Vermont 50 Recap (Part 4 – Conviction)

The Mud Right Before Dugdale's

With the help of my crew, I changed my shirt, shoes, socks, lubed my feet, refilled my bottles, restocked my nutrition with all of my gels and chews that had caffeine in them (Yay!), and all the electrolyte tablets and pills they could find in my gear bags. It was now sunny and in the 80′s (a nightmare for me) and the next 20 miles were going to separate the boys from the men so to speak. It was going to be 17 miles until I saw my crew again. One of the stretches between aid stations was to be 7 miles. So I needed to be zealous with my hydration and electrolyte intake between 30 and 40 miles because I was going to have to have to ration the fluid intake from 40-47.

I was beginning to really worry about Luau. He was in rough shape. He came into Dugdale’s complaining of his right arm and hand tingling. He left Dugldale’s saying his face and teeth were numb. As you can imagine, this caused quite a bit of anxiety for our gang of four. He asked me (assumably because of my medical knowledge) what I thought was wrong. I could tell he was a little scared, and rightly so. Nothing like this had ever happened to him in a race. I assured him that the only thing I could think of that would cause his symptoms were his electrolytes and hydration being “off.” He agreed to eat a couple of Nuun tabs and really push the fluids over the next 4.3 miles (to the next aid station) and then re-assess. This was the first time that any of us had verbalized the thought of dropping.

Jeremy D and myself let Luau know in no uncertain terms that we would not let him drop. We pushed on and kept a close eye on him and his intake. By the time we got to the next aid station he was reporting feeling much better, but again stated that he would reassess at the next station. The rest of the course from here on out was 90% single track and switchbacks. We kind of had to find our place in line with each other and push on. There wasn’t a lot of talking as we seemed to be deep inside our own heads. We were still together and “there” for each other, but we started to disengage. Or at least I did.

I spent most of my time pushing the pace out front. I know this because I kept hearing Jeremy D telling me to reign it in. He was reminding me that we still had a long way to go, and I kept telling him that I felt strong and needed to push it while I could. Somewhere before 40 I got my first cramp. It was in a weird spot on the inside of my thigh. Not the quads and not my hamstring. I would’ve thought it was my groin, but it was too low for that. Anyway, it didn’t really affect my gait, but it was seriously uncomfortable. I popped a Nuun tab into my mouth and  by the time it was gone so was the cramp. We came out of the woods into a wide-open glen and the heat and humidity instantly struck me. Once again we could see the aid station at 40 and once again it was at the top of a hill! Seriously?

Out of the Woods and into the Frying Pan

If you look at the picture above, that is Mt. Ascutney in the background behind the trees. The Finish Line is on the other side of it. The mountain had been taunting us in the distance since about mile 25, when Jeremy B took this pic from the top of Blood Hill:

Yeah, We're Going to the OTHER Side of that Mountain!

We rolled into the aid station at 40 miles and checked-in with everyone on their condition and we were all hanging tough. Luau was feeling much better and was psyched that the aid station was serving ramen noodles. I was psyched because I had to use the porta-potty to pee. In my mind I was convinced that I was on-track with my hydration for the long 7 miles ahead. I exited the John, grabbed another pb&j, filled my bottles and scarfed several handfuls of chips and took off. Jeremy D was right behind me, bellowing at me to slow down, but I was on a mission. It wasn’t long until the group had caught-up with me anyway, but I continued to push the pace as much as I could.

Leaving the Aid Station at 40

My quads were cramping like never before at this point. I was eating Nuun tabs like they were going out of style. In fact they were. I was getting pretty sick of the grape and strawberry lemonade flavors, they were nauseating. Ugh. To make matters worse, on the first series of downhill switchback’s after 40 my left knee started screaming at me. It was the outside of the knee and I recognized it as ITB irritation/pain. My self-diagnosis was reinforced every time I lifted my foot out of the mud or slipped on an uneven muddy surface. I could do this I told myself. Less than 10 miles with some ITB pain and quad cramping wasn’t the worst thing I could be dealing with.

