Friday, July 25, 2014

Goodbye and Hello - Amy's Vermont 100 Race Report

Written by Amy Rusiecki

My Vermont 100 story, as always, started months before the actual race date.  Most years, it includes numerous high mileage weeks, some epic training runs, and a few nutritional mishaps.  This year, it included attending meetings, combing through numerous emails, and learning as much as I could about the behind-the-scenes of Vermont 100.  You see, this spring, it was announced that the current RD, the amazingly enthusiastic Julia O'Brien, would be stepping down and they were looking for a replacement.  I'm an ultra runner, I like hard work and dedication - and I am passionate about the Vermont 100.  I put my hat in the ring as someone who was interested.  A few months before the race, I was selected as the next RD for the Vermont 100. 

 (Myself as future RD, Jenny, the horse ride manager, and Julia, the current RD)

The first big decision was whether I would be racing or not - on one hand, I could learn so much by hanging out during the race and learning an aspect of the race that I never see.  However, the race committee certainly would understand if I wanted to run it one last time.  After much debate, I decided I would run the Vermont 100 this year.  However, the compromise was that I did arrive up at Silver Hill (the start/finish area) several days early to help set-up, volunteer, and shadow Julia.  While most of the VT100 runners were tapering and staying off their feet, I was running around, hunching over signs, and enthusiastically greeting runners, volunteers, and sponsors.  But, for the opportunity to run one the Vermont 100 last time, I didn't mind much.

(Studying the VT100 history books as we set-up)

It was incredible to see the transformation from an open field to the large infrastructure that is the start/finish area over a few days, and to note all the small preparations that the runners never see.  I am so excited to take on this responsibility next year, but also terrified by the enormity of it.  Luckily, the volunteers are amazing, and the race committee is fully committed to supporting the race - I know they will help out as I need and ensure the race continues on successfully!

(I may have sampled a few of the Chia Bars, whenever I got a spare moment)

One interesting story of note - as we were unloading gear and setting up on Thursday morning, a girl rode up on her bike, Hannah Roberts.  After chatting a bit, we learned that she was in the process of biking across the country - she left the Pacific Ocean in Washington in April, and arrived here in Vermont a day before the race, which she was planning to run!  She ended up finishing the 100-mile race in about 25 and a half hours!  Then, she had about a week left to reach the Atlantic Ocean in Maine.  I biked across the country, about 10 years ago, and can tell you that the thought of running a 100-miler, mid-trek, never crossed my mind!  I even recall sending my running shoes home after about a week - since I had initially thought I might run during my adventure, but quickly learned that I was exhausted after a day of biking and towing my gear.  I am incredibly impressed by Hannah!

(Hannah Roberts, pausing her cross-country bike trek to run the Vermont 100)

Anyway, after several days of work, hundreds of hugs with running friends, and a few precious hours of sleep, and I was lining up to start my 6th consecutive Vermont 100 - and my last VT100 for a while.  I proudly wore a bib that said 'future RD' while I raced, and had a goal to slap high fives with as many volunteers as I could.  For me, this race wasn't about being competitive and racing.  VT100 2014 was about running through the beauty one last time, seeing the race from the 'future RD' perspective, and personally thanking the volunteers that are so crucial to the race's success.

(Brian and I, ready to start!)
As usual, the race went out hard - in the darkness, I had no idea who I was near as we all jockeyed for space on the road.  I quickly fell into stride with Jason, who initially told me that (1) he was going to PR today, (2) he was going to do that by running a smart race, and (3) that would be accomplished by running with me.  I was grateful to have company for the early miles, as we chatted and passed the time.

(Jason and I, enjoying the early miles)

Running with Jason kept me honest, and helped me run a much smarter race.  We walked uphills early on, where it typically breaks my heart to walk that early.  We pushed each other to run again once we reached the top of a climb.  We reminded the other to hydrate and fuel.  The early miles seemed to tick by easily as we enjoyed the beauty of Vermont.  Before I knew it, we were past Taftville Bridge (mile 15), then through Pretty House (mile 21), up and over Sound of Music Hill, and onto Stage Road (mile 30).  It felt so easy and relaxed, like a training run with a friend!

Just past Stage Road, Jason was having a bit of a rough patch - not enough to slow me down, he just had a downswing in his energy level.  I kept him focused, doing most of the talking in that section and calling out the walking breaks and when to run.  I might have picked up the pace a bit, as I was excited to see my WMDP teammates at the Stage Road aid station!  However, while I had no illusion that Jason and I would run together the whole day - I wanted to stick with him for as long as it made sense.

