Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015 Vermont 100: Because it's Part of the Slam

I ran the Vermont 100 back in 2012, where I finished, grabbed my buckle, and promptly proclaimed that I would never run THAT stupid race again. EVER.

Then, along came the Grand Slam. I agonized over my decision to run the Slam this year. Not because of the difficulty and the timing of the 4 races involved, but because the Grand Slam includes the Vermont 100. Seriously…I would rather light my hair on fire and put it out with a hammer, than run Vermont again.

But, after much coaxing from close friends, I was convinced that I would have a LOT more fun at Vermont if I just gave it another chance. After all…I was new to ultra running back in 2012, so a lot has changed. They promised I would have a great time.

They're. All. Liars. 

I'n not saying that Vermont is a "bad" race, it's just not MY kind of race. I even heard a rumor once that somebody actually enjoyed running the Vermont 100. It's an unconfirmed story, however, and it was told to me by a pretty shifty individual, but I suppose there could be some truth to it. Same dude also told me he saw Bigfoot an the VT100 course, so you can do what you want with all that.

BTW…if you want a more detailed race report than what I'm about to spew, you can read all about my first VT100, HERE.

At 4:00 AM, we headed out onto the "trail". The race starts on a rolling gravel road and aside from a few sections of paved road and jeep road, pretty much stays exactly the same for the entire 100 miles. There's very little variation, and it's a bit like having your iPod stuck on repeat while listening to a Justin Bieber song. After a while, you're like, "FINE! I get it! Next please!".

Typical Trail Section

We were fortunate that we had some cloud cover, because this race is notorious for being very hot, and ridiculously humid. So, all I had to deal with was the humidity, which sucked slightly less than also dealing with the heat.

My greatest weakness as a runner is dealing with heat and humidity, as evidenced at Western States 3 weeks prior. This is entirely my fault, because I choose to run at 4:00 AM every day and rarely find myself training in the hottest part of the day. That lack of heat training ultimately led to a nasty case of Rhabdomyolysis at Western States, which then led to a very slow and painful recovery before Vermont. All good stuff!

Did I mention the horses? Yeah…the 100 mile horse race runs concurrently, which provides us with the rare opportunity to wade through fresh mounds of horse shit, and hobble over recently destroyed trail. Where else can you get that?!?!

By the time I rolled into the Pretty House Aid Station at mile 21, I had pretty much decided that my original reluctance to run this race was well founded. But there's no way to get through the Slam without getting through the Vermont 100 first.

Coming into Pretty House

My legs were tired early on, and I knew it was the lingering damage from the Rhabdo and Western States. As much as I didn't want to be running this race, I knew I just had to deal with it and get it done so I could move on to the 3rd round of the Slam. That was my solitary focus for the entire race.

Somewhere around mile 30, I noticed some chaffing. This is another thing I'm never really well prepared for because I live and train in a dry climate. Like with most things that happen during a 100 mile race, I was trying to just ignore it, hoping it would get better.

Stage Road Aid Station

For a moment, I thought we were going to run an actual trail, but this is just a dirt road that led us to another gravel road at the top.

Vermont is a tricky race because it's actually very runnable, but the hills are relentless. Because I was just trying to get through this race, I chose to walk most of the hills, while running the downs and flats. It felt agonizingly slow, but it was the smart move.

Coming into Camp 10 Bear, Mile 47

By the time I got to mile 47, the chaffing had become a real issue. If things continued like this, I was going to have to let my hair grow out and change my name to Caitlyn. I took the time to apply some borrowed body glide. Sharing body glide between runners is either very disturbing, or very intimate, I'm not sure which. Either way, I was happy to have it.

PBR, grilled cheese and a slice of watermelon. This is pretty much exactly like any summer picnic.

 After Camp 10 Bear, I have a 22 mile loop that'll bring me right back to the same aid station, where I can pick up my pacer for the final push to the finish. I was looking forward to those last 30 miles, but I knew the next 22 were going to pretty much suck.

The cloud cover was vanishing and the sun was beating down on me. I couldn't wait for nightfall, and hopefully a big drop in temperature and humidity.

