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Vermont 100 Race Report

One step at a time. Truth.

I signed up for the Vermont 100 for the only reason that made sense: All my friends were going and I didn't want to miss out on the fun. I also figured that if I didn't sign up now I might never run another one. After all, eight years had passed since I had run my first 100 miler.

I went into this race with a good amount of trepidation. I hadn't raced a single ultra in the past year thanks to a foot injury that plagued me from October to mid-March. I was toeing the start line on very minimal training mileage, just a couple of hundred miles in the few months since I'd been able to resume running. My longest training run was just 38 miles and much of it had been hiking. I was only 3 1/2 months into building my training base using the Maffetone Method (it can take up to 6 months).

training mileage leading up to the Vermont 100
Really Minimal Training
Would my body hold up? Would my heart rate stay under control or would it spike after I'd run fifty miles or so? Did I have the mental fortitude to persevere when things started to hurt? Did I want it badly enough? I wasn't sure about anything.

Hubz and I drove up to Vermont in order to bring a big cooler for my real food fueling strategy. Having him as my crew was crucial. There's nobody more organized and efficient. We arrived Thursday evening and stayed with our friend Jen's parents in New Hampshire at the fabled Tofu Farm.* They made a delicious dinner for us and were wonderful hosts. Hubz was particularly thrilled that he was allowed to take a spin in Jen's father's red '64 Corvette.

Breakfast at the Tofu Farm!
Breakfast at the Tofu Farm.  *The Tofu Farm has nothing to do with tofu, I was sad to discover.
The next morning they whipped up an enormous breakfast of scrambled eggs, hash browns and bacon for us. It's a wonder we ever left!

After stuffing ourselves we drove to the race site to register. The sun was shining, the temperature was cool and optimism was in the air. 

The Vermont 100 is an endurance race for both humans and horses. We share many parts of the course with the horses and riders and it's always a thrill to be running alongside them. 

Past the rows of horse trailers, campers and tents dotting the grassy meadow, I found registration. Volunteers weighed me, took my blood pressure and queried me about my training and readiness and the risks involved. Gulp!  

Weighing in


There were many fellow VHTRC members milling about including MMT100 Race Director Kevin Sayers and first ever Grand Slammer Tom Green who is attempting the Slam once more this summer. Apparently we outnumbered the Vermont folks!

Q, Tom, Stephanie and Gary at registration

After the race briefing, a big group of us drove just across the New Hampshire border to The Common Man Pub to celebrate Bob's birthday. The usual camaraderie and hijinks ensued, and then we headed back to our hotel for a few short hours of slumber. 

Team Gaylord

At 2:15 a.m. the alarm went off. I had slept fairly well. I downed a couple of hard boiled eggs, some Velvety Butternut Squash and my usual cup of half-caf coffee with coconut milk. Hubz drove us to the start and I found my VHTRC friends. We made jokes in poor taste about blueberry patches and pooping and how the French-speaking runners nearby were probably discussing the exact same topics.

KK KC SD

I downed a Vespa Jr. We took a few bad selfies. The crowd was suddenly drifting toward the starting line. It's difficult to be half-awake and nervous at the same time but I somehow managed it. And then we were stumbling forward across the meadow.

Just before 4 am at the start ...We turned downhill on hard-packed dirt road, running easily through the dark. I kept my pace reigned in and let my friends disappear into the night. Soon we were in the woods, our footfalls muffled on the dirt trail. After a brief pit stop I found myself near the back of the pack. 

I ran alone for a few miles until Jo Kappus caught up and joined me. I hadn't met her before but she turned out to be excellent company. Over the next 12 hours and 40+ miles the conversation flowed easily. We discussed many things: Jo's experiences with endurance horse racing, ultras we had run, beef liver as endurance miracle food, eye makeup techniques, juicy gossip and (literally) making hay are the few subjects I remember.

