It’s been… a while. I guess after VT100 I kind of had to take a break from a lot of things. I enjoyed the rest of the summer. I coached a high school cross country team in the fall and trained for Lookout Mountain 50miler. Along the way, I realized my life got a bit too full and hectic to really crush a training cycle, and since that happened, I kind of let the blog go by the wayside. It happens. So, here I am, coming off of a 5-week road trip where I hit 24 states (definitely a post on that soon), and I’m rested and back and training for VT100 once again!
I’m training with a coach for the first time, which is both exciting and terrifying. I have big goals (more on that later, too) and I’m excited to get to work. Last week was a 41 mile week just to get my legs under me again. It felt good to be training with consistency and purpose again.
I love my dogs, but I’m often jealous of people who have dogs that are trustworthy off-leash. Zorro and Tulah are just not those types of dogs. I adopted them both as adult hound-mix former strays, so they were never trained as puppies. I think more than anything this is the biggest factor that works against them for being off-leash dogs. Tulah has some dog-aggression, a strong prey drive, and a nose on her. I think she’d come back to me off-leash. She has gotten loose on me a few times, and she’s come back on her own time (often hours), but it’s just too likely that she’ll get herself into some trouble while she’s following her nose. Zorro is pretty attached to me – maybe too attached – but because he spooks easily I worry that if he spooked off-leash while we were out hiking he may revert back to feral dog/survival mode and I’d never see him again. So, my dogs are on-leash dogs.
I like adventure, and so do my dogs, so I decided that we’d have to figure out a way to go camping and hiking even though they were both going to have to stay tethered or contained the whole time. I also planned our first camping trip to be solo so that I could assure myself that I could take care of both my dogs on my own without having to rely on help or an extra set of hands. It really couldn’t have gone more smoothly.
So here’s our camping/hiking recap and some gear recommendations and tips that I found useful for our trip.
First off, I had to find a dog-friendly campground. Many primitive camp sites are dog-friendly, but I wanted to make sure we weren’t anywhere too popular so that Tulah wouldn’t spend her whole trip barking at other dogs. I settled on Moosamaloo Campground in the Green Mountain National Forest. It’s a pretty rustic place with some vault toilets and a couple hand pumps for fresh water. There are a few trailheads right from the campground and plenty of hiking trails 10-15 min drives away.
I decided on two nights for our first camping adventure. If it didn’t go well, at $10/night I wasn’t going to be out a lot of money if I had to head home early. The campground was a three hour drive from home and we got there on Wednesday in the late morning. Tulah and Zorro got out of the car and we walked around the campground looking for a site that had some open areas to set up a zip line system to use as a dog run and a wide open area that kept anywhere I tethered them not too close to the tent or the fire ring. I settled on site 14 and brought the car around to set up camp.
Luckily the spot had a large picnic table that had cement legs so I could easily use their Kurgo Quantum leashes to tether each of them to a leg of the table. They were happy to watch me set up our tent and put together the campsite a bit. Because I planned on doing a lot of solo car camping with the dogs when I bought my tent, I bought a Coleman Instant Cabin. It really is a cabin – I have the 6-person tent and I can set up a full queen mattress, a large dog crate, and still have plenty of room to store gear. It also has almost 6ft clearance, so you can stand up to change (I love that feature!). Is it the best tent out there? Nope. But if you’re doing mostly fair-weather car-camping and don’t want to spend an hour setting up a tent, it’s perfect. It takes me about 2 minutes to set up with a rainfly by myself. You cannot beat that!
After I set up the camp, I got the dogs ready to hike Mount Moosamaloo. The trailhead is right at the campground, so I figured it’d be a great first day hike. Zorro was a little overwhelmed and tired from the trip, so he kind of gave up hiking about 1.25 miles in. Instead of pushing it, we bailed on getting the peak and went back to camp and explored the little nature trail in the campground.
I gave the dogs some snacks and I ate lunch and then a small rain storm hit us for a couple hours. We hung out in the tent and took a short nap and I started reading Finding Gobi – an amazing story of a little stray dog that followed Dion Leonard, an ultra stage-racer, through the Gobi Desert in a race in 2016.
When the rain cleared, I brought the dogs out for another short hike up to Voter Falls and a nice scenic wildflower area I saw on the Moosamaloo area map. This time I brought Zorro’s K9 Sport Sack Air since I wanted to make it out to the scenic area even if Zorro wasn’t feeling the hiking. Sure enough, within a quarter mile of starting to hike, Zorro started to throw himself on to the ground acting exhausted and like he couldn’t take one more step. I put him in the pack and we hiked up to the wildflower field. When we got there, Zorro got out of the pack and we ran around the fields and took dirt roads back to the campground for dinner.
The first night was Zorro and Tulah’s first night in a tent. I brought their crate just in case it seemed like they’d try to tear through the tent walls if they heard anything outside the tent. They were perfect angels. They curled up on a blanket and my sleeping bag and slept through the entire night. I was up until about 10pm and read the rest of Finding Gobi and felt very thankful to have had a successful first day camping with my two little strays.
We woke up around 6am on Thursday and I made breakfast for me and the dogs. Whenever I needed to, I could tether the dogs to the zip line or the picnic table so I could move around and go back and forth to the car easily. The plan on Day 2 was to drive over to Brandon Gap and pick up the Long Trail to hike to Gillespie Peak. When I was looking at the trail map I couldn’t believe there was a mountain with my last name, so we had to go bag it. It was going to be a 3.3 mile trip out to the summit with a lot of climbing, so I was really hoping that Zorro was going to be able to handle it. He has a ton of energy, but he sometimes decides he’s not going to move, so I have to have a backup plan if he decides he’s done. I packed up Tulah with extra water and snacks in her Kurgo Baxter backpack and I used the K9 Sport Sack Air as my pack and planned to carry or transfer my snacks and water to Tulah’s pack if I ended up having to carry Zorro in the pack.
The dogs were complete champs! Zorro and Tulah loved the Long Trail and maneuvered the rocks and climbs so well. I had Tulah attached to my waist using the Quantum Leash and I held the Quantum Leash like a normal leash for Zorro. Tulah led the way, I was in the middle, and Zorro followed right behind me. We didn’t break any speed records, but we moved pretty well stopping for lots of water and snack breaks. It was 85 degrees, so it was important to keep the dogs hydrated and rested if we were going to get to Gillespie Peak. I used the Kurgo Gourd Water Bottle and Kurgo Zippy Bowl for the dogs and it worked out perfectly. They stayed hydrated and made sure to mark the trails along the way!
