22 July 2012

Vermont 100 Race Report: I Swear I'm Never Running 100 Miles Again*

"There's no such thing as a bad 100 mile race, Cher. There's only a challenging 100 mile race. Any 100 mile race you complete is a good one." --My mom

You have to be stupid to run 100  miles. Run through the night, through the pain, through the tears, through the nausea, through the dizziness, through the blisters, through the aid stations, through the cold, through the hallucinations?

But I must be stupid, as I signed up for the Vermont 100 Miler for the third time, and yes, I completed it.

I felt pretty excited and stoked about the race, but a week going into it, I started feeling a pain in my foot - just under the pad. A trip to present at Chicago's SLA conference meant that I only had time to visit my fabulous Dr. Morgano the morning I left. He determined I need to stretch more, the pain in one foot was overuse, the pain in the other foot was minor pf. Okay, I can still run. Not like I wasn't going to anyway.

My flight being delayed a day from Chicago due to storms left me with less time to prep - and more time to be stressed. Charlie and Deirdre, my pacers, and I left with heavy rain and lots of traffic. My right leg was aching early into the driving, not used to the heavy use of driving, especially for stop-and-go traffic. So that was a very, very bad idea. Ow. I was so stiff from driving - I felt it during the drive and unfortunately, yes, during my race.

The race started at the bright and perky time of 4am, and I was excited. I was ready to run beautiful Vermont 100 Miler! I was dressed in pornj, the colour of Disorient. (A combo of pink & orange.) People liked my outfit, and would tell me how pretty I looked, how I won best dressed, how I couldn't possibly be miserable dressed so brightly. Well, sadly, it is possible!

I started out pretty hard...Running my heart out. I chatted with a bunch of people, felt like the pace was good, if a little fast. As I checked my Garmin early on, my pace was 8 minute, 9 minute. Ouch, who did I think I was, Zach Gingrich? I pushed it because, hello, I had goals. I was going to break 22 hours. I am strong, I've been training smart, so I know I can do it.

The question is, would my body let me do it today?

Sometimes, it's just not your day.

The Vermont 100 is a race I've done twice. It tends to be hot, humid, exposed, beautiful, and hilly. Up, down, up, down, sweat pouring down, long straightaways that go on for way too long, another hill, another hill, another hill, another hill, and now, BAM, for a soulcrashing, footsmashing descent. Ow.

But it's Vermont so it's just gorgeous, the course is well-marked, the volunteers are wonderful, the aid stations well-stocked and oh-so-plentful, plenty of drop bag stations, pretty views, lots of hills, and it's just a really fun race. Plus, grilled cheese at aid stations, YAY!

I was really feeling the impact of driving in stop-and-go traffic....ow. My hamstring was especially sore and I blinked back the tears in my eyes and thought of the pain my Papa went through and how I was dedicating this race in his honour. I tried to hear his English accented voice scolding me and telling me to push it up the hill.

We ran through a path on a dark forested area with nasty-sounding mooing cows on either side - it felt spooky.

I felt dizzy. I ran into Dovid at this point, who told me he wouldn't leave me if I was dizzy. We ran together for a few miles, joking and laughing and having fun. 

Mile 50. 10 hours. Still on pace for sub 22, though I was struggling. Push it. Push it.

Mile 50ish sucked. We ran up two brutal hills. Long and brutal and exposed. And then we entered the section "Agony." Brutal. Horrible. Sweat pouring down the face. Struggling. Push on. 

My hamstring grew worse. It was excruciating. I blinked back tears and desperately tried to think of my Papa. All I could think of was the pain, the pain in the now. As I ran into Deirdre at the Margaritaville Aid Station (Mile 63), I began bawling. She calmed me down, being very Deirdre. She convinced me to eat, really forced me to eat (Margaritaville is known for amazing homemade cookies as well as burgers and hot dogs and Boca Burgers, which I tried to eat and discovered don't work for me.), while she massaged my hamstring. Good friend. I left the aid station, bawling, suffering, wondering if I should DNF. I mean, this wasn't fun anymore. What was the point?