Running with the horses
Running with the horses
Jo Kappus at the Taftsville Covered Bridge
At the Taftsville covered bridge
I had forgotten just how much of this course was road. I also didn't remember the steepness, frequency and length of the hills on the Vermont 100 course. Having done a lot of slow running and hiking on rocky trails, I feared my legs would rebel. I hoped the ups and downs I'd done in training were enough to prevent my old nemeses calf and tibialis cramps from showing up.

I focused on having the same mindset I'd had at Laurel Highlands the year before: I would enjoy running the miles one by one and not get caught up in thinking too far ahead. I would take it step by step.

In every ultra, when things start to hurt, I think "This seems much earlier than usual." It happened around mile 16 this time, both of my feet felt like my laces were too tight. Ironically, this same thing had occurred in my first 100 (and never before or since).

I saw Hubz for the first time at mile 21 and changed from my Brooks Pure Cadence to my Merrell All Out Rush. Unfortunately, the culprit was not the shoes or lacing, but my compression socks which were too tight on my feet. I had to run another ten miles before I saw Hubz again and could swap them out for calf sleeves and some DryMax socks.

Sound-of-Music Hill at 27.5 miles
The "Sound of Music" meadow
After that had abated, I was feeling pretty good, though I was already growing stiff and sore. Bending over, squatting, sitting down and getting back up could no longer be done without a grunt escaping.

I had zero stomach issues. No sloshing or bloating. It was almost as if my stomach wasn't there at all. That's huge. My energy was steady for the entire race. I used Vespa Junior, sweet potato and beet baby food packets, VFuel gels, Epic bars and Nuun to fuel on the run, along with some occasional cold cantaloupe and watermelon at aid stations during the first 40 miles. Hubz met me at the crew-accessible stations with a ready supply of food including Velvety Butternut Squash, chicken and apple sausages, Merguez lamb bangers, olives, homemade bone broth and kombucha. I was well fed, indeed!

Jo and I ran together until Camp Ten Bear, mile 46. After Hubz restocked my pack and saw to my needs, I hiked up the road until I caught up with Jo. She wanted to slow down. I was feeling good. I knew I had to run my own race and forge ahead while I had the strength to push. 

After some more heinous climbs on trail, then more road, I passed the halfway point. No one else was near.

The hills were long, steep, and relentless. The downhills were punishing. I focused on my form and using my glutes with every step. My body was weary and I hurt, the kind of hurt where things start to tingle but don't yet go blissfully numb. Still, I felt strong down deep. 

I had been at the back of the pack all day, but well ahead of the cutoffs. As the daytime turned to dusk, I kept making steady progress. The solitude was taking its toll, however. With no conversation to distract me, my mind wandered to dark places. When I saw Hubz around mile 60, I begged him to find me a pacer to accompany me the last 50K.

As darkness fell, I began to overtake other runners. I chatted with them briefly, eager for conversation, but soon I ran ahead. Almost all of them were death marching and staying in their company too long can be deadly to both your mindset and your pace.

The section between Margaritaville (mile 61) and Camp Ten Bear II had nearly been my downfall eight years ago. I was very glad to share a mile or two with Amelia K. when she followed me out of Brown School House (mile 65). I had gotten a much needed cup of coffee there and was starting to feel revived. We walked for a time on this gnarly piece of trail and chatted until we decided we should run again. Soon I had pulled ahead and found my own rhythm.

Indeed, it was as tough and dark and hilly and long as I remember it, though better marked this time, the glow sticks making it easy to have confidence I was on trail. Finally I arrived back at Camp Ten Bear (mile 69), plopped in my chair and started eating. My pacer, Devon, introduced himself.

I got my hydration pack refilled and some leg and foot rubbing by Hubz, then we started the final 50K. Devon remarked that I was still climbing strongly and running downhills well. I was just happy to have his company and that the trail was mud-free.

