Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Vermont 100

(...It's just random numbers, but it's pretty damn close!)

So I signed up for Vermont mostly to check it off my list as it is a Grand Slam race. GDR (race report) + newborn + Grindstone in October severely limited the options for big late spring / early summer races. Vermont isn't my style of race -- too runnable, no big climbs or descents, lots of road running -- but I pitched it as an opportunity for a family vacation, and my better half agreed. I figured the runnable nature of the course would help me focus on my long-term goal of qualifying for the 24 Hour Team USA, and would also keep me from over-committing to difficult training too far in advance of Grindstone.

These were my original race objectives when I first signed up in January:
  • Solo champion
  • Around 16:30
  • "Compete" for Top 3

It was fairly ambitious. But I figured a healthy dose of marathon "speed" training and flatter, faster long runs could pave the way to a great performance at Vermont.

Then life happened and I had to temper my expectations. I won't go into detail, but here's a run-down of the things that made me adjust my race objectives:
  • Erratic training and sub-optimal sleep -- babies are the worst!
  • Bum left knee -- tendinitis still present from unnecessary Track Marathon in mid-May
  • Minimal long runs since GDR
  • Right foot showing signs of plantar fasciitis as race day approached

As a consequence, my race objectives were now:
  • Solo champion
  • Around 17:00
  • Run smart, run relaxed, don't treat it like an "A Race"

To overcome the lack of training, I paid for some insurance policies in the way of seemingly unnecessary heat training and a short stint with a pre-race keto diet. While the idea of a full-time keto diet sounds insane, I am convinced that getting your body comfortable with burning fat as fuel can help ward off bonking, so I try to do a 7-10 day keto session right before every long race. And while the temps at Vermont don't really necessitate heat training, some studies have shown that it can lead to performance gains even for moderate race temperatures ... it served me well for Western States, so why not!

(How normal people dress for 100degree temps)

(My diet for a whole week)

Since my wife would be taking care of a 3 year old and a 4 month old, I had long planned to run solo/unaided. There are so many aid stations at Vermont that it looks more like a road marathon than a trail race anyway ... dedicated crewing would be mostly irrelevant for me. As such, I made my primary goal to win the Solo title ... as long as I got that, the day would be a success.

(Checked in and ready to go at the 2017 Vermont 100)

I stood at the front of the starting field surprisingly well rested. I looked around and tried to cast off the feeling of creeping imposter syndrome -- why am I standing up here? do I even belong here? am I any good at this?  When the race started a couple of runners went out with Brian Rusiecki, but I knew better than to make that mistake. I'm not as talented as him, no reason to pretend otherwise. As I cruised along I was soon swarmed by runners on the first smooth road descent and I couldn't help but think: I'll see you all before the race is done!

Jake Dissinger came up on me after a mile or two and knowing we were of similar abilities from our run-in at Holiday Lake earlier in the year, we banded together. We had a similar race plan -- go easy on the downhills, stay within ourselves on the climbs, and see what shakes out in the latter miles. Thus, a lot of our chit-chatting in the early miles was ridiculing runners that were going out ahead of us, especially anyone that tore ass on the descents ... only to be caught again by the time we crested the next hill.

I had some splits in mind for a 17:00 finish and we came into the Pretty House AS at Mile 21 about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, at 3:05. I didn't let that get to my head, and swore I'd stick to my splits as best as I could -- I knew they were sustainable ... no time to start thinking 16-flat was awaiting me! At Pretty House I picked up my first of 4 drop bags, quickly swapping out bottles and grabbing new Huma gels and Tailwind pouches. I was in and out of there in no time, a crew would've saved me a handful of seconds, if that.

(That's 4lbs of sugar and electrolytes. I ate ALL OF IT!)

In the miles before Stage Road AS at Mile 30, even though it wasn't yet 9AM, the sun and exposed asphalt roads was making me start to overheat. I wasn't expending a lot of energy, but I just felt warm. I strolled into Stage Road and was greeted with a tub of ice water and towels for drenching. I spent a solid minute drenching my body and I've honestly never felt so refreshed in a race before. Best aid station experience EVER!

