For the first time in 5 years I will not be trying to run 30 plus miles on Birthday. Not even a 30k run. I will not even be running at all. The reason being a bum left knee, an overuse injury. The reason I got the injury makes missing my birthday run an ok thing.
It all started in 2010 when I first attempted to run the VT 50 mile trail race and did not finish. Of course for the next three years I would go back and try again. It grew to be a quite the monkey on my back and would always nag me threw the running years. Finally in 2012 I had a bit of a break through. It was a rainy and muddy year. I decided to wear what I wanted and to carry only my small water belt. Basically just wearing enough stuff to get by and be comfortable. I knew between lack of training, weather and trail conditions I didn’t have much chance of finishing race. The plan was not to worry about it and just run and see how far I could get yet again. To my surprise I made it through the 41 mile aid station. Time was running out and it was long way to the next aid station, both physical and mentally. Something happened at the point. I found another stage, a step, a lesson..? Mind and body were able to put the last 41 miles aside and I was able to run a fair amount again despite the fatigue and soreness. But the section was a long twisting roller coaster of trail and the clock ran out before I got to 47 mile aid station. I wasn’t disappointed at all. I had learned what it really felt like to go beyond what body doesn’t think it can do. I was very pleased with my ‘what the hell give it a try’ 47 miles.
Come September 29, 2013 I was again no more trained, in my opinion. But I had a few things going for me. The weather was good, really dry, might be a tad ‘warm’, but not like two years ago when I only made it 27 miles do to temps in the 70’s. I had the fact that I ran 47 miles last year on a slippery muddy course. This was the 20th year of the race so there was extra energy in every one involved and would be a great year to finish if I could. I was tired of paying $140 to run this race, as beautiful and well organized as it is, there are much cheaper races out there. I had bought a race sweatshirt the night before. I had joked with Josh that I had to finish to be able to wear it, then followed up saying it but it doesn’t have a year on it so I could still wear it even if I didn’t finish. He quickly pointed yes it did indeed have a year on it… oh…damn it. And lastly, gosh darn it, I wanted that shinny finisher’s medal!
The 6:30am start was a little warmer than other years and was nice. Grant and Leah were there to crew Josh and I this year. Leah is still working up to trying an Ultra race, but has finished some ultra-hikes and has become an excellent coach for her Mom. Grant took a tumble down a rabbit hole so to speak and was building up a new den with a new job and wife this year. He has still come out to crew the big races but sadly left us no white rabbit to chase this year. Josh and I would be running, albeit not together. We both had our fuzzy ears on, they make us smile and others runner notice and smile to as we go, it’s a nice distraction to have when running for so long. Josh the Wolf and me the Puma. We saw many other familiar faces at the start and chatted with a bunch.
We started out along the roads and were surprised to find ourselves at the back at the pack before we even got to the first hill. Despite being as fast as last year it seemed like everyone was eager to get going this year. Aw we hit the long hills on the road and Josh pulled ahead and out site for the most part and I started to meld into the pack of runners hiking up the hills. I caught up to Gilly on the climbs and exchanged some cheery hellos and talked about how nice it was to be here again. Continuing on I caught site of a taller guy with a shaved Mohawk. I smiled as it reminded me of a kid I knew high school that started running in the past couple years and had shaved his head like that for fun for some of the Spartan races. I love how running has changed so many lives in a good ways. I caught up to Clem, a runner we have seen at so many races all of year, his pace is always steady and I can only beat him on slightly more technically courses. Sure enough I passed him on a section of trail only to have him slowly trot past me and slowly out of site over next mile or so.
I passed through the first aid station on time according to my goal times. (I should mention I made this cheat card of times and distances back in 2009 and don’t recall the methods and reasoning I used to come up with goal times I had.) Leaving this aid station was usually a muddy climb. This year it was truly dry giving the course a whole different feel. Again coming to the first field that usually has a large puddle and mud was very dry. It was a treat! It also spread runners out a bit more. There were a lot less people around me vs. other years. As I ran the single track threw the pine trees with soft needles under foot I noticed two things. One it was actually dusty in parts, that’s was new to me running this course. Two the number of bike water bottles I saw along the trail that had been dropped by mountain bike racers. I should have started counting them earlier and started to count them from that point.
