HVNC Trail Race-October 2011
GAC 50K -January 2012
Peaks 50 Mile-May 2012
Virgil Crest 100-September 2012
Bradbury Bruiser-September 2011:
I learned something about trail running, about racing in general, and about myself on the Bradbury Bruiser course this morning. I've never been the fastest runner and until recently I've been satisfied with a middle of the pack finish and a morning well spent on the trails. But, as I've begun to take my training more seriously, I find my view of racing starting to evolve. I've come to appreciate the opportunity to peel back the layers of comfort, assurance, and perceived ability and find out what's underneath. And the twelve twisting, turning, tripping, spitting, miles of the Bruiser course present this opportunity in droves.
As the starting pack formed I placed myself a little closer to the front than usual, knowing that the first few miles of single track would be extremely tight. Pre-race energy filled the tingling autumn air. Ian said a few words of warning and with the clang of the cow bell 160 runners began the collective experience known as the Bradbury Bruiser.
I planned to run the first three miles hard to gain position, hold a steady pace between miles 3 and 9, and give it hell when I entered the treacherous, twilight zone-ish terrain of the O trail. The first aid station at mile three came sooner than I thought and as I prepared to take it down a notch I began to have second thoughts. I was feeling great, running fast, and enjoying every minute of it. If I was truly confident in my training why not go for broke and see where I end up? The old saying "No guts, no glory" popped into my mind (For the first time ever, actually. Turns out to be a pretty good motivator.) and I asked myself " Would you rather cruise across the finish after a "sort of" hard effort or risk blowing up at mile 11 and shuffling across the line knowing that you left everything you had on the trail. I dropped the hammer and ran for it.
The mile 6 aid station came and went and by mile 9 I couldn't believe how good I was feeling. I had thought that navigating the O-Trail would be one of my strengths during this race, hence my initial plan to build up my reserves for a strong finish. What I didn't anticipate was entering the trail from the opposite end that I was used to and running it backwards (I could have anticipated this pretty easily by glancing at the course map that the Trail Monster folks so thoughtfully provide on their web site, but for some reason I'd gotten it in my head that we were running it the way that I'd trained for it).
No problem. I told myself that the only way to blow what would be my best race to date was to get lost or to fall hard and break something important. The fall came about a mile in but I bounced back up and immediately back into stride with everything intact. With a mile to go I couldn't have been in better spirits. I'd exceeded my expectations of myself, I chose to push where I might have backed off, and I had earned what would assuredly be my best race performance yet.
Then it happened.
Coming around a bend I headed straight for two runners who were on a a trail directly below me. I apologized and realized that I must have bypassed a turn. I hadn't looked at my watch once during the race, worried that whatever data it displayed would throw me off of the perfect rhythm that I'd found, but I now glanced at it to confirm that I was where I should be, around 11 miles into the course. These two women were really moving and they quickly put some distance between us. But, as I came around a bend about a quarter mile down the trail we met again…in a clearing that was clearly not part of the course. We turned to each other to figure out where we went wrong. Soon after we heard someone yell out "You're off course! You're heading back towards the start of the loop!" We could hear the direction that this voice came from but couldn't figure out the best way to get to it. (If I'd known where the alternative would leave me I would have simply bushwacked my way through woods and dealt with my trail etiquette- race ethos, guilt later in the day).
Divided on which way to go a few of us, now joined by another pair of runners who found their way to this section of trail, headed down one path and a few of us down the other. We came upon course markings but couldn't tell which way we'd come from and which we was leading to the finish, only a half mile or so away. I told myself to trust in my intuition and run hard. As I passed the giant felled tree midway through the loop, for the second time, I realized my mistake. I also realized that a smarter decision would have been to calmly back track when I realized that I'd gone off course until I was absolutely certain that I was going the right way, eat the lost time, and run to the finish line, so frustratingly close to where I was fifteen minutes ago. We live and we learn.
I've envisioned this playing out so many times in my mind. Running the "perfect race", the one where it all comes together for you, and seeing it fall apart just a few minutes from the finish due to a wrong turn and thoughtless move.
A race is full of tests and the overwhelming majority of them are mental. Could I continue to enjoy and to appreciate the gorgeous stretch of single track trail laid out before me, the early September breeze breeze blowing through the trees, and the camaraderie of the other runners, both on the trail and at the finish line? Or would I spend the time beating up on myself. Recognizing my weakness exposed (or simply realizing that my legs were too tired to kick myself in the ass with) I made a choice. I put my mistake out of my mind, slapped a smile on my face, and my put my Montrail's to the mud to run as fast as I could, which at this point was pretty slow. I crossed the finish line in 2:16:36 after 13.28 miles and embraced the post-race atmosphere.
I enjoy seeing everyone unwinding after a race. Clear, radiant, and proud of what they've just accomplished. I love gathering at the line to cheer on the incoming finishers and making sure that everything that they need is on hand to ensure that they're post -race experience is a great one. I value being part of the trail running community and am fortunate and grateful for every moment that I spent on Bradbury Mountain this morning.
On the ride home disappointment began to set in. I was faced with the realization that I'd betrayed my training and all of my effort on this morning's course by ignoring one of the most crucial aspects of a trail race: navigation. It's one of the critical differences between running a road race where you couldn't get lost if you tried and running in the woods where you are responsible for finding your way back out. The Trail Monster crew did a fantastic job of marking the course, evidenced by the 150+ runners who found their way from point A to point B without tacking on an extra mile and a half. I took the successful completion of the course for granted, drifted into auto pilot, and it cost me a new PR and the satisfaction of seeing my name just a little bit closer to the runners whose times astound me after every race and make me want to work harder, dig deeper, and improve in my abilities.
So what did I learn this morning? I learned that if I can continually put in the necessary training to show up to a starting line with the confidence that I felt this today, that I can spend a fraction of that time reading over a map and coming to the race prepared. I learned that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and if I keep relying on the runners in front of me stay on course I'll find myself running in circles in races to come (and my " It's all good in the woods!" response to the situation may change the fourth or fifth time that this happens.)
And, as training and competing mirror our approach to accomplishing any of our goals in life, I learned this final lesson on the course of the 2011 Bradbury Bruiser. Anytime that I experience success without having taken all of the necessary steps to prepare for that success, it's just luck. And we only have so much of it.
Hidden Valley Nature Center 1/2 Marathon-November 2011 (Shortened to 10.50 miles due to trail conditions)
This morning I ran the HVNC trail race in Jefferson, Maine. Originally scheduled to be a half marathon the course was shortened due to the effect of last Wednesday's snow storm on the trails. This was a smart decision on the part of the race director as the sections of course that were removed would have posed serious risks for the runners. (This race was directed by Ian Parlin of Trail Monster Running. www.trailmonsterrunning.com
TMR hosts some of the best trail races anywhere. Period. This is a group that I'm proud to be a part of and I run with them every chance that I get.
