Sunday, August 14, 2011

Vermont 100 Race Recap

Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run - July 16-17, 2011

Saturday, July 16th - 2AM
Alarm  goes off.  I am tired. That's what happens when you don't get a good night's sleep as nerves and trying to get to bed at 8:30PM is not what my body is used too so I probably fell asleep closer to 10PM.   Whatever sleep I could get would be helpful though as I knew I would not get to sleep again for at least 26 hours, and at most 32 hours.  Those thoughts were definitely with me as I grabbed my race clothing and headed to the kitchen to warm up my first round of breakfast: plain oatmeal with a banana.  After about 15 minutes, I decided it was time to try and put in the contact lenses and hoped they would feel ok.  It really sucks to try and put in contact lenses only to have your eyes sting or reject them.  I didn’t want to wait to put them in later because I had to put on Vaseline and bug spray, and I didn’t have extra contact lens solution at the race start due to poor planning/packing.  So I was happy to see (literally and figuratively) that my eyes accepted the contacts.  Next up was throwing on the Body Glide (lubricant) in all the places that may have problems and then putting Vaseline over that as well.   Back in my triathlons days there were a few Body Glide phrases that our Team in Training coaches would say.  “If you love it, lube it” and “If you don’t want to lose it, lube it”.  That pretty much means any place you aren’t sure if you should lube, you are better off lubing it. And so I did.  I finished getting fully dressed in the race gear; Tri shorts, very light running shorts over them, Dri-fit shirt and socks, and my trail running shoes. Then I tried to go to the bathroom but to no avail, so tried to relax and wait for time to pass before I thought it would be best to drive to the start.  It took roughly 40 minutes the prior day for me to drive there from the house we stayed at and the way I am, I would prefer to be an hour early to something than one minute late.  I blame my mom for that because I seem to remember always being late for things.  Anyway, I tell my fellow TNT coach and Vermont 100 race entrant, Vermont housemate, and all around awesome guy Peter Niessen that I’m going to head out now, wishing him the best of luck in case we don’t see each other during the race.  Before I leave, I head to my bedroom to give my lady a kiss goodbye because I don’t know what I’ll be like the next time I see her (roughly 7 hours later at the first handler station).  Then I head off into the cool (thankfully) Vermont night to the start of the race. 

There were no cars other than mine out on the road until I see some headlights in my rear view mirror about 5 miles from the race on the only road that leads to the race. I knew this was some other runner.  Who else would be up and on this road at 3AM.  So I pull into the giant field (Silver Hill Meadow) which is the start and finish of the race and I get out of the car to check in at the tent with the race timers.  I also grab a bagel and cup of coffee at the tent as well.  While walking around I check out the line for the all important Port-o-Johns and there were six of them and about a ten person deep line at that point to use them.  Since it was a little chilly, I decided to head back into my car to finish the coffee and bagel.  At 3:30, I record my first and unfortunately only voice recording.  I wanted to record some thoughts throughout the race to help me with the race recap, but I didn’t do that. At least I have my thoughts right before the race began:     “Going through my normal thoughts of “why am I doing this”, “this is stupid” and trying to get myself out of this little funk.  I forgot to bring along my big bottle of Gatorade so I’m not drinking enough at the moment but I did get some stuff from the tent, bagels and coffee which was very nice.  For some reason I don’t feel like I have to go to the bathroom yet but I will try to go in 15-20 minutes.  It’s a beautiful full moon. . uh. I don’t know if you can call it morning yet, evening. . sort of.  And hoping that this race goes ok.”  About five minutes later, I felt like I had to hit the bathroom.  When I went to the lines, it was about 15 people long now. I thought there was another one maybe 200 yards away so I walked there but I couldn’t find it.  By the way, the entire time I am walking around, it is pitch black where I am walking except for my headlamp.  At this point, I head back to the line and it’s even longer.  There’s probably 15 minutes to go before the race and I feel like 20 minutes worth of waiting in the line so I make a decision.  The logic went like this: there are pretty much no Port-o-Johns on the course so I might as well get used to doing what the bears do.  So I went back to my car, and from there, straight back into a path by the woods, maybe 30 feet from the car. I turn my headlamp off and do my business (I had toilet paper in my camelback for the race).  Now I felt great and ready to rock.  I head back over to the crowds of people by the port-o-Johns and see my friend from Zogsports soccer (back when I played) and now ultramarathoner Mark Leuner who had run a much tougher 100-miler (in my opinion) two months earlier in Virginia called Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 and I volunteered at that race at an aid station and also did some practice trail runs there (about 60 miles over the weekend).  He was with his two pacers for that race, Seth and Jim, but today, Seth and Mark were going to crew and pace Jim, who was attempting his first 100-miler, just like me.  Jim was waiting at the end of the line for the toilets and I told him to do what I did, be one with nature and go in the woods.  He didn’t quite feel comfortable with that yet and after another five minutes of joking around and moving up in line, we wished each other good luck and I left to head to the start. At the start I saw my “husband”, David Snipes.  For those that read my Great Eastern Endurance Run 100K (GEER) race report last year, you will remember Snipes as the guy that got me through that race laughing and feeling great the entire time. We ran every mile together and he kept me thoroughly entertained.  The man is an ultra machine.  Back then, he was running his 190th or so ultra race.  He broke 200 before the year ended.  This year he is going for something called “The Last Great Race”.  The Last Great Race is comprised of running the “Grand Slam of Ultras” which are all tough 100-milers (are there any "easy" ones), beginning with Western States (June – CA), Vermont (July – VT), Leadville (August – CO), and Wasatch (September – UT), then add to that Old Dominion (May – VA) and one week after Vermont, Angeles Crest (July – CA).  So he was going to run six 100 milers in five months but that’s not all!  He wanted to add a +3 to the end of the Last Great Race so that means 9 hundred mile races in 2011.  Two of those three additional races are the Massanutten run I mentioned earlier and Grindstone 100, which is really a 105 mile race that goes up and down a total of 46,000 feet and they give you 39 hours to complete it.  I can not remember what the third one is but does it really matter?!  I’m trying to visualize finishing just one of these hundreds, some say one of the easier ones. Aside from being 100 miles, each race has something special about it that makes it very challenging.  For example, Vermont is challenging because of the heat and humidity that generally accompanies the race but also because the race is either going up or down. There are only three miles total of flat sections.  So between my friend Mark who I witnessed finishing Massanutten in 33 hours and Snipes, who can do a 100 miler any day he feels like it, I had no good reason for being scared or complaining about this race that hadn’t even started yet.  I take a video of the start and am speaking with Snipes and someone yells out “30 seconds!”,the cheering from the participants begins and camera flashes are going off.  And then the countdown. 5…4…3….2…1….And we’re off.

