It's taken me a few days to gather my thoughts on this one. How do you write a story about your bestest buddy's struggle through a 100 mile race? It didn't quite unfold the way we scripted it, but maybe that fact makes it all the better. Perhaps it unfolded just the way it was meant to be...
The Mighty Goat announced his intentions to run the Vermont 100 this past winter. My first thoughts were that this was bold and audacious, but I also believed he would finish. "Why "audacious"?", you might ask. Well, you see, the Goat had never run a marathon. Road racing was not interesting to him. He had ostensibly completed one serious race in his life prior to announcing his intention to run the Vermont 100. He completed the Stonecat 50 miler two years ago and had completed no other races other than being a substitute runner on our Reach the Beach Relay Team and doing the Manchester Road Race many years ago.
He ran Stonecat after pacing me in the Vermont 100 twice, so his announcement to run the Vermont 100 was not exactly a complete shock....but geez, most people do a few races before attempting 100 miles! I mean I ran for more than 20 years before attempting my first 100 miler. The Goat was going from 0 to 60mph in 2 seconds flat! Nevertheless, he is the Goat! He is the man! He is the man-Goat!
So, the Goat asked me to put together a training plan for him, and I knew this was going to take some dedication for both of us. It turned out to be a blessing for me because it forced me to get out and run on days when I was consumed by work. It helped me stay sane when things were coming down around me, and the Goat was there to listen. It gave us time to plan a race, the Traprock 50K, which will likely be a part of New England ultra running for years to come. It helped us learn a lot about ourselves and our friendship in the process.
There were times when we both wanted to quit. I mapped out a plan for us to run hills every Tuesday night throughout the winter. There were nights when I wasn't sure we could get it done, but we persevered and learned something in the process.
Along the way we recited lines from a poem that was passed down from his Grandfather to his Mom, and then to him. He memorized the poem and recited it at his Mom's memorial service a couple years ago. The poem is Rudyard Kipling's, "If". It's a definite keeper and has helped me more than once.
It starts out with, "IF you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you and make allowances for their doubting too, If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or be lied to, don't deal in lies, or being hated, don't give way to hating, Don't look too good nor talk too wise...."
Throughout the training, I watched Goat lose weight and gain strength and endurance. I saw his enthusiasm for running grow, and watched his weekly mileage soar. He studied the ultrarunning scene and constantly peppered me with questions. It was interesting to witness this transformation from someone who could barely run 4 miles with me 4 years ago. I had my doubts when I asked him to pace me at Vermont in 2006, and now he was preparing to attempt it himself.
It goes on, "IF you can dream but not make dreams your master, Or think and not make thoughts your aim, If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.
We dreamt of hosting an ultra in CT and thought it would be a huge success if we got 20 runners. We turned it into 3 races and hosted 52 runners. The Traprock 50K was reported in the most recent issue of Ultrarunner Magazine. We'll be going for 100 runners next year!
"IF you can watch the truth you've spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to broken and stoop and build 'em up with worn out tools."
For some reason, this section rings true for me. Goat and I bothed survived divorces and then some. He has dealt with his fair share of challenges, and I've watched him pull through with flying colors.
The week before the race, the Goat was like a caged animal. He was fiery and edgy...I'd never seen him like this... but knew he was stressed about the race. Perhaps the audacity of the situation was even getting to him?
"IF you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss and lose and start at your beginnings and never breath a word about your loss."
The race started at 4AM on Saturday and the Goat was anxious to get going. My biggest concern was that he not go out too fast. I encouraged the Goat to do a few races prior to this one to teach him the art of pacing. He ran the Northern Nipmuck trail race and ran a good race, but then went out too fast at the Traprock 50K. I was concerned, and constantly coached him to "keep the bit in his mouth".
It was great to see so many people at the race. My ultramentor, Jim Campiformio, was there and ready to run. Kinda wish I was running with him. Our friends and Traprock Alumni were there including Marty, Mark Buongiorno, Scott Turco, and many others. It was great to see so many familiar faces. Dawn was pacing Marty and Bruce G. was crewing for Mark and Scott. The Mayor was pacing Mark and it was cool to meet some new folks. Oddly enough, Jack Pilla, last year's winner was crewing and making pancakes...go figure!
Goat wore his Garmin GPS and ran to a prescribed plan for a 22 hour finish. I figured he had a reasonable shot at 22 hours and if that didn't happen, he had a good cushion for a 24 hour finish. I helped crew for him for the first 30 miles, and he executed the plan to perfection. I saw AJW come through in the lead, and saw some of my old foes/friends, Ron Farkesh and Daniel Larsen come through looking strong as well as many new faces. I even saw, Cherie Baby, in her pink skirt, looking strong in her pink compression socks come cruising by...and then there was that guy from Western States in the pink tutu. Word was that he had just completed Badwater as well. Damn, the guy is older than me and I'm whining about getting old?
After seeing Goat running so strong for the first 3rd of the race, I figured I should get some sleep to be ready to pace him through the night, so went back to the hotel for some zzz's.
