Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"Sub-20, Bitches!" - The Vermont 100

I've been trying to put together a good trail 100 miler performance for a couple years now. NJ Sufferfest Ultra Fest was derailed by the worst weather I've ever experienced at a race, and Grindstone exposed some weaknesses in my conditioning and mental fortitude. In each case, I finished the race but I was left with the lingering feeling that I could have done much better had a few things gone differently.

Vermont 100 was the race where weather, training, and race prep finally came together and (almost) everything went right.

Note: 100 miler races are as much of an adventure for the crew and pacers as they are for the runners. Alex was kind enough to write her own account of the race, and her comments are interspersed with mine throughout this report, denoted by italics.

Everything is coming up Ryan!
Photo by Ben Kimball Photography

History and Training

Vermont is one of the oldest 100 milers in the country and the only east coast race in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. Back in 2015, I paced a runner for the last 30 miles of the course, and while it lacked the awe inspiring views and heart pounding climbs that I often seek in races, I was drawn in by its history and the serene farmland through which the course passed. The unique aspect of the race is that it is run side by side with a horse race, meaning that riders and runners are constantly passing one another (horses are faster uphill and on roads, but runners are faster on technical downhills).

Needing a Western States qualifier for 2017, I signed up the day registration opened. Although I never trained specifically for Vermont's rolling dirt roads, I figured my local roads and trails were a reasonable approximation. This would come back to bite me a little in the form of extreme soreness, but it did not have a huge impact on my race performance.

With only four weeks between Manitou's Revenge and Vermont, I did not have enough time for any significant training and instead relied on my residual fitness from prior training blocks. A ten day trip to the San Juan Mountains with Alex helped me maintain a weekly elevation gain of about 10,000 feet, and a PR at the Revolutionary Run 10K let me know that my cardio was as good as ever. Unfortunately, I managed to tweak my soleus (calf) muscle in the finishing kick of the 10K, and this nagging injury would continue to bother me up to and through the entire Vermont 100.

The Course

Vermont 100 is a cloverleaf course composed of three loops. The first loop comprises almost half of the race at 47 miles, while the other loops are 23 and 30 miles respectively. The terrain is described in the race manual as 68 miles of rolling dirt roads, 30 miles of horse trails (double track ATV trails), and 2 miles of pavement. The dirt roads are hard packed and very smooth, making most of the course amazingly runnable. In fact, some runners opt to wear road shoes for the first half of the race. However, the horse trails would turn out to be waterlogged and deeply pitted with hoof prints, particularly near the end of the course.

Vermont 100 Course Map

Race Day

Alex, my mom, and I spent the night before the race at my aunt's cabin about an hour from the starting line (thanks Aunt Pam!). After a 2am wake up, we made some bagels and coffee and hit the road. We arrived at the starting line with just enough time to check in and hit the porta-potties.

The final minutes before the start of a race are always nerve wracking. I sized up my competition as I milled around. Almost every male runner had a tall slender build and facial hair that would put a lumberjack to shame. I glanced at my stocky legs and felt like a rhinoceros who had snuck into a herd of gazelles. At least I knew these sturdy quads and calves could take a beating.

Artist's rendering of me running

Some comments from Alex:

3:35 AM - Val and I followed Ryan around like lost puppies and made sure that he had everything that he needed

3:50 AM - I gave Ryan a good luck kiss and we found a good spot to watch the start of the race.

I found a spot in the starting corral a few rows back. I would have started even farther back, except I spotted ultrarunning legend Hal Koerner and decided to creep on him while he talked to a friend. I was too shy to say anything, so I just silently geeked out. He was as cool as a cucumber, showing no anxiety about the fact that he was about to run 100 miles. I guess when you win Western States and Hardrock, you stop getting pre-race jitters.

The gun went off at 4:00am sharp, and we took off on the dirt road from Silver Hill Meadow in the dark. The initial pace was frantic, and I almost got knocked off my feet when I paused to tell my crew that I had seen Hal freakin' Koerner. After being passed by a few hundred runners in the first quarter mile, things started to settle down a bit.

4:01 AM - Ryan ran by while Val and I cheered like crazy. Suddenly Ryan turned around (to give me a kiss? I have no idea why he would do such a thing) and nearly got trampled by a runner coming up behind him. The ordeal made him change his mind about turning around and Ryan ran on.

