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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Off Topic: Vermont 100 2015

Basics (for those who don't want gory details)

This past weekend (July 17-19, 2015) was my second attempt at the Vermont 100, a 100 mile footrace around West Windsor, VT. I made my first attempt in 2013 and dropped out at mile 83. I've completed two other 100 mile races that were relatively flat. This one has 28,000 ft of elevation change (up and down). The race starts at 4 am on Saturday and runners have 30 hours to finish, by 10 am Sunday. There's also a horse race (distances up to 100 miles) at the same time on the same course. Runners can have a crew meet them along the way (I didn't have a crew) and/or put together drop bags of gear they meet at aid stations along the way.

We run with horses! (Not someone I know...)
Like most runners, I camped in the field near the start on Friday night. Runners woke up to soggy grass and a light rain at 3:00 on Saturday. I dressed in shorts and tech T in my tent, put on a light nylon jacket and headed to check in. While you check in the day before, including a medical checkup (weight, blood pressure, etc.), you must check in the morning of the race, too. As usual, the lines for the port-o-potties were long, so I walked back to "tent city" and used the ones there. There were no lines. I also remembered I left a banana outside of the cooler in my car. I feared it'd "cook" during the heat of the day, so I retrieved it and ate it on the way to the start.

I had time for a quick half cup of coffee and to say hello to some the folks I'd see the rest of the day:

  • Shaun: A fellow Somerville Road Runner trying to gain a qualifier for another 100 miler, the Western States 100. Shaun and I have trained together off and on for the last few years and had agreed we'd try to stay together as long as made sense. Both of us planned a "conservative" approach.
  • Omer:  Shaun's crew/pacer who flew up from Florida.
  • Kim: Shaun's girlfriend, a nurse, who'd be volunteering in medical at the largest aid station (10 Bear, mile 47 and 70) and who'd help Omer crew and pace after her shift.
  • Riley: My pacer who was around at the start, but we didn't actually see each other!
Riley and I after Friday dinner; we both enjoyed
the awesome vegetarian salads and spicy noodles.
With headlamps on, Shaun and I headed out toward the back of the pack for the start. The rain let up and it was misty and warm through the first few miles. Jackets came off. Things were rather uneventful as we settled into a pace. I ate one of the two Dunkin Donuts egg and cheese wraps I got the day before. We hit the first manned aid station (one with food, port-o-potties and the like) at mile 15. All was well; we were eating and drinking and keeping an eye on the heat to make sure salt, electrolytes and water were in balance.

Me and Shaun
At the mile 30 (Stage Road) aid station I changed my shoes and socks. Shaun and I mostly ran together leap frogging each other if one needed a bio-break or a bit longer at an aid station. We came into mile 47 (10 Bear) feeling pretty good. There is a mandatory weigh-in there to prevent dehydration (more than 7% weight loss) or hyponutremia/kidney shutdown (more than 7% gain). If you hit that percentage, you are removed from the race. You can also be removed if you don't meet specific time cutoffs. We were both fine.  I visited medical as I had some hot spots (irritation, but not yet a blister) on one foot. One of the medics put some mole skin on it for padding.

The "loop" from mile 47 to 70 (back to 10 Bear) has lots of big hills. Some are on trails and one is two miles "straight up" on a dirt road. Because we knew the course I didn't find these climbs as difficult as my first attempt. Omer even came down the two mile hill to walk up with us. The aid station at the top, Margaritaville, has the look and feel of that famous song. As we headed out, we focused on getting back to 10 Bear where we'd each meet our pacer. Shaun had Omer and I would run with Riley, a junior from the University of Vermont who volunteered for the job via a "pacer matching service," the race offers. I've paced twice and it's incredibly fun, educational, rewarding...and a good workout!

The bad news was about 8 pm it started to rain. Jackets came out and trails and roads, which had been in really good shape, got muddy and puddly. The rain didn't last long but we did get soaked. Neither of us minded since we both had full sets of clothes and shoes at 10 Bear. Navigating the mud with headlamps was tough, and we got in to 10 Bear about 10:30 pm. I told Riley to expect me around 9:30 if all went to plan...which it rarely does in these long races. 

