Sunday, January 11, 2015

Respect the Race! Nine Things to Keep in Mind on Race Day

Races are fun. Even for those of us that are more "running tourists" than racers lookin' for a fast time, there is something about showing up at a planned race and participating with the community that just can't be beat. As I have become more involved with the local running scene and have gotten to know a lot of the race directors, I have come to develop a deep respect and appreciation for all of the hard work and time that goes into creating a successful event. (Heck, even an "unsuccessful" event likely has hours upon hours of work put into it.) I've been able to be a part of the Pickled Feet Ultra Running Team over the past couple years and do my part in lending a hand in a very small part of the work in a few events, and these intimate look into all the details has given me an even greater love for our RDs and all the work that they do. 

As someone who runs events, I also have that insider view of what happens around the race- both on and off the trail. The outstanding majority of it is good, but there is sometimes the bad and the ugly as well. Here are some thoughts to bear in mind as you are approaching your next event that can help ensure that we enjoy the trails and races appropriately so that our RDs will keep on lovin' us enough to put on these events. 

1. Do your research. Most races that you sign up for have ample information posted for you to read on their website. This will often tell you what course conditions have been like in the past, what the weather has been, and what items will be helpful for you to bring. You can usually find a map and an elevation chart somewhere- study them. Don't show up on race day with questions about the course that you could have found online. Race morning (and the night before the race, and the week before the race) is very busy for RDs. While it is not unfair for runners to be able to approach the RD and ask questions, do your part to know what is going on.

2. Follow the rules. Does the race ask that you don't wear headphones? Are trekking poles prohibited? Are you required to have a light at a certain point in the day? Are you required to check in and out of aid stations? Do you need to leave the dogs at home? Rules are not put in place for fun or to torment runners; they are for safety concerns. While it may be true that your dog is well behaved (and I am a dog lover, myself) and that you can aptly pay attention with headphones, try to avoid thinking that you are the exception to the rule.

3. Don't bandit. I am not sure if this needs to be said; I don't know that I have ever seen a bandit runner in an ultra. However, I know it can be a bigger deal in road running, so to prevent the trend from migrating to ultras, I think it should be addressed. Someone has taken the time to find a nice course, mark it, stick some food and water out there, have rescue on standby, pay for permits to use the land.. I could go on and on. Of course, it is public land usually and anyone can be there, but running a trail race without registering adds additional concerns outside of the normal road race bandit stuff. In addition to putting more bodies on the trail and running the issue of not signing the waiver for participating for race liability, there is a really great difference in the amount of resources that could be used. Runners are usually methodically recorded running in and out of aid stations so that search and rescue can be called in if someone is suspected to have gone missing. The chance of this being done unnecessarily increases dramatically if participants are unaccounted for- either by not checking in or not having a number. I (vaguely) understand in large profit-driven road races the desire to skimp on the cost, but you're not fighting the industry by not paying for ultras. Somebody put in the work; if you're there, be a registered runner.

4. Consider where your money goes. This is something that I don't think I truly understood until I became more involved with race planning. Several hundred dollars for permits, several hundred dollars for portapotties, enough food for x amount of runners at each aid station and at the finish line, tent rental, fuel, your race swag- it all adds up. Some folks are making careers of putting on races, but the vast majority are just trying to do a bit more than break even so there is money to put towards next year's event. 

5. Show the love to your volunteers! Give high-fives, tell them thanks, try not to be a grump, even if you're feelin' grumpy. If a volunteer shows up and doesn't enjoy their time, they are not likely to come back, and these events would not run without volunteers. Volunteers are often on the course before you and off the course after you, so even though you've got a long day of miles, they've got a long day of standing in the cold/sun/rain/wind/snow/sleet to make sure that you have a good day. If you have some time, volunteer at a race yourself so that you can give back and see what it feels like on the other side.

6. Don't forget to mention the good stuff. You'd better believe that an RD hears it every time a runner goes off course- whether it is the fault of the marking or an inattentive runner. I always make a point to mention it to the RD if I found the course to be particularly well-marked, if the aid stations had just the right snack, if the volunteers were great, if I loved the finisher swag, etc. If you are an unhappy runner, mention your concerns with care if you can. If you are a happy runner, make it known! It's nice for folks to hear what went well, especially if they just got an earful from someone who went a quarter mile off course. 

7. Be nice to the trail. This is another one that should go without saying. We are trail runners because we love to play in the dirt, see the forests, and experience nature. Don't wreck it by throwing your gel wrapper on the ground. I have noticed in several races over the last year that garbage is a common occurrence during a race. It's easy when you know there is a sweep to assume that things will be picked up if dropped, but take care in putting your trash in a zipped pocket or someplace where it is not likely to find its way onto the ground. If you see somebody else's garbage, take the extra second to pick it up. In addition to being kinder to the environment, this will help ensure that permits are issued so that the race can be held again. 