We head out straight on the grass field for about 20 meters and then make a quick right onto the gravel road leading us out of Silver Hill Meadow on a pretty good decline.  It’s pretty quiet at first and everyone is taking in the sound of the footsteps on the gravel and the sound of the night silence, with the break in the darkness just the magnificent full moon above and everyone’s headlamps or flashlights.  After about 40 seconds, I look at my watch (Garmin 310XT) and realize I forgot to turn it on! Oops!  Figuring we are in the middle of nowhere, it should pick up the satellite soon enough but it isn’t happening. I'm sure it will pick up eventually. Soon enough I find my Vermont housemate Peter Niessen and we decide to run together.  No rush as a lot of people are passing us.  What’s the hurry?  After about 5 minutes, my watch picks up the satellite and I start it.  Really, it’s no big deal since the battery will die after 17 hours anyway.  Trying to confirm about what pace we are going with Peter and his Garmin and it looks at about an 11 minute pace.  Great!  Starting out at least 3 minutes per mile ahead of pace (14 minute mile is for sub-24 hours).  But like I said, what’s the rush? We go slight right and up into a trail section.  Now begins the first little incline and the decision has to be made, run or walk.  Since I promised myself not to get caught up and to walk all uphills until we get to mile 77, I began the walk. 

Maybe two hours later, after the sun had risen and probably around 10 miles done (yay! Only 90 more to go. . .) we had our first sighting and warning from behind of the horses.  You see, legend has it that these 100 mile ultra-marathons started because they used to be horse races until one day, one of the competitors showed up without their horse, still wanted to compete, so he ran the distance.  Vermont was one of the original ones and it happens to be one of the last remaining 100-mile races that have both people and horses running the race.  The horses start one hour after the runners and they have certain mandatory 30-minute rest breaks at certain times for the horses and medical checks.  The horses are more important than the people!  I guess they feel bad for the horses because they don’t “choose” to run 100 miles.  I got a nice video of us walking a not so steep but still up section as a couple horses come up and pass us.   (in the video, Peter is the one in green up ahead)

The horses were really fun to watch and the riders were very friendly and courteous. We always tried to give the horses as much room as possible but they really didn’t need much as the riders were very good at controlling their horse.  Guess I’m just used to giving cars as much room as possible.  At around mile 15 or so, a mile or two after a manned (but not crew accessed) aid station, my stomach decided it wasn’t going to be letting me have an enjoyable time.  I was starting to get that not so good feeling of having to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, it was #2.  Another unfortunate for me was there weren’t any spots to pull over and do the doo in privacy.  Finally, we get to a strange fork in the road.  Basically, a very long driveway cuts back and uphill from the path we were on, another uphill ten feet from that path but to the left, and the path that the runners were on continued ahead (so no lefts) uphill.  It looked like some good cover on the switchback hill so I told Peter I’m going there and he said he felt like he had to go too and he too the left path.  So I went up about 50 meters and after a couple minutes, was done and felt immensely better. 

Finally, about four hours and 18 minutes later, at 8:18AM, we hit the first crew access aid station and we arrive in style!  My crew, Aleks, Pam Harinstein, Joe Lyons, Sam Safdieh, and Anna Velasco, were the loudest and best support crew out there.  They had everything ready for me as we came into the Pretty House (where was the house?!) aid station.  I took a nice cold Zico Chocolate Coconut Water and felt like a NASCAR race car being taken car of by the pit-crew.  Aleks was putting sunblock on me. Someone put bug spray on me.  I was being asked tons of questions which was very helpful in case I forgot something, like, “Can I take your head lamp?”!  That would have been annoying if I was wearing that for another miles!  I grabbed some food at the aid station but my stomach felt like it only wanted seedless watermelon which they had plenty of.  I took one piece and dipped it in a bowl of salt and ate it.  Sodium and electrolytes get used up quickly on a hot day and it’s important to keep salting either by taking salty food, table, salt, or salt/electrolyte pills.  I was going to do all three that day.  Aside from fruit, I had eaten some Gels during those first 4 hours and a pop-tart.  Peter made another pit-stop in the port-o-potty at the aid station and then he was taken care of by my crew as his crew was just a little late getting there.  We were well ahead schedule. According to a constant pace for a 24 hour race, we would arrive just after 9AM.  It was probably 8:25 as we left the aid station.  So out and onward we went.  One of the rare pavement road sections we had came up after a nice downhill.  We heard some screams so figured it was my crew coming up from the car behind us.  It turned out to be Peter’s crew of Lauren Margulies, Amanda Betsold, and Wendy-Lynn Mcclean (Amanda and Wendy would alternate as Peter’s pacers come mile 70).  That nice little drive-by cheer actually did a lot to help motivate us, and more importantly Peter and he knew they were now good to be at the next Crew access aid station. 