Due to the modified distance and the very snowy trails I had no projected finishing time in mind. My plan was to stick with the lead pack for as long as I could, gain a position that I felt capable of maintaining for 10.5 miles, and hold that position until I crossed the line!
Over 40 people in all manner of winter running gear lined up at the starting line and with an "On your mark-Get set-Go!" from Ian we headed off into the woods. 7-8 runners immediately broke away from me and another couple passed me in the first mile. I wouldn't see them again until I reached the finish line.
I was able to put some distance between myself and the pack behind me and I found myself running solo for the next 4-5 miles. The course was so tranquil that I felt as though I were on a snowy winter run as opposed to a race. In fact, it surprised me to suddenly find three runners directly behind me. I told them to speak up if they wanted to pass and I soon found myself solo once again.
The miles passed slowly but in the best possible way. Each mile marker was a surprising reminder of how little ground I had actually covered. But in truth, I was in no rush to end this beautiful winter run.
As I passed the starting line to begin the second half of the race I heard Trail Monsters Ian and Emma cheering my name. This type of support goes such a great distance when you are in the heat of a race and I reflected on how deeply I value the sense of community that these races, and Trail Monster Running in particular, foster and develop.
I caught up with one of the runners who'd passed me earlier following a very steep climb at mile 7. Incidentally,this race made me realize how much I neglect hill training. The Watchung Winter Ultra, and MDI Marathon, and the recent Snow Shoe BadAss (a group run where we ran all three courses of the upcoming Bradbury Snowshoe series) made me realize the same thing. More hill work from here on in!
I hadn't planned to take a GU during this race (I don't usually eat anything until after the 2 hour mark) but I felt as though I'd run through my pre-race bagel by mile 8.5 and was in need of some fuel (and a few milligrams of caffeine!). 12 ounces of Cliff Mocha Gel did the trick and I felt ready to run strong towards the finish.
The last two miles of the course were truly gorgeous. I raced downhill through a stretch of technical trail and came upon a stunning lake with it's still winter waters mirroring the brightly shining sun.
The runner who'd passed me earlier was within view but I didn't think that I'd be able to reel him in. And honestly, I didn't think about reeling him in. I assumed that he would come in ahead of me and I was focused on picking up speed to put additional distance between myself and anyone making a final mile charge. (Maybe I need to hone my competitive edge? Or maybe I was just grateful to have run what I felt to be a strong race and to have discovered the incredible trail system at HVNC that I plan to fully explore this winter)
Either way, I found myself getting closer and closer to him and when it became clear that I could pass we shared words of encouragement and I ran the rest of the course at a strong and steady pace without another runner in sight. This kind of camaraderie is one of the many things that I have come to value
The crowd at the finish line must have spotted me coming down the trail. I heard the metalic clang of the cow bell before I saw the large group of runners, volunteers, and HVNC staff members cheering me in.
I can't end this report without a word about the volunteers on the course. From sincere words of encouragement, to details on what position we were in and what terrain we could expect ahead, to warm smiles and great vibes, these folks are the heart of any successful race. Many, many, thanks to all made this mornings race such a positive experience!
I wouldn't (and couldn't) have done anything differently this morning. What I could have done is altered my training to better prepare for the elevation gains and for the possibility of snow which I never considered until a foot of it fell down on us last week! I ended up finishing in 14th place out of 41 runners and 20+ miles of new trails to explore when I'm in the Jefferson area. Overall, a great experience and an excellent precursor to a winter of serious trail running!
GAC 50K -January 2012
As I pulled into the aid station at mile 24, grabbed two slices of "vegan ultra pie", and prepared to begin the fifth and final lap of the GAC 50k it was hard to believe that, just last night, I'd considered backing out of the event entirely. (Well, not entirely. I had committed to going down to MA with the other Trail Monsters....and I'd made a pie...so I was southbound either way. Just not sure if I'd be able to run.)
My Achilles tendon, the main reason I'd reconsidered running, didn't so much as twinge during the race. A reminder that the third factor in running a good race, aside from physical preparation and mental fortitude, is the alignment of the stars on race day. And every now and then they all fire at the same time....
When I woke in the morning and felt the familiar pain/stiffness in my Achilles I considered registering for the Marathon distance as opposed to the 50k ,and I wrestled with this decision halfway down to MA. Ultra running offers incredible insight into the workings of the human psyche...ultimately to the point where it becomes more and more difficult to bullshit yourself! I told myself all of the things that should have made dropping to a marathon an easy decision. " If this race is a kick-off to my upcoming school semester wouldn't a safer, more sensible, decision be a better reflection of my progress and development over the past year?" "Wouldn't taking an unnecessary risk demonstrate a lack of commitment to the development of X-City Running and the group runs that I'm gping to be leading?" " Running a trail marathon is still pretty damn tough! It's much harder than, say, sitting around, eating pancakes, and blogging all morning...that's it, I'm dropping down!"
Ultimately, though, when faced with this mostly sensible stream of logic, the words of a wise, old, trail running buddy, took precedence over all: "You've got to risk it to get the biscuit!" Funny how the mind works...
I picked up Nate at Back Cove and we talked about our running over the past year on the way down to Topsfield. I told him that I was wrestling with the decision to drop down to a marathon, and for a minute or two, you could see us both considering the possibility and making further justifications for it. It would make sense since we were carpooling...
I ended the mental wrestling match once and for all by proclaiming that I'd rather DNF at the 50k then succeed at the marathon. There's no going back from that one! My reason was as follows: If I attempt the 50k I'll likely run at least a marathon but if I register for, and complete the marathon, there's no way I'm heading back out to unofficially conquer the 50k. Decision made and ready to race!
It was warmer than I expected and I changed into a pair of shorts minutes before race start. Good choice! I jumped into the suddenly moving pack of trail runners ( soft-spoken race director? ) and headed out for the first of five 6.2 mile loops with sixteen sheet metal screws still screwed into the soles of my shoes. Bad choice! (I had prepared for patches of ice, much of which had apparently melted, and for 31 miles of trails, much of which was apparently pavement! An exaggeration...but there were more roads than expected.)
By the end of the first loop I felt one of the screws pressing into the sole of my foot. My ability to complete the race depended on my finding a trail runner armed with a screwdriver...and soon! Luckily, trail runners are a generally resourceful and fortuitously prepared bunch (except me who could have packed one in my drop bag...) and I was unscrewed and on the move by mile 12. Thanks guy in the Nipmuck marathon shirt packing the uni-tool! You saved my race!
I knew that the first three loops would pass easily and that I needed to focus on controlling my pace, staying hydrated and well-fueled, and enjoying the unbelievably gorgeous morning filled with warm sunshine, rolling golden fields, and peaceful single-track, before fatigue began to set in.