8. Take care of other runners. I was at a race last year where I met a man who dropped from his 100 because he had stopped to walk with another runner who was terribly sick and wound up not having enough time to make the cutoff. I was rather astounded by this gesture, but he said to me that "people are more important." For this man, who had run his share of 100s, the finish was not that important. Now, I'm not saying that you should ditch your race for someone else, but be ready to help if the need should arise. This may mean taking a second to ask someone if they are okay, it might mean offering a band-aid or an extra snack, or it might mean running ahead to the aid station to send someone back to help. 

9. Have fun. Have so much fun. It's cheesy, but really, just have fun. You worked hard, you paid the money, you spent your time getting everything just right. Enjoy it. Don't get uptight. Be gracious, be patient, be responsible, and be a badass. Remember that this is not just a race, this is a community of really, really amazing people. Take the time to get to know some of them. Some of the best friends, the best stories, and the best wisdom I have encountered have come from ultrarunners. Don't be so busy that you miss out on that part of it. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Road Trip! Leg Eight: Pennsylvania

The last stop on my trip before arriving home was a good one. One of my best friends from Boise, Lindsay, moved back to the East Coast two years ago, and she and I planned to meet up for a few nights of camping in Pennsylvania before I finished up my trip a few states North. I tried to research some campgrounds that would be ideally located for both of us: not too far off-route for me, not too far of a post-work drive for her. I wound up landing on Poe Paddy State Park, a bit more rustic (less campers) than its sister campground, Poe Valley State Park. It was quite a ways into the forest on old dirt roads through Bald Eagle State Forest.
"Nature will renew this wealth if given a chance."

I arrived in the late afternoon and was able to get to the campsite with plenty of time to walk around, get the tent pitched, and make dinner. Poor Lindsay was leaving the city in rush hour traffic on a Friday, and didn't get in until after I had gone to sleep. Still, we had the entire day on Saturday, and we didn't let any of it go to waste. We ate our breakfast and drank our tea in the early morning hours, trying not to be chatty and disturb any sleeping neighbors. After not seeing each other since January, we had lots of catching up to do! Once we had given ourselves ample time to fully awake and think about hitting some trails, we got ourselves back into the car to go explore and find a good place to run. There were several trails nearby to the campground, but I had picked up a detailed map of Bald Eagle State Forest, and we were eager to go explore and possibly find something with a vista.

We wound up pulling over at Gobbler Trail and had a nice trail run/walk into the woods. Unfortunately the trail ended at a gate with a big "private property" sign (no vista), but it was a fun trail nonetheless. The dogs and I were still getting used to running in the humidity, so the nice 4ish mile run was enough to poop them out pretty good. 

Even though we finished our run, we were nowhere near our exploring for the day. We decided to go on a mission to get some vegetables for dinner, which would require us driving through one of the towns that I passed the day before. We DID manage to find some nice vistas on the way through the woods, and it was nice to see some of the East Coast hills. The hills and mountains to which I am accustomed have much more pine trees, where as the East Coast is covered in deciduous trees. The deciduous do a better job at masking the challenging terrain, I think. Those rolling hills look lush and welcoming, but as we found the next day, there can be plenty of scrambling on those trails too.

Lindsay and I were both thrilled to find an awesome farm stand on the side of the road where we were able to choose from a wide variety of veggies for our dinner. We decided on asparagus and tomatoes to mix into some pasta, but the woman who owned the farm stand was kind enough to throw in a bunch more vegetables that were not attractive enough for her to sell- some nice squash and zucchini. We snacked on strawberries and tomatoes on the drive back to the campground and schemed on what a delicious feast we were going to have for our camping dinner. Lindsay and I are both very enthusiastic about vegetables, cooking, and camping, so it was a perfect combination for our reunion. 
Another fun thing that we got to do for our reunion was drink a very special bottle of wine. Lindsay and I became friends shortly after we both moved to Boise, and we spent Thanksgiving together (along with her lovely partner, Sean) since we were away from our families. That Thanksgiving, with the three of us having our orphan Thanksgiving in my first apartment, was by far one of my favorites. Lindsay and I had bought a bottle of wine from Winco for that Thanksgiving celebration that we never wound up drinking. It sat it my apartment for ages, eventually moving with me when I moved into another apartment and Lindsay and Sean moved away. Lindsay has come back to Boise a few times since then, and while the bottle of wine was often mentioned, it was never at a time when we wanted to drink it. Knowing that I was going to see Lindsay on my trip, I packed the cheapo bottle of wine that was now aged three more years so that we could share it together on our camping trip. The wine was quite tasty. We drank some, poured some into a delicious sauce for our pasta, and spilled a bit on the ground. The best part was that we got to share it together after almost three years. 