Peter and I at Pretty House Aid Station (Mile 21.1. 4:17 run time)
Me and Aleks at Pretty House

After some more gravel and jeep roads, we eventually get to a long climb and then a giant field and climb.  It must have been the famous Sound of Music Hill.  This is one of the highest points on the course at just under 2,000 feet.  Apparently, the Von Trapp house was where we just passed and this was where Sound of Music was filmed. It looked familiar but someone has to verify this for me.  I took a video of what I thought was the top which was a nice view but little did I know, this was not the top. So I end up taking another video of our climb up to the top of another hill.  This was indeed the top of the hill.  The views were awesome.  The video does not do it justice at all.   

It was getting pretty hot out though and we had a long day (and night) ahead of us so we couldn’t hang out that long at the top of the hill.  The hill was roughly mile 28 and we had about 700 feet of downhill coming and then a couple miles to the next crew access aid station called Stage Road.  As we arrived at the aid station, once again, the combined forces of Peter and my crew was deafening!  My crew also created this amazing giant banner that said “GO COACH MIKEY B AND COACH PETER” with a drawing of me and Peter and also a horse making some poop.  

 The Crew for me and for Peter and our the sign. Left to Right: Sam, Amanda, Aleks, Joe, Pam, Lauren, Anna (photo by Wendy-Lynn)

 It was great to smile and laugh about all of that coming into an aid station.  The more you can smile on an ultra marathon, the better and my crew was doing their job by getting us to laugh and be happy.  At this aid station I saw Todd, who was a friend of a friend’s friend and we had met up with Peter and another runner from NYC when we were in NY two weeks before the race.  He looked great and it was good to see him.  We would see more of him throughout the day. So after some more coconut water, sun-block, bug spray, it was time to set out again.  It’s about 9:40AM and still making great time and still walking the up-hills.

Stage Road Aid Station - mile 30, 6:25 into the race. 

Running out of Stage Road

At this point I should point out that my stomach had not settled down completely.  For whatever reason, it didn’t feel like my stomach, but right below my stomach, what I would call my gut just felt like it was grumbling, twisting, tightening, and just wasn’t happy for some reason.  Generally, I can eat anything (and I do!).  But this day, I was feeling uneasy and PB&J, potatoes, candy, etc. didn’t appeal to me.  But I knew fruit wouldn’t harm me so I would eat all the seedless watermelon and bananas I could. Still, I was getting a little concerned.  Also, my quads were starting to feel just a little bit of the downhill pounding and the fact that I felt anything that soon and not first around mile 50-60 as I was expecting was troubling. No matter, keep going forward, maybe it is a down moment and will go away. 

Honestly, the next 17 miles went by with kind of a blur.  It was a mix of single track trails, jeep roads, a covered bridge, and lots of going up and going down.  The sun was out in force and it got hot, but we heard stories of how hot it was the year before (mid 90s with 80% humidity that didn’t go down during the night) so we didn’t want to complain about heat since it was so much better than last year according to all the people that we met that tried last year but dropped out.  There were a lot of those people!  Some other notable moments during those 17 miles was getting great advice from Peter about what may be by stomach issues.  He said it was probably the sports drink that I was filling my hydration pack with.  It’s better to just go with water and the electrolyte tabs and take in calories with solid food than rely on the sports drink.  When it is hot out, the body pulls liquid from the stomach and gut to cool itself so it has to separate the water from everything else with the sports drinks and that may be what was causing my cramping. So at the next manned (but not crewed) aid station, I dumped out my sports drink (Hammer Heed) and went with water.  I believe it definitely made a difference.  While my stomach wasn’t 100% back to normal, I felt like eating more. But before I could go back to normal, I needed another bathroom break. But like so many other times on this run, there were not many private places to go during the day.  We came across this farmland area with giant bails of hay just off the path to the left and cows behind a fence to the right.  And a nice steep hill coming up so I didn’t know what would follow.  I told Peter to go on ahead without me.  I tried to find the most private spot behind one of the enormous bails of hay but even if it wasn’t, it didn’t matter.  Anyone that would see was a fellow runner and we all get it. We have to poo!  So #3 for the day and feeling ok after that.  Peter ended up waiting for me at the top of the hill. Coming down that hill and through some more trails, I twisted my right ankle a bit by stepping odd and to stabilize, my left leg took some extra force and twinged my knee. Again, not something I was happy with, but these things happen and it wasn’t serious and hopefully would go away soon or would be masked by some other pain. My quads were on and off in how they felt, but they were holding up. 

Finally, we come into Camp 10 Bear.  The crew was going crazy! Every time we are heading into an aid station, Peter and I would pick up the pace so that they really cheer loud.  This Crewed aid station was the only one that we would see twice.  The aid station is like a fork in the road.  We come in from one side, head out through another.  At mile 70, we will come in from another side, and then exit the fourth way. It is also the first and second aid station that we get weighed in at.  As in most ultras, they do care about your health and safety to some degree so if you lose (or gain) more than 6% of your body weight (or other visible signs of problems) from the weigh in the day before, you are no longer able to continue and pulled from the race.  For me, I weighed in at 141 the day before.  I stepped on the scale and I swear it read 138.  I was a little concerned about being down 3 pounds already.  I could only lose 7 before the professional med staff starts getting concerned.  But they read out 143.  I guess the scale was off and 5 pounds too light.  Ok. So I gained two pounds. That makes sense given I was eating and drinking and taking my electrolyte capsules and I was sweating and cooling off by pouring water on myself so the weight of the water on the outside of my body probably counted for a couple pounds.  After weighing in I walked over to the food area right next to the weigh in, and they were cooking up sausage and pepper dogs.  Wow. They smelled awesome but I wasn’t quite ready for that.  I took some PB&J and some bananas and watermelon.  Then I went back to my crew and got more of my own supplies.  I also changed socks and shirts.  About 10.5 hours into the race, we left Camp Ten Bear and prepared for some tough climbs ahead.  

 Weighing in at Camp 10 Bear #1 - Mile 47, 10:21 run time.
 Having a laugh with the crew at Camp 10 Bear #1 after a shirt and sock change.