The start of the race!
Photo by Nancy Nutile-McMenemy

I tried to settle into an easy "all day" groove and reminded myself that I would probably pass most of these runners before the end of the race. I controlled my pace by forcing myself to breathe only through my nose. Whenever I felt the need to breathe through my mouth, I slowed down a bit. This helped me maintain an even effort level on both uphill and downhill sections.

4:30 AM - Val and I headed to the Heartland Diner which opened early for just for the Vermont 100. We ordered hot chocolates and a side of bacon and vegged out for a while. The last 100 miler that we crewed together at was Grindstone 100 in October and things didn’t go so well. I’m super lucky and I literally have the coolest mother in law ever but I tend to get angry when I’m tired and Val tends to get emotional when she was tired and let’s just say that it’s not exactly a winning combination. Back at the diner, we joked about me getting tangry [tired + angry] and her getting temotional [tired + emotional] and we hoped that we could handle the situation better this time around.

A few miles in, we hit the first trail section of the day, and I was immediately thankful that I had worn trail shoes and waterproof socks. The rain that had fallen over the previous few days had turned the "horse trails" into waterlogged mud pits. I passed dozens of runners in this section by simply running down the center of the trail while they tip-toed around puddles to keep their feet dry.

I spent a few minutes running alongside Kyle Robidoux, who is legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa. He was attempting his first hundred miler and had the race director Amy Rusiecki as his guide for the first 15 miles of the course. He would end up finishing just over 28 hours. What a badass!

Around mile 10, I was passed by the first few horses of the day. They had started an hour after the runners and seemed to trot past us effortlessly. Each rider dutifully warned the runners that they were approaching, which I found hilarious since the clop clop clop of hooves on the road announced their presence from hundreds of yards away. At mile 15, we crossed the beautiful Taftsville Covered Bridge, which was built in 1836 and is one of the oldest covered bridges in the US. Although it was only 6:30 in the morning, the people of Taftsville lined the streets and welcomed us to their beautiful town. It felt great to have the support of the locals.

Taftsville Covered Bridge
Photo by Ben Kimball Photography

7:00 AM - Val and I arrived at the Pretty House Aid Station and waited for Ryan to come in. We parked next to some alpacas so we spent a little bit of time watching them which involved Val getting sneezed on by one of them and it was hilarious.

7:52 AM - Ryan arrived! 21.3 miles in and looking great. We took his headlamp from him, replaced his Tailwind bottles, gave him a cup of coke and a cup full of berries, and cheered as he ran off. He was probably in and out of this aid station in a matter of 2 minutes.

The first aid station stop was quick and efficient. Over the past few years, my crew has become a well oiled machine, and these days I only have to stop for however long it takes to chug some Coca Cola and eat whatever snacks they brought for me (usually fruit). This is critical for me, since my legs have a tendency to seize up if I stop moving for too long.

8:00 AM - We have a system of always getting his stuff packed up for the next aid station before we leave the one we were currently at. This way we don’t forget anything that Ryan has requested. We refilled his bottles, grabbed his ice bandanas (something he requested), and replaced the batteries in his headlamp (he wouldn’t need it again until hours later but I did not want to forget about it). Then Val and I said goodbye to the alpacas and headed to the Stage Rd Aid Station. 

See what I mean?

I hit the marathon mark in about 4:45 elapsed, which is just under an 11:00/mi pace. This is the point in the race where runners start to make crazy predictions about their finishing times. It's early enough that you still feel invincible, and in a race like Vermont, you haven't hit any of the nasty sections of the course yet. So naturally I did some mental math and began to wonder if I could finish in 18 or 19 hours. All I had to do was sustain this "easy" pace for the rest of the race! Ha!

As I entertained these delusions of grandeur, we began one of the longer climbs of the race, ascending 700 feet on horse trails to the aptly named Sound of Music Hill. Although 700 feet is pretty meager compared to the mountain races I've done in the past, it's a swift kick in the butt when you've been running on rolling dirt roads for the past few hours. My pace slowed to a walk, although I continued to pass other runners thanks to countless hours spent doing hill repeats over the prior weeks.

