Vermont 100 Race Report-Part 2

 

Author’s note: A draft of this blog post was written in early August and has been sitting in my Google Drive for several weeks, with me tinkering with it every couple of days. I’m posting it now, and it still doesn’t feel done. The center isn’t there, and I don’t have the tone right. However, taking a cue from Anne Bradstreet, this blogger to his post says, It’s time to get out there.

What does it mean to fail and how have we come to see failure as something terrible, catastrophic?

Here’s what happened:

After over twelve hours of running, I came into an aid station called Camp 10 Bear. I was tired, but ready to keep going. However, I hadn’t peed for over six hours, even though I had been drinking regularly. I went to for a medical check because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t in the early stage of kidney failure. I got weighed and had my vitals taken. They green lighted me to keep going.

I went to my wife, she helped me change clothes, a new t-shirt, socks. I refueled at the aid station, refilled my pack, said to the volunteer there, as I pointed in a particular direction down the road, “I’m going that way?” to which he replied, “Yep.” And off I went, moving slowly, still munching on a handful of grilled cheese sandwiches.

Forty-five minutes later, after a huge climb, a runner came towards me, yelling, “We’re going the wrong way.” I was off course, on a part of the route that I was supposed to be on, but about 23 miles later. The only thing to do was to turn around, head back to Camp 10 Bear, and see where I was at.

On the way back down, I passed scores of runners coming up the hill, asking if I was okay. All I could say was “I got off route and went the wrong way.” They groaned, vocalizing my pain.

Once back there, completely demoralized and just a few minutes ahead of the cut off, I decided, with tears in my eyes, to drop.

It’s easy in this day and age to seek blame. “It’s not my fault” has become a standard phrase. As you’re reading this, you’re probably saying, the aid station worker gave the wrong directions. However, I firmly believe that in this instance, I’m responsible. I should have known the course better. I should have confirmed before leaving that I was going in the right direction. There are times when circumstances and the larger forces contrive to end our runs and force a decision. This was not one of those times.

In the media, success and failure are at the core of the narrative, especially around sports and athletics. We love the story of triumph after failure, of accomplishment after defeat. We love the come back. The underdog surmounting his or her foes. We don’t often look at failure for what it is, which is the end.

In telling this story over the past month, I try to avoid euphemism as much as possible. I lay it plain–”I went to Vermont, and I failed.” Sometimes I say “epic fail.” But even that I don’t like. I’m not Homer or Milton, and I’m certainly not Achilles or Odysseus. Sometimes failure is small, and in the grand scheme of things, nothing. Sometimes failure is a runner on dirt road watching others keeping going.

When I say that, that I failed in what I set out to do, people twitch. They shake their heads. My dad, kind and good-natured, being fatherly and protecting says, “Most people don’t even think about running 100 miles,” as if to say you did something few others did, isn’t this success? My wife wants to cut me off when I use the word failure. She’ll say, “But you ran more that day than you ever have before.”

To get to the Vermont 100, I had to have a 50 mile qualifier, which for me was the JFK50. I did over 1200 training miles, or what amounts to somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week. The race fee was $180, with another $150 volunteer buy out. I went through three pairs of running sneakers. Most days I’m either up at four to run before work, or I’m going home after work to run before I need to get dinner on the table. I don’t keep track of the boxes of gel, energy bars, bags of electrolyte drink I take in. I also don’t keep track of the other resources I eat up following these goals: tolls on my family, my knees and ankles.

One way to look at it is that all that’s lost, and that I’ll never get it back. Another way to look at it, is to say, the experiences make you stronger. Is it human instinct to find the smallest element of success to hold onto to keep surviving, and thus to perpetuate the self and its genes? Is this the core of biology, destiny, the Darwinian selfish gene?

This is not to say, in my attempt here at the 100, that there will be no other attempts. I will take on this distance again, either in Vermont or someplace else. Success or failure? I’m still not sure, but I’ll try to figure it out as I look to toe the line again.