We didn't stay up too late after our long day of bustling around in the heat and drinking wine at four in the afternoon. We spent some time playing in the river with the dogs before dinner, which mostly comprised of Jake trying to sit on our laps and Gracie standing on a tiny rock so she didn't have to get wet. We prepared and ate our delectable feast- quite a feat with so many vegetables and only a little backpacking stove. We made a fire that lasted for about 10 minutes (neither of our strong suits), which worked out well since we were both pretty pooped. We were off to sleep before too long, but woke up the next morning happy to hit the trail again before we both made our ways home. 
I found a nice trail by the river on the first day of my arrival, and Lindsay and I decided that would be a good run for the morning. The trail did not last for too long before we crossed a bridge and realized that we were on the Pennsylvania Mid-State Trail, and a rather sketchy section, at that. Shortly after crossing the bridge, we came to a place where the trail had been rerouted from its original course through a tunnel, which was quite eerie to see in the early morning hours. We decided to follow the detour for a little ways, even though we were warned by the sign that the trail was deemed "most difficult."

We scrambled up and over the rocky trail, played around on top of the hill for a little while, and came back down the way we came. It was a fun excursion, and a fun reminder that you don't need to be up in the Idaho mountains to find some technical trail, even if it is hiding out under all those lush leafy trees. 

 We didn't stay for too long after our run- both of us eager to get to our destinations and get settled. We said our goodbyes, which although are a bummer, never feel too final, since it is always like no time has passed when we do see each other. The dogs and I packed ourselves into the car for one final day on the road, and the rest is history. Seven or eight hours later, I was pulling into the driveway at my parents' house, where I would hunker down for five nice weeks. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Road Trip! Leg Seven: Racine to East Harbor Bay State Park, OH

Leaving Wisconsin was difficult after such a cozy few days, but I was also nearing the end of my trip and getting closer to my own family. I had one more definite stop on my agenda- camping with my friend in Pennsylvania- and after some deliberation, I decided to break up the distance with another night on the road. I found a campground along Lake Erie in Ohio and decided to make that my next destination.

This was my least favorite part of the entire drive. From Racine to East Harbor Bay State Park, I had to drive through part of Wisconsin, Illinois (the worst part- right around Chicago), Indiana, and Ohio. This made for a very expensive day with something that I had completely forgotten about while living in the West- tolls! Yuck! I spent about $15 just for driving on the roads. By the time I arrived at East Harbor Bay, I was long ready to be done with the car and done with Ohio. I checked in, reserved my site, and chuckled at the warning of the woman at the desk. I was warned to watch for raccoons and deer. 
Campsites at East Harbor Bay State Park were much different from those to which I have become accustomed. Idaho campgrounds are pretty calm and quiet, especially if you are seeking calm and quiet. For the nights that I camped on my trip, I was fortunate to not have to battle big crowds. I think with the proximity to bigger cities, greater population density, and ease of camping in huge RVs, this campground attracts a larger, rowdier crowd. Combined with the fact that the 4th of July was around the corner, and I found myself in a cramped, busy campground. Luckily, most of the campers brought RVs or trailers, and the tent spots were in a more secluded area. Still, I was keenly aware of the eyes of the folks camping across the road as I set up my tent, clearly alone. I was so used to being by myself and being in more wild areas, and it was interesting to notice that concern for safety was heightened more with the presence of people. 

I ran with my dogs, ate some delicious dinner courtesy of Grandma and Aunt Maureen, and snuggled happily back into the tent with the dogs. Another pre-5am wake up, another run in the morning light, and a beautiful sunrise over the water. The park covered ground over a peninsula into the bay, and there was a nice network of trails for our morning run, and the mosquitoes certainly kept us moving quickly. We saw a skunk and some of the notorious deer, which caused Gracie to make enough noise to wake up the whole campground. 

I was happy to sit on the edge of the water for a while as the sun made its way into the sky. Things felt nice. Calm. I was happy to be on the road and have the opportunity to spend time with family and friends over the summer. I was happy to have time to enjoy the little moments like the sunrise. Other people started pulling into the lot near the water, and the dogs and I made our way back to the site to pack up. I was ready to go just as the folks around us were starting to awaken and pour out of their RVs.

This park is one where I would perhaps stay again, but mostly for convenience. It was a bit expensive and a bit crowded for my taste, but it fell in a good location to break up my drive. 