As we trotted along many of the trail sections seemed familiar. This was a comfort to me, despite the fact that my last time on these sections was during one of the biggest pity parties I've ever thrown. This time I was prepared for the pain and fatigue in my legs. I focused on how much I love running at night. I thought of eight years ago on this night and what Bob was saying to me along our journey. Stop focusing on the pain in your feet, focus on your legs. Pick up your feet. My mantra most of this race was not something soothing like "serene, strong, swift" but "Use Your Ass to Run" to remind me to engage my glutes and use proper form.


The hills just kept coming, steep and long. The downhills followed and they were more painful, though they had the advantage of allowing me to make up some time.

Vermont100 course profile
Did I mention the hills? Course profile courtesy of Keith Knipling.

I caught Gary Knipling at the Seabrook aid station. He was clearly suffering and I felt almost guilty about my happy tummy. I gave him a quick shoulder rub and then I was on my way.

The arch of my left foot felt as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. I didn't know if it was residual effects of the tight compression socks or if it was a stress fracture waiting to snap. It worried me but I figured it wasn't bad enough to stop.

Gary somehow revived enough to catch up with us, though I could tell he was still in a bad way. We shared the trail til Spirit of '76 aid station where Hubz crewed us both. I gave Gary some of my olives since nothing else seemed to be appealing to him. I changed back to my Brooks in hopes that would help my foot pain.

We had scarcely gotten a half mile down the hill when a woman ran up quickly behind us. Zeke, the aid station captain, had sent her to accompany Gary the remainder of the run. He immediately took off and abandoned me. So fickle!

My next problem was sleepiness. It was the middle of the night, I'd been awake for more than 24 hours and I could hardly hold my head up. I was like Dorothy in the field of poison poppies in the Wizard of Oz. My pacer was super nice but not exactly loquacious. Normally, this is a quality I would prize but at this moment I needed real help staying awake. I was constantly scanning the landscape for a nice spot to lie down, just for a few minutes.

So sleepy ...

We caught Gary about mile 80 at one of the unmanned aid stations. I tried to figure out how I could take a nap atop one of the big coolers there. Gary offered me a Vivarin tablet which I gladly accepted. It didn't seem to do much, but I didn't get any worse so it very well may have saved my race.

Dawn arrived, always a welcome sight for a tired runner. Not long after, we arrived at Bill's (mile 88). One last weigh in, more coffee, more begging Hubz for JUST A FEW MINUTES to nap. Though I still had almost 12 miles and probably 3 hours to go, the finish line was within reach. Don't think, just run.

Misty morning

The last miles are a blur of more road and hills. Oh, the hills. The old finish was much gentler, this year's course change wound up, up and around and up some more. It was downright cruel until we were running the last quarter mile.

Finishing

As I ran the last few yards toward the finish as Hubz and my friends cheered, all I could do was bawl, overwhelmed with relief, pride and exhaustion. 

The asterisk I'd always tacked onto my first 100 miler finish when Bob had wheedled and cajoled me the final 31 miles was finally banished. I had dug deep and I had come up triumphant.





Vermont 100, Done!


The VHTRC contingent in Vermont
The VHTRC Blue Train at the Vermont 100

I finished the Vermont 100! 

I can't tell you how exhilarated I am to type those words. I'm riding the post-100 miler high!

My race report is currently in the works.



Three Things Thursday

I rarely write a Three Things Thursday post, because I usually can't think of three things of interest to report, but I have a few newsworthy items for you today!

1. The Maffetone Method. I've been running a lot lately. I'm 12 weeks into my heart rate training. I'm using The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, inspired by this rock star who went from hilariously painful looking 5K race photos to kicking ass and taking names at Ironman/triathlons. Thank you Katie for being amazing and for all the reading recommendations. I am learning so much!

My running has been going well despite (because of?) the limitations put on my speed by my sworn obedience to my heart rate monitor. 


Three weeks ago I decided I should run the Appalachian Trail across the entire state of Maryland. It was a nice little run in which I spent 12 hours on my feet (and a couple of minutes flat on the trail). Speaking of the trail, there are trails with rocks and then there are trails that are rocks. And they say the AT in Pennsylvania is bad.