I was prepared for the mental and physical challenges of the fourth lap and knew that once I completed it, and successfully headed out for the fifth, that the 50k finish was a sure bet. I pulled into the aid station at mile 18 and swapped out my hydration pack for a hand held bottle and a Pro-Bar. (These are amazing 4 by 4 inch blocks of nutritionally dense and easily digestible fuel that I discovered I could not only stomach, but actually eat while in motion. They are 370 calories of all natural and raw ingredients (nut butters, dates, rolled oats etc. and provide a literal lunch on the run. I'd recommend the original flavor for starters and the Pro-Bar line in general)
I knew that I had to guard against the 26.2 temptation that this lap would present. I found myself faced with the same challenge at last years Watchung Winter Ultra, and the option to stop running and end the day with a respectable marathon finish and an afternoon of hanging out at the aid table rings strong by mile 25. I hit a low point halfway through the lap as anticipated but by the time that I ran through the start/finish for the fourth time I was feeling strong and ready to run the distance.
I had entered the race with the goal of breaking 6 hours. When I approached the clock at mile 24 and saw that it read 4 hours on the dot everything changed...
What was going to be an slow and (relatively) relaxing final loop had become my opportunity to break 5 hours in a 50k. Armed with two slices of "ultra pie" a Cliff Gu, and this new goal in mind I raced up the trail.
" I was clicking off 6:20's! I didn't care if I blew up!" - Michael Wardian, second place finisher at the 2011 UROC Ultra Championships
Well, it was more like clicking off 9:50's....but they felt blazing fast and I kept the pace up until mile 28...then I stopped. Completely. My legs had worn out on me and I knew that a short, brisk, walk break, a driving power hike up the steep single track ahead, and a steady run towards the finish was the only option to avoid slowing to an all-out crawl.
On the last stretch of road, a well utilized and very public walking path complete with children, strollers, joggers, bikers, and all manner of locals out enjoying the day, the peculiar sensation of suddenly finding yourself in the middle of someone's casual Saturday afternoon after running in the woods all morning was amplified tenfold. I realized that I must have looked absolutely exhausted while running at about a 12 minute mile pace and raised the question: "Why is that dude so tired?" in the minds of everyone who took notice.
As I approached the last quarter mile, my sub 5 hour goal extinguished by the 5:02 reading on my Garmin, but my sub 6 hour goal crushed and thoughts of my friends, the pie, and a strong cup of good coffee on my mind I felt fantastic!
I crossed the line in 5:05 to find Ian, Nate, Jamie, and Joe waiting for me. It was great to kick it with friends and share in the post race, endorphin fueled, back slapping, food fest, which is the real reason we run these things to begin with! Great race and a definite do-again in 2013. (With sub 5 in mind!)
|Ian, Nate, Me, and Jamie at the finish line of the GAC 50k|
Peaks 50 Mile Ultra-May- 2012
Writing this report on the Peaks 50 Mile Ultra-Marathon has been almost as challenging as running it. The experience that I shared with my teammates in the mountains of VT was nothing short of epic and the task of capturing it in a way that does it justice seems as tall as the trails along the Blood Root Loop and as hard as the final miles. All that I can do is approach it the same way that I approached the race itself: I'm going to break it down piece by piece and give it hell.
Disclaimer: Reading this report in its entirety is a feat of endurance unto itself and I would make the following recommendations to avoid a race report DNF. Build your reading base to the point in which you are digesting whole novels in single sittings. Read War and Peace in its entirety two weeks before you plan to attempt this. Taper the week before by avoiding all printed word……now READ!
Training: I registered for Peaks following two back-to-back training cycles, the first for the Mount Desert Island Marathon in October and the second for the GAC 50k in early January. Following GAC I forced myself to scale back the miles significantly for the month of January and head into a three month training period where I would make the following changes to my training plan: The first was to eliminate junk miles. Up until this point I was running 6 days a week with a mix of recovery runs sprinkled into a mix of race specific speed work, hill workouts, and long runs. The plan for Peaks was to focus on quality over quantity, avoid burnout and overtraining, and arrive at the starting line feeling strong, rested, and ready to run 50 miles up a mountain. The second change was to begin incorporating Crossfit, a core strength and conditioning with an emphasis on functional movements, constant variance, and short duration, high intensity workouts. Crossfit works to build increased general physical preparedness and because the description of the Peaks course couldn't be more general "scenic but very demanding" "rugged trail" I wanted to be damn sure that I was physically prepared.
From February to May I performed innumerable burpees, jumped on boxes, climbed ropes, and lifted heavy things. On alternate days I ran the most rugged trails that I could find (when my knee allowed) and focused on time on my feet on my feet on the flatlands when it didn't. On weekends I ran long amassing a handful of 20-25 mile runs, one 32 mile run (my longest to date and the result of me going off course at the 1 More Mile for Sunshine Challenge, and an average weekly mileage of between 40-50 miles. This worked out well for me and the only concern that weighed on my mind the week before the race was how good I felt-wasn't used to this directly prior to race day and was anxious to see if the reduced running volume and heightened emphasis on cross training would help me or hurt me on race day. That and my left knee which I'd twisted on one of my early long runs and had caused some serious worry right up until race start. The training plan would either work out or it wouldn't. The kn
ee would hold up or
it would give out. And, the answers to these questions were waiting for me in
the mountains of Pittsfield. VT. On the evening of Friday, May 11th I headed
south to find them…
Packed for Peaks...
"It never always gets worse"-Ultra-running legend David Horton
"I could be dying, and the next minute…I'm flying"-Badwater 135 competitor Nick Palazzo
These two quotes have pulled me through some rough "trail moments" over the years. When the body is racked with pain and the mind is skillfully reducing your goals by the mile quitting the race can seem perfectly justified. But at some unidentified point-it could be a minute or it could be a mile-things will almost always turn around. The legs will get a little lighter, the slow walk will evolve into a painful hobble, then grow into a something that resembles running. And not knowing when exactly this moments will come we grit our teeth, hang tough, and relentlessly press forward until it does. This race redefined tough moments for me, both those that I experienced and those that I witnessed others overcome with indomitable will and an unbreakable spirit.
Pre-Race: My friend Jordan had offered to provide crew support and potentially pace me for the last ten miles of the race. As we packed the car on Friday evening and began the drive to Vermont I reflected on the sacrifice's that friends and family have made to support me in this effort and the endless encouragement from all of my Trail Monster Running teammates in the days, weeks, and months before and a sense of gratitude overshadowed the pre-race anxiety that I'd expected to hit at any moment. We pulled into Pittsfield at close to 10p and settled into a little motel much like I'd envisioned my "pre-ultra" accommodations to look like. Frill-less to the max, the unmistakable "hotel smell "hanging heavy in the dampened hallways, and a small and dingy lobby where I convinced the manager to lend me his toaster for my pre-race bagel. We settled into our room, went over logistics for the last time, and turned off the lights at around 11 for a solid 5 hours of pre-race slumber. I awoke minutes before the alarm was set to go off and began the pre-race ritual. Toasted bagel with almond butter and bananas and the darkest of dark roasts in the French press, showered, dressed, and out the door. By 4:45 we were en route to Amee Farm and the starting line that I'd envisioned countless times along the rocky, root strewn, road to race day.