Next leg: Ohio to Poe Paddy State Park, PA

Road Trip! Leg Six: Time with Family in Racine

The drive from the edge of Minnesota through Wisconsin was another short, easy, unremarkable day. I was really excited to arrive at my destination in Racine, WI with the knowledge that there would be a few relaxing days filled with family awaiting me. My grandmother and my aunt's family live in Wisconsin and are always kind in opening their home to family members as we trickle in from across the country for visits. I have been very lucky this year and already visited several times, so it just felt comfortable and homey from the time that I arrived.

Grandma's garden.
I got caught up with my grandmother and my cousins about the happenings of the past few months. I got updates about the many activities of my busy cousins, the foster pets that had made their ways through the home, and how everyone had been adjusting since my grandfather passed away in the spring. It was the first time visiting the house since then, and there were little differences around the house that served as reminders. It was very nice to be able to visit with my grandmother, hear stories, tell stories, and just sit together outside.

Jake and Reese playing- Gracie being indifferent, as usual.
Jake and Gracie made fast friends with Reese, my cousins' dog. They played around the yard and settled right into the house. I had been worried at the beginning of my trip about how my dogs would behave in other peoples' homes. They were never left alone and truly tested, but I was still happy with how well they behaved. The first night (of two) that I stayed in Racine, I watched a movie with my cousins, and my grandmother encouraged me to leave the dogs downstairs in her part of the house. I was certain that I heard Gracie whining while we were watching the movie. I went downstairs to check only to find both of my dogs lounging on the couch, barely lifting their heads to acknowledge me when I came down the stairs. 

I would have been happy to stay in Racine for a week, but after I extended my trip by a night more than I had planned, it came time to start thinking about hitting the road. Goodbyes are never easy, but I planned on stopping in again on the way back to Idaho. One thing that I have really come to appreciate even more since I have been on the trip home is making the most of spending time with family. As much as I love solo time in the hills, it is equally good for the soul to sit around in sweats, drinking tea with the people in your life with some shared history. If you have the chance to do it, don't take it for granted. 

Not a bad view from the backyard. 

Next leg: Racine, WI to East Harbor Bay State Park, OH

Road Trip! Leg Five: Through Minnesota to Great River Bluffs State Park

I had a very nice short drive from South Dakota into Minnesota- only a little over four hours. I camped basically right on the border of South Dakota and then right on the border of Minnesota, so I really only drove the length of the state. I was planning on a longer drive, but I had covered more ground than anticipated on the previous day. This made for a very relaxing drive, and nothing was very notable on my drive through Minnesota. 

I had made the decision to camp at Great River Bluffs State Park early in my planning processes. I didn't know anything about the park, but I knew that it sat right beside the Mississippi River, so I thought that would make for some neat down time. I arrived to the park early in the afternoon, paid up my fees, and drove in to find a campsite. All of the sites were nestled nicely into the woods, so I grabbed one that wasn't previously reserved and got my tent unpacked.

There was plenty of time to kill, so I decided to go on a food mission. I had not eaten anything fresh since my night in Missoula, and I was ready for some vegetables. I was not in close proximity to any big town centers, but I picked up a bag of spinach, a tomato, and an avocado from a gas station/grocery store. Along with some pasta that I had packed in my car, I boiled the entire bag of spinach down, cut up the other vegetables and ate my gourmet dinner. Somehow, in the middle of the woods, I was still picking dog hair out of my food. 

I was excited when I arrived to see that the park had a substantial trail network. Most of the trails led to a lookout of some sort, so I took the dogs out to stretch our legs after eating. I understood quickly why the name of the park was Great River Bluffs. We certainly were up on some bluffs with a beautiful vantage point over the Mississippi. I had not envisioned there being such an elevation difference from one side of the river to the other, but in this particular case, there was a very clear difference from the Minnesota side to the Wisconsin side. 

The mosquitos were nearly as bad as they were in the campground in South Dakota. Both of the campgrounds were in wooded areas by water, so that made sense.

I was sitting in the campsite talking to my mom on the phone, when suddenly the sky opened up out of nowhere and raindrops the size of marbles started falling. I was happy for the excuse to run into my tent a little early and listen to the rain. I had doubts about my tent keeping out water in the downpour, but it did pretty well. I read for a while longer and fell asleep to the sound of the rain.

I awoke around 5am, consistent with the previous few days. I was happy to get out for my run before the day warmed and all of the moisture in the ground rose into the air. I was able to catch the first light through the trees and the sunrise over the river at several of the lookouts along the trails. I was able to get in about six miles pretty easily on some very nice trails, and I beat most of the bugs.