I came off the trails and onto the long downhill of dirt roads. I tried to push my pace as much as I could without over doing it, but other runners still caught up and glided by, oh well. I loved running by the brook on this road and noticed more bottles from bikers on the rougher washboard sections of the dirt road. I just kep running, I knew this section and knew it was runnable all the way to the last hill up to the aid station. On the paved road I heard the dog bark and the rooster crow, like clockwork, as I have heard each year I have run the course. I reached Dart’s aid station right on my goal time if not early.(8.5miles Goal 1:42 Actual 1:41)
I moved along the next section keeping up a steady run and hike and but my mind started to wander. What math did I use to calculate the next goal time? I have never been able to get there that fast and this year would be no different. I found myself thinking that 32 miles sounded like a nice number to reach and stop at, and then take a nice nap. Around that point Gilly caught up to me and we chatted and leap frogged back and forth. She said ‘you’ll finish this year, that’s for sure.’ We reached the mud pit toward the end of this trail section and found it to be almost dry. ‘Wow guess the course really will be dry!’ I thought after I have saw that. Gilly took off down the hills to aid station. I came into it shortly after and met up with Grant and Leah, everything was well. I had them switch some bottles and grab some Gu chomps while I used the bathroom. Then I was off onto the longest section up to Garvin hill aid station. (12.3miles G 2:27 A 2:33)
The course turned on to a gravel access road and as I ran down it the sun broke through the fog finally. Heh! I laughed at my shadow with cat ears showing, forgetting I had them on. I caught up to another runner and we chatted about whether the sun coming out was good or bad because it might cause it to get hot and humid. The miles of roads dragged on, and the sections all blurred together in my mind. Thinking I was close to the last climb up to Garvin I took some salt tabs and pain killers, (if they really helped or if it was placebo I could never tell.) A few moments later I realized I was not as close as I thought, oh well. I listened to a trio of guys running behind me telling stories. One was some kind of corporate rep. that goes over seas to Tokyo to try to seal the deals. He talked of how they would bring them out for drinks and he, the rep., would have to do toast/shots with many people from the company. Finally we turned off the roads and on to trails up to the top of Garvin hill. The trio passed by me and commented “Nice ears!”.
‘Thanks, love your stories’
“Have you done this before?’
“Yeah, my fourth time here.”
“Great we are all good then, we will all finish.”
“Oh, I have yet to finish one.”
“Oh! Nah you are doing great you will finish this year.”
We passed back and forth on the way to the top. When I broke out onto the field on top of Garvin I took in the stunning view, thankful that fog had lifted. The fall colors were wonderful and the view extended to the northern mountains of Vermont and into the Whites of New Hampshire with fog still nestled in the valleys. I arrived at the aid station at little over my goal time. I restocked and set off down the hill while still munching on food.(19.3miles G 3:51 A4:06)
I have enjoyed this section every year. Lots of nice trail, first 20 miles were done along with the climb up Garvin, I was feeling good. Gilly caught up to me, and wanted to ask a kinda personal question. I smiled and said go head. She asked how often do I pee when I run ultra’s? I paused it was never good sign when someone asked you that at a race. I told her usually every 2 to 3 hours for me, Josh had told me about once an hour is good for him. She stated she hadn’t peed since the start. But she was feeling ok, drinking well and eating fine still. She knew what to watch for and we slowly drifted apart again. I was happy to see, for the first time in years, that the steep sections of the trail down to the aid station were mud free and runnable. I arrived at Cady Brook aid station right on my goal time! I saw veteran ultra runner Randy working the aid station, he had been taking time off of running to have knee surgery. …Good people, always see so many good people at these things it’s hard not to smile around them!(23.2miles G 5:01 A5:01)
Gilly had taken off ahead of me up the long gradual climb out of Cady brook. In between munching on turkey and cheese sandwiches I jogged the flatter inclines and hiked the rest. I pulled just ahead of some guys. The climb went a lot better than other years and was over before I knew it. Gilly was long gone out of site and guys were just a little ways back. Climbing continued up the road. I was starting to get antsy and grumbly, I was not usually running with this many people at this point in the race and I had to pee… but I didn’t want to stop and wait for the guys to go by and couldn’t seem to gain any distance ahead them. So I continued on, going from roads to trail to road and then more trail to a long climb, one of lasts in this section. I dropped my pace greatly as I reached the top and let the three runners catch up and pass me at the crest of the hill. I finally stepped off the trail and peed in peace. I took off down the trail form there, and saw a field in sight. I startled a garter snake or two and I was glad snakes didn’t bother me, unless they rattle. I climbed the field to take in another grand view of the Vermont landscape. This was an easy place to get stuck at since there were always a few chairs up there. From here I ran down the trails and trudged up the road to the next aid station, Margaretville. I saw Gilly ahead getting ready to head out as I was getting there. To my surprise the people were actually a little bit helpful this year. It was a nice change. In the past three years I have hardly gotten a look or word spoken to me as I passed through other the person taking down race numbers.(27.6miles G 5:58 A6:08)
