This was my "A" race for the year and poised to be a major milestone in my short running career. I've been reading 100 mile race reports for six years now and last year was the first time I even thought about registering for one. For this report I'm just going to break down the race between the aid stations where I met up with my crew. For the much (much) longer version, see the video at the very end.
Training heading into this race was good but not perfect. The good: it was specific to the course in terms of elevation and surface type. It included some of my longest training efforts to date plus a healthy mix of intervals, tempo runs, and races. The bad: the switch from ski season to running was too aggressive and resulted in tendonitis. This prevented me from really hammering during the final few weeks of my condensed training. Adding to that, I tried to sub in cycling since I couldn't pack on the mileage and it just doesn't do much aside from help with cardio. I also didn't do myself any favors but not including a 50k or 50mi as part of my training to wake the legs up and practice nutrition.
My taper left me feeling pretty tired and beat up, wondering if my legs would ever come around - they did a day before the race. But my mind was still spinning out of control with anxiety at the thought of running for 16+ hours.
Hilary was my crew chief for the weekend and drove us to VT. We checked in, said hi to everyone, and attended the pre-race meeting / dinner. Learned a few things that weren't in the handbook plus it was good to hear from the Vermont Adaptive people - the heros who enable athletes with disabilities to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. We got out of there soon after and stayed with friends 10 mins away in Brownsville. I enjoyed a couple glasses of beer and prepped all the gear for the morning. In bed by 9 but definitely wasn't sleeping well (and also didn't sleep much Thursday night either). I got up at 2:50 and we were out of there by 3:15 to catch the end of check-in. Not much to do, no turning back. I headed alone to the starting line very uncertain how the day would unfold.
For those interested in gear / nutrition: Hoka Challenger 4 shoes, Darn Tough socks, Julbo Aero sunglasses, these awesome cheap white arm sleeves, Six03 singlet, ice bandana, 16oz handheld bottle, 20oz waist bottle, garmin inreach mini for tracking, homemade hydration mix (electrolytes + 100 calories per bottle), clif shots and blocs (200 cal/hr), unpetroleum jelly for anti-chafe, and bullfrog 50 spf spray-on sunscreen.
Start to Pretty House (21.5mi)
The race started out FAST. We had perfect weather, maybe a touch humid, but on the first climb (7mins in) I was passed by 15 runners and I consider myself a good climber. I wasn't concerned but it just seemed weird. My goal for this section was 3hr 15mins. That's 9 min pace and seemed reasonable given the history of splits in the race results. It was still a touch fast but with zero experience racing over 8 hours, it's almost impossible to wrap your head around a reasonable (non-elite) race strategy (hint: WALK A LOT).
Right on cue, 15 miles in my hip flexors were starting to feel sore and my legs just weren't great. I paused several times to stretch out and let a few more runners pass me. I rolled into Pretty House feeling solid though and swapped out some gear with Hilary before continuing on.
Pretty House to Stage Rd (30.3mi)
For this next stretch I ran alone and had a view here and there of a couple racers ahead. It was also the first section where we went off the dirt roads and onto some trails and grassy hills. They were steep enough to walk and to start blasting the quads on the descents. It was frustrating because I was still chasing splits and my pace was dropping fast. I should have just let it go instead of push. Easier said than done! The long descent into the Stage Road aid destroyed my right quad, serious beat down. At Stage Road I was really happy to see my crew and it was heating up while still being early in the AM. I took an ice bandana which helped a lot. Thirty miles down, only 70 to go, yikes.
Stage Rd to Camp 10 Bear (47mi)
This was the most rugged stretch fo the race for me. It was warm out and the legs really started to feel the abuse from all the climbs / descents. I continued to run, drink plenty of hydration mix, and force down gels (I'd probably already had 8 so far plus some blocs - all the sugar felt great on the teeth). Right as we came through the Rt 12 aid station (33.9) I passed some guy and I asked how he was doing, he gave a convincing "great", then immediately after I passed him he threw up in the middle of the road. way too early for that sort of carnage!