I pushed on. This weird collection of maybe 40-70 antique pickup trucks rode by too fast, for some sort of annual drive. The dust they kicked up in the air was frustrating; some of the horseback riders (Yes, there are 50mile, 75 mile, and 100 mile horseback races going on at the same time.) were frustrated.

I ended up meeting a nice guy Henry. We began chatting, and ran together for the next five miles. We pushed each other more than we would have if we had run alone.

And mile 70! Yay, Camp Ten Bear. Third weigh-in - and I had lost three pounds. I needed to drink more. At the aid station, I took care of chafed breasts (which involved wiping down with baby wipes, drying, lubing them up and putting on a new bra...free show for the ultrarunners), changed my shirt, running skirt, socks, shoes, switched from a waistpack to a handleheld, choked down two square of grilled cheese, took a 5 hour energy shot, began talking a mile a minute...and Charlie and I were out!

Charlie was quickly introduced to the hills of the Green Mountain State when we began climbing several hills. "What?" Exactly. We chatted with others around us. My legs felt trashed from going out super hard at the start. Maybe not smart? I could barely run downhill as my legs hurt so badly - running was horrid. 

Charlie told me about his day of getting lost, going to NH, going to a farmers' market, how the other runners looked, while I updated him on pains, on people I met, on what I saw. We ran on.

And Spirit of 76! I love this aid station because as you climb the hill ("You didn't say this was a hill!" said Charlie.), there are paper bags with candles lit up inside them. They have red-white-and-blue Christmas lights, hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheeses, my drop bag, sweet Wayne waiting there with pink el-wire. I choked down some food, and kissed my boy goodbye and we left. For the darkness.

Hills. Hills.

I began burping nonstop, these scary burps I have never heard in my life that left me dry heaving and on the verge of vomiting. Really fun. Poor Charlie. We'd run, stop so I could burp/dry heave, we'd walk, burp/dry heave, walk, run, burp/dry heave...not fun. I began to talk about quitting. This wasn't fun. Charlie was discouraging me.

Then we were on a path, with some headlights a ways behind us, and we looked into the bushes and saw eyes. Two eyes. An animal. "I HATE WILD ANIMALS!" I shouted, my method of trying to scare a wild animal. It didn't move. Charlie shouted. He clapped his hands. Finally, it ran away but watched us. Then came closer. We were SO scared.

And then we ran on, but the incident freaked us out for a while.

Finally, Bill's Barn. I weighed in, and was one pound more than I had been before first weigh-in. Argh. I couldn't get pulled. I just was sick of the misery, the pain. My feet were killing me, so swollen and blistered. Two medics cleaned and taped up my feet, which were so instrumental in me running and finishing the race. I tried to quit and no one would let me. "You'll regret it!" "I don't care." 

(But of course you do.)

I have never felt this low, except maybe in Rio del Lago. But this - it was hurting, so much, everywhere, and WHY? WHY?

I couldn't find an answer but I know that stopping wouldn't have provided one. So I kept on trucking. 

Deirdre and I ran through fields where I hallucinated the grass was in beautiful streaks of light a la Burning Man. I cried when it hurt. We talked about blisters and work and love and ex-love and running and people and dreams and babies and life. She listened to me cry and talked me out of stopping. I don't think anyone, even me, was ready to let me stop.

Yes, it was miserable. But what did I learn? I learned that I'm tough. I knew that already. I learned that I can push past pain. I learned that I can suffer more than most people. I learned that I can run my first 50 miles in 10 hours and the second in just under 15 hours plus and still that was hard. I learned that you have no reason to take illegal drugs when you can just run 100 miles - those hallucinations are priceless. I learned that your boyfriend will drive over 10 hours in a car to see you for mere minutes at two aid stations and the finish and really, that's love. I learned that your friends will listen to you cry and stand next to you when you're peeing or spitting up - and they're friends, really good people. I learned  Power Gel blasts melt and get all mushy in the heat, and that two many grilled cheese sandwiches during a 100miler might not be the best thing. I learned that you have to feel pain to feel joy. I learned that glowing eyes are scary and glowing sticks are the right direction. I learned strangers can truly help save me, and friends are always there as well. I learned that suffering is part of life. I learned that really, as much as I complain, I cannot DNF. I learned that joy follows suffering, and are sometimes simultaneous. I learned that I am carving a path for my life with my running shoes.

