Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vermont 100 Race Report

The Vermont 100 Endurance Challenge is an ultra marathon (and horse race at the same time on the same course) held in and around the Woodstock, VT area that includes over 14,000 feet of elevation gain on approximately 70 miles of dirt roads and 30 miles of trails. This course that contains incredibly beautiful views and picturesque farms would be the setting for my first attempt at a 100 miler.

Amie and the kids checked in at a local B&B while I checked in at the race with the medical staff who performed a mandatory pre-race check of my weight and blood pressure. Both were unusually high. There are three locations throughout the course were I'd be weighed, and allowed to go on as long as weight loss didn't exceed 7% of my pre-race number.

I met my pacer, Dave, and then caught up with Mark, Scott, and Mary who would be running the race and Clint who would be crewing and pacing Mark. After a good dinner in Woodstock and ice cream for the kids we headed back to Silver Hill Meadow to camp for the night while Amie, Amy, and the kids headed back to the B&B.

The forecast called for overnight rain that would continue through race day and diminish in intensity as the day continued. Sleep was intermittent as the sounds of the night included rain dancing on the tent, the cries of a baby, snores through the camping area, a relentless frog's croaking, and even a car alarm around midnight. While getting prepped in the tent after a 3am wake up we welcomed Keith who was sidelined from the race due to injury but made the surprise trip from Boston to support us...very cool. After making our way down to the starting area to check in my next surprise was seeing Amie wearing a huge smile of excitement, a welcomed sight indeed. The race folks honored my request to be re-weighed and the efforts were fruitful as my new pre-race weight that would be referenced through the day was 4 pounds less than previously recorded.

Mary, Scott, Bruce, Mark

At 4am the countdown from 10 ended at one and the race began with hooting and hollering as 249 individuals, with lights to shine the way, were on their way to tackling 100 miles. I carried a pace chart on me to track my progress towards a target of 22:15, which would give me almost a two hour buffer to hit 24 hours if needed. Mark, Scott, and I moved steadily along putting time in the bank as we comfortably moved ahead of pace. We engaged others in conversation and at one point were running in a group of about 8.

The course has 29 aid stations where runners have access to water and sports drink, and many also have a variety of foods including oranges, bananas, pb&j quarters, watermelon, soda, candy, etc...9 of the stations allowed handler access which allows runners access to items in drop bags and help from "crew" members. These handler stations are typically where spectators congregate, many waiting to assist their runners.

Mark moved slightly ahead prior to the first handler aid station at Pretty House, mile 21. As Scott and I came into Pretty House I felt like a rock star with all the cheering and support from those gathered around, simply incredible. Dave filled my bottles as I changed my shirt and reloaded my supply of gels and salt. I found going through the handler aid stations incredibly uplifting the entire day(s).

Scott and Bruce arriving at Stage Rd

At this point the clouds cleared, sun came out and I was about 30 minutes ahead of pace so Scott and I settled into a nice rhythm taking us down to the next handler station, Stage Rd at mile 31. Life was good. The crowd was large, loud, and impressive and once again, left me feeling like a rock star. Dave was right there filling my bottles and Clint and Keith were helpful in assisting with our drop bags. I had not realized that I was starting to fatigue until I left with incredible energy after seeing these guys and coming through the aid area. Shortly after this Scott and I parted and I was solo, but not for long.

I didn't expect to enjoy myself as much as I did during this race. The countryside was beautiful and the people were incredible. I had a great time joking with the aid station volunteers. I found myself with a heightened sense of gratitude the whole time. I met and became friends with Mark and Scott a couple years ago as they were starting their quest into ultra marathons. They've been a great help to me and you couldn't ask for better guys to train and enjoy these events with. Keith surprised us with a trip from Boston to help out and his encouragement along the way was priceless. Clint's been a great training partner as well and made some adjustments for the greater good. My wife, Amie, is simply awesome. She's been so enthusiastically supportive, I'm so fortunate. She surprised me at the start, and I saw her several times along the way, and of course at the finish, beaming with pride. My daughters even seemed to enjoy seeing daddy "looking so strong" (their words) as mom dragged them around to see dad. I was the recipient of several calls and texts from friends the day before the race wishing me well. The aid station volunteers gave their time, asserted their assistance, and were encouraging. Mark's family cheered and helped care for the kids. Dave, a stranger who agreed to pace me. Dani came over to the race to show her support as I came through Margaritaville. Seeing Shannon later in the race was refreshing. And of course, there's the other runners.