We arrived at the farm just as Andy and crew were setting up the registration tables. The morning was chilly, a fog hung heavy in the air, and the week of rain rose pungently from the dark and muddy ground. I scanned the crowd for my Trail Monster Running teammates and found Zak who had just arrived as well. He looked strong and ready to rumble as did Chuck, Ian, Val, Mindy, and Jeremy who soon showed up on the scene. I was proud to line up with these bad-asses all decked out in our team colors and prepared to take on the meanest mountains that Vermont had to offer.
The pre-race directions were a blur. I packed away all the essential information regarding course marking and aid stations while mentally focusing on that moment when it all begins….when the pack begins to move… when the experience that you've visualized, poured over, trained for, and found yourself consumed by for so long begins to come alive right before your eyes.
The First Loop:
5,188.8.131.52….and it begins. The race started with a series of mild climbs that most people were power hiking. I understand the logic of super-conservative starts during ultra's but the distance that you can put between yourself and the field in these early stages is extremely difficult for anyone to close later on. Building as large a gap between the majority of competitors as I could while my legs were fresh seemed like the best way to go.
The first section of the race was an overwhelmingly gorgeous loop covering the golden fields and secret backwoods trails of the Green Mountain. I had been nursing, rehabbing, and generally stressing out over the knee-injury that I'd sustained early in my training and these early miles would serve as my first indication of how it would hold up to the distance of the day. (I had already resolved to finish this race regardless and was prepared to walk the 50 miles if that was what it took ….but I came to run and wanted as hoped to hell that this wouldn't be the case.)
The second steepest climb of the race was located at mile 7, and it didn't disappoint. This was going to be the real deal, and in truth I wouldn't have had it any other way. I had mentally prepared for a course that was beyond tough and was prepared to get what I came for.
Following the back country beauty of the past several miles I found myself running alone along a winding road past quaint little farmhouses and modest homes that seemed perfectly at place in the hills of a small New England town. I had resolved to leave the GPS off for this race because a) the battery can't go the distance that I can (I always tell people that you're officially bad-ass when you're outrunning fully charged batteries-mostly as a joke but …hey, it's true and b) I didn’t want to focus on time, splits, and pace and instead wanted to approach this as a day out in the mountains using the aid stations to mark my progress along the way. So, when I realized that I was approaching mile 12 instead of mile 9 like I had thought it was a nice surprise. There would be many surprises to come over the next 13 and a half hours and very few of them could be called nice-so I appreciated this one to the fullest.
Seeing Jordan and the crew at the ABBA aid station was reassuring as I knew that this small red tent with dozens of drop bags piled nearby and tunes blaring out of the open windows of a parked car would take on a vastly different shape throughout the day. And we all would. As each of us engages in our pre-race routine there comes a moment when we glance into the mirror and realize that the course of the day would drastically alter the image that it holds. The freshly washed race-gear would be caked in mud, snot, and most likely blood. The confident yet anxious eyes would be hardened into a stare of determination. And the unforeseen and unforeseeable carnage that would be inflicted on our bodies would stand clear in the light of the following day…. it was good to see the aid station in place at mile 12 because this shit would matter at mile 37!
The next section of the course was a 6 mile out and back that would find us back at the aid station before beginning the 20 mile Blood Root loop. It was on this section that I got my second, and next to last, "nice" surprise of the day. I was power hiking a steep section of trail when I noticed a woman in a bright green tank top, rainbow gators, and a big pair of HOKA's doing the same in my ever present race rearview (I wasn't racing this one competitively-just don't pass me!). We were clearly taking the same approach on this section, walking even the milder climbs and running the flatlands easy and enjoyably for what may be the last time before the killer hills of Blood Root took our legs out and removed the word "easy "from the day's vocabulary.
Having spent the past few hours running solo I slowed down a bit to see if this was someone I'd be down to run with or someone that I'd need to run away from (you meet some interesting people at these things and there's nothing worse than an evenly matched but all-out crazy "ultra-friend" that you can't seem to shake). Turns out that Larisa, a highly skilled runner who was preparing for her third VT 100, offered some excellent trail company over the next 4 miles of the race. We had a lot in common including our love for bushwhacking and a shared interest in Ancestral health and Paleolithic nutrition,(we had the most passionate discourse about sweet potatoes …ever. The miles flew by (literally, she's really fast) and we ended up back at the aid station packing our bags for the descent to Blood Loop. I was in and out of the station before her, eager to see for myself what this notoriously brutal trail was all about.
Armed with melon and ready to take on the Blood Root Loop!
Blood Root: The start of Blood Root was similar to being thrown into a Lions Den-not a bad looking place if it weren't for the lion that would assuredly pop out at some point and tear you to shreds. I couldn't remember at what point the climb was supposed to begin and as I tried to extract this information from the pre-race instructions that I'd received this morning I heard a rustling on the trail behind me. It was the Kona's and their very fast owner Larissa cruising down the trail. As much as I enjoyed Larisa's company I had looked at the Blood Root experience as one that would test my deepest limits as a runner and I prefer to suffer alone. Besides, she was running at such a strong pace that I couldn't have held onto her for long before falling back with the energy that I'd conserved for the final miles long since spent. (She ended up crushing the course in 11 hours for a 2nd place women's finish). I dropped back and she was soon out of sight.
Shortly before reaching the start of the climb I felt an unfamiliar twinge in the side of my knee-suddenly it bit down on a nerve and into the inner meat of my left leg in a full blown cramp. I stretched my leg until it passed and mentally readied myself for what would assuredly be the toughest hill that I've ever faced off against. It was not as sharp a climb as I'd envisioned but it seemed to stretch on endlessly and with each passing minute a new group of muscles gave out and began to shake in spasms of intense pain. I had never experienced cramps this severe and about halfway up the climb I found myself unable to bend my legs, first one then the other, and had no choice but to stop, wait for the cramping to stop, and begin to push myself to the top of the hill. When I saw the trail leveling off I half expected this to be a plateau and to find myself at the base of yet another hill. But it wasn't. I had arrived at the highest point of the course and the approximate halfway point and was able to smile through the pain as sat down to stretch the best that I could and begin the second phase of the increasingly difficult journey.