The hills are alive with the sound of... me grunting and wheezing.
Photo by Ben Kimball Photography

The summit of Sound of Music Hill was stunning! The morning mist was just starting to burn off and the verdant hills of Vermont peaked through on the horizon in every direction. Views like this were exactly what I came for, and I took a few seconds to appreciate the beauty around me. Then I set to work on the three mile 1,000 foot descent ahead of me. Armed with my trusty laminated elevation profile, I knew that only a few easy miles separated me from the next crewed aid station.

8:15 AM - We arrived at the Stage Road Aid Station. We ate some lunch in the car since we knew we had at least another hour before Ryan would come in. Yes, you heard me right. Lunch at 8:15 AM. Don’t forget that at this point our breakfast was 6 hours ago. I bought us some sandwiches that Val dug into and I also made some tortellini with pesto that I dug into. It was delicious.

9:39 AM - Ryan arrived! 30.3 miles and still looking great. We replaced his Tailwind bottles, gave him a cup of coke and a cup full of berries, tied an ice bandanna around his neck, and cheered as he ran off. Again it was probably no more than 2 minutes of seeing him at this aid station.

Once again, the pit stop was lightning fast. The day was starting to heat up, and the ice bandanna immediately lowered my body temperature. I even got a little bit of brain freeze after putting it on, although I appreciated the relief from the humid Vermont weather.

The first mile after Stage Road brought one of the most unpleasant climbs of the day. Although it only gained 500 feet, the trail was overgrown with bushes and matted wet grass, which made the footing unsteady and held in the humidity remarkably well. After being on the open road with the air moving around me, this felt like trudging through a sauna. This single mile ended up taking over 18 minutes to cover, which was by far my slowest of the day.

10:15 AM - We spent a solid half hour roaming around a cute little bookstore. A solid 20 minutes is spent reading hilarious greeting cards (“Replacing the kitchen sponge was the highlight of my day… being an adult sucks!”)

Thankfully, all bad things must come to an end. I topped out on the climb and had an easy downhill mile to the road. The next few miles were pleasant rolling hills on dirt roads with views of forests and horse pastures. I passed an idyllic grassy field with a sign that read "Think you can cross this field in 10 seconds? The bull can do it in 9." Fair warning. I decided to stick to the course.

I don't have any pictures from this section, so here's Sound of Music Hill again
#QuadDamn #SkysOutThighsOut #ThighsOnFleek
Photo by Ben Kimball Photography

Around mile 38, we entered West Woodstick and crossed over Lincoln Covered Bridge, another bit of architecture from the 19th century. I was beginning to really enjoy the peaceful scenery of the Vermont 100 course.

11:00 AM - We met up with Katherine [Hawkins] for lunch (second lunch for us) at Mon Vert, a cute little bistro in Woodstock. We heard that, unfortunately, her husband, Steve, had been having some stomach issues. It was still early enough in the race and we hoped that he’d be able to recover and continue on. Somewhere in this time we heard that Kilian had won Hardrock 100 with one arm bandaged to the side of his body for 85 miles and I couldn’t wait to tell Ryan the news

After a few more rolling hills, I crested the final climb before Camp 10 Bear Aid Station. Located at mile 47 and 70 of the course, 10 Bear functions as sort of a master aid station as well as the symbolic half way point in the race. I was feeling pretty good, although a bit warm, when I approached another runner who was running and dry heaving at the same time.

"Hurk!" he retched violently.

"How's it going?" I asked, because I'm an idiot.

"Well, gack!, I'm not feeling my best," he responded.

"Do you want a ginger chew?" I offered.

"No thanks, wharf!, okay yeah maybe one."

I handed him a Gin Gin from my pack. These were my secret weapon against nausea in hot races, and I patted myself on the back for doing a good deed. Hopefully that gesture had earned me enough karma to finish the race in one piece. However, it made me suddenly realize how quickly a race can go south, and I became keenly aware of my own source of nagging discomfort.

The soles of my feet were becoming waterlogged and I could feel a blister on the ball of my right foot. My waterproof socks, which had served me well in prior races, were now holding in moisture and damaging my feet with many miles still left to run. I would have to swap out my footwear at the next aid station.

12:15 PM - We arrived at Camp 10 Bear Aid Station. We grabbed his stuff, including his shoes and socks because he had requested a shoe change, and headed off to find a good spot to set up.