At Lincoln covered bridge (39.2) I was psyched to see the Trail Monster aid station and John Rodrigue took care of me. A pack of guys working together also passed me at this aid station were I took some extra time to ice up. They left right before me but I caught back up to them. They clearly had a strategy of walking all the uphills and running the flat/downs. I probably would have kept running the hills but this is where I picked up some show-stopping cramps. I said hi / bye to Michael Pulli, a runner I knew in their group, who was tagging along with a friend he said paced smart was was always in the top 10. Sure enough, that guy Will Swenson ended up 6th. I stopped soon after to see if I could get my legs under control. This was a momentum killer but I kept pushing and problem solving trying everything and anything to get my legs to relax.
At some point the course plateaus (between mile 40-43). This is where I got passed by another pack of runners as I sat on the side of the trail massaging my spasming quads. It was also the part of the race where the 100k'er pop up on course. I took another long breather at Lillian's aid station (mile 43.3). Jim Boule took care of me here, another savior. From here it was a long climb and descent to Camp 10 Bear aid station. I was just happy to drop a 9 min mile pace here but my quads were on fire, the damage was done.
Oh, special shoutout to the asshole living here who blasted by in his truck covering me in dirt. What a dick.
At Camp 10 Bear i had a fresh pair of shoes waiting for me (thanks Chase!). Before I made it to my crew, I said hi to John Spinney and told him I was having some major leg cramps. He gave me a calcium/magnesium tablet and said it would help. I think it did because the cramps disappeared not long after. I took a very long time here - 11 minutes to regroup and try everything possible to fix my legs.
Camp 10 Bear to Margaritaville (58mi)
I shuffled out of there and the legs finally came around as I perfected my ultra shuffle towards Pinky's Aid (mile 50.8). It was a good climb up but at this point I looked forward to the climbs because it meant i could walk which hurt much less than shuffling. On the small climbs I'd joke about hill repeats, 30s on/off. My quads were shot but it's amazing how well you can move doing the shuffle. This section was a total grind but by the time I made it to Margaritaville, I was in a much better place mentally. Back when the cramps came on I had decided to back off on any race goals and just make sure I could run a little with my pacers instead of make they wait around on my throughout the night.
At Margaritaville I was in good spirits did the usual crew routine - replace water bottles, apply unpetroleum, get rid of trash, reload some gels, and ice up my bandana and arm sleeves.
Margaritaville to Camp 10 Bear (69.4mi)
I don't remember a whole lot here, it was more of the same, shuffle shuffle shuffle. but the descent back to Camp 10 Bear really stands out. I was able to move a little better (9:30min/mi). It also helped knowing that Hilary was there and ready to pace me.
Camp 10 Bear to Spirit of 76 (76.2mi)
I was happy to pick up my pacers - Hilary would pace the first 7 mile section. I was in good spirits and ready to tackle the last 30 miles. We really enjoyed this section and while it was short, it certainly was scenic. I explained my mental state and how I was done racing but just wanted to enjoy my time out on the course and at the aid stations. We cruised on beautiful dirt roads and single track. It was also the section where Hilary ran off to save some runner who went off course but while doing so I made a wrong turn. Another guy followed me and we descended about a quarter mile downhill before realizing there were no markers. I backtracked and it was the only section of the course where I really thought it wasn't marked well - arrows were pointing into the woods but from above I though they were pointing to the right. Ten minutes gone but what did it matter at that point. Back on course I ran down through some logging trails and climbed up to The Spirit of 76 aid station where Hilary was nervously awaiting my return. I guess at this station they get info from all the people coming in and relay it over the PA system so when she got in it was "Hilary McCloy from New Hampshire, a pacer who has lost her runner". I really wish we had that on video.
