Trail Monster Running

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Friday, November 16, 2012

2012 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run

This year's Vermont 100 was a step into a new realm of running in a 100 mile race for me. For the first time ever I wasn't questioning whether or not I'd make it to the finish line, the question was how fast could I get there. Fast is a relative term or course, I finished more than 6 hours after the winner of the race, but this was my first 100 where within the 15+ hour time range between first and last finishers I finished significantly closer to the first.

Of course, confidence in my ability to get to the finish line didn't stop me from being afraid of how much pain I might encounter along the way.

At the beginning of the year I had no specific plans to run a 100. Without a real job and a lot of uncertainty about what lie ahead for me I was reluctant to commit to any event that would require vast amounts of training and potentially a lot of expense and travel. Actually, I had plenty of time for the training, it was the expense part I was worried about. In early December 2011 I put my name in the lotteries for Western States and Massanutten, two events that would require significant travel expenses but I figured it was worth a shot. In the end my money was safe because I didn’t get into either event. After a bit of contemplation I decided I’d sign up for the VT100, at least it was close to home and logistically easy so I knew I could do it on the cheap. By the time I was ready to commit I found that the race had already filled to capacity. 0 for 3, and it began to look like the 100 Mile Wilderness might be my best option for a 100 this year.

In the first half of the year my training was focused on the Peak 50 miler in May, but beyond that I still hadn’t figured out what the next goal would be. Following the Peak race I talked with Jeremy about what we wanted to do next, and since that event had felt like a glorified Fat Ass 100 for him he was looking to do a well organized 100 miler, one where the race organizers knew what they were doing and knew how to look after the runners. He had proven that he could suffer through the worst of conditions for 30+ hours, now he wanted to see what he could do in a race. The VT 100 was the obvious choice but the race had been filled to capacity for the past 6 months. Ah ha! Thanks to a connection with one of the event sponsors I realized I might have an opportunity to get a place for Jeremy in the race, and since I was asking for one place why not go all out and see if I could get two of those entries that were reserved for sponsors. It was a tense two weeks while we waiting for the magic to happen, but eventually we got confirmation that we could both get into the race. What was going to make this really exciting was that we’d be joining Zak, Joe and George who were also running, and over the following weeks we assembled a large contingent of TMR members, friends and family as our various support crews so we had a great big Maine posse headed to VT.

After three weeks of recovery from the Peak 50 miler I found myself training again for another trip to Vermont. This time an even bigger one, but I was comforted by the fact that I had completed this race before, and with the intensity of my training leading up to the Peak 50 I knew I had a great base to work with. In the 5 week stretch that would form the bulk of my 100 miler training I managed to get in 4 runs between 28 and 31 miles, averaged a little more than 50 miles per week and had my highest weekly mileage at about 75. This is a little lower than I had planned, but I think it’s important to train by what feels right when I’m in between big ultras and trying to find the balance between recovery and training. I was hitting all my long run targets but I didn’t feel like I was training or getting in quality workouts in between, just a lot of easy recovery runs. I made the mistake last year of jumping into training too quickly after the Virgil Crest 100 and the result was that I had a pretty poor race at the Stone Cat 50. I was hoping to avoid that this year by paying closer attention to what my body was trying to tell me, and not pushing it when I didn’t feel up for it. By the time the taper came around I was so ready to stop training. My weekly mileage really dropped off sharply but that’s what I felt like I had to do to rest and be ready to run hard for 100 miles.

The 8 mile week in May was the week of the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival when I had no time/energy to run.

Like all big races I do I had three goals going in:
    Ambitious: Break 22 hours
    Safe: Beat time from 4 years ago (22:54)
    Cover my ass: Break 24 hours

I actually felt like my ambitious goal was fairly realistic based on the way my training had been going, not just the few weeks leading up but in the entire 6 months prior. I also felt really good about my support crew. When I first mentioned to my parents that I would be returning to the VT 100 they immediately offered to help before I had the chance to ask. There was some feigned excitement on their part, but eventually it turned to real excitement as race weekend approached. And of course I had Emma there to not only crew for me all day but also to pace me through the last 30 miles. While they had all done an incredible job helping me get through my first 100 fours years ago we’ve all learned a lot since then and I felt like I had everything in place to allow me to run hard, efficient and reach my goal. I will forever be grateful for everything they have done to help me get there.

