tradition, would have a beer stashed for me). I passed Zac about a mile before Birmingham's and at first tried to get him to go with me - but once I saw he couldn't respond to my pace, I at least filled him in on the secret to my success...sipping beer at mile 54 (and I hoped he actually had some when he went by!). After my few sips of beer (which amazed and confused the other runners around me), I was filled with energy and joy, and I ran strong for the next 5 miles until I saw my crew next at Seven Sees.
(Flanked by Team Amy's Alex and Karin, nothing seemed quite impossible)
I finally got a change of shorts at Seven Sees - the humidity had caused my shorts to chafe a ring around my legs (at the bottom seam), and chafe my entire crotch raw. With new shorts and newly applied body glide, I almost felt like a new woman. I focused on 11 more miles until I got a pacer. I did have a horrible incident of peeing in this section of trail (as earlier in the race, it was sludge), but it acted like lava on my chaffing crotch - and I waddled for a few minutes waiting for the pain to dissipate. Then, as I ran in and out of Margaritaville, buoyed by the cheers for Team Amy (my crew was recruiting everyone to cheer for me at this point), I knew I only had 8 downhill miles until I got a pacer. I caught last year's VT100 champion, Kathleen at around mile 65, and hiked up a short hill with her. It was great to share a few minutes with her, but seeing her typically strong hiking stride so hampered, I knew she was struggling. After we exchanged a few words of encouragement, I was off to cruise the downhill and pick up a pacer. I was sure, based on her history at this course, that I would see her again.
Returning to Camp 10 Bear, I was pleased - somehow I had turned around this horrible day. It wouldn't be the finish I had hoped for, but it would be a sub-24 hour finish. I was amazingly in 3rd place at the time - and I told my crew/pacers that they were supposed to do everything they could to keep me on the podium. After a quick weigh-in, where I was down 2 pounds (yay, the first time ever, in 5 VT100s, that I have ever weighed in below my starting weight!), I got my gear for the next section and was off to hike Heartbreak Hill with Liz. As Liz was checking what I wanted to eat for the hike, I requested a slice of watermelon - she looked at me and asked if I minded if she manhandled my melons...we all had a good laugh about that comment, and I knew I must be in a good mental space if I was appreciating the humor of the day.
(Liz and Jess - how could you not have fun with these ladies on your side?)
Liz, a recent college grad, is young and super enthusiastic, and exactly what I needed for the 70-78 mile section. I was mentally a bit tired, but she was so excited about the views and the trails and kept me in amazement of where we were and how we were doing. At one point, she was expressing how much fun this was and how she wished she could run farther with me...I told her she might be singing a different tune when I puke on her shoes in a few miles...she responded that she needed new shoes anyway, so it was all good. She was such a breath of fresh air. As we got to Seabrook, we were greated by Meghan and Victoria who were working the aid station - they gave me some enthusiastic cheers and sent us onward. The section from mile 75-78 are some of my favorite miles of the course, and Liz and I enjoyed cruising the single track through beautiful Vermont. Her energy had reminded me that this is why we run, and I was grateful for that.
At Spirit of 76, I would drop off Liz and pick up my next pacer Karin. At this point, my hamstrings were in some serious pain and my stomach was still a bit bloaty, but I was moving as best I could. I got a quick hug from the aid station captain Zeke, and Karin and I were off to take on the next section. After about 1/2 mile, we got to a trail junction with no markers directing us either way. Karin ran back down the trail a bit to see if there was anything we missed, but she didn't find any directional markers. We took the more obvious trail (maybe the other trail was a foot path and the course markers thought this was obvious?), and ran another mile or so without markers. I was getting nervous. When we popped out on the road, I knew exactly where we were - I had made a similar mistake when I was doing course checks, and I knew how to get back on course. We took of down the road - knowing we had just added a few miles to my day. As we merged back to the course (only a mile down the course for folks who had gone the right way), I was frustrated that folks I had gapped a while ago were now ahead of me. I had lost about 20 minutes of time with that mistake.
(Encouragement from Brian's pacer, Chad)
Quickly after that, I realized that we forgot to grab asprin, and I needed some. We started begging everyone who we saw to take pity on us. No one could help. Finally, Nick P. passed us, and like an angel, he offered me one of the two asprin he happened to have on me at the time. Karin offered him a potato chip in exchange - I don't think he was pleased with that offer, but he still gave me the asprin. (*Side note - I gave him a beer at the award ceremony - he sacrified for me and saved me out there...he told me the beer was much better than a potato chip.)
Karin and I raced daylight - I was amazed that the sun hadn't set yet in this section, and began to optimistically believe that I might make it to Bill's before sunset. If I could do that, it was possible I could break 20 hours - an unthinkable thought given my day. So, we ran when we could, walked when we had to, and kept steady progress. Karin, being an experienced runner herself, she knew exactly how to keep my mind occupied and thinking positive. She marveled at the views of Ascutney with me, and talked enthusiastically about our running team, the Western Mass Distance Project. The full moon rose just as we got the most impressive sweeping view of Ascutney (at mile 86), and the sun started to set quickly afterwards. I had to hike the climb up to Bills in the dark - but considering how my day had gone so far, it was great to make it to mile 88 in the daylight.