Spirit of 76 to Bill's (88.3mi)
This stretch had a ton fo downhill. The dirt roads felt very firm at this point and my heels were definitely getting bruised. I also forgot a headlamp as it was nearing darkness but extra incentive to push through the golden hour. We did ok on this stretch. I tried my best to keep shuffling but we also walked a lot. I was able to pee for the first time since Mile 48! This section of the course also takes you near the start/finish area - there was zero desire to quit - but it's still a tease. We joined up with sections of the VT50 course as we were now close to Ascutny. The sounds coming from Bill's pulled us in, and we rolled into what felt like a barn party with beautiful views over Brownsville.
I found Hilary and opted for a third shoe change (por que no?). Some more watermelon, a swig of Pedialyte and we were off into the darkness.
Some photos from Jerimy Arnold:
Bill's to Polly's (94.9mi)
It finally got dark and we were guided by the glow sticks which made for easy navigation but running at night was much slower.
Side note: Running with horses. The first horse passed me in the 40s and I found they were a complete non-issue running with. The course is set up so you really only run with them while on the roads and they are diverted from the course when we'd go off-road. Also, they don't use lights at night but just dangled glow sticks. Much more enjoyable than dodging mountain bikers in the VT50.
I was in a fair amount of pain so I didn't want to do much talking. This section had more tough climbs after navigating trails and fields. I don't remember much aside from a lot of walking and ultimately running the last 3/4 mile to get to Polly's, the Six03 aid station.When we arrived, I was able to relax a little. I had 1.5hrs to get to the finish and make it before midnight (sub 20hr finish). I sipped some broth and got rid of my waist belt, hat, and arm sleeves. Jerimy was ready to pace me for the home stretch.
Polly's to Finish!
Jermiy and I made a pact earlier on not to race it in. At this point I didn't want to do any more damage to my legs than needed. We did the math and 15 minute miles would get us sub 20 hours, our arbitrary goal from mile 76. That goal got dropped as we just banked some 11 min/mi. Next thing you know it was 2 miles, 1.5, 1, and .5. It was uplifting to catch up with a few runners who I hadn't seen for 70 miles. We were able to pass a few more racers and finally the glow jugs came into view (.25 miles left!). At a blazing 8 minute pace, we made it under 19:29:04, in 27th place to cap off my first 100 miler.
I gave Amy a hug but bee-lined it to the triage tent to find a cot. I was more concerned about recovery than hanging at the finish line. I sweated for 10 minutes then started shivering. Then there was some dizziness and pale lips as my body was freaking out at just trying to stand up. After 40 minutes and a few cups of broth and ramen it was time to clean up and make my way to our tent. My body wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be - I was able to shuffle around and made it into my sleeping bag for a few hours of sleep before daylight. Up early, I headed back to the tent for some real food and watch some of the sub 27hr finishers roll in. Much respect for those who ran through the night!
My body stiffened up in the long car ride home. I had breakfast #2 at King Arthur's in Norwich then breakfast #3 at home. I put the legs up and finally was ready for a beer. The muscles are sore and my legs will be dead for a couple weeks. I'm more concerned about all my creaky tendons and the potential for chronic issues developing with said tendons. I was able to bike so I'll probably continue to do that for my recover with a few shuffles. Right now my race calendar is light (as it should be) so I'm hoping to get healthy and have hop in some more ultras when I'm ready. If you're on the fence about your first 100k or 100mi, VT is a challenging but rewarding option. I'm thinking I'll be back next year...
Thank you's are in order: Hilary for being the ultimate crew chief and spending the weekend helping me get this race done. Jerimy for dropping some crew knowledge on us and pacing. Rock solid as also with an extra headlamp and delicious beer. I owe you a couple pacing duties for sure now. Kate McCloy for co-crewing, Lynn Paton and her husband for cheering and the support, Betsy Siebeck for saying hi around mile 23, and of course Amy Rusiecki and the race committee / volunteers for orchestrating this beautiful event.