The trail leading back to the base of Blood Root is as steep a decline as you can imagine. I would have loved to bomb down this but the spasms in my legs slowed me to an awkward hobble. I remembered Larisa describing the second half of this loop as a beautiful stretch of mountain bike trails and, yet, I remembered Andy describing them as "a war zone". I knew that I was in for either one extreme or the other, but most likely or a combination of the two.
Super cramps, thirsty dog, and the Nuun tab that saved my life: You head into these things knowing that there's going to be a low point. One that stands out above all other challenging moments and calls on you to dig deeper then deep and out all of the tools in the mental shed to turn it around and continue the relentless push towards the finish. Mine came at mile 28 when shortly after regaining my stride and reducing what I had assumed to be electrolyte induced cramping with a couple of Nuun tablets that I'd added to my water. I'd never used Nuun before opting to go the natural route with coconut water. I inquired about them at the Maine Running Company and Seth, who I've gotten to know a bit through my many trips into the store, offered me his nearly full pack of coconut flavored tablets to try out for the race. I really appreciated this gesture and now, at the mid-way point of my first 50 miler they were literally saving my race. I thought about this as I began to get my legs back and sink into the comparatively comfortable groove of the flat and lush green section of trails that I found myself suddenly blessed by. Then it happened….all this thinking of Nuun and electrolytes, and water got me thirsty and when I went to take a pull from the hose of my Camelback I got nothing but air in return. I tried again-nothing. The pack was bone dry. I had traded in my heavy old MULE pack with the 100 oz bladder for a 70 oz alternative and thought that I had more than enough fluid to last me until mile 31 where Jordan would be waiting with lunch and a coconut water. It turns out that I was pretty far off the mark. I began to get nervous considering the likelihood of the cramping returning and the affect that this would have on my pace and ability to get to Jordan before the increasingly present sunshine and whatever elements of a "war zone" the rest of the loop presented got to me.
Deep in thought and considering my almost empty pack I tripped on a root and slammed into the ground face first. I landed in such a way that my left calf muscle was pulled into hyperextension and the intense pain of a Super Cramp gripped my whole body and left me yelling out while grapping the throbbing muscle and pounding on it to stop. Each yell that escaped my mouth was louder than the last-partly because the pain continued to grow to an unbearable crescendo and partly because in the back of my mind I secretly hoped that Jordan was somehow near enough to hear me and would come running in with my brown bag full of food and cold, sweet, coconut water. No dice.
It was at this moment that I realized, for the first time in any race or run that I was in real danger. The sun was beating down on me, I was nearing dehydration, and the cramping was slowing me down to the point that I couldn't calculate how long I would have to run in this condition. On top of that I didn't know exactly how far I was from the aid station or what challenges lie along the trails ahead. Something resembling survival instinct kicked in and I locked my eyes on the trail, cleared the fear and doubt from my mind, and replaced it one this: focus. In a moment of desperation and a fear of a severe electrolyte imbalance resulting in even worse cramps I took out another Nuun tablet, and reluctantly popped it into my very dry mouth. I began to gum the thing until it finally dissolved like a hot fizzling pile of coconut flavored pop-rocks against my swollen tongue. Low point for sure…
It was in this state that I covered the next 30-45 minutes of trail before emerging on a road. A man was standing about 100 yards away and as I approached him his dog began to snarl and bark at me…I was in no mood for this craziness and shot him a look that told him so. But, when he mentioned that I was less than half a mile away from the aid station I couldn't help but smile with relief. I could taste the cold coconut water and the thick black bean and corn soup that was waiting in my bag. I could see Jordan's reassuring smile peering out beneath his bushy beard. I could see a turning point in this race when I needed it most and I ran as hard as I could until the big orange water coolers of the mile 31 aid station came into view. I must have looked awfully scary and halfway deranged as I tore open the brown paper bag and collapsed on the grass to taking deep gulps of coconut water between bites of a classic pb&j ultra sandwich from the aid station. Over the next five minutes I ate a can of soup, two sandwiches, a plate of Lays potato chips (my first in over three years) and washed it down with a can of Coke (my first soda since mile 30 of the Watchung Winter Ultra back in 2010.)n Then slowly it happened-I…came…back…to…life!
Two people had passed me during my ten minute "lunch-break" and as I thanked Jordan and the volunteers for being there and packed an "emergency apple" in my pack I wondered if I could catch them. I ran out onto the road feeling surprisingly strong and saw one of them a quarter mile up the road. He was walking and would likely have preferred to keep it that way until he spotted me in his rearview and began shuffling his legs back back and forth in an awkward but undeniably admirable attempt at running and disappeared behind a turn in the road. He was soon out of sight and I had to put him out of mind if I wanted to reach mile 37 feeling strong and ready to rock the last 13 miles. Despite a tougher than tough climb that took me by surprise and induced the super-cramping in full force the next 6 miles went by smoothly. The trails were gorgeous, the finish line was on my mental radar, and I looked forward to the next and final stage of this journey and the solace of reaching the last loop and knowing that I would complete my first 50 mile on either side of sunset in just a few hours. I didn't remember the descent into the Blood Root Loop being so steep-the climb up and out to the ABBA station was a tough one but the colorful signs and banners posted along the trees by the volunteer crew kept my spirits high as I climbed my way to the final stop before the finish line.
The Final Miles: Mile 37 included a quick shoe change, and another PB&J washed down with Sprite while Jordan helped me stock restock my pack. I cruised down the three mile stretch of road feeling strong and eager to see what this 10 mile loop that the longer races were held on was all about. I pulled into Amee Farm and with the encouragement of Andy and Jeremy's amazing partner Allison I prepared to seal the deal with a ten mile trek to the finish. Jordan and I headed out fast but I explained that I would be taking the 3 mile climb ahead slow and steady and then running hard when I could, power hiking when it proved faster than running, and maintaining forward movement at all costs no matter how slowly that movement took place. The climb to the final aid station at mile 3 was steeper than I anticipated and the huge amount of respect that I had for the efforts of the longer distance racers only continued to grow with each hands on knee push off towards the little hut in the sky. When we reached the station we met a man camped out in a chair and looking to be in rough shape. He explained that he was dropping out of the 100 "if he could just get himself off of this mountain". I offered up some of my Gu's which he eagerly accepted and wished him well as I took off down the trail.
Aid station at mile 43
Post-race props, a moonlight hike, and the morning after: I waited at the line to congratulate the runner that I'd passed, embraced Jordan with the sweatiest, smelliest, and most appreciative bear hug that I could squeeze out, and scanned the field for my team who I couldn’t wait to see. Within minutes we were all sitting around a camp stove with packed plates of food and trading war stories…and as I saw the shared respect and mutual admiration that was evident in each of our eyes I was nothing short of overwhelmed by the power of this moment. As we set a strong pot of dark coffee on the stove and the sun sunk down over the mountain's all thoughts turned towards Val and Mindy and Jeremy.
