Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Vermont 100 Race Report

Five weeks should be enough time to recover from the difficult terrain that makes the Laurel Highland 77 mile trail race…..if your planning to run a 5K….however if the race is a 100 miler…not so much.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t my thinking when I decided to run Laurel Highlands this year after a mediocre showing at the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile race.  “Laurel Highlands should be a nice training run to bridge the gap between Green Lakes and Vermont”.  Don’t ever consider saying, let alone thinking, these words when you are a newbie to ultra-running.  This might be an achievable feat for Nick Clark or Geoff Roes or Ian Sharman, but not for Joshua Finger.
I chose the Vermont 100 mile endurance run for several reasons:  (1)  I run pretty well in the heat; (2)  70% of the course covers jeep roads; (3)  Vermont is within driving distance; (4)  beautiful mountain scenery; (5)  good competition; (6)  I didn’t get into Western States via the Lottery.  My training following the LH77 mile trail run was more about recovery and maintenance, then about 100 mile training.  Instead of focusing solely on Vermont with peak mileage weeks around 120-130 mpw about 3-4 weeks out, I was gingerly limping up and down staircases questioning my decision.  Although the weeks leading up to LH77 consisted of 120 miles, the weeks following LH77 consisted of ~45 miles and 2 weeks at 65 miles, followed by a two week taper.  The big question that loomed within, “Is the Laurel doo-doo still in my legs.”
We drove up to White River Junction/Quechee Vermont on Thursday morning.  This would be the first real ultra that my kids would see firsthand and maybe they would understand what I meant about how much work goes into getting each trophy.  After each race, my children “fight” amongst themselves about who gets to keep the hardware.  For Laurel Highlands, finishers in under 24 hours received a nice wooden mile marker trophy with a “77” branding.  I commented to Evan, “That trophy took a lot of hard work.”  His response, “No it didn’t Daddy.  It’s just two pieces of wood bolted together!”  Leave it to Evan to think of it that way.  His favorite TV show isn’t “How it’s Made” for nothing!  Anyway, the 7-1/2 hour trek to Vermont went by relatively quickly.  In addition to my wife (crew/eventual “pacer”) and children (motivators) in attendance, my crew/spectator list would include my parents (spectators/RV hosts), Matt Wilson (crew/pacer), and Patty Wilson (crew).
Race time was fast approaching; I set my alarm for 2am, however, had some difficulty sleeping and awoke at 12:45am.  I had plenty of time to go through my pre-run routine.  I ate two homemade banana, chocolate chip muffins and drank a cup of Green Mountain coffee that I had picked up the day before.  Matt and Patty arrived at the RV around 2:45am and we were soon off to the start line located in West Windsor, VT.  As we approached the meadow, it looked like a scene out of “Field of Dreams”, with a line of cars heading to nowhere.  Soon enough start time approached and I was off on my 100 mile journey.  I reconnected with Brian Rusiecki at the start line and we decided to hang back a bit from the lead pack.  The first mile dropped about 200 feet on one of the jeep roads that would eventually make up about 70% of the course.  Over the first 20 miles, we were joined by Boston resident, Robert “Marty” Shaw, who was fresh off a wind-assisted 2:37 Boston Marathon.   This stretch was pretty uneventful with occasional bathroom breaks littered throughout.  I think I released pressure from both portals only once during these early miles.  (A little side note about the Vermont 100:  in addition to travelling 100 miles on foot over road and trail, the elevation changes that you endure throughout the race are substantial.  Although the race started at 1350 feet above sea level and tops out around 1950 feet above sea level, the elevation gain approached 15000 feet, with an equal amount of descent.).  Conversation was pretty good among the 3 of us, talking about past races, the course, work, etc.  Brian seemed extremely interested in the Laurel Highlands race and may be making an appearance next year.  Should make for some good competition!  Anywho, this stretch was relaxing, however, much faster than I had originally anticipated.  We would wind up hitting 20 miles in 2:51:07 (8:33/mile average) which included 2700’ ascent and 2600’ descent.   At Pretty House aid station (mile 21), I would see my crew for the first time and discover I was running in 12th place about 12 minutes behind the leaders, which included Michael Arnstein, Leigh Schmitt, and Justin Angle, among others.  The three of us hit the aid station together; however, Brian would jump out ahead with me in tow by about 1 minute.