The first mountain you start on at Brandon Gap is called Mount Horrid (seriously). It’s a pretty steep and rocky climb, but it’s over in less than a mile. After hitting that peak, you descend a bit down a forested ridge and then climb Cape Lookout Mountain. Again you descend a bit, but stay along the ridge for another 1.5 miles up to Gillespie Peak – the highest point in Windsor County. Cape Lookout Mountain has an awesome view and we stopped there both on the way out and back to get water and snacks and to take some pictures. Gillespie Peak is pretty tree-lined, so you don’t get a great view from the trail, but if you look out through the trees you can definitely see that you’re quite high up (3,366′). At Gillespie Peak we met two thru hikers who were kind enough to take our picture!
On the way back, we hiked up to Great Cliff. The Great Cliff is a nesting place for peregrine falcons, so it is closed from from March 1st to August 1st. Luckily, we were hiking on August 3rd, so we were able to get up there. The views were absolutely spectacular! The pups seemed to enjoy it, too. I’m afraid of heights and I was attached to 60lbs of dog, so I wasn’t going to go too close to the edge, but they kept on trying to pull me out closer and closer to the edge of the cliff.
I packed the pups back into the car and we went into the town of Brandon, VT. It was adorable and I definitely want to go back! At this point, I had only seen 3 other people the entire trip, so it was nice to get a chance to chat with some locals, get some cell service, and drink an iced coffee from Gormet Provence while sitting by the river. We then grabbed a late lunch at Heart and Soul Cafe. I had a great veggie sandwich and the pups were able to lay in the grass and sleep.
We took the scenic route back to camp from Brandon and drove by Silver Lake and other parts of the Moosamaloo Recreation Area. When we got back to camp, I tethered the dogs up and I took a quick bucket bath and changed into some clean clothes. The rest of the evening I spent reading Eat & Run by Scott Jurek by the fire and drinking some North Country Hard Cider while the pups dug holes and slept in them. We turned in for bed around 9pm and we fell fast asleep. I woke up around 1am and found that Tulah had stolen my pillow and was sleeping right on top of my head and Zorro had stolen the bottom half of my sleeping bag and made himself a little nest. Note to self: Next time bring a dog bed for the dogs – they are like the princess and the pea and a blanket isn’t enough!
At 4am, I woke up to the most terrifying sound coming from 15ft away from our tent. It sounded like a hollow scream/whistle with a chirping sound following it. It kept going for about 5minutes and I was freaking out. The dogs on the other hand raised their heads, looked toward the sound, looked back at me, and then went back to sleep. The dogs didn’t seem concerned, which made me fairly confident that whatever it was wasn’t going to eat us, but I still didn’t want whatever it was to hang out that close to the tent. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I turned on my lantern and that seemed to move the little guy along. I heard the wailing get further away after a couple minutes. It was either a fox or a bobcat (the call sounded the most like the video below).
I woke up again around 6:30am. I fed the dogs breakfast and I started to pack up camp. The camp had started to feel like home and Tulah and Zorro had settled in so well that I was pretty sad to leave. But with thunderstorms in the forecast and some commitments back on the Seacoast, it was time to go. In about an hour I had the car all packed up and we were on our way. We stopped at the Rochester Cafe & Country Store on the way home. I ate a veggie breakfast sandwich on the porch while the dogs relaxed and watched the small town morning hustle and bustle, we got gas and then drove the rest of the way home without stopping.
All in all, it was an amazing trip and I’m so proud of the dogs for doing such a great job! I never would have expected that a trip with two dogs who I was going to have to be tethered to for 3 days would go so smoothly. We barely saw anyone at the campground or hiking, so that made things a lot easier for me since Tulah wasn’t running into any off-leash dogs (her biggest issue). Zorro was OK with most of the hiking, so we ended up getting to do the big hike I wanted to. Sure, it would have been easier to do the trip alone and I would have been able to stay longer and run/hike further, but it was a perfect way to spend a couple days during a rest week post-VT100.
So, if you’re thinking about camping with your dogs, even if they have to stay on-leash, know that it’s totally possible!
I can’t believe VT100 was over two weeks ago. It all seems like a blur. In many ways I can’t believe it all happened, but my body reminds me that I did, in fact, run 100 miles and it’s still repairing.
I was lucky enough to finish the race uninjured, so I was back to doing a couple shake out runs as early as the Friday after the race. The last two weeks I’ve stayed under 20 mile weeks and no runs longer than 6 miles. I’ve been walking and running with the dogs quite a bit and letting them dictate the pace. Zorro is always good about keeping things relaxed and makes me take lots of breaks along the way. I’m adding in some basic bodyweight circuit training a couple times a week as well until I get on a more strict strength plan. I’m noticing my fatigue the most in strength. I’ve always had a very strong core and can do leg lifts and planks for minutes at a time. Right now after 30 seconds I’m feeling it. My abs give way and my back tries to take over. I finally know what that feels like and I can see why strength instructors tell you to back off if that happens – it feels AWFUL! I’m also pathetic at pushups and pull ups right now. After about 10 very weak and shaky pushups I’m having to go on to my knees and I can only do two very jerky pull ups. I know it’ll come back, but it’s been hard to adjust. At first I was weirdly discouraged and felt like I “out of shape”, but I have to remember that I am strong (I ran 100 freaking miles!) and my body underwent some serious trauma and I have to give it time to get back up to speed. I think I’ll stick to a very relaxed running schedule for most of August and try to add in things as I feel good and less fatigued.
It’s been a bit of a wild ride emotionally and mentally. I have been very overwhelmed with just about everything. I get excited to spend time with people and in groups, but then when I’m there I feel like I can’t keep my focus for more than a few seconds. I start conversations and then end up finding myself drifting off and somehow dropping the topic and escaping to a corner for a bit. I’ve needed to spend a lot of time alone to counteract all the parties and visits I’ve been doing since the race now that I have time to travel and relax a bit more. There have been 4 days in the last two weeks where I haven’t interacted with another human (minus a few texts) and I’ve needed it. I’ve always had fairly strong hermit-like and introverted tendencies, and this experience has really brought them out. I recharge by being alone, and I think I’ve needed quite a bit of recharging.
To do a bit more recharging and to hopefully get myself back to normal before the school year starts up again and I have to put on my extroverted hat, I’ve decided to go on a 2-3 day solo camping and hiking trip with the dogs. The hope is to make it up to Quebec, but I’m still planning the trip (I’m supposed to be leaving tomorrow…). I may end up just hanging out in northern VT and NH if I can’t pull off everything I need to get across the border with 24hrs of planning. Either way, we’ll do a couple 10-20km hikes, hang out in my stupidly massive tent, have a campfire, and read something besides student papers.
Finally, I think I have my winter race picked out. I’m looking into Lookout Mountain 50miler on the TN/GA line. It’s the National RRCA Ultra Championship, so it might be a fun place to lay it all out and truly race my first ultra rather than just run it to complete it.