More rocks ahead ...
Photo style also borrowed from/inspired by Katie at This Amazing Day.
2. The Great Bear Staredown. Two weeks ago, I went running in George Washington National Forest with my friend Brian. Brian is a front of the pack runner who regularly wins ultramarathons. He had pulled ahead of me a few miles into our run so I was very surprised when I rounded a bend to see him standing in the trail. 

A big black bear stood watching us about 50 yards away, her cub in a nearby tree. As a midpack runner, I was very excited about seeing a bear, especially one that was more than just a flash of black disappearing into the woods. 

But this bear didn't hurry off. In fact, she had been staring at Brian for about 15 minutes. 

We decided to bushwhack straight up the hill to the left to give her a wide berth. We hadn't taken more than three steps before mama bear started up the hill as well. We beat a quick retreat back to the trail, fearing a charge was imminent. She climbed further up the hill, but didn't head our way.


After a few minutes of nervous discussion we decided it was likely her cub had gone or she wouldn't have moved that far away.  We started tentatively down the trail. She stayed put, her gaze affixed on us the entire time. We walked until we were out of sight.

We ran together for a mile or so and then Brian pulled ahead. As he ran out of sight, I checked over my shoulder to be sure the bear wasn't following me. That old joke occurred to me: You don't have to be fast enough to outrun the bear, you just have to be faster than the slowest person with you. Crap, that's ME!

3. Vermont 100 Miler. Speaking of um, running, my second 100 mile race (ever) will happen in nine days. I'm running the Vermont 100. 

I've been reticent about the subject as I crammed to come back from my 5-month foot injury. Thanks to a really skilled sports acupuncturist, I think I have been able to put enough hay in the barn. I may be a little short on training mileage, I may not have done a night run or raced anything long in over a year but I am ready to tackle this challenge. Vermont, here I come! 

If you want to read my race report from my last 100 miler (also at Vermont) 8 years ago, it's here: 102 Miles of Vermont: Reflections of a Babe in the Woods. It's the story of a young, impressionable girl who fell under the spell of a powerful man in the woods.

Diagnosis: Insanity!
The incomparable Bob Gaylord and me at mile 89 in 2006

Wish me luck!






A Fat Adapted Eating Plan to Fuel for an Ultra

I've gotten a lot of questions about how I eat to fuel an ultra as a Paleo athlete. I thought it might be helpful for people looking for answers if I wrote a meal plan based on typical meals I eat in the week leading up to a race.

Whether or not the meal plan I've outlined below will work for you depends on how you eat in your daily life. 
 

Do you eat the Standard American Diet? You're welcome to give my eating plan a try, but it's unlikely it will work well until your body learns to use fat as fuel. For a greater understanding of fat burning vs. sugar burning, this article gives a good explanation. 

I also recommend reading It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig and The Paleo Athlete by Stephanie Gaudreau. While I found some of its advice outdated, I also learned a lot about fueling from Loren Cordain's The Paleo Diet for Athletes.  
 
Are you just starting a Whole30? It typically takes a couple of weeks for your body to adapt to the changes in your diet. Be patient with the process and go easy in workouts. I don't recommend starting this way of eating if you have your A race in the next 3 weeks.

Have you been avoiding processed carbs and grains and feel you are fat-adapted? My way of fueling should work best for those who fall into this group, but everyone is different. Maybe you don't like chicken, or you're allergic to onions, in which case you'll need to substitute something else.  

Do you eat Vegan or Vegetarian? You can sub organic tofu or lentils for the protein in any meal (full disclosure - I haven't tried it myself). If you currently rely heavily on grains for fuel, your body may need to learn to use fat as fuel before this type of eating will work for you. The Whole30 folks have options for you if you're interested.

Below I've listed four days worth of meals I typically eat leading up to an ultra. This is what works for me. You may have success following this plan, but everyone is different. Keep experimenting until you find what works best for you.