At 3:03PM, 11 hours after the start and while walking some long hills, I took a quick video where I say “close to mile 50, up this big rocky hill, not really in the shade. Fun day (sarcasm and laughter from that comment.).  Are we there yet, and can we do it again? No. . . Bye!”  

 That section and hill is called Agony Hill. Aptly named, that’s for certain.  So that brought us to the halfway point and the while the hills continued, they were not as steep, and we had some downhill sections, especially a two mile section that lead to the next crew access point called Tracer Brook Aid station.  Pretty much same deal for me at this aid station.  Peter used a bathroom break again and there was a nice little brook next to it that people were going in to cool off. At least splash cold water on themselves if not dunking their heads in.  We left at roughly 4:50PM. 
 Running downhill into the Tracer Brook Aid Station - Mile 57, 12:42 run time.

If I thought Agony Hill was bad, I hadn’t seen nothing yet.  The next section was ridiculous.  We went up this hill that never freakin’ ended!  It kept going up, and up, and up.  As soon as we thought we got to the top, it went up more and turned left or right.  There was another runner ahead of us that we were leapfrogging most of the day, Amy Mosca and we yelled up to her to ask if that was the top. She said no. . . We did this for a while.  Finally, we get to the top.  There’s a nice house in front and people sitting out watching the runners walk by. They left a hose and big tin trough of water and Peter took the hose and must have been spraying the water for a full minute before it cooled down.  He sprayed himself off to cool himself down and we sauntered on.  It was a slight downhill but not for long.  Then it went back uphill again. But worst of all, we tried to look ahead to see where the hill ended and in the distance we saw up so high were some runners walking up there. And we couldn’t see where their hill they were doing so far in the distance ended.  DOH!  Well, what were we expecting? A flat track in Vermont?  In a way we complained but were now used to the trickery and hills of the Vermont 100.  Or so I thought.  Finally, we get to the top.  A little downhill running and then a short uphill into the next Crew station called Margaritaville, mile 62. This aid station was a lot of fun.  My stomach wasn’t feeling great so I Couldn’t enjoy the Coronas and Burgers they were serving but I did eat more watermelon and bananas.  I took some gummy bears too.  At this point I switched my Garmin for an extra one that Pam had so I could at least track our splits for fun and to look at the course later on.  We sadly head out of Margaritaville at 6:15PM. 
Welcome to Margaritaville
 Running into Margaritaville Aid Station - Mile 62, 14:11 run time.

 Aleks and I vacationing in Margaritaville

We do a little running on the downhill sections but have more uphill to walk and I’m in a bit of a funk until we get to the manned aid station, Brown’s School which is the aid station before we hit Camp 10 Bear again.  This station was decked out in a Grateful Dead theme including Magic Brownies, which we were told had magic but didn’t want to test to see if they were kidding or not.  However, what was magical was that they had Ramen Soup here.  Instead of using the packet of Ramen flavoring, they used real chicken stock and cooked the noodles separately.  I got a cup of that and it was the greatest thing at that moment.  That gave me tons of energy and spirit and we thanked them and headed out much happier than when we got there.  Also, this was pretty much the longest mileage I had ever run at this point.  Every mile now would be a personal best and uncharted territory.  I had ran 65 in training and about 65 in the 100K (in trail running, it's never the exact distance it's supposed to be). We passed our friend Amy on the way downhill back to 10 Bear which was about 3.5 miles downhill.  We cruised into Camp 10 Bear #2 which is mile 70 at 8:11PM.  So that means it took two hours to go 8 miles.  Wow. Professional marathoners run 26.2 miles in 2 hours. . .

I have been told that as I came down the hill and went right to the scales to weigh in, I only had one thing on my mind.  And that was the sausage and pepper dog!  When I weighed in, the doctor said I was sweating a ton.  She read out 143 for the weight and I answered her it isn’t sweat, I’ve been pouring water over myself all day to keep cool. She liked that response. Doctors are tricky there. They want to see if you are ok without asking you that (who would say they aren’t?!) so they ask you other things and see how comprehensive you are and not out of it.  
 Weighing in at Camp 10 Bear #2. This was before scarfing down a sausage and pepper dog.

 So I get to my great crew and they hand me the dog, I sit down while Aleks takes off my shoes to change my socks and I probably finished the dog in four bites if that many.  I was so happy and smiling after that.  Then I brushed my teeth with one of those “Wisp” toothbrushes but it didn’t really work well.  Seeing as it was 8PM already and we had seven miles to get to the next crew access aid station, it was time to take the headlamps again.  It was somewhat disheartening because a rule of thumb there is that if you can get to mile 77 before sunset, you have a good shot at breaking 24 hours.  That was not looking realistic.  In a way though, it was a nice weight lifted because now the goal was finish happy, don’t worry about a time.  Speaking of which, it was just about time to head out now. We probably spend a few extra minutes there than we should have which was a mix up in communication as we were each speaking to our crews while waiting for each other, giving us more time while we were both ready to go earlier.  No big deal though.  What’s two minutes in over 24 hours.
 Brushing my teeth and getting more bug spray at Camp 10 Bear #2 - Mile 70, 16:11 run time.

