Jim Ashworth Documents His Not-Pretty VT100 Experience
The Goat Gets Cooked
Warning: Parents Strongly Cautioned. May contain graphic material not appropriate for children (or adults).All good things must come to an end, or so “they” say. (Who are “they” anyway?) And so, my streak of having completed every race I started goes down in flames. Or perhaps more appropriately (or inappropriately) in a pile-of-puke. Details to follow. Remember the warning label.
The adventure to Vermont started nicely on Thursday afternoon when Doug, Pam, Mary, Tammy B and Brian met the Ashworth family-5 at 2pm to begin our journey. We chose to drive to Vermont via the western route (up Rte 15, I-83, I-81, etc) instead of going up the I-95 corridor. For those of you considering the VT 100 (and driving there) the western route is a bit longer (mileage-wise) but is far less stressful, more scenic, and less prone to the significant traffic and accident delays that can happen on the I-95 route up through NYC. On this trip we chose to take I-81 up to I-84 (instead of I-78) before heading east, as it provided some better options for Thursday night lodging. We stopped in Newburgh, NY around 8 pm, had a nice dinner at TGI Fridays and checked into a Days Inn. Friday morning we finished the drive to Silver Hill Meadow, picked up our race packets, and weighed in. It was great to see our friends Tammy M, Jim N, Keith W, Len F, and my good buddy from Sterling, MA (Mike Sullivan) and his kids. Mike generously came to the VT100 last year to run as one of our pacers, and along with Doug B made the last 30 miles much more enjoyable for Tim C and for me. This year Mike was well trained and here to take on the full challenge. The pre-race meal at Silver Hill Meadow was pretty good, but they still can't seem to figure out a very efficient way to work the food lines. No big deal, it gave us a chance to meet and chat with some interesting folks in the food line.
This year we opted to upgrade from the „ole Yankee Village Motel (some might say that camping would be an upgrade from that place) and we stayed in a very nice condo in the Ascutney Mountain Ski Resort. We had nice accommodations and the close proximity to the race start was great for getting there on Sat am and for the crews to make pit stops during the next 24 plus hours.
Saturday Morning: Doug and I departed the condo just prior to 3:15am on Saturday, picked up Mike S. at the main parking lot of Ascutney, and drove the short distance to the race start. (Pam, Karen and the kids opted to sleep in a bit longer and come later in the crew vehicle). A quick check-in with the race officials, chats with some of the other assembled characters, a pre-race portrait with the photographer, and it was time to get the party started. Oh, I also had the chance to have a brief chat with Keith Straw, whom many of you may know or have seen/heard of over the past few years. He is the guy that runs lots of races, and almost always wears a PINK tutu, and pink (painted) running shoes. Runners World has run his picture a few times and had a short article about him. Anyway, I first met Keith years ago at the Wineglass Marathon, then JimB and I got to know him better at Holiday Lakes 50K the next year. Interesting and funny guy. Keith was looking rather tired, and he had a very good reason.
Earlier this week (Monday and Tuesday) Keith ran Badwater. You know, that crazy 135 mile race in Death Valley? He finished that in 39 hours and 22 minutes, and here he was just a few days later toeing the line for the VT100. (I believe he is running the Grand Slam this year).
The race started right on schedule (4am) and Doug, Mike S and I eased on down the hill in the darkness together. Before the start Doug and I tried to convince Mike to run with us for a while, but he had this silly fear we would be going out too fast for him and he was bound and determined NOT to run with us. So, he pulled back very soon and we wouldn't see him again for many hours. Those early morning strides felt pretty good. No rain this year, today or apparently anytime recently, which was very noticeable as we hit the first single track and found it to be much more solid (very few muddy spots) than last year. I had forgotten how much downhill running we had in the first few miles. Seems I had forgotten quite a bit since last year, more on that later.
Doug B and I trained a lot together this year and have been enjoying our 2010 “Lead Goat Tour de Pain” adventure. Just a fun little set of 14 races we have on our schedule this year; 11 ultras, 2 marathons and the Army 10-miler. Our plan (hope) going into VT100 was that we would be able to stick together from start to finish. Other than a minor (and temporary) calf twinge, I was feeling pretty good during the first 21 miles. Doug was doing OK but seemed to be taking some time to get fully warmed up and comfortable, but that is his nature, that's why he is “Hibachi”. It takes a while for the coals to get hot.