Friday afternoon Emma and I arrived at Silver Hill Meadow, checked in and set up our camp in the parking lot. We planned to sleep in our Honda Element and set up a tent next to it for all our gear. Mom and Dad planned to arrive on Saturday morning and meet me at the first handler aid station. We met the rest of the TMR crew for the pre-race meeting, ate dinner and then went for a walk to see the last mile or so of the race course. It was a beautiful night, very relaxing and the perfect way to prepare for the next day's adventure.

We were up at 3:00 AM, coffee on the stove, a quick breakfast and we made our way to the race start in the darkness. It was surprisingly cool for a late July day, great running weather. Lots of nervous energy and everyone just wanted to get on with it.

Apparently Jeremy was stoned and Zak had morning wood

Start to Pretty House: 22.5 miles, 3:50
2 minute stop

Prior to the race Jeremy, Zak and I had all talked about how great it is to run with each other, but how important it also was to each do our own thing. Come race day though I really wanted some company for the early miles, and to see how long it made sense to stick with Jeremy and Zak. I think we had a better chance of keeping the pace under control if we looked out for each other. Tyler was also with the three of us early on, mostly because he had packed his only headlamp in his drop bag which went to mile 70 and he needed to poach someone else's light.

Once the sun came up our group stretched out a bit. I stopped for a bio-break around 10 miles in, Zak and Tyler moved ahead but Jeremy slowed until I eventually caught back up to him. Somewhere in this part of the course there was a re-route due to a washed out bridge, this added a few more road miles into the early part of the course and allowed for an overall quicker pace than we had expected. The cool, overcast weather also made for comfortable running conditions. A great way to start a long day. At around 12-13 miles into the race the detour had us passing through Woodstock village where our crews were there waiting. It was great to see them, especially since the first handler aid station didn't come until 22.5 miles into the race.

Skipping through Woodstock
After leaving Woodstock Jeremy and I ran for a while with Cynthia from Kentucky and Mike (?) who had overslept and missed the start by 15-20 minutes but had done a good job catching up to us and soon moved ahead. Tyler, not being interested in conversation, took off and it was along here that I started to notice Zak being pretty quiet and soon Jeremy and I started to pull away a bit, but never very far. Even after the sun had come up it remained a pleasant temperature. The miles ticked by easily.

Jeremy and I rolled into Pretty House with Zak right behind. We were ahead of schedule, or at least I was, on track for a 20:30 finish. The weather was better than anticipated and with a few extra road miles in this first stretch it wasn’t surprising that we were on the fast side. My parents had not arrived yet but Emma did a great job getting me in and out in about two minutes. I downed an Ensure, dropped off my headlamp, picked up my sunglasses and switched to a new handheld bottle.

Pretty House to Stage Rd: 8 miles, 1:29        (30.5, 5:19 total)
4 minute stop  

A few days before the race I started to completely rethink my hydration strategy. For pretty much every ultra distance run I've ever done before I've taken a hydration pack, and kept the handheld bottles for shorter runs. But since Vermont has more than 20 aid stations and it wasn't supposed to be too hot I decided I'd be OK with one handheld for the early and later miles, and two during the middle of the day. To supplement the bottles I bought a small waist pack from EMS a few days before the race and took it out for a 5 mile run to make sure it felt OK. This would hold my gels, Honey Stinger wafers and trail mix. This was part of the plan to be fast, light and efficient. The hydration pack is heavy, and very fussy for refilling. Pretty risky to go into a 100 miler with an untested fueling plan, but I felt like it should work out. I also made sure that Emma had access to my Nathan pack during the race in case I decided that I needed to revert to that mid-race.

