Race Report: 2011 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance by Randy Miller

Well it has been a couple of weeks since Vermont 100 and I figure I better get my thoughts down before they fade away.  Vermont 100 has a special place in my ultra running history as it was my first 100 miler.  I ran it in 2007 and came in 10th place with a time of 18:55.  I was very driven back then and followed a strict training program.  

 I was confident I was going to have a good race.  That was not the case this year.  I had been having issues with injuries all year and my mind was just not into my training or race schedule.  I guess you could say there was just no focus, drive, or enthusiasm in my running.   As Vermont got closer and closer I was unsure if I was even going to be able to finish.  I knew I would not be able to beat my previous time so I set a goal of finishing under 24 hours.  My game plan was to start out very easy, power walk all the hills, and really just enjoy the race.  Usually when I race, I focus on my race plan and do not talk to the other runners, but this time I decided to talk to other runners, riders and even horses.  Oh, I forgot to tell you, there is a horse race going on at the same time.  They race the same course as the runners.  

Vermont 100 does not allow runners to wear iPods during their race for safety reason.  They want the runners to be able to hear cars and horses.   Personally I like listening to music at times when running 100 miles.  It breaks up the race and helps in those low points of the race.  So I was a little worried about how I was going to get through this race without my tunes.  I decided I would ask riders the names of their horses and commit them to memory the help pass the time.  The horses have mandatory rest stops so you play the yo-yo game throughout the race.  They pass you and then a few hours later they pass you again.  There were five horses that I met, Ottis, the father, and Pikka the son, Piper, Ace, and Sarge.  When I would hear horses coming up behind me I would turn and look to see who they were.  I would call out the horses name and would usually get a response from the horse.  Their ears would perk up or the eyes would seem to stare down at me.  It was very cool.  The riders were also very friendly and I think appreciated me talking to their horses.   

The race started right at 4:00 AM.  My crew who consisted of my wife, Mara, and two longtime friends, Dave Steiker and Jody Lapar, wished me well and off I went into the darkness of the mountains of Vermont.  I would not see them again until 21 miles into the race.  I was not more than 5 minutes into the race and my friend Julian Vicente appears next to me.   How does that happen with over 300 runners going down the road in darkness?  This was Julian’s first 100 and I had offered him some veteran tips before the race.  Mainly, run slow and walk a lot of the hills.  We talked a couple of minutes and then our first hill appeared.  I started to walk but Mr. Vicente decided to keep on running.   I wondered when and if I was going to catch him down the road.

For the next few hours I just cruised along.  The first horse passed me about 2 hours into the race.  They started at 5:00AM.  I also started to feel the plantar fasciitis acting up in my right foot on the down hills about this time.  I decided to wear my Asics 2160’s road shoes since most of the race was on country roads and the trail sections were not going to be very technical.  I guess my right foot was not happy with my choice.   I adjusted my foot plant by landing on the ball of my foot on the downhill and that eased the pain for the time being.  I put this in the back of my mind and realized I was just a few minutes away from seeing my crew at Pretty House aid station (mile 21).

My crew operated like a NASCAR pit crew.  I came and gave them my Nathan HPL hydration pack in exchanged for two handhelds.   I was in an out in less than a minute.  My watch said 3:55.  That was about 20 minutes slower than 2007 so I was happy that I was staying in control of my pace.  My next crew meeting would be at Stage 12, mile 30.  I looked forward to this section of the race because you go up a huge climb and come out on the top of a mountain that is all grass.  The view is unbelievable and very uplifting.  I think it is called the Sound of Music hill.  Fortunately it is early enough in the race where I was not hallucinating yet so I did not see Julie Andrews up there singing…… “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”

Earlier in the race I had met a horse whose name was Ace.  His race number was 100.  His rider’s name was Rachel.  Our friendship grew over the entire race.  Ace and Rachel helped me through a tough time later in my race.   Ace, Rachel and I were up on the Sound of Music hill at the same time.  He was taking a break eating some grass and enjoying the view.  I wish I could have stayed up there with them but I had only two legs and Ace had four so I knew I had to keep on going if I was going to finish this race under 24 hours.

I came into Stage 12 aid station at 5:40 race time.  Still feeling good and looking forward to moving on to the pivotal aid station Camp 10 Bear (mile 47).  Again the crew did a great job.  Changed my bottles, gave me a new bandana (I run with a bandana tucked into my waist so I can wipe the sweat off my forehead), and told me I looked great.  I asked how far Julian was ahead of me and they said about an hour.   I became very concerned because I thought he was running to fast...  Hopefully he would stay strong.