All throughout the day I thought of my teammates out on the course. It would be ridiculous to think that they were "having fun" out there but I truly hoped that each of them was getting the experience that they came for. Though many similarities exist there is something deeply personal that drives every individual to the starting line of an ultra-marathon. I sincerely hoped that everyone on our team was having a Soon four sets of headlamps appeared in the distance and we all rose to greet what we hoped would be the last members of the 50 mile team. The first to come into clear view was Rick and my heart jumped when I saw the bad-ass two some of Scout (Val) and Squirrel (Mindy) come up the hill and cross the line. Hugs, congrats, and big plates of food abound as we celebrated the days success. Just then Jeremy came running across the line after completing his 5th lap…my focus shifted immediately from post-race celebration to mid race support for a member of our team whose efforts in VT have inspired me beyond words and impressed me beyond measure.
I spoke with Andy about camping near the aid station to be close to Jeremy throughout the night and he provided directions for us to park and hike into the trails from a nearby access road. He also mentioned another small cabin near the trailhead that we could use if need be. We packed the car, said our goodbye's to everyone who would be staying near the farm and supporting Jeremy throughout the night, and headed for the hills. Jordan parked his car next to the trailhead and planned to get a few hours of sleep in the backseat before our 4 am departure.
I packed the stove, some coffee for the morning, and a few essentials and strapped on my headlamp en route to the aid station via the directions that Andy had given me. I hiked up along the steep trail that he had described and turned right at what I assumed to be the juncture that he mentioned. I continued up the trail for 15 minutes but saw none of the markers that would signify me closing in on the station. Soon I found myself a half hour out from the car with no clear idea of where I was going and exhaustion beginning to set in on me. It was close to midnight and with the knowledge that the rest of the team would be there for Jeremy throughout his journey towards a 100 mile finish I reluctantly turned around. Back at the cabin I laid my sleeping bag under the stars, reflected on all that I had experienced that day, and dozed off for a few hours of shut-eye in the dark hills of the Green Mountains.
I awoke two hours later and took Jordan's car back to the Farm in the hopes of catching up with Jeremy and the rest of the team. It turns out that I had missed him as he headed out for his seventh h lap but seeing the TM mobile out I the lot and knowing that others were pacing him out there and would be out in full force until he finished eased my mind. Over the next two hours I experiences several moments of ultra-proportions. I saw runners come into the station with headlamps blaring and suck down quick cup of soup as I refilled their bottles-then back and out into the dark without a word. I saw runners drop out of the race and others who were bloodied and bruised by recent falls wrestling with themselves about whether to head back onto the course or pack it in. I saw a couple who were tethered together by a harness finish their race, untie the rope that had bound them together for the past day and a half, and hold each other tight, I saw the human spirit stripped bare and standing before me in the iridescent light of headlamps and, headlights, and the eerie glow of the aid station at close to 4 in the morning.
The time to depart approached and with a last mug of coffee poured, two chicken wings and a banana to present as a gift to the sleeping Jordan who I would soon wake for our trip back north, and a final look at the Farm where so many memories were made I pulled out of the lot for the final time.
For me, the race didn’t officially end until later that morning when I saw the following Facebook post from fellow Trail Monster Ryan Triffit:
That. Just. Happened.
Jeremy at the finish line with belt buckle in hand
That was it, the race was over, the team was in, and now…sleep.
Much respect and much love to everyone who participated in the Peaks 50 Miler and to everyone who made this unforgettable experience possible. Looking forward to the next one…
100 moments, 100 miles: A Report from
the Virgil Crest Ultra-Marathon
ribs, sweet potato fries, collard greens, and cornbread at Hairy Tony's. Good
conversation, words of wisdom, words of warmth, delicious memories and plans for
a post-race return.
45. Ran my favorite section of the course over rolling and lush green single track as the post-rain
sunshine peeked through trees and spilled onto the trail. Enjoyed this moment to the absolute fullest
97. Jordan finished his first 50k after an early mile injury forced him into painful slow-mo for most of the race. Another incredible example of the mental toughness that need and the mental toughness that you gain to accomplish these things. Congrats brother!
100 moments, 100 miles: A Report from
the Virgil Crest Ultra-Marathon
1. Abandoned plans to run small distances and lift large weights this summer. Registered for the Virgil Crest Ultra-Marathon instead.
2. First long run of 12 miles after recovering from a stress fracture reminded me that I love, absolutely love, to run trails.
3.Ian called out to me from the lawn chair which he'd collapsed into directly after running the Vermont 100 in 21 hours. I thought he was going to ask me to get him a soda. He asked if I had support for Virgil Crest instead.
4. A planning session with Ian over burnt burgers and strong coffee. Maps, charts, and graphs. An offer to pace me for 42 miles through the night. A runner that I have a ton of respect for becoming a friend that I could never have done this without.
5. Long runs on roads, quad crushing hill repeats. 20 milers. Running 14 miles to the starting line of a 6 mile race trail and then racing it, power hiking the meanest climbs that I could find and dive-bombing down them. 25 milers. Running under the moonlight and alongside galloping horses while pacing Jeremy at the Vermont 100 Endurance Run. 30 milers. Packing 5,000 calories worth of fuel and a ten dollar bill into a waist pack and heading out at sunrise for a sunset return. 53 miles. 25 miles. 20 miles., 12 miles., Taper time….
6. Text from Jordan "Just registered for the Virgil Crest 50K!" Road trip.
7. Asked Mindy to come with me to N.Y She said yes.
8. Gear, food, supplies packed. Early morning freak out due to Jordan being late. Hit the road.
9. Nervous energy. A perfectly timed call from Jeremy to say good luck.
10 Eating lunch from an aluminum tray in the parking lot of a Shaws's in MA. Horns honked, a guy smoked a cigar, and the sun beat down on the blacktop. Ate quick and beat feet for N.Y.
11. A 16 oz cup of Starbucks dark roast in my hand. The windows down, the music cranking, and Mindy's head on my shoulder, 3 hours to Virgil.
12. The fire station and a bunch of green hoodie wearing, ultra running bad-asses from the mountains of Maine. George, Squirrel, and Scout registering for their 50 mile "fun-run" Rick and Ann supporting the team.
13. Took a pre-race picture, dug the pre-race shwag, snubbed the pre-race dinner, followed George and company to greener and greasier pastures.
15. Holy Shit. (The view of the Alpine Loop from the very, very, bottom)
16. Arrived at The Love Den, our uber-posh rental where Ian, James, and Joe had race-prep fully underway.
17. Logistics covered, drop bags packed and repacked, a walk under the starts to clear the head, sleep.
19. Oatmeal with loads of almond butter, shredded coconut, raw nuts and fresh fruit, Coffee. Shower. Battle-ready.
20. Group pic and out the door.
21. The longest walk to a race start....ever.
22. "I don't know if you ever feel "ready enough" for these things but if there was ever a day for me to run 100 miles this is it"- Me to Jordan on the dark and winding road to race start.