I saw my crew again at the Margarita Aid Station at Mile 58. I was burning up, so I plopped to the ground in a patch a shade while I sipped cold water and got an update on the trail ahead. As it turns out, it was more of the same.

 Coming into Mile 58

This photo clearly captures my enthusiasm and I shot out of the aid station to tackle another section of rolling gravel road!

Heading back toward Camp 10 Bear was a slugfest. The weather conditions were causing me to suffer, my chaffing really sucked and my mood continued to sour with every step. I tried making conversation with other runners as I came up on them, but everybody seemed to be in the same awful mood.

Nobody at this aid station knew how to fill a hydration pack, but their cheerleading skills were some of the best I've seen during a 100 miler.

As I was trudging down the trail, heading to Camp 10 Bear, I hit a low point in the race. I was mentally vacant and my body just wasn't cooperating. This is when the skies suddenly opened up and unleashed the a torrential downpour that far exceeds anything I have ever seen during a race. In a matter of a few seconds, I was soaked, causing the chaffing to rear it's torturous head, and the roads were submerged in rushing water.

This broke what was left of my spirit. I just stood in the middle of the road and laughed. I wasn't laughing because it was funny, I was laughing because there was nothing else left to do.

By the time I reached Camp 10 Bear, the rain had slowed to intermittent showers. I toweled off, borrowed some more body glide and took a few minutes to pull myself together.

This is also the point where I can pick up my pacer. I normally prefer to go it alone in these races, but I knew Vermont was going to be mentally tough, so I recruited a trusted friend to take me the last 30 miles. Jason Howland had paced me before, so he knew the drill and required no break in period, so this was a good match. Jason and I rolled out of the aid station, headed toward the finish.

The sun finally set, and we were running under the glow of our headlamps in quiet. I wasn't in a chit chat mood and Jason knew it.

Even though the sun had faded, it still oppressively warm and the humidity wasn't budging. If anything, it seemed worse. Even Jason commented on the conditions and he lives in a humid part of the country. It didn't appear that things were going to improve at all.

During these later miles, the course frequently leaves the gravel roads in favor of dirt roads and ATV trails that meander through the woods. In normal conditions, this would have been a welcomed distraction, but the rain and horses had pretty well destroyed the path in front of us. We slogged through miles of greasy, mucky mess.

Exhaustion began to take hold around mile 83. I don't normally get drowsy during these races, but something wasn't right and my mind was trying to shut my body down.

The first sign of exhaustion is a steady stream of hallucinations. I've experienced them enough to recognize it when it happens, but it's still hard not to react to the things I "see". I kept my mouth shut during this time, mostly because I didn't want my pacer to think I had totally lost my mind.

As my body gave into the exhaustion, I was having trouble staying awake. After nearly passing out on the trail a few times, I announced to Jason that it was time for a 5 minute power nap. I walked to the side of the road, curled up in a ball, and fell asleep instantly. I'm sure Jason would have let me sleep for hours, but I woke up after the second person came by and checked on me. They just wouldn't let me sleep.

By the way, I've heard of people sleeping on the side of the trail, and I've even seen it several times, but this was the first time I had ever slept in the middle of a race. I rather enjoyed it!

The next several miles were much the same. Fighting mud, hilly gravel roads, and eventually, exhaustion began to creep back into my body.

By now, a sub 24 hour finish was a distant memory, so I was in no hurry. I did whatever needed to be done to make this as easy as possible on myself.

We met Jo at Bills Aid Station at mile 88 and I tried to get some more calories in my belly. I had been pretty nauseous for the last 20 miles, so eating had tapered off to an alarming level.

Rather than eat, I curled up on a blanket and fell asleep again.

I could get used to this sleeping thing...

After a quick nap, we headed out. Jason and I were picking off runners at a steady rate for the rest of the race. These were people who probably needed a nap.

At mile 97, the nausea finally came to a head and I began to vomit violently in the middle of the road. I won't lie, I was a bit surprised by the volume of material that I managed to hurl onto the ground. I didn't quite expect all that. After three good sessions of puking, I put it behind me and headed to the finish.