I’m thrilled to say that I finished Vermont 100 in 105th place overall (14th woman) in a time of 23:15:15! The experience has left me simultaneously amped up and exhausted, unable to find words but unable to stop talking. It was such a wild ride.
The Friday before VT100 my teammates and I headed up to Silver Hill Farm in Windsor, VT to set up camp. SIX03 had eleven 100milers, three 100kers, and a huge group of crew members and volunteers with us. We set up our own little tent city in the field and spend the drizzly, cold day eating and chatting nervously about the race the next morning. Around 11:30am I checked in to the race and received my bib (142) and did a pre-race medical check and weigh in. At 4:30pm we had the pre-race meeting where we learned about the course, medical concerns that would get us pulled off the course, and the new athletes with disabilities (AWD) racing division. The whole time I was remembering the year before’s race when I was crewing and still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that I’d be running 100miles less than 12 hrs later. After dinner I had a short meeting with my crew to familiarize them with what I wanted on the course and to ask final questions and by 8:30pm I was in my tent trying to sleep, but I couldn’t. I was looking at my watch at 11:45pm and terrified that I wasn’t going to sleep at all. I think I probably fell asleep a bit after midnight and woke up at 3:15am for our 4am start.
Race morning still seems like a blur. I remember getting to the start and giving some of my SIX03 friends a hug at the start line and then the race went off pretty unceremoniously. There was a countdown but there was so much chatter around me that I didn’t really hear it and before I knew it we were shuffling down the road. The first couple miles of the race are on some trails that were pretty wet and muddy. It’s dark and crowded and this year the humidity was making things feel jungle-like. I was very overwhelmed by the race until the sun came up. I felt hot, sweaty, disoriented, and a bit nauseous for the first couple miles. Luckily I came up to my friend Charlie pretty quickly and we ran together off and on until the sun came up. Shortly after that, we caught up to Tom and the three of us ran together until the first or second aid station. At that point, we saw Alex coming out of a port-o-potty and caught up to him pretty much right after that. From about miles 11-14 we all ran together taking short walk breaks along the way, but the majority of those miles were a long steady downhill until we reached the lowest point on the course, the Taftsville covered bridge. After this, the course rises for the next 5-6miles up dirt roads. Alex took off after saying he had a pretty aggressive time goal and the rest of us did most of the climbing together for the next couple miles. I waited up for Tom and Charlie at some of the mid-course aid stations since I was still very ahead of schedule for the race pace I was aiming for and we all arrived to Pretty House (mile 21, our first crewed aid station) together just after 8am. I had planned on being there at 8:41am given the pacing charts projected times, but the race just doesn’t lend itself to that slow of a pace with the long downhills and relatively road-heavy mileage leading up to the first aid station. My crew hadn’t gotten to Pretty House when I arrived. I went to the bathroom and ended up grabbing some food from Tom’s crew and was about to head out when I saw them. I was able to quickly grab sunscreen and some of my own food and left with Tom. Charlie caught up to us shortly afterward.
Tom, Charlie, and I ran together for another 3-4 miles downhill, then the course starts to take some sharp uphills from 25-28. I started to realize that uphill hiking/speedwalking was going to be my strength on the course so I pulled away at this point. I chatted with a few runners as we headed up the hills. One guy I had seen pass out the year before at mile 47. He looked strong this year and I hope he finished – I never caught his name. I ran into an “ultra friend”, Dane, just before the climb to the highest point in the course at U-Turn aid station. Last year he broke 24hrs for the first time and I took care of him a bit when he finished since he had locked his keys in the car. I’ve seen him at just about every other ultra I’ve been in since! I felt strong as I climbed up the Sound of Music hills to the high point of the course around mile 28-29.
After hitting Sound of Music you descend pretty sharply down into the 2nd crewed aid station, Stage Road. I arrived and met my crew and quickly switched out my trash for new food and ate a bit of veggie sushi because we had been running for close to 6hours at this point. I put on sunscreen, bug spray, some glide, and had a bladder for my pack filled with ice and put against my back and headed out again. As I was heading out I saw Tom and Charlie arrive to the station. I wished them well, but after that I didn’t see them again on the course. From Stage Road until the next crewed station is 17 miles. It’s a long time to be without crew during the heat of the day. There was a lot of downhill throughout this section and some open paved roads. It was hot but I was staying hydrated and fueled and keeping as relaxed as possible. At mile 40 you hit the second lowest point on the course, Lincoln Covered Bridge. It was just before the bridge and its aid station that I caught up to my friend Jess who was wearing antenna and a grass skirt – she always races in costume. We stopped and had popsicles – they were amazing! – and then continued on our way up another long road uphill. I started to pull away from Jess at this point because of my strong uphill speed walk. It was strange to hear her say “In case I don’t see you for the rest of the race, good luck!”, but that’s how these things go. When you break away from some people you don’t see them again on course, while there are others who you can never seem to get away from on the course. I didn’t end up seeing Jess again on the course.
The course has a few ups and downs after the large climb at mile 40 and then hits a steep downhill into Camp 10 Bear at mile 47. Coming into that aid station I had flashbacks to crewing Alex last year. Again it was hot, but I had my crew fill my bladder with ice and I took a few more bites of veggie sushi. Mostly at that station I was hoping to just keep going. I was 3 miles off my distance PR and still feeling fresh. I asked where my teammates were around me and got a sense that we were all spaced out about 20-40mins apart which was pretty exciting that late in the race. Here I changed from my Topo MT-2s to my Topo UltraFlys – my feet were killing me.
Things get real after Camp 10 Bear the first time. The climbs between there and the next aid station four miles away, Pinky’s, were absolutely brutal. They were mostly steep, rocky trails. They weren’t that technical, but there was very little “easy” terrain through that section and my pace slowed considerably. I remember thinking to myself that this is where the race all of a sudden got real. I hit my distance PR at this point, but I still had hours until I reached the point where I was going to have been on my feet for the longest time ever. At Birmingham’s (mile 55 or so), people started to drop like flies. I saw a lot of vomit on the roads and trails. People started to look rough at aid stations and were starting to sit and hang out much more frequently. I was still feeling good, but I knew that at this point there were very few guarantees on how long that was going to last.
A steep downhill runs from 56-57, and then you climb one of the biggest and steepest climbs into Margaritaville at mile 59. At this point it was very hot, and I was starting to see why this aid station sees some of the highest dropout rates. At this point many first time racers have hit distance PRs, it’s in the heat of the day, and the miles between these crewed aid stations are some of the toughest there are on the course. If you haven’t been smart up to this point, it’s a recipe for disaster. Luckily I arrived to Margaritaville feeling pretty good. I didn’t dwell on any negatives and tried to make sure I was ready for the next push toward when we’d return to Camp 10 Bear and pick up our pacers. My crew gave me some broth, I put on a shirt, got more ice, and grabbed some watermelon. I was starting to not like the foods I had brought with me at this point in the race, but I forced myself to eat some things and take lots of Spring Energy gels with me.