Between Stage Road and Camp 10 Bear at Mile 47, I was just cruising on auto pilot ... it just kind of blew by. But here's a random reporting of events:
  • Some farmer at Mile 32 let me know I was precisely 34 minutes behind the leaders.  Ummm, thanks, I guess.
  • I jumped off into the woods for the only time all day. Imodium, guaranteed to cork up your insides on race day!
  • My family came out to see me at a Spectator Spot, so I spent a couple minutes trying to convince my daughter to let her sweaty father give her a hug.
  • I started passing 100K runners, which confused the hell out of me the rest of the race. Am I passing someone that matters? Yes? No?!

At Camp 10 Bear at Mile 47, I quickly grabbed a new bottle and nutrition out of my drop bag, and loaded up an ice bandana I had packed, just in case. Jake and I reconnected and went on our merry way for a 22 mile loop. I had planned to start pushing my effort half-way through the loop, around Mile 60, and there were a number of times I'd wished I'd done more running up a hill or pushed the pace a bit on a descent, but having some company was too hard to pass up.

Around Margaritaville AS at Mile 58.5 I heard a distinct buzzing sound. I thought it was some gadflies in a tree but when I looked up I saw a drone scoping us out as we ran. I decided to play around and hit the deck, like I'd been shot. I got to see the footage at the finish line and a target overlay would make for an enjoyable race video.

At some point around here I started getting grouchy, letting Jake know how pissed of I was getting that there wasn't anyone around us to pass. The whole point of taking it easy in the first half of a 100 miler is to have the joy of cashing in on all of the carnage at the end of the race!

Towards the end of the loop my feet were feeling a bit worn out from my low-profile race shoes (Pearl Izumi N1 Trail, may they rest in peace), so I decided when I got back to Camp 10 Bear that I'd swap out shoes for some fresh Altra Superiors. I usually despise the idea of swapping shoes, but I had a feeling the hard running surfaces might necessitate a shoe change at some point. Jake and I came into the aid station together still nearly spot-on to my 17 hour race plan. I then saw him darting back out before I had even sat down to change my shoes. At this point, not having a crew really did me in. It took over 5 minutes to get my drop bag, pull out my shoes and socks, swap them out, re-stock on nutrition, and refill my ice bandana. Ugh!

I left the aid station determined to catch back up with Jake and his pacer in the next 10 miles, hoping to press through to a sub-17 effort. But within a mile I came across Hal Koerner. As I passed him I confirmed that he was still running Solo. I muttered some quip about how I liked his book and then darted ahead. A few minutes later it dawned on me that I most likely had the Solo title locked up, so I dialed back the effort and just let that sink in for a few miles. I still had no idea what place I was in at this point, but I wasn't concerned with that at all. Instead of pushing the pace and finishing hard, I found myself saying, "you could save your legs AND still meet your primary race goal! Take it easy, dude!"

... And that's pretty much the rest of the race!

The next miles just kind of flew by ... except for the obligatory end-of-race Pee Fest that's starting to become routine for me. Without fail, after about 12 hours of running I feel like I need to stop and pee every 10 minutes. It's so frustrating. I'm probably overhydrating a bit, so I really need to work on increasing my Tailwind concentration and dialing back the drinking by a few ounces an hour.

Anyways ... at some point I casually strolled into Bill's Aid Station at Mile 88 a solid 15 minutes behind schedule. 5 of that came from the shoe change, but I don't know where the other 10 came from. I must have been really sandbagging it. Somewhere during this stretch I came across the RD, Amy Rusiecki. She cheerfully informed me I was Top 10. I figured I had been in the Top 10 for awhile but it was nice to finally get confirmation.

At Bill's I had my second Solo time suck of the day. My 4th and final drop bag was just too stripped down. I didn't pack a bottle, only my required nutrition for the next 12 miles and a headlamp. So instead of quickly swapping out bottles I stood there for a couple of minutes, unwrapping my quart-sized plastic baggy, refilling my bottle with Tailwind and then water, cramming gels into pockets, unwrapping my headlamp, ... blah blah blah. It was a complete waste of time. Oh well.

Heading out of the AS I did some math and decided breaking 17 wasn't going to happen, so there was no point in even trying. A few minutes later I saw a runner in the distance cresting a hill. He was maybe 60-90 seconds up on me. I really don't know why I didn't pursue him, but I vaguely remember thinking it was probably just another 100K-er ... I'd passed over 50 of them already.