Barely Squeaking in Under 26 Hours

I didn't need to stop and talk to anybody. I didn't need to shake hands and share stories. I needed another nap. I walked directly to the rental car, hopped into the back seat and fell asleep as soon as I got prone. How I was able to sleep over the powerful stench of my body remains a mystery, but it happened.

Thankfully, I've made my way through the first two stages of the Grand Slam and am headed to Leadville in a few weeks to get my 5th consecutive finish there. And I couldn't be happier about it!

Sincere thanks to Hammer Nutrition, Topo Athletic, Gear:30 and my great crew for playing the role you do in all my races. There's not a chance I could do it without all the great support.

Topo Magnifly road shoes that I wore in Vermont. Awesome shoe! Available in August, so look for them. They're actually a pretty shoe once you wash the horse shit off. 

See y'all in Leadville!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

2015 Western States 100: My Back of the Pack Experience

In all the years that I lost myself in dramatic fantasies about finally running the Western States Endurance Run, I never fathomed it would turn out the way it did.

I imagined flying down the trail with a broad smile spread across my face as I sailed through the shaded woods, bouncing over ridgelines and leaping across mountain streams. I imagined an audience of forest creatures, in awe of my athletic prowess, stuck in their tracks as I whisked past them on my way to Auburn.

When it was finally my time, those fantasies hurtled toward reality and collided in a mass of destruction that I simply cannot reconcile yet.

But...more on that later.

In addition to Western States, I was also lining up for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. This is a four race series, beginning with Western States, then moving on to the Vermont 100, Leadville 100 and culminating with the Wasatch Front 100. All of this spanning over about 10 weeks.

Always eager to up the ante, I accepted the challenge of running the Royal Grand Slam. This is a new event, sanctioned by the International Beer Mile Association, and it ties a beer mile to each of the Grand Slam events. Truly EPIC!

So first things, first. The Western States Beer Mile!

Badass Beer Milers

The Western States Beer Mile is a downhill race that starts 1 mile up the WSER course and finishes at the WSER start line. You think running downhill, at altitude, while drinking four beers in a mile sounds easy? Not so much.

I was first off the line after slamming my first beer.

Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

Heading for beer #2
Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

Kind of Enjoying Beer #2
Photo credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

My 100 mile pacer, Travis McWhorter was also running the beer mile and he was applying some pressure. He's a beer mile rookie, and I could see he was going a bit fast for a guy that doesn't know what it's like to have to run at full speed with 4 beers sloshing around in his belly.

Travis Struggling with Beer #3
Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

I could see that Travis was having a TOUGH time. I was leading the race, but he was still a threat.

Me and Travis at Beer #4
Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

As I finished my last beer, I sprinted toward the finish, expecting to hear footsteps pounding the course behind me. Travis is a faster sprinter than I am and I didn't have a comfortable lead. I heard nothing.
Winning the Western States Beer Mile!!
Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

After finishing, I looked back up the hill to see how far back Travis was, and he was nowhere to be found. I waited, then began to worry that I had inadvertently killed my pacer. I was deeply worried, because at this late stage, it would be hard to find a new pacer.

Eventually, Travis and the others began to filter across the finish line, each one of them with a unique story about the horrors of the beer mile.

So far, the weekend was off to a very promising start!

Friday was packet pickup and the "MANDATORY" race briefing. The term "race briefing" was a bit misleading because they spent an hour talking, but didn't really say much about the race. We did however, get some last minute heat acclimation training, as the room they stuffed us in was about 140 degrees, had no airflow and smelled like armpits. So we had that going for us.

"Race Briefing"

I made a point of getting to bed early, giving myself extra time to toss and turn all night, before getting up at 3:00 AM to get ready for the race.

Me and Jo at the Start

Squaw Valley, Before the Start

When I lined up, I was calm and confident. I've run more than 30 races at this distance, so the nervousness of these events has long since faded, replaced by a sense of comfortable familiarity.

After a short countdown, we were on our way to Auburn!

