Tuesday, July 22, 2008

2008 Vermont 100 Race Report - We did it!

Where to begin! I suppose at the beginning...I had told anyone that would listen over the past 6 months that Vermont 100 would be hot and humid this year because "hot and humid" seem to follow me to every race. Well, darned if I wasn't right again! Weather predictions were anywhere from upper 80's to 100 degrees with high humidity and possible thunderstorms. Oh goodie, here we go again! Well, here we all are waiting for the race to begin while trying to wait out a storm under the tent. This is the best I will look for the next 24 hours. The first pick is me getting prepped by Dawn with my Mom looking on. Below is a shot of me and my daughter, Tara. My younger daughter, Jamie, decided to sleep in, but would show up later in the race.

I was feeling pretty good about my chances for a better finish than 2 years ago. My strategy is to first set several progressive goals, so this is what I chose for this race: 1. Get family and friends together and attempt to re-create the magical experience from 2 years ago...basically share it with more people. This was a tall enough task. 2. Finish the race. 3. Break 24 hours. 4. Get a PR - sub 19 hours 5. Another Top 10 finish 6. Sub 17:30 and possibly Top 5.

I knew the last one was a stretch for 2 reasons: 1. The weather would slow all times, so sub 17:30 was a challenge 2. The Western States runners definitely made this a tougher field.

At the pre-race check in, my weight was a hair under 136, so I rounded down to 135.5. I had been training at about 132.5 and figured I gained 2 lbs. during tapering. 135.5 or 136 was about right with my shoes on.

The race started and people raced off like it was a 10K once again. I just don't understand it. I settled in at a pace that felt a bit fast - probably around 8:30-8:45 by my guess. My goal was to run around 3:25-3:30 for the first 21 miles. I knew the big dogs would be cruising it at around 3:00, and just wanted to stay within range without blowing up early. I ran with the Fitzpatrick's (Diana would finish 3rd Woman overall) from Northern Cal. for awhile. They are veteran WS100 runners and were a bit concerned about the humidity and gravel roads. One of the great things about these races is meeting good people, and they were no exception.

I used Perpetuem for my first 2 bottles and switched to Heed for No. 3. My goal was 1 bottle per hour and supplement with Hammergel and Endurolytes as needed.

I saw my crew for the first time at mile 21, and got very emotional (as I did last time) running into that Aid Station. I guess the magic was being re-created. My daughter, Tara, screamed when she saw me, and I saw my Dad shooting video.

Dawn had given everyone a task, and they were operating like a well-oiled machine. I think I had cracked the top 20 at this point, and came in right around 3:25. Everything was going according to plan.

I kept a good pace and passed a few more runners, and then the wheels started coming off the bus. Just after passing 2 guys on a long downhill, I got sick and projectile vomited large quantities of liquid. It was nasty. Never having vomited in a race, I wasn't sure what to do. I knew the guys behind me witnessed it, so I decided to act like nothing was wrong. I cruised into the next aid station - dumped the Perpetuem and switched to Heed (hoping it would help). I moved out of the aid station quickly, and those guys never caught up with me.

While I was feeling weak and concerned about the up-coming weigh-in, it was really nice to be running alone for the first time in the race. The views were amazing, and I was just happy to be taking it all in (despite my stomach woes).

At Camp 10 Bear (mile 47ish), I saw my crew and was summoned to the weigh-in before I could eat or hydrate. The scale said, "129 lbs.", and I almost passed out. I didn't say a word. They told me to look at it like a Mom chastising a child for using crayon on the wall. I acted like you do when you are pulled over by a State Trooper, "Who me, ..., speeding?" They asked if I had a crew, etc. The Doctor said I was OK to go on, but to put on sunscreen or a shirt. I had two thoughts: 1. Why aren't you pulling me from the race? 2. Thank God you're not pulling me from the race.

Sean (my cousin) forced grapes and oranges on me, and I reluctantly ate some. The grapes were tasty... Thanks Sean! I whispered to Dawn my concerns about my puking, and she told me to slow down, but don't stop. My crew was really excited, and I didn't want to disappoint them.