Jeremy and I left Pretty House together, he with what appeared to be an entire meatloaf wrapped in a tortilla. I don't know what it actually contained but it was huge and it took him at least a mile to get it down. I began to doubt my own plans for eating but I certainly didn’t feel like I needed any more than I was taking in at this point so I wasn’t too worried. With the trail mix, gels and Ensure I probably had about 600 calories in the first 5 hours, on top of my breakfast. In hindsight that doesn't sound like a enough. Zak was a little ways behind us but we were confident that he'd catch up soon enough.

Near the top of Sound of Music Hill (28 miles?) we met Po’Dog from Arkansas, we enjoyed the view from the top with him and a woman but we pulled away on the downhill that followed. I was impressed with Jeremy’s friendly, chatty demeanor with other runners, not because he shouldn’t have been friendly, but it was clear from listening to him talk that he was relaxed and having fun. Our pace required a little more mental focus on my part and this is when I was reminded that Jeremy is a faster runner than me, and I may not be able to keep up with him for much longer.

As we cruised down the hill towards the Stage Rd aid station I told Jeremy that I needed to take a few extra minutes at this stop to be sure that I was prepared for the long stretch ahead. It would be 17 miles after this stop until we'd see our crews again, and now that the sun was out I knew it was going to start getting hot. My parents were there when I arrived and they set about taking care of me as quickly as they could. I grabbed a new bottle and picked up a second one, change of shirt, something to eat, a bandana full of ice cubes for my neck, quick hugs and kisses and I was ready to go. I looked for the optional medical check-in but it wasn’t there this year. I really wanted to do a better job of keeping on top of my hydration this time around and I thought that weighing in early would help. Oh well, I just needed to keep on drinking. On the way out I ran into Chip Tilden taking photos, I stopped to say hello and give him a hug, then gave a shout back to the GAC crew who was there cheering. It's amazing what an incredible boost the aid stations can be when they are filled with your family and firends. I took off down the road at an easy jog while Jeremy worked to catch up. Unfortunately Zak hadn't made it in during the four minutes we were stopped there, I hoped he wasn't far behind.

Stage Rd to Camp 10 Bear: 17.1 miles, 3:20        (47.6, 8:39 total)
9 minute stop

The huge climb out of Stage Rd actually seemed pretty manageable, but it was on the open road stretches that differences between Jeremy and me started to become evident. Out in the sun Jeremy would pick up the pace and pull ahead, then ease off in the shade. While he was running some kind of strategy I was just chugging along, trying to be consistent. We never got too far apart and I'd always catch back up to him, but I could tell he had a little more spring in his step than me. In the last few miles leading into C10B we picked up a couple first time 100 milers and had a good chat with them while picking up the pace on the long downhill to the aid station. It felt good to open things up a little bit and after more than three hours since the last crew stop we were all looking forward to a refreshing break. My feet were starting to feel a bit cooked from the hot dirt road miles but I wasn't too concerned.

I was definitely starting to feel the day warming up, but overall I felt pretty good, and a lot better than I had at this point when I ran the race 4 years ago. When I arrived my crew was there to take my bottle and waist pack, then I hopped on the scale for my first weigh-in of the day. 159 pounds, down 4 pounds from yesterday. This had me a bit puzzled, I had been drinking a LOT, although not eating much, I hadn’t been peeing and I hadn’t been sweating for that long so I wasn’t sure where that four pounds had gone. I suspected that the 163 from the day before was a bit high so I wasn’t worried. The volunteers gave me a few words of warning and I went off to check in with my crew.

Emma reminded me that I needed to be eating more. One thing I hadn't anticipated about my fueling strategy is that with a handheld bottle in each hand it's a lot of work to try to get food in your mouth, and as a result I ended up not eating enough (good reason not to try something new in a 100 mile race!) I drank another Ensure here, had something to eat, received an application of muscle rub, a new bandana of ice, and two fresh bottles.

