Saturday, October 31, 2015

Virgil Crest 2015: One hour and twenty one minutes.

In 2014, on my third try, I finally finished a hundred miler, Virgil Crest, in 36:20.  Small problem: the cutoff was 36 hours.  I got my buckle, due to the kindness and mountainish trail goodness of RD Ian Golden.  I floated along for a few weeks, basking in the glow of covering 100 miles in one fell swoop, but a little voice inside kept growing louder.  “You didn’t make the cutoff.  Yeah, you got a buckle, but….”

And so it was that I signed up for this stupidly hard race again.  I had to run clean.  I always chase cutoffs and sometimes miss them.  I had to fix this. I had to finish this.

September 18.  Night before the race.

8:00 pm.  Hotel room in Cortland, NY.  I’m...nervous?  Maybe. Second-guessing myself? Definitely. Wondering why I was going to put myself through this again?  Absolutely.  I’m normally raring to go and never nervous or negative, but not this night.  Not looking forward to the morning.  My training had been spot-on.  I was so ready, yet so not. WTF was I doing?

September 19. Race day.  

4 am.  Warm and dry.  Very un-Virgil like.  I'm here, so what else can I do? Time to finish this thing.

5 am.  Drive to Hope Lake.  Ian, Scotie, Mr. Lampman, Christine.  All the usual suspects.  Love the pre-race energy. Feel like I'm in the middle of a beehive, and we're getting ready to head out on a crazy, stupid, yet somehow important mission.  As usual, my Lisa is here.  She is always here.  She is my rock.

5:57.  5:58.  5:59 am.  Strava, start recording.  

6 am.  Ok, this is finally it.  I’m back, we’re off, it’s on.  

Last year I started off walking, determined to not go out too hard and blow up later. This year, I run easy, determined to put just enough time in the cutoff bank to not run scared all weekend. I’m confident my training will carry me.  My reluctance of last night is gone and I’m in a groove almost immediately.  

7:20 am.  6.3 miles.  Hitching Post aid station.  20 minutes ahead of cutoff.  Feeling good.  

8:56 am. 13.4 miles.  TenKates Crossing.  40 minutes ahead of cutoff.  Feeling great. Here at Tenkates is my Lisa.  Volunteering while waiting to crew me.  She does so much, for so many. Thank you Lisa!  Thank you volunteers!

Now the fun begins. The alpine section at Greek Peak ski resort.  Up, over, around, down.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Two or three times, it seems (I’m still confused about what exactly happened out there).  And near the top of one of the climbs, here’s the welcome face of Ian Golden, doing what he does--running all over the course, keeping tabs on folks, encouraging people, making it all work. Thank you for being Ian, Ian.

11 am.  20 miles.  TrailsRoc#.  45 minutes ahead of cutoff.  Feeling great.  So happy to finally meet Amy Schwarz Lopata, Facebook friend and wife of Dan Lopata, one of the sweeps (along with Tom Garby) who graced and protected us during that long final 25 miles in 2014.  Dark chocolate espresso beans and bacon.    


1221 pm.  25 miles.  The Rockpile.  45 minutes ahead of cutoff.  Feeling remarkably good.  I’ve run either the 50 or 100 at Virgil every year since 2010 and I’m always 7 hours to the 25 mile point.  This year, 6:21 and feeling strong and comfortable.  This was huge and really set the tone for the rest of the race.  For someone always cutting it close to cutoffs, it’s a tremendous mental boost to feel like I’m ahead of the game and haven’t beaten myself up to get here.  The advice is always don’t go out too fast and while that’s certainly true, for someone that chases cutoffs it can also be important to not go out too slow and feel terrorized by the clock all day.  It’s a delicate balance, this pace thing. 

Now the 25 mile return trip to Hope Lake start/finish.  I don’t remember much from this leg.  Not because I wasn’t lucid, I was.  It was just...well, this is that leg you have to finish to get to the halfway point when you can really focus on the beginning of the end.  A bunch of hours, and miles, and elevation.  