The miles start to feel long after Margaritaville. The 3-4 miles between aid stations start to seem like they’ll never pass. I looked down at my watch and I’d see only a mile had passed since the last time I looked and I couldn’t understand how I hadn’t gotten further. These miles aren’t particularly hard – I honestly don’t really remember them that well at all – but the race definitely started to take its toll here. I had remembered that last year Alex was doing well and on a fairly quick pace at Margaritaville and things went south stomach-wise for him between there and Camp 10 Bear the second time. I also knew that Tom had dropped out at Margaritaville in 2016 after having a bad reaction to some medication he took for a bee sting. It was also in these miles from Margaritaville to Camp 10 Bear the second time that Jess had stopped being able to really run and had to hike it in the year before. These were the thoughts going through my mind. My goal was to try to save my feet, legs, and stomach by relaxing as much as I could and surviving these miles. I think these negative thoughts and memories played a part in what was to come.
There is a steep downhill leading to Camp 10 Bear the second time that then has a bit of a rise right before heading into the aid station. Somewhere along the course – I think near Pinky’s/Birmingham’s – I ended up with the nickname “walk with a purpose.” It’s something my dad always said to me growing up. I have a very fast uphill speed walk and everyone noticed it who I was racing with. I told them I wasn’t running much anymore, so I just had to “walk with a purpose” so I could get to the finish line. As I took the last climb up to Camp 10 Bear, I started to recognize the roads since I had warmed up on them the year before when I was waiting to pick up Alex for my pacing duties. On this uphill I started to mentally repeated, and sometimes repeated out loud, “walk with a purpose” and used it as a mantra throughout the rest of the race. I came into Camp 10 Bear again while it was still light out and having hit a couple huge milestones: I was nearing my longest run time-wise, I reached my pacers, and I “only” had a 50k left.
I picked up my first pacer, Bethany, and we went off across the road into the most technical climb of the course. I asked my pacers to run directly behind me so I didn’t get pulled into too fast of a pace. The course takes a two mile steep uphill from Camp 10 Bear and this year it was very rocky since it had washed out quite a bit from the huge amounts of rain VT had seen earlier in the summer. I climbed well, but when I hit the top, I was in a horrible mood. The fields and houses at the top are gorgeous – I remembered how beautiful they were from last year and they didn’t disappoint this year either, but I could not really appreciate them. I was tired. I couldn’t have conversation with Bethany. I had switched back into the shoes I started the race in, but my feet were killing me. We got back on to some trails to head down a hill to an aid station at 74 miles and I had a full blown temper tantrum. I screamed that my feet hurt. I started repeating over and over again as I sobbed uncontrollably, “These things will pass. These things will pass” and then took off running as hard as I could for about 400m as I heaved and sobbed. I felt like a toddler having a temper tantrum. Once we got past that section, I started to come around again. I had broth and I could run a bit more of the course.
I had never hit a truly dark moment in a race before, and I think a lot of things came together to make that the place where it was going to happen. I knew that section of the course since I had paced it the year before. I knew I was there almost an hour earlier than Alex had been the year before, so sub-24 was mine to lose. I all of a sudden was acutely aware of how tired and ruined I felt because I was with someone who was so fresh. I also had built up getting to my pacers as this huge milestone in the race (and it definitely was), but it was really hard to have that moment of excitement immediately switch to thinking about how to channel things and hold it together for another 50k. I have gotten sort of cavalier about distances under 50 miles over this past year – I was at the point where I barely considered 50ks ultras – and I got a nice awakening that 30miles is no joke and I should stop treating it like one, especially after having run 70 miles before it. So yeah, I hit the dark place. I never considered quitting, but I was really, really angry that my body was starting to fail me.
The sun went down as we went through some pretty trails and a nice uphill to hit Spirit of 76 where I picked up my next pacer, Frank. I changed into my Altra Paradigms since they were so cushioned and my feet had been killing me. The pace was still good – not quite 22.5hr pace, but not yet at 23hr pace. Frank and I ran our next 11.5 miles together and I was completely loopy throughout this section. It runs along a lot of the VT50 course, but I didn’t know that at the time. It was pitch black and I kept on asking Frank if my posture looked ok because I was worried about getting “the leans” – a sign that things are going very south in a race. I also kept on having him do math for me so I could see if sub-23 was still a possibility. Late into this leg of the race I started to see things. A runner with some reflective material on his clothing turned into a moonwalking yeti that I was a little scared to catch up to. Another runner’s blinking red light on the back of her headlamp was making me incredibly anxious. I didn’t wear my prosthetic corneas, so every blink was taking up my whole visual field and I started to get very upset that it seemed like a fireworks display was on the course. Frank and another runner assured me that everyone on the course was friendly and that I should just keep moving. Walk with a purpose…walk with a purpose…
Coming up to Bill’s (mile 88) there is a long slightly downhill section that can get runners moving again. My friend Tony had warned me about this section from last year since he ran a sub 10min/mi here and kind of blew up at Bill’s. I told this to Frank as I was running that section and made sure to take some walking breaks along the way, but there was a good stretch where I was running quite quickly and I was getting very excited to be so close to picking up my final pacer – another milestone I had gotten into my mind as I was planning out my race.
At Bill’s I sat down for one last shoe change. I knew there would be some trails at the end of the race, so I got back into my MT-2s. At Bill’s the exhaustion and confusion from running in the dark so long had gotten to me. I was a bit of a zombie at the aid station and needed people to do a lot for me – up until that point I had been able to do a lot of things for myself at the crew stops if I had to. At Bill’s I was basically barking orders. I felt bad about it, but I knew that everyone understood. I picked up Chris, my final pacer, and went off into the night.
A lot of the miles between Bill’s and the finish are on trails and fields. Chris stayed just behind me shining his headlamp up so I could see what was in front of me. We chatted a bit about the terrain we were coming up to since he had paced a runner through there last year. Chris pointed out the beautiful bright orange half moon over some fields and it felt like I had another friend along the way with me. Chris kept pointing it out when I was getting a bit negative and it would immediately turn my attention to the beauty of the place and what I was doing. I didn’t do much running throughout this section, but any time I did Chris would give me a good “yeah!” or “awesome!” and I ran a few steps further. It was some slow going, though. About 3/4 of a mile from Polly’s (mile 94.9) I knew I was in the home stretch. SIX03 was volunteering at that aid station and I had thought for months that if I could get there that I was going to finish the race. I started running really fast up the road to Polly’s right along three beautiful horses. The riders were telling me that they hadn’t seen anyone really run in that long and it inspired me to keep running faster until I got there. I was crying and telling them my team was there and that I was going to finish. I’m sure I sounded absolutely crazy.