Jeremy D caught up to me on the next section of single track. Up until this point I had banned any talk of time or distance. I just didn’t want to know. I figured I’d be better off just running, without thinking, without doing calculations in my head and without all of that stress. But while he was talking me down, trying to get me to reel it in and come back to the group, I did it. I asked him. He said that we were “somewhere outside of 5 miles” left and we were at about 9:45:00. He told me he honestly didn’t think we were going to make sub-11 hours today. It broke my heart. I almost lost it right there.

I told him that I didn’t have a choice, that this might be my only chance. He said there would always be another race. “Not for me! I have to do it and I have to do it now!” This is not only how I live, but this is how I trained. I had to convince myself that this would be my only chance. After all, who knows? If I failed, who knows what tomorrow will bring? I could have a debilitating illness or an accident of some sort. Hell, I could die in a fire next week. I don’t want to be saddled with “what if’s” for the rest of my life. Besides, if I didn’t make it, what kind of effect would that have on my psyche? I was in a fragile state and needed to steel myself against the possibility of failure.

I thought about all of the late nights of running after putting my girls to bed. I thought about the self-supported marathon on the trails by my house. I thought about the 32 mile run on the treadmill. But mostly I thought about my daughter’s and my family. What would I tell Isabelle when she asks me if I won (she always asks)? What would Lex think of me and all the time and effort I put into training only to fall short? Most importantly, would I even have the resolve to try again? Ever? Would I even want to keep running after this? What about you? My blog readers and twitter/dailymile friends? What would you all think of me after all the build-up and braggadocio? I am “built for endurance,” huh? I have no choice but to leave it all out on the course. There is no tomorrow for me. I am going to go out and get it, today!

The First Mile Marker

I had to get on my horse and get my motor going. So I popped a 600mg ibuprofen and said “Fuck it! Let’s GO!” Once we hit that “5 miles to go” sign I ran every hill that I could, up and down. If it was really steep I ran it until I felt like I could walk it faster and then power-walked as fast and hard as I could. I was driven. I was in auto-pilot mode. I embraced the fact that the next several miles was going to be about just how much I could suffer and keep moving, and I did just that. At one point before Johnson’s (the crew/handler aid station at 47) we came-out of the woods onto a paved road. We ran downhill until we took a right onto Route 4. I knew it couldn’t be much further and ran on the soft shoulder becasue the pavement just sucked the life out of me.

I remember at one point when “the Jeremy’s” came up behind me. They pushed past and as soon as they got in front of me they said “Let’s walk for a minute!” I kept going, pushed through the middle of them and heard an “or not” behind me. There was just no way I was stopping at that point. We made the left turn and headed up into the driveway at Johnson’s. I was able to hold it together until I saw Lex. as soon as I saw her I lost it. I had no idea how much time was passed or how much time I had left for that matter. I just figured that despite the effort I’d put forth the last 7 miles there was just no way I was going to make it.

Coming into Johnson's

I was really looking forward to a dry shirt at Johnson’s, but it was nowhere to be found. However, I was able to take my shirt off and towel myself down. I put on more Body Glide and put my shirt back on. Lex found a few more Nuun tabs floating around and stuffed them into my bottle pockets when she refilled them for me. When she handed them to me I remember her asking me something about how I was feeling about running 100 miles. I told her I’d tell her later if I qualified. She said “you’ve got 37 minutes! Get your ass moving!”  So I hit the aid station table, grabbed a pb&j and a handful of chips and hit the trail. I had no time for dawdling and left the other three behind.

"My name's Doug and I'm outta' heeeeere!"

All I knew was that I had 3 miles left, 2 of which were climbing up to Mt. Ascutney and the last mile or so was down one of the ski slopes, and I was running. I wasn’t interested in taking it easy anymore. I was going to finish under 11 hours if it killed me. Jeremy D caught me again and tried to get me to wait for the others, but I wasn’t having it. I knew Luau was going to finish because, as I told him a couple of miles prior, he’s a “fucking warrior!” Jeremy B was going to finish because he just doesn’t know any better, and as long as those two were together I just wasn’t going to worry about them.