One thing I do remember during this leg was how good my legs felt at 30, 40, 50 miles.  One of my goals in training this year was to do longer long runs instead of back to backs or multiple long runs per week.  I think it helped physically, and it definitely helped mentally because during those runs, I experienced my legs coming back to life after 25 or 30 miles.  I knew even if I got tired, I’d come back.  I know this from other races, of course, but it was really good to have it fresh in my mind from the past few weeks of training.  I recall a little fatigue around 32-34 miles, but then it was gone.  

1:51 pm.  30 miles.  TrailsRoc#.  44 minutes ahead of cutoff.

4:09 pm.  36.6 miles.  Tenkate.  36 minutes ahead of cutoff.

6:41 pm.  43.7 miles.  Hitching Post.  39 minutes ahead of cutoff.

8:40 pm.  50 miles.  Back at Hope Lake.  1:05 ahead of cutoff.  Now the fun starts: the second 50 mile leg.  In the dark.  With a cold front and heavy rain on the way.  This is Virgil, after all.  Put my feet up for a few minutes, eat a cheeseburger my lovely Lisa saved for me.  Don my rain jacket, big-brimmed Outdoor Research rain hat, and waterproof headlamp.  Thankfully, the  unflappable Jim Lampman, the Hundred Mile Machine who so kindly pulled me along with him through the night last year, is here also.  I’m thrilled to be with him again this year as we head out of Hope Lake.  I did not yet know just how happy--and fortunate--I would be.  Lisa runs around the lake with us, gives me kiss as we leave the paved path and head back into the woods, and runs back to the pavilion.  She’s going to meet me in the morning to pace me the last 25 miles, so will go back to the hotel for some sleep.

9:15 pm.  The rain starts and quickly becomes a Virgil-esque deluge.  Rains hard for an hour (or five), then tapers off. A cold wind blows water off the trees for what seems like hours.  I keep moving to stay warm, but I keep getting so far ahead of Jim that I can’t see his headlamp.  I wait, and sometimes backtrack to make sure he hasn’t fallen on the muddy trails.  Problem is, he’s wearing glasses. Glasses suck in the rain and he can barely see where he’s going.  The really stupid part of all this?  I'm enjoying it. It sucks, but I'm enjoying it, living in the moment.  What is wrong with ultrarunners?  

For awhile, I’m confused, thinking there’s a lean-to on this section, where I’d seen some backpackers earlier.  Planning to crash their party to get warmed up, or quit, or something. Alas, the lean-to isn’t in this section, and before I know it, we’re at the Hitching Post again.  

11:08 pm.  56.3 miles, Hitching Post. 32 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  A welcome outpost of dry under the tent.  Warm food.  Volunteers are the best!  As is Erin Klinkman, driving around to every aid station with two big bins of clothes and gear for Jim Lampman.  They kindly lend me a couple dry shirts and some gloves because, unbelievably, I have not put any in my drop bag for this aid station. My race is done without dry clothes here.  I’m cold, wet, and wary of heading back into the woods unless I have dry clothes.  Hypothermia can’t be ruled out at this point.  Jim Miner is here, volunteering--thank you!--and he gives me a space blanket that I tuck into my shorts to make a nice warm skirt.  So fashionable.  And that really matters when you’re running in the woods at midnight in a rainstorm.

2:24 am? Sunday (race website says 4:24 but that can’t be right).  63.4 miles.  TenKate.  26 minutes ahead of cutoff.  Madness in the dark of night.  Crazy joy of being in the moment once again.

5:14 am.  70 miles.  TrailsRoc#.  26 minutes ahead of cutoff. Ok, now I'm ready for sunrise. Cursing at the planet, trying to get it to spin faster.  Not working.  

7:13 am.  75 miles.  Rock Pile turnaround.  52 minutes ahead of cutoff and the sun is finally awake. As planned, Lisa is here.  LISA IS HERE!!  Last year, I called and left her a tearful voicemail about a mile from the aid station, as I stumbled along believing my race was done. It wasn’t, thanks to her and Todd Baum--but it wasn’t pretty the rest of the way.  This year, I’m moving well and in good spirits--why wouldn’t I be, I’m here over an hour earlier than last year and feeling alive instead of dead. Some of Todd’s delicious beef stew, a short rest with my feet up, and we’re out.  Lisa is with me now, and the world is right.  I know she’ll get me to the finish.