This was another day where I was packed up and on the road early with just a short day of driving ahead. Into Wisconsin and across the state, my next stop would have a real bed, a real shower, and best of all, visits with family.

Next leg: Great River Bluffs State Park to Racine, WI!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Race Report: Goat Hill 7k

So.. Vermont 100 was a week ago. My chafing was pretty healed by Tuesday, my feet stopped swelling on Thursday, and the bottoms of my feet no longer hurt when I walked.. well.. they still do, but smooshy shoes help. (Thank you to my Torins and Olympus!) It would seem that I may not be recovered enough from my hundred for another trail race, but I figured that it was about time for a little shake-out run.

John happily sporting his new Olympus.
Me in my dependable Torins.

Pre-race smiles.
My mom had told me a bit about a new local racing company that had made its way into the Blackstone Valley in the years since I had moved to Idaho. There was not a huge running scene in my area when I was growing up, and certainly not a trail running scene. I was happy to hear that this void was being filled by MRA Multisport and that one of the races in their Durty Feets Trail Series was right at home in Uxbridge, MA.

The course for this race- the Goat Hill 7k- utilizes a trail system that I ran frequently back when I lived in the area. My mom and I have been running parts of it during my visit, though not the part with the big climb. I was able to talk her into registering for the race along with my friend John, who is newly recommitted to getting back into shape (as of this week). None of us really knew what to expect, but we were all happy to arrive on race morning, collect our numbers, and hit the trail after a quick pre-race briefing and the quietest rendition of the National Anthem that I have ever heard (sung by the runners in a very whispery volume).

We took off down the trail along the section of the course that I knew very well. In fact, I took a good digger on some roots on this trail several weeks back, so I was extra cautious with my footing. I noticed right away that the air was much more humid than it had been for a while. The single-track congo line  formed fairly quickly, so runners were sort of locked into position for the first few miles. I was moving along much better than I had anticipated and clocked about nine-minute miles for the first few miles.

The first big trail junction of the race.
(I should note that photos from the course were taken the day after the race when my mom and I went out to walk part of the course backwards. Consequently, some parts of the trail are seen from the other direction as well.)
I love me some wooded single track.
Passing was awkward because the trail was narrow and because so many of the runners were wearing headphones, which I did not expect. My interactions with other runners were not as upbeat as I am used to, but that may just be a culture difference- I am pretty spoiled with the Boise Trail Runner crew back in Idaho. There were many sections of the course where switchbacks ran very closely to each other, and I offered a "nice work" or "lookin' good" on several occasions. The only responses I got were from my mom, two sixteen-year-old girls who were out running together (which I thought was super awesome), and a couple guys who were in sync closely with me for some time and chatted briefly with me. I was also sure to thank the aid station workers and people out directing runners every time that I passed one, and I was surprised to not hear that from anyone else around me. It's always important to show some love to the volunteers, especially since so many of them were kids! Maybe I just needed to be running a bit harder and be more out of breath.

Jake enjoying the course the day after the race.

I don't think that I really could have run much harder. The feeling of "oh boy, this is surprisingly easy" wore off after about two miles, and I could feel all of the muscles in my legs that were not quite ready to be out for a run yet, especially as we hit some climbing up on Goat Hill, though this was my favorite section of the course. I have run in that area many times, but I never realized that there was such an intricate trail system tucked behind the more commonly utilized trails. There is beautiful single track that weaves in and out through the forest, lacing back onto itself in a neat little network. (I am spatially challenged and have not quite figured out all of the connections yet, but it is my goal to do so before I return to Idaho so that my mom will be able to run these trails by herself.)

The race directors did a great job of showcasing this little gem, not only in picking great trails, but in the way that the race itself was orchestrated. There were just two aid stations, but they were in great spots at miles 2.2 and 3.2. There were ample volunteers at the aid stations as well as any junction on the trail that may have been confusing, and the trail was impeccably marked. Especially because there are so many offshoots and unmarked trails through this area, having markers in all the right places is key. Although I was suffering, I was so happy to have gone out and run this race.
Be a billy goat!

My mama!
I came in with 4.7 miles at 52:14, ten minutes behind the first place woman. My mom finished really strong just a bit after I did, and John finished a bit after her. When most of the runners were done, there was a little awards ceremony where the winners in each division were recognized (junior, open, master, senior) and the crowd mostly dispersed. Knowing what it is like to be the last runner coming into a dead finish line, my mom and John and I stuck around to see the last runners through. Being able to watch people finish from the back of the pack is its own reward- there is much as much grit in the twenty-minute miler as there is in the five-minute miler at the front of the pack.

