Going into the race, I admit I felt good but unsure. My legs and body felt recovered from Western States and after taking 10 days off from running after Western States, I did about 25 miles in 4 consecutive days, took a day off and then ran 6.5 miles and then took the next 3 days off before Vermont. So if you are counting, in the 20 days between the finish of Western States and the start of Vermont, I ran on 5 days, although I did a lot of walking generally. While I felt good going into the race and I had ran and felt fine on those runs, I didn't know how I would feel 50 miles into Vermont. I had a few possible goals for this race. My "A" goal was 20-22 hours, hoping for closer to 20; "B" goal was sub-24, and "C" was to just finish to continue the Grand Slam. I also wanted to change up my nutrition strategy for this race. During my fastest 100 last year at the Tesla Hertz, I fueled on gels and shot blocks for about the first half of the race. Since then, I kept to that strategy and generally, I feel like it hasn't worked because my stomach would be more unsettled after 5 or so hours. After reading an article by nutritionist Sunny Blende in Ultrarunning Magazine about how it may be better for mid-pack and slower runners to fuel in the beginning with more real food as opposed to gels and chews and use those gels and chews as needed in the second half, I thought I should at least give that a shot.
I drove up to Vermont Friday morning and arrived close to noon. I parked a good 150 meters from the main tent. I checked in which included getting weighed (145.2) and having my blood pressure taken (I believe it was 127/72 - not sure why the systolic number is above 120). Then I went back to the minivan and unpacked my dropbags and made sure I had everything set up correctly. I then dropped off my bags at the proper locations so they would be transported to the correct aid stations on race day. I went to some of the sponsor tents and at the Hoka One One tent, I tried on the newest version of the shoe I was going to wear on race day (Stinson) and ran/walked the last 0.3 miles of the course and then back. Then I basically walked back and forth from the van to the tent for various things. I got a free copy of trail running magazine and read some articles in the van with the A/C on full blast. Then I took an hour long nap. Eventually, it was 3:30PM and I went to the tent to grab a spot for the 4PM athlete briefing and then dinner to follow. I met a bunch of other runners and crews/pacers and gave what advice I could to some runners I met that were attempting their 1st 100 or still trying to get their first 100-mile finish. By the time dinner and lots of chatting was over at 6:30PM (I took a cup of rice pudding and pasta with me back to the van), it was time to prepare for the morning and then go to bed. I probably got to sleep around 7:30 and my alarm was set for 2:45AM (race starts at 4AM). I slept in the van for this race and it wasn't the most comfortable sleep. I woke up fairly frequently and could tell how long I was asleep by the light outside; still some daylight meant I hadn't been sleeping much. Then it was dark and it was about 10PM. After that, I was hearing rain against the car around midnight. It continued on and off sometimes heavy until my alarm went off. I got prepped and changed in the van. I put on my rain jacket and left around 3:00 to head to race morning check-in and grab a bagel for breakfast and then hopefully successfully use the bathroom (was not successful). The rain seemed to be a slight drizzle at best so I took my jacket off and tied it around my waist to start the run. With a few minutes before we lined up, I saw Luis Miguel Callao whom I met at Western States and we wished each other good luck. Then the countdown begun and I was off.
Since the first hour was in the dark but I placed my two headlamps in drop bags, i carried a small LED flashlight. These first miles felt a little off. I think it was the humidity but I wasn't quite feeling great. I slowed my pace a little and was passed by a number of runners. The course is very easy in the beginning with the longest stretches of running flat as far as I can tell. Maybe it was just such a gradual incline followed by a gradual decline that it felt flat. Regardless, these first 10 miles was a low point for me in this race. My pace was fine though, averaging probably a 10:30-11 minute mile.