(Jason and I - ironic that his shirt says 'pace team')
By mile 40, Jason was feeling better and I was having a downswing in my energy level.  The one bright spot in this energy low was running through the Lincoln Covered Bridge aid station where the Trail Monsters (who adopted the aid station this year) were full of enthusiasm!  We reversed roles as he took up most of the conversation, and helped to determine where we could run as we climbed up the Lincoln Covered Bridge hill.  By Lillian's (mile 43), we were both feeling good again and grateful for the company.

We cruised in together to Camp 10 Bear (mile 47) and I was so excited to see my friend Jen, who generously offered to drive up and crew me.  Jen had crewed and paced me through my first 3 100-mile races here in Vermont - she's awesome!  She's very detail oriented (so she makes sure I don't leave an aid station without the fueling I need), she's seen me at my worst with the puking and diarrhea in past races, and still always greets me with a huge hug and leaves me with an 'I love you!' as I leave the aid station.  I couldn't want to see her!!! 

As always, she had me in and out of the aid station in no time - getting me weighed in, giving me all the fueling I needed, and calling out 'I love you' as I continued on.  Ahhh...good times!

(Jen and I in the distance, walking out of Camp 10 Bear)

Quickly after the aid station, Jason caught up to me - his crew, while certainly very good, might not have been at the 'Nascar pit-crew' level that Jen is!  We again shared miles and stories as we ran along the Vermont roads.  At about 8:30, we passed the 50-miler marker - and I still felt relatively great (having run 50-miles, that is). 

Ever since about mile 7, I think Jason and I had only seen one other racer out there - so I was extra grateful for the company.  After mile 50, we finally started to see a few runners ahead of us as we passed a few 100 milers and 100k runners - it made me realize how lonely I would have been without Jason's company.

At Birmingham's (mile 54) is my favorite aid station - mainly because my friend Kenny Rogers always works that aid station.  We have a little annual tradition - he always has a nice cold beer there for me.  I ran into the aid station, with an extra bounce in my stride, happy to see the GAC crew (who adopted the aid station this year), and saw Kenny off to the side, cracking open a beer for me.  Jason and I shared a few swigs as we toasted the GAC crew.  It's been a great tradition and I was certainly grateful to do this one last time before I'm the RD!

(Enjoying a beer with Kenny, an annual tradition)

In the few miles past Birmingham's, I started to have a rough patch and felt my first unhappy belly of the day (which, for me, to last until mile 56 before I have stomach issues is a miracle!).  Luckily, Jason coached me through it as he encouraged me to drink and eat.  I was fortunate that this was on an uphill where I had an excuse to walk and get my nutrition under control.  I was passed for 2nd place female at this point, and Jason was perfect - reminding me to let her go and run my own race, it was too early to worry about it!

We were in and out of Seven Sees (mile 58) with a huge chug of coconut water, and an 'I love you' from Jen.  We quickly climbed up Prospect Hill and cruised into Margaritaville (mile 62) and I was already feeling much better.  Again, Jason and I shared stories as we ticked off the miles through Brown School House (mile 65) and were somehow already back at Camp 10 Bear (mile 70).  It all felt so seemless and fun!  At some point in this stretch, we got word that Brian was having a killer race - and was already through mile 77...a full 12 miles ahead of us! 

(Weighing in at Camp 10 Bear)
As I entered Camp 10 Bear, I heard Mike Silverman (the VT50 RD) on the mike announcing my arrival. It was great to hear the cheers, as I worked to weigh in and get my gear.  My WMDP teammate, Liz, was pacing me for the next section and was ready to go!  We leave the aid station with Jason and his pacer - we're quite the four-some.

Liz's enthusiasm fills me with energy, and I realize how well I feel for this late into the race.  It feels like a training run back home, as we cruise the single track and talk about our crazy adventures.  Before I know it, I'm running without the company of Jason for the first time all day - and we're about at Spirit of 76 (mile 77).

For the next section, I had recruited Darcy (who I ran with for almost the entire time at Cayuga 50 Miler) to pace me.  She is a strong and determined woman, which is exactly what I needed to get me through the next 11 miles - one of the toughest sections for me.  I gave Zeke (the aid station captain at Sprit of 76) a hug and then we were off.  I was beginning to really tire, but made steady progress as we powered ahead.  As at Cayuga Trails, the conversation came easily with Darcy - we both share a love for adventures, swapping stories about our past adventures or talking about the upcoming adventures.  My focus in this section was to make it to Bill's (mile 88) before the sun set, so I appreciated Darcy's constant motivation to take it one step at a time. 

(Focusing on the dirt roads, passing the miles - photo by Northeast Race Photo)

As we passed near the start/finish area (around mile 83), one of the aid station re-stocking trucks drove by and told me that Brian had just finished - the confirmed his time, he broke the course record by 6 minutes!  I was so excited to learn this!  I did happen to look at my watch, and realized that it took a whole 3 minutes from when he finished for the news to reach me.