I loved this race, not just for the race itself, but for the fact that it filled a long-open gap in my hometown community by offering a place for people to come out and hit the trail together. I would recommend this race to anyone who is in the Central Mass area. The organizers are really trying to create an atmosphere that is welcoming to everyone, regardless of their background or experience on the trails. Also, did I mention that the race only cost $15? It can't be beat! Thanks to MRA for an excellent event; I hope to catch another one next time around. If you are local, I highly suggest checking out the other races here and getting your feet dirty.

Race Report: Vermont 100

A Tale of Two Races

Last weekend, I conquered the 100 mile distance for the fifth time in West Windsor, VT. I really stepped up my game in my mental preparations and expectations for myself, and in combination with many other factors, that allowed me to have a great race. Now, it wasn’t flawless all the way through, and being able to figure out how to extend a great first half through the entire hundred miles is an important part of the smart running of hundreds. However, my first 75 miles were so comfortable and well-executed that I view the race as one of my best performed races to-date, in spite of the fact that the last 25 miles were rather pitiful. 

Horses at their med check.
Since I have had the summer free between semesters, I was able to research the course ahead of time, and I read a lot of race reports and spent some time figuring out splits and distances between aid stations. (I am bolding some key information that may be helpful to others in their own research.) Vermont has twenty-nine aid stations- most of which are manned- which can help speed up your race or slow it down, depending on your tendency to dawdle. I typically race pretty conservatively out of fear of bonking, so the close proximity of all of the aid stations was very helpful to me. I knew that if I pushed too hard or if I wasn’t minding my nutrition or hydration that it would not be long before I reached aid. In other races, I don’t necessarily want to be experimenting with pushing myself if I have twelve miles in the dark between me and the next aid station. Vermont is a very safe race in this regard. Combine the plethora of aid stations with the fact that there are 300+ runners sharing the trail with you, and it is nearly certain that you won’t be in any kind of precarious position. 

Last-minute preparations.
I drove out to the race start with my mom (who was kind enough to crew for me), and my friend Randy who had flown in for the race. We arrived a little after noon, which gave us plenty of time to set up our tents and get a feel for the place prior to the pre-race meeting at 4. I got my number and did my medical check- which was really my only source of stress about the race. I have never been weighed before and during my races- I don’t even have a scale in my house to have a rough idea of my fluxuations- so I was worried about staying in the right weight zone. I weighed in at 139, and kept that number in my head so that I would be able to pay attention at the three weight checks throughout the race.

Tent City.
In addition to the usual droves of excitedly anxious runners, we were also in the presence of many riders and horses in the midst of their own pre-race preparations. I found myself wondering if the horses felt nervous- if they had any idea what the next day would bring. I am sure that if they had any anxiety, it was only caused by all the commotion, but it was an interesting thing to consider. 

The pre-race meeting was interesting, mostly because I haven’t run an ultra with such a large field before, and it was great to see such a large group of ultrarunners all together. I didn’t really hear anything at the meeting that I hadn’t previously read online, but I suppose if you were really off the ball with reading the pre-race emails, it may have been helpful. Dinner was delicious and had a plethora of vegan food, which made me very happy. We didn’t linger long before heading back up the hill to the camping area.

Bring earplugs!
Noise was an issue when it came time to unwind and settle into my tent. I actually wound up scooting my tent away from its original spot due to the fact that I was situated in the middle of some large groups of chattering people. If this race is on your list and you are planning to camp, be sure to bring earplugs. I was offered a pair of plugs by a nice couple camping nearby and was able to settle down for sleep before too long... 

I think I woke up about 2:15am. My alarm was set for 3am, but I could hear people mulling around and using the portas. (I had taken the plugs out during the night.) I decided that I may as well get a move on starting the day and got myself dressed and down to runner check-in right as it was opening. I ate a nice breakfast of quinoa porridge with walnuts and cherries in the car with my mom, and before we knew it, it was time to head down to the race start. We were all warned that the most sensitive landowners were within the first few miles of the race, so the day began with the subdued energy of three hundred runners beginning their journey into the forest. 
Mmmm early morning start time.

I knew that I was going out faster than I should have, but for the first several miles of the race, I like to let myself do whatever feels good so that I can shake out any nerves and get into a groove. It turned out, on this day, that my groove was a lot groovier than usual, and I continued to run pretty smoothly and quickly for most of the day.

The gaggle of runners stayed pretty tight for the first section of the race. I was concerned that this would add to congestion or the dreaded congo line through single-track, but the majority of the race is on dirt roads or slightly-narrower jeep track, so overcrowding was never an issue. I ran through the first several aid stations, having worn my pack with a bladder so that I would not be tempted to waste time with stopping so early. I made it to the stop at 11.5 by 6:11am. (I know because I texted my mom at the porta potty so that she would have a better idea of my arrival to the first crew stop.) I was moving well and feeling good! 