Jeremy and I walking out of C10B, the hill felt a lot bigger than it looks here

Camp 10 Bear to Tracer Brook: 9.8 miles, 2:15    (57.4, 10:54 total)
6 minute stop

I was surprised to find that after all the time I took at the aid station I had to wait a minute for Jeremy to get ready to go. We took off feeling refreshed, this was our longest break of the day so far but it needed to be done. It soon became clear, however, that Jeremy was feeling a bit better than me. I was doing my best to keep up with him but I was really feeling the heat on the climbs. My energy level was pretty low on the steeper climbs, probably a result of not eating enough and I had to let myself slow down. At one point I stepped off the trail to let a few horses pass, which took forever and I was secretly happy for the opportunity to stand in the shade on the side of the hill and relax while they went by. Jeremy was a little ways ahead at this point and he was able to stay ahead of the horses on the hill. This was the last I'd see of Jeremy. We covered the better part of 50 miles together, but I couldn't match his ability to shovel in the food and my energy level was suffering as a result. I hoped I'd see him again but knew it was unlikely.

It's funny how these things happen, you run with a good friend for 10 hours and then, without a word, part ways. There are certainly no hard feelings about the situation. I didn't want to admit that I couldn't keep up and I'm sure he didn't want to suggest that he was going to drop me for good, so we just drifted apart. I feel lucky to have been able to share that time with him on the course. For the first time during the race I was running alone and my thoughts turned to Zak. I wondered how he was doing and if he'd soon catch up to me. Knowing how well he had trained and how consistently he runs I figured it was just a matter of time until he caught up, and then I'd have someone else to try to keep up with.

Mom and Dad waiting for my arrival at Tracer Brook
Coming into Tracer Brook my feet were feeling pretty beat up, especially my little toes which were developing hot spots. I had brought another pair of shoes to change into but didn't want to make the change too soon, I figured I could go another 5 miles to the next handler aid station. Besides, I wanted to make the shoe change as quick as possible and I wanted my crew to be ready for it. I did sit for a minute here to give my feet a rest and to get some food in me. I always struggle getting enough food in when it's really hot, and now that it was about 3 in the afternoon the temperature had climbed into the 80's.

Mom and Dad sending me off

Tracer Brook to Margaritaville: 5.1 miles, 1:09        (62.5, 12:03 total)
10 minute stop

Even though I had dropped back from Jeremy and my feet were beginning to protest I felt pretty good about where I was at. I was definitely doing better than at this point four years ago and I was optimistic about my finishing time. The next 5 miles I was on my own, although I passed several other runners I never spent any time running with anyone. The hills were pretty fierce but I was able to move well despite the pain in my feet, and the rest of my body was holding up.

Leaving Tracer Brook

Over the next few miles I could tell that blisters were forming on my little toes. Amazing how such a small part of the body can be responsible for producing so much pain. I knew I was going to have to take care of this at the next aid station and hoped that a change of shoes would help. When I arrived at Margaritaville I sat down immediately and Emma went to work getting my shoes and socks off. There were indeed blisters on both of my little toes so she attacked with a needle. Alison watched on with giddy excitement. To distract me from the pain my dad produced a jar of pickles. At that moment the jar of pickles was the greatest thing I had ever seen. I grabbed the jar and took a big swig of the juice, then munched down 3 or 4 pickles. Perfect. Dave and Mindy were also there and once again I felt a huge boost from the support of the team.

Ryan was there to lend a hand which made me think that Zak must be close behind. This is when I learned that Zak had dropped from the race back at Lincoln Covered Bridge. I didn't really know what to do with this information at first, it didn't seem real. He should have been right there with me, or off ahead with Jeremy. This was so unfair.

There wasn't time to get into the details of what had happened. Emma got me into a fresh pair of socks and I switched into my Saucony Kinvaras. Mom and Dad refilled my bottles, got me something to eat, a fresh bandana with ice and sent me on my way. Ryan walked out of the aid station with me as I hobbled along, still trying to make sense of what happened to Zak.

Margaritaville to Camp 10 Bear: 8.0 miles, 1:40    (70.5, 13:43 total)
5 minute stop

It seemed at first like a mistake to change my shoes, my feet actually felt worse than before. Eventually they calmed down and I was able to run without wincing. It took me a while to refocus on my race, especially since I was alone and there were very few distractions. Knowing that the next time I'd see my crew I would be picking up Emma to pace me to the end helped get me back on track. I ate and drank as much as I could in preparation for the next weigh-in, not to mention the 30+ miles that I still had to go.