12:17 PM - I ran back to the car because I forgot his camp chair. If he’s changing shoes he’s going to need a chair. Duh!

12:49 PM - Ryan arrived! 47 miles and in great(ish) spirits. We replaced his Tailwind bottles, gave him a cup of coke and a cup full of berries, tied a new ice bandana around his neck, and helped him with his sock and shoe change. To help him I poured some baby powder onto his feet so it’s easier for him to get his toe socks on. “That was a little bit excessive!” Ryan snaps at me because apparently I put a little too much powder on his feet. It was his first sign of crankiness but it was gone before it even really began. I hiked up the hill with him a little ways, took a selfie with him and cheered as he ran off. This stop probably took about 5-8 minutes because of the shoe change.

Alex putting (apparently way too much) baby powder on my feet
Photo by Katherine Hawkins

Yeah, I don't know why I gave Alex a hard time about the baby powder. Anyone who is willing to get that close to my feet during a race should win a goddamn Nobel Peace Prize. They say CREW is an acronym for cranky runner, endless waiting, and people like me are the reason why that's true.

Anyway, Camp 10 Bear was the first medical check of the race, and I passed with flying colors due to my ability to smile and speak in complete sentences. God bless efficient medical staff! And with that, I was off, with newly dry feet and a pep in my step.

"Stand awkwardly. Okay, you're good to go."
Photo by my mom

1:00 PM - CRAP! I forgot to tell Ryan about Kilian!

The first mile out of the aid station was a pancake flat stretch of dirt road, and I was feeling good about my chances of breaking 20 hours (I had finally come to my senses about those 18 or 19 hour time goals). However, the next mile was another humid, steep, muddy, overgrown climb, and I hit my first real low point in the race. After a few slow miles, I hit mile 50 in 9:40, which didn't leave much time in the bank for a 20 hour finish. I knew I would have to run a very strong second half.

As I was trying to pull myself out of this funk, I caught up to two runners who I had been leapfrogging with all day. One of them was walking with his head down while the other was trying to motivate him.

"Can you believe this guy?" the more energetic of the pair asked me, "We're half way through the race and he wants to quit!"

I said something generic like "Come on buddy! You got this!" God I'm such a dork sometimes.

"It's no use," said the same guy, "He's a bourgeois banker from the city. He gets a little uncomfortable and decides he's done."

"You're a bourgeois banker from the city too," said the sullen friend.

"Yeah, but at least I'm not dropping out!" was the response.

His reverse psychology did not seem to be working.

"Do you want a ginger chew?" I asked the sullen runner, looking to once again gain favor with the running gods. He declined.

"The problem is that he set this ridiculous time goal," said the energetic bourgeois banker.

I waited for the follow up.

"Yeah, he wanted to run this in twenty hours. Ridiculous!" he added.

"I think we're still on pace for that," I responded meekly, glancing at my watch.

"Yeah right!" said the banker.

I decided to get away from these two before their pessimism rubbed off on me. Despite the interaction, I left the conversation with a renewed sense of purpose. Now I had to prove that a 20 hour finish was possible after running a 9:40 first half.

1:30 PM - “ZEBRA! A FUCKING ZEBRA!” Val was driving and I was zoning out while looking at a quaint little covered bridge when suddenly Val was shouting about a zebra and sure enough there it was! Did we somehow get teleported to Africa? Why was there a zebra in Vermont? We stopped for a good long while to take pictures and talk to other people who had also stopped. I was pretty sure we were not all having the same hallucination but still why was a zebra chilling in Vermont?

A fucking zebra

2:00 PM - We stopped at a little General Store to pick up ice and paper towels and started asking everyone there about the zebra. Turns out his name is Zeus and he’s a rescue zebra. He lives on a farm is is friends with a cow and a goat.

2:15 PM - We have yet to get over the zebra incident

After my wild banker encounter, my spirits lifted and I was able to get back into a comfortable rhythm. I was still keeping my breathing in check, and I was able to run most of the moderate climbs and move efficiently on the descents. My feet were also starting to dry out, which helped immensely.

2:45 PM - We arrived at the Margaritaville Aid Station. We were cautioned about driving into the parking area because of the mud but my new Subaru handled it with flying colors! We found a spot to set up shop and waited for Ryan to come in.