During this next section I had the pleasure of meeting Brian from San Diego, Brian from Oregon, and John from Virginia. They are amazing guys and it was great to hear of their past ultra adventures, future plans, and personal lives. Running and talking with these guys and others I would meet were a big factor in my enjoyment level throughout the day. At one point I was running alone and experienced delirium recognition #1 - the Christmas song "Most Wonderful Time of the Year" kept playing over and over in my mind.

The primary handler aid station, Camp 10 Bear, is used at mile 47 and 70. I came in with John 30 minutes ahead of schedule, feeling strong, and once again the crowd was uplifting. As the head physician pulled me aside I remembered Mark's words of advice "keep on your running pack and water bottles for extra weight". The conversation went something like this:

Physician - "We need to weigh you, can you please take off your running pack and water bottles".

Me - "Wow, you are good, you know all the tricks"

Physician - "What's your name?"

This is where delirium recognition #2 took place.

Me - "#81..(no, that's my number..I know this one, oh yeah)..Bruce"

Physician - "What did you weigh before the race?"

Me - (I know this one too, oh yeah) "164"

Physician - "And that's what you weigh right now. We're done with you"

I felt like I just aced a final exam. The attention I received at the handler station was impressive as Amie, the girls, Clint, Dave, and Keith helped with a change of shoes, socks, shirt, and band aids for my bloody nipples. We shared some laughs, I grabbed some food and kisses and off and running after a quick stop.

Just up the road, near the B&B I had the pleasure of being cheered on by Mark's family. Still strong, I was holding up fine with the exception of some skin irritations that I attended to with applications of Vaseline. Was alone a bit during the next 23 miles, but spent some time with John from Colorado, an experienced Leadville 100 runner (8 times) and Ramon who's competed in several Ironman triathlons. Our paces were similar and our finishing times were somewhat close. Delirium recognition #3 occurred during this section. I had finished applying lube, wiping my hand on my shorts, and headed into an aid station where I quickly grabbed a delicious half turkey sandwich and moved along. When I was done I realized I was eating with my lube hand, no mayo needed on that piece.

The rock star with his number 1 fan at Margaritaville

At mile 69 I came upon the B&B and was welcomed by Mark's parents, his wife Amy, and all of our kids who ran with me a bit. Another mile down the road I hit Camp 10 Bear and came in feeling surprisingly well and 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Amie helped with a change of socks, shoes, shirt and shorts. We made arrangements for my pacer, Dave, to meet me at mile 77. I grabbed some food and off I went to tackle the final 30 miles at about 6:30.

I was alone for the long and steep ascent out of Camp 10 Bear. The first thing I saw at the top of the climb was a runner vomiting and his pacer waiting with empathy. The next thing I saw was another runner vomiting on all fours, and his pacer waiting patiently. This was a reminder that even though the day had been going very well and I was 70% done, I still had 30 miles to go and anything could happen.

I made it to West Winds, mile 77 at about dusk, said hello to Shannon, Amie, the kids, had some laughs with the aid station folks, grabbed some food and pacer Dave and proceeded on the journey. We moved along well until we hit mile 84 and my pace slowed as my quads were suffering and we hit some steep ups and downs, giving up the extra 30 minutes I'd been carrying most of the day. It was dark now and we were treated to a beautiful star filled sky for the remainder of our race.

We came into Bill's at mile 88 and chatted with Shannon as I was weighed again (still at 164, sweet). A large contingency of runners had gathered and seemed to be taking their time before leaving as the atmosphere was celebratory with the scent of the finish line in the air. Had some chicken broth, other food, and moved on.

Even though our pace slowed we were moving strong and were able to pick up the pace a little at mile 95 as the terrain was flat. With a couple miles left you could hear the roars of the spectators at the finish line. This caused the pace to pick up and after some zig zagging through the woods, I could see a clearing up ahead and was asked by a stranger in the night, "What's your number?", "81", he announced "#81 coming in". I let out my victory yell as I entered the clearing then ran to the finish to the cheers of those gathered waiting for their runners. My official time was 22:57. As Amie and Clint congratulated me, Amie asked "How do you feel?", my response "DONE". After some food and a change of clothes is was back to the B&B for a couple hours sleep.


Clint and Mark at finish

Mark ran strong and finished just over 21 hours.

Scott was on pace for his 22 1/2 hour goal until mile 70 when he started having some major issues that ended up leading him on an amazing experience. He overcame much and persevered to finish in 27:20.

After a fantastic breakfast with Mark and his family we headed over to the awards ceremony, chatted with those we met during the journey to hear the rest of their stories, received our awards and headed home. What a weekend.

100 miles is a long way.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vermont 100

I recently arrived home from the Vermont 100 and will work on a race report to share. It was a great experience and the enjoyment far exceeded my expectations. My goal was to finish in less than 24 hours and my official time was 22:57.