At least four days before my long run/endurance event I make sure I am carb loading, Paleo style. That means eating starchy vegetables two or three times a day. The ones that pack the most punch are sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beets, rutabaga and parsnips. 

My favorite packed-with-carbs recipe is Velvety Butternut Squash from Well Fed. It makes a big casserole dish full and we nosh on it all week. 

Cooking takes time. I love it and can spend hours in the kitchen making wonderful recipes, but I've kept things super simple here so those of you with little time can benefit. My best time saving tricks:
  1. Frozen veggies: A few minutes in the microwave and they're ready.
  2. Raw veggies: Sliced bell peppers, cucumbers, jicama, snap peas, celery and baby carrots are quick to prep and portable. 
  3. Make ahead: On Sunday evening, I shred rutabaga, roast sweet potatoes and beets, boil eggs, cook a couple of different meats, chop onions, slice cucumbers and bell peppers, and make batches of food for the week.
  4. Buy prepared foods like roast chicken or hit a hot food/salad bar when you don't feel like cooking. Just check the ingredients carefully.
I am a huge fan of Melissa Joulwan and her Well Fed and Well Fed 2 cookbooks. I highly recommend both, whether you are Paleo, Vegan or Standard American Diet. Her veggie recipes are particularly outstanding (you will probably moan audibly) and she offers many helpful shortcuts to make your life easier.

With each meal I include:
  • a palm to 2 palm sized portion of protein (meat, seafood, poultry or 3-4 eggs)
  • good fats like half an avocado
  • LOTS (2-4 cups) of veggies (starchy and green)

Below I've given you a protein, fat, green vegetable and starchy vegetable suggestion for each meal. I don't always manage to eat a starchy vegetable at each meal. Sometimes I skip the green veggies or eat a little less protein depending on how active I was that day. Feel free to experiment with different combinations.

I'm not a nutritionist or a medical professional of any sort. This is how I eat to fuel my runs. It may or may not work for you. Please consult your doctor before you take the drastic step of eating the real food listed in this post instead of packaged, processed stuff with preservatives because that would be the prudent thing to do (is this a suitable legal disclaimer?). 

DAY 1 (4 days before your event)
Breakfast
Protein: 3-4 eggs OR  ground meat with 2 eggs on top
Fat: Coffee blended with coconut milk (the cooking oil I fry my eggs in counts too)

Green veg: Some fresh or frozen spinach or any leftover veggies I have
Starchy: Rutabaga hash (shredded rutabaga + chopped onions + spices cooked in coconut oil, ghee or olive oil)

Lunch
Protein: Bunless burger or any leftover meat I have on hand
Fat: Homemade mayo on my burger and/or guacamole for dipping my veggies
Green veg: Raw veggies like sugar snap peas, baby carrots, bell pepper strips, jicama
Starchy: 1/2 sweet potato, a couple of handfuls of blueberries & strawberries

Dinner
Protein: Shrimp or Chicken Curry Bowl (sautee onions & veggies of choice in coconut oil, add shrimp/chicken, stir in 1-2 tsp green curry paste or curry powder, add 1 cup coconut milk, simmer 'til hot). 
Green veg: I add broccoli and/or green beans and spinach in my curry bowl
Starchy: Velvety Butternut Squash

DAY 2 (3 days before your event)
Breakfast
Protein: Frittata with spinach, red bell pepper, onion
Fat: 1/2 avocado or homemade mayo + Franks' hot sauce atop frittata

Green veg: I use broccoli or spinach in my frittata
Starchy: Shredded rutabaga hash, strawberries

Lunch
Protein: 1 can wild sardines and/or hard-boiled eggs tossed in salad
Fat: 1/2 avocado, cubed into salad

Green veg: A big salad. I like red peppers, cukes, arugula. Try different combos.
Starchy: A big helping of roasted beets

Dinner
Protein: Pan-fried chicken thighs with onions, garlic and lemon OR a grilled steak
Fat: Olive oil or ghee to cook chicken and spinach
Green veg: Sauteed spinach, garlic and pine nuts
Starchy: 1/2 - 1 sweet potato OR Japanese sweet potato fries (if you have any leftovers these are great cold in your lunch salad)

DAY 3 (2 days before your event)
Breakfast
Protein: Ground pork or turkey sauteed with apples and cinnamon + scrambled eggs
Fat: Coffee blended with coconut milk or 1/2 avocado

Green veg: optional, sometimes I skip them or eat a few forkfuls of kimchi
Starchy: I count the apples above as my starch here.