3:12 PM - Ryan arrived! 58.5 miles and in great spirits! We replaced his Tailwind bottles, gave him a cup of coke and a cup full of berries, tied a new ice bandana around his neck, and cheered him on as he ran off. Again it was under 2 minutes. He was in go mode!

Hiking up to the Margaritaville aid station at mile 58
Photo by Alex

3:15 PM - CRAP! I forgot to tell Ryan about Kilian and the zebra!

In the latter half of the course, the manned aid stations were placed very close together, so I was able to bypass many of them.

"Just passing through," I called to the volunteers as I passed Puckerbrush at mile 62, "I have a hot date tonight!"

"Looks like you're gonna be early!" one of them called back.

My short interactions with the volunteers became a little game where I tried to make them laugh. Every positive response brought new life to my increasingly tired legs.

"Looking good, runner!" said a volunteer as I passed another aid station.

"Thanks, you're not so bad yourself!" I responded, to chuckles from the other volunteers.

4:00 PM - Val and I were having a jolly old time. I have seriously never laughed so much in a 12 hour period. No tangry or temotional tendencies yet. Oh and we were still not over the zebra.

I passed through the 100K point in 11:50, still just under the 12:00/mi pace I needed to maintain to finish under 20 hours. Incidentally, that would have placed 9th overall in the 100K race, which is kind of cool.

5:00 PM - We were back at the Camp 10 Bear Aid Station. We packed up Ryan’s gear along with the All Day IPA that he requested and found a spot to set up shop. For some reason, I was suddenly certain that we had missed him. I walked down to the aid station to check and see if his bib number had come through. Nope! I was just being paranoid. When I made it back up to our little spot, I heard Val saying “Where in NJ are you from?” to a woman. It turned out she was from the next town over! What are the odds. We chatted with her for a little while while we waited for our runners to come in. 

The long descent coming into Camp 10 Bear for the second time was where I really began to feel the accumulate miles of the day. First, my quads started to complain, which was surprising considering how much climbing and descending I had done in training and in previous races. Second, I spent a good 10 seconds stopped in the middle of the trail looking for my sunglasses before a passing runner reminded me that they were on my face. Clearly my mental acuity was suffering a bit. However, all of this was to be expected at this point in a 100 mile race. All I had to do was control the collapse and make sure I didn't slow down too much before the finish.

At the previous aid station, I had requested a beer for Camp 10 Bear. After hours of drinking sweet liquid calories and eating fruit, an ice cold IPA sounded heavenly. This became my motivation for the next few miles.

Side note: it's unfortunate that Founders Brewing Company does not sponsor athletes, because All Day IPA is a perfect name (and a perfect beer) for long distance runners. Think about it, Founders. Call me.

5:15 PM - Ryan arrived! 69.4 miles and still in great spirits. We replaced his Tailwind bottles, tied a new ice bandana around his neck, and gave him his beer. He told us he was starting to feel a little fatigued but he looked so strong running out of the aid station.

Nectar of the gods!
Photo by Alex

5:20 PM - CRAP! I forgot to tell Ryan about Kilian and the zebra again! There’s just too much to do when Ryan comes into aid stations that we’re in all business mode. There’s no time to stop and chat.

Back to the race... Once again, there was a steep climb leaving 10 Bear. However, I was now armed with some course knowledge since I had run this section as a pacer two years before. Even on fresh legs, this climb had sucked, so I mentally prepared myself for the worst. In reality, it did suck, but it was no worse that the previous climbs. Plus I had another runner and their pacer to talk to as I climbed. Pacers always breathe new life into a race, and just running near someone else's pacer and listening to their conversation is encouraging.

At the top of the climb, we had a few miles of easy road running, and then plunged back into the muddy trails. I had some slow miles in here and knew that I was losing valuable time. Thankfully, the Spirit of 76 aid station was not too far off.

5:40 PM - We arrived at the Spirit of 76 Aid Station. We had at least another hour before Ryan arrived so we lounged in the car for a while. Val was able to take a short 10 minute snooze while I updated social media on Ryan’s progress.

6:40 PM - We hiked a quarter mile from the car to the aid station to set up shop.