*Note: I probably will run another 100. Not right now though. But I don't think I'll do three more this year. I'm thinking of focusing on 50 milers, which I'm much better at and which I like more and which have most of the highs of 100 milers and less of the lows...Umstead 2013, probably, and oh yeah, Headlands Hundreds, or Western States, or Vermont or....

19 July 2012

This 100's for You, Papa

When I ran the Iroquois Trail 50 Miler (now known as the Virgil Crest 50 Miler), the race was hard. Hilly, mountainous, exposed. It was a rough race but I still managed to scrape out a fairly respectable time, and I believe, was either 3rd or 4th woman. I was in a lot of pain, as we often are when running long distances - but I pushed forward. 

The same time, my Grandma was going through radiation for cancer. She has recurrent melanoma. I love my Grandma dearly and decided I would dedicate my race to Grandma. Anytime I felt pain, I thought, "This is nothing like what Grandma is experiencing. Grandma is in more pain. PUSH ON." And I did.

My Papa died nearly two years ago and there isn't a day that I don't miss him. Even writing this, I have tears in my eyes. He was such a special and wonderful man and I miss him dearly.

He wanted to die. He didn't want to be in pain anymore. 

I was not there when he died. I was at Burning Man. The moment he died, I was either starting to wake up or running to the farmer's market on the playa with my friend Rachelle. But that night, I went to the temple and wrote something for my Papa. I wrote, "Papa, I don't want you to be in pain anymore."

And he wasn't.

So, when I run the Vermont 100, although my Papa is now passed, I will think about him. My foot has been hurting me (I have an appt Friday morning 845, which should be enough time to cure me, right?). But even if nothing's wrong, 100 milers are painful. They suck. You are crying in the middle of the night, cursing at twigs, saying how you hate your mother for giving birth to you so that you might do this, glad your partner isn't there b/c you'd break up with them because of some silly excuse. Your shin hurts, your butt hurts, you stomach hurts, oh god, everything hurts.

This year, it'll hurt. I know it does, it always does. (Especially miles 70-100, oh god, at least I'll have fabulous pacers then!) But this time, I'll dig deep. Papa, this race is for you. You might not be here, but I'll be thinking of you. And when it hurts, I'll remember the pain you suffered. I'll remember the light you were in so many people's lives.

And I'll push on.

15 July 2012

Bike Love

I love riding my bike.

Boulder's saving grace was that it was a bike-friendly town, and when I'd come home from the grocery store, precariously balancing way too many bags on my handlebars, I was far from abnormal. In fact, it was the norm. And I loved that. 

Today, I continue to love to bike - I bike to work, bike to bars and restaurants and parks with my boyfriend, bike to meet friends, bike when I'm in a rush and walking isn't fast, bike to the library, bike when I feel like it.

But on Monday, when biking to the library, my seat post finally completely broke. I rode back home, with my seat perilously swinging forward and backwards at random, making for a scary ride. Wayne examined it and pronounced it really messed up, and said that to fully fix it, he'd need to put a new seat post.

And ahem, that would cost $100.

And ahem, Mabel (my bike's name) is fifteen years old.

And don't you want to keep up with all the speedster hipsters on road bikes who keep passing you?

It might be about time.

I pouted. I was depressed. But I knew it really was time. Mabel was fifteen. She was heavy and carrying her up and down the stairs was difficult. When I borrowed Wayne's bike to ride to the library, I almost flew over the handlebars. Wow. Brakes are supposed to work instantly...not a ten seconds later. Okay, it's past Mabel's prime.

Wayne was excited to help me, as he loves bikes. What kind? Pink. Yes, Cherie, pink, but what kind. Oh. A road bike. I guess. Something lighter. It has to have brakes and gears and a kickstand.

