July 24, 2013

Vermont 100 - Listening to the Right Voice

To do the job right, it took four hands. Two to unroll the clear packing tape, which I was quickly learning wasn’t the best choice when taping nylon against nylon, and another two to hold the pieces together as the tape was applied.

I did a quick look around us. My suspicions were confirmed. Lobster and I were the only ones attempting to “tape” a tent together at the Vermont 100 mile camp site. “I wish I had my duct tape,” Lobster kept saying. I mustered all my strength just to contain my laughter. All the other runners had these really slick looking Marmot and REI tents. Ours? Well the tape job lasted about two minutes before a gentle breeze picked up and the entire thing collapsed.

“Hey Lobster.” I said. “Yea?” he replied. “What do you say we stay in my hotel room tonite? “Sure.”

The Vermont 100 mile endurance run is an old school 100 miler celebrating its 25th year in 2013. It takes place in a beautiful part of the country known for its covered bridges, horse trails and small farms. It is also one of the few 100 milers where humans run along side horses on the same course and on the same day.

To put things bluntly, the Vermont 100 beat the hmmm hmmm out of me. I came to run the race with certain expectations, and I left with a good old whoop’n by the running gods. But I did learn a few valuable lessons along the way. 

Lesson number one - don't assume you know what you don't know.

For some reason I assumed Vermont was some easy, gentle course I would be able to cruise through without breaking my stride. Looking back, I'm not sure what it was about 14,000 feet of elevation GAIN I didn’t comprehend. There were climbs in this race that were as steep as UTMB. Sure, maybe not as long, but there was some serious hiking I didn’t expect.  

Lesson number two - don't be an idiot.

At the start I reminded myself that the real starting line isn’t until mile 70, and to take it easy so I could really run the last 30 miles. And, like an idiot, I ran with reckless abandon for the first 20 miles. There were some really run-able downhills, including one on pavement for several miles. I felt like a kid in a candy store here. It felt so easy. I kept pushing and pushing, feeling the miles tick away. But then I came into an aid station toward the end of the long paved descent. I walked up to grab some liquids, and felt a sharp pain shoot through both my quads. Uh oh....

I continued on, a little concerned but still feeling good. What is the big deal I thought? So what if I went out a little fast? My body will recover I kept saying to myself. Well I arrived at the 50 mile in 8 hours and 37 minutes, nearly an hour ahead of where I should have been.  

Then reality started to creep in. After 50 miles, I was really struggling to run down hill. If my quads were serving as my racing tires early in the race, they were now losing PSI rapidly. I could almost hear the running gods telling me I had my chance and blew it. I had a plan and abandoned it. Now it was time for me to pay the price. So they took away my secret weapon – running down hill. I simply couldn’t do it. My deflated quads rendered me to hunched over, hobbling hobbit on the descents.

What an idiot I am I kept thinking to myself. But what I’ve learned about 100 milers is that you have time to adapt as long as you don’t give up. I figured if I can't run downhill, I can at least try to run everything else. So I rallied a little and got my rhythm back on some flat sections and even on some of the climbs. Through this cycle I was able pass several people who had passed me on the descents.

Lesson number three - if you run without a pacer, be prepared to get lost without a pacer.

Runners were allowed to have pacers from mile 70 on. I decided not to have a pacer. Why? I wanted to go-it-alone to get the full machismo experience of a 100 mile race. The result of this was, well, not good. I got lost twice, the first time around mile 73 and the second time around mile 88. 

By now, after starting out like an idiot and blowing up my quads, getting lost twice, running 88 miles by myself, my mental capacities were deteriorating. I was approaching the mental fortitude of a 3 year old lost and wondering a county fair. Why am I even out here? What the #@!% do I care if I even finish? And on and on. I was yelling at the stars and the full moon. And the running gods were laughing at me!

The second time I got lost was the best. It was dark out then and I had turned a down a trail with all kinds of blinking lights and glow sticks. I knew I was getting close to the last major aid station. As I continued running I could hear voices and see a lot of activity. As I got closer my energy started to spike as I knew the aid station was just a few more steps away. There I would be able to get my final nutritional boost and begin the final stretch to the finish line.

I rounded the corner and burst into the parking lot. All the voices I heard immediately turned silent. People looked shocked to see me. Then one lady yelled out "I'm sorry son you're in the wrong place. This is a horse aid station." She quickly escorted me out of there, pointing me in the right direction. 

When I finally rolled into the final aid station I told Lobster, who got to witness my trail tantrum first hand at this point, that I was done with this race. My chance of running under 20 hours was gone. I ran like an idiot. And I was going to just walk it in. That was that. So I just sucked down some chicken soup, drank some Ginger Ale, and ambled once again into the darkness.

Lesson number four - Listen to the right voice.

By the time I ambled into the darkness one last time, there was this voice in my head that was livid and stubbornly wanted me to give up. It spoke only of frustration, exhaustion and disappointment. I continued to listen to this voice as I stumbled forward. This was the same voice I would hear whenever I reminded myself about getting lost, or making the mistakes I'd made. 

But just as soon as I looked at my watch, and believed I still had a shot to break 20 hours, then another voice spoke. This voice was also stubborn, but told me not to give up, and to keep running. Thankfully, in those final miles as I ambled along that dark trial, it was this second voice that spoke to me louder than the first. My final time was 20 hours and 27 minutes, a new PR and reminder that the journey is the reward.  

Thank you Lobster for crewing me out there. You did a great job keeping the Vespa flowing and the Petty roaring. Smoooookeeey!    


Jukka Kukkonen said...

Congrats Will! What a funny report. Glad to see you are racing euro-style (wearing a backpack and hokas, starting all-out, trashing quads, no pacers) even in the States! There should be a special category in the results for runners like you :)

Cory Reese said...

This is what I love about the sport: you can do so many dumb things and make mistakes but there is always the opportunity to redeem yourself. Congrats on an awesome PR!

it's all about pace said...

well run and great report!

EricG said...

Indeed the journey is the reward. Every time. Well said Will and way to hang in there. Peace E

Unknown said...

Congrats! And great race report.

Anonymous said...

so inspired again . These race reports make me want to strap'm up and head out the door . Lobster ...?That's a guy I gotta meet.Stellar front half , and a great time for 100 miles .You're putting together an impressive resume'.Don't let up now....we're all watching !!!!

Anonymous said...

Hilarious to read even if it wasn't hilarious to experience it. Great report and congrats on the finish. Awesome job!

Will Cooper said...

Thanks all. I'm still sore from this thing! I'm hoping I'll be back on my training w/in a few days. thanks for the comments.

Matthew @ My Little Eye Surgery said...

Congrats, and great writing!

Peter said...

Congrats Will on a PR and a stellar report....this will help and inspire others! As always let me know what I and VESPA can do help!

Peter said...

Oh, and as we say here up north about Hundos: " The only thing you can expect is for things to go sideways..."

Even a perfect race (if that exists) is unexpected...