The race description of the course says “In your planning, keep in mind that the last 30 mile chunk is challenging, with a number of trail sections and short steep up-hills.”  I love trails though but still, not thrilled about challenging the last 30 miles whether it is trails or pavement.  It’s going to be hilly up and down.  Good news is we picked up a pacer.  Wendy-Lynn who had run the Comrades ultra in South Africa in May with Amanda and Peter (55 mile race) started the pacing and was great to have around to chat with.  It got dark rather quickly, especially in the woods and trails.  Those sections were indeed very steep up and down.  Going down in pitch black except for the headlamp and small handheld flashlight was not easy.  Roots, rocks, and the edge of trail cliffs, means going down carefully.  The good thing about the night though was the temperatures had dropped to the 70s and humidity fell too.  That was a welcomed relief from the heat of the day and humidity.  Since there was a lot of walking and we had more than just us, I broke out Aleks’ favorite joke which was the 3 flies in a jar joke.  Everyone eventually got it and that passed some good time and distance.  However, as we got to the manned aid station, Peter had some problems.  He decided to go for his caffeine strategy at this point and had some Cola, something he had practiced during training. A couple minutes later, he was throwing up.  There goes the nutrition he just took down.  He felt slightly better but not much. Grabbed some food for the road and we went walking.  Peter was in a big funk now.  We were walking a runable jeep road section in the dark.  Peter then says he has to stop.  He goes and sits on a giant tree or wooden railing (I don’t remember exactly – it was dark) on the side of the road (the other side of where he is sitting is a sharp drop-off).  He is just sitting on it and trying to push through this bad moment. Wendy and I try to talk him through everything.  Does he need water, salt, food, something else?  We go through how he is feeling and recognize he needs to consume some salt and needs cold water poured on him to cool him off and wake him up, give him energy.  We do that and soon after he gets up but is walking not exactly straight.  So Wendy gets him to walk in between us so he doesn’t walk off the side of the road.  I give him some chocolate covered espresso beans, which were my go-to food in time of need.  A few minutes later, he was feeling better so we continued on ahead and ran what we could.  Finally, we hit the Spirit of 76 aid station and our crew goes nuts cheering for us again.  Well, that’s also because we ran uphill into the aid station.
 Me, Peter, his girlfriend Lauren at the Spirit of 76 Aid station - Mile 77, 18:30 run time - 10:30PM.

I got some more Ramen noodles and ate more watermelon and bananas.  Wearing my Team in Training Red Coach shirt at this time, the volunteer serving food was from one of the Pennsylvania Chapters of Team in Training and we were talking about a few events and how great the organization is.  Unfortunately, I was doing too much chit-chat and it was time to go so thanked all the volunteers and we headed out with Amanda as our pacer now.   This was going to be a long stretch and we knew it beforehand.  It’s just tough to really know what it will be like without ever doing it before.  The reason it feels long at this point is the next time we would get to a crew access aid station would be 11 miles or so later.  And at the pace we were going, that just means it would take 3-4 hours before we get there.  In my non-ultra, just regular marathon days that is enough time to comfortably run a marathon.  In fact, part of my training was when I ran back to back to back marathons in Vancouver, with the last one, being the Vancouver Marathon which I paced three awesome TNT participants to their goal of a sub-4 hour marathon.  One of them, Joe Lyons was crewing for me on this day (and night) in Vermont.  The other two runs were done around a 3:30-3:45 hour pace.  So to know I will be running that long but only cover 11 miles is hard to think about. So I try not to think about it.  Just keep running when we can and walk when we can’t run because well, that’s what we are supposed to do!   Aside from a ton of talking by Amanda, which is the pacer’s job to keep the runner awake and entertained, I don’t recall anything abnormal going on for most of it.  Most of this course was on gravel jeep road, some good downhills in the beginning, and then the usual uphills here, downhills there.  We picked up the pace from the 20 minute mile average the prior 7 miles when we had to slow down because Peter was in his worst moments, to around 17.5 minute mile for this section.  After we refueled at the 83.6 mile aid station called Cow Shed, I once again, got that sensation that my stomach wasn’t happy with me.  I was hoping it would go away but it did not.  Eventually, it got to the point where I told Amanda and Peter that I had to find a pit stop now or never.  We were coming down a hill and then made a left and there was a big house on the left corner and about 100 feet of large, 10 foot tall bushes that separated the house from the road.  I went in between the house and the bushes and ran about 20 feet down there and felt bad about doing it but did my business.  Then instead of turning around to come back out to the road, I kept going, hoping there would be an exit somewhere.  There wasn’t exactly a good exit but I managed to make my own and jump down without killing myself (more than I already had that day and night).  The last couple of miles before the aid station felt like an eternity. It was around or nearing 2AM and we were definitely exhausted.  And there were some good steep roller coaster uphills before we finally saw lights and recognized the aid station called Bills.  This was mile 88.6 and the last weigh in aid station.  We ran in as we normally did to get our cheers. 

The actual aid station was in a big barn.  I weigh in at 141, back to my starting weight of the day before.  Although tired, sore, and wanting this to be mile 98, I looked around and they had cots set up and med personal taking care of people that looked in absolutely horrible shape.  I had nothing to complain about here.  I got Peter’s attention to take a look too so we knew that we are doing ok.  Runners were passed out on the cots covered in blankets and people were getting their blood pressure taken.  It wasn’t pretty.  I decided it wasn’t a happy place to be so I left and went to where our crew was.  I asked for my backpack to be filled halfway with water.  I didn’t need additional weight of a full backpack, especially with water and a manned aid station along the way.  I also changed into a long sleeve shirt because it was getting cold and I could always roll up my sleeves if I felt too hot.  We finally left the aid station at around 2:10AM. 