Surprisingly, this was difficult. I couldn't find anything that was pink and adult. I found a hybrid and decided to go with it even though it wasn't as light as I wanted and looked a little cruiser-esque.

Wayne and I went out to Big City Bicycle, where my family has always bought all of our bikes. I test rode the Bianchi and decided to get it. 

But wait, maybe you should test ride more than one bike?

I saw a sleek, fuchsia coloured road bike. Oooh, hello, my name is Cherie and I think this is love. I rode it - moved fast, moved well, handled the turns well.

The bike shop owner tried to encourage me to get the Bianchi - it had fatter tires which he thought would be better in the city. But I wanted the smaller, lighter, faster bike. And it felt so right.

I struggled with indecision...and ultimately bought the Fuji road bike. I love it!

Wayne and I headed to Floyd Bennett Field, where he practiced land boarding and I rode around aimlessly, enjoying views of the ocean, paths and roads with few cars. The bike handled well, even over bumpy roads and potholes, and the brakes, wonderful. 

It was love...and my new bike is named Esther.

12 July 2012

"I mean you great disrespect."

Lately, inconsideration and assholism have been spreading rampant through the five boroughs. Yesterday, it was apparently as high as the temperatures.

My job is flexible and wonderful (though they think I'm crazy) and let me work at home so I can do mid-day runs. I work 8-12, run an hour or hour and a half, shower, and am back to work, full of energy (plus I get some miles in the heat, essential for the Vermont 100 Miler). It was hot but I was feeling fairly good, maintaining a rather impressive pace for such heat. I was running in a sports bra and running skirt, thinking about Vermont, Vermont, Vermont, trying to let the stress of work wash away before I returned to it.

Unfortunately, some asshole decided to add to the stress. A kid - really, he was, he couldn't have been much more than 19 - whistled. I stopped, and said, "Why did you do that?" He didn't answer. "Why did you think you should do that? Did you think I would like that?"

Finally he answered. "If you don't get the fuck away from me, I'm going to punch you in the face."

Seeing as he outweighed me by at least 100 pounds, I got the hell away from him (middle fingers extended). As I ran off the Roosevelt Island Bridge, he yelled, "Slutty" at me. So you want me and then when I resist, I'm a slut?

I told the security guards I was threatened and of course, being men, they didn't do anything. (Men sometimes stand up but other times don't. Frustrating. What if it was your daughter who just told you some jerk threatened to punch her in the face?) The rest of my run I was frightened. I kept looking around to see if I saw him. I was SO ANGRY. I was out there, doing my favourite thing in the world, when he had to ruin it. Why? Why? He didn't even know me, why ruin my world, my day, my run?

Later that night, after a fun dinner at our favourite Indian place and the costume swap at the weekly Burner happy hour, Gwendolyn, Wayne and I were leaving, saying goodbye to friends, clutching new garb, trying to decide between a cab and the subway. My friend asked me a question, so I stood chatting with Rebecca for a few minutes when all of the sudden, a large man with a hot dog was pushing Wayne across the sidewalk, yelling at him. I left Rebecca, got in between the two of them, pushing the guy away from Wayne. "Stay away from my boyfriend!" Wayne tried to pull me away, but no one hurts my boy.

Apparently this jerk had told Gwendolyn's breasts, "You've got nice boobs." She replied, "What makes you think I want to hear that?" He said, "You got nice boobs." She said something along the lines of, "You must hate women to disrespect a woman like that." And then Wayne said, "What are you saying to her?" And then the drunk guy punched him but apparently was so drunk his hand barely touched Wayne's cheek. Luckily. This guy, again, was much much bigger than Wayne.

He tried to fight back with Wayne and I wouldn't let him near. Then of course all these Burners come out and everyone is confused and no, we're not drunk, we were just minding our own business. Then this nice pastor passes and apparently he's some famous spiritual leader with a detective son and he calls up his son and promises to have the NYPD over to prevent him from doing anything else.

Shaking, we hail a cab. I'm grateful for the quiet and peace of our home. I'm grateful all of us were safe, though I wish we were really always safe. Safe in our bodies, safe in our minds, safe in our streets.