Wednesday, July 23, 2008


It was a long weekend, so this will probably be a long post. My son and I arrived at the race site on Friday morning about 10:30 or so. For the past few years, I've volunteered for the medical check-in on Friday, usually weighing people, because I don't know how to take blood pressures. It's a great way to meet people that I know by name but not in person. The runner I was planning to pace, Cecil, was there early after claiming he's arrive in mid-afternoon. He got checked in and then went for a short run, backwards on the course, to see the last stretch we'd be running later.

I saw so many friends on Friday that I can't even mention them all. I finally met Jamie Anderson in person, and I even got to run with him for a couple miles late Saturday night. My friend Joe Hayes was here for his second attempt at his 1000 mile buckle and he pulled it off this year, with a time around 27 hours. Jeff Washburn was hanging around and so many people were glad to see him at the race.

Late in the afternoon, we got swamped by registrants arriving just before the meeting. But quickly, they were done and it was time for the meeting.

Oh yeah, I wanted to mention something. Maybe it's a mini-rant. I've been manning the scales at this race for four years on the day before the race. To be perfectly honest, I don't care how much you weigh. I don't care how much anyone weighs. The weigh-in helps the race to keep runners safe and gives the race management a tool to stop runners from being really stupid at times. I did not personally manufacture the scales and I didn't certify them. I do know how to use the scale though. If you don't like your weight, it's not my fault. For the 20 or so of you who insisted the scale was wrong and went to the second scale, you found it agreed with the first. When you weigh in for a race or you get your BP done, if you don't like the result, please don't be rude to the volunteers. I happen to be an ultrarunner who is always fighting my weight, so I understand wanting that number to be as low as reasonably possible. But, if I was not an ultrarunner, some of the attitudes I encountered on Friday would lead to me never volunteering again. We need the volunteers at our races and being rude to them is never acceptable.

Anyway, it started to rain just about the time the meeting started. Luckily, the meeting was under the tent this year. Not wanting to fight the lines for dinner, I left as soon as the meeting was over and cooked dinner for Cecil and his wife at my house. I didn't get to bed until almost 10:00 and I could barely sleep then. At 1:45 a.m., it was time to wake up. I grabbed a quick shower and a cup of coffee and Cecil and I were on the road. It's nearly an hour from my house to the race site, so we had to leave before 2:30.

We got there in plenty of time and got Cecil checked in. We had time for a bagel and coffee. Then, the rain started. Cecil started with a rain jacket, but many runners didn't have jackets available.

After the start, the RD assigned me to a number of duties for the day. I was supposed to make sure the timers at mile 21 and 30 were familiar with the timing equipment and knew how to recover from errors, if they happened. I also helped with the aid station at mile 30.

Because I needed to talk to the timers before the first runners arrived, I got to see the leaders come through a few aid stations. I was amazed to see Jack Pilla (age 50) in the lead at mile 21.1. He was still in the lead pack at mile 30 and he finished an amazing 3rd overall. Cecil had ideas about going after the 50+ title, but Jack's performance left no doubt in that category. Cecil ended up 6th of 28 runners in the 50-59 category.

At mile 30 (Stage Road), I was able to stay longer because I didn't need to help with the timers at my next assignment. I helped with the aid station and encouraged runners I knew. I saw Jamie come through here. I saw Sherpa John come through as well, a bit slower than I'd expected, but still with a smile on his face.

I met Chihping Fu at this aid station when I helped him to cut the line at the port-o-potty. I helped Rich Collins with a few things as he went through on his way to 3rd place in the 100K. John Geesler was already moving up through the pack a bit at this point, on the way to a 12th place finish, which might be the first time he's been out of the top 10. Carol O'Hear was running great as was Lori Lebel at this point. I didn't know the lead woman, Devon Crosby-Helms from Seattle, but she apparently led from start to finish.

Eventually, the sun started to come out, the temps soared, and the station was running out of ice. I went to a local store to try to get some ice, but they were out. By the time I returned, the re-supply truck had been by and the station was fine with ice. At this point in time, I decided to get some lunch and head to Camp 10 Bear, the mile 47 aid station.