I recall that it began to feel nice and light around mile 10.5 (a bit before 6am), but the headlamps were off well before then. The horses came up from behind us shortly after that, which I really enjoyed. I was a horse nut for most of my youth, so I caught some good bouts of nostalgia from the smell of the horses as they trotted past. Most of the riders were incredibly courteous, wishing runners luck and offering morning greetings. One of the riders posted a video of the course from their vantage point, which was cool to watch after the race when I was spending a lot of time on the couch. 

Still super smiley at mile 21.
I saw my mom for the first time at mile 21 at the Pretty House Aid Station. I completely missed the pretty house, but I did get myself squared away with some snacks, ample amounts of Aquaphor, and my handheld. I had planned to swap for my handheld at this point so that I wouldn’t hold additional heat on my back as the sun became brighter and temperatures rose. I found that one handheld bottle was sufficient, but this year was cooler and less humid than many previous years. Gatorade has never tasted so good. I was downing that stuff all day, and it really hit the spot. 

In a race like this, you often find yourself back and forth with the same people for quite some time. I kept pace with one runner, Bob, in particular, and we spent at least 40 miles running together, linking up sometime before mile 30. This helped the miles tick off very quickly as we chatted about life, running, and the overlap and intertwining of the two. We went up dirt road hills and went down dirt road hills and ran through trees and ran through fields. While the entire course was very enjoyable, it also sort of stands as a blur in my mind. When I was reading race reports in an attempt to get a feel for the course, I wasn’t able to find anything that gave a really great description, and I realize now that this is because, while the course is very pleasant, there are not spectacular climbs or areas of terrible stream crossings or poor footing, so in hindsight, nothing in particular stands out. 
Bob and me coming into mile 30ish.

I saw my mom around mile 30, 47, and 59. My pacer, Nick, had arrived early at Camp 10 Bear, which served as aid for miles 47 and 70. Nick is a friend from college who has been active in the world of triathlons for the past few years and is just jumping into the ultra scene. I was stoked when he agreed to pace me for the race- largely because I like to have a pacer with me through the night, but also so that we could catch up and he could get a glimpse into the 100 mile world. I was happy to touch base with him at 47, and he traveled with my mom to the next aid station. At mile 47, I also hopped on the scale for the first time in the race with great trepidation. 137. Whew. Only down two pounds. The weigh-ins were not as scary as I thought they would be. In my later weigh-ins at 70 and 88, I was 136.4 and then back to 137. No problemo.

We were warned that around the halfway point, there would be huge puddles spanning the length of the road that would be impassable save for slogging right through. I didn’t find that to be the case, however, and kept my feet dry for the entire day. In wetter years, this may not be the case. I switched to my Lone Peaks for the section of anticipated moisture (they are designed to drain better than the Torin- which is a road shoe), but I was happy to put my Torins back on and get a bit more cushion under my soles. Although the course is a nice easy dirt road for most of the way, there are plenty of little stones that could cause the feet to get a bit achey.

I was happy to see my mom again at the Seven Sees AS. I encouraged her to skip the next crew-accessible aid since I would be picking up Nick there and I wanted her to get some rest. My mom had some canned stuffed grape leaves, which sounded surprisingly appealing, so I ate a few of those before heading out on my way. 

A bit before mile 70, I began to notice that the balls of my feet were developing hot spots and that the chafe that I had been keeping at bay all day was beginning to catch up to me. I decided to change my soggy shorts and my socks at the next point where I could, which turned out to be mile 76. Before getting to that point, I picked up my pacer, and I was still feeling really good. My last few miles getting back into Camp 10 Bear, I was able to pull eleven-minute miles. I was just barely ahead of a twenty-four hour pace with thirty miles to go. I didn’t think that twenty-four was realistic, but I thought that with how good my muscles still felt, I would be able to get in around twenty-five hours. I picked up Nick and told him that I wanted us to go-go-go! We started climbing out of the aid station, and after a couple smooth miles with some runnable sections, the chafe and the blister pain hit me like a brick wall. Suddenly, everything hurt. Not sore muscle kind of hurt. More like searing burning chafe kind of hurt. Like, everywhere below the waist. and all around the band of my sports bra. Owwww.

