It all started with curiosity and intrigue. I have been enjoying ultra running for several years now and have become comfortable with the 50-mile distance. I started training for a 100 miler in the winter of 2008, but then got sick and injured. This past winter, I ran the Bandera 100k in Texas and won a spot into this year’s Western States 100. After much thought and discussion, I declined the entry although I promised myself that I would try the 100-mile distance in a race closer to my Vermont home.
Preparation and Pre-Race
In the end, I decided that it made the most sense for me to train for the Vermont 100. I felt that I needed some guidance with training, because I wanted to be prepared and to be honest I wanted to suffer as little as possible. I turned to iRunFar.com’s Bryon Powell to help guide me along my journey. From the start, it was apparent that our personalities would work well together. He listened and tailored my regime taking into account my personal life, work schedule and training style. This was wonderful because it gave me one less thing to worry about.
Worry. That is what I do, so running is a double-edged sword for me. Running can calm me down and bring a smile to my face, but it can also produce a lot of anxiety within me. Three weeks before the race, things started to fall apart. I got giardia and leptospirosis and missed a solid week of training, my left knee hurt every time I ran, and my go to pacer informed me that he had a work conflict arise with the race date. I like predictability in my life and there seemed to be none of that.
As the race date got closer, I got more and more nervous. Five days out from the race, I recall my husband asking “Is it going to be like this all week?” I responded, “It is only going to get worse.” Even though the week felt bumpy, I did get good news that my intended pacer, Kevin Sullivan who placed second in the Vermont 100 in 2008, was back on to pace me and this brought me some needed relief.
Driving down to the race on Friday morning, I was trying to convince myself that I could take a wrong turn or say I got a flat tire. I tried working out in my mind what I feared so much since running is my escape. I knew if I could just get to the start line, I would be fine. I had done the training and had already put in a solid season of racing. Well before the race I had set several goals for myself and knew I wouldn’t be content unless I actually tried to accomplish them.
Shortly after I arrived to the start/finish where we would camp, so did my crew that included my husband, my mother, stepfather and friend, Mark. After meeting up with and chatting with my Inov-8 teammates, I made sure everything was ready for the 4 a.m. start, had dinner and then quickly dove into our hot and humid tent to try to sleep. It was only 7:30 p.m., but I knew it was what I needed.
Running with Jill: The Early Miles
At 2 a.m. my eyes opened and the stars were amazing. There was not a cloud in the sky. The early wake up allowed me to slowly get ready, have a small breakfast and make my way down to the start area. Once in the start area I quickly found my friend, Jill Perry, and we tried to work our way up towards the front of the pack before we got the go signal.
Before we made it very far, the race started. Jill and I did our best to maneuver our way up towards the front before we hit trail. We had 21 miles to settle in before we would hit the first crewed aid station. I was wearing my Garmin Forerunner and kept an eye on our pace. When Jill and I came to a larger hill, we would look ahead and pick out a landmark where we would start walking. We would both then agree to that spot and take off running to get there while the male runners around us just laughed.
As the early miles ticked away, it became very clear that it was going to be a hot and humid day. I was going through my fluids a lot faster than anticipated. Despite not feeling the need, I started eating Gu’s early on to stay on top of my energy levels. After my first Gu, I realized it was going to be a battle with my stomach all day. My stomach cramped and became a huge knot. I felt like I was carrying a bowling ball in my abdomen and it probably looked that way too.
We arrived at mile 21 around 3:17 and I was well ahead of my intended splits while still running with ease. Jill and I continued to work together and knew we were running in second and third with Kami Semick about 13 minutes in front of us. My husband informed me she was looking strong, but was running alone. There was too much race left for me to worry about her and I was hoping that maybe being alone would eventually wear on her.
On My Own: The Second 25
Somewhere over the next miles Jill and I parted ways. I was now alone running in second and just focused on getting to my crew again. When I pulled into mile 30.1, they were prepared with all my supplies and told me I was now 19 minutes back from Kami. To my surprise it really didn’t bother me and I was calm. I was here to run my race and to try the new distance.
Last year’s male winner, Jack Pilla, wasn’t racing this year, but rather crewing and I took a moment to check in with him to verify that my splits were ok. Jack knows the course and my running well and he assured me that I was doing alright. (We had both feared I would go out too hard.)
After I left the aid station I wouldn’t see my crew for 17 miles and going this long without seeing them worried me. I continued to drink and eat like planned, but still was having stomach issues. It hurt, but I knew if I didn’t stay on top of my calories, I would be in a bigger world of hurt. At times I would come across another runner or two and chat for a few minutes and then we would part ways.
At mile 47.2 I got on the scale and felt like I would be 8 pounds heavy. Not wanting to waste time, I took control and set the scale to where I weighed in and was down two pounds. My crew reloaded me and off I went again as I looked at my watch and had arrived there in 7 hours and 35 minutes.
Running with Rusiecki: Getting to 70
Eventually I could see Brian Rusiecki in front of me and got close enough to yell, “Yeah Brian” and he turned and waved. For a few miles I kept him in my sights along with the other male he was running with. At one point Brian turned back and waved to me to hurry up and catch him. I opened up my stride and joined him. It was good to be side by side with someone again that I knew.
Brian and I stuck together and it felt great to have someone who I could be honest with about how I felt. Reality was that I was being very negative about the distance. It felt so silly to be to be walking so much; it was making me mad. I hate walking, probably because I am so bad at it. Even when I travel from my house to my neighbors, I prefer to run rather then slink a quarter of a mile. (I have a difficult time walking like I mean it.) Brian and I both stuck with it and stayed together. We focused on making it to mile 70 where we would pick up our pacers, although we still had many miles to go.