Lunch
Protein: Leftover chicken thighs or steak
Fat: 1/2 avocado or olive oil and vinegar dressing on salad
Green veg: Big salad with veggies
Starchy: Roasted beets in my salad

Dinner
Protein: Ground beef, onions, spices, roasted spaghetti squash, tomato sauce
Fat: Large handful of olives or 1/2 avocado. I also use olive oil to cook my squash & greens.
Green veg: Frozen broccoli or spinach, I mix mine in with the sauce
Starchy: 1/2 - 1 sweet potato, a couple of handfuls of blueberries & strawberries

DAY 4  (the day before your event)
Breakfast
Protein: Leftover frittata or 3-4 hard boiled eggs
Fat: Coffee blended with coconut milk (or make homemade mayo and make deviled eggs!)
Green veggies: fresh or frozen spinach, sauteed or some kimchi
Starchy: Velvety Butternut Squash

Lunch
Protein: Leftover ground beef, spaghetti squash, sauce
Fat: Drizzle of olive oil over spaghetti squash or 1/2 avocado
Green veg: Frozen broccoli microwaved or baby carrots, celery, bell peppers
Starchy: Leftover roasted beets

Dinner
Protein: Salmon cakes (I use oregano instead of rosemary)
Fat: Coconut milk in the green beans below, homemade mayo on my salmon cakes
Green veg: Green beans sauteed with garlic, spices, coconut milk (from Well Fed)

Starchy: Roasted root veggies - I like a mix of parsnips, butternut squash and carrots, cut into one-inch cubes, tossed with melted coconut oil and a little kosher salt and roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until done to your liking.

SHOPPING LIST* (approximate amounts. I'm sure I've left something out ...)
eggs - 2 dozen
avocados - 3 or 4
rutabagas - 2-3 medium
onions - 2 or 3
green onions - 1 bunch
Raw veggies: bell peppers, baby carrots, celery, jicama, snap peas, cucumber
garlic - 2 heads
apples - 2 small
sweet potatoes, Garnet or Jewel - 3-4
Japanese sweet potatoes - 2
butternut squash - 2 large
spaghetti squash - 1 medium
beets - 3-4 medium

parsnips - 4 or so
carrots - 1 bunch
blueberries - 1 pint
strawberries - 1 quart
spinach/arugula or other fresh salad greens of your choice
ground beef  - 1 lb
ground turkey or pork - 1 lb
chicken thighs OR a steak
shrimp - 1/2 lb
wild sardines in water - 2 cans
wild salmon - 1 15 oz can
kimchi - try it!
green beans - 1 lb
lime - 1
frozen broccoli
frozen spinach or kale
coconut milk - 3-4 cans
tomato sauce - look for sugar free, I like Rao's or Amy's Family Marinara
green curry paste or curry powder
olives - 1 can
mustard
coconut oil (unrefined)
olive oil and/or ghee (clarified butter)
vinegar (to make your own salad dressing)
slivered almonds
Frank's Hot Sauce

If making homemade mayo, also buy:

dry mustard (if you don't already have some)
light olive oil (not extra virgin, it will be too bitter)
1 lemon

*In compiling this list, I'm assuming you have some spices on hand already, like paprika, salt, pepper, oregano, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, ginger, cayenne - not 100% essential, but it can make the difference between your food being bland or mind-blowing!

For more on fueling for an ultra, including what I eat during a run, go here.

I hope you find my suggestions helpful. Happy eating and good luck in your racing and training. Enjoy the journey!








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