I was just sweating a ton and wanted to make sure I wasn't doing anything stupid this early part of the race. Around mile 10 or earlier I felt like it was time to use the restroom but there was no good spot to go. Mile 12, about 2:10 into the race I found a spot and did my business. I felt much better. Then I did what I should have done earlier and that was start up conversations with people. The first person I chatted with was a runner who I met at Western States who was doing the Grand Slam. She's a fireball of a lady (17 years older than me) from Kentucky. We talk about Western States and some other things before she has to go to the bathroom. The next person I run with is a guy by the name of Rich Riopel. At first we talk about the usual things such as is this your first 100, what other races have you done, etc. Then it comes out that he hasn't run since late April when he participated in the 24-hour World Championships representing USA and placed 8th overall (1st US) with nearly 160 miles! When I heard this I became a little concerned that I was going out way too fast. I asked what one of his other 100-mile race finish times were as he had ran Umstead (a very fast course in North Carolina) in under 16 hours. So I said either he is going way to slow or I should slow down. He was coming off some injuries he had prior to even putting up that crazy 160 mile performance in the World Championship in Itlay. So he was just going to struggle and hope he can go sub-24. I told him that he will likely feel amazing the last 25 miles and come in really fast. So we ran together for about 5-6 miles during which time I recalled that we were a little ahead of where I was passed by the horses when I did the race in 2011 (this is the only race left in the country where the runners and riders to the race at the same time). Lo and behold, we hear the clop clop of the horses coming up behind and this is a really cool thing in the race.
Next I ran up behind a small group of runners who were having a conversation about diets and how some of them are ridiculous and I told them that I'm on a bacon only diet. That brought up some laughter and then the conversation about how awesome bacon was during those last aid stations at Western States. One of the runner here, a young women running her first 100-miler, Jordan Grande had paced a friend at Western States and remembered the bacon they had there. She said there was supposed to be bacon at the first crew access / drop bag aid station at Vermont. Eventually, we get to that aid station and I grab my drop bag and change into my tank top and take out my sunglasses. Then I go to the snack table and grab some turkey and cheese sandwiches, some seedless watermelon and more fig newtons. I catch up to Jordan who asks if I got any bacon but I said I didn't see any at the table so I must have been looking at the wrong spot. Anyhow, I wasn't yet in the mood for that as it is a much bigger craving for fats and salts later in the race. Jordan and I ran together for about 5-10 more miles before we separated at an aid station. I think she took off ahead of me while I got my food down. I eventually caught up to her and then passed her I think while chatting with some other runners. After mile 30, we came up to what I call Sound of Music Hill but the views were not good because there was a lot of fog and overcast. Speaking of overcast, Most of those first 5 hours were spent telling each other that aside from some humidity, we were so far lucky with the weather as it was overcast. But with the race starting at 4AM, 5-6 hours into the race is only 9-10AM and there
was still plenty of time for the sun to come out and toast us for a long time.
On the descent from the Sound of Music Hill, a runner came up from behind and called me by name and reintroduced himself as Thomas Glenn. I met Tom very briefly last year when Snipes finished TGNY 100. Tom was his pacer. Tom had a crushing story about his Old Dominion 100-mile run in 2014. He was on pace to get sub-24 and the last 2 miles of the race requires you to remember what 4 streets you must make turns on. He missed one of those turns and spent some time trying to figure out how to get back on course. He got back on course and ran his heart out but finished the race in 24:00:27. It's so hard to finish just over 24 hours as most people finish just before or closer to 25 hours (there's a lot of psychology as to why that happens). It's something that ate away at him for a long time and still does. If he saved those 28 seconds by not talking to someone at an aid station, by not taking that pee break, by not doing one thing or the other, he would have been sub-24. He actually learned to pee while walking to save himself that time on his next races. He came back to Old Dominion this year and got his sub-24. So 6 weeks after his accomplishment at OD100, he was at Vermont to also try and get revenge on his own 2012 race where he finished in 26 hours. He also ran the inaugural TARC 100 (as did I) which was a mudfest and suffered through that to a 29 hour finish.
We ran together for maybe the next 30 miles. He was more efficient at the aid stations and had his own food such as Clif bars while I took my time to get what food I felt I needed at the aid stations. The first few of them, he waited up for me but after that, I told him to just go on ahead and I would catch up to him. Most of the time he would go on and walk or slowly jog ahead and I would catch him fairly quickly out of the aid station. I remember coming out of one of those aid stations together, there was someone cheering on the runners and since it was just 3.5 miles to the next aid station, this guy says it's just 3 miles of easy down hill. After a few hundred yards of easy rollers, we hit a trail section that just went up. It wasn't towards the end of this 3 mile uphill section where Tom says,"that guy was such a liar". I had completely forgotten about that guy and what he said and laughed about that but agreed. Who does that?! We hear some loud thunder and wonder when it is going to rain but it never rains on us.