Somewhere around mile 57, I decided I was done with drink mix and Gu. In actuality, my stomach made that decision for me. I turned to water with Endurolyte powder and tried to convince myself to eat one or two Shot Bloks at a time. I always struggle with fueling, so this wasn’t a huge surprise. For about a year I have been looking to nutritionist Meredith Terranova to help with my fueling and we had planned on things turning south for me. Having a back up plan gave me some comfort so I wasn’t scrambling to figure out what next.
Mentally, I was getting sick of roads and the conditions were so dry that the even the dirt roads were extremely firm. I wondered if my body would continue to hold up to all the pounding. I was so tempted to push the downhills, but wanted to have legs left for the last 30 miles.
As Brian and I got closer to mile 70, I saw runners coming towards us and I panicked. Did we take a wrong turn? What was going on? Brian reassured me that we were fine and that we had already run down the hill we were climbing. I was unaware that for a small portion the course did double back on itself. Obviously I didn’t study the course.
In the Company of Kevin: The Final Miles
We entered the aid station and I literally lost all of my manners, jumped in front of Brian and hopped on the scale. Just up one pound from my starting weight. I grabbed my fresh bottle and Shot Bloks from my crew, got a big hug from Mike Silverman (the Vermont 50 race director) and was greeted by my pacer Kevin. I said, “Ok, let’s go,” but Kevin had something else in mind. Kevin said, “drink,” as he handed me a bottle. I tried to assure him that I was fine, but it became clear we weren’t moving a step till I drank from that bottle. I took a sip and he said, “Four more.” All I could think was, “Man, who invited this guy?” I did as I was told, and we took off running and I had now been on the move for 11 hours and 33 minutes.
We made quick use of a short road section and then made a left hand turn onto a trail that was a climb from the start. I dropped into a walk and started apologizing for it. I knew I should be walking this hill, but I hated it. At this point I found myself very present inside my head. I had been looking forward to getting my pacer, but now wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to talk or even be spoken to. I didn’t want to be pushed; I guess I didn’t want much.
Hello red flag and welcome to my first low. By no means was it rock bottom or a bad low, but I knew things had to change. I didn’t say anything and ate a Gu. I hate hurting, feeling weak and sharing it with others, but told myself it was important that Kevin know. I informed him of my stomach issue and kept walking. At that moment, I wanted for him to be sympathetic, but he wasn’t. Looking back it was good he wasn’t.
We kept moving forward, running as hard as my stomach would allow and taking walk breaks on the larger hills. Finally, I was back to a more comfortable place and happy to have him with me. I remember at one point saying, “Kevin, I thought you were my friend…why would you encourage me to do this?” I was joking again and in my mind that was a good sign.
At the next crew station I was told I had made up a bit of ground on Kami and that she was struggling a little with stomach issues. Still, I was content with running my race and just worked on getting to mile 88, which was the next weigh in. The miles leading up to getting there were rather uneventful, loads of more dirt roads with long climbs and descents.
At one point Kevin wanted me to take four salt pills and I bargained with him that I start with 2. I was worried about my stomach and I have a hard time swallowing pills, especially on the move. I got the first one down and then put the second in my mouth. Just as I swallowed it Kevin said something funny and everything came back up. For some reason it made every part of me hurt and I wanted no part of trying to do that again. Luckily, I wasn’t cramping, so we continued forward although food or vomit talk was not allowed.
Finally, we approached the barn at mile 88 that I remembered so well from pacing last year. I ran into the barn and got on the scale and was right on the money, so off I went with just 12 miles to go.
Just 12 miles, just 12 miles, that is all I could think. I envisioned in my mind the 12 miles loops I did in training, trying to convince myself that 12 miles wasn’t all that far. I looked at my watch and thought to myself that 12 miles at this pace is far; this could take forever. I had been racing for 15 hours and a minute and for the first time all day started to try and project my finish time. As I did this, I started to get anxious so I stopped trying to figure out when the end would come. I told myself I would get there when I got there and it was as simple as that.
I need something to focus on and knew Inov-8 teammate Chris Reed wasn’t too far in front of me. At times I could see him. I didn’t really want to catch and pass him, but wanted to reel him in a little and then see how things progressed as we got closer to the finish. We did just that, but as soon as we would get close my stomach would go and I would come to what felt like a halting stop. He would again put some distance on me and I would get closer and then my stomach would disagree or I would get dizzy. I still had legs and energy, but how hard was I willing to push myself? What was I willing to accept on this day?
Kevin and I came into the last crew station at mile 95.5 and just had a bit of road left and then a few miles of trail. In the woods it got dark quickly. I turned on my headlamp and had plenty of light, but realized my eyes weren’t cooperating all that well. I wasn’t really seeing straight and my footwork wasn’t stellar. I could see Chris in front of me along with the last aid station before the finish. I ran past the station and then my stomach again made me turn from a run into a walk. At this point I allowed myself to settle for just finishing comfortably. I kept telling myself just to stay upright and moving forward.
Finally, glow jugs and sounds of music and voices got my attention and this time they were real voices not ones that I imagined were catching me from behind. The last quarter mile Kevin congratulated me. It was my moment and I had worked hard for months for it. At no point did I feel alone out there. Even when I was literally alone, I always had thoughts of family, friends and training partners. Everyone had believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.
As I crossed the finish line in a time of 17:20:47, which placed me seventh overall and second female, I was greeted by my family and friends. It was over, but was it? Of course the first question was “Will you do it again?” For now I am keeping that answer a secret!