Monday, July 26, 2010

Race Report: Vermont 100

The Vermont 100 is not a race that I ran, but one that I crewed for, for my running buddy and 2009 Badwater crew member/pacer Tim Henderson. With his having helped pull me to a good finish at Badwater in 2009, and with his having dropped out of his two previous attempts in Vermont, I really wanted to do what I could to help him get a good finish this year. With my 2010 Badwater race just five days before, I wouldn't be able to pace him, but he had a pacer lined up, John Rosa, and an additional crew member, Jim Morris. After my difficulties at Badwater, particularly by blisters, I was only hoping that I'd be able to be an actual help and not just a hobbling tag-along.

After the flight from Las Vegas to Newark, which landed after 10pm on Thursday, July 15, I took the monorail then the NJ Transit train to Penn Station, where I caught the 12:30 am LIRR train out to Sayville, Long Island, arriving about 2:15 am. Tim told me to call him when I got in and he'd pick me up at the station for the short drive to his house, but I still felt terrible waking him up when we had to drive up to Vermont just a few hours later. But we got to his house, I crashed on his couch for a few hours, then we were up and at 'em. Tim, Jim, John and I were on the road by 6:30, taking the ferry from Port Jefferson to Bridgeport, CT (a very cool ride) and in our hotel around midday. I had a chance to soak my feet in the tub and catch a catnap before we went to the prerace check-in. Besides my blisters still making it hard to walk, which was a major source of entertainment for the guys, especially John, my feet were swollen well beyond the limits of my size 7 1/2 Mizunos. But the soaking helped a little.

At check-in as Tim weighed in and collected his goodies, I met several of my New York area running friends - Nick Palazzo, Admas Belilgne, Lucimar Araujo, Frank Colella, Bob Falk, Jay Masten, Mike Tobin, Chip Tilden, all of whom were either running the 100-mile or 100K, crewing, pacing or volunteering. Chip took lots of pictures as well. Also on hand were recent 24-hour team members Jill Perry and Scott Eppelman. I also spied, sitting in a chair looking like he needed a rest, a man with a Badwater 2010 shirt on, who turned out to be Ray Sanchez. Not only did Ray finish Badwater with me less than a week prior, but he ran Western States 100 two weeks before that, as he was going for the Grand Slam. He'd also run the Brazil 135 in February and the Arrowhead 135 in Minnesota a week later, earning special recognition at the Badwater awards ceremony. Keith Straw was another back-to-back Badwater/Vermont runner, and I wished him luck as well. They are definitely stronger men than me!

As we gathered in the pre-dawn Saturday morning for the 4 am start of the race, I met a couple more friends, Emmy Stocker and perennial Vermont runner John Geesler. Tim was primed and ready to go and definitely ready to get underway. He was looking good and sounding good and I knew there was no way he was not finishing this race. Off they went, just as the first light was starting to peek out over the mountains. Since our first crew encounter with Tim wouldn't be until mile 21, an estimated four hours later, Jim, John and I stuck around for the 5 am start of the horse race. It was maybe not as dramatic as we were hoping, but it was beautiful to watch the horses trot off down the dirt road.

We had a good system in place for crewing Tim, which I take no credit in creating, but was happy to follow. We would use a wagon to carry an orange box which contained lotions, lubricants, painkillers, and other non-food items, a bag with food and nutritional items, and a bag with clothing items he might need, plus a gray plastic pan in which we put his drinks and ice. We also brought two chairs, for Tim if he needed one and/or the crew while we waited, and a beach umbrella for shade. Some of the crew stations required pulling the wagon a ways, so thanks to Jim for taking that job! At the Pretty House aid station at mile 21, Tim came in right on expected pace in four hours. I admit I was hoping to see him early, but that's my impatience showing. Tim had found a few runners to run with to help the pacing and was looking good, but at 8 am, the temperatures were already rising. Here we had arrived early enough to see the lead runners come through, some of whom I wasn't familiar with, but some of whom I was. Mike Arnstein was one of the first to come through, looking fast and solid. We were chatting with Mike Oliva, his crew member (and a 2009 24-hour team crew member), who looked like he had an entire cantaloupe ready to hand off to Mike A. Also among the leaders was Ray Sanchez! I knew he's an incredible runner, but didn't expect to see him so close to the front so soon after Badwater. Kami Semick was unsurprisingly the first woman through, and Jill Perry was second and looking good. Unfortunately, her foot problems caused her to drop out soon after.

By the Stage Road aid station, mile 30, Tim was still going well and on pace for his sub-24 hour finish, and looking good, if a bit warm. We went through a lot of ice in the race, both in his bottles and his sleeves. And by this time we were making friends with other crew members. Here we met Frances (my apologies for forgetting her last name), fiancee and crew member for Connecticut runner Seth Ambruso. I haven't yet met Seth.

We had a little time to get to Camp Ten Bear, the aid station at mile 47 (and later again at mile 70), so we stocked up on more ice, and got a little food for ourselves. We got to the station early enough to see most of the runners come through, but just missed the first couple. We saw Mike A. again, and Jill, who was now third woman. She stopped to get her foot taped, complaining about her plantar fasciitis, but was soon bounding up the road with a smile on her face. Before long, along came former 24-hour team member Daniel Larson looking good, and John Geesler. Then Tim came by, still a little ahead of schedule. The day was really heating up now and we made sure he had everything he needed, including ice and ice-cold bottles. Still Tim looked good and didn't sit down or spend too long in the station. We also got to see Leigh Schmitt come by as the first 100k runner, and he would eventually win that race, no surprise.