There was a lot of technical trail from this point on and Jeremy B caught us on one of the climbs. He told us that Luau was hurting, but that he was resolved to finish even if he had to walk. Jeremy told us that when Luau told him to leave him, he was in fact walking. Hearing him say this was kinda’ crushing to my spirit, but in the end it just pushed me harder. Suddenly out of nowhere, before we came out of the woods, Luau caught us! Of course he said he’d just used-up all of his reserves to do it, but he wanted to catch-up to tell us not to worry, he was going to finish, and he wanted me to get my sub-11.

We exited the woods again and I was cramping worse than ever when I slowed-up a bit to get out a Nuun tab and Jeremy B passed me. He just kept pulling away, which pissed me off to no end because I couldn’t answer, I had nothing left. There would be no “Kenyan Kick” from me today. Then I saw JB stop to take some pics and when he focused the camera on me I cursed at him and told him he’d better get going because if I caught him I was going to kill him!

JB's Last Picture

Jeremy D was right on my heels when I heard the familiar chorus “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” and knew he was cramping. I stopped and gave him my last Nuun tab and said I hope it worked for him as well as it had for me! Now I knew I was truly on my own. Nothing left to ease the debilitating cramping. I was out of Nuun in one bottle and I only had about 8 oz. of water left in the other. Thank God I saw the “0.5 mile left” sign shortly after that. I heard the dull roar of the crowd and music at the finish in the distance, and came out of the woods for the last time onto the ski slope. I saw JB about 10-15 seconds ahead of me on the switchbacks and actually considered jumping the course to tackle him.

Trying to Smile for the Camera

As soon as I started down the ski slope my calves started cramping (I was so glad I put on my Zensah Compression socks at Dugdale’s, seriously). My calves were cramping so bad that I was literally dancing down the switchbacks on my toes trying not to fall. As I came into the finish chute (which was one of the steepest parts of the course, btw), I just let it all out. All the pain and all the emotion came pouring out as I screamed in pain nearly the entire way down the hill to the finish. I saw Lex at one point and she was yelling something at me while running next to me on the outside of the tape.

Top of the Gnarly Finish

If it KILLS Me!

I crossed the finish line and I knew I had done it, but I had to go and look at the timer’s computer screen. The finish line clock was the actual time in military time. My official time was 10:57:45! I had done it with time to spare! JB and I grabbed each other (more like held each other up) and waited at the finish line for JD who finished less than an minute behind me. When he crossed the line we embraced in a long man-hug and were simply overcome with emotion.

Overcome at the Finish

Once we were done with the man love, I found Lex and gave her a big sweaty hug and kiss and she handed me the bottle of Gritty’s Halloween Ale I’d been waiting for all day. The worst part of the day was knowing I had beer on ice in the cooler in the back of our vehicle at all of the handler’s stations! It would’ve been so easy to drop and have a beer!

A Beer and a Medal #itdoesntgetanybetter

We all stayed in the chute anxiously awaiting Luau’s finish not knowing what to expect. About 5 minutes later we saw him in his Autism Speaks blue singlet at the top of the mountain and started yelling our heads off! He looked good and ran strong all the way through to the finish tossing his water bottles to the side and practically leaping into our arms (we seriously had to catch him)! I couldn’t have been more proud of our group. We took a picture of the four of us and headed over for some chow.

The Gang of Four - Luau, JB, Me, JD

While we were eating we asked Lex about Adam and Sarah. She said that they had come through Dugdale’s 30-40 minutes after we did, but that her and Dave had to leave Johnson’s to get to the finish and didn’t see them. And because we have Verizon, she had to walk around trying to find service to text Adam’s wife Jenni and/or Sarah’s friend Gene (who was crewing/pacing her and took a lot of these pictures). When we were finally able to get an update, Jenni said that they had pulled Adam off the course at Johnson’s becasue he had arrived too late to make the cutoff, which was an incredible bummer. But we knew he had been battling with his achilles tendons all day and were massively impressed that he had still made it 47 miles!