I decided that I would go easy the rest of the way and hoped to finish in under 24 hours. I wanted Jamie to see me run, and wanted both girls to see me finish. All hopes of a Top 10 were gone at that point, and I settled in for the long haul.

At the next aid station (Pinky's - mile 51), a young guy caught up to me, and I tried to chat with him. He didn't say much, so I shuffled on down the road. He caught up again and this time we talked more. His name was Brian, and he was a runner from Ca. This was his first 100, and he was looking really strong. I decided to try to hang with him as long as possible. We got into a rythym and worked well together. I knew the course, and offered some info. Our crews got to know each other, and Tara got a good picture of us at the Tracer Brook (57 mile) aid station.

I told Brian I was changing shoes at Margaritaville (mile 62.1), so he should go ahead without me. My crew tried to feed me a lot knowing I had to weigh-in at Camp 10 Bear (70 miles).

After leaving the aid station with Brian and one other guy, Ryan, I quickly proceeded to do the technicolor yawn once again. I told them to go on without me in between bouts of heaving. It was not pretty!

I thought that would be it for me. I drank some water and shuffled along just hoping to keep them in sight. Ryan looked like he was hurting, and I started catching up to him. I passed without saying much and set my eyes on Brian. We worked well together, and I hoped I could still hang with him. Once we got back together, it started pouring rain right at the mile 65 aid station. Brian needed electrolyte pills and I gave him some of mine as they had none at the aid station. I figured they weren't doing me any good at this point. We ran like we were being chased by the giant ball in the first Indiana Jones movie to get through the rain. We were in a wide trail, but the puddles were turning into Lakes. At one point, we had no choice, but to go through the middle. Brian was lucky and found a high spot while I went in up to my knees. Yuck!

We finally made it to a road, and I knew we were within 1-1.5 miles on Ten Bear. It was a long down hill and then short up to hit the aid station. I weighed-in at 135 due to some extra water and mud and other assistance, and all seemed well. Dawn said we were running 10 and 11 at that point, but we passed a couple people at the aid station. I picked up my pacer, Kevin (the Goat), and I explained to him and Dawn that I had another puking fit. By this point, I was operating solely on water, hammergel, and watermelon. I wouldn't touch anything else.

Goat was a welcome companion, and we quickly settled into a nice pace. Brian stayed with us as his pacer was waiting until mile 77 to meet him. The section from 70 to 77 is one of the toughest on the course, and Kevin's experience with it from the last race really helped us. He did such a great job pacing me through the last 30 miles.

We hammered the very technical downhill into mile 75 and I was feeling good. Brian, on the other hand, was at his limit. His quads were shot, and I knew he would be slowing down. I gave him a few words of encouragement and off we went.

At mile 77, we saw our crew again. Brian's folks had donated a watermelon to my cause since it was all I would eat. Thank you! As we left the aid station, we passed John Geesler, the former 24 hour national champ, and I couldn't believe my eyes. Wow! I thought, "We are doing good now!"

At this point, I was running 9th and knew we had a couple folks in striking distance.

We caught up to the first place woman (Devon) as she had made a slight detour. We came into Bill's (mile 88.6) in 8th place and the crew was going nuts. The weigh-in was fine, and off we went with watermelon (I learned later it was from Charlotte's fruit salad) of course.

It was getting dark, so I started using the headlamp. Devon passed us in one of the fields (I hate running through wet fields), and on we rolled.

At mile 95, there was NO WATERMELON! :-) Oh well! Everyone laughed when I asked for it, and I was ready to just take care of business. Goat and I were on a mission and he was the lead dog. I tucked in behind him like a Tour de France racer behind the lead climber. We made sure to avoid the wrong turn we made 2 years earlier and passed Devon again. The fog was so bad that you could only see about 5 feet in front of you, and the trail was very technical. We had to walk most of this section. It was very muddy, and I did not want to chance twisting an ankle.