I headed out letting myself think that I didn’t feel too bad for being 27 miles in. I definitely felt like I had bit more energy than past years. I jogged and walked up the road and caught up to Gilly. We chatted a bit more, her not peeing issue had been resolved. She said I was doing awesome and would finish when I voiced my doubts. Despite hearing it so many times it was still not something I was banking on, not until I got threw 47 miles. After a few miles I started jogging a bit more flats then Gilly and pulled way. I turned onto the Dugdale trails, I didn’t remember them having this much down and being so runnable. Then again I had never seen this section so dry! I kept glancing back for Gilly but I didn’t see her. I answered the call of nature again and started off and she still wasn’t in site. I was feeling great and enjoying this section so much more than other years. I sensed a change in the trail as I turned more right and up then past faint memories. I was hoping it was a reroute so trail would come out closer to the aid station. It was! I came out in a hay field and the trails winded down and across the road to the Aid station. I was 30 minutes ahead of goal time, and didn’t believe the mileage was right. Grant and Leah were smiling and talking helping resupply me. Grant said he would pace me at 41 miles if I wanted, I agreed, I knew that section could break me mentally.(32.3miles G 7:30 A7:02)
I headed out onto the trails more than half way done with the race now. This section has changed a bit each year, and I was not sure what to expect. I ticked of a mile or two of run/hiking and something started to nag my mind. I had seen one of the times at aid station was rewritten to read 8:30. What was the 8:30 for? I had left the aid station at 7:00. No one had mentioned a change in cut off times but what if they had changed the cut off time of the next aid station to 8:30? My goal time as 8:42… I felt rather frustrated and really began to push the pace more than really should. I cursed the switch-backs at the ‘party’ house where there was music playing and a cooler of beer on the edge of the lawn. I was pacing behind a runner as we wound around the switch-backs that were a mere foot or two apart in sections. Once out the switch backs I passed the runner and hurried along and in my panic of not knowing the real cutoff. Finally I could see the road crossing that would lead to last big climb to Fallon’s Aid station. As I came down the bank to road I slammed by big right toe hard on a root or rock but was startled by the sharp pain in my right for arm. I looked at my arm but nothing was there, the pang was caused by my foot hitting the rock so hard! I hiked up to Fallon’s cursing, sweating and huffing more then I should have with so many miles left. I stumbled in before 8:30. I asked when the cut off was. But I didn’t get a direct answer only ‘oh don’t worry you have plenty of time!’ I stumbled around, used the potty, grabbed some food and drink, stared blankly at the cut off/next aid sign with miles and times and gave up and started down the trail.(37.3miles G 8:42 A8:14)
As I moved along I kinda missed the mud now because it had been a good excuse to walk. I was hitting a wall. I was not smiling as I passed the Tin Roof shed(Love shack!). I was tired. The extra push to get to Fallon’s and running the past 36miles in general had caught up to me. (Looking back at it, the push to get to Fallon’s was similar to last year push to get to the 47 mile cut off!). I kept trying to keep the pace up. I was able to motivate myself to keep moving because I still didn’t know how much leeway I had with the cut offs.(My sub conscious said I had time in the bank and to keep pushing and I would get more before the next section, but I could not hear it that well.) And I knew Grant was waiting up ahead and I didn’t want to let him down for coming out to help. Sounds silly but that’s how I was thinking. Finally I was back out on the road onto a familiar part of course. I shuffled along the road trying to run the very slight incline and failing for the most part. ‘That’s just crewel!’ I thought as I passed by some camp chairs set up on the side of road, where someone was watching the race at some point. Down the road and onto the snowmobile trails again. Steady long downgrade and flats, but it was so hard to just run, my body ached and I was a tad nauseous. But not as bad as one poor runner stopped on the side emptying his stomach against his will. Out onto another road, I knew once I turned onto the trail again it was just a short ways to the aid station. I was surprised to see the trail just ahead. For the first time in long while my mood lightened and I had a bit of hope again. I was even happier when I came off the trail and found the aid station right on the road vs. tad bit further on the course in the field. I had time in the bank but not really. I still didn’t trust any of times and knew this last bit was going to be a ball buster. Both Leah and Grant were waiting for me. Grant was ready, I grabbed a bit of food and drink and some salt to try to calm my stomach and we headed out.(41.1miles G 9:35 A9:13)