Jenni said that Sarah was the last person that they let continue from Johnson’s and that Gene was pacing her the last three miles. Apparently she had 33 minutes to finish when she left. We watched the mountain anxiously until we saw her coming and started screaming and cheering her in! She finished in 11:58:54! Amazing! I know how hard that last 3 miles was and she did it in 32 minutes, wow! She even passed a half-dozen or so others on the way. What an amazing day. Strong work by everyone in our group. New friendships forged, old friendships reinforced, and we all have a bond that we will share for a lifetime.

I will enter the Western States 100 lottery and I will be back to Vermont next year!

There is no tomorrow… Go out and get it today!

Thanks for reading this whole thing!

Strong Work,

Doug

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13 Responses to Vermont 50 Recap (Part 4 – Conviction)

  1. luau says:

    I have been struggling to write my own recap…I’m thinking maybe I should just post a link to yours! ;)
    Great write up my friend. Was an honor and a privilege to be peerpressured into running this thing with you…and you know what? You are a nutjob for wanting to run the 100, but I WILL run the VT50 again with you next year…and next year? It’s on! I’m gonna actually train for this thing and see if we can get ourselves a 9-handle!
    Let’s get it!

  2. Ha! Nice write up indeed (wiping tears from my eyes) — wish I could stand up long enough to want to be there when you all finished, but I was seriously hurting. This story is amazing — heart wrenching and just awesome how you all connected and ran together. You guys ROCK! And truly deserve a “9 handle” :) Next year and the year after that too — me too — I will be there — and promise to put in some serious ultra training too @luau :) No cheating on the write up — just do it (someone at Nike said that!) :)

  3. Nicki says:

    Brought tears to my eyes to read this. I was following the reports that Gene was posting on Twitter. I do NOT know where you find all this inside yourself. Way to go!!

  4. John says:

    Doug,
    I’m the fraternity brother of Luau’s that met you guys pre-race. Beautiful write up! It really does take a lot of length to convey the constant changes (mentally and physically) you go through over the course of the day. I had no idea how the end of the day played out for you in such dramatic fashion – very cool! See you next year..
    - John

    • Thanks John! It was great to meet you before the race! How did your race go? I hope it was all you expected and more!

      • John says:

        The run went really well (18th, 3rd in AG). The heat did a number on me with the cramping as well. 30+ Endurolyte caps, bananas at every aid station, GU, Heed, Perpetuem, etc. and both adductors still locked up on me. Last time it was IT band. It’s always something new and unexpected Can’t wait to see what the course throws at me next year!

  5. okokok…i’ll admit to it…i had tears welling up, too! so great to be a small part of this adventure…
    i will be running it next year! no doubt.
    great job to all of you. and @Luau, i couldn’t tell that you were hurting that badly when we saw you at Johnson’s. great job!!!
    keep us posted on the Western States!
    ( i think i have used my daily allotment of exclamation points…..)
    peace, yo!
    gene

  6. Quix says:

    I’ve loved reading these recaps! Sounds like a crazy, awesome, fun, painful, and soul-affirming day. :) Thanks for sharing it with us!

  7. ally says:

    You bunch of crazy bastards!!!! Much respect

  8. Wow oh wow!!! This is just too freaking amazing!!! You and the team did awesome!!! Congrats on finishing in time!!! You freaking did it Doug!!! You dudes do some crazy shit!! Pure endurance!!! Love it!!!! WoW!!!

  9. Maddy Hribar says:

    I loved reading this!!! So excited for you! And so proud of all you guys! What a huge accomplishment!!

  10. Jeremy Day says:

    I’m going to be entering the Western States lottery, too, and if I don’t make it in I’m planning on running the Black Hills 100 (http://www.blackhills100.com/) instead. It’s on the same day as Western States, so it’s a good fallback race. You should join me for it.

    And I was royally pissed about my calf cramps the last two miles. I had a ton of energy to keep going, but I just couldn’t properly bend my ankles or get any sort of stride going.

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