My second weigh in at mile 70 (10 Bear) was fine, too. I changed into dry clothes and shoes and Riley and I headed out for the final 30 miles. We chatted, trying to stay to the plan Shaun and I followed: walk the hills and run gently on the flats and downhills. The flats were ok, but the downhills were more painful as the quads got tired. I know it's not intuitive but the climbs feel good at that point!

Riley and I and Omer and Shaun leapfrogged one another for the next 19 miles. The hot spots on my feet had turned to blisters and hurt badly. To distract myself from the pain, I started singing out loud. I always sing "The Boxer" since I know all the words and love the verse about "Now the years are rolling by me..." Riley joined me on the choruses and did some singing of her own, which really helped my mood. I looked forward to the mile 89 aid station (Bill's) which hosted the final weigh-in (I was fine) and medical. 

There, a medic cleaned my feet, popped a blister and put moleskin on it. The other blister stayed intact but also got moleskin. She assured me the fix would not be perfect but it'd hurt less. Sadly, that was not the case. The solution that helped the blister situation caused other problems. I hobbled into the mile 91 aid station (Keatings) which is not supposed to have medical folks and explained my situation.

I was one lucky person! One of the volunteers knew feet! She tended to me and and another volunteer let me squeeze his hand as things got painful. Riley got me ginger ale and stood by through the ordeal. Again, the volunteer stated, it would not be perfect, but it'd get me to the finish. 

Near the finish
Riley and I walked the last eight miles discussing running shoes, music, our high school experiences...  I know having Riley with me helped keep me on track and optimistic. Thankfully, we were never pressed for time; we made the last on-course cutoff with about an hour to spare. We continued to leap frog Omer/Kim and Shaun. Shaun was looking challenged and at one point borrowed an apple sauce squeezy from Riley. (I am not the only adult fan of such things!)

The last push to the finish had lots of hills and was not same as the last time I did it as a pacer last year. Eventually we hit the "1 mile to go" sign and then the "1/2 mile to go sign." I was anxious to see the one gallon water jugs which at night are lit by glow sticks. It looks really cool! During the day the water jugs are not as pretty, but are most welcoming! I was happy to have Tammy B. be the first to welcome us in about a hundred yards ahead of the finish. Riley and I crossed the line hand in hand. This was a team effort and she represented not only her contribution but those of all the others who'd helped get me here.

At the finish

The race director shook my hand and gave me a VT100 finisher hat. A volunteer photographer took lots of pictures (most of the ones here are stolen from her) and made me feel like a rock star!

Chatting with Race Director Amy Rusiecki after she welcomed me in;
 her husband Brian was second of the men
Omer was waiting for us and asked about Kim and Shaun. We confirmed we'd last seen them at about 2.5 miles back. Omer headed out on the course to be sure they were ok. Riley and I wanted to wait for them to finish, but decided it was best to take care of our weary selves.
Kim and Shaun at the finish

I finished in 29:15 and Shaun in 29:26. The results include a few other notables: Jack Bailey, who Shaun paced a few years ago was 6th and Andrew Novis, who I paced last year was 35th. The only other SRR-related person we knew in the field, David Souza, came in at 23:14, 88th.

Some memorable moments:
  • A runner in medical at mile 47 giving his extra pair of socks to a fellow runner who needed them.
  • Pancakes and Nutella at mile 35 or so. Yummy!
  • A volunteer who stuffed me with fresh picked ("from my backyard!") raspberries. 
  • A volunteer who found Shaun a 2 x 4 about 6 feet long to use as a walking stick and then walked him back to tent city in the 90+ degree sunshine post race.
  • All the folks who turned off their headlamps and turned away so I could get naked to change at 10 Bear.
  • Not once did I think I might not finish.

Gory Details (for those thinking of running this far or who want to read the not so nice bits)

I weighed in Friday at 116.2. That's one pound less than two years ago. I was 114 at 47 (10 Bear 1) , 116 at  70 (10 Bear 2) and 117 at 89 (Bill's). I took about 4 Endurolytes until mile 70. Two years ago I used far "stronger" tabs (S-caps) and was up 8 pounds at mile 47. I think that was a big factor in my DNF.