We got into Camp 10-Bear which is the mile 47 aid station before we do a 23-mile loop that takes us back to that aid station at mile 70. They weigh you at this aid station and I had lost 2 pounds. I get my drop bag and since it remained overcast and I was not using my hydration pack bladder for water, I decided to drop off my hydration pack (and also my camera - so no more videos of the race) and carry two hand-held bottles instead along with a waist pack to keep toilet paper and A&D ointment because the weird chaffing on my backside hips felt like it was coming back. I tell Tom to go on ahead and that I would catch up to him. I grab some food at the aid station and this one has a lot of good food. They had some bacon which I take along with some grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches. They also had some pretty well cooked sausages that I took as well. I went ahead walking on the ups and running the downs. One runner had this awesome singlet that I remembered from the morning which was a big picture of a kitten and what looked like pizza. He was walking and looking pretty out of it. I told him his singlet was awesome and let him know that he'll surely be running well and passing me in the next 10 miles. He looked like a good runner and had ran really fast passed me earlier in the race. My initial hunch was that he ran too hard and then crashed and would continue this until he wouldn't get another strong surge again. Not too far ahead I caught back up with Tom. We ran for a bit and hit a trail section and then I was about to pass a woman that looked familiar but I couldn't recall from where. I told her that she looked very familiar and she said so did I and asked if I ran the TARC 100 in 2013 and of course I did. She went on to say that I saved her life that race by giving her a gel during the race. I told her that Tom did it also and we reminisced about how terrible that day was. We are going a little too fast for her so she drops back. We hit some other aid station and Tom again goes on ahead but takes off a little faster. I am not able to catch up to him and have no desire to do so. If he is feeling great than he should take advantage of it if he thinks it is the right move to do. Especially because he has problems when it gets late in a race and he needs to take sleep breaks. As we are walking up a long hill that isn't very steep but was long, there was someone on the side cheering for people. She sees me in my Team in Training singlet and thanks me for wearing it and fundraising. She then continues to talk to me and I stop and listen as she tells me that her husband was on some special drugs that were made possible by funding from LLS and he lived 22 years through countless trials and surgeries because of the support from LLS. He was initially not given long to live because he had a rare form of Leukemia. It was just another reminder for myself to be thankful to be able to do everything I do, not just the running but life itself. So I thanked her and continued walking up the hill.
I continue on and catch up to Rich from earlier and we run together. I had recalled a very long hill from the 2011 race and then after that hill there was another long one after making a right turn. We did have a long hill section but it seemed different. Then we hit the Margaritaville aid station which was moved around from when I did the race. At this aid station I grabbed some sliders and some fig newtons and watermelon. I picked up my drop bag and took out my charger for my Garmin. Then I went to the port-o-potty right as someone was coming out and the people on line knew I was running the race so let me go ahead. I just wanted to grab some toilet paper to put in my ziplock bag since I didn't have much left after going around 50 miles earlier. I go on ahead and catch up to Rich and then we head up that second big hill I remember. Some time later the guy with the kitten singlet comes blazing on by us and we cheer him on. I mention to Rich that we will probably pass him in the next 10 miles. At this point, about 3PM the sun had come out. It was amazing that it had stayed overcast for so long and we were very thankful for that. We continue running and notice that we are sweating a lot more and the sun has raised the temperatures. We get to another aid station and they ask if I want anything and I notice what look like some amazing fresh picked blueberries and I ask if I can have some and they say of course. I tell them they look and taste fresh and they tell me that there were bushes not far from there (not on the course though) that they picked them from. That gave me a nice little boost. Rich and I continue ahead and not too long after, we passed Tom at some point and he wasn't looking great, just a little tired. He was feeling low on energy and I told him to take his time at the next aid stations and get in a lot of food and take it easy until he felt better. Hopefully, he would catch his next wind and be running well soon enough. A little while after that we passed the guy with the kitten singlet who was now walking. He said his caffeine from an earlier aid station had worn off. Rich commented after we passed him that I was dead on about us passing him soon. At this point, we seem to be doing a lot more running. This part of the course was mostly downhill and the hills were gentler so we were able to run most of them. We get to the next aid station and I remember it as the "psychedelic" aid station from 2011 when I had some ramen noodle soup that helped me a lot but declined the "magic brownies". Here, I didn't see the brownies but they had some homemade cookies so I eat about 4 of them and some PB&J and then go on again. At this section it looked familiar and I realize that we did come up this way earlier to now we are nearing the end of the big 23 mile loop. We pass the house that had a real Llama in the front so I know we are less than a mile from mile #70 and Camp 10-Bear 2.
