extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.
A few weeks ago, I had the awesome honor of pacing ultra-marathon runner and internet winning flow chart designing dude Chris as he ran his second 100 miler, the Vermont 100. Chris had emailed me early in the summer and asked if I would pace him. I checked my calendar and immediately said yes. It wasn’t until the next day when I took a look at the course, notably, the elevation profile. The entire course is 14,000-15,000 ft of elevation gain and loss, which meant I needed to train on hills starting yesterday. I found whatever hills I could in Manhattan and ran as many repeats as my legs could handle. Thanks to my training, I’m now intimately familiar with the graffiti along the Williamsburg Bridge, and can tell you all about the intricacies of the Harlem Hills.
The race day (or more accurately, race night) plan was to run the last 30 miles together, with nearly all of those coming after sunset. I made half a dozen PBJ sandwiches, threw some gatorade and Vitamin Water into the car, grabbed a whole pack full of Honey Stinger bars and chews, made sure I had my foot-saving Topo socks (seriously, those things are genius), put on my We Can bracelet (a little extra motivation and inspiration never hurts)and Sparkly Soul headband, and made sure to wear my NYCRUNS Brooklyn Marathon hat and I was on my way to Vermont. I arrived at the mile 50/70 aid station on Saturday afternoon not knowing what to expect. I’ve run almost 30 marathons and three 50 milers, but the scene here was unlike anything I’d ever experienced: socks and shirts changed, water bottles topped off, blisters popped, salt and sugar consumed at impressive rates, and grilled cheese sandwiches disappearing faster than they could be made. Shortly after I arrived, Chris came through mile 50, looking like he only ran a 5km. His wife Surjeet (aka crew chief), Becky (fellow crewer and navigator extraordinaire), and I met up with him again around mile 60, and he still seemed in very good spirits. Then, we drove back to the mile 70 aid station, where it was my turn to start running. I filled up my water bladder, put on my pack and headlamp, said a few prayers to the running gods, and off we went.
The next segment of the course was tough – according to another runner it was a 10% grade straight UP for 2 miles. It took us 3 hours to go 12 miles. The marathoner in me was appalled. Darkness came quickly, and the intensity of the run reached new levels of “holy crap is this actually happening?” with each passing hour. It was unlike any run I’ve had – in 30 miles we probably saw less than 10 cars, and nearly all of them were associated with the race. We crossed grassy fields, where the only things visible in the heavy darkness were the bobbing lights from other headlamps. On trails, flickering lights from nearby runners were enough to make me question my sanity, and (re)evaluate my mental fatigue – was that a person or the reflective eyes of an animal? (This was usually followed up with, “Seriously, though, where the hell are we?”) In the fog, runners up ahead cast a silhouette that could have been used to advertise a horror movie (a bunch of exhausted, disoriented people running through the woods at night. No cell service. No idea where they are. Oh god…) It was truly surreal. When passing each other, runners gave a grunt or a nod. Some tried to tell jokes, some couldn’t muster the energy to look up. At mile 89, we met up with Surjeet and Becky, when shortly after saying our goodbyes and watching Chris expertly pack grilled cheese squares into his pockets, we felt the first drops of rain. At 1am, with 10 miles to go, the skies opened up. Lightning lit up the landscape and for a split second, I could finally see my surroundings. Rolling fields, farmhouses in the distance, trails winding through the forest. This must be pretty. during the day.
We saw his crew again at mile 95 (or was it 94? Or 96?) and it was time to get this thing done. After all, it was 2:30am and Chris had been running for over 22 hours. I was SO impressed at how well he kept it all together – I’ve heard stories of people losing their shit (literally and figuratively) and going crazy and forgetting the last time they peed or who the president was, but he did none of that (or if he did, he did a hell of a job hiding it)! After leaving the mile 95ish aid station, the terrain started to get pretty bad thanks to the rain – we almost lost our shoes in the mud and at some points it felt like we were ice skating because it was so slippery. After passing a small plain white sign that unceremoniously announced that there was 1 mile to go, Chris took off, finishing under his goal in 23 hours, 26 minutes and 35 seconds just before 3:30am. To say I was amazed would have been an understatement. 100 miles. On foot. Less than 24 hours. Unreal.
