After consolidating our lives, packing up our belongings, and stuffing the car full of crap, Abby and I began our slow, meandering travels to the Southland. Our first stop was at the Ascutney Mountain Resort in Browningsville, Vermont where a slew of friends, beautiful weather, and hours of running awaited. The day went as so:
We arrived at the race site in true haphazard form: disorganized, unsure of where we were going to camp, and with only a vague idea of how the weekend was going to progress. No worries though; we quickly found a flat field in which to sleep adjacent to the resort’s parking lot where a few others had already pitched their tents. We figured that this would do. Hell, it was not only close to the race start, but it was also free. Which, in my world, basically makes it five-star lodging. After dealing with the pre-race logistics, chatting with some friends, and erecting our Integral Designs tent, we settled in to a sub-par camp meal of Lipton pasta packets, crappy supermarket sausage, vegetables, and fruit. After this meal Abby and I decided that next year’s walk on the Pacific Crest Trail would NOT include any pasta packet donning the Lipton brand. On the plus side, a jovial group of mountain bikers offered up some decadent slices of chocolate cake that forced me to rethink my low-key, low-budget lifestyle philosophies for a second or two. I peed a lot and slept quite well and warm that evening.
Perhaps it’s the triathlete in me, but at 3:45 am I was up alone sitting in my car simultaneously lathering on sunscreen and shoving down a triple decker PBJ complete with a banana and mango slices. This particular meals’ second course was a couple handfuls of cashews and a honeycrisp style apple. I would have rather had eggs and bacon, but I don’t enjoy cooking eggs on my blistering hot MSR Whisperlite; it burns up a treat. After listening to my share of Pete Rock beats and a couple of Blu songs, I felt ready to get on with the race.
Energy was great at the starting line. I ran into an old high school buddy, chatted with eventual 3rd place finisher Jan Wellford, and hung out with Abby as we waited for the brigades of mountain bike divisions to pedal away from the starting line. I felt great and happy as the 50 mile runners were called to the start over the loudspeaker. Since this was my first attempt at a 50 miler and my furthest run ever, I meandered to the middle of the pack where I figured I would end up placing. At 6:35 AM, we were off.
For me, much of this race was a blur of experience and each of the halves felt entirely different mentally and physically. I will break up my report into two pieces.
At the onset I felt as though something was not right within my body. I was well trained, and I knew that my heart rate was much higher than it should have been at the levels I was exerting. It was thumping in the high 140s and low 150s when it should have been in the 130s. I figured it was going to calm down a couple of miles into the race, but abnormal heart rate proved to be an obstacle I was going to have to deal with the entire 8 hours of running. When I finally accepted this fact and dismissed my anger, I slowed down the pace, walked the uphills, and kept my chit chat to a minimum unless I really liked the person who was chatting it up with me.
The amount of dirt road running that presented itself for the first bit in this race was not to my liking. I’m a wild lands type of guy, and spent all my training for this race on Vermont’s Long Trail, in the Adirondack Park, among New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and rambling through the ponds and lakes of Eastern New York’s Pharaoh Lakes Wilderness. Probably not the best of moves to spend most of my training on hiking trails and above tree line for a race with 20 miles of dirt roads in it, but, as the kids say, “that’s how I roll”. During the first part of this race, I was bored and grumpy on the dirt roads, and nice and blissed out on the single track and double track. The morning light pierced through a stand of pine trees just right. A bit of annoyance consumed me when a goofy looking guy in pink calf sleeves and a raggedy fro, among others, passed me by.
I ate at regular intervals, continued to walk the uphills, kept my heart rate below threshold, and enjoyed the scenery. There was a moment when I came upon the 4th aid station on top of Garvin Hill when we exited the persistent fog and were able to glimpse a view of Southern Vermont that really did it for me. The landscape was so immersed in low lying fog that the Green Mountains appeared to be jutting out of the clouds in big mountain proportions. It was grand, and I began to get really happy. The little brother and jokester in me emerged; I began to playfully talk shit, make fun of old dudes passing me, and hand out nicknames to total strangers. I loved some of the people around me, and hated others (normal for me). While I wish them well and am happy to see people go at their own pace, having to play yo-yo with back of the pack mountain bikers sucked a big fat one. My 8 hour session of meditative normalcy was broken up a few too many times for my liking. Also, THERE WAS WAY TO MUCH FUCKING TRASH LEFT ON THE GROUND. To the person hammering the Black Cherry ShotBloks with 1/2 a shot of caffeine per serving and tossing the wrappers to the wind and woods, GO FUCK YOURSELF. During this portion of the race I did zone out and run up some person’s driveway and found myself staring at a really nice house 1/4 of a mile away from the course. The single and and double track trails were amazing, and the course so far seemed largely uphill. Little time was spent at the aid stations since I was carrying my own nutrition, and, aside from the heart rate fiasco and heavy legs, my body was responding just fine. Until the 32 mile aid station at Greenals, I was content to hang tight and keep things cool. I didn’t want to blow up and deal with massive physical and mental problems in my first 50. This is supposed to be fun at any rate.
An ex-coworker volunteering at Greenal’s, Christopher Sussman, was shooting photos as I entered the aid area. The high five and personal connection gave me an instantaneous emotional lift and propelled me into action. I easily found my drop bag, loaded up on Gu gel, shotbloks, and a protein bar and was quickly off. At this point I began to lose focus on my Suunto heart rate device, allow my heart rate to creep into the 160s, and run the uphills. I began to pass some of the runners who had blown by me earlier in the race as well as pass some of the slower 50k runners. There was a point when I was passing a group of young women on an uphill and, as a joke that seemed friendly enough inside my head, I let out my best caveman grunt to tell them I was passing. They took offense, and I didn’t feel like explaining myself; they hate me. (As a side note: they later saw me at the finish and aggressively grunted their annoyance in my direction. I laughed to myself).
I don’t really have much to say about the next 15 miles; saw some people I knew, said what’s up to a bunch of people. I zoned out and ran hard through the woods. Always in retrospect, this is my favorite part of running. That point when all thinking has ceased, and necessity determines every course of action: water, food, burp, fart, urine (I can pee and walk). This is when life really breaks down the real shit for you, if only for a couple of hours.
By keeping things in check early on in the race I actually felt as though I had energy to spare the last few miles. Sure, my quads were heavy and my heart rate accelerated, but I was far from a dismal state of being. I turned it up, only slowing down to chat with my good friend and old boss at the Outdoor Gear Exchange, Jason Stanley, who was running the 50k. He seemed to be in great spirits and I pushed on. I passed a bunch of people running the 50 miler and pushed the pace until the last downhill on the ski slopes toward the resort. There, I sprinted. Abby was diligently taking photos on this last bit, and I was happy to see both Abby and our dog, Clover. My result was 8 hours and 14 minutes. Good enough for 17th in my category and 20-something overall. I am happy, content, and somewhat sore with a black toenail.
The post race food stuffs were great. I got to cherish a few moments with people I care about, and left to continue our journey southward in good spirits.
Stuff I used: Salomon Speedcross 3, Darn Tough socks (1 pair), Suunto Quest, Camelbak Delaney Plus.
Stuff I ate: 9 Gu’s, 4 packets shot bloks, 2 Clif Builder bars, 1 Honey Stinger waffle, 1 nuun tablet, aid station food (I gravitated towards gummy bears, turkey sandwiches, orange slices, bananas, water, gatorade, and cookies. I’m a fatty who loves pizza and ice cream.
And Clover, the tricky villain and thief.