Author’s note: While this post needs work. It’ll be used as part of a series of model blogs for students in my English 101 and Media Maker classes this fall as a part of writing and media projects student do on reflective writing and storytelling.

Vermont 100 Race Report

Author’s note: The following post was started on July 14th just a day before leaving for the race this post was written for. It was to be the first section of a longer post and race report on the entire race. However, late in the afternoon of July 16th, I withdrew from the race at mile 47, Camp 10 Bear 1. 

This is the first in a series of posts to write about the experience of training and failing at the 100 mile distance. Through these posts, I hope to explore the nature of failure and reflection. 

As an English teacher, these posts will form the backbone of some model writing I’m doing for my students this year in several classes that are writing personal narratives, “This I Believe Essays,” as well as blogging and podcasting. I hope to repost entries on my Edublogs page and in Medium. 

Here’s the low down on my Vermont 100 race from start to finish.

Preparation:

In terms of my training and running, using Relentless Forward Progress worked for the 50k runs and the 50 milers I’ve done in the past, so I continued to use the training plans found in this book to help me prepare. I also read Krissy Moehl’s new book, but I read it too late to put her plans into place.

About a week out from the race, I got super serious about packing and the finer details of the trip. I created a pile of gear to use when we got to Spring Hill for camping, and a pile of running gear, and pile of clothes to be worn once I got the deed done and we were headed home, with a brief stop in Woodstock, Vermont for celebration!

File_000

Using string bags helped me to organize gear for my crew. A separate string bag for medical.

In terms of gear, the plan was to start with one pack and set of clothes, and then to change outfits every 25 miles to give me a sense of a fresh start, and to keep the pack that would be accommodate the gear that I needed at the time. Normally, I run in the Camelbak Marathoner, but I also snagged an Ultraspire Omega so I had something with some more storage. I would use the Omega if I needed rain jackets, lighting or other gear. Now, I love my Camelbak but sometimes you need more storage.

I found that the race director, and I’m sure the entire staff, put together a really solid website and detailed pages and materials. While I couldn’t really preview this course, all the pre-race materials helped me and my crew be ready for this challenge. I would also tell people who are preparing for this race to scope out YouTube because there are some great videos there to help you get a sense of what this race will be like.

In my original plans, the crew was just going to be my wife, Michelle, but a week out and looking at the complicated directions between aid stations, as well as thinking about the enormity of crewing for 24 hours, we decided to enlist the help of our close friend, Meg, who was able to clear her schedule and join us on this adventure. Knowing that Michelle wasn’t going to be driving around the back roads of Vermont by herself in the middle of the night, gave me a sense of ease, and would allow me to focus on the run.

Friday Night…

 

Cayuga Trails 50–Race Report

He’s out there. Behind a tree, around the next turn, waiting at the bottom of a deep descent. He is the Dark. Dark cramps your lungs, binds the quads, fills the lungs with wet sand. Dark scampers into the mind, sings eulogies about you mid-run, shows you dead ends. When I pulled into the Old Mil aid station, at 11hours, 30 minutes, Dark had not yet made an appearance. With a chance at a sub-12 hour 50 miler insight, I fist pumped my crew, took another GU, and headed into the gorge. 

  

Going into this year’s Cayuga Trails 50, I had plenty of doubts. Trained enough? Tapered properly? Ready for 10,000 feet of elevation change? Could I do a 50-miler this early in the year? 

The plan: run the first 25 mile loop at a steady 12 minute per mile pace, stay hydrated, fuel well. Then, hold on through the second loop and make forward progress. Overall, my goal (beyond checking a finish) was to stay positive and not hit any low-down, dark places. 

Having previewed pieces of the course earlier in the spring, I knew most of the sections through Robert Tremain and Buttermilk Falls. With this beta in hand, I was able to visualize myself through sections, and to further use the knowledge as a mental checklist as I moved through the day.  