6:50 PM - We realized that we did not add new ice to our portable cooler and even though it was getting cooler out, I was almost certain that Ryan would want an ice bandanna still. Crap! Val sprinted back to the car while I waited at the aid station.

6:57 PM - Ryan arrived! 76.2 and starting to get a little tired. Val still wasn’t back with the ice bandanna so I started helping Ryan with his shoe change. I was very careful with the amount of baby powder I put on his feet and he didn’t seem to be irritated this time. Instead, Ryan got super irritated when I gave him his cup of berries and it must have tipped in the cooler and gotten some nasty cooler water in it. Now, I’m sure no one would ever be happy about drinking a mouthful of water that’s probably full of sweat from different bandannas and towels but Ryan is usually so calm and collected and he was decidedly not when this happened. By this time Val had made it back with the ice. I quickly filled a bandanna, tied it around his neck, and sent Ryan off into the night. This was another 8 minute pit stop.

Yeah, drinking a mouthful of my own sweat was pretty unpleasant. I thought my response was remarkably level headed considering how grossed out I was. This stop ended up being longer than I was planning, and some quick mental math told me that I needed to average under 13:00/mi from here on to hit my goal. This was going to be close.

7:05 PM - I was packing up all of Ryan’s gear when I noticed the Tailwind bottles that I had were the full Tailwind bottles. SHIT! We forgot to switch out his bottles! Luckily Ryan was just barely beyond the aid station. I shouted his name and started sprinting up the hill to him. Phew! Crisis averted.

7:06 PM - Tangry started to rear her ugly head. Why was Val just standing around when we she got back to the aid station with the ice? If she had helped with Ryan we probably would’ve remembered his bottles and everything would’ve gone smoothly. Luckily, I knew Tangry would probably make an appearance at some point during the day and I shut her up right away. “Val just literally sprinted a quarter mile to the car and a quarter mile back to the aid station. Let the woman catch her breath!” I never said anything to Val because I knew I was just being bitchy. In fact this report is probably the first time she’s ever hearing about this. Sorry Val <3!

At least I'm not the only one who gets cranky at these events.

The miles between Spirit of 76 and Bill's were very runnable, and I was able to maintain a 10:00-12:00/mi pace for the most part. My goal was to bank enough time in this section that I could average 13:00/mi with Alex for the last 12 miles and still break 20 hours.

Chugging along on the dirt roads
Photo by Ben Kimball Photography

At mile 82, the course passed within a quarter mile of the finish line, and I could see the lights through the trees. Unbeknownst to me, Brian Rusiecki had finished the race an hour earlier, coming within 30 minutes of his own course record time from a few years earlier.

Around this time, I began to realize that my physical status was totally different from this point in my previous 100 milers. Usually I'm not able to climb well after mile 80, but I can still descend with my usual speed. At Vermont, I was still able to run all but the steepest hills, but the pain in my quads was slowing me down on the descents. Strange, but not too concerning since I was still moving well overall.

8:15 PM - We arrived at Bill’s Aid Station and I realized that although I had been eating like a pig all day, I hadn’t opened up the Oreos yet and this was the aid station where I would start pacing! Val and I ate a bunch of Oreos and made sure we had all the navigation for Val ready to go since she would be a 1 woman crew after this aid station. 

8:45 PM - I was packing up my pacing gear when suddenly I saw Hal Koerner walking by. I knew he was running the race but I figured he was finished or very close to finishing by this point. But yet I was 90% sure that it was indeed Hal Koerner walking by the aid station. He must’ve been having a rough day. I ran forward and snuck a picture of him from behind.

9:21 PM - Ryan arrived! 88.3 miles and still running really strong. Val took care of all the usual crew duties and I got myself ready to run. Before I knew it we were off into the night. Ryan’s A goal for the race was sub 20 hours and he was so close to it. We had 2 hours and 37 minutes to run 11.7 miles. This meant that we would need to run a 13:25 pace for the last 12 miles. I knew that a lot of it was going to be uphill and I was really worried. 

Checking my watch as I ran into Bill's aid station, mile 88
Photo by my mom

The stop at Bill's was a bit frantic because I knew time was getting tight. I didn't swap out any gear except for my two water bottles, and then I took off with Alex right beside me. It was great to finally see my wife for more than 30 seconds at a time.

