Sunday, August 9, 2009

Vermont 100 Race Report

Sorry for the long delay. For some reason writing about the race seems harder than completing it was.

I am very happy to have completed the race and to have done so in less than 23 hours. I realize now that my goals were a bit ambitious, and based on my training and how I was feeling that day, a 20 hour finish (let alone 18) was unrealistic. I think that if everything had gone well I could have broken 22, maybe even 21 hours. I’m not sure what my actual time was. My watch says 22:55:41, the race results that include our split times lists my time as 22:57:22, and a page just listing finish times has me at 22:59:07. All I know is that I broke 23 hours. I just needed to break 24 hours to get a belt buckle (as opposed to a plaque), but breaking 23 hours was what kept me going the last several hours of the race.

I realize now that during a long race you encounter many situations in which you are forced to make a decision. One’s success or failure in a race can often be attributed to one’s decision-making. I think that on long training runs one also encounters these situations, so while these training runs prepare one physically, they also prepare one to make good decisions.

Even before the race began, one makes vital decisions about what to wear, what to carry, what to put into drop bags, what to eat and drink. Although people say not to try anything new in a race, I often find myself trying new things. Before this race I tried a nutritional supplement that was supposed to make me burn fat and therefore require me to take in fewer calories. Also, I still felt full from last night’s dinner of a whole pizza that I had eaten a mere 8 hours earlier. As a result of not wanting to feel bloated early on in the race, I made the (bad) decision to dilute my sports drink more than I usually would. Another (bad) decision I made was to wear a windshirt, as it was raining steadily at the beginning of the race. The rain stopped soon after, but within a few miles I was soaked from sweating. The feeling of the windshirt on my wet skin was cold and clammy, and eventually I felt chilled, but taking it off would have made matters even worse, so I wore it until I got to my first drop bag at mile 21 and could change into a dry shirt.

The combination of the cold, clammy windshirt, possibly not enough calories, a cloudy, drizzly, overcast morning put me in a serious funk soon after I passed through the 15.3 mile aid station in 57th place. I was right where I wanted to be from a pacing standpoint and was not tired from physical exertion, but felt emotionally exhausted and physically weak. All the adrenaline I had felt in the days and weeks leading up to the race had vanished, and I felt like quitting, not only the race, but running altogether. In these low, soul-crushing moments, I feel terribly isolated from everyone and everything. Inevitably I see people pass me, often in groups, chatting away, and I wish that someone would come by and talk to me, getting me out of my isolation and encouraging me to go with them. This never seems to happen. What does happen is I take the initiative and talk with someone or latch onto a group.

In the midst of the funk (somewhere between 2 and 4 hours), I began to wonder if the funk was not nutritionally related, and I was not taking in enough calories. Just around the time I realized this, my body began to feel like itself again. Instead of feeling weak and listless, the muscles in my legs felt tired and sore, like they normally would after 4 hours of running and walking. Although my funk had cost me 15 or 20 minutes, it felt great to get back to normal. Just before the 30 mile mark, I ran for a bit with Andy and Patrick, two guys I met with at the medical check-in the day before. Every time I saw them they provided encouragement and a few laughs. I think I left the 30 mile aid station before them, because I didn’t see them for a while. I hit that aid station at about 5:45, a full 30 minutes slower than my best case scenario. You might think that this would be discouraging, but it really wasn’t. Once the race started, all the goals and projections ceased to matter. What mattered was what I could do that day on that course, and my projections were mostly guesswork. The sun came out at around this point, and leaving this aid station I encountered at steep, vicious climb. I went from feeling cool to being overheated in about 10 minutes. At one point I actually sat down on the trail to catch a breather and get my heart rate down. I managed to be go from 65th to 78th place in the span of 2.8 miles.

It never always gets worse; in fact, it got better, or at least, I felt better. I met up with Andy and Patrick just before 47.2 miles at Camp 10 Bear, an aid station I would see twice and where I would meet my parents, who be crewing for me for the rest of the race. I spent about 5 minutes here, changing shoes, socks, shirt, exchanging a hydration vest for a waist belt and handheld bottle, and getting weighed. I had never been weighed before in a race, and I was curious as to what I would find. I was down only 2 pounds from when I was weighed the day before, so my nutrition and hydration were solid. I left Camp 10 Bear in 74th place at just under 9.5 hours and met up again with Patrick, Andy, and met Tamara. The four of us stuck together for the next several miles, encountering another vicious ascent soon after leaving the aid station. Both Patrick and Tamara were not feeling well due to their exertion and the heat of the day (Patrick recovered but Tamara DNF’ed) but I was feeling great so I motored on ahead. I was moving steadily up and ran for a bit with Nathan and Jenny, a couple who had done several 100s earlier in the year. In fact, Jenny won two 100 mile races just 7 days apart. Nathan, who had finished in the top 10 at Vermont last year, kept me from negative thinking.