When I came out on the nicer dirt road section and knew I was getting closer to C10B and I picked up the pace. I recognized a runner ahead as Nate Sanel, he was walking and it surely wasn't right that I should be catching up to him. He didn’t look tired and he seemed in OK spirits but his foot/ankle was in a lot of pain and he knew that he had to stop when he got to C10B. For a race that has a reputation as being one of the easier 100's it was definitely sobering to see the course and the distance get the best of another strong runner. This reminded me not to take anything for granted. The finish is never guaranteed until it is in sight.

Just before making the last turn onto the stretch of road that leads to C10B I saw Ann at the corner, she gave me a quick update on the rest of the team out on the course. Ryan came up the road to meet me before the aid station and to take my bottle and pack so I could go straight to the scale: 160. +1 pound from 20 miles earlier. This had me pretty psyched, I punched the air, shouted and hopped off the scale. I had managed to avoid losing any weight during the hottest part of the day, a good sign that my eating and drinking was finally dialed in. I wanted to get through here as quick as possible and my crew once again had everything ready for a quick transition.

I was so happy to start running with Emma and I really felt like the race was on at this point, not that I was racing anyone other than myself on the course, but all of a sudden it really started to seem like the end was within reach. I had made it through the hot and lonely miles, I now had cooler conditions and Emma’s company to help get me through the rest of the race. Mike Silverman, RD for the VT50 and leader of the C10B aid station, gave us a nice shout out over the microphone as we headed out down the road together.

Camp 10 Bear to Spirit of '76: 6.9 miles, 1:44        (77.4, 15:27 total)
10 minute stop

The long and technical climb out of the aid station, which is probably the most difficult climb of the race, really didn't seem too bad now that I had Emma out in front of me. There was plenty of walking, but my energy level was back on high and I was moving well. After we crested the first major hill we saw Tyler and his pacer walking up ahead. I was able to get back into a run and it didn't take long to catch up and move past. This is one of the spots where the official race photographer always hangs out, and fours years ago we got a very nice shot of the two of us walking together. This year he got us running. And smiling. It was moments like this that fueled the fire inside. I felt strong.

Synchronized Ultra Running (photo by Spectrum Photography)

It was fun getting caught up with Emma on everything she had seen during the day and sharing all that I had experienced. It was good to hear about how Jeremy, Joe and George were doing, but very sad to get the details on Zak's catastrophic knee failure coming down the Sound of Music Hill.

The pain in my little toes was making a comeback, it felt like the blisters were refilling and we planned for another drainage session when we got to the Spirit of '76. I also planned to make this a longer stop since it would soon be getting dark and cooler. When we got there I sat down and removed my shoes and socks while Emma got out the first aid kit. She redrained my blisters while I ate noodles and Mom and Dad refilled my bottles. I took out my contacts, put my glasses on, changed my shirt, grabbed my headlamp and belly lamp and was ready to take on the darkness.

Spirit of 76 to Bill’s: 11.6 miles, 2:44            (89.0, 18:11 total)
7 minute stop

Unfortunately my legs started thinking that the 10 minute break was a sign that they were done for the day and they were not too happy about being put to work again. My quads in particular were complaining and it took a little while to build the momentum back up to a reasonable running pace. The downhills were actully the toughest at this point because of the increased impact on my feet and the extra work that my quads were doing to absord the shock.

Despite the pain Emma and I were having a lot of fun, especially since we were covering ground in daylight that previously we had only seen at night. There was a lot of uphill on dirt roads on the way to Bill's aid station and I found that I was able to run much of what I had walked four years ago. Shortly after leaving the unmanned aid station at Goodman's (81.4 miles) darkness set began to set in and by the time we reached the Cow Shed aid station (84 miles) we were relying on our headlamps. A few minutes out from that aid station, while I was sucking down a cup of noodles and Emma was re-assembling her hydration pack, a car pulled along beside us and told us we had missed a turn. Luckily we were only a few hundred yards past the turn, it could have been much worse.

