Thursday, September 30, 2010

Vermont 50: A long, colorful day

Start slow, then taper off. Isn't that the sane and proper way to run 50 miles?

If so, then Susan and I succeeded beautifully at the 2010 Vermont 50.

With the exception of my very first 50, the 2006 Stone Cat 50, for which my father flew up from Virginia to crew, I have done all of my 50s by myself. Since I don't sleep well in tents or hotels, my MO has always been to get up insanely early the morning of the race (usually around 2:30), drive up and drive back same day. This works for me. It limits family disruption, gives me a few hour's sleep and makes for quite a solo adventure.

But, oh what a difference my friends make!

This year Susan and Grace said they'd run VT (Susan: 50M, Grace:50K). So we drove up together, checked in together, ate together and split a motel. This made the whole pre-race, jazzed-up hoopla so much fun.

We ate sushi at a Japanese restaurant in White River Junction. This was an inspired choice and I don't know why I've never thought of it. Sushi rolls are, for me, the ultimate pre-race dinner. No gluten, no dairy, as is my diet. Carbs from the rice, protein from the fish, and a wee hit of exotic je ne sais quois from the seaweed wrap.


Back at the hotel, the three of us spent a fair amount of time on our feet.

We clipped and painted our nails. I recommend this activity the night before a race. It's captivating yet brainless. Just what you need.

And then we ordered a bunch of stuff on eBay. Also captivating and brainless. My new, Susan-inspired DVD of Ab Ripper X should be arriving soon. I should have a kickass bikini stomach next summer, wait and see.

But maybe don't hold your breath.

Early the next morning, Susan and I opted out of the 5:15 pre-race meeting. Our race wasn't scheduled to start until 6:25 and we did not relish the idea of standing around in the cold for over an hour waiting, waiting, waiting. This is not the Boston Marathon. This is not New York! I have yet to retain a single piece of useful information from any pre-race meeting. Ever. All of those details evaporate from me like dew from a misty meadow. Ploof.

We arrived just before 6 with a whole bunch of other runners, just as the first wave of mountain bikers was taking off. Yes, the Vermont 50 includes mountain bikers. Last time I ran this race I caught lots of mountain bikers throughout the day. This year.....not so much.

Here's a picture of Susan and I right before the start. And we kept smiling all day long. Which was our race goal.

We took off at the back of the pack and still lots of people passed us during the first few downhill road miles. We were not going to get suckered into going too fast. We were not optimally trained for this race. We have not been running many hills. We were in survival mode right from the start.

Here is Susan near the start of the race with Mt. Ascutney (start/finish) behind her.

The scenery and the foliage were drop dead gorgeous. It was like the trees were on fire. Every now and then we'd pass a lone maple in the middle of a field and its colors would jump and dance. The trees were sublime.

We ran for about 10 or fifteen miles with a pleasant fellow named Stuart. We talked about Annie Dillard (my current favorite writer) and Isaac Asimov (his) and the general state of American education ("interesting"). It was a great talk.

And then we hit this hill.

And all talking ceased. The hill went on and on. My leggies were tired. Very tired. I was starting to worry that I'd have to call it a day. But it was so beautiful up there, so exactly where I wanted to be, that I kept plugging along, walking fast, and eventually made it to the Garvin Hill Aid Station (mile 18.6).

These guys were great. They gave me soup, salted potatoes and a few sips of Coke. I was a new woman. Susan and I pushed down the long descent like resurrected zombies. All good.

From here on out, we made a more or less silent pact to stay together. Sometimes I would feel sparky (usually on the uphills) and sometimes Susan would (more downhills). But we helped each other along. No sense dropping each other and finishing five of ten minutes quicker. Who cares how long it takes us to finish? We're out for the day!

I didn't take many more pictures after this. I didn't want to stop. Much of the course was single track: switchbacky and twisty and dark. Labyrinthine was a word that came often to mind. I felt like I was chasing down the Minotaur. The monster in the middle of the maze.

We plugged on. We talked. We didn't. We laughed. We really did enjoy the day. But the specifics of how we got from A to B elude me now. Suffice it to say that most of the time we were either going up or down. Nothing was flat. Quads were fiery at times.

My stomach held up, which is a minor miracle. I started this gluten free/dairy free diet about a year ago and my stomach problems have all but disappeared.

Here the scene just past halfway at Smoke Rise Farm, fabled starting line from VT 100's of yore.

Once we got to the 30-mile mark, we knew we'd make it. The second half of the race is psychologically so much easier than the first. You know you're headed home. You can let your guard down a little. You can enjoy the miles ticking down. Each one a little miracle. We are actually going to finish this thing!

Somewhere between 35 and 40 miles I fell on some rocks. I'm not sure what I tripped on, but I went down like a bag of bones. I saw the ground coming at me so slowly, which gave me plenty of time to yell out, "Shit!" before my head, shoulder, elbow, hip and ankle thunked down.

Susan said the sound of it was sickening. Literally sickening. She thought we were done. But I rolled over, sat up, caught my breath, and except a few sore spots on my pointy bits, I was okay. My shoulder would hurt for a week, but nothing worse. On we went.