23. The longest wait for a race start...ever.
25. 3,2,1...It's on.
26. Almost ran straight into a tiki torch.
27. Circled the lake for the first time and looked forward to heading into the trails.
28. Glanced behind me to see a string of glowing headlamps lining the paved path around Hope Lake. Glad the journey had officially begun. Glad to witness everyone embarking on their personal adventure. Glad that the majority of them were behind me...
30. Pulled into Gravel Pit, the first aid station, where I planned to hand of my headlamp to Ian or Mindy. They weren't there yet. Good....
31. Out of the aid station, back into the trails, directly into a nest of wasps.
32. A black cloud swarmed my right leg, stung me 8 times, flew down the back of my shirt and stung me again as I flailed around smacking my back. Then one stung me on my head.
33. I talked with another stung runner who was nervous about allergies. Spent the next mile questioning whether I was feeling weird from being stung 10 times, feeling weird because I was 5 miles into a 100 mile run and fully aware of that fact, or not feeling weird at all.
34. Realized I was running my first 100 mile race while holding up my shorts which were inexplicably falling off of my waist.. (They fit well a few weeks ago....maybe all the running?) Planned to swap these out at the next stop and splurge on compression shorts for the next ultra.
35. Pulled into Lift House 5. to Ian saying "You're fast man. You should slow down". Changed my shorts behind the porta-john, filled up a water bottle, and climbed up the Alpine Loop for the first time.
36. Steep climb,,,and another....and finally the infamous stretch of straight -up single track that I'd read about in so many race reports. Enjoyed a beautiful view at the top followed by a nice downhill stretch which, against my better judgment, I bombed as hard as I could. Gained a few positions for my efforts and held them for the rest of the race. (The plan at this point was to run hard until the wheels fell off, keep running hard until the whole wagon fell apart, and then drag the pieces through the mountains and across the finish line. And that's pretty much how it went…)
37. Picked up my waist pack and headed out to the road with a half marathon behind me and the 25 mile turn around at Daisy Hollow on my mind. Ian said "You're going up hill again". This surprised me- for some reason I had anticipated, and mentally prepared for, a downhill stretch. It ended up being the toughest part of the course and one of the low points of the race.
38. Legs started to wear out on me. This didn't happen once during the Peaks 50 (aside from cramping I felt physically strong the whole way through,) and I regretted not jumping on more boxes, squatting more heavy loads, and flipping more tractor trailer tires throughout this training cycle.
39. Stopped to stretch my legs out on a tree-about 6 times. The stretch stops paid off and the pace picked up as the rain came down.
40. Deja' Vue at Daisy Hollow: Pulled into Daisy Hollow in the cold and steady rain about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. I was grateful to see chicken soup (the first hot food of the race) and sandwiches. I stretched out on the cold and muddy ground and had the most incredible case of deja vue. The rain, the aid- station, the faces of the volunteers, this entire moment crystal clear in my mind from a vision or memory or a dream. Plenty of time for philosophizing on the way back...
41.Headed out from Daisy Hollow hard with a sub 11 hour 50 suddenly on my mind.
42. Raced the next 25 miles like I was racing the 50 mile runners.
43. Thought about what a nice 50 this would be.
44. Never once questioned whether I would or could finish the 100. (The DNF stats from previous years confirmed my fears of running a double-out-and-back 100. Sure must be nice to be back at the hotel with a solid 50 behind you as the sun sets on the lake and the smell of dinner fills the air....)I wondered if this temptation to quit would sneak in through some mental window left open by the past 11 hours of running. Thankfully it didn't
sunshine peeked through trees and spilled onto the trail. Enjoyed this moment to the absolute fullest
46. Chatted with a runner from Montreal who was dropping at 50 (he hurt his knee). He was friendly, had run a bunch of 100's, and was good trail company. Until...
47. He casually mentioned that I was "a good rabbit" I have to admit that in my mid-ultra state of mind I took this to mean that he was running the 100, had pressed me harder than I realized (the pace of the last 25 miles was starting to set in on me) while he took it easy reclining in my shadow. He would assuredly drop the hammer as we emerged from the trails and onto the paved path leading to the race start, blow in and out of the aid station, and smoke me in this race. I dropped the hammer first.
48. Realized that running all day makes you (me) a little paranoid as my friend slowed down, wished me well, and prepared to drop out of the race and sit down to dinner just as he said he would.
49. All of my "feel-good" from the last 25 miles was suddenly gone....with a 1/2 mile to go until I reached Mindy, dinner, and the halfway point of the race I bombed out and had to do a super-slow ultra-shuffle around the lake and across the line
50. Mindy's smile was sweet, sitting down for a minute felt great, and the plate of hamburger s (no bun) topped with avocado slices and tomatoes alongside several turkey roll-ups with small piles of hummus surrounding it all was one of the most beautiful things that I'd ever seen.
51. Packed a burger in a plastic baggie, woofed down a slice of banana bread for good measure, and hit the trails for the second 50 miles of the race feeling super strong and ready to run!
52. Ian geared up and waiting for me at mile 54.
53. Sharing moments from the past 12 hours with Ian as we rocked and rolled over the first stretch of trail and onto the road at dusk.
54. Scout, Squirrel, and George coming down the trail and closing out at kick-ass 50 miler together!
55. Headlamps on.
56. Began our first pass of the Alpine Loop together. Black sky, small bright stars, and cool fall air moving in.
57. Climbing up the mountain towards Daisy Hollow for the last time. Yellow ropes hanging off of the steepest sections, Ian keeping me on trail at several critical junctures, both of us possibly entertaining the thought of a 24-25 hour finish in the very backs of our minds....\
58. Ran the smooth trails fast (well...mile 70 fast) and tried to not fall off the mountain in between.
59. Rain poured down.
60. Rain poured down harder.
61. Chased down several runners on a rain soaked stretch of single track in the deepest darkest part of the mountains in the deepest darkest part of the night. Traded positions a few times in an epic race battle that I won't ever forget. Man...what a moment.
62. We figured out that I was currently in 8th place
63. Approached the Rock Pile aid station and, suddenly, started to not feel so good.
64. A handful of gummy worms at Rock Pile. Surprised that Ian passed on the pirogues. (He really liked them when he ran this race last year) Off into the woods.
65. Body-rocking nausea. Slow going and slowly going slower.
66. Hot spots on my feet going from a slow burn to an angry sizzle. And getting hotter...
67. Increasingly sick from everything ultra. The sugar, the gels, the bars. The cookies, the candy, the broth. The taste of another s-cap washed down by nuun and sliding down my throat. The cold wet clothes soaked in rain and sweat and stuck to my body. I was shivering. This stretch was going to suck....but as long as we moved forward we would move past it. Leave it behind. And at some point, hopefully, bounce back from it.