Over the next 10 miles, the course undulated with 1500’ ascent and 1900’ descent.  With each mile, my legs would feel more tired.  It’s disconcerting when you still have over 70 miles and over 11,000’ of hills to climb and descend.  I was happy to see my crew at mile 30 (4hr25min) and had to hide my discomfort, so that they wouldn’t worry.  At this point, I had to make sure to refuel for the next 17 miles, for the next time I would see them, I would be just shy of halfway.  I also had to hit the porta-potty one last time.  Unfortunately, I had to wait for about 1 minute while a spectator did their business.  Not a big deal for a 100 miler, but if it was a marathon, I would have been pissed.  I had taken over 9th place at this point and soon enough would continue down the road.  Only about 0.3 miles or so, the course would turn up into some more difficult climbs.  In addition to the difficult footing, the temperatures would start to climb now that the sun was out.  These initial climbs were steep, reducing me to a 12:27 mile.  The course shot down over the next mile and would undulate a bit after that.  I found that the trail sections, as usual, tended to slow my pace a bit over the next few miles, but I was able to find somewhat of a rhythm that kept me around 9 min/mile pace.  At ~41 miles another climb presented itself having 467 feet for the mile and, of course, I was reduced to a slow slogging motion with a 15:53 mile.  It seemed every climb until Camp Ten Bear would reduce me to a walk or slow climb.  These climbs came often enough and started to leave negative thoughts in my head.  I was looking forward to seeing my crew again at mile 47 (Camp Ten Bear).  In addition to being the first weigh-in of the day, my parents were supposed to be there with Evan and Emma.  When I approached the aid station, I was saddened that my kids weren’t there.  It’s easy to get a little choked up when you’ve been looking forward to something and it doesn’t come to fruition.   My placing hadn’t changed much over those 17 miles.  I hit mile 47 at 7:25:45 (9:25/mile overall).  Notice my pace has slowed since the first 20 miles.  It would continue to do so.  After getting over the initial impact of not seeing my kids, I hoped on the scale and was happy to see that I was only 3 lbs under weight.  The scale was different than the one used for the initial weigh-in ad I suspect it was off a few pounds.  There was no way I had lost 3 lbs by now.  But, 3lbs was nowhere near my 7lb limit.
As I exited Camp Ten Bear, I tried to use the frustration of not seeing my kids to my advantage.  Unfortunately, the next 6 miles included some nasty climbs over some of the more technical sections and included some shoe sucking mud.  Fortunately, I didn’t throw a tire.  It was during this section where I started losing a couple positions and would fall outside the top 10 (for a few moments at least). It was also during this time that I realized my power-hiking/climbing needs A LOT of work.  My slow hike was no match for the faster climb of others.  Fortunately, it was this point where I met Stuart Johnson from Seattle.  I don’t know what it was, but it was somewhat motivating talking to him as we hiked up the mud-slide.  As we talked, I noticed our pace increasing to under 10 min pace!!!!  This isn’t hammering by any stretch of the imagination, however, it is when the past 6 miles are clocked in at an average of 13:30/mile.  The mile 54 aid station (Birminghams) approached and I was able to regroup, refuel, and recharge.  A quick 1:20 stop and I was off heading toward the Pinkys (Mile 57) where I would hopefully see ALL of my crew.  As the miles clicked by, I noticed the pace increasing 9:45, 8:45, 7:45.  I was moving and feeling good.  No pain in the legs.  I heard one spectator on the side of the road comment, “Man…that dude is flying!” 