I'm going to let her take over the narrative from here, because my memory is a little foggy at this point in the race.

9:24 PM - Ryan told me that he was still feeling pretty good and he had been able to run almost everything except the long or steep uphills. He was actually struggling a little more on the downhills which is usually his strength.

9:30 PM - I FINALLY told Ryan about the Zebra and despite having run for 17+ hours, he was just as amused as I hoped he would be! I also told Ryan about Kilian! What a freaking badass!

That zebra story was simply amazing. After running all day, that was just the kind of ridiculous stuff I was hoping to hear about. And of course, finding out about Kilian's victory was a huge inspiration.

9:40 PM - Ryan’s decided that he wanted me to run in front. I’ve done this a few times while pacing him at night and it really stresses me out. I felt that I was either going too fast or too slow. I was constantly checking back to see how close Ryan was and then I got yelled at for shining my light in his eyes. Ok so yelled at isn’t exactly the right phrase. Ryan is really very easy to deal with while running but late into a race he does tend to get very curt with all his communication. So I was very curtly told to stop shining the light in his eyes and since I had to stop turning back I was very curtly told when I was getting too far away from him. Luckily most of what we’re running on was dirt roads and we could run side by side. It was only on the single track that he wanted me out in front.

...Cranky runner, endless waiting. I don't know how she puts up with me.

10:00 PM - We rolled by the Keating’s Aid Station without stopping at all. We just shouted out his bib number as we ran by. Ryan was starting to get tired and he was afraid if he stopped for too long he’d never start again.

10:02 PM - I saw Hal Koerner walking right in front of us and I started miming to Ryan (like a crazy person) to let him know it was Hal!

10:02:30 PM - “Hal?!” Ryan shouted out to the man walking in front of us. Running for 18 hours had rid Ryan of all inhibition. Hal turned expecting to see someone he knew and saw us and our big dopey smiles. Ryan asked if he wanted to run with us for a little bit. “Man I wish I could” was all he replied and then we dusted him!

Things that don't faze me after 18+ hours of running: running into traffic, using a tree as a toilet, and meeting legendary athletes.

10:03 PM - “You’re running too fast for Hal freaking Koerner!” I made sure to point that out to Ryan to give him a little extra boost!

That felt pretty good. Sure, Hal has had a few rough years of running because of age and injuries. But if you're a pitcher and you strike out Babe Ruth, you don't care whether he's in a slump at the time.

I don't have any pictures from this point in the race, so here's another one from earlier
Photo by Ben Kimball Photography

10:30 PM - I could tell Ryan was really starting to feel it because every step was accompanied by a moan or a grunt. As a wife I felt just terrible. This whole time I was pushing the pace, trying to keep him moving quickly and I knew he was really suffering. “I will get you there in under 20 hours but if it’s killing you, you don’t have to do it. We can slow down.” I decide that I would just say that once. He told me that he’d let me know but at this point he still wanted to try for sub 20. So I cried a little on the inside as I let him know that he had to push just a little harder to do it.

Don't let her fool you. She's a sadist and enjoys doing this to me. Just kidding, Alex is a wonderful pacer, and I know it's tough for her to push me this hard in a race. But she does it anyway because she knows how much running means to me. Thanks Alex!

10:51 PM - We arrived at Polly’s Aid Station, 94.9! Val was there to cheer us on. All we did was fill a water bottle and we were out of there! He was still moving really well and he made up a tiny bit of time from where I started pacing him. He now had to do the last 5.1 miles in a 13:32 pace.

11:15 PM - I stopped dead in my tracks on a single track section. Luckily Ryan was a few paces behind me and he was with it enough to not crash right into me. There was a creature on the trail, a few yards away, crawling right towards us, and I was pretty sure it was a skunk. Ryan had no patience for this nonsense and he got in front of me and started shouting “Get out of here!” at the skunk. I was terrified that we were going to be sprayed. It lumbered off the trail to our right and we ran by. Still I was petrified that it was going to spray us until I realized it was a porcupine! Whew!

Other things that don't faze me after 18+ hours of running: wild animals.

In hindsight a skunk spray might’ve improved Ryan’s smell a little. During Ryan’s first hundo a doctor friend of ours was pacing Ryan and she told him that he didn’t smell worse than a dead body, just different. Maybe skunk spray would’ve been an improvement on Ryan’s not worse than a dead body scent.