Darcy is an incredibly centered person, and her talking about 'visualizing your successes' and the mind-body-spirit connection was amazing to pass the miles.  Somehow, we had cruised through my least favorite section and were on the climb up to Bill's (mile 88).  It was just past 8pm, and I was well ahead of the sunset!  Yay, it was a small victory.  I was excited as I checked in to the aid station, weighed in, and then picked up my last pacer, Carolyn.

(Loving the community feel of the VT100)
Carolyn is one of the most enthusiastic and positive people you'll ever meet, and is an aspiring ultra runner (she just has to graduate college first!), so I was very excited to be running with her through the last 12 miles and across the finish line.  Even though I knew I wasn't able to give 100% towards this race - what with my focus being on learning the RD side of things - at mile 88, I don't care at all.  I was running farther onto the course in the daylight than ever before, and I wanted to see how far I could make it before I turned on my headlamp.

It was around mile 92 when I reluctantly turned on my headlamp, and it was officially nighttime.  I don't know how to explain what happened, but once I was running by headlamp, I was so exhausted.  Maybe I pushed to hard as I chased the setting sun?  Was it metaphorical that without the sun I didn't have any energy?  Either way, I was 8 miles from the finish when I started to long for the end.

Despite this, Carolyn kept my spirits as high as they could be - telling me stories of her experience pacing at Western States 100 and talking about collegiate running.  I feel like I walked so many runnable sections as I was depleted.

(My WMDP teammates who volunteered in the morning, and crewed/paced me afterwards)

We finally made it to Polly's (mile 95), and for the first time all day, I sat down in a chair.  My crew tried to encourage me to get up and keep moving, instead a threw a mini-hissy fit as only a person worn down by 95 miles can.  They handed me my handheld bottle, and I opened the pocket, and started throwing all the fueling on the ground stating 'I don't want this, I don't want this' my mind, I was trying to lighten my load.  In their mind, they must have known what a crummy mood I was in.

After some coaxing, they got me on my feet and off down the road.  The only thing that would get me going at that point was the promise of a beer at the finish!  Carolyn and I walked and ran through the night, as I tried to just finish the race.  I figured a PR was out the window as I had been wasting time for over an hour now.  But, we kept moving towards the finish line, and towards a nice cold beer.

With 1 mile to go, I looked at my watch and was surprised to see that I could still get a new PR despite my slow closing miles.  I picked up the pace and 'sprinted' for all I had.  Poor Carolyn, who walked for hours with me through the woods, and was now chasing a crazed lunatic through the last mile.  Finally, the glowing milk jugs, and we were at the finish line - 18:47.  Good enough for a 100-mile PR, another 3rd place female finish, and 18th overall.  Oh, and good enough for a beer at the finish line.  However, I think I was most pleased about how many of the volunteers I got to personally thank and give high fives to throughout the day - I think I must have gotten at least 75% of them (and to the rest, my regrets!).

(Carolyn and I at the finish line!)
We hung out for a while, and eventually made it to our tent for some sleep.  The next morning, I was back in 'RD-in training mode' as I helped out as I could.  It was great to see my fellow runners and friends, and hear about everyone's accomplishments.  Jason, after running with me until about mile 80, ended up finishing in 19:15, good enough for a 45-minute PR!  I'm glad we both helped each other get PRs, and it's an experience that won't be forgotten - neither of us would have accomplished what we did without the help and support of the other.

After Julia (the current RD) was honored by the race committee and Vermont Adaptive staff, I was pleased to be handed the mike to congratulate the runners (and remind them to fill in the post-race survey which will help me be a better RD!).  After everyone left the post-race BBQ, Brian and I hung around and helped break down the site - watching as the dedicated volunteers took down the infrastructure that I had watched being built up only a few days prior.

At the end of the weekend, I was exhausted - from being a part-time RD and from completing the race myself!  But, I was energized by the enthusiasm and dedication of the volunteers, runners, and support crews/pacers.  As always, VT100 filled me with passion for the sport, and I can't wait to put my personal touches on the race moving forward.

(Being introduced as the new RD by Mike, a Vermont Adaptive volunteer)
As we drove home, completely exhausted on Sunday night, I said a 'goodbye' to Vermont 100 as a runner, and 'hello' to Vermont 100 as a Race Director.  I am excited for the challenge.
(For you VT100 runners, past and future, certainly reach out to me with any comments or suggestions for the future of the race.  I want to continue with the tradition of hosting one of the premier 100-mile races in the country.)
Julia and I were interviewed by DFL Ultrarunning Podcast, the interview is here:

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Amy. Congrats on a stellar time. I'm looking forward to my first time volunteering at VT100 this weekend. Can't wait!