We run into the aid station and I hear my name being called by someone. It turned out to be Mike Halovatch who I met leading up to this race 4 years ago. He's an awesome cyclist and runner and ran an 18:45 in Vermont last year. He is up there volunteering and then pacing so we chat as I get weighed in (still down 2 pounds) and head to the bathroom. There was no more toilet paper in it so I ask if there is anymore somewhere and they give me a roll of paper towels. After taking care of business, I head back to my drop bag and pick up my good headlamp and put my charger away. I decide against going back to the hydration pack. Mike comes back with 3 cut up grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches as well as a cup filled with about 6 sausage links. Mike walks with me out of the aid station and up into the trail section that heads uphill. He stays with me for maybe 1/4 mile while we chat about things. He tells me how awesome I'm doing (on pace for sub 21) and to keep it up and then heads back to the aid station to help out others before his runner comes in. So I continue on eating the sausage links in the cup and walking up the long hill. I have about two links left and feel like I can still eat them but worry that maybe I've had too much food. However, I figure I can still use the fat/salt/calories so I eat them. Shortly after I finish them it begins to rain. I can hear it raining but I don't really feel any drops because the trees around me are blocking it from hitting me. After about 10 minutes I'm starting to feel that maybe I shouldn't have eaten those sausages. It's still light out and this section to get to mile 76 and the next aid station is taking a while. Most of it has been uphill and the rest has been downhill on trails that are very muddy. I guess I know where the rain was from the thunder we heard earlier. This additional rain isn't helping. Neither are the horses. Occasionally, the horses are still catching up to me running. But they have trouble descending these muddy sections and many times the riders had to get off of the horse to safely get them down. However, these magnificent creatures also created more muddy, sloppy, craters on the trails. So these trails sections basically became unrunable. This wasn't the worst thing since my stomach felt a little off from too much food. This brought me back to my Mega Donut mile challenge and how bad I felt. I was so happy though that I didn't have to eat any donuts and I would be allowed to throw up if I had to do so. And unlike the donut challenge where I couldn't continue until I finished eating the donuts, here all I had to do was keep moving forward which was what I wanted.
Eventually I got to the aid station and saw the race director for the TGNY 100, Phil McCarthy who I had seen at nearly all of the crewed aid stations and said hi to him again and spoke to him briefly. He was crewing for Miguel Luis Callao. I went to the bathroom to try and poop but I ended up not being able to go. So I just grabbed some watermelon and continued on my way. A couple times in the next section I felt the need to throw up but only a very small amount came out, better than nothing I guess. At some point, my stomach felt better and I was moving along at a better pace. I had to eventually turn on my headlamp and had about 23 miles to go in the race. The next section was still more trails that were very muddy and that just annoyed me because I couldn't move fast. From the mile 76 aid station, it was 3 miles, to the next aid station (water only), 4 to the one after that, then another 5 until the next aid station with my drop bags. These sections felt very long and I realized that I didn't pick up my 5-hour energy drink from my drop bag at the last aid station. I was hopeful that I wouldn't need it because if I finished under 22 hours, it would be earlier than 2AM and I shouldn't be super tired and could let some adrenaline from being so close to finishing take me the rest of the way. I was starting to feel the cumulative effect of the race wearing on me. Also, I was having some major chafing issues near my groin but also that part on my back hips. The A&D ointment did help. I was also stopping to pee a lot during this race (although I did try many times successfully, Tom's pee while walking strategy). I kept looking at my watch trying to figure out how close I was getting to each aid station and trying to get an idea on when I would finish. It seemed that 21-22 was doable. But these sections were taking a while and I was certain I was slowing down. The atmosphere was still humid and it was very foggy, so the headlamp wasn't showing me much ahead and I had to just point it down to make sure I saw where I was stepping. I feel like I was mostly passing people but other people were occasionally passing me.