Coming into mile 95.
I made a big mistake in not changing my shorts earlier in the race, and it was a stupid mistake. I frequently chat with people who are considering their first ultra-distance, and my advice is always the same: eat before you are hungry, drink frequently, and take care of little issues when they are still little issues. While I had been applying Aquaphor every time I saw my mom, there is only so much that can be done in the face of shorts that have been wet for 70 miles. Same silly error was made with the blisters on the bottoms of my feet. Enough dust and dirt had built up in my sock around the ball of my foot that it was as if I was running on sandpaper. I didn’t notice the issues until they were very painful, but I should have known better and changed them out before they became problematic. 

So begins Part Two of Rachael’s Vermont 100. The part where time came to a crawl. I swapped my shorts and socks at mile 76, but it was too late. I told my pacer that I didn’t remember the last time that I wanted to cry from physical pain, but I came pretty close a few times (which I am sure can partially be credited to the exhaustion). I went slowly and I was in a lot of pain, but aside from the moments where the pain became nearly unbearable, my spirits remained high. Nick was great company and saved me with some Vaseline that he had brought in a baggie. The Aquaphor served its purpose for a while, but after the skin was already broken, it stung pretty badly, where the Vaseline did not.
My pace had deteriorated quite a bit, so I didn’t worry so much about needing to take time if I felt it appropriate. We took a few stops to dump sand from my shoes, stopped once to eat some chews when I started feeling a tiny bit wonky. I was thrilled to have my mom waiting for me again at Bill’s AS at mile 88. I got a chuckle from quite a few of the crew folks waiting for their runners when I ran into the aid station in the dark around 3am and yelled, “Mommmmmmmy! I’m tired!” This quickly became my favorite aid station when I discovered that they had warm veggie broth with noodles! I enjoyed a good sit for about ten minutes and continued on with my shuffle.

Nick and I both started to have a bit of a mental drag, but fortunately it was right as the sky was beginning to brighten, which always grants a new source of energy. The chafe pain was still terrible, but I am pretty sure I could have run through it if the bottoms of my feet were not also in sorry shape. I stopped to empty my shoes, eventually stopped to pop one of the huge blisters that I could feel spreading between my toes and onto the top of my foot, and stopped a few times just to sit for a moment. Nick and I decided that once we made it to mile 95, the last crewed station, that we would just push on through to the end.

And push we did. Not a speedy push, but a push nonetheless. I couldn’t enjoy the downhills as I was wincing with every step, but I enjoyed getting closer to the end. Up and over a few more hills, and we found ourselves in the final stretch. There was a sign that let us know when we had a mile left, and from there, it was all cake. Bloody, chafed, painful cake. 

My team!
I had been dreaming for hours about getting to the end and giving my mom a big hug, and that was just what I did. It was a great finish line with more spectators and cheering squads than I normally see. I plopped myself down in a chair and immediately drank a tasty vegan protein shake. Randy was already at the finish line, and we decided that we would head back home instead of staying for the awards ceremony. I sat in the big tent with Nick as my mom and Randy packed up our tents, both of us in a bit of zombie mode. We parted ways and I headed up to my mom’s car, where I took a nice baby wipe bath (another painful endeavor) and changed into sweats for the ride home.

That is a DEEP blister.

Even though, as I said, the last 25 miles of the race were rather pitiful, I am still incredibly proud of the day that I had. My official finish time was 27:52:20. In comparison with most of my races, this was a great time for me. In comparison with how most of my day went, it could have been better, but gaining the awareness that I can dig deep for so long without running myself into the ground is invaluable, and I hope to be able to carry that with me. It’s easy to say “well, if I hadn’t chafed, I could have done better,” but figuring that shit out is part of being a successful ultrarunner, so that serves as no excuse for my slow down. I hope to be able to mind those little things a bit better on my next go-around. I did do a lot of things very well. My nutrition, my hydration, my energy- those things I managed better than I have in any other race. I also kept a positive attitude the entire time- I didn't swear off hundreds to myself at any point! So, I am happy with all of those things.

It's important to have good recovery buddies for stretching!
I still have some stiffness, and the bottoms of my feet still suck when I am walking, but it is just because of the new skin that was under my blisters. (I cut back the dead skin on top a little at a time because I worry about infection in places that I am not able to keep clean.) The chafing healed very quickly, which I actually credit to the Aquaphor. Muscles are achey in unusual places due to the fact that I was walking funny to avoid the blisters, but that has been getting better each day as well with lots of stretching and rolling. Other than my blisters from the grit in my shoes, my feet were super happy all race in my Torins. In fact, they may be my new favorite shoe. I will just make sure never to neglect my gaiters again. 

We’re always learning out there on the trail, and with 100s, the learning curve is steep. You can go out and run a 5k every weekend if you want, and you will learn quickly where your weak points are, where you slow down, and where you have extra juice. Hundred milers only come around a few times a year, so it’s good to take a good inventory when you are done to come out swingin’ the next time.