We start out on the victory leg.  Not setting any land speed records, but moving forward and feeling ok.  I’m in last place again, and that’s fine.  Every aid station, we’re treated like rockstars.  The volunteers are the rockstars, many of them still here after an all-night shift.  Thank You Volunteers!  


9:31 am.  80 miles.  TrailsRoc#.  59 minutes ahead of cutoff.  Heading to the alpine section for the last time.  Ever.

12:13 pm. 86.6 miles.  TenKate.  1:12 ahead of cutoff.  Almost 6 hours to cover just over 13 miles, and the hard part is behind us.  Feeling good.  I got this. I so got this.  Lisa is doing a great job keeping me moving.

About 2:45 pm.  92-93 miles.  I don’t got this. I’m going to miss the 36 hour finish cutoff again.  How did this happen.  WTF?  

I’m having my only episode of “ultra brain” the entire race, as I close in on Hitching Post at 93.7 miles. I’m thinking I can get there by 3 pm, which would leave me 3 hours to go 6.3 miles.  I correctly calculate this to be 2.1 miles per hour.  My ultra brain converts it to 15 minute miles (hint: it’s about 30 minute miles).  I see no possible way I can do 15 minute miles for 6+ miles.  I am cooked.

2:58 pm. 93.7 miles. Hitching Post. 57 minutes ahead. As we approach the aid station, Lisa wisely runs ahead of me to warn the aid station volunteers that a raving lunatic who knows only the F word is approaching.  “I need water and Coke, NOW.  HURRY UP!.  I have to keep moving.” (And yes, this low carb, high fat guy drank some Coke, because at 93.7 freaking miles,you eat or drink whatever you freaking want.) Joel Cisne is here and gives me a congratulatory hug as it’s clear to everyone--except me--that I’ll beat the finish cutoff with ease. I will have nothing of this celebration.  I dash out, despondent.  Lisa comes racing up behind me, again trying to convince me we're fine on time. Just a short distance into the woods, the light bulb lights. Lisa’s math is right; I’ll easily make it under 36 hours.  Now the problem is water.  In my crazed pass through the aid station, I haven’t let us fill our packs as planned, and we have over 6 miles to go.  Lisa is pissed at me, and rightly so. This takes my mind off the race for a bit, and eventually we decide we’ll be fine as long as we don’t get lost.

We get back into a groove.  Eventually Lisa tells me we’re close to Hope Lake.  I don’t see a lake. Ten minutes later she says it again.  Still no lake.  Ten minutes later she says she remembers this section and that the lake is definitely close now.  She’s lying.  She’s a very good pacer.  

4:48(ish) pm.  Hope Lake!  We exit the woods onto the paved final mile.  If I had much left, I could slide in under 35 hours, but even smelling the finish line, I know this is not possible.  Up ahead we see two others, a runner and his pacer.  Lisa says “Do you think you can run a few steps? Maybe we can catch them.  Let’s finish strong.  Just run a little, honey.”  I try.  It works.  We pass them and apologize.  It’s what ultrarunners do.  “Let’s keep running and not be last this time.”  I keep running. The paved path bobs and weaves around the lake.  We make the final left turn, cross a small bridge and head onto the grass to the finish chute.  Lisa runs ahead and can see the clock.  “Run!!  RUN!!”

I see the clock.  

I run.

I finish.


Thirty FOUR fifty nine.

One hour and one minute under the cutoff.

One hour and twenty one minutes faster than last year.  

I have run clean, made all the cutoffs, finished official.

My hundred mile quest is complete, my buckle, legit.


And so it ends. My work here is done, except to say Thank You. Thank You Lisa (again, and again, and again). Thank You Ian Golden. Thank You volunteers. Thank You everyone that encouraged and supported me during this grand adventure. Woo Hoo--got it done!

Strava stats below and track here.
101.6 miles.
41,802 feet total elevation change (20,901 climbing)

Oh, and for those that want to know how I became so wicked fast this year....stay tuned for Virgil 2015, Part Deux: How I Became So Wicked Fast This Year.