After we were moving for a few minutes I took a drink from my hydration pack and it had a sweet taste to it.  I hoped it was just the remnants from the Hammer Heed sports drink from much earlier in the day.  I took another drink and knew that it was definitely not water.  Unfortunately, the aid station didn’t have the giant coolers of fluids labeled, or maybe they were mislabeled because I now had sports drink in my hydration pack, and the sports drink was my enemy that day.  I thought I had vanquished this foe but it came back!  I was hoping at least we could agree to live peacefully but in less than five minutes, I already felt myself succumbing to my its evil powers. We get to an enormous open field and we are running a little but I was really struggling to keep up.  Finally, I had to give in.  Peter and Wendy were cruising along but Amanda stayed back with me.  I was shivering, even with my long sleeve. I was also sweating, but I was not running.  My heart rate felt to me like it was not slowing down.  I felt like I had to throw up and I felt like I had to go number two again.  I felt lightheaded.  Basically, I felt everything that was bad at this point.  I knew it at that moment. This was going to be my struggling moment that I had to overcome.  It was incredibly difficult. Off in the distance of this large field, I could see that the field slopes down and continues on for a long distance. Past some trees and maybe into a trail or on a road I see headlamps turning to the left.  But I’m in this place walking very slowly, just trying to will myself forward and not stop.  I was getting dizzy now and started to think that I couldn’t go on because I would pass out.  I said out loud, “This is not good”.  Amanda was there to reassure me it would be ok.  But at this point, I wasn’t so sure.  I thought about what would happen if I just sat down for a moment or lay down and try to get better that way.  But then I thought, what happens if I start puking and crapping all over myself?  How would the medical staff get to me? How would anyone find me in time to get me to a hospital?  I was thinking the worst things.  Then I knew I had to dig deep and I thought much harder about the motivation behind this all. Throughout the race I had thought about those things and the people that supported me and inspired me.  But this time I really brought it into full gear.  We always tell our participants in Team in Training to think about why they joined the Team to run for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's cause.  If they don’t have a personal connection to cancer, they certainly have heard the stories from the mission moments we do at each GTS (Group Training Session).  I started to think about all of those stories.  Some specifically, others were grouped together.  All of them though were powerful.  Here I am, at mile 89-90 or so, doing what I chose to do, challenging myself to do some crazy physical challenge.  I’m having a bad moment, but I chose for this moment to be possible.  There were hundreds of people who I heard tell their own story and struggle, or that of a friend or family member who did not chose to have cancer and go through chemotherapy and other treatments that leave the body to pretty much be dead.  Whatever problem I had was nothing.  Time to suck it up and just go on.  With those thoughts, I decided to think about being a Coach.  If a participant of mine was feeling the way I did on a race, at mile 24 of a marathon, what would I do to help them.  I realized that I needed to cool myself down.  So I asked Amanda to take her water bottle (I gave my handheld up when it got dark) and spray the back of my neck, my wrists, and the back of my knees.  These are all sensitive spots that carry blood and when you cool these down, it has the effect of cooing your entire body down quickly.  After a minute, I felt better. Not much better, but all I needed was a slight pick me up.  Within a minute I told her it was time to catch up to Peter.  So we started jogging through the field, down the long slope and then out onto the roads where we caught up to them.  The uphill walking continued and finally, we entered Keating’s Aid station, mile 92. 

At this point, I knew I needed food but nothing except for Ramen was appealing to me.  So I had another cup.  But before we left I had some unfinished business to take care of.  That was the business of doing #2.  Thankfully, there was a somewhat hidden place, thanks to it being about 3:15AM, and I was able to go.  I really hoped that was the last time I would be going for a long, long time.  For those counting, that was 5 times in 24 hours.  Not what I wanted for the race.  Honestly, I figured if I went twice, once before and once during, that would have been all.  So after cleaning up with some water and then taking in some water for myself, we headed out.  If we wanted to break 24 hours, we would have to go 8 miles in about 40 minutes.  Since we can’t run that fast on a good day for just one mile, 24 hours was certainly out of the question. What about 25 hours?  One hour and forty minutes to go 8 miles.  12:30 minute miles.  Well, that would certainly be a challenge.  We didn’t think about it actually at that point.  At least not out loud.  We walked out of the aid station to give ourselves a few minutes to digest.  As we are heading up a small hill, I really start to feel better.  I asked Peter how he felt and he felt really good too.  Since it hurt more to go downhill than uphill, thanks to our quads being beaten up by all of the downhills on the day, what if we tried to run up these cursed hills and worry about downhill when they happen?  This was the most shocking moment of the race for me. Peter had mentioned earlier in the day that when he paced our old Team in Training Coach Ramon Bermo in 2008 and 2009 on this course, Ramon was able to pick it up and move fast through the last sections. Maybe 15 miles worth or so.  It’s one of those things where you know the finish line is not far (at least compared to other times in this race) so just go as fast as you can go for those last miles.  So that’s what we did.  We put ourselves into a new gear and motored on up these hills.  We were even giving the pacers a run for their money!  I tried looking at my watch a couple times to get an idea of pace because sometimes when you feel like you are going fast but are so exhausted, you really aren’t moving much at all like you expect.  But my watched confirmed our pace. We were averaging around an 11-12 minute mile on the section but it did include some hills we had to walk.  On those sections we ran, we were averaging a 9:30 pace.  Our best pace on some of those miles was around 8:40 to 9 minute miles. We then seriously consider how much faster we can do the rest of the race.  Peter thought we could break 25.  I didn’t think we could, but wanted to get this race over with so was all on board going all out the last 5 miles once we get to the last crew aid station called Polly’s.  So we decided on that plan and want to make it a very quick stop at the aid station. 

We quickly get to Polly’s though I thought we would have arrived sooner.  It’s about 4:10AM.  We did that last 3.5 miles at about a 15:43 minute pace, but that includes however long we stayed at the last aid station and how long before we started to really move it when we left the aid station. But even so, that pace was the fastest we had since before we hit the 100K (62 mile) mark!  We did a very quick transition.  I changed into my red TNT coach shirt (a new one), and put on arm warmers that I could roll down if I was getting too hot.  I grabbed a bottle of water (not the same as a water bottle!) and one gel packet.  I took off my hydration pack since I was hoping one bottle of water would be all I needed and there was one water station at what I thought would be mile 98.5.  Peter and I reconfirm with each other if we’re up for it and ready to go and just like that, we’re out of there.  I think we really surprised the hell out of our crew.  While they were quite exhausted from their day, we came into that aid station on a mission.  We were all business and focused.  That’s a big difference from the sluggishness but always happy and joking attitude we came into all the other aid stations with. 

