Wednesday, July 29, 2009
It's hard to believe that it has almost been two weeks since Vermont, yet the preparations for Rock Creek's first ever night race caused last week to scream by, climaxing in an unforgettable night on the trails of Lake Perry (more on that later)
If not for the commitment I made to raise funds for Family Service and Guidance Center I probably would never have even gone to Vermont. Any hopes of a Grand Slam finish for 2009 had been forfeited last month at the Auburn Lakes Trail aid station just 15 miles from the Western States finish line, and as Karen and I prepared to head off to Vermont I found myself less enthused than I had ever been prior to an event of this nature. The DNF at Western States had obviously taken more out of me than I was willing to admit. My confidence was shaken and life wasn't doing anything to ease the pain. I was afraid I had "lost it" and felt like an ultra running "poser". How would I now move on and finish Vermont, let alone Leadville or Wasatch? Suddenly coach Donnie Palmer's humorous battle cry used last season by his championship T-West XC team was reverberating through my mind..."No Expectations" So with that as my mantra we headed off to Vermont, as I also knew that if nothing else, five days in Vermont with just Karen would do us both a world of good.
As anyone who has spent much time around ultra running's great races will tell you, the town's that play host to these events are generally of a rough and tumbled variety. So when our rental car pulled into the picturesque little village of Woodstock, VT, I'm sure Karen thought I had made a wrong turn somewhere. Woodstock is the quintessential New England town that looks as though it was the model for a Courier and Ives Christmas Card. After just ten minutes at the Deer Creek Inn B&B, our base camp for the week, I was sure that for the first time I had stumbled into a race weekend that would be enjoyed as much by my "non running spouse" as it would be by me, the runner.
I had run Vermont last year and knew that even though the hills are relentless, this was a race that I could finish, and "to finish" was my only goal, hoping to gain confidence and maybe a little momentum heading into Leadville. Last year's race was run in 90 degree temperatures with very high humidity causing me stomach problems all day long. Although this year's forecast looked much more promising, my plan was to simply get me home in the same 26:25 as a year ago.
After a Thursday and Friday filled with touristy distractions and good food, race day finally came. Vermont, like Leadville has a 4:00 AM start time which necessitates a 2:00 AM wake up call, a somewhat cruel way to start a very long day. With cool temps and light rain, the race starts on time. After a short stretch of dirt road, the race race then hits it's first section on trail, muddied by recent rains. Just as runners are finding their "groove" around sunrise, you begin to hear "it",the clip clop of horses. That's right horses. Vermont is the last and only ultra where horse race is run concurrently with the run. Although somewhat odd at first, this quickly becomes "no big deal" apart from the smell that spices up the course the rest of way.
As the race unfolded from there things became quite uneventful as my splits were almost a carbon copy of last year's race. Things stayed this way through mile 47 and Camp Ten Bear. Although my legs were feeling better than I had even hoped for just three weeks after Western States, it was my feet that were troubling me. I had traded conventional laces for the stretchy "Yanks", no tie lacing system worn by a lot of triathletes and other people who can't tie their shoes (just kidding). I had thought the elasticity of the Yanks would eliminate the discomfort of tight shoes associated with the inevitable foot swelling later in the race. What I failed to foresee was how little stability or security these laces would provide on uneven terrain, which there was plenty of. My feet were sliding all over the place and eventually began to hurt worse with every step, hills were the worst and unfortunately the hills just kept coming and coming. After "gimping" my way through to mile 70 I changed my shoes and headed out in my Salomon XAPro 3D Ultras, a good shoe for softer terrain, but on the hard packed dirt roads of Vermont they felt like bricks on my already bruised feet. Fortunately it was shortly after this that I met up with a young guy who played football at Connecticut who had been pacing, but recently lost his runner. Perhaps it was an age complex or the fact that he was built like a house, but something stirred in me to work a little harder through this section, and before I knew it we were at "Bill's" and the mile 88 aid station where Karen had my Mizuno Wave Ascends waiting for me. Although these felt infinitely better, it fell into the category of too little too late as now every step was an opportunity to expand my pain tolerance. More than anything, it just made me mad. Here I was owner of a running shoe store, running a race where the only problem I was having was with my shoes!!! (kinda pathetic) When I saw Karen at the 95 mile aid station I knew a sub 24 or 25 hour finish was not going to happen, I only hoped I might get in in under 26 hours (what happened to my no expectations plan). It didn't take long to realize that wasn't happening either, my feet were killing me and causing me to slow down and by mile 96 my only goal left was to beat last year's 26:25. Finally after pushing the pace as hard as I could on the final ascent, I crossed the finish line in 26:10 and found my way to the nearest chair.
Vermont was in the books and I now had a pair of finishes there to go along with a set of buckles from Arkansas as well as Heartland. Would this also be the year I get my second at Leadville?
I was happy to be done and even more happy to shed my shoes, yet truth be known, I was still unfulfilled. My goal at this point in the summer was to be half way through the Grand Slam, 200 miles down and 200 to go, yet as I sat in my little chair I'm reminded of the reality that I am still 15 miles short, and will be all summer. I contemplate how might I feel on September 12th if I have covered 385 of the 400 miles? It becomes obvious that the fact I fell 15 miles short of a finish at Western States will haunt me a little more with each of the other three I finish.
On the other hand the one thing running has taught me is if we allow ourselves to be teachable there is always something we can gain from our experiences, and that alone is reason enough to press on.
If the lesson from Western States was about the need we all have for friendship and the support that a community can provide. Then the lesson from Vermont is even more personal. The DNF at Western States and the fact that I had finished this event before, removed a lot of the pressure that I place on myself, and allowed me to enjoy the other aspects of the weekend more than usual (wow, isn't that why we have hobbies) In the end my memories from this year's Vermont 100 will be more about my time in Vermont with Karen and the fun that we had throughout those five days, than it will be about the actual race. So as I look forward to Leadville on August 22, my hope is to put the race in its proper perspective, relax and enjoy those moments with family and friends I am sure I have allowed to slip by in the past.