The detour caused me to work a little harder to make up for the lost time and we ran most of the rest of the way to Bill's aid station. When we arrived at Bill's I was feeling pretty tired from pushing the pace on the hills and my feet were asking for a break. After weighing in at 161 (up one more pound from C10B!) I sat down to eat another cup of noodles while Mom, Dad and the rest of the TMR crew helped get me ready to go back out. Dave was out with Jeremy, but Alison and Mindy were still there, along with Ryan and everyone lended a hand or encouraging words. Much to my surprise Zak even made an appearance, with his knee wrapped up. I can only image how tough it must have been for him to deal with decision to drop from the race - not that he really had a choice - but then to come out in the middle of the night to show his support for the rest of us still running was huge.

Bill’s to Polly’s: 6.9 miles, 1:50                (95.9, 20:01 total)
4 minute stop

Leaving Bill's I was really struck by how amazing it is to have the support of so many people. I've often said that I think of 100 milers as a team sport, and I felt lucky to have such a great team of people willing to offer their time and energy. Running through an open field at 11:00 at night, 90+ miles into the race Emma pointed out the beauty of the stars in the sky. It really was a perfect night for running and I was grateful to be sharing these moments with Emma.

I had lost track of my expected finishing time quite a while ago. Dad had been giving me updates for most of the day based on my ultra-geeky finish time predictor spreadsheet, but in the last few stops he either didn't tell me or I wasn't paying attention. Either way, it didn't really matter any more. I knew I was well ahead of my time from fours ago but I had no idea by how much.

Polly’s to Finish: 4.1 miles, 1:03            (100, 21:04:36 total)

We arrived at Polly's moments before my parents did, they stopped the car and rushed out to help but I was feeling exhausted. I needed to sit for a minute and wasn't in a hurry to get going again, although I should have been. With just over 4 miles to go there really wasn't any need to sit and rest, and Emma tried to stop it from happening but I wouldn't listen. I soon learned that the worst part about sitting was the getting up and going again. My muscles were ready to be done with this and stopping only let them think that it was over. Worse than the time I spent stopped at the aid station was the amount of time it took me to get going again. I would have been much better off if I'd just kept going.

The 10 minutes after leaving Polly's was probably my lowest point of the whole race, but once I got back into a running rhythm the realization that I was almost done sank in and my spirits lifted again. With each of the last miles I ran faster and walked less. Before long I started to recognize the trail from our walk the night before, and then came the sign marking 1 mile to go. I ran hard, up hills that I had no right running at this stage of the race. I was making up for sitting down at the last aid station, if not in time then at least in attitude. I knew when we hit the last uphill, a straight shot on a dirt road that had me winded when we walked it the night before. There was no pain any more and I ran the entire way up. Into the woods on a gradual downhill and the illuminated milk jugs soon came into sight. Euphoria.

I shouted at the finish line to let it know I was coming. Joy, pain, gratitude, exhaustion, and elation were combined into an overwhelming outpouring of energy that moved me forward and kept me shouting until I crossed the line. Mom and Dad, Jeremy, Dave, Mindy, and Alison were all there. After embracing Emma I hugged each one of them and thanked them for being there. I was grateful for everyone being there throughout the day and staying up until I finished.

time: 21:04:36
place: 48/241 finishers/321 starters

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

2012 Stone Cat Marathon

Back in August when registration for Stone Cat opened up I think it was a little too soon after the VT100 for me to commit to another ultra. Everything was feeling fine but I couldn’t make up my mind so I let it pass. Of course, once I saw how many of my TMR team mates got in I was wishing that I could be there with them, and thinking maybe this could be the year that I could break 8 hours in the 50 miler. Coming off a fast-for-me Vermont 100 I would, in theory, be in good shape for a 50 mile PR as long as I was smart about recovery and training. As (bad) luck would have it, Christine realized in mid-August that injury would prevent her from being able to run the Stone Cat marathon this year so she offered up her number and I was the first to jump on it. The Stone Cat RDs were nice enough to let me take her place and even let me upgrade to the 50. It was on.