After Polly’s there are two miles on road which I ran as best as I could and got in “good miles” (anything sub-15min miles at that point was a good mile) and reminded myself over and over again “This is A race. This is A race.” Reminding myself of that fact helped me to run a couple extra steps on each stretch I was running. The last two miles are on trails and the first of those miles was SLOPPY. There was ankle grabbing mud and loose rocks in the trail. Chris slipped a few times because he was shining his light for me and leaving his footing in the dark. I appreciate that more and more when I think back on it now.
The last mile was an uphill climb on trails and then it plunges down some windy downhills to the finish. I got a final wind and started trucking up the uphill. “This is A race. This is A race.” About a half mile out, I started to really run. I was going sub-10minute miles through the woods and passed probably three groups of runners right through that section. I came up behind three horses in the final 300m or so and tripped a bit and my light flashed strangely into the woods. It spooked the back horse and that in turn spooked the others. They were side stepping and bucking a bit on a very narrow trail. I just stood there staring at them unsure of what to do. I asked the riders if I could go around them and they said to keep moving. In the last 100m there are luminaries with glow sticks in them lining the trail and you can start to hear the cheering. This is where I lost it and started sobbing uncontrollably from joy. I ran as fast as I could – probably a little reckless at that point – as I rounded the turn to the finish line. I finished and my crew was there, my friend Alex who had finished an hour ahead of me, and my friends Scott Holly, and Liz were there after pacing other friends in the 100k. I shook the race director, Amy’s, hand and then gave everyone there a huge hug. My official time was 23:15:15 – fast enough for a sub-24 buckle which was a huge goal of mine throughout the training cycle.
It was surreal and I’m still trying to process it. I trained hard and smart but I knew that it might not be enough. I ran Wapack to simulate the pain I’d be in for the hundred and it did a very good job with that, but I still had to run 10 more hours feeling that way. Nothing was a guarantee, but I was lucky enough to have my first 100 be exactly the experience I had hoped for.
The week before the race, I read John Kelly’s blog about “failing with purpose” and my mantra throughout the course was “walk with purpose”. I guess this experience has taught me to approach all things with purpose. I rested with purpose throughout the training cycle and luckily never got injured or sick. I raced with purpose throughout the training cycle which often meant holding back and putting in a good, but not true race effort even when it would have been easy to get caught up in race day excitement. I planned with purpose – I had pace charts and time goals and contingency plans for if things went wrong. Was my race perfect? Was my training perfect? Was I fully prepared for what I was going to do? Absolutely not. But, I did it with purpose and drive and I’m so happy to see how it all turned out and what I can do in the future to improve.
Vermont 100 2018, I’m coming for you! But first, some more resting – with purpose!
I’ve always loved this scene of Good Will Hunting. I have watched this movie at least once a month since I’ve been in high school and every time I find something in it that speaks to me on such a deep and personal level. I’ve never made it through it without crying. Throughout the years I’ve found I identify with different characters at different times. Mostly, though, I’d say I’m a pretty good mix of Will Hunting (Matt Damon) and Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). But, what does this clip have to do with running 100 miles? I’ll get there – I promise.
Seeing interviews and films with Jim Wamsley, Sally McRae, Nikki Kimball, and Timothy Olsen (to name a few) kind of clued me into a recurring theme: It seems that people who want to run 100 mile races have some sort of demons they are trying to outrun or are running to appease. More and more, I’m realizing I kind of fit the mold.
I was a really happy and outgoing young kid. I could talk to anyone and I was comfortable in front of groups of people. I was wild, free, and silly and wasn’t afraid to show that side to anyone. By the time I reached about 7 or 8 years old, I had started to close up. For a variety of reasons I won’t get into here, I learned expressing emotions was dangerous and that people could be unpredictable. I wouldn’t let anyone see me cry. By hiding my negative feelings, I smothered my positive ones as well. I lost my silliness. I was embarrassed to play pretend because it seemed too childish. I stopped feeling comfortable or safe to be myself around anyone else. I spent a lot of time alone or with my pets wandering in the woods. I started to get the feeling that I was always going to be on the outside looking in on what “normal” people did and how they interacted.
In a previous post I talked about my issues with anxiety in high school. Around this time I distinctly remember having a conversation with a friend that I can come to the realization that when people asked how I was feeling the only way that felt truthful to respond was “neutral”. The anxiety and uncertainty had left me pretty numb. I recoiled when people tried to hug me. My anxiety and aloofness put up a good wall between me and nearly everyone but a few close friends. I was functioning in survival mode for a long time. Just before my 17th birthday, the boy I was seeing off and on in high school committed suicide. I closed up tighter.
Throughout college and graduate school the anxiety never really let up. In college, my advisor died unexpectedly in a car accident at the age of 31. My high school track Midway through graduate school my appendix ruptured and I pushed through it and I ended up starting to go septic. It wasn’t clear I was going to make it. A couple weeks later after I left the hospital, my small bowel flipped on itself due to adhesions and I was in emergency surgery with a good chance of not making it again. After another couple weeks in the hospital, I finally went home at 85lbs after not being allowed to eat solid food for almost a whole month. During my postdoc I was in a place I hated and my career was in limbo; I was looking for any tenure-track job that I could find and my sole focus was to publish and produce. A few months into my postdoc I was diagnosed with Keratoconus – a degenerative eye disorder that distorts my vision and has no real cure and is not very understood. I was 27 and I had been suffering monthly panic attacks for 10 years. I was exhausted. I closed up even tighter.
Just after my 28th birthday I moved back to New Hampshire. I stepped off the crazy tenure-track-hopeful carousel and took a job as a full-time teaching professor at UNH. I felt like I could finally breathe for the first time in years. I adopted Tulah and she became my best friend and my running buddy. I loved her so fiercely and it scared me. I had never loved anything like I loved her. I adopted Zorro and he got under my skin in a way I still can’t explain. I told a friend that I wanted to care about another human the same way that I cared about Tulah and Zorro. In bringing Tulah and Zorro into my life, I finally started opening up a bit. At 30, I fell in love- I gave him everything I had and it was devastating when it wasn’t enough, or perhaps it was too much. I have never felt more alive than when I’ve let myself experience love and loss so fully. I don’t think I have the ability to close up so tightly anymore.
So, what does this have to do with choosing to run 100 miles?
Vulnerability has always been extremely hard for me. Setting out to run 100 miles is all about vulnerability. It’s about experiencing highs and lows. It’s about putting yourself at the mercy of the weather, the distance, the course, and the limits of the human body and mind. It’s about being willing to give everything you have and dealing with the risk that it’s not enough or that you’ll give too much and explode.