At Camp 10 Bear, I missed the first few runners, but saw many of the faster runners come through. At this point in time, most were doing pretty well. There had been a few drops already, but not too many. Somehow, I was helping one runner when Cecil came through, and I completely missed Cecil. After realizing that I'd missed him, I headed out to Tracer Brook, where my assignment was to make sure they were fully stocked with ice. They were fine, so all I had to do was crew Cecil. Cecil was doing fine when he came through and he'd moved into the top 25 or so runners at this point. He had started a bit fast in the first 21 miles, but by now, he'd settled into a comfortable 5mph speed. After Cecil came through, I headed for the start/finish, and my ride back to Camp 10 Bear, where I would start pacing.

On the way back, a really nasty thunderstorm hit. I saw Randy Witlicki on Rt. 106, getting pounded by the storm. At the start/finish area, the storm was outrageous. The winds where strong and I thought the two big tents for the race were going to blow away. There was hail and torrential rain and lightning. I sat it out in my car in air conditioning, feeling sorry for the runners. But, when I stepped out of my car, I realized the air temperature had dropped a bit.

As soon as the storm was over, teams with chainsaws were dispatched to clear out newly fallen trees. There were a lot of trees down, especially in the last 10 miles, and the crews did an excellent job clearing the course.

I got my stuff ready for running and my ride - my wife, Cecil's wife, and my son - showed up to take me to Camp 10 Bear. We were expecting Cecil by 5:15-5:30, but he came in closer to 5:50 - still under 14 hours for 70 tough miles. At this point, a sub-20 seemed unlikely, but Cecil is a tough runner and I hoped we could pull it off.

However, as he and I took off, his demeanor told me a different story. At first he talked about 21 hours on our first climb. After that climb, we ran a bit, and then on our next trail section, we walked almost the entire time. Cecil started talking about sub-24. I thought he was crazy given how much time he had in the bank and his fitness level, but I wasn't in his shoes. On our last stretch before the West Wind aid station, Dan Brenden passed us. I let Cecil know that Dan was in his 50s, but Cecil wasn't concerned about place at this point in time.

At the West Wind aid station (mile 77), we met our crew and got our lights. I'd never gotten to West Wind in daylight as a participant in the past. After West Wind, there are two miles of tough trails, and after that, almost 10 miles of mostly runnable roads. Those roads are where I thought Cecil would make up some time. But, as soon as we were on the roads on a downhill stretch, Cecil kind of snapped at me when I suggested running. Every time I tried to push him a bit, he started to repeat that he only wanted sub-24.

Just after we got on the road section, Jamie Anderson passed us. I tried to get Cecil to run with him, but no go. Later, we passed Jamie somehow. When he want back past us, I told Cecil that Jamie was also a schoolteacher like Cecil and I started to run with Jamie. Cecil reluctantly ran for the next two miles or so, to the Goodman's aid station at mile 81. I had no idea at that point, but Cecil would not run another step until mile 90, and then only briefly. He wouldn't do any sustained running until mile 96.5 or so.

Many people started to go past us in the next few miles. Well, not huge numbers, but a steady trickle of runners was going by. Jamie disappeared en route to a 22:26 finish. Between Goodman's and Cowshed, we found a 100K runner in distress on someone's lawn. The homeowner had called 911 at the runner's request. She turned down all offers of help from me and I agreed to report her to race officials as "out of the race".

After Cowshed, we briefly hooked up with a guy who was a chef, who had gone to cooking school in VT. I wonder if this is the same chef (a vegan chef) that Jamie mentioned in his race report. If so, I probably grossed him out when I mentioned something about foie gras. On the long downhill before the big climb to Bill's aid station, Cecil walked every step of the way. This was the most runnable terrain in the last 15 miles, and we walked it all. At West Wind, I had estimated we would hit Polly's aid station at mile 95.5 by 11:45. Our crew was meeting us there. Instead, we barely got to Bill's, at mile 88.6, by this time.

Not long after Bill's, the trail crosses a stone fence that had Cecil saying a few choice words. But, he got over it and continued. After that trail, you go downhill through a mowed hayfield, and Cecil started to run a bit when two nice looking ladies passed us. But, he couldn't keep up.