I came into Camp 10 Bear again at 70 miles in 14.5 hours feeling great, having moved up from 74th to 56th. I was to pick up my pacer here and thought that finishing in under 22 hours was a probability ( I “only” needed to average 15 minute miles). I had met my pacer the day before but he was nowhere to be found; I learned from him later that he had to leave Vermont the night before due to a family emergency. My parents found an impromptu pacer for the next 7 miles, but not before I was hit with more bad news. I was down 6 pounds, and if I lost 2 or 3 more, the next time I was weighed, at mile 88, I might have to stop and eat/drink or be pulled from the race. This led to another (bad) decision. Leaving Camp 10 Bear, we encountered yet another relentless climb. While climbing, I was drinking more than I had been in hopes of gaining some weight. I began to feel queasy, so I ate some ginger candy, and that seemed to help. Near the top of the climb, I passed someone who was puking their guts out. Less than 10 minutes later, we were recovering from the climb while walking on a flat stretch. I began to eat a gel, but the moment the gel hit my mouth everything came out. I was on my knees giving up all my food and drink to the ultra gods. I could see bits of watermelon, orange, a rainbow of flavors. As I was laying on my back, the former puker passed me and we exchanged knowing looks. My weight gain plan was not working. When I finally got up, my body began to cramp, so I began to drink again and took several electrolyte pills. No more than 40 yards down the trail from the gastric emptying, we encountered the official race photographer. If only I had taken that gel a minute later, I would have had a race photo worth buying….

The 7 miles with my pacer took 2 hours, and my confidence along with it. The sun had set, so the final 23 miles would be in the dark. My parents found yet another impromptu pacer for the next 11 miles, and at first he seemed excessively happy and chatty. At one point I almost turned around and dropped out, but as I had no good reason to do so, I kept moving forward. I made the (good?) decision not to eat any more gels, so in order to get more calories I was drinking one bottle of sports drink and one bottle of Mountain Dew, and eating chicken soup/broth whenever I could get it. I had no further stomach issues and never felt sleepy. Near the end of our time together, well after I had come to welcome his companionship, we encountered a long stretch of flattish dirt road. After all the relentless ups and downs of the course, this stretch was welcomed, and I ran all of it. I think this was my favorite memory of the race, feeling at peace while running down the dirt road in the dark, with stars above and verdant farmland all around.

I came into the aid station at mile 88.6 having to urinate badly, but being concerned for my weight, I managed to hold it in. It turns out that I was back to my weight from Friday. The scale used at mile 70 was just a cheap bathroom scale unlike the rest of the scales that were like the one’s you see in doctor’s offices. Next ultra I will pay attention to the kind of scale and will ask other runners if their weight seems off.

I was on my own for the final 11.4 miles. I had been on my feet for just under 19.5 hours. I knew I had no chance at 22 hours, but finishing under 23 hours seemed a lock. However, that nice long runnable stretch was the last running I would do, save for a few stumbles here and there. I had known that Vermont’s downhills were ultimately worse than its ups, so I walked some of the early downhills, but at this point in the race I was praying for uphills and flats. I could still walk strongly on the uphills and flats but could only stagger and stumble on the downhills due to my destroyed quad muscles. I managed to maintain my position and my motivation, but realized that making it in under 23 hours was going to be close. As arbitrary as it was, that sub-23 hour goal kept me going. I barely stopped at the last handler station at 95.5 miles because I knew every second counted.

With under an hour to go I came across John, a guy I had seen in the first two hours of the race. Although walking, I passed him and told him that he needed to come with me if he wanted to break 23 hours. It turns out, he was in his own funk, and my encouragement is just what he needed. He came with me and we stuck together for the last few miles. We saw the 99 mile marker and had about 20 minutes left, so we knew barring disaster or another vicious climb, that we would make it. He started feeling better and ran the last bit, finishing a minute ahead of me. When I came upon the finish line I considered shuffling, but I decided to just walk it in and soak in the moment. The picture at the top of the blog is me finishing and John going to shake my hand.

I finished in 55th place. I was in 57th place at 15.3 miles and 56th place at 70.1. I was as low as 78th and as high as 52nd.


  1. Good report! Congrats on finishing another 100. Good info in here for contemplating future attempts.

  2. Great job Matt. And great report too. Lots of lessons there for all of us.