“Sometimes when you’re not careful trying to set off fireworks you light yourself on fire.”
The clip from Good Will Hunting is obviously about relationships, but I think there’s a more universal message. Will’s biggest weakness is that he can’t be vulnerable. He only does things he knows he can succeed at. He makes jokes and tells lies when he’s asked to talk about his feelings. He hides behind books. He pushes people away when they get too close. I know him – I was him for years and in some ways I still am. Vulnerability is hard for me and racing is a place where I can practice it. I only A-race once or twice a year; it’s all I have the emotional energy for. But, I’m actively seeking out opportunities to test myself now and that’s an improvement.
So, here I am less than 24hrs away from attempting 100 miles. I have ambitious goals. I’ve read the books, I’ve run the miles, I’ve studied training plans, and asked those who have done this before me what to expect. I’m as prepared as I can be. I may succeed. My best may not be enough. I may set myself on fire. But, as Sean Maguire says in the clip above, “You can know everything in the world, Sport, but the only way you’re finding out that one is by giving it a shot.”
Last week I came across John Kelly’s blog Random Forest Runner. John Kelly was this year’s only official finisher of the Barkley Marathons and the 15th person ever to finish the race. He was asked to speak at his high school’s commencement and he chose to talk about the idea of “failing with purpose”. You should read the post I linked above because it’s fantastic, but in short he talked about setting reach goals that are aggressive and that give you a high likelihood of – but don’t guarantee – failure. He asserts, and I whole-heartedly agree:
“The failures where you reached just a bit too far, though, the ones where you set a stretch goal and came up short, those are the ones I want to talk about. Those are the ones that help you discover what you’re capable of, push your limits, and ultimately lead you to successes you may have never thought possible…
I had plenty of failures along the way, though, and I consider those an irreplaceable part of my success. These failures occurred from me trying to push myself too far, from choosing to put myself in situations where failure was not just possible, but highly likely. laz likes to say that you can’t accomplish anything without the possibility of failure. Well, I’d like to take that one step further and say that oftentimes accomplishing something great has failure along the shortest route.” – John Kelly
In the cognitive science literature, this idea is referred to as “desirable difficulty“. People make the biggest gains in learning and performance when they are doing something difficult that is just at the edge of their understanding and competence. Often this means a lot of the learning comes from failures along the way.
It’s easy to get out of practice of putting yourself out there with the possibility of failure – whether it be in running or other aspects of life. It takes so much emotional and mental energy to want something badly and to be willing to stare down failure. But, I think this is what makes things exciting. Getting a chance to ask and answer the question “What are my limits?” As someone who has never DNFed a race the possibility of failure when facing the 100 mile distance is what draws me to it.
I fully intend to finish this race and I know I’ve prepared myself to have a good shot of succeeding, but it’s 100 miles… I saw on a blog somewhere that one 100mile racer considers the term DNF to stand for “Damn Near Fatal” and that’s the mentality I’m going into this thing with.
I have a pace chart that is calculated to put me with a finishing time between 21:58:00 and 22:28:00. This is aggressive. A goal like this for a first 100 is potentially a failure waiting to happen. But these are the stretch goals John Kelly is talking about in his speech. I don’t want to finish with anything left. I want to know what I can do – that’s why I’m out there. If it’s not meant to be I know I’ll be failing with a purpose, and maybe it’ll be a step toward something really great.
may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are oldmay my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young
and may myself do nothing usefully and love yourself so more than truly there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail pulling all the sky over him with one smile
— e.e. cummings
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
My heart is very full after the past week or so. Some things just hit you in the feels hard, and this past week or so has had a lot of those moments.
On Wednesday of last week, a crew of us went up to the Ragged Mountain area to work on trail marking and clearing for SIX03’s Ragged 75 three-day stage race being held in August. There is also a standalone 50k being held the 3rd day of the stage race that is going to serve as the USATF New England 50k trail championship race. We had 14 miles to mark and clear, and they were some hilly and not very well-traveled sections of the last day of the race. My friends Tom, Alex, Andy, Charlie, and Charlie’s son and I all headed out carrying various tools and blazes to put up. With the overgrown trails and the line of trudging through single track holding saws, clippers, and hammers, I couldn’t help but feel like we were in the Lord of the Rings! We had a day of almost 3,000 feet of climbing, lots of upper body work from cutting and dragging trees, and almost 7 hours on our feet. Tom, Alex, and Charlie are all running Vermont 100 and Andy is pacing Charlie, so it was a fun crew to talk strategy and just general trail bullshit with.
Loon Mountain, my favorite race of the year, was on Sunday! I don’t know what it is about the ridiculousness of that race that does it to me, but I absolutely love it. The race has over 3000 feet of climbing in 6.6 miles and there is a 1km section that has an average grade of 40%. It’s a beast of a race. Last year when I first ran Loon I was in great road racing shape, but I was just starting to do more trail running and hadn’t really done any hill work at all. I had a blast, but I kept on getting passed on every hiking section of the race, and there are lots of sections that require hiking from mile 4 on. I did pretty well at the race last year (51st – it was the National Mountain Running Championship), but I had to work hard to get my time.
This year was such a difference. I had to take it easy because Vermont is less than two weeks away. I promised myself I would go out slowly and walk/hike any time I felt even the slightest burn in my quads. The goal was to finish the race, run down the mountain to get one more downhill pound-the-quads workout in, and not be sore the next day. This past week the area around Loon had been hit with crazy flash floods, and the first mile had a huge washout that took half the service road the course goes along with it. The course was wet, muddy, and in some places a bit treacherous.