So, from the starting line, I stuck to my plan. Drink on the 10 minute mark, GU every 30, salty stuff at aid stations. Electrolyte tabs every couple of hours. Everything worked, I put it into cruise mode and ticked off mileage. Chatted with nearby runners, gave encouragement, took it. 

  
In the first loop, once out of Tremain on the Finger Lakes Trail, I crossed railroad tracks and thigh-deep stream, a huge climb. This was new territory for me, but I felt good thinking about this cool adventure i was experiencing. At 10 miles, I felt good, thought, “One-fifth done.” 

Somewhere about three miles out from Buttermilk, the leaders came back through. We gave those, “Good jobs!” as we passed each other–something that is so cool about the trail running community. 

Miles went by with plenty of gorges to take in, waterfalls and forest. At the half-way, I refueled with hot veggie broth and potatoes, reapplied some lube, and started to count backwards from 25.

Much of my mental strength on the second half came from knowing what was next. I could say to myself, “Get ready for the climbing coming,” or “Going to be muddy for a while.” The next hours went by much like a check list of chores on a Sunday. I don’t say this to connote a sense of boredom, but a feeling of getting it done. Still no Dark. 

  
I thought about how my nutrition was working, how good the cool temps and moist air felt, how cool my crew was, how 70 miles away my wife finished her first half-marathon, how good my school year was, how many cool books I was going to read this summer, how awesome the leaders looked passing me. 
Mid-afternoon, I started to feel those descents, especially on the rim trail coming into the Buttermilk aid station, but I downed hot broth, salami, and refilled the back. 13 left, three hours to go. 

  
In that last half-marathon, the trails were a little more muddy, that last descent on the FLT brought me to a slow, gingerly trot, last stream crossing a little more chilly, the climb long the Tremain rim trail hard. 

Then, I pulled into the last aid station. Was Dark lurking? I still felt good. But, I was gassed physically. I went slow, because I didn’t want to trip and fall now–plummet to my death at Lucifer Falls. Aptly named. I wanted to finish. Dark was there, and while I couldn’t see him, I knew that if I kept my cool and just plugged away, I’d get there. 

  
A 12:20ish finish, and for me a great race: adventure, an all-day run, community, and some of the best scenery you could ask for. I kept Dark at bay this day, staying positive and focused and never feeling low. 

      

The Pile

In an earlier blog, I wrote about my pile. It’s a big, smelly thing sitting black and foul in the corner of the room…Wait, Keith, do you have to resort to such juvenile, sophomoric metaphors comparing your running clothes to human excrement. No, I don’t. However, pile none-the-less.

My pile has somewhere between ten to fifteen pieces of clothing in it. There are my Pearl Izumi tights, a Nike Windbreaker, a pair of Nike DryFit pants, several base layers, socks, a pair of shorts. This isn’t a complete inventory. Instead, in trying to give and account and build an impression, I gave my pile a glance to see if I could give a partial view of its contents. Whenever I need to run, it’s the go to locale for my gear.

Some may wonder at the diversity of clothing. Shorts? In January? Aren’t we in the Vortex? School closed for a day? To this I say, “Wait.” This weekend, we’re supposed to be in the fifties. I live in the Mid-Atlantic under a period of climate change. Trails frozen today will be muddy forty-eight hours from now. The pile has to accommodate for whatever the weather may bring.

The pile is my saviour. It keeps me from thinking and denying. When I’m finished with the day job and need to chug out seven miles, and every excuse dogs my heels–comfy chair, too cold, Ellen, snack–I can cruise past them all, dig into my pile and pull out what I need. Within five minutes, I can change from work clothes to lacing up my sneaks for the road. This makes all the difference. It’s allowed me to make the afternoon habitual and routine rather than an exception.

I worry none about laundry in the short term. That’s an additional burden, and when I’m trying to get mileage on, then being sweet-smelling becomes secondary to the fifty-mile week. My wife might want to say differently, but she is, thankfully, tolerant (re: gives it a wide berth).