Stinky runner, endless waiting?

Anyway, I was not about to risk sub-20 for a stupid skunk or a porcupine or even a pterodactyl. I was the dominant species, and I would assert my authority! Also, I was delirious and running purely on adrenaline at this point.

With each passing mile, it looked like a 20 hour finish was becoming more likely. However, Alex would not let me relax, since we weren't sure how accurate the mile markers were at the aid stations. I kept doing quick calculations in my head and announcing them proudly to Alex ("Now we only have to average 14 minutes per mile... now 15 minutes per mile!").

At long last, we came to a glorious sign that read "1 mile to go."

11:45 PM - I knew that he was going to do it! We had 15 minutes to go 1 mile and the uphill running was over! I was cheering Ryan like crazy for that last mile. I was so proud that he was actually doing it!

I started to let my guard down, and finally said out loud "We're gonna do it! Sub-20 hours!" And then I tripped over a root and almost face planted onto the trail. I decided to keep these thoughts to myself until I had actually crossed the finish line.

11:55 PM - We crossed the finish line holding hands! Val was right there as we came in screaming “SUB 20 BITCHES!” It was such a great feeling! I was and still am so proud of him. He finished a 100 miler in one calendar day! 19:55:15 A-freaking-mazing!

"Sub-20 bitches!"
Photo by my mom

I couldn't believe it! Twenty hours had been my stretch goal going into this race - my everything-goes-right goal - and I had hit it with five minutes to spare! I had also run 100 miles in a single calendar day, which I had never done before (thanks to a 4:00am start time).

11:56 PM - Someone asked Ryan what he wanted and when he said a chair, it was instantly produced for him. We sat for a while and cheered as other runners came in. Amy Rusiecki, the RD, was amazing and had a real conversation with everyone who crossed the finish line. It was really fun to watch.

A totally candid and not at all staged picture with Amy Rusiecki. She's a fantastic RD!
Photo by my mom

Sitting felt nice but was a bad idea. My legs immediately seized up and my core temperature plummeted. I shivered violently as I watched the other finishers (but refused to put down my cold beer - a man has to have his priorities straight).

12:30 AM - Ryan decided that it was time to make our way to the food tent and then to the car. The problem was that his adrenaline, which had completely worn off at this point, was the only thing keeping his calf pain at bay. It must’ve taken us 20 minutes to walk the quarter mile from the finish line to the food tent. He was in agony and there was nothing I could do besides offer him my arm for some support. Again, as a wife this was heartbreaking.

Remember how I tweaked my soleus muscle a few weeks before the race? Well, in compensating for it over the course of 100 miles, I also managed to strain my gastrocnemus (the big fat calf muscle). And on my legs, that's a hell of a lot of calf to strain. Every time I straightened my leg, it felt like the muscle was going to tear right off the bone. I wondered if I had done some serious damage to it (it ended up being fine after a few weeks off).

12:50 AM - We made it to the food tent! Hooray! And they had burgers and fried eggs, Ryan’s absolute favorite post run meal! Double hooray! Val was a rockstar at this point. She had everything Ryan needed at the finish line and she ran back and forth doing whatever she could do to help him out. 

I really can't say enough positive things about my two-person crew during and after the race. After 20 hours of feeding me and icing me down, Alex acted as a human crutch while I hobbled to the food tent, and my mom pulled our car right up onto the grass so I didn't have to walk a single step farther than absolutely necessary.

I love this lady!
Photo by my mom

Post Race Thoughts

Whew! That ended up being a freaking novel.

Huuuuge thanks to my mom and Alex for crewing, pacing, and taking care of me after the race. I couldn't have broken 20 hours without their tremendous support. And another huge thanks to Amy Rusiecki for putting on a world class event. The volunteers, course markings, and aid stations were all top notch, and it was amazing that she took the time to speak with every finisher after the race.

I ended up taking a few weeks off from serious training after Vermont to let my calf heal up. This was my longest recovery from a race, which supports my theory that runnable courses beat my body up way more than technical terrain.

Now, after my first couple weeks of real training, I'm taking on the 72 mile NJ section of the Appalachian Trail in an FKT attempt. Hopefully that report won't take as long for me to write as this one did!