I got to Bill's Barn aid station at mile 88 and it brought back some memories. In 2011 I had accidentally had my pack filled up with Hammer Heed which ended up bringing me to my knees a mile later wondering if I would have to be carted back to the aid station and out of the race. I also remember the carnage of the medical area in the barn. There were people that were just passed out in all of the cots and I thought it was best to not stick around too long. This year though, probably because I was here at least 2 hours earlier than I was in 2011, the cots were empty and they had just discharged someone who was taking a 30 minute nap to continue on with the race. I got weighed in and had gained my two pounds back. I grab about five slices of watermelon that they are just cutting up and a cup of ramen soup. I get my drop bag and go through it and realize I don't need anything from it. It's still warm enough to not have to change into a t-shirt, sleeves, or tights. So I just put the bag back. Then I head out. It's about 3.1 miles to the next aid station, then nearly 4 to the last manned aid station. Maybe it was the fog but the next section didn't seem familiar. I was expecting a big wide open field but don't remember seeing it. There was a short flattish section where I decided to turn off my headlamp and look up at the stars. There were no clouds and it was a beautiful view. I saw the constellations that I was familiar with and marvelled at the sight. Then I turned my headlamp on and continued.
I got to the next aid station much faster than I expected. To me it seemed like it was just put earlier and I wondered if that meant the next aid station would be further out. I quickly ate some sandwiches and left the aid station. I realize I haven't mentioned anything about electrolyte pills and tums. I had taken them much earlier in the race when I was feeling low points or sweating a lot and feeling worn out. But I don't remember taking any after mile 76. I was still trying to walk only the uphill sections with my "run" still going around 10-11 minute miles to try and average 12 minute miles (5 mph) if I can. I see some lights ahead and realize I'm close to the last fully stocked aid station at mile 95, Polly's. I did not have a drop bag here so I just grab some fig newtons and I get a cup of ramen to go. I ask if there will be a garbage to throw this cup away at the last unmanned aid station at mile 97.5 and they say there should be. I fill my water bottle with water and take off with two water bottles in one hand and my cup of soup in the other so I eat the soup as I walk on ahead and finish it all within a minute or two. I have 5 miles to go and will easily break 24 hours. The question is how hard can I go and do I want to go to come in faster. I feel that sub 22 is possible. Maybe even 21:30. But I'm tired and don't want to run too hard for fear of being forced to walk the last mile or two. Plus how fast could I really run at mile 95? So I stick with my plan of trying to average 12 minute miles or walking uphills and running when possible.
I get to the mile 97.5 aid station and now have only 2.5 to go. I'm feeling good and excited and happy to be so closed to finished. I assume I have no more than 45 minutes more of running. I see headlamps ahead and decide to run hard. A lot of the people I've passed the last 10 miles have been walking and those runners, though walking now, will finish the race and probably sub-24. I'm feeling good and my legs aren't hurting like Western States so I run well down these hills now. Eventually I get to the sign that says mile 99, 1 mile to go. I recall last time that it seemed like this 1 mile section was at least 50% longer than advertised. I don't know how long or how far it was but I saw the mile 99.5 sign and then wanted to run everything, although there was one more walking uphill section ahead, but it was short. I think this last 1/3 to 1/2 mile section had some awesome markings which were these gallon water jugs which had a chem-lite in them so they were big glowing balls. It was a Halloween type vibe but is was also very cool. There were so many of them lining the trail leading me to that finish line. I think I recognize one of the spots I'm at now from my little run the day before (well, two days before since it is Sunday now) and hope the finish is coming up. Then I see the finish line and run hard to the finish. There are plenty of people in this finish line in the woods and they are all cheering. The race director, Amy Rusiecki congratulates me and hands me my finishers hat and coffee travel mug, and a protein bar. When the crowd calms down I ask if I was the winner of the race, with a big sarcastic smile on my face. I get some laughs and one of the volunteers there says you just ran 100 miles so yes, you are a winner. Amy tells me I can take a seat here or I can get some other food and have a cot at the medical area at the main tent. I decide to head back towards the medical area but then I realize I feel fine so I slowly make my way back to my van.