The race starts at the base of the mountain in front of the lodge and switchbacks its way up the service road for the first mile or so. I positioned myself mid-pack at the start. This was a mistake. I had to do much more maneuvering than I had hoped in that first mile since people didn’t really seed themselves appropriately. A lot of people went out really fast for the first 400m or so and then started walking. My first mile ended up being over 10mins — almost 2 min slower than last year. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing to be forced to take it easier at the start so that I didn’t get too caught up in “racing” early on. After about a mile, the course takes a sharp left into a section of cross country ski trails that switch back up for about 2 miles. These were completely soaked and muddy! I had a blast splashing through the muck and water. I took it relatively easy since there were rocks and roots under the water and mud that were hard to see and I didn’t want to twist an ankle so close to VT100. I was noticing I was definitely strong on the uphill sections with little effort compared to the people around me, and took the downhills very relaxed. At about mile 3 you pop out of the woods and start up the exposed sections of the trail – some of it is gravel service road and other parts are grassy ski slopes. Here’s where the race really starts if you’re going to attack the hills. I purposefully backed off here and made sure I hiked everything at a very maintainable pace and effort. I’d run for 20seconds or so and then hike for another 30-40 seconds on the sections that were runnable (<12% grade). Once it hit the 20% grade stuff, I just hiked making sure I was still able to talk and that my quads were not being strained. After climbing a long 20% grade hill, you come up to the gondola station where the finish line is, but you have to climb up and over it and then head down a steep downhill and around a corner to Upper Walking Boss. UWB is a black diamond downhill ski trail during the winter and has an average 40% grade for approximately 1km with some sections as steep as 48%. You can’t help but laugh when seeing it – it seems impossible to continue to move forward because you can pretty much reach out your hand and touch the trail in front of you. UWB starts at about 5.8 miles into the race after you’ve already climbed over 2000 feet. It’s intense. This year the slope was kind of muddy and chewed up which made for some interesting footing. I slipped backwards a few times and had to use my hands to get myself going again. This year I was passing people a lot on UWB. My time was essentially the same as last year, but this year I was purposefully taking it easy and having fun with it. This year, the race then sends you straight down an 18% grade downhill back to the gondola before finishing on a slight uphill grade to the line. I took the last downhill incredibly slowly. You had a choice of running down on either a grassy slope (what I did) or a gravel path. I figured the grass was the better choice in case I fell. Unfortunately, this is where 3 women who I had passed on the uphills caught me. I was pretty OK with it since I had to keep my healthy, uninjured, not trashed legs as my goal for the race. I finished in 19th woman and 15th fastest UWB for women. I was pretty happy with that for an “easy” run with 3k of gain. Haha. We hung out at the top for a bit, then I ran down the mountain with Tom and Alex. They had the same idea of trying to get some last downhill miles under their legs without trashing their quads. This year, it was SO much easier to run downhill. I felt strong, controlled, and like my legs were way more prepared to deal with the pounding of losing 800ft per mile. SIX03 had a great showing at Loon. Our women took top team (handily) and our men came in 3rd team!
After the race, Tom and his girlfriend host a huge post-Loon party at their house on a lake. We all piled on to floaties and spent hours hanging out in the sun and water, eating great food, drinking some tasty beverages, and watching a pretty impressive fireworks display put on by Tom.
Today, for the 4th of July Tyler, the 13yr old son of one of my teammate’s who lives in town, put on a family fun run 5k. Tyler is a really fast runner and just an all around great kid. He loves the sport and is incredibly enthusiastic about everything he does. He made medals for everyone (including volunteers), marked the course himself, played the national anthem on a trombone, and put on a magic show after the race. I volunteered to do some directing of runners and to take the official race photos. What I loved about today was that 25 runners and probably another 10 or so volunteers came out to do the race and brought snacks and drinks to share for the post-race party. It was a true community event. It makes me really happy to see kids like Tyler falling in love with the sport and the community from such an early age. It also strikes me how lucky he is that he has parents who support his ideas. It’s also just so wonderful to see children seeing their parents have good friends and a community surrounding them. It makes me hopeful for the future.
All around, it’s been an amazing week, and I’m very thankful for the community I’ve found in SIX03. It’s really something special.
The past two weeks have kind of flown by. They’ve both been part of my “extended taper”, so I’ve only hit 40ish miles each week. I had intended to get closer to 50miles this past week, but with my uncle’s wake and funeral and my cousin’s wedding all happening the same week, I had a hard time fitting in my miles and I was emotionally and physically drained by the weekend. Running almost always makes me feel better, and on Saturday I really wanted to get my 10 miler in, but I was barely able to stay awake and felt the beginnings of a sore throat so I scrapped the run. Luckily, I was feeling mostly rested by Sunday and had a chance to get 15miles in to round out the week.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve done a lot of preparing for VT100. I’ve gotten some extra hill repeats in with the low mileage. I’ve tested out new shoes, my potential race-day outfits, and some new fuel sources. Later this week, I’ll be creating a race plan with approximate split times at crewed aid stations for my stretch goal time (a time that shall not be named… yet) and a sub-24hr pace. The ultimate goal, of course, is to finish in under 30hrs, but I do think with my training and previous performances at the 50 mile distance it’s not unreasonable to aim for something a bit more aggressive. The last time I wanted something this badly was my PhD and I put 5 years of hard work and sacrifice into that, so I’m going to distill that drive and motivation down to 24hrs of effort. I’m not afraid to play the long game and be patient, but I’m still going to do my best to race this thing if I have it in me.
In terms of preparation, here’s the stuff I’ve figured out so far (with a little bit of gear review thrown in).
Light: I’m loving Foxelli headlamps! They are $12 on Amazon and are incredibly lightweight and bright. The one I have runs on 3 AAA batteries (not rechargeable). They have other models that are bigger and have rechargeable batteries – I’m just more focused on something lightweight for this distance. I got one for each of my crew members so we know we will all have plenty of light and extras floating in the car if we need them.
Packs: I’m going to be using two different packs for the day. I usually use the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Set for most of my running. I’ll using it through for the later miles and definitely by the time I pick up my pacer. It’s a simple, lightweight pack that carries two flasks. It also has plenty of snack pockets – an important feature for me! I used it through all of Wapack and Back and loved it. I also love that Salomon actually caters to runners of different sizes. I was able to get a XXS and it fits perfectly over a singlet as well as over my full winter running gear.
If the weather is typical for July, I’m going to want to run without a shirt during the heat of the day. This is really hard to do when you’re wearing a pack because of chaffing! One thing the Salomon pack doesn’t have going for it is that the lining of the inside of the vest is a hard mesh – this is great for breathability, but if you wear it on your bare skin it’ll rip you to shreds. This weekend I took my Nathan VaporHowe out for a 15 mile test drive while just wearing a sports bra on a hot day. It was perfect! There was no chaffing issues, and the material was soft and breathable. The pack weighs quite a bit more than the Salomon, but it is also a 12L so it isn’t intended to be minimal. I want to use this pack through the heat of the day when I may take off my shirt. It also can hold more stuff which I may want early on in the race when I only get to see my crew a few times. It also has the option of putting a bladder into the pack. I don’t think I’ll need that, but if it’s a really hot day, I’ll fill the bladder with ice and throw it back there to cool me down. I can’t say enough good things about this pack. It is clearly designed by a woman for women and comes in a variety of sizes. I got the XXS and it fits really well. I think I could have gone up to the XS if I wanted to wear it over a lot of gear.
Shorts: I just picked up a pair of Outdoor Research Essentia Shorts and I am in love. They are lightweight, UPF 50+, and they dry quickly. And… they have snack pockets! I ran my 15miler in these and they are definitely my shorts for VT100. The XS are a little big in the waist (that’s always an issue for me), but fit well across the hips and thighs. They are really easy to move in and I felt like I was wearing next to nothing, in a good way!
