Monday, July 28, 2008

Brief Summary of VT 100


Me, hanging with a herd of cows on the course. Is there a bull hiding behind the tree??

This summary highlights some of the adventures I had during my 100 mile journey through Vermont July 19-20th.
It was an exciting 29 hours and 6 minutes. My favorite stories from this event include lots of weather, lots of wildlife (even though I was reassured there are no wild animals on the VT100 course, but some of those people suggested the course was not hilly so their word was already suspect), and lots of amusing people along the way.

1) The weather-for those of you who have looked at the race results, the 65% success rate show how difficult the race conditions were this year.

It was hot, humid and it seemed to rain on and off the entire weekend (it rained during the pre-race dinner, right before the start, during the race, in the morning of the second day, during the post-race lunch. I think Vermont is a Rainforest, although when I googled it there is no mention of Vermont being a Rainforest)

Of course with the rainstorms came other nasty weather. At mile ~45 I was running along with my friend Rob Apple and several other runners along a road. We were surrounded by pastureland, which was not too bad until the lightening storm arrived! During the storm we were witnessing trees about 200 meters from where we were running getting struck by lightening and simultaneous thunderclaps. This was not good. Initially I picked up the pace and probably was going faster then any other runner (well at least in my mind), but at some point I kind of panicked and could not move forward. Luckily Rob convinced me to move forward and I think I survived (I am writing this review/report, right??)

As the lightening storm continued including massive quantities of torrential rain, we finally made it into the woods by the Maple sugar farm. There were a few hills we had to climb that were raging rivers and tough to climb up (two steps forward, one slide backward!). As we continued in the Maple sugar farm we had the opportunity to experience our next challenge: Marble sized hail. Initially, I thought someone was pegging me with acorns (something my husband would totally do on a hike!) but then I was a bit puzzled why it was on my head, not my back/shoulder: ping, ping, ping. What the HAIL???? Well, luckily the hail did not get much bigger and we were somewhat protected by the tree’s.

Because the rain was so significant the course became completely waterlogged. As we scampered through the Maple Farm, there were pools of water/mud that you could not avoid stepping into on the course. Well, apparently I decided to take a quick dip in one and sank into mud that reached mid-calf. I am not convinced that if I had not had my dirty girl gaiters (which are not SUPER DIRTY girl gaiters), that I would not have lost my sneaker. I pulled my foot up as hard as I could and glug, glug, out pops my foot caked in mud. It was awful. I really hate dirty feet and I almost quit on the spot. But alas, I would have to run myself to the next aid station anyway and by the time we arrived there, I could see the humor in the situation.

In retrospect it is pretty funny how in this ~10 minute time frame the weather deteriorated so quickly and by the end of it I was ready for the swarm of locusts!

2) The creatures-Prior to Vermont 100, I expressed my concerns to anyone who would listen. I worried about snakes, lightening, the hills and bears (in that order). Well, as you can see from above, my fear of lightening was founded. And even though before the race friends suggested there were no snakes and even Rob Apple (500+ ultra’s including many VT 100 milers) who I had started running with at mile 10 suggested the course really lacked wildlife. I mentioned that I really dislike snakes and he assured me we would not see snakes. As we are running about mile 35, he starts encroaching on my personal space, which was a bit puzzling. A few moments later he cautiously mentioned, “there is a snake over there.”, “A SNAKE???”, I am ready to shriek in dismay, but recall how this attracted a herd of snakes in Stowe two years ago! Yup, he was right, there was a 2-3 foot garter snake enjoying the course. And people say I worry too much about things that won’t occur!

This incident actually followed a previous incident that occurred earlier in the day in which I nearly gave myself a heart attack. When I was at about mile 7, the sun had risen and I was near a meadow along a tree lined portion of the course. At the time I was all alone and thinking positive thoughts (no snakes, no lightening, no bears, all is good). Then in the distance I hear some rustling in the marsh/meadow. I see a stream and lots of tall grass and some high flowers. It looks like the perfect place for a bear to sneak up on me. Then out of the corner of my eye, I see movement. I see a brown large creature. It is coming at me stealthily. Is it a bear???? Oh no, I am all alone and I think I might be on the bears menu. What can I do? What should I do? Well, since I have my camera and am ready to document my death, I bring the camera out of my fanny pack and turn it on. As this large furry brown creature gets to about 5 feet from me, I snap a picture (good idea, right?). Then as it becomes more visible I realize it is a rather large brown cow. Phew! I am okay. Scared, but okay.