(Team Inov8's Alex 'Airplane Noises' Jospe and Amy - 2/3rd of Team Giggles, reunited for another epic adventure)
At Bill's, after one last quick weigh in (exact starting weight) and change of bottle, it was now time to run the last 11 miles with Alex. Alex, who is a member of the US Orienteering team (and a fellow Team Inov8 athlete), is a complete beast of a competitor, and I was excited to have her by my side to coax any energy out of me. Luckily, I was feeling pretty ok - because at several times during my run with Karin when I wasn't feeling great, I kept telling her that Alex was going to kill me out there...I was nervous with how it would go down if I didn't feel good. Alex kept me constantly entertained with her energy. First, it was her excitement about the beauty of the trails. Then, her dorsal fin came up the first time we saw headlamps ahead of us - if there was someone we could pass, she was going to make me do it, and she got really excited about reeling them in. Next, Alex pulled some energy chews out of her sports bra, and started to offer me some fueling covered in 'boob sweat'...and when I didn't immediately take them, she said 'here come the airplane', flew the chew through the air, and made airplane noises until I would down it. Luckily I was in a good mood and found this funny...at other times in the day, I might have wanted to slug her for that one.
At some point in all this silliness, we passed through Polly's - and with how I was feeling at the time I told her was going to run straight through...no need to stop. Looking at my watch, a sub-20 hour finish was possible, but I didn't have much time to spare. She traded off my bottle and we kept moving - 4 miles to go. We shuffled along, and I looked for excuses to walk (there weren't many) and she kept me shuffling/running on anything that wasn't as steep as the wall at Mt. Washington. We passed a few more runners. As we saw the 1 mile to go sign, I was excited to be almost done and kept running up the super steep climb as long as I could. After half a mile, I stopped to power hike for a second, and Alex exclaimed 'oh thank god'...seems she didn't want to run up that beast either. With 1/4 mile to go, we turned onto the final trail, saw the glowing milk jugs, and I cruised it in...happy to finish this day out in 19:53, 3rd female. Team Amy was at the finish line, completely enthusiastic and making noise as they had all day. I collapsed into a chair as they fetched me a beer.
(Team Amy reunited at the finish, and happy to be done!)
Somehow, I'd finished the race in the most unlikely circumstances. It was the hardest 100 miler I've done - I had to work hard for this one and nothing came easy today. It was an hour slower than last year's finish...but considering how my day went and how my body felt, I was pleased to only be 1 hour slower! With the support of my amazing crew and pacing team (Team Amy), I had such a fun experience and was successful in completing my 5th straight Vermont 100 miler. (I have to mention the yet-unmentioned Team Amy member, Jess, who is a newer ultrarunner but has a ton of ultrarunning smarts - she was the only real experienced trail ultra runner on my crew and was invaluable.) Brian had likewise struggled throughout the day, and finished 5th overall at 16:05, also an hour behind his 2012 finish.
Post race - we debated if we should head home or stick around for Sunday's awards ceremony. The concern was that we were both so chafed that we wanted to shower and hope to kill any brewing infection. We decided to head to White River Junction and hope we could get a hotel. After a few attempts, we convinced one angel of a hotel worker to take pity on our pathetic looking selves and take a shower. I don't know what plucked her heart strings - my pale face as I concentrated on not puking on her reception desk, the visible chafing marks around my legs from the race short I'd worn, the pathetic shuffle/walk that tooks us 5 minutes to walk the 10 feet from the door to the front desk, Brian's ginger walk as he tried to not rub anything in his crotch together for fear of further chafing in an already pussy mess down there, or the fact that it was 2:30am when we were having this conversation. Either way, this lady took pity and allowed us free showers to at least knock the grime down one layer and remove any grit (possible infection) from the oozing chafing that was covering a frighteningly large portion of our bodies. We both exclaimed as we looked at the damage on each other's bodies. About the only non-chafed portion of my body was my feet - which were happily protected by my Inov8 Roclite 268s and the new Maximum Protection Drymax Trail Socks.
All in all - Vermont 100 was a memoriable experience, thank in large part to Team Amy. Brian and I both earned our 500 mile buckles. While neither of us had the day we had hoped for, we both realized that our finishes are still to be proud of and we're pleased that our 'bad day' is still pretty darn respectable. I know I'll be back at VT100 in 2014 - it's just unclear if I'll return as a runner, or if I'll decide to crew, pace, or volunteer instead. Either way, it's an amazing event that has become an annual tradition and party for Brian and I!
(Trusty race shirt and Roclites, beer opener/finisher award, and 500 mile buckle)