Monitoring the pace on Garmin showed we were doing fine, not mis-behaving (going out too fast) or wasting time. We hit the Aid Station (AS) at Mile 21 (Pretty House) a few minutes before 8am, almost exactly the same time Tim, JimB and I arrived there last year. Good to go so far. We had drop bags at the AS, but as we would later find out our crew got a bit lost coming to the first AS and didn't arrive until after we had come and gone. We spent a fair amount of time here, almost 15 minutes, much longer than usual. We changed socks and shirts, hit the porta-pottie, refilled fluids, ate a little and moved on.
For me, it would be kind of nice if the story ended here. Unfortunately, it doesn't. While I was still feeling fine, the temps were rising and like many others I was doing some serious sweating. (I believe the high got to 93 degrees during the day, with some fairly high humidity at times). I was conscious of the heat and humidity, and the need to drink plenty of fluids, so I tried to drain my two bottles (usually one water, the other Gatorade) between aid stations. I'd eaten a few packets of Gu early in the morning but had given up on those. I was eating some ShotBlocs, and later I would drink some Perpetuem for calories, as well as random food items at the AS.
As it always is, it was great to see Karen, Jenna, Jake, Jessica and Pam at the AS. They took great care of us, including providing some bug spray now (the flys were starting to bite hard) and sunscreen. After this AS there is a very short pavement stretch, then its onto some single track and immediately the climb begins. OK this is another piece I forgot about from last year. It seems someone trucked in a bunch of dirt since last year and made that mountain much taller! This was a rough climb. It was steep, hotter now, and several stretches were in direct sunlight. My breathing was much more labored than I thought it should be at this point, so we stopped part way up the climb and briefly sat on a log to rest. Another thing I don't usually do in races. I didn't like the feeling. I believe it was also somewhere along this climb that Doug would have his one (only) puking episode. He took care of business and seemed to rebound well. We saw a lot of pain and suffering along this piece…but we also met some nice folks…and gave them nicknames so we could refer to them later (many of them we would leap-frog for hours). Lets see, we had “The girl who couldn't pee”. Nice young girl, seemed fine, but she was very upset that she hadn't been able to pee at all yet. She talked about it a lot. We even saw her stop a few times and try, only to re-emerge from the bushes further frustrated. (note, we saw her many, many hours later along the trail, and she proudly proclaimed that she had indeed…been able to pee). We also met “puking girl” and “friend of puking girl”. They had matching team uniforms. The one having stomach issues (similar to mine) was really suffering. She hung in there a long time, we would see her for many hours to come as well. However, we saw her on Monday morning and learned she didn't finish. She was obviously tough and determined, she will be back.
I don't remember exactly when it happened first, but the stomach started to churn, and I believe I had my first puking episode before we arrived at the second AS that has crew access (Stage Road, 30.1 miles). Most of you probably know that puking in an ultra is no surprise for me. Pretty much happens at least once in every ultra. No big deal, I can usually recover, start replacing the liquids and carbs and move on. In fact, I almost always feel better immediately after I get sick and can pick up the running pace. Comparing 2009 splits to 2010 I see we were already slowing down (which was probably a good thing given the temp difference). We arrived at Stage Rd at 9:59 am, about 25 minutes later than last year.
So, we continued on and arrived at Camp 10 Bear (a crew-access AS and the first mandatory weigh-in) mile 47.2 at 2:10 pm (about 50 minutes slower than last year). I'm pretty sure I had puked 3 or 4 times at by this point in the day. That really wasn't much fun, but again I did feel better after each episode (than prior to it) and we were still running a fair pace. I weighed in down 5 lbs from the pre-race weigh in. The rules are if you are down 5% they recommend you stop, eat and drink and try to regain weight; if you are down 6% they make you stop until you put on some weight, and if you get down 7%, you are done. I was down less than 5%, so no issue. About 15 minutes in the AS to change socks, shoes, and shirt and get reloaded with supplies and we were off again.
The cycle continued, run, walk up the hills, try to keep eating and drinking and moving forward. Try to keep the liquid / calories in my body as long as it would stay. We got to Tracer Brook (mile 57) at 5pm, an hour and 20 minutes slower than last year. After Tracer Brook I remember lots of big climbs on gravel roads, in the sun. I also remember more leap-frogging with girl-who-couldn't pee (who now HAD), and puker-girl and friend-of-puker girl. I also remember having a puking episode that really sucked, it was even hurting my back so I laid in the grass to finish. Yeah, that sucked. Hibachi continued to wait on me throughout all of these episodes.