For awhile, it felt like a pebble was stuck in my shoe. I thought it was down in my sock so after miles of dealing with this I finally said screw it. I sat down to dig it out and found no pebbles, only a good deal of maceration on the ball of my foot. The pinching, stabbing feeling wasn't a rock, it was me literally stepping on a fold of swollen skin. The rest of the race I did my best to keep my big toe extended upwards to minimize the pain. If I were really, truly focused on this race I never would've stopped, viewing it as a complete waste of time ... and, well, it kind of was, so, I dunno, lesson learned I guess.

I came through Polly's Aid Station at Mile 95, still 15 minutes behind schedule, right as the sun had set. I finally decided it was time to up the effort level. And within 5 minutes I saw Jake and his pacer. It took another mile or so to run them down. I wanted nothing more than to just cruise in with those guys, but Jake complained of dead legs and told me the next guy was "a minute up". I then put 2 and 2 together and realized it was likely the guy I didn't pursue an hour before. So I debated for a minute and then took off.

I expected to catch up with this guy in short order. But as the final miles passed by I never saw him. I never went all-out, but I was certainly putting in more effort than I had all day. I kept playing with my headlamp, turning it off every time I hit a clearing, desperately clinging to the desire to finish sans headlamp. I crossed the finish line just after 9PM in 17:06 ... with a headlamp. I later learned that I was 2 minutes back of 5th and 5 minutes back of 4th, the guy I was trying to pursue. More so than the wasted solo aid station transitions, this is the best indicator of how running solo impacted my day. If I had crew spotting these runners over the final 30 miles, there's no way I would've let myself finish behind them.  Oh well.

(Race schwag!)

Final Thoughts

While I never pushed myself to the limit at Vermont, it was a successful experience for me. I learned some more about how I can efficiently stay strong and pace well throughout a 100 miler -- I've had some rough outings in shorter races but I always seem to get it right for the hundos. I was able to finish in a competitive place well inside the Top 10 without working all that hard. And I achieved all of my pre-race objectives.

Yeah, it would've been nice to have shaved off 7 minutes to get in sub-17 and overtake the two guys just ahead of me, but I'm not sure it would've been worth the added stress on my body. Looking back at my various time sucks and how easy of an effort I put in, I'm certain I could've gotten close to 16:30 if I really pushed myself and had a crew.  So will I go back sometime soon and brave the unrelenting hard-packed hill workout to find out just how fast I can complete that course?! ... I'm leaning heavily towards a big fat NO! The mountains and single-track call me!

In the days after the race, it became abundantly clear that I did not push my body to the limit. My quads and hamstrings never experienced major muscle soreness, and my smaller calf muscles felt fine within 5 days. I didn't get the shakes that typically come after a 100 miler -- where I lose the ability to regulate body temperature and find myself shaking and shivering all night long. I did feel slightly short of breath on occasion for a couple of days, but that cleared up quickly. I had hoped to use the 2 weeks after Vermont to heal up the tendinitis in my knee, thinking I'd be dreading any hint of a structured training plan. But I currently find myself fighting off the urge to get back into real training for Grindstone.


Obvious gratitude to my wife for taking care of our two young children while I camped out in a tent and went on an extended weekend long run.

Thanks a lot to MassUltra (twitter and facebook) for the race day coverage. My wife really appreciated the updates that made it so easy for her to swing by a Spectator Spot and see me run.

Huge thanks to Amy Rusiecki and all of the volunteers that make the race what it is.


2017 Vermont 100 Fly-by

The generated fly-by plot, above, reveals a lot about my race day:

  • I basically ran with Jake Dissinger for the first 69 miles until my shoe change.
  • I uniformly fell behind Rusiecki all day long ... from start to finish I was solidly 60-70 seconds per mile slower. I view that as a good thing. I effectively maintained performance without drastic changes in my effort level.
  • Only Rusiecki and Arnstein, both previous winners, increased their lead on me in the final third of the race.
  • I spent the middle miles running the same pace as Kathleen Cusick. That's not a bad thing at all, but given our best efforts at Hellgate, Grindstone, Bull Run, etc., I'd expect that I should've been more like 60-90 minutes ahead if I'd gone all out.
  • Within 5 minutes of 4th place for the final 40 miles?! Having a crew to relay that info would've been incredibly helpful and motivating.
  • I'm a long way off from being truly competitive in a major 100 miler -- look at that gap between 1-3 and 4-7 -- but I seem to be a pretty solid minor leaguer right now.