Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vermont 50

I woke up Saturday morning all stressed out. The weekend weather report was dismal: wind and rain, thunder and lightning. The idea of getting up in the middle of the night to drive to Vermont and run 50 miles on Sunday was becoming less and less appealing.

I was ready to ditch the whole thing when I logged on to the race website to check the list of entrants. And what to my wondering eyes did I see? My friend Penny had upgraded herself from the 50K to the 50-miler. Penny was running! I would have someone to run with!

My friends, things began looking up.

Saturday evening I set two alarms for 2 a.m. and proceeded to sleep not a wink as I watched the hours tick by. I got up at two, just before the alarm, quietly dressed, made my tea and slipped out of my sleeping house.

It rained all the way up. Three hours and twenty minutes of rain. I listened to a collection of humor pieces from the New Yorker called Fierce Pajamas on CD, which proved to be excellent company. All the great writers from the last century humored me along, and before I knew it I was in Vermont. AND IT STOPPED RAINING!

I found Penny in line at the Porta-Potties and stayed with her for the rest of the long day. We were thrilled to have found each other.

650 mountain bikers went off in front of the runners. They went in stages based on age and ability. By the time our race started at 6:40, the sky was light and fog was starting to lift.

Not such a great picture (I took it while running), but you get the idea.

As usual, I don't remember much about the first 20 miles. Penny and I ran together, talking our heads off. We moved in and out of other runners' orbits, but didn't stick with anyone for very long. The weather was perfect, strangely enough: cool-ish with an occasional mist from above. The leaves were just starting to turn (unlike here in Southeastern CT where everything is still green).

We ran on dirt roads and nice wide trails. There were no technical bits. The running was smooth and lovely. We walked the uphills for the first half of the race to save our legs. Penny is a phenomenal uphill walker. She told me that Jeff Washburn (of GAC fame) once told her to always "walk with a purpose." Indeed she does.

Here I am around mile 12, still looking fairly energetic. I actually felt mostly good all the way to mile 40.

Right around mile 20 (if I remember correctly) we started to go up. Up and up and up. I love uphill running. All those years of pushing heavy strollers have beefed my uphill muscles. Give me up-hill over down-hill any day.

We ran by horse farms.

And made friends with the horses.

Right near the midpoint of the race we came upon the World's Best Aid Station at Smoke Rise Farm. Jimmy Buffett was singing Brown Eyed Girl and the food spread was phenomenal. Check out the homemade WHOOPIE PIES!!! Absolutely divine.

The farm itself was to die for.

If you like the idea of living on a Vermont hillside, it looks like the neighbors are moving.

Coming (reluctantly) out of Smoke Rise, we continued up and up. We should have been at the top of a freaking Alp by now, we had been running up for so long.

We finally said goodbye to the road and headed back down on the trails.

I'm not sure how long we ran on this lovely trail. We moved through a couple more aid stations, feeling progressively less peppy. Around mile 35 my stomach started to go south (it's like clockwork) and Penny's hamstring started giving her trouble. We took turns jollying each other along. Luckily, when one of us was feeling poorly the other was feeling pretty good.

Somewhere along the way, the trail turned labyrinthine. It twisted and turned along a narrow path. The trees seemed to be closing in on us. With all of the switch-backs and circle-backs, it felt like we weren't making any forward progress. Just when I thought I would go zipping out of my mind, the trail would twist down, tantalizingly close to a road, only to wind up again into the gruesome trees.

Between mile 40 and 45 I was really quite sick. Penny pulled me through this stretch, and we made it to the last aid station with 4.6 miles to go. I couldn't eat anything at the aid station, but did choke down a couple of Cliff Blocks and a cup of Coke to carry me through to the end.

We walked out of the aid station and then started a little shuffle, telling ourselves that we were keeping up a good pace and making great time. (We were barely moving forward, mind you.) We could hear the finish line as we headed onto the cross-country ski trails at Mt. Ascutney.

Just as we came upon the darkest, muddiest, most treacherous stretch of trail, the skies opened up. It could not have been raining harder. I was wearing my road shoes rather than my trail shoes, and I could not get any traction in the mud, which had been chewed up by the 650 mountain bikers. (How mtn bikers got through this stretch, I will never understand). At one point, as I slipped and slid through the snot-like murk (think of your three-year-old's first sneeze of the morning right in the heart of flu season) on a narrow trail high above a deep ravine, I started to seriously worry for my safety. I would not have been the least surprised to have been accosted by a Rodent of Unusual Size. I despaired that I would never, never, never make it to the finish line. Those last miles took us an hour and a half.

And then we came out, still in the rain, to the grassy hill above Mt. Ascutney and the finish line.

What a welcome sight it was. We ran down the hill together laughing and linked pinkies at the finish line. 11 hours, 2 minutes (or something like that).

I immediately got in the car and drove home. The rain came down in buckets the entire trip. I listened to Tom Perrotta's new book, The Abstinence Teacher, and, what with my head all full of endorphins, did not even notice the passage of time.

Thanks to all of the race officials and volunteers who made this such a great race. In the end, it really was a wonderful gift of a day.

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