The first few miles of the course are all uphill, and with the exception of a few very skilled mountain runners, it's a hike. The group of runners were eerily quiet as we made our way to the escarpment, where we would eventually drop over the backside of Squaw Valley.

Heading UP!

And UP!

It was beginning to warm up already, by the time we left the gravel road and hit a steep section of singletrack for the final push over the top.
Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

The scenery was amazing as we dropped onto some very runnable trail and made our way into the valley. Runners were loosening up and some chatter began to bounce around us as we ran along the shady side of the mountain. For the first time since we started, I was having a great time.

We hit our first aid station at Lyons Ridge at 10.5 miles, but none of us lingered. I tossed some ice in my pack and pushed on.

It was already getting hot out and there was no escaping the direct sunlight. The entire course is very exposed and if shade can be found, it marks a great time to slow your pace a bit to take some temporary reprieve from the sun.

There are trees covering the entire 100 mile course, but they've taken a useless position, as most that weren't cut down have burned down or been blown down. The lucky few that remain, seem to lack interest in picking up the slack from their fallen brethren.

Cooling off Every Chance We Got

By the time I reached the Duncan aid station at mile 24, I was in rough shape and I still had 6 miles to go before I saw my crew.

I suffer better than (more than) most people in the heat. It's my greatest weakness and it was now fully exposed. I spent plenty of time at Duncan to refuel and hydrate before heading onto Robinson Flat, where I would meet my crew and set things straight. Hopefully.

I continued to deteriorate on my way to Robinson Flat, aided by a long climb into the aid station. By the time I met Jo, I was ready to DNF. The heat had taken a bite out of me it seemed unlikely that I would make it all day like this.

Coming to Robinson Flat

Dropping from the race had been on my mind since the 20 mile mark. I was having trouble eating already and my reduced level of nutrition was killing me. Figuratively for now.

Unlike a lot of races, I had a lot of reasons to grind this out. I wasn't sure if I would ever have another chance to run this course and claim my buckle. I also wanted to finish the Grand Slam and check that off my list. I also knew that this race would haunt me forever if I didn't give 100% of myself, and it was too early to say that I had. So I put my head down and continued the grind.

Things took another tragic turn at the Last Chance aid station. Aptly named because it's your last chance to drop before entering the Canyons.

I asked the kid at the aid station to make sure I had ice in my bladder. I never mentioned water, so I didn't get any. I was unaware of this until I was halfway down the descent into the first canyon, and I wasn't about to climb back out at that point. I continued the grind.

I could only get water from my bladder as fast as the ice would melt, which wasn't nearly fast enough. I would take a short suck on the tube, only to tease my tongue with the sweetness of ice cold water. Then it was dry until a few more drops would melt. I tried to be patient in hopes of getting an entire mouthful of cold water, but it was nearly impossible in the intense heat of the canyons.

On the climb up Devils Thumb, I finally collapsed on the side of the trail, opened the bladder on my hydration pack and started eating handfuls of ice. I was burning up, dehydrated and beginning to worry about my health.

Finally, I made it to the aid station at El Dorado Creek at mile 53 and parked myself in a chair. I stayed for 15 minutes while I sucked down ice water and tried to eat salty food. The food wouldn't go down, but the water did.

By now, I was WAY behind schedule and I knew there was no chance to salvage a sub 24 hour finish. Dejected, I pulled myself up and headed up the canyon toward Michigan Bluff. I had a short distance, but another daunting climb between me and my crew. I continued to grind it out...

I had planned to pick up my pacer at mile 62, but the race rules allowed me to have a pacer at mile 55, assuming it was 8:00 PM or later. By the time I got to Michigan Bluff, it was nearly that late, so I asked my pacer to suit up while I took care of a few things.

Pacers Are Always Ready to GO!

Again, I tried to eat and drink as much as possible, but it just wasn't working. I did the best I could and we headed out for the last 45 miles. It seemed like such a short distance at the time...

Having Travis with me did make me feel a bit better. Now I at least had somebody to keep me company so I didn't keep drifting off into bad places. And to be honest, it helps to have somebody around just to help keep my temper in check. I'm less likely to make an ass out of myself in front of people I know.