So my run ins with the wildlife continue through the entire race. In the afternoon, I am jogging along and decide the next aid station is too far (and actually the porta potty may be up to 10 miles away). What is a girl to do? Well in an ultra the option is to find a “latree”. Since at the time I was with mixed company and the others had the same idea, we each picked a side of the course and set out. Early in ultra’s I tend to walk 20+ feet off the course and find a nice tree. Well, this time I picked the side of the course that had the pasture. I walked along, found a suitable tree and was using the facility. One suggestion I have for any future runner is DO NOT use the pasture side. It was infested with mosquitoes! About 4 bits on my tuckus later in just a few seconds I am getting really agitated but really cannot do anything except think to myself, “how can I explain these bites on my buttocks to my husband?” I hurry up as best I can and run back onto the course where the mosquitoes are not as numerous. All future latree break’s I ensure are in the woods!

Where there are mosquitoes there are mosquito eating creatures. And this leads me to my last animal encounter. It is dusk and I am running all alone. Because of my ~30 minute shoe change I am well behind Rob and the other runners seem to be going a bit slower than I, so I am having issues finding someone to jog with. As I run, I nearly get hit in the face by a flying creature. Then another almost hits me in the ear. I think it’s a bird. But no, it’s not a bird, its BATS. I am not sure if I am cool with having bats flying within a few inches of my face. It is a quite disconcerting. I don’t think bats make my top 10 list of animals to fear (rattlesnakes, corral snakes, water moccasins, copperheads, fire ants, bears, sharks, alligators, hippopotamus, scorpions, cobras). Luckily the bat infestation seems to go away after a few minutes and I am able to return to fearing other things (a recurrent thought I have during the night when I am alone is: how many serial murders have occurred in Vermont? I don’t think there are any but perhaps the state better at covering them up than lets say Florida and California..yup, nothing but positive thoughts going on in my head!?!). Luckily ultimately I get a pacer and once I have his company I feel safe and defended.

3) Enthusiastic Crowds, Volunteers and Support from Friends-the aid station volunteers are awesome. At each aid station there is a wide selection of food and beverages and super nice volunteers to attend to the runners needs. They are all great! And I know I could not run 100 miles without the support and cheering of these folks. And of course in spirit I had lots of friends who answered Tristan's e-mail seeking encouraging words to put in my drop bag...THANK YOU!

As I was running in the evening (slightly concerned about serial killers), I had the most surreal and amazing experience. Going up a massive hill you could hear a party going full force. Initially I thought it was an out of control aid station, but as I approached I realized it was a bunch of college students having a rather large and noisy party. Many of the party goers were around a bonfire near the course, but there were several college kids’ right on the course yelling at the tops of the lungs, cheering on runners. They may have been pretty drunk but they all were very good natured. As I got closer there was one young lady in flip flops who was the most enthusiastic person I came across during the hundred miles. She was cheering, talking and expressing how amazed she was at the runners. She ran with me for about 400 or so meters. During our jog up the hill, she mentioned (and I observed) she was in flip flops and had no headlamp. But she suggested that if I could run 100 miles, she could easily run to the top of the hill in flip flops. She introduced herself (I think Sara). She was really encouraging and gave me the boost I needed. Her passion and enthusiasm as she kept saying “Your guys are F***ing Amazing!”, “You are AWESOME” and lots of encouraging words it really gave me so much strength. I really appreciated her passion, enthusiasm and energy. After finishing the race, I was describing this experience to one of my friends who was near me (~28.5 hours), we realized he had seen the same group of girls when he was running with 3 guys. Apparently my young lady friends were flashing the guy runners. He suggested one of the three guys almost quit at this point since the view and ambiance was way better then the race.

One aid station that earned a special place in my heart was mile 83.4. I meander into the aid station and they enthusiastically greet me: “Nice Shirt!” I have my Pink “TAMMY” shirt on and it makes me happy. So I respond, “Yeah, I thought so to when I beat up the girl who was wearing it!”. They laughed and suggested I had the best attitude so far and in their book I get an approved medical clearance because I am coherent and in good spirits (it doesn’t last but at mile 83 I was happy). I do enter the aid station with a slightly sour stomach and really tired (2 a.m. seems to do that to me). Immediately I notice a bag of what looks like coffee beans, I ask if I can eat them (seriously I am ready to take a few handfuls), the volunteer mentions they are chocolate covered coffee beans which are even better (and probably would get me less of a look then gulping down coffee beans or grounds!) In addition to being tired, I do still feel a bit queasy, so I ask for some Pepto Bismo or Ginger (two items that I have found give me relief). They respond that they do not have any Pepto but offer up some Tampax. I am a bit puzzled by this offer and suggest it is just a bit of nausea but so far I have not had a reversal of fortune (competitive eaters term for puking, which I embrace enthusiastically!) A few minutes later a gentleman comes in and asks for some “second skin”. He is given the bad news they do not have that either, but he is also offered some Tampax. Guess there was a huge discount on it in VT! Actually this aid station is a place where my friend Wayne slept a few hours before I arrived. Apparently they protected him with two kiddie plastic cars (you can see a picture and a very humorous account of his 100 miler from his pacers perspective on the following blog on July 21, 2008). Well, I am a little surprised these aid stations workers did not create a fort using Tampax boxes considering it was their solution for whatever ailed any runner! They really cracked me up.