We hit the last major climb and knew we were almost home. Goat powered up the nasty, muddy slope and saw a headlamp in the distance. We didn't even have to say a word. He put the hammer down and I just hung on. We passed the number 8 man and he looked like he was done. Goat left no question and kept pounding the slope to the top of the ridge. We hit the road and went 200 yards or so with no one in sight behind us. How sweet it is to be in 7th place.

Torches marked the 99.5 mile mark and we followed the glowing gallon markers into the finish. My crew did not react because they did not expect me in 7th place. The fog didn't allow anyone to figure out who I was until I hit the finish line. Dawn yelled out, "Oh my God, it's him!", then grabbed me yelling, "They did it, they did it". My girls quickly joined the hug, and I was smiling once again. My time was 18:29:20, and life was good. Devon finished about 1 minute behind me.

At the medical tent, my blood pressure was fine. I chatted with Joe Kulak (6th place finisher who just completed his 30th 100 miler). The guy is a legend, but was so nice. I couldn't believe he asked me how I did, etc. Really nice guy! Jack Pilla (3rd place) was there and gave me some advice on electrolytes. We chatted a bit and then he recommended I get some mud off of me. Hint, hint! :-)

I started to clean up and then got the shakes really bad. The EMT covered me in blankets and I warmed up quickly. We got the car nice and warm and I jumped in while my brother, Robert, drove back to the hotel.

After a rough nights sleep, we rolled over to our cousins, Charlotte and Steve's, house for breakfast. They were great hosts for the weekend, and I'm so happy we were able to spend some time with them.

At the award ceremony, I looked for Mark and Scott (2 other UTC runners), but could not find them. When I was called up for my Top 10 finish award, I saw both of them wave at me, and it felt great to see them.
After the photos, they told me they had both finished - Mark was around 22.5 hours and Scott was 25.5 hours. Nice work guys!!! I chatted a bit with Mark's pacer, Bruce, and also found Brian. Brian finished under 20 hours and seemed a bit wiped out. He has a great future in ultra running if he hangs with it, and his parents should be proud. He's a great guy!

Many thanks to my family and friends for being there. My cousin, Sean, was a huge help, and it's always fun to spend time with him. My parents have been great supporters and this race was no exception. I was proud to finish strong in front of my girls and glad they could share the experience. As I mentioned, Steve and Charlotte hosted us, and I'm glad they could share in the experience. My brother, Robert, is one of the nicest people in the world and I was lucky to have him there.

The Goat was the man once again, and he is like a second brother to me.

Dawn pulled everything and everyone together as she has for me over the past 6 months, and I am so grateful to her. It was a joy to share the experience with her.

When it comes right down to it, my crew and pacer made the difference between 7th and 9th place. They were amazing and deserve so much credit. Thank you all!


Jamie said...

Congrats Steve! That was one heck of a great performance! Awesome man. Really enjoyed your report. Hope you're recovering well.

Keith Magnus said...

Steve, great run!!! I saw you at a few aid stations and had no clue that you weren't feeling well - you hid it perfectly. It's inspiring to see such a great finish and I'm hoping to be right there some day soon. Good work man...
Keith (Scott's pacer)

Bob Gentile said...

Great write up Steve, Congrats on your finish!! Well Done!

Hope your enjoying your rest and some watermelon :-)

The Lisa said...

Great details in the report, Steve! It is fascinating to read about someone's experience as a competitor since I was running just to survive and finish. Well done on getting over your stomach issues - they were horrendous I am sure.

Scott said...

Fantastic run and great report! You put in the training and got a well deserved result!
I need to run some hills with you. I'm having nightmares about hills!!!

Kevin said...

Congrats Steve on great run. As your pacer and frequent training partner, I definately sensed that you had an extra gear this year which is not good for me as you already had a few up on me! That said, the most impressive thing to me really wasn't your race day, but the focus , discipline and determination that you showed during the four months preceding the race. You trained hard and smart- speed work, hills, distance, etc. For me personally, it was great to share the weekend with so many great people (the Nelson clan, Dawn and other runners).

Kevin (aka The Goat)