I drop my things off in the van (I carried the key in one of my pockets which I was able to zip closed after I dropped off my hydration pack at mile 47), and take my ghetto shower which is standing in the grass parking lot and pouring water over myself from a gallon water jug. I had soap so it wasn't just using water to clean myself. Then I put on some dry clothes, took my contact lenses out, brushed my teeth and tried to sleep in the back of the van. The sleep was far from comfortable but it was there. I slept about 4 hours and then was too hungry to keep sleeping so I got out of the van and shuffled my way back to the start area and got some real food (leftover pasta and some fried eggs). I picked up some of my drop bags that had been brought back to the start area and organized them in the van. I originally planned on sticking around for the awards ceremony but since I finished early and had a decent sleep, I was now hoping I could leave to make a family BBQ on Long Island that afternoon. However, I had to wait from the mile 88 drop bag to be brought back. Long story short, I had to wait until 9:30AM to get that bag back as they waited for the last aid station to close before taking them all back to the start. I still picked up my buckle early from Amy and ate an amazing burger with mushrooms and onions and spoke with many of the runners who had finished after me (and some before me). Once I got my drop bag though I headed out on the drive home. I only had to make one stop for gas and food/coffee.
My level of leg soreness was a fraction of what it was at Western States. I believe the reason for that is that there is much less downhill (around 9,000 feet less) in Vermont and they weren't very steep hills and I also made certain to not take these downhills hard, especially early on in the race. On Monday, I had no soreness. In fact, the worst pain was the chafing but that went away by Monday as well thanks to the A&D ointment. I did my normal routine of walking a lot but really felt like there should be no reason I can't run, except for the reason of not wanting to do anything stupid. The last thing I need is to think I'm invincible and then go out for a run and find out a couple of days later that I'm injured. On Wednesday, I went to the gym and did 15 minutes of the stair treadmill (85 floors) and then a lot of core work. On Friday, I ran 3.1 miles to work. Then I ran 3.1 miles home. Then I ran 1.5 miles out on the East River path heading north and stopped to do 2 long sets of squats, lunges, and step-ups onto a bench and some decline push-ups. On Saturday I ran 10 miles with Team in Training and then walked about 4-6 more miles around the Upper East side/Midtown East. On Sunday I did 45 minutes on the stair treadmill (265 floors) and a few core exercises. I feel great! I'll take this more as good news rather than bad. The important thing is to not overdo anything to set me up for failure at Leadville 5 weeks after Vermont. Leadville is typically the race that will decimate the field of Grand Slam runners. Having done it two years ago, I think I will be ok but you never know and being overconfident is an easy way to end up death marching or DNFing. Still, it's in my mind that I may be able to go sub-24 or sub-25 at Leadville. I plan on taking the race steady (maybe fast the first 3 miles so I'm not stuck for 10 miles behind crowds of people on the single track basically walking ) and easy until mile 75. I head out to Colorado a week before the race to acclimate as much as I can to the altitude and do some awesome hiking. So with one week down, I have 3 more weeks of recovery, training, and taper before I leave to Colorado.
I'm still more looking forward to the hiking and spending time with good people at the house we are renting in Twin Lakes, CO than doing the Leadville 100 again. While it doesn't do me any good to think further ahead than Leadville and then Wasatch, there is one other 100-mile race I really want to do and that's Hardrock 100. It scares the crap out of me but also gives me a feeling of wonder and seeing pictures of the course makes me want to have that experience. I have a love/hate relationship with 100-mile races. I love them more when I'm not running them. I don't know if I will stop doing them in the future because the challenge of them and the fun of meeting so many great people on these races does make the down moments seem insignificant. We'll see how this Grand Slam plays out and it doesn't matter what I think today, during my next race, or the week after I finish the Grand Slam. All that matters is to do what I enjoy doing. I do enjoy running trails and mountains.