On to Camp 10 Bear #1 (mile 47).   In the next 17 miles the sun started to heat up the day and unfortunately there were no clouds to block the sunshine.  My quads started to fatigue and this really concerned me as it was way too early in the race to be feeling the burn.  It kind of felt like a sledgehammer was hitting my thigh with each foot plant.  I looked forward to changing into my Hoka Mafates with hope my quads would come back to life and not hurt as much as they were now.  During this section I also had the pleasure of meeting the famous Dan Brennen.  This man is 60 years old and has legs like an Olympic distance runner.  He has finished the Grand Slam countless number of times.   What an inspiration.  I made it into Camp 10 Bear at 8:10 on the race clock.   This is a mandatory weigh-in station.  I jumped on the scale and found out that I was 7 pounds down from my starting weight of 162.  I was really scared the doctor was going to make me sit for a while and gain some weight.  He asked me how I was feeling and of course I said “Great” and he told me to have a good day.   I headed to the food table and grabbed some PBJ, chips, and candy.  Then headed over to my crew and let them do there job.   I sat down for the first time so they could change my shoes.  I was eating and hydrating while my wheels were being change.   When you leave Camp 10 Bear, you have a 23 mile loop and then you get back at mile 70.  To me, this is a brutal loop.  Lots of climbs and exposed to the sun most of the time.   Mara walked out with me to make sure everything was okay.  She stayed with me for 5 minutes then headed back to the aid station.  I had asked how Julian was doing and she said he looked good and was an hour ahead of me.  Still keeping my fingers crossed that he could keep it going.

I was really struggling and for the first time a little thought creep into my mind whether I was going to finish this race.  Stopping at Camp 10 Bear #2 started to sound inviting.  I just then came up to a runner that had a tattoo on his leg that I had seen before.  It was a pine tree.   I told him I thought I knew him and we figured out I had met him at the 2007 WS100 training camp.  His name was Robert and from  the great state of Washington.  He was a godsend.   We both helped each other for the next 20 miles. Sometimes we ran together other times were apart.    My stomach started to talk to me around mile 60 and Robert suggested some ginger ale at Margaritaville aid station (62 miles).  That seemed to quiet it down.  We separated for a few miles and met up the last couple of miles coming into Camp 10 Bear #2.  I did not even get a chance to say thanks for his help through that tough section.  I step on the scale again and was only 3 pounds down from my starting weight.  Doc said good to go so off I went to see my crew.  Race time…13:39

Now I need to back up a bit and explain what was going through my mind the last few miles before coming in to 10 Bear.    Let me go back even further, all the way to Friday morning in New Jersey.  We were packing the car waiting for Dave and Jody to arrive.  Dave came first and was helping Mara load up the car.  Jody pulled up and as she got out of the car I noticed she was standing crocked with a look of pain in her face.   She told me she threw her back out about 20 minutes ago.  Jody was supposed to pace me from Camp 10 Bear (mile 70) to Bill’s (mile 88).   In my mind I knew there was no way she was going to be up for the task and I could not ask Mara to add another 18 miles onto the 12 miles she was going to pace me to the finish.   I came to the conclusion I was going have to go solo up to Bill’s.  At the time I thought no big deal but that was not how I was feeling now at mile 67.  I was thinking this is going to be a long slow hike to the end.  I was not sure I could push myself.

As I was walking over to my crew Mara said she found me another pacer.  At first I was thinking pretty negatively.  I was not sure I wanted to meet a stranger and have to converse with him in a friendly manner for the next 18 miles. You see, at this time I was kind of grumpy and not having a good time.   I just wanted this race to be over.  To be forced to be on good behavior meant I had to use some energy to be nice and I was not sure I could do that.  If Mara went to all this effort to find someone for me I should be happy so I asked her his/her name.  She said “I got you Glenn Redpath.”   My first thought was, Oh God!  I am going to die.  Glenn is an elite ultra-runner and a friend of mine.  He has come in top 10 at WS100 and I thought there is no way I was going to be able to do what he was going to ask of me but I thought what do I have to lose.  Let’s do it.  Glenn immediately took over.  He told me what we were going to do, when I was going to run, what I was going to eat, etc.  I just listened and tried to do the best I could.  It was just what I needed.  I felt my strength coming back.  Sure, I still had my moments of complete exhaustion but with Glenn shoving food at me all the time I would gain my energy back and I was up and running.   I was surprised at how fast I could run.  On the down hills, I would just grin and bear the quad pain and let it rip.  