This year, things went much better. That said, I had "fat fingers" at mile 30 and at the finish my hands looked liked Mickey Mouse's! The area from my fingers down to my wrists was really swollen. I had to loosen my watch during the night.

The finish line folks sent me to medical. The medics asked about my weight, the color of my pee, if I was drinking... and confirmed I was fine. They said it was just the combination of water and the movement of the hands (swinging as they do) that caused the swelling. They had me lay down and put two blankets on my chest on which I placed my hands. They gave me ginger ale and potato chips. The potato chips tasted AMAZING, probably meaning I was down a bit of salt. My hands looked almost normal two hours later and were back to their normal size by 5 pm.

My stomach was not its iron self for this race. I was fine until about mile 70. At that point solid food was not interesting at all. I wasn't even interested in candy - and I'm always interested in candy! I started drinking ginger ale and eating soup with noodles. I probably stopped eating even soup about mile 89. Most of the volunteers suggested I could make it without eating from there on, but to be wary. I did get a little dizzy during the last 10 miles of walking, but it was never bad enough to worry about. 

My gear choices worked great. I wore my Altra Superior 1.5's from 0-30, my Saucony Peregrine's from 30-70 and my Brooks Glycerin's from 70-100. I was also smart to put two pairs of socks in my 10 Bear drop bag. I carried one from 70 onward; I was nice to have clean socks after the foot mending in the last 11 miles. I ended up tying my light jacket to the straps of my vest from the start to mile 70. It was on and off as I got cold or it rained. I picked up a dry jacket at mile 70 but never put it on. It never really got cool at night, which worked in my favor.

I had only one really bad patch (before the feet issues). About mile eight I stopped for a bio break and Shaun went ahead. Afterward I got woozy and could tell my pulse had spiked. It's PSVT, for you medical folks. My running friend Dan diagnosed it a number of years ago and I know how to deal with it. It took a mile or two of walking but things settled down and I felt fine. The same thing happened at just about the same point in the last race I did (World's End 50k) back in May. 

The whole "care of my feet by professionals" did not go well. At mile 47 (10 Bear 1) I think it was the  the race medical director who treated me. And I did notice he was "doing it wrong." He got a piece of moleskin, but instead of cutting it to fit the situation with smooth edges and no corners, he stuck a rectangle of moleskin across the ball of my foot. (I've read Fixing Your Feet, so I know you never want corners, only curves.) I didn't say anything because...well I didn't. That moleskin was not long-lived because it rained not long after I got it. The glue came unstuck and I took the rolled up moleskin off at the first post-rain aid station.

The second attempt to fix my feet at  mile 89 (Bill's) was even worse. Not only was the moleskin not cut in curves, it was too big and jammed up into the curve of my toes. With each step it felt like a knife was trying to cut off my toes! The lady at 92 (Keatings) immediately identified the problem and trimmed one piece of moleskin and put on new moleskin on the other.  Then she taped is all down nice and smooth. She was not happy about my previous treatment. I fear that had she not been there to "fix the fix" I'd not have finished the race.

With more experience since my last attempt, the hills didn't seem as bad. The big hill right after mile 70 (10  Bear 2) didn't seem as long or as hard. The one up to Margaritaville didn't either. I'm not sure if that was because my training was good (it was) or if my brain knew that slow and steady would get me there and not to be afraid or overwhelmed. It was probably a bit of both.

I didn't do a standard taper for the race. I did a reverse taper where you drop your mileage say six weeks out and then build it back up. The last three weeks before the race I did 50, 55 and 15 mile weeks. it seemed to work fine and definitely prevented "taper madness."

My training had a few new twists. I joined a "fancy" gym in November and added a weekly Tabata and spin class to my schedule. I used those as "hard efforts" to help tune not only my physical fitness but my mental toughness. During the 100" of snow winter I did a gnarly gym workout once a week that included an hour on the stairclimber and then a four mile run on the treadmill. The idea was to simulate a lot of the Vermont course. I think it helped!