Getting on toward the last five miles we were both weary. By this time we were passing all of the poor souls who started out too fast and silently congratulating ourselves for our superior (feminine?!) intelligence. This provided spurts of much needed boost.

We knew the last aid station was coming up, but we weren't sure where it was. I remembered it from two years ago as a house with cows grazing in the front yard, about 2.5 miles from the finish. It was just about the only thing about the course I retained from two years ago. Who could forget such a thing?

But where the hell was it? I kept running and running. Susan was falling behind a little, but I had to keep running. I would wait for her at the goddamn aid station, of course, but I absolutely had to keep moving forward to get there.

Susan later thanked me for this bold move. She too kept running, though everything in her body was telling her to stop, just to keep me in her sights. She didn't want to lose me. She didn't want to stop.

So on we went. A spectator on the trail told me, "Half a mile to the aid station!"

Reader, that was the longest half mile of my life. More like a mile, I'd say.

But, hooray, we made it. You can always make it. Especially if you don't feel like vomiting, if you know what I mean.

Susan changed shoes for the last three miles and I hit the porta-john. Once I sat down in there, it was 50/50 whether I was getting up and coming out.

Well, obviously I came out. Here I am writing this, after all.

We decided to treat the last 2.5 miles of the race as a cool down. We could walk 2.5 miles in well under an hour, or we could run them in half an hour. I figured walking in would give us a leg up on our recovery. We are both homeschooling parents with children waiting for us at home. There is no down time in this situation. No day off. No reason to kill ourselves.

So we walked. And we actually still passed a few people.

And then we ran a little because we could hear the finish line. We ran the last mile across the grass and down, down, down the Mt. Ascutney ski slopes.

Little kids waiting for parents to finish popped up here and there along the last half mile, darting in and out of the long grass. I amused myself by stopping and earnestly asking each of them, "Are we in first place?!"

Answers varied. Some tough boys yelled, "Not even close!"

A shy girl smiled while backing up and said, "Um, I don't think so."

The best response was from a earthy, hearty little girl who just giggled and yelled, "Go!"

We ran down the big hill. We laughed. We had finisher's medals placed around our necks. And we drove home just in time to kiss our respective children good night.

Thanks so much to the organizers and volunteers of the VT50. Between the mountain bikers and runners, many of those aid stations were open for many hours. We were close to the back of the back, and we were treated like royalty at every station. There was still plenty of food and good humor by the time we arrived, which is such a gift when you're out for a long, long day.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Summer's Over

Oh, my goodness, what a lovely summer it was. This is a rare sentiment, as I am generally no fan of summer. The bright sun and the relentless greenery can really get me down. But this summer, was different. I loved it. Our trip to Cape Breton at the beginning of August broke up the long heat jag, and we returned to a temperate freefall to Labor Day.

I ran all summer, though I did no races. I definitely felt the lack of the Vermont 100 in my life this year. Seeing all the pictures and reading all the blog stories made me feel wistful. I think that race may be back on the calendar next year.

And speaking of races, I am beginning to make my peace with running only 2 or 3 races a year. It's so easy to get caught up in the ultra rollercoaster of race after race after race. I am slowly realizing that this is simply not the time in my life to be doing that. There will be years in which I can again run as many races as I can handle. But my life right now is here. Here on this small plot in Connecticut with my family. This little world is everything to me.

You see, I had a health scare this summer that put my life in perspective for me. I had a bad mammogram that led to another bad mammogram. I visited with a surgeon who recommended a biopsy. I was in limbo for two weeks. I was introduced to my own mortality, which I have always respected but hitherto in a more abstract fashion. It was an uncomfortable place to be for two weeks.

My primary concern, of course, was for my kids. I wonder if having kids makes this kind of thing worse. Or if one simply transfers worry about self over to worry about kids if kids are available for such transference. I'd like to think that I am the kind of person who can handle questions of life and death. I try to take a Buddhist attitude and not expect heath every day, but rather to expect change and to deal with it in some sort of proper state of mind. But who knows?

Mornings were the worst. I would wake up in a pit of fear. Even running didn't help much, which was weird. But then the kids would get up and the day would go on and I would be able to mostly push it all down until the next morning.

When word came that I was okay, I was definitely relieved. But I did not, as many people suggested, go out and celebrate. I certainly did not feel celebratory. I simply wanted to sit on the front steps and breathe, because I had not been able to really breathe for weeks. It could have gone either way. I hope I could have dealt with bad news gracefully, but it was not my lot this time to try.

It's over. And summer's over. The kids and I went for one last beach trip this week. The water was warmer than the air and the waves were rough. But we had the place to ourselves. We changed in and out of out wet suits many times as we dared each other back into the water. We laughed a lot. It was great.

Homeschooling has begun. Swimteam starts next week. It's all going down. The long, shapeless summer is over.

I'll be running the Vermont 50 next weekend. I am very much looking forward to that race. I ran it a couple of years ago and it was a mudfest. Last year I was injured. I'm hoping for drier conditions this year. I love the 50 mile distance. Can't wait for a long day of running!