Yay! Yes, I did it. Fifty miles in 11:39.
First, I want to thank everyone involved in putting on the Vermont 50 Bike & Ultra Run. It was a great event benefiting Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sport. The race organizers did a great job, especially considering the devastation of Irene that they had to contend with. They had to do a lot of last minute trail maintenance and re-routing. But they got it together and provided us with a challenging course through stunningly beautiful country. Thanks to everyone who helped make it possible.
Many special thanks to the FABULOUS volunteers all along the course on race day. These guys spent long hours offering us refreshment, assistance, and lots of encouragement. Thank you - I can't say it enough - thank you!
And also a huge thank you to the local landowners who make this race possible. The course criss-crosses park land and private. Without the owners' permission, this race would not happen. We so appreciate that you all agreed to allow hundreds of bikers and runners to stream through your land. You are all wondrous and beautiful human beings!
Someday, I'd like to learn how to get some sleep before a race. Maybe as I run more races, I won't be quite so anxious/excited before and can get more than a couple hours of sleep.
Up at 4:00am. Get ready - shower, some coffee, a little food. Re-check that I've got everything. Re-check again. Drive through the dark to arrive by 5:15 check-in.
Driving down the highway in the dark, I'm nervous. As I approach the exit, I realize there really is a lot of traffic for this hour. And most of them are getting off at my exit. There's a steady stream of cars winding along these roads, heading the same way I am - members of my tribe. All these headlights represent at least one other crazy person. My tribe. OK, most of them are faster and better members of the tribe, but they're still my people.
It's hot. It's the end of September, and it's hot! And humid! It's close to 70 degrees at 6:00 in the morning and dripping wet. Temperature is expected to get close to 80. This is not good for me! Not good for anyone who's trying to cover 50 miles in anything other than a car, but I really have trouble with heat. This worries me.
6:00, first wave of bikes head out into the dark. Waves of bikes leave over the next 25 minutes. 6:35, 50 mile runners. I need to be back here in 12 hours.
The start of a race is always a little anti-climactic. Getting a couple hundred runners going is a gradual process - this is not a sprint. We walk, shuffle, and jog until we space out and fall into the rhythm of our run.
The course is a mix of roads, most of them dirt or gravel, and trails. We wind our way through incredibly picturesque Vermont farms and woods. We pass fields, horses, cut through woods, go over and through streams. We chat with the aid station volunteers as they help us refill our water bottles and get us back on our way. We wave to the locals who have come out to watch & cheer us on.
I have to work really hard to stay hydrated. Sweat is poring off me, not dripping - poring. I will not need the long sleeved shirts I packed in my drop bags along the course. I sip my water often, take electrolyte caplets at regular intervals, and snack when I can. The aid stations are great. The volunteers help us re-fill bottles. They have a variety of drinks and snacks: water, Heed (a type of sport/electrolyte drink), soda, chips, fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, ramen noodles in chicken broth, cookies, chocolate. My personal fave of the day: ramen noodles - liquid, salty, noodles! And later in the day a special treat: orange slices that I dip in salt - it's like a happy little margarita!
The trail sections are beautiful! But muddy. Much are better than I feared, given how much rain Vermont has gotten this Fall. But there are sections that are like a lake of mud. I'm very pleased that I chose to wear gaiters! In places, the mud is more than ankle-deep. This is loose-your-shoe-deep mud. Several times, I do almost pull out of my shoe. I hear the sucking sound as my foot goes in and feel the shoe stick. I have to suddenly clench my toes to keep my shoe on.
And all the while, we laugh, we curse, we chat, we look out for one another, we encourage each other. We are members of the tribe. We all understand the elation and the struggle. If someone stumbles, we offer a hand. We offer words of encouragement when we see someone's will flagging. We step to the side and cheer them on when someone else has a spurt of energy and passes us. And we know they'll do the same for us.
We exchange stories and make new friends. There are so many inspirational stories. Someone who was fat and a chain smoker a year ago, now running his first ultra marathon. A married couple who decided this was something they could train for and do together. Others just taking on a new challenge or facing fears. My favorite story of the day, however, was the guy who is a Type 1 diabetic running his first 50 miler with his insulin pump pinned to his pack. Oh, and he was just diagnosed with MS. I ran with him for a short while at the beginning of the race. I lost track of him by the end. I have no idea how he did. I don't think it matters. He was out there. He faced his diseases, acknowledged the risks and challenges, and decided to try to be more than their limitations. Did he finish? I don't know. I don't care - he tried!
My GPS watch didn't charge fully, so my battery dies sooner than I expect. Then I'm left trying to figure out my pace from the time I arrive at the aid stations. In my fatigue, I am completely incapable of doing any math! I try to calculate my pace, but can't: Wait, OK, there are 60 minutes in an hour, right? OK, 7 miles in an hour and a half is what? 60 plus 30 is 90. 90 divided by 7 is what? 7 into 9, 7 into 9, 7 into 9....wait, where was I? There are 60 minutes in an hour. What's my pace? Wait.... It's utterly shocking to think that at one time I was considered good at math!
I'm worried about making the cutoff of 12 hours. I am not a fast runner. I'm arriving at the aid stations well-ahead of the cutoffs, but I'm tired and having trouble from the heat. My muscles are cramping up sometimes. I'm tired. I'm tired of walking, I'm tired of running, I'm tired of sweating.
I believe that if I can keep my pace, I will make it. But I'm filled with doubts. When I need it most, I get help from other runners. When I'm having trouble getting going after leaving an aid station, can't make myself run, a couple of guys come by at a good steady pace. I fall in behind them. It's easier to get running when I can just watch their feet in front of me. I thank them; they welcome my company. We run together for a while. We take turns leading up the hills. Later, I meet Mario. We're both worried about time. We're in the last 10 miles. We know we can finish, but in time? I pass him in a sudden wave of energy. He falls in behind and keeps pace with me. We chat and we run in silence. We admire the view. When my energy lags, Mario takes the lead. He encourages me up the hills. Eventually, I am unable to continue at his pace, but I am grateful to have had his company for a while.
Finally, a sign saying 5 miles! And I have plenty of time to do it! I have pushed myself and now I know that I can almost walk the rest of it and still make the cutoff. I cannot describe the total elation at the moment of realizing that this really is within my grasp!
And then the despair at coming to another uphill, and then another, and another. The final aid station is less than 3 miles from the end. I am ready to cry when I realize how much more uphill there is in those last 3 miles. It seems so unfair, and I am so tired. I just don't want to run anymore. There are 4 of us who end up grouping together, more or less, for the end of the run. We try to make jokes, we try to laugh. We curse - well, I curse. I talk to myself. I remind myself to run. I remind myself to run with proper form.
Then there's a man coming toward us - about a mile and a quarter to go, good job! Yay! We're almost there!... But then there are more hills, more damn hills! Then there's another man - about 1400ft until the you hit the ski slopes & you're there! Yay! We're almost there!... But what does 1400ft mean? At this point, my brain cannot process any numbers except time. I understand time. I understand that I have to cross the finish line before 6:35 - 12 hours after we started. Finally the ski slopes - yay! We can hear the cheering at the finish line... But it's over there. We have to cross over this slope, then another, then wind our way down and across another.
Congratulations all around! I guess someone won the race, but at this moment no one cares. We finished - yay!
Oh, and did I mention there was mud?