The next station, Tracer Brook, mile 57, would be an important one, as it was just after this station that Tim's quads seized up in both his previous attempts, forcing him out of the race. And I remember from running the race in 2008 that this section was the hottest, for me at least. We arrived at the station early again, which was good for me because it gave me a chance to dip my feet in the cold shallow water of the brook itself. Amid the kids playing in the water, I took off my shoes, sat down on a rock and soaked the feet, and what relief it was! I could see the swelling go down right before my eyes! When the horses came down for a drink, I thought it would be a good idea to get out of the water and give them room. I thought it an even better idea when the horses did other business in the water as well. As I sat on the grass letting my feet dry, I saw John Geesler come down the raod, not looking good at all. I got my socks and shoes on and asked if I could help him with anything, since he didn't have a crew, and Tim hadn't arrived yet. He declined my help, saying that he just couldn't eat anything. About then, w saw Tim approach, well ahead of the expected time. I actually ran to the wagon to help get things ready. Other than being hot, he was feeling good and after refilling his bottles, getting him his food (I think we had a turkey sandwich for him here), he was ready to forge ahead to face his demons, and off he went. After a last offer to help John, we left him in the supervision of the aid station crew, sitting in a chair, looking completely spent.

Next stop, Margaritaville. This aid station, at mile 62, is a tribute to Jimmy Buffett. We knew that when Tim got here, he would be on his way to a finish. After watching the usual parade of runners who had preceded him in the other stations, we saw him come in, looking good as he had all day, and ahead of schedule. Besides his usual fare, we had a bottle of Heineken ready for him, and he downed about half in a few seconds. We were all happy that he'd gotten past his previous dropout point, which was a huge mental boost, but we didn't do too much celebrating, since there was still a long way to go. Still, our confidence in Tim and his own confidence I think, left little doubt in the outcome.

Next stop was Camp Ten Bear, the second time, at mile 70. As we waited, and as John got ready to start his pacing duties, we saw Admas and Bob come through in the 100K course. Mike Tobin, who was also running the 100k was also there, sitting on a cot. He looked ok and said he felt ok but he was waiting for his wife, who was crewing him. She was uncharacteristically late in meeting him there, and he didn't want to leave until he saw her, and there was no cell phone service there to contact her. He was looking more and more worried, but eventually found her. She had been sitting in the car the whole time rather than at the aid station. That all resoved just as Tim came by, gaining even more time on his expected pace, and still looking good, but compaining about the heat. Then he and John went off down the road in the early evening light.

At mile 77, The "Spirit of 76" aid station, Jim had to pull the wagon quite a ways down a rough gravel road from the parking area. I should mention that a fair amount of the course, and crew parking areas, are on private land, and a big shoutout to the landowners who allow the racers and their crews on their land! Soon after Jim and I got the wagon in place, a blonde woman who was crewing for a bald man (I forgot their names, sorry!) set up next to us. We first met her at a general store getting supplies, and had seen her at most of the aid stations, since our runners came in near to each other. She was one of the very nice crew members we met during the day. And by this time Tim had passed her runner, which we were happy about because we thought he was being to tough on her. There was another crew member we saw a lot of who was quite pregnant, like ready to drop, and the man she was crewing, presumably her husband, was running strong, and ahead of Tim until the end, but I thought that guy owed her big time! Back to the race, I remember this stretch being a lot of tough uphill, so it would be a long seven miles for Tim and John. But they came in, looking tired but ready to go on. Tim asked me what the next part of the course was like, but I honestly couldn't remember, except that one part of it was a long road downhill.

Our next crew stop was Bill's, mile 88, and from here it's a manageable 12 miles to go. By this time it was fully dark. Jim and I had some time to get here, so we made a detour to try to find Jim some coffee (I don't drink the stuff). We got to Bill's with not too long to wait for Tim and John to come by. All went well, and in fact Tim had passed a number of runners by this time and was still more ahead of schedule. He complained how tough it was and was still hot, but he didn't look any worse for the wear. And off they went again into the darkness. I also warned him to prevent the wrong turn I took in 2008 shortly after leaving this station.

The last crew stop was Polly's at 95.5 miles. We were waiting here a while, watching other runners come in, most of whom we'd seen many times during the race. We had gotten used to recognizing Tim from a distance by his gait, but Jim and I were proud to say we recognized him and his gait by the bouncing of the light of his headlamp! I was cold here, but Tim was still hot, and in fact running with his shirt off. He and John were running well here and had passed even more runners. We were happy to see them off, knowing there would soon be a celebration.

At about the 77 mile point Jim and I had predicted a 22:30 finish time for Tim. We had gotten to the finish line, and were happy to see Tim cross the line in 22:13!!! Not only did he beat his demons and finish the race, but he ran a very smart race and finished strong, well ahead of his 24-hour goal.

So Tim had a very successful race. Frank Collela had dropped out, however. Emmy finished but in pain. Mike Arnstein finished 4th man. John Geesler finished, but in a much slower time than usual - I've seen John struggle, but have never seen him quit. Daniel finished in the top 10 men, Scott finished well. Ray Sanchez finished in the top 10! I really don't know how he does it! Tim got his buckle and we were on the road. We all just wanted to get back home. I was definitely ready to get home! And after a subway ride, a train, a shuttle bus, a plane to Vegas, another shuttle bus, a rental car, a 135-mile footrace, rental car again, shuttle bus, plane to Newark, monorail, train, another train, car, ferry, more car to Vermont, crewing a 100-mile race, car back, ferry, more car, train and a final subway ride in ten days' time, I was home again!

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