I felt great coming down into Pinkys and could see my kids playing on the side of the road, Matt, Patty, Teri, my parents, everyone.  I was psyched…ready to roll.  Feeling great.  I had gained back a position and was in 10th at the Pinkys.  After 2 minutes of refueling, I quickly set off down the road and up  3 miles of hill….RUNNING….at 10:30 pace.  That is 3 miles of hills with 950 feet of climb and only 70 feet of descent.  I was RUNNING up them.  I felt great.  After the climbs, I headed over some rolling terrain, mostly downhill, with 3 miles hovering around 9min/mile.  I quickly, and I mean quickly reached Margaritaville aid station at mile 62.  I think my crew was surprised to see me so soon.  I had gained another position, hopping into 9th.  My crew pointed out that Andrew McDowell was only a couple minutes up.  After a quick 1 min refuel and boost, I powered out of Margaritaville (didn’t even notice the intricacies of the aid station). 
The next 4 miles climbed a bit in the hot sun, so pace did slow a bit, but still hovered at 10:40/mile.  I reached the top of the climb and another unmanned aid station.  I stopped in the shade a little, took a pee on a tree, refilled with some water and some HEED and was on my way.  On the way down to Camp Ten Bear, I could see Andy in the distance.  He seemed to be struggling a bit, whether it was the heat, distance whatever, I knew I would catch him. I descended upon him at 9min/mile pace and slowed for a chat.  Andrew lives in Downingtown, which is only about 15 minutes from my house and only 2 minutes from Matt.  I wanted to discuss future training in the area, because I think it is key to build a strong ultra community when you can, especially since there are not that many crazies willing to do this crap.  We slogged on down the hill into Camp Ten Bear together for the 2nd weigh-in on the day.  As I had expected, the previous scale was off, cause this scale had me right on my weigh-in weight of 148 lbs.  At this point in the race, pacers are allowed to join in the fun, so Matt was ready to go for a quick 30 miles, at least that was the initial thought.
The climb out of Camp Ten Bear was massive, at least it felt as much.  We walked the entire climb of ~540 feet at 17 min pace.  Welcome to the Vermont course Matt!!!!  However, soon we were off running again around 11-12 min pace for the next 4 miles.  More interesting, I was gaining position and had climbed into 6th place by mile 75.  As the miles continued to click off, the climbs and descents, trails and roads, started to take a toll.  My legs started develop that downhill pain that we all love.  The next 10 miles would go by slowly at 12:20 pace.  It appeared I was doing better on the climbs than on the descents.   I was also more comfortable on the roads than on the trails.  My paces would flip-flop depending on the surface and the terrain.  I hoped to keep it going, however, my race was quickly coming undone.  As Matt and I approached the aid station at mile 83, I noticed another runner quickly approaching down the hill.  I didn’t know if it was a 100K runner or 100 mile runner.  As we left the aid station and made the turn, I asked Matt to circle back and check out the bib number color.  Sure enough, he was a 100 miler and I was soon in danger of going backward.  Over the next couple miles, we worked to hold him off as long as possible, but it was inevitable.
Here is an excerpt from Aaron Mulder’s blog (http://rootsrocksraces.blogspot.com/2011/07/race-report-2011-vermont-100-mile.html).  He has it spelled out nicely:
At one point I came blazing down a hill to an aid station, to see a runner and his pacer leaving it just ahead.  They turned the corner just down the road, and then the pacer popped back out in a mad dash for the aid station.  A volunteer shouted "What, what did you forget?"  The pacer made it 80% of the way back to the station, then turned around and headed out again.  Ha!  I knew what that was.  That was him checking whether I had a red (100K) or black (100M) bib.  If you saw a pair of runners then you could pretty much count on it being a 100-miler and pacer.  But an individual could be in either race...