68. Ian mentioned James. Why hadn't we seen him on the rebound yet? Was he okay? Was he off trail? He should have passed us a while ago...
69. Thought of my Dad who passed away a little over ten years ago. I wonder what he would think of these races. Would he respect it? Be proud of me? Or dismiss it as crazy? My Dad didn't talk much but one thing that he said, over and over, when life got hard and tough got tougher was "This too shall pass". I shared this with Ian as I held onto these words through a very low point in the night.
70. James! The beam of a headlamp peered through the trees and I knew immediately that it was him. He looked strong sporting that "I'm going to get your ass" smile that he races with. Apparently he hit a low point, bounced back, and was officially back in chase mode. Go get 'em brother.
71. The flames of a campfire, the glow of tiki torches, the sights and sounds of Daisy Hollow approaching.
72. Mile 75. I had looked forward to this moment throughout the whole race. I thought that a finish would be in the bag at this point, that if I had to crawl the last 25 miles then I'd crawl, but no matter what, I would finish. What I never considered was the possibility of passing out and being pulled off course. And I was this close to passing out as we headed back down the trail for the last stretch of the race...
73. My stomach began to slowly settle and the sickness ever so slowly began to fade.
74. The fire in my shoes blazed on like an inferno.
73. A slip on a slick rock sent me knee-cap first into something sharp and hard. For a second I thought I shattered my knee. I wondered if I'd be able to move once the first powerful wave of pain blew past and I envisioned leaving the woods on a stretcher with a DNF at mile 82.
74. Realized that my knee still worked and that if I could avoid falling off of the mountain during the technical passes or sliding down the mud-slopped peak of the Alpine Loop and breaking my neck, that I was only 18 miles away from my finish. But everything on me was breaking or broken at this point and it would be slow going form here.
75. Power hiking…
76. Ian asked if I would have trained differently for the race. Yes. Just as I realized early on in the race more of the functional strength training that I emphasized prior to the Peaks 50 and which left me feeling strong the whole race through would have been hugely beneficial. Unfortunately, it had been a crazy couple of months and my schedule just didn't allow for me to maintain the cross-training volume while increasing the mileage for this race.
77. Approaching the Alpine Loop for the final pass. Preparing my mind for what was going to be a painful, painful couple of hours. Preparing my strategy for a quick aid-station stop (once we started hiking up that climb there it would be all out forward motion until the finish and I wanted to be sure that my last stop at this drop bag before heading out for the last 9 miles was well utilized
78. I couldn't believe what I saw when we approached the familiar glow of the aid station. There was Mindy with a smile on her face, a French press full of Alanzo's Double Dark, and a bowl of the most delicious oatmeal that I'd ever seen. At 3 something in the morning in the mountain of New York. Man…
80.Late night -ultra carnage by the campfire. Several camp chairs surrounded the fire and were filled with dropped or dropping runners. Despair and accomplishment combined under the late night sky
81. Hiking boots. I'd packed my timberland hiking boots and a pair of thick wool socks in case the loop became to muddy to run and allowed a chance to dry my shoes by the fire while power hiking it at some point on the race. Now that my feet were shredded, each step feeling as though I was walking on shards of broken flaming glass, the boots were a survival tool that I was really fortunate to have packed.
82. Changed my shit, grabbed a hat, strapped on the boots, sipped some coffee, sipped some more, took a few bites of oatmeal and headed up the mountain.
83. Ian and I plowed up the first climb slowly, steadily and quietly together. The air was cool and turning cold. The slower that we were able to move the quicker that the chill set in.
84. Ian ran ahead a little to keep warm. I tried to do the same, and failed.
85. The descent down the steepest stretch of single track was painfully suspenseful. Each movement hurt like hell and each slip, fall, or unexpected slide brought with it a new, fresh pain as well as the possibility of rolling down the hill.
84. As we passed the most scenic stretch of the loop Ian stopped suddenly to point out the glow rising behind the mountains. I smiled. I had envisioned this moment for months and it was nothing short of epic. Several times throughout the night Ian had stopped me to look at the stars or to point out the beauty of a late night trail run. This is helpful on so many levels and was truly much appreciated.
85. We shuffled down the final hill and moved towards the glowing aid station for the last time. I had 5 miles on my mind. Five hard miles that I couldn't run a step of no matter how I tried and that would take almost 2 hours to complete. 5 miles until I saw Mindy, who would pace me to the finish. 5 miles in the light of the rising morning sun along some of my favorite stretches of trail on the course.
86. Pancakes and sausage dripping with syrup. Enough said.
87. 1.5 miles of uphill road
88. Back into the woods. The morning was becoming increasingly gorgeous and I attempted to run a few times during this stretch but the combination of my busted knee, ,shredded feet, and blown- out quads didn't allow me to get more than a few steps into a stride. I enjoyed the view as best I could, talked lively with Ian about all that had happened mentally, physical, and emotionally over the past 25 hours, and looked forward to seeing Mindy at Gravel Pit and putting this race in the bag.
89. Gravel Pit. There she was, geared up and ready to go. The smile never left her face throughout this 25 hour ordeal and I only wished that I could have run this last 4 miles smooth and easy with her. Mindy's presence made the hardest 4 miles of my life as "easy", as "enjoyable" and as memorable as they possibly could have been .
90. We saw the contours of the road from behind the treeline and knew that the Lodge was right around the corner.
91. The field near the finish line was empty save for a small group who began to cheer when they saw us coming down the road. It was my team, each recovering from their own battles and each taking the time to welcome me to other side of the finish line. Amazing…
92. As we neared the line we broke into something like a jog.
93. Across the line. 27 hours and forty eight minutes after starting this run I was welcomed with hugs, words of love and encouragement, and a belt buckle that I held in my mud-caked hands and absolutely beamed at.
95. The miles that led me to to the finish line of the Virgil Crest 100 all hit me at once in a moment overwhelming power. It absolutely shook me and I'll never forget the feeling.
96. Joe, who had gone through a very hard stretch at this race, crossed the finish line and proved that he has absolutely no quit in him. An absolute machine and a total inspiration.
98. A return to the restaurant and a dinner that I was admittedly too shot to even realize I was eating. But the experience of being there with Mindy and Jordan was one that I won't forget.
99. A small Comfort Inn on the outskirts of town. A trip to Friendly's for huge ice cream sundays. Comfortable beds, my ultra-comrades passed out from the events of the day, and the Simpsons on the TV on a Sunday night.
100. Three weary out-of-towners stumble (or hobble) out of a hotel lobby in the early morning and hit the highway with the little town of Virgil N.Y and the Virgil Crest Ultramarathon in the rear view mirror