Glenn told me as we left Camp 10 Bear that we had about 2 ½ hour of daylight left.  We had to try to run as much as possible because once the sun goes down the energy level goes down.  I kept thinking that every time I wanted to stop and walk.   So on we went toward Bill’s.  Food was starting to repulse me.  Trying to get calories down was a chore in itself but my pacer was persistent about eating.   Calories were mandatory so I kept shoving Gu’s and Powerbar Gel Blast down.   I noticed that I was continually belching.  Dr. Repath said that is good because it meant the food was digesting.  I was imperative that I did not throw up because that meant I would have to replace all the food which could take some time.   I can think of only once where my food almost came up.  I had to really focus to keep in down.  Lucky for me I did not toss my cookies.

At about mile 85 I finally saw someone who I had not seen since mile 1, Julian Vicente.  His pacer, Dan, was leading him to the finish line.   At the time, I was in one of the Speedy Gonzales phases and I did not want to lose my momentum going down the hill, so I went right by them and gave a quick “Good job” and kept on going.  I heard Julian say that his legs were shot so I thought that would be the last I saw of him.  I can say in all honestly it did perk me up a bit that I caught the young-in and I was enjoying  it for about all of 15 seconds because the next thing I knew Julian was next to me.  He was talking up a storm and I said, “I thought you said your legs were shot?”  He just shrugged and so we kept on running.   We were running so fast we both dropped our pacers in the dust.   Next thing I know we catch a horse and we are all having a conversation while running 7:00 minute miles.   This went on for probably 5 minutes and then my warning light came on again and I began to slow down.  Meanwhile, Julian just kept on going.  Dan eventually caught up to Julian and off they go up the hill into the darkness, so much for beating the YOUNG-IN.

Finally I could see the lights of Bill’s.  The sun had gone down gone down 15 minutes ago and my gas tank indicator was flashing WARNING! WARNING!  FUEL NEEDED!  I walked into Bill’s aid station.  Race time:….17:22….   

I told my crew I just needed a few minutes to sit down and rest.  Of course I knew I should not have and they all were telling me not to but I really did not care anymore about my time.   Oh, the dreaded, “I DON’T CARE ANYMORE” syndrome had struck.   I knew I was going to finish under 24 hours, so why push it?  I would get the buckle so who cares? Does it really matter?   At that time, it doesn’t, but after the race it sure does.  Mara told me it was time to go so Jody and Dave grabbed my arms and helped me up out of the chair.  They all wished me luck as Mara and I went off into the night with a full moon beaming down from the sky.

We caught Julian and Dan about 10 minutes out from Bill’s.  We were all going down this open grass field.  It was beautiful.  The moon was brilliant.  The only thing that could have made it better was if it was cooler.  I kept thinking all day that once the sun went down the temperature would come down and I would be revitalized.   That never seemed to happen.   I guess the ground was holding all the heat it absorbed during the day.  BUMMER!!   

As we got back into the woods I decided I wanted to take some Advil’s to help with the quad pain.  I reached into my hand held for my pills and they were not there.  PANIC set in.   I told Mara I really needed them so she turned around and headed back to Bill’s.  I told her I would just continue walking.   Talk about a pacer going above and beyond her duties.   She made it back in 15 minutes.  I took 3 advil’s and we began our slow jog to the finish line.   Here is where the miles seem to go on forever.   Finally we see the milk jugs with glow sticks in them.  That meant we were  within a few hundred yards to the finish line.  I could here people’s voices.  I can see lights.  Yes, I was going to finish and get a buckle.  I crossed the line in 20:16:18.  Only 1 hour and 21 minutes behind my 2007 finish.   I placed 21st overall and 3rd in my age group.

A big congrats goes out to Julian for finishing his first 100 in 21:11:35 and placed 32nd overall and 14th in his age group. 

I want to say thanks to all the volunteers and Julie Hutchinson (race director) and staff for making 2011 VT100 a huge success.  Thanks to Glenn Redpath for picking me up when my energy and spirits were down.  A huge thank you goes to my crew for giving their time, patience, and understanding throughout the weekend.  Without their support this race would have been a lot harder.  As always, I want to thank my wife Mara for always being there for me.  She supports me in whatever crazy adventure I attempt.  She gives herself 100%.  And lastly thanks to my sponsors Mountain Peak FitnessCampmorSaucony and Nathan Sports, and my teammates of the MPF Campmor Trail Racing Team for sending all those positive thoughts during the race.

On to the next adventure, maybe a 101 mile mountain bike race?

Update - Randy did complete the Wilderness 101 Mountain Bike Race just a couple of weeks later with his wife Mara and both finished with impressive times!