After a good rest, I was back at Camp 10 Bear awaiting Goat's arrival at the 70 mile mark. I chatted with many folks..even saw Michelle Roy and got a big hug from her while she waited for her runner to come through. I was bummed to hear from Bruce that Scott had dropped while we waited for Mark and Goat.
Mark B. came in on pace for a 20-22 hour finish. He looked good and was in or near the Top 20. I thought he had a decent shot at a good time, but time would tell. I think the real race happens between 10 Bear and the finish. In fact, after pacing Bruce at WS100, I think the last 30 at Vermont is tougher than the last 38 at WS100, and my body agrees.
Goat came in and looked pretty exhausted. I fed him a lot of watermelon and filled his bottles while Dagmar and company tended to his other needs. He was excited to know that his weight was fine after having a scare the first time through Camp 10 Bear (Mile 48). After Goat regrouped, we headed down the road together as we have so many times before...we were 30 minutes off his 22 hour pace..not bad at all.
Goat really struggled up the first big hill outside 10 Bear. It is a monster climb up a technical trail. It was much drier this year, but that didn't help Goat. He was struggling and had to stop a few times. Wow! This is not the way things looked at mile 30...and I was hoping for some easy pacing duties.
Goat really had to work to get to Mile 77, but it is one of the toughest sections of the race. He was 45 minutes off his pace which seemed to worry no one except me. No one realized that losing 15 minutes in a 7 mile stretch is the equivalent of 2 hours over 30 miles. His energy level was very low and his quads were killing him. I knew this was going to be a battle and it would take everything he had to break 24 hours.
We hit another big hill and Goat struggled, but then we made very good time on the gravel roads. At one point, he puked big time...welcome to the 100 mile scene Mr. Goat...and then he said he felt better.
I was tracking us against a 24 hour finish and was hoping to get him in with under 15-18 minute miles. He made it to Bill's (Mile 89), his favorite aid station, with approx. 3 hours to go. The crew thought he had it in the bag, but I was concerned. While Goat rested, Cherie Baby, came cruising in. She was running well and had good energy. Cool! I whispered to her that she needed to break 24 hours, and she teased me about my penchant for watermelon in ultras. Then, the Goat and I were off....
Goat ran well through the next downhill section, but the uphills were taking the life out of him. Soon enough, he couldn't run much at all, and we struggled to get to the next aid station. I begged him not to sit down at the 92 mile mark, but he insisted. We pressed on to mile 95.5 where we would see the crew for the last time before the finish.
"IF you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will to which says to them "Hold on!""
Hold on Goat! Please Buddy! Runners trying to beat the 24 hour mark were coming by now and I felt the time slipping away.
We reached the 95.5 mile mark (Pinky's) and Goat needed to regroup. I fed him PB&J while Dagmar applied anti-inflammatory cream to his quads. I think everyone knew that it was going to be close. He had about 1 hour and 15 minutes (if I recall) to do the last 4.5 miles. "Oh Boy, hear we go again!", I thought. Let's do this...
Goat could not run at all, so we hiked it. We made it to the first big hill and we were doing OK. I started telling Goat that I thought he was going to break 24, when he let out a scream. Damn! He said his right calf had a shooting pain. We guessed that it was a cramp, and he could hardly walk at all. We had 3-3.5 miles to go. Oh man, this is not good. At this point, he wasn't even sure he could finish. I told him he had to keep moving so it would not tighten up and I tried to massage it a bit. He took some salt pills and then we walked on.
We talked about how finishing was the main thing and that not breaking 24 was not the end of the world. We pressed on and his leg seemed to loosen up a bit. We were doing OK and thought maybe...just maybe...there was a chance. Maybe he could run if we were within a mile.
...but then the time slipped away on us and 4AM came and went. Dagmar met us at the top of the hill with about 0.75 mile left. We explained the situation, and she walked in with us while we picked up the rest of the crew. Goat was so relieved to finish and his time was 24 hours, 20 min, and 59 seconds.
You go Goat! Goat was a hurtin' unit, and we got him some medical support right away. We then trucked him back to the hotel, and we all got some sleep before breakfast. It was nearly 5AM!
"IF can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch, If neither foe nor loving friend can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much."
Goat was up before me and ready to start the day. Wow! I'm impressed. His leg was still hurting though. We ate breakfast and Goat decided to skip the award ceremony. Dawn decided to head up to say good bye to Marty and Deb. I decided to go up to see some friends and pick up Goat's plaque for him. I chatted with a few folks, grabbed the award, said good bye to Marty, Deb, and Dawn and then headed off down the road.
On the ride home, I thought about how Goat, the Mighty, had the guts to sign up for a 100 mile race run on the hills of Vermont in the middle of July having run only one serious race in his life. I thought about the commitment to sign up in January without knowing what lay ahead. I thought about how he could hardly run 4 miles with me 5 years ago and now he just completed 100 miles (with a torn calf muscle we later learned).
I thought about all the fun we had along the way, all the memories we have shared, and all the miles we have logged together....
"IF you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run, yours is the earth and everything that's in it - and which is more - you'll be a man my son."
Congratulations to my friend, the Mighty Goat!