We arrived at Margaritaville (mile 62.1) at 6:35 pm, an hour and 45 minutes slower than last year. The two guys blocking traffic at the road crossing were each stopping the cars with one hand, and holding a Corona in the other. I was very jealous. It made me question my sanity. This AS is always entertaining and lively, providing a much needed boost at this point in the day. Again our crew was taking great care of us and getting us to change socks and shirts, refilling bottles, etc. As I sat in a my chair changing and singing along with Toby Keith (blaring on the AS speakers), along comes Keith Straw. He gave me a concerned look and asked if I was OK. Now, that sucked too, here is a guy that ran Badwater a few days ago, passing me and asking if I was OK. Sheesh, I'm feeling a bit soft at this point. Try to eat some food, eat some Tums, drink some GingerAle and get going. Suck it up Goat.
As we pressed on I was getting a bit worried about my weight and energy, knowing that we would be weighed again when we went through Camp 10 Bear the second time (mile 70) so I was hoping not to puke again, at least not until after mile 70. No such luck. We made it to the next AS (Brown School House, mile 66.1) which does not have crew access. I was feeling bad, Doug stopped at the AS table and I kept moving on and out the other side of the AS….had to get a little privacy for another puking episode. Afterward I went back into the AS and these volunteers were AWESOME. Doug convinced me to sit and rest a bit and the volunteers brought over some chicken broth and a grilled cheese sandwich. Both were great and made me feel better. There was a nice downhill stretch after the AS and Doug and I picked up the pace and ran well for a little while. Unfortunately the chicken broth and grilled cheese decided to make another appearance around mile 69. Doug wisely advised me, that if I couldn't keep calories in, I should seriously consider stopping. Yeah, at this point even a stubborned bonehead like me realized he was right, I could be getting myself into trouble. So, I agreed that I would stop and rest at 10 Bear, provided he agreed to leave me and press on. He was obviously feeling good and strong. I had been holding him back too long already, and I knew he still has some chance of finishing under 24 hours (earning his buckle) but he would really need to work and couldn't waste any more time waiting on me. So, we got to 10 Bear, where the weigh-in dude was just a bit too serious for my current state of mind. I tried to sit down with my crew and he kept yelling “you gotta weigh in!” I said I wanted to rest first and I would weigh before I left, that dude wouldn't give up, so I hopped on the scale and weighed in, down 9 lbs. I was between the 5% and 6% so they told me I could go on. Good, but now I'm gonna rest and try to get something to stay in my body and process a little while. I sat in a chair, Doug picked up a great pacer, and they went to work.
I stayed there in that chair for an hour and 45 minutes. I tried to eat and drink some fluids, and I caught a short nap. Tammy M came in, looking strong and happy, and off she went. Mary K and Tammy B passed on through. Awesome job ladies! Mike's kids were sitting next to us in 10 Bear, his sons were waiting to start pacing him (this is the first point in the VT100 where pacers are allowed to start). I was going back and forth in my mind on whether or not I should go on. I REALLY didn't want to quit, but I was also pretty beat. I decided I would continue to wait, then run with Mike and his kids.
Just as Mike came into the AS, I saw Jim N browsing the food table. Jim had originally requested a pacer, but apparently there was a miscommunication or admin issue somewhere, and he was left pacer-less. So, this gave me the motivation to give it one more go, and try to run the last 30 with Jim. Time to see what's left in the tank. As we were moving along through this section, while my overall energy level was pretty low, and my stomach didn't feel great, my legs felt just fine. Jim N on the other had seemed fine with the energy and didn't seem to have any stomach issues, but he was very sore and stiff (had pain in his hips) and frankly had a slow and awkward gait. Good thing it was dark. We were probably a pretty sad looking pair out there, but then again we weren't alone. We were actually passing some other runners that looked worse than us, at least I hope we didn't look quite that bad.