We are out of Polly’s like bats out of hell (bats that flew 95.5 miles into hell).  We are moving.  Thankfully, this small stretch didn’t have much of an incline or decline.  It was as flat as this course gave you for two miles.  It was mostly downhill.  We did the first mile at probably a sub 9 minute mile pace. It’s impossible to know because it included the stop at Polly’s.  The next mile, was a 9:42 minute mile.  I figured we had another 1.5 miles to the aid station.  In what felt like at least one mile, we get to the water station.  The sign there says mile 97.7.  Crap!  That means I have one extra mile more to go than I thought when we would be at this aid station.  We take some time to fill up our bottles.  Then we head out into an intersection and CRAP! We are lost.  All throughout the course, there were yellow plates with arrows marked in telling you which way to go, and soon after, another yellow plate with a “C” marked in that stands for “Confidence Plate”.  We didn’t see any of that around, nor did we see any “Chem Lights”, which were hung throughout the course so we can see that we are heading the right direction without having to worry about spotting a yellow plate in the dark with our headlamps.  So we stop and look around.  Still confused and lost, but not far off course since the water station is 100 feet away.  We head back to the water stop and look around and someone finally notices some plates with an arrow heading into a small path into the woods and trails.  We start moving again and on an uphill but out of the blue, a pain shoots out at me on the back side of my right leg.  It feels like it is right behind the back of the knee but maybe a few inches down.  I try to push through it but it’s too much for the moment.  I don’t want to cripple myself 2 miles before the finish.  Peter keeps going but Wendy stays with me.  I keep walking though and when we get to some runable areas I try to run but I’m feeling it.  So I’m mostly walking and the steep hills start up again.  No chance I am running these.  After a lot of mostly walking hard, I figure we have no more than one mile to go, at least according to the watch.  The sun seems to be about to rise and the birds begin to sing their morning song again.  Before you know it, I see a sign. “Mile 99. 1 Mile to go!”.   DOH!  I though we were passed that point!  Oh well, saunter on.  After what I thought was one mile, we see another sign, “Mile 99.5.  ½ mile to go!”  YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!  I could have sworn that maybe I had only one quarter of a mile left.  I am really pissed off now but have a hard time using that anger to run because running is hurting.  Finally, we get to an area and I see a few people together.  It turns out it was Peter, Lauren, Pam, Joe, Sam, Amanda.  Most of the crew came there to run us all in.  I don’t know how long they were waiting for me, but it was really nice.  I told Peter he should have gone in and finished, but he said, we had run all 98 miles together, we are going to finish all 100 together.  True class.  So running up and down a few more hills and then we come across a couple volunteers that take down our numbers and tell us the finish is right up ahead.  We can see it too.  I get back to my joking self and tell them that I’ve had enough and I would like to drop out of the race now!  They probably heard that joke a number of times already.  If they didn’t, then the other finishers have no humor!  Finally, we head up that last little hill and through the finish line.  We didn’t get sub 25 hours but we were 25:18:35.   And we finished running 100 miles at once.  At the finish, the rest of the crew was waiting, along with my friends from way earlier the morning before.  We give each other big congratulatory embraces.  They all finished sub-24 hours.  Jim came in at 29th place overall with a blistering 22:53:55 (SUB 23!).  Todd came in at 23:43:32.  And the ultra veteran, Snipes, came in at 22:59:19 (also Sub 23!).  Peter and I placed 125th and 126th.  Out of 297 runners that started, 197 finished before the  30-hour cutoff.  The winning time was a guy from NYC named Michael Arnstein.  At the awards BBQ, he looked about my height but 20 pounds lighter. His finish time, 15 hours 26 minutes for an overall pace of around 9:15 minute miles INCLUDING any aid station stops.  That is unbelievable!   
 Running into the finish!  25:18:35
Sort of posing for some finish line photos

 Yeah, a little exhausted.
 Speaking with Jim's pacers Mark (on right - who is becoming an ultra maniac!) and Seth. 

After finishing and speaking with everyone for about ten minutes, I head over to where there is food and drink which also happens to be right next to the medical area.  I get myself a cup of Ramen Noodles to keep me warm and then head to the medical area so I can get some sleep.  The plan is to sleep a bit and then head back to the house to ice bath, stretch and roll (massage roller), nap, and come back in time for the 11AM BBQ and awards.  I sit on the cot and speak with Aleks for a bit and tell her I will just sleep a little while but to wake me up if anyone is heading back.  She leaves and I speak with one of the medics about any advice for sleeping and she says, just close your eyes.  Great advice!  It worked. In about one minute I was asleep.  Someone was tapping me what seemed like a few minutes later, but actually about 40 minutes later.  Turns out, people were heading back to the house and Pam would give me a ride back in my car.  I get back to the house, take an ice bath, eat, stretch, roll, and then take a two hour nap.  I wake up a little after 9AM and do some more stretching and rolling.  We then head out to the awards BBQ.  Moving around is a challenge.  I feel every step. The pain isn’t bad pain though, meaning it’s not sore knees, or serious injuries.  Just what one should feel after putting their muscles through a lot of stress.  My quads were toast.  I had to use my hands  to hold the wall to go down any stairs. It wasn’t the impact of landing, but the leg balancing when the other was trying to step down could feel deep muscle pain.  Again, sorenesss which I expected to go away in a couple of days. 
 Peter and I receiving our award plaques from race director Julia. Her father was the race director for 20 something years until he passed away a couple years ago. She and her brother have kept the race going.

After the BBQ, Aleks and I came back home to find the rest of the crew had left back for NYC (as expected since I was taking the week off and they were not).  I ate some food, stretched and rolled and put ice packs on my knees just in case and laid down on a couch in the living room and put on the tv to watch the Women’s World Cup Finals. The channel had the pre-game activities going.  Right before the game started, I fell asleep.  I woke up right as the game finished and asked Aleks who had won.  She fell asleep too but said she thought U.S. won in penalty kicks.  I said, they don’t look so happy about winning though.  That’s because they lost in PKs.  Oh well.  At least I had a great finish! 