Socks: I was chosen as a Farm to Feet ambassador for the VT100! I’m a huge fan of Merino wool socks and I’m looking forward to trying out their line these next couple weeks to see what is going to serve me best for the 100. I’m eyeing the Boulder Midweight (it has insect repellant built right in!!) and the Blue Ridge Compression socks. I’ll be sure to update soon on what I decide to wear for the race!
Shoes: I plan to have a couple pairs of shoes with me for the race. I need to talk to others who know the course well, but I think I’ll be starting the race in the Altra Paradigm 2.0s if it’s relatively dry. They are a highly cushioned road shoe. I had sworn off Altras because they were too wide for my midfoot and heel – I always had to use lace lock lacing and had to pull the laces so tight it looked like I was lacing a football. The Paradigms seemed to have fixed this issue. They are considerably narrower and the heel cup feels much more stable. They are definitely a goofy-looking shoe (as are most Altras, in my opinion), but the cushioning cannot be beat.
I have a new-ish pair of Topo Athletic MT-2s I ran Pineland in and I really like those for muddy trails. I think I’ll be finishing the race in those since the last 20 miles or so have some of the most trail running. I’ve also considered getting another pair of Terraventures since I had a pair I wore at Wapack and have since run to the ground. It’s probably worth getting them and having them in the arsenal!
Fuel: The bulk of what I’m going to be eating for the 100 is going to be liquid (or semi-liquid). At Wapack and Back, about 80% of what I ate was in some sort of squeezable or drinkable form, so I’m going to do a similar thing for VT.
I just ordered two dozen Munk Pack squeezable oatmeals. I love every flavor and I looked forward to them so much during my 50miler earlier this year. I also ordered another case of Shine Organics Calm banana, pumpkin, coconut, chia squeeze pouches. I used these at Wapack as well. I got some Clif Banana, Beet and Ginger packs. I haven’t tried them before, but I love all the ingredients in it and ginger is so good for my stomach that I’m going to try them on a couple runs leading up to the big day. I’m also going to try out Spring Energy packs. I like the idea that they are real food and some have caffeine in them. I’d like to steer clear of GUs if possible. I definitely use them pretty regularly, but they can sneak up on me and make me sick to my stomach. I want to avoid that as much as possible.
Extras: I will have salt tabs (one package every 2hrs) and Gin-Gin ginger candies with me at all times. You never know when you need to hand one out or take one! Ginger candies saved my VT50 back in September. I was in ROUGH shape from miles 32 to 42 and once I had a couple ginger candies and some ginger ale I was back in the game.
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
On Saturday, my Uncle Bobby died from complications arising from late-stage ALS. He was 70 years old.
His son Brian read this poem at his funeral. Brian told us all that Bobby had pulled him aside in 4th or 5th grade and made him read it and said to him “This is what it’s all about. Do you understand?” Bobby wasn’t a man of many words – none of the Gillespie men are – but he knew how to pick them.
I’ll think of Uncle Bobby out there on the course in a few weeks. I’ll keep the third stanza in my pack and I’ll dedicate the last “unforgiving minute” of my race to him.
I finally did it! I hit 70 miles (officially) this week and went over 1000 for the year! The training plan I kind of Frankenstein-ed together from a few books, my 50miler training plan, and some of my own idea had me hitting 70 miles as my peak weeks. I have now put in two weeks right about there. From my experiences at other distances, I planned that this week would be my last really big week. I take 2 weeks for a marathon taper and I took 3 weeks for my 50miler taper when I “A-raced” VT50. I assume 4 weeks or so of an extended taper for VT100 is going to make the most sense.
This week was a fun mix of road and trail. The main thing I tried to do was simulate the climbs of VT100 as best as I could here on the flat Seacoast. My friend Alex and I went over to Mount Agamenticus in York, ME twice this week and practiced run-walk intervals on a long dirt and gravel road that leads up to an auto road. The climb itself is about 2 miles with the first 1.5 miles of it at a 4% grade with the last .6 miles on the auto road that averages a 10% grade with some sections as steep as 17% grade. It’s tough.
Wednesday we went out there for Global Running Day and hit 11 miles of 4min running/1minute walking intervals on the hilly roads surrounding Mount A, and then did two repeats of the auto road to end the run. We averaged <10min/miles and gained almost 1,400ft. It was a great workout but it didn’t trash me.
Saturday was “mini Vermont” day. We started our run saying we would be happy with 20 miles and about 3000ft of gain. We started running at 10am on one of the first hot days we’ve had in quite some time. About 5 miles into the run, we said how 25 miles would be a good distance since “we’re already out here.” We were 17 miles into the run when Alex started talking about finishing our run with two repeats up the .6mile auto road to round it out to just under 28 miles. I came back with “If you’re doing it, I’ll do it.” So, the run ended up being 5hr5min long, 27.8 miles, and with a gain of 3703ft – still averaging 11min/mi counting our stops to fuel. After we got home and our watches uploaded and we realized one more trip up Mount A (which would have brought us to 7 times up that monster) would have gotten us over 4000ft and we were both kind of disappointed that we didn’t dare the other one to go up one more time. If one of us had said “Let’s do another” the other would have went. Alex and I are the same kind of crazy. We had a ton of fun out there. We talked about everything under the sun, laughed a lot, named our cars the Batkucar (back-to-car) aid station, and planned out some race-day strategy for VT100. We also followed it all up with ice cream.
Today I rounded out my mileage with a solo 8.2 mile trail and hilly road run (700ft gain) in 90+ degree weather. I was a bit tired and it was hot, but all in all it felt great and I even accidentally set a CR on Strava on a hill climb on a trail I run all the time. I think it was because it’s not nearly as steep as anything I had been running earlier in the week so it didn’t phase me much to just power up it. I followed the run up with a pint of ice cream for good measure.
So, what’s in store for the extended taper? My plan will be to keep the next two weeks of training in the 50s for mileage. Then, I back off considerably the final three or so weeks before the race. I have run an ultra-distance run every other weekend for the past 6 weeks (May 15th Wapack 50miler, May 29th Pineland 50k, this Saturday 28miles). I have made it through the toughest part of the training cycle uninjured and having learned a lot from races and other who are far more experienced than me. There are absolutely no guarantees when it comes to this sort of distance. I respect it. I’m terrified of it. But, I feel very confident I’ve done everything I possibly could running-wise to make completing 100miles a possibility. Now I’m going to ride out the next month staying healthy, rested, hydrated, fueled, and treating my body and mind with respect and care. I’ll start by trying to heal up these toes!
I am in awe every day of what my body has done and what sort of stressors it responds to. I’m so grateful for the fun I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned while building to these peak weeks. Time to trust to trust the training and the amazing machine that the human body is.
Mileage: 70.1 running; 9.5 walking (Average gain per running mile was 98 ft!)