Meanwhile, I was being anything but smart about recovery and training. Two weeks after the VT100 I ran the Breaker, and even though I didn’t run particularly fast it’s still a pretty tough course with some abusive climbs and descents. The following week I went up to Camden for the 9 mile Ragged Mountain Run Around, another abusively hilly race.  After three weeks of “easy” running (with a few long runs thrown in) it was time for the Bruiser and I felt good about putting in a hard effort, however, my body had other plans. Two miles into the race I noticed a dull ache in my left achilles, which progressively developed into a sharp pain with every step.  Shortly after entering the O-Trail my left calf, which had been overworked while compensating for the achilles issue decided it had enough and just stopped working. I stumbled to save myself from falling and when my right foot slammed into the ground my right calf seized up and I collapsed. I lay there screaming while both calves cramped and spasmed and it looked as if there were snakes writhing under my skin. But I needed to earn that Bad Ass hoodie so I got up and finished the race. I could barely walk for the next three days and running was out of the question, until the following Saturday when Emma and I ran the Big Brad Ultra 50k Pounder course in about 6 ½ hours. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it up the first climb, but everything held together and I didn’t feel significantly worse after the run. I did feel bad enough that I only ran once during the following week, until the next weekend when I paced Dave for 42 miles at the Virgil Crest 100.
Over the next few weeks I pretty much said “Fuck You” to my achilles as I attempted to train for the Stone Cat 50. While my weekly mileage wasn’t where I wanted it to be I was still getting out for a lot of technical, hilly trail runs. Certainly not the best way to recover from an achilles injury and the pain continued. By mid-October I started to realize that the 50 miler was not a good idea, even if I could make it to the start line of the race I would be woefully under-trained for my time goal and there would be a high likelihood of either completely destroying my achilles or unearthing some new injury over the course of the race. Certainly not worth it for another 8+ hour finishing time. But the marathon...

Maybe I did have one good race left in me this year. The obvious goal would be to try to beat my time from 2008, the only other time I’d run the marathon at Stone Cat. But wait, if I’m too injured to run 50 miles what reason do I have to think I can PR at the marathon? Shouldn’t this be just about finishing and avoiding more serious injury, and maybe having fun in the process? Sorry body, I can’t let you do that.

Friday night Emma and I met Jim to watch “The Man with the Iron Fists.” The perfect way to prepare for the carnage of a trail marathon. It was my fear, however, that the race course would be the one wielding the sword and I would be the one laying in a bloody heap when the day was done.

Saturday morning I got up at 3AM, met Joe just before 4AM and then picked up Mindy a few minutes later and we made our way to Ipswich, MA. We arrived with plenty of time to register, place our drop bags and hang out with the team. Then wait for the 50 miler start and learn that the marathon would be starting 15 minutes after, instead of starting together as in years past. It was a perfect temperature for running, but a little too cold for standing around outside in shorts for 45 minutes.

The chill that had set in probably lead to a start that was a little too quick but I needed to do something to warm up. My achilles immediately protested at the the sub-8-minute pace of the first mile, but luckily it eased off once I was warmed up. I had positioned myself right behind Julia even though I knew this was a pretty risky move. Julia’s goal was a few minutes faster than my previous time (I had been coaching her to break the course record time of 3:42), and even though I know her training was much more consistent (and pain-free) than mine I couldn’t resist letting her pull me along. Despite everything I should have learned over the years I never can seem to start out at a relaxed pace when I think there’s even an outside chance that I might be able to pull off a decent race. I have just accepted that this is the way I run. Knowing that Julia probably was starting out at a fairly conservative pace I didn’t expect to stay with her for too long, but I was also very curious to see how she was going to do.

By 3 miles into the race the sun was up enough that I could turn off my headlamp, and since we had not yet caught up to the 50 milers we continued to move along at a decent pace.  When we reached the swamp which last year was flooded with nearly-knee-deep water I looked around and marveled at how dry it was this year, practically a dirt road... THUMP! I caught my toe on absolutely nothing, continued my leg turnover and forward momentum in a nearly horizontal position until my right knee slammed into the ground.  With all four limbs flailing I managed to get back on my feet without significantly slowing my pace. I glanced down at my knee, no exposed bone or gaping skin flaps so I just kept on going. But it did hurt.