Foresthill was the next aid station and we would be seeing Jo there. It was only 7 miles away, so it was a treat to have crew access points so close together. My spirits lifted for a moment…but faded pretty quick. I was in a bad place.

Foresthill aid station was a bit of a treat because the crew activity and number of volunteers were overwhelming. That aid station was sensory overload and it came at a time when I needed that kind of distraction. I tried to eat, but nothing was going down. Gels weren't happening, solids were impossible, and nothing sounded good. I took a small cup of Coke and a little swallow of broth, and we headed into the night. 38 miles to go.

By now, I knew I would finish, but I knew it would be ugly.

I set my sights on the river crossing at Rucky Chucky, 16 miles away, where we would see Jo again, and the iconic WSER river crossing. I always dreamed about doing it during the day, but that ship had sailed. Head down, we headed down the trail.

Travis was encouraging and patient as I picked my way up and down the trail, slowing on the ascents and the descents, alike. Because I couldn't eat, I had no energy and my body wasn't keeping up with the pace in my mind. We chatted at length, then had long spans of total silence. Just the way I like it. Let the pacer keep me moving, but I'll dictate that pace of conversation.

We made it to the river crossing at mile 78 and had a short pitstop, filling bottles and bladders before heading across the river. The freezing water was almost unbearable at first, but it quickly helped to soothe the muscles in my legs. I wanted to linger but I knew I couldn't spare the time. We exited the river and started the two mile climb out of the valley.

For a downhill course, there's way too much climbing.

Somewhere around mile 85, the sun came up, headlamps were switched off, and it was a new day. I've only seen the sunrise beat me to the finish line a couple of times and it's always been when I was in physical trouble. The sunrise energizes some runners, but it sends me into a depression because I knew I should have been done by now and we still have a long way to go. There's nothing energizing about that reality.

We saw Jo for a final time at the Hwy 49 aid station at 93.5. I swapped the burden of my pack for a couple of handheld bottles, bitched about my situation and aimed my feet toward Auburn, less than 7 miles away.

We crossed No Hands Bridge at mile 96.8 and I thought we were home free! While we only had a few miles to go, they were almost entirely uphill. Every turn exposed another hill and every mile felt like 5. I was SO close to the finish but felt like I would never get there. Serious thoughts of dropping returned at mile 98, but they were quickly shaken away. There's just no good way to tell that story without looking like an idiot.

We broke out onto the pavement that leads to the track and the finish line, and I knew we had made it. We were only moments away!!! Then I saw "1 Mile To Go" painted on the road and I nearly lost my mind!! I turned to Travis and shouted, "Christ!!! Really?!?! Another damn mile?!?! OH!!! Good thing it's ALL UPHILL!!".

I sheepishly passed all the cheering spectators, almost in an apologetic way, as if I wanted to say I was sorry for such a terrible performance. I was sad, angry and desperate to finish.

We finally found the entrance to the track and made our way to the finish line.


By far, my slowest finish at the 100 mile distance, and certainly my worst performance. But I finished, and I was able to take some level of comfort in that. Especially knowing that so many weren't able to make their way to the track in Auburn.

HUGE Weight Loss

Physically and mentally, I know I've never been in a worse place during an ultra. Even though I've dropped from a few, this was still significantly more difficult to cope with. The finish did provide some reason to be happy, but it was difficult to see in that moment.

Even now, a few days after the race, it's difficult for me to process exactly how I feel about my experience. I know I'm happy to have finished, but that's all I know for sure. I hope I'm fortunate enough to take another crack at Western States someday, but if I'm not, I won't miss it.

I need to thank Jo for always taking my shit when I'm in a bad spot, and still being willing to give me 100% of herself in my selfish pursuits. It takes a rare woman to deal with men like us. I also want to thank Travis for all his help getting me to Auburn. Without him, I still may be wandering through the California high country right now. And as always, I thank all my amazing sponsors for their relentless support.

Now…on to Vermont to kick ass in the beer mile!