Thank goodness for pacers! For me it was a distraction from myself for a bit and I feel guilty when I walk when I am running with someone else and push myself to run more. Grant asked where he should run. I told him either besides me or if takes the lead, don’t slow up and walk because I would just settle in behind and be lazy. He elected to stay behind me mostly, which worked out well for me as I tend to push harder when being followed. I was a little to amused at him stumbling on the trail but at least it made me smile. We talked about the dry trail and what it looked like last year and how it all blurred together each remembering different parts. We talked about what we had been up to, well mostly Grant, and I welcomed the distraction. I visited the bushes more times than I would have liked in this part, but it didn’t become a real issue. There was a crazy amount of beautiful single track trail here, but after 40miles it was really wearing on me and seemed to never end. I just wanted to see that finally field crossing that I knew lead to the last trail. Grants said I had this race and I was going to finish, but I wouldn’t be happy untill I got to the finally aid stations. We crossed
A wave of relief and happiness came over me. I finally knew I would finish. I didn’t care if I had to walk the last 3 miles I knew I would be able to get there in under the 12 hour cut off and even if it was over 12 hours it still would count as a finish. I thanked Grant and gave him a hug for his help, he would meet me at the finish with Josh and Leah. I grabbed food and drink and walked out of the aid station onto trails on Ascutney, finally in the home stretch. I chatted with a few runners around me, we all felt the same, excited to be in last miles to the finish, not caring if we were walking or running. I tried to start running a bit but my body was starting to rebel a lot more. I passed a view that looked back over the course that I had been running all day. I smiled, it was nice to finally see the view from this point. Back into the trees and my pace slowed more. My stomach was turning more and more. My legs didn’t want to run at all and walking wasn’t all that pleasant either, full of aches and pains…imagine that?! I passed the brook and waterfall that was just a trickle this year. The sun was getting very low in the sky and it was getting darker in the woods, especially in that little gully where the brook was. The closer I got to the finish the more my toes were hurting, and soon became the most dominating pain. With a mile to go I ate the last energy chomps in my hand and tucked the wrapper away and stepped out on the ski slope of Ascutney were the course would slowly slamon its way
“Nope, my toes, they want to fall off!
I ran down and across the finish line to cheers and clapping. There was congrats from race officials and Zeke(long time runner and volunteer at the VT50) took my medal and happily placed it around my neck. 11:48:51, I stepped out of the finish shoot and I was greeted by friends. Hugs from Leah and Grant, and of course Josh and I glanced at him with tears of pride in his eyes, I muttered at him that I knew he might cry in attempt not to cry myself! He had seen me struggle at this race course for 6 years, the first two when I finished the 50k’s then the next 4 working to finish the 50miler.
I sat for a bit dwelling in the happiness of finishing. I ponder the fact that I didn’t feel as beat up as I expected to feel. My toes were fine despite their painful protest the past few miles. Ahhh…The monkey was gone! I can wear my sweatshirt and I have my shiny metal! Oh and I had seen over twenty lost water bottles…
We waited and cheered Gilly in. She was the last runner in! I gave her a hug and congrats and thanked her for her encouragement out on the course. We headed for home and I felt nothing could get me down… sadly I forgot about how car sick I can get… oh well!
So where does the bum knee and not running on birthday come in? Well it might have started 2 weeks prior to the VT50 when I got a PR at the Pisgah 50k but I didn’t notice. After the VT50 of course everything was a bit sore from doing 50 miles so I didn’t notice it right away.
The week after I ran the EMS 3.4 fun run on Saturday, my knees were a bit stiff and tired then but still no biggy. On Sunday I played photographer for Leah and her mom as they ran in her mom’s first half marathon and for Josh while he ran the coinciding ultra taking place at the same time. Josh called me out on my offer to pace him on the last 10 miles. A good call on his part as it started to pour part way in and continued to the finish and he definitely benefited from having company out there in the cold rain. By the time we got home that day getting up and down stairs was murder for my knees, more so for the left one. But again it eased up in few days.
The next week I ran the Harpoon 3.6 miler on pavement. I ran it stronger than any other year but I was slower than my PR by seconds and mostly blamed it on the amount of people that I had to run around to pass them during the whole race. Again stiff in the joints but not as bad last week.
Then the next week Leah Josh and I ran the CHAD ½ marathon . From the start my knee finally called me out and gave up. I was stubborn and kept running the whole time. It was a strong run and only a minute slower than last year. But that run was the finally straw. It took a good 2 weeks for the knee pain to stop.
But the time off couldn’t come at a better time. I have no races on my mind since the VT50 is finally done. I miss my birthday run but looking back at all my fall races this year I can only smile at the results. I look forward to slowly building up my activity level again shortly, to find out if there is any real damage or not. I have been working on the strengthening the leg muscles and doing some gentle hikes. The slow build up is working well since I don’t have a 50 miler hanging over my head yet :-)