Julia had started to pull away and Nathan passed me so I refocused on keeping the two of them in sight and tried to ignore the throbbing pain in my knee. Al Cat’s aid station was a welcome distraction with many familiar faces, and even though I didn’t take any aid it was a great early boost and I soon caught back up to Nathan and then Julia. David was out on the course as a spectator, finding all the shortcuts to stay ahead of Julia and we both benefited from his yips and hiyas.

For the rest of the first lap I was feeling good, the pain in my knee subsided and my achilles wasn’t a significant issue. The pace felt like I was working hard, definitely harder than I would have gone had I not been trying to tag along with Julia, but I became optimistic that I might be able to keep this up for a while. At around 11 miles we came to a fork in the trail where the obvious path went left, but the course marking went right. I was just about to call Julia back from making a wrong turn when I realized that she had gone the right way. I surely would have got it wrong. A few minutes later we saw a couple runners we recognized as having passed earlier coming at us from a trail on our left. I recognized the trail we were on from previous years so I knew we had it right, I told these two guys they had gone wrong and they immediately turned back. A few minutes later we came up on another small group of runners and we recognized several of them as people we had passed before, knowing they had inadvertently made the same short-cut, but at this point it seemed like too much work to try and explain to them what they had done wrong so we passed them again and cruised in to finish the first lap.

Mindy, Val, Ryan and Alison were there keeping the TMR camp running and they provided a much appreciated boost, but both Julia and I were focused on moving through as quickly as possible. We picked up fresh handheld bottles and headed back out without actually stopping. 1:49 for the first 13.7 miles. I was psyched for Julia knowing that she was on track for her goal, I just hoped I could hang on.

About a mile into the second lap we caught up to Joe who was walking up the first of the significant hills on the course. We passed Joe but I started to think that his 50 mile pace was much more appealing than the one I was trying to run. I was definitely starting to feel the effects of the distance and the pace as we made our way up and down a series of hills. By the time the course flattened back out my everything had started to ache. Achilles, knee, quads, core, arms (WFT?). I came to the realization that I couldn’t keep up with Julia any longer and by 17 miles she was gone. Along with a mental low that came from running alone I started to get worried that I was on the cusp of turning these aches and pains into a full-on injury if I wasn’t careful. I consciously decided to ease off the pace for a while in hopes that I could pick it back up again for the last few miles and have a strong finish.

The one and only aid station I stopped at was at 21 miles, my water was getting low, but the reality was that I needed an excuse to stop for a moment and get my shit together. I didn’t stop for long but it was long enough for me to have a bit of a reset and assess where I was at. Everything still hurt, and my calves felt like they were on the verge of cramping, so I kept the pace easy for the next two miles. I lost a few places along this stretch and was even passed by a few 50 milers whom I had passed earlier. With each one I wanted to hang on, but I knew it was too soon to make a move. By 23 miles I actually started to feel like myself again and I picked the pace up. Nothing heroic, but it started to feel like I was racing again instead of just trying to finish. With 1 mile to go I began to reel in a runner who had passed me a few miles prior. By the time we hit the field that leads to the finish line he knew I was on his tail and we both ran hard to the line. With the Trail Monster crew cheering I was closing the gap but ran out of course and he finished about 5 seconds ahead of me. But I really wasn’t concerned about the place, just grateful that I was able to get back into the race for a strong finish. 3:44 and a 2-minute PR on the course. 17th out of 216 starters/210 finishers.

Julia was there right after I crossed the line, having come in 5 minutes before me, breaking the old course record by 3 minutes! Unfortunately there were two other women who also broke the course record ahead of her this year, but she had a great race as I knew she would. I put some warm layers on and spent the rest of the day with the Trail Monster crew cheering on the rest of our runners. Danielle was next in, then Nathan, Kevin, George, Rick and Ann in the marathon and Jeremy and Joe in the 50. It was a great day for the team.