So as I think I said in the beginning, the Vermont 100 is a race that is either going up or down.  There were so few flat areas that anything that was a slight grade up or down felt flat compared to most of the run. I downloaded the Garmin Data and for each mile it displays the total elevation gain and loss for that mile.  By converting that into a %grade, I was able to see the average Grade up or down of each mile.  Below is a chart of that and beneath that, for my NYC people is what the same thing looks like but using the six mile full loop of Central Park.  So really, I should never ever complain about Cat Hill or Harlem Hill again.

My ridiculous plan for the rest of the week was to go to New Hampshire on Monday and do some hikes that week in the Franconia Notch and Presidential Mountain regions.  On Monday, Aleks and I hiked a flat out and back 2 miles because it was the wrong trail.  Then we found the correct trail of “Lonesome Lake” trail which climbs about 1 thousand feet and is about 3 miles out and back. I definitely felt my legs were tired. It was a little over a day and a quarter after finishing the race.  The downhills sucked.  Uphills, I was ok, but felt some deeper soreness. Whatever it was on the back of my leg that hurt me at mile 98 was nowhere to be found.  Tuesday, we relaxed, went into town and saw the final installment of the Harry Potter movies.  Wednesday, we went all or nothing and hiked up and down Mount Washington.  An 11 mile round trip hike.  Thankfully, the weather held up at the summit.  Mt. Washington is known for the worst weather in the world.  At any moment, even in the summer, a nasty snowstorm can blanket the top.  The top wind speed of around 250 mph was recorded there.  It was a hot and hazy day which made very far visibility poor, but aside from that, it was a great day to hike. The uphill climb after the first 2 miles was crazy.  There were a few areas that you had to scramble on your hands to maintain balance and climb up and onward. We took a different route back and it was a steady but long downhill back.  I really felt how deep the soreness was with all the downhills back.  My quads were still very tired and sore.  But, I wasn’t running 100 miles that day so I was very happy to just be hiking the few miles back now.
 Hiking Mount Washington in New Hampshire three days after finishing VT100.
We got looks and exclamations of amazement from the people on the summit that drove to the top or took the train up because we hiked it.  Glad I didn't tell them what I did 72 hours or so earlier.

One of the questions people ask me now that the race is done, is “Would I do it again?”.  I don’t think they are asking would I make the same choice now, knowing what I know now and to go back in time and do the race.  I think they are asking, “Will I do this race next year, or do another 100 mile race?”.  The answer to that question right now is. . . .  maybe.   I can tell you that during the race, with Peter and others as my witness, I said many times that I will not do a 100 mile race again.  I do not enjoy pulling all-nighters on a regular day of not running.  Maybe I should just get faster like the people that can finish in 20 hours.  No, not likely.  The day that I finished the race, so 25 hours later and the rest of that Sunday, I still said, I will not do that again.  That Monday, however, I started to think, “Well, maybe if I didn’t have the stomach issues, if I ran some more uphills earlier and in the middle and took it much easier on the downhills, the race would be faster and better”.  This is what happens to a lot of runners, whether it is the ultra distance or a ½ or full marathon, many times during the event you wonder why you do all the training and put yourself through the challenge of the race.  But a day or so afterward, you feel a tremendous amount of accomplishment and euphoria of finishing.  I think the longer the race, the longer the runners high lasts.  You seem to forget just how bad some of those moments in the race were.   Now, many weeks later, I still feel that pulling an all-nighter is miserable and I remember exactly how bad I felt at mile 89.  Yet, I still have this urge to do another 100 miler.  To me though, although the race was a great challenge, training is the hardest part.  Working long hours, trying to balance life and work, and on top of that, wake up between 4-6AM to go run for anywhere between 4-10 hours on both days of the weekend eventually wears me out mentally. I run for fun and it's because it's who I am.  So if I do go for another 100, I’m going to try a different training schedule.  Maybe do more very long runs (50+ miles) once every couple of weeks and take it more or less easy on the other days.  Or just run 6 days a week with one of those days being a 30-40 miler.  There are so many different ways to go about it.  And as you can see, I have been thinking just a little about it.  Still, if I never do another 100 mile race, I will be okay with that.  This experience was amazing and I’ll always remember it, just like I will remember my first and my fourth and final (so far) Ironman race.  I of course wish to thank my girlfriend, Aleks for putting up with all this nonsense for many months, and putting up with it for many months in the future, whether it is for an ultra or a regular run-of-the mill marathon.  But of course tremendous thanks go out to my crew of Anna, Joe, Pam, and Sam.  Peter’s crew of Amanda, Lauren, and Wendy-Lynn, my ultra buddies that I’ve met along the way, Snipes, Jim, Todd, Mark, and very big thanks for all of my Team in Training friends and teammates past and present. You all helped me train mentally to do this with all of your support and seeing what you all do to tale on your challenges.   If you thought this recap was long enough, be thankful I’m not listing names of everyone from TNT, good friends, coaches, and familiar faces.  And of course thanks to everyone that told me I am crazy (which includes those I just mentioned).  Tell someone they can’t do something, and not only will they do it, they’ll go beyond what you even thought possible what they can accomplish.   And if you can do something, consider making a donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  My fundraising website it here:
So give $1 per mile or $0.1 per mile.  Whatever you give helps improve the lives of those unfortunate and unlucky people that have been afflicted with Cancer.  Many of these people are people you know, or have heard of.  

-Mike Bielik

Here are some additional pictures from the race:

I like this picture for some reason. I'm happy, and my form looks pretty good.

Running into the Tracer Brook aid station.

My awesome Crew!

At Stage Road Aid Station

 The tents at Silver Hill Meadow

The bag drops for the various Crew Access Aid stations (9 of them). If you don't have a crew, this is your only means of getting your own supplies throughout the race.

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