After that, it was a tough, long uphill that is also the first major climb in the Vermont 50. Then, a right turn and another climb followed by a brief descent to the Keating's aid station at mile 92. Shortly after this station, you turn left up Matrone Road - probably the steepest climb on the course. It's not too long, but it's a nasty climb. Next, we had a stretch of runnable roads, but Cecil wanted to walk and so we did. Then, a left hand turn onto trails that gradually climb for more than a mile. This stretch took longer than I remembered and Cecil was getting impatient with my "almost there" mantra. Finally, we got back onto the road and made a left and a right and we were at Polly's. Here, Cecil ditched one bottle and his second Garmin Forerunner of the race, which was running low on batteries. I dropped some gear with our crew as well and we took off for the last 4.5 miles. We had plenty of time to walk it in for a sub-24.

Then, about a mile later, we were passed by a lady from PA who lives close to where I grew up. Cecil decided to follow her and ran so close to her that I was afraid he would push her off the road. It was nice to see him running again, no matter what it took to get him moving. We ran the rest of the way to the mile 97.7 aid station - the last aid station. From there, we had a mile on trail that goes gradually uphill. The three of us ran it all, led by Cecil. The lady from PA and I talked about PA and the Harrisburg Marathon, which I'll be running in November. She was curious why I'd picked that race, unless I had family nearby (which I do).

After the trail section, we had a brief downhill on dirt roads and then a steep ascent on Blood Hill Road. Then, a left onto some hilly trails. After a couple minutes on the trails, we hit the "1 mile to go" sign. The lady from PA was pulling away from us, but Cecil was still pushing. That last mile seemed to go forever though. We finally got to the "1/2 mile to go" sign and I knew the terrain was pretty easy from there. Cecil kept asking if anyone was catching us, and the answer was always no. It turned out that 25 more runners finished after us (23:16:19) and below 24 hours, and the closest runner was just over a minute behind us. A total of 28 runners finished between 23 and 24 hours, and only 3 finished between 24 and 25.

We got Cecil to the medical tent, mostly for some food and drink. I was staying behind, while the crew took Cecil back to our house for a shower and sleep. I checked in at the medical tent and they didn't need any help. So, after cleaning up somewhat and changing clothes, I grabbed a beer and went back to the finish line to cheer people in. I was happy to see Chris Martin go sub-24. We were together for part of the "Trail Animals Don't Run Boston 50K", and he was apparently doing some sandbagging there about being so slow. Going sub-24 in those conditions is not slow, IMO. Nate Sanel, a friend of Sherpa John's, who I'd run with in late May, also made it in sub-24 in his first 100. Stan and Chrissy Ferguson, the Arkansas Traveler RDs made it in sub-24 as well.

I saw Zeke Zucker finish in the mid 25s, and then I was back in the medical tent when Joe Hayes showed up at 27:02 for his 10th finish. Joe assured me later that he will not be attempting another 10 finishes, but I bet he'll run a few more times.

Finally, about 8:00 or so, I was becoming super sleepy and almost incoherent, so I took a nap in the medical tent. When I woke up, my wife was beside me. She pointed out a friend, Tania, who had just paced a first timer to a sub-29 time. Tania has run a few marathons but no ultras (yet). She had fun though and I bet we'll see her name in the Vermont 50 in the next year or two. I slept some more, until it was time for brunch and the awards.

A huge number of people had finished in the last hour, but I'd slept through it all. The last place finisher, a 71 year old person attempting the Slam finished with 11 seconds to spare. Two runners finished over the 30 hour time limit.

After some food and more socializing with friends, it was time to go home. I got home in the early afternoon and took a shower. Then a nap. I got up for some dinner, and then went back to bed. Monday, I felt sick and slept another 12+ hours. Yesterday, I took a nap after work and then slept 9 more hours at night. Today, I'm finally feeling almost normal and I'm going to work out tonight.


Jamie said...

Great write-up Damon! Too bad about Cecil losing some gas there later in the race, but he still did very well. That heat and humidity was just brutal. Great seeing you out there!


David Ray said...

Very enjoyable read. Cool to get so much behind the scenes perspective.