I still had to stop at the station, but I knew that was another guy I'd be catching.  If he was that concerned, he wasn't going to stay ahead for 15 or 20 miles.  In fact, I was taking all the downhills faster, so while he held me off for a while on the climbs, I caught up on a descent.  We chatted briefly, and I noted that I saw him checking out my bib color back there at the station.  "Yup."  "Thought so.  Well, good luck to you!"  I headed on
It was about at this point when walking the rest of the way was the recipe for the day.  Walking into Bill’s (aid station at mile 88) was disheartening.  I fell back to 10th position and still had a long road ahead.  The sun was starting to get lower in the sky, so we grabbed a couple headlamps for the slow trek ahead.  Since the plan was to walk the rest of the way, my wife decided to join us over the next 7 miles to the mile 95 aid station.  A couple miles in, the temperatures started to drop a bit, and dumb me forgot to grab a shirt.  So, here I am walking, dehydrated, in the early evening hours, after being on the course of 16 hours.  Each downhill required a slow, backward, descent.  The pain in my legs was too much to bare going down with the forward motion.  Soon enough, I started to get cold.  My pace started to slow form 20-23 min/mile pace to 30-40 min/mile pace.  The only logical thing to do, would be to send Matt ahead to grab me my long sleeve shirt.  Within about 20-25 minutes, Matt returned and I was in an awful state.  Definite hypothermia had set-in.  It was the death march of all death marches.  We could finally see the mile 95 aid station ahead.  The slow bob of my headlamp was confusing to the volunteers.  Is that a runner, horse, apparition???  I came into the aid station ready to drop from the race.  I was talked out of it by some spectators/volunteers.  They quickly laid me down on a beach chair with my legs raised to keep the blood pooling in my legs.  After a couple blood pressure reading attempts, they called the EMTs to get a better assessment.  With a blanket covering me, the chills subsided.  I drank some fluids (Gatorade, soup, etc).  The EMTs arrived and took my blood pressure manually.  100/60.  LOW!  I sat for about 10 minutes drinking fluids and my blood pressure would start to rise.  I was feeling much better now and planning to head out for the final push to the finish. 
Volunteer (V):  “What is your number? “
Me (M):  “Why?”
V:  “So, I can log you out of the race”
M:  I am not done!!!  I have 4.5 miles to go and it is only 19 hours.  I have plenty of time.
V:  To the medic, “What do you think”
Medic:  “I am not making that call, but he is doing much, much better”.

So, after about 40-45 minutes of laying down, sitting, refueling, I was off down the road again with Matt and Teri joining me.  It was again a slow push, however, with a sweatshirt and running pants, I stayed nice and warm.  My garmin had died during my repose, so I have no idea about pace.  I was walking pretty good though and think it hovered around 20 min/mile.  We were moving right along, reaching the last unmanned aid station at mile 97.7.  On the move to the station, one runner (Jullian) was sleeping while being pulled along by a bandana by his pacer.  The next 2.3 miles included some steep climbs on roads and trails.  We would eventually reach 1 mile to go.  In another quarter mile, I stopped, disrobed from my running pants and sweatshirt, handed them to Matt and Teri, and took off down the trail.  This wasn’t the easiest trail to run at 1:15 in the morning, but I was determined to cross that finish line running with full steam.  I crossed the finish line in 21:19 for my first 100 mile finish.  Patty was surprised to see me at the finish.  She was sleeping in here chair and I had to alert her that I was finished.  About 5 minutes later, Teri and Matt came into the finish area.  We walked to the car, drove back to the RV, Teri and I took showers, and I went to bed.

This was by far the toughtest race I have run to date.  The slow time was probably a combination of many factors.  Running LH77 probably had the biggest impact and I learned a valuable lesson from it.  I will be heading back to Vermont someday, cause I have some unfinished business there.  I know I can run this course in 16 hours or faster.  No doubt about it.  I just have to approach it smarter and with a better training stimulus.  I was so grateful to share this milestone with my family, especially my wife.  Her support everyday and during those last 11 miles are/were unwavering.  She is my bedrock.  Thanks to my children, Evan and Emma, for putting up with my early morning runs.  Thanks to Matt Wilson and Patty Wilson for the wonderful support during the entire day and night.  I know how tough it is to stand around all day for someone to come running by shouting orders.  Thanks to my parents for driving the RV up and serving as my Howard Johnson.  Thanks to Vermont for putting on such a great event.  I look forward to coming back and taking care of business.