I just signed up for the VT 100. Yikes! My plan is to more-or-less pace my friend, Susan, for all 100 miles. We will take our time, use frequent walk breaks, eat smartly, keep drinking, trundle along, and finish when we finish.
But, man, the idea of 100 miles is still scary. It's The Great Unknown.
I must admit that I am haunted by last year's race. I ran VT last year and got pulled out by the medical chief at Mile 70 (Camp 10 Bear).
The first 50 miles were great. I ran with Susan for twenty miles, and then a guy named Mark for about 20. I gabbed my head off, laughed, enjoyed the day. I walked the uphills, sprinted the downhills (bad idea; don't do that), and kept up a moderate pace through the flats. I did not love the course, as so many others do. Too much road for me, not enough trail. And the day was muggy and dark. Thunderstorms passed through all afternoon. The sky loomed and threatened. The sky was frightening.
Sometime after Mile 50, my stomach went south. First mild nausea, then more intense nausea. I never threw up. I seem to be constitutionally unable to throw up. But all of that nastiness has to go somewhere. Alas, it persisted in making hasty exits out the other end all afternoon.
Camp 10 Bear comes after a long climb and then a long descent, first on roads, then on a rocky horse path, then back on roads. By this time in the race, my entire lower intestine felt like it was on fire. My brain was addled, and I kept thinking, "If I could only rip it out, I'd be fine." I imagined pulling out my lower intestine, loop by loop. Odd image, I realize, but at the time it helped. Each downstep on level road was uncomfortable, and running downhill was excruciating.
I came into Camp 10 Bear and my pacer, Grace, was all ready to go. I can still see her, arms out, hopping from foot to foot, ready to take off at a moment's notice. My husband, Brian, and my 7-year-old daughter, Nell, were also there. The sight of them almost broke my heart. I felt like I was failing them. They had driven all the way up to Vermont to see me finish 100 miles, and that possibility was quickly becoming remote.
"Grace," I said. "I need a minute."
Brian and Grace got me into a chair and Nell sat next to me. As soon as I sat down, it was all over. All mental toughness left me and I started to whine. "I don't know what to do! I don't know what to do!" I felt sick, but I had expected to feel sick by this point. No one (or almost no one) feels totally chipper at Mile 70. But was I dangerously sick? Was I damaging my digestive system? Or was I being a big baby?
A volunteer brought me some soup and asked how I was doing. I said I wasn't sure and she brought me over to a cot. Lying down was uncomfortable, so I sat on the cot with Nell next to me, holding my arm with a vice grip. She was very quiet through this whole thing.
A man in a black tee shirt (all the medical people wore black tee shirts) came over to ask me what was going on. I told him and he looked at me for a long time. "Are you okay?" he asked. I told him I didn't know.
Brian started working on my blisters and Grace ran around getting me more soup, more water, more crackers. My stomach felt sicker and sicker.
The medical person came back. I told him I wanted to go. I said I would head down the road for a mile of so, and if things were bad I would come back. He said, "Why don't you walk around the aid station a couple of times and see how that feels?"
I had never heard such a silly idea. Walking around the aid station was a waste of energy. It would get me nowhere. I slumped on the cot and tears started into my eyes.
The chief medical guy came over five minutes later and ripped off my number. Unceremoniously ripped it off. No going back. I was out. I sobbed. Grace held me, Nell held me, Brian half carried me to the car. I was done.
Later I had all kinds of second thoughts. I had been about 5 hours ahead of the cut-off time. What if I had sat for an hour or two until I felt better? What if I had walked out before the medical people got to me? What if I hadn't sat down? What if, what if.....
This year I signed up for the Grindstone 100 the day it opened. This seems like more my kind of race. Single track in the mountains, big climbs, October race date (train all summer while my husband is not working as a teacher), 6:00 p.m. start. Everything about it spoke to me.
But it turns out that I cannot let Vermont go. As the race gets closer, the memories from last year get fonder, the pain more remote, the lessons more obvious. So I am going back. Susan and I have unfinished business (she dropped shortly after I did). We are so much older and wiser than we were last year.
It's going to be great!
That's my stand and I'm sticking with it.