We arrived at Westwinds (mile 77) aka “Spirit of 76”, still making forward progress. I was very happy to get a report that Doug was running very steady with his pacer up ahead, pushing to make up time and get that buckle. Karen was looking pretty concerned at this point, and very tired. I knew I was making this a long and tough day on my family / crew. I was now 4 hours and 24 minutes later getting to this AS than last year. I hadn't had the stomach for anything other than a little water over the past 6 miles, so the energy level was not headed in the right direction. Karen asked if I was feeling better, and seeing how concerned she was I well…kinda…sorta… told a little white lie and said yes, I was doing better. (sorry honey?) . Nagle was shopping the AS table again and milling around. My stomach was really feeling bad again so I told him I would meet him a short distance down the trail. I went about 20 yards out of the AS and got sick again. Jim passed by, but now the AS volunteer that had been helping us at Spirit of 76 was running with him. It turns out that he (Lars) was also a pacer looking for someone to run with, so this worked out well for all of us. I caught back up with Jim and Lars and the three of us continued on our way towards the next AS. At times we were actually running a fair pace and were catching up with a few other runners. We caught up with and ran with Tammy B (and her pacer) for a short stretch. Tammy's knee was really hurting, but she was a girl on a mission, focused, moving steady, no messing around. I knew she would make it. A while later, as we were nearing the next AS, Jim's headlamp picks up on a pair of eyes watching us from a ridge on the left side of the road. The three of us all focus our lights and see that it is a small bobcat, just like I saw here in Vermont last year. Very cool.
We are all glad to arrive at the Cow Shed AS (you gotta love the names of these AS) at mile 83.6. I looked at the food and drink options, I'm just not feeling it. I tried to drink some more Gingerale, but a small drink of that makes me leave the AS for some more purging. This is not good. Jim seems to be able to find plenty of things on the table his stomach will tolerate. I am jealous. So, it's the wee hours of the morning, and we head off towards the next AS. Even though there were flashes of lightning well off in the distance, portions of the sky were clear and star-filled. Out of the blue, Lars (whom I had never met until he started running with us at mile 77) says; “I just love looking at the stars, it's one of the things I missed the most while I was in jail”. OK, so its like 3am, we are in the middle of nowhere, running slowly, and I ask myself, do I want to know why he was in jail? Sure, what the hell. OK Lars, why were you in jail? “My dad turned me in for growing 187 marijuana plants in his basement. I only needed them to be there for six days…..and I had all of my paperwork in for my medical marijuana license”. Alrighty then.
Well as beautiful as the early morning Vermont country was, and as much as I was enjoying the stories and spending time with Jim and Lars, my energy was really fading. I was falling behind and Lars kept coming back to check on me. At this point I knew I had to have lost even more weight, and I figured I would probably be pulled at Bill's (mile 88, the final weight check). I had a new experience along this stretch, it was the first time I've ever fallen asleep while running / walking. It was like when you are sitting in a class or boring meeting, your eyes are heavy and closing briefly, then you fight off the Z monster and shake yourself awake and look around. At one point I was dozing off, then opening my eyes to find I was now in a different part of the road. I looked over to the right and saw a big drop off, so I decided to stay on the far left side to give myself a cushion. Falling asleep and running off the road…while running… now that would just be weird. That's the point where I decided it was time to throw in the towel on my 2010 VT100. If they don't pull me for weight loss, I'm dropping myself. It would only be 12 more miles from Bill's to the finish and before this experience I probably couldn't understand being in such a state that would make me quit with such a short distance to go. But I guess I had just enough mental awareness left to realize I couldn't sleep walk for 12 miles.
I got on the scale at Bill's (interestingly it was the first time in the race they were using a digital scale) and I was down 11.1 lbs. Seven percent for me (based on the pre-race weigh in) was 11.97 lbs. I was close to but not over their mandatory stop limit. It was almost 5am on Sunday morning, so I still had 5 hours to cover the remaining 12 miles. A brief, and I mean very brief, thought crossed my mind that maybe I could get some food in and still make it? Then I snapped out of it. I reminded myself of the decision I made over the past 2 miles. Time to call it.
I was surprised to see Jim N still there in the AS, but was glad to see he was doing well and still able to take in the calories. I knew he had this in the bag and would certainly crush his time from last year. Great job, Jim N!
Congrats to everyone that finished the 2010 VT100 under some warm / humid conditions, where only about 55% finished. Special congrats to Hibachi on completing his first (of no doubt many) 100s, running strong the last 30, finishing under 24hrs for the coveted buckle. Also, special congrats to Tammy B who pushed through the pain and finished her first 100.
Time to move on, and time for Hibachi and the Lead Goat to start focusing on the next stop on the Tour de Pain….on to Grindstone!
The morning after, looking like I just escaped from Auschwitz.