We all hung out for about an hour in the food/medical tent and watched as people came in – some walking casually, others hobbling, some barely standing upright, but all dripping wet, freezing, looking utterly exhausted. One guy walked in, soaking wet, wearing only spandex shorts and a running belt, laid face down in the middle of the tent, and promptly fell asleep. His ankles were still flexed. Someone put a blanket over him and he didn’t even move. Someone else checked to make sure he was breathing. (He was.)
When the storm finally eased up, we headed out, them to their tent, I to my car. I couldn’t quiet my head down enough to nap in the car, I was still buzzing from the run. At 5:30am, I started driving, I couldn’t wait to get home to shower and SLEEP. I’m so glad I went and am so thankful/grateful/honored Chris asked me to pace. It was a fantastic (learning) experience, and probably the most important lesson is that I’m not ready for a 100 mile race. Someday, but just not yet.
For my pre-race nutrition, I followed advice from my nutritionist Christine Lynch and I minimized veggie and dairy intake the day before, had brown rice pasta with red sauce and a little bit of chicken for dinner and then ate a bagel with peanut butter the morning of the race. Conclusion: no emergency bathroom trips. WIN.
I won the Brooklyn Marathon in 2011, and it’s a special race for me because it was my first win and the first time I realized that I might actually be decent at this whole marathon thing. Fast forward a few years and this was my first time coming back to defend a title. I’m anxious and neurotic enough as it is before a race, so the added pressure didn’t make me an easier person to be around (sorry, Sam). There were no other previous female winners there so my main goal for this race was to work on pacing. I went out way too fast when I ran the NYC Marathon and I wanted to correct that mistake by running a negative split. Also, since I just ran NYC 2 weeks ago, I knew I really couldn’t afford to go out too fast — the consequences could be downright UGLY. I was tested right from the gun when 2 girls went out FAST. I watched them speed off, and thought, “if they’re that fast, good for them” and then thought maybe they’ll regret the quick start once we hit the hills. I reminded myself that it was a long race, with plenty of time for things to go wrong… or right. So, I stuck to my plan, and kept my pace at ~7-7:05 min/mile.
Sure enough, the hills got to them. I passed one girl to move into 2nd place around mile 8, just 1 mile after we crested the first hill. Around mile 13, Sam told me that the first place girl was about 3 minutes ahead and I chuckled and thought how tough it would be to make up all that time without crashing later on. It would be one thing to catch her, another thing to pass her, and a third thing to keep it up. As I passed other runners, I heard one say to the other “she’ll definitely catch up to the girl in first”. I’d be lying if this didn’t boost my confidence, but still knew it would be a challenge to make up that much time. I maintained my pace (ok, fine, maybe I sped up a tiny bit), heard from Sam that I was reeling her in, and got some encouragement from other runners (“she’s just ahead, go get her, you got it!”).
I passed her around mile 17. Phew. As I passed her, I said “good job, way to run” and she muttered something that I didn’t understand, so I knew if I could keep up my pace, I’d be good. But, while passing her, I was struggling to open my bag of Sport Beans — despite wearing mittens, my hands were so cold that my thumbs refused to work. So this is what it feels like not to have opposable thumbs (note: it kinda sucks). I couldn’t grasp the bag hard enough to open the seal. I was fumbling around with one bag and eventually dropped it. Crap. I got my final bag from my pocket and had Sam open it for me. After having a few beans, I picked up the pace a tiny bit, ran a negative split, and won the race! During my last loop around the park, my lead biker told me I was running my victory lap. I thought that meant I had a decent lead, but didn’t want to test things (I did that in the Shires of Vermont Marathon and ended up coming in 2nd place. That’s a mistake I won’t make again). So I kept pushing the pace. Turns out i was safe, as the second place female was 15 minutes behind me.
Overall, this was an amazing way to end a season. I achieved my goal of controlling my pace, and ended up winning, and feeling REALLY good doing it. As expected, NYCRUNS put on a fabulous race, with an attentive and professional RD, awesome volunteers, and hilarious spectators. This more than made up for my negative energy from bonking hardcore in NYC.