4) The Challenges of the course. Let me be clear: The HILLS on the course were insane! The entire course was spent going either up or down. I will give the folks at Vermont some credit for availing the runners to different surfaces at they ran up and down, up and down, up and down over and over and over…. Oh yes, and those who created the race course were polite enough to offer different grades of hills and distances for how long these hills were. Some of the hills appeared to violate the rules of physics. Several hills were so steep that I was surprised that having a runner on it did not create the critical mass necessary for the whole hill to avalanche down. In fact, I was going to google the word “hill” and “Vermont” to see how many types of hills there are in Vermont but I suspect there are probably about 500 different types of hills (apparently they have many different types of soil there, which the state is quite proud of…do it, go on the Vermont website, you will learn about loamy soil and lots of others soils to dirty to mention on my blog!) And the variability in the lengths of the hills was a real treat! There was one hill I am pretty convinced took about 50 of the entire 100 miles in going up it! Even worse is that several of my “ex-friends” from Virginia who had run VT100 previously suggested the hills were not that bad. I don’t what course they were following but I will be honest with you. The only surface you ran on the entire course was covered with hills. I come from a fairly flat area in Maryland. There was nothing that could have prepared me for these mega-mountains along the course. I was surprised several times when I crested a “hill” (read this as mountain) that there weren’t Yaks, Sherpa’s and oxygen canisters strewn about!

Well, in addition to the hills there is one last treat this course throws at you. As you exit the last aid station (which by the way the last five miles is tough, it is along single track and again either goes up or down). Regardless, my big issue, the proverbial WALL struck about mile 90 or so. In fact it was a genuine stone wall. When I reached it, I thought to myself, what kind of a sick bastard made this course?? (well okay, that thought popped into my mind about mile 20. but this time it popped into my mind in ALL CAPS!!!!). This stone wall was about 2.5 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Not sure what it was supposed to keep in, but it sure nearly succeeded in keeping me out! I arrived sized it up and considered my options. In my slightly diminished mental capacity I saw the following options:
a) Look both ways in hopes of finding a tree that I could lean against or could support me while I climbed up and over
b) Start disassembling the wall stone by stone. I had a lot of anger at this wall so I could channel this anger for good, not evil by flinging stones one by one until I could make it over easily
c) Lie down next to it and hope some kindly runner, pacer or volunteer elected to fling me over. And once on the other side continue on my journey.

Ultimately after a few more choice words to the person who created this course I gingerly sat on the wall, faced one way, tried to swing my legs over gracefully and then catapulted myself over the other side. It sounds graceful here, but trust me, it looked like I was having some massive seizure! I think in the Olympics I would have been awarded a 1.0 on a 10 point scale (and that number more out of pity then actually deserving it!)
With that hurdle cleared it was time to get down to business and to finish the race. A few miles later my husband comes wandering down the course and suggests the finish is just about the bend (seriously, he said “Just around the Bend”!). About 2 hundred bends later (and nearly a divorce or a murder…or both), I stumble out of the woods and there is the finish line. One final step and I cross it. A quick curtsey for the crowd and I am done. Sadly I have no idea what to do. My entire existence has been running, running and more running for the last 29+ hours. I am at a complete loss as to what to do. A seat sounds like a good idea so I take one. It was an incredible journey and my first reaction is never again. But after about 8 hours I am ready to send in my check! It was an amazing experience with such great people who I am privileged to have met, run with or just followed in their footsteps/hoofprints:-)

These are just a few highlights of my race. I hope you enjoyed it.

I will be writing a comprehensive (and unabridged) race report about my experience but expect it will take a few weeks. I also will try to create a document about what I think might have been better training as well as items I needed or might have needed along the way.

1 comment:

CTmarathoner said...

hi Tammy!! I absolutely loved this race report!! You seemed to take all the rain and hail in stride. I was at mile 47 when the rain hit and it was all did rain Sunday morning as well -ugh!! So funny about the tampons -at least we females know that they are well-stocked at aid stations. At least you only saw a small snake -I saw salamanders and toads during the night. Loved the photos of before during and after --great, great job!!! When is your next 100???