Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Beginning

My ultra running career started off in the summer of 2000.

I had stopped running track and cross country as a sophomore in high school, but I had maintained a mild level of fitness thanks to biking to work and playing roller hockey 3-4 nights a week. I hadn’t spoken to my father a few years prior due to the ongoing custody battle between my parents. But, for some reason, he asked me if I’d like to be part of his crew at his upcoming July VT100 race (his 4th attempt).

I was young, and dumb and promptly accepted without even having second thoughts. It’s only 31 miles through the night. How hard could it be? Well if memory serves me correctly that was the year of the rain. For those that were there, it was the hell on earth thunderstorm that turned the single track trail, into a 2”-4” deep stream. My father and I ran shoulder to shoulder forming an A-frame over the water and I paced him into his 3rd sub 24 hour finish. As a token of his appreciation, he gave me his buckle.

A few months passed and I’d found myself back in college for my second year at VTC. Once again I get a phone call.

“So I’m doing the Vermont 50(his 5th attempt) in a few weeks. You interested?”

“It’s only a few more miles then you did with me back in July.”

So needless to say I found myself at Mount Ascutney that September afternoon sitting in the upper parking lot with my father still unaware of what lied ahead of me. We lay our sleeping bags out on the grass and try to fall asleep.

“You’ve got to pay your dues and sleep on the ground the night before a race to offer up your willingness to suffer to the running gods.”

“The more you suffer tonight, the easier they will be on you tomorrow”

Words that still ring in my head to this day.

*Slam* *Slam* *Slam*

It’s 4am and we are awoken to car doors. The bikers and people that have chosen the nicer sleeping arrangements have started to filter into the parking lot. There’s frost on my head, everything is that fall morning dewy wet, it’s dark, this is a whole new world to me. I put on my cotton shirt, my boxer briefs, long soccer shorts as if it’s just another day. My dad hands me this green tin (Bag Balm).

“Here, put this on your feet.”

I oblige and do so, sliding my cotton socks over the greasy mess. Then my new pair of trail running shoes (yes I mean brand new). I’m ready to take this on. No worries. Ah the wonders of being 18.

We made our way down to the resort building which was filled wall to wall with participants. I’m introduced to Mike (the race dir), Oscar, Charlie, faces that are all new to me, but all know my father. Then I shake hands with this rather big fellow. A gruff looking Vermonter, grayish-white beard, beer belly, named Darren. My father joking said in front of us to me. “So you think you can beat Darren?”

Look at him, he’s old and out of shape, I say to myself and then proclaim, “of course I can.”

They both laugh, they know what lies ahead. I on the other hand, do not.

It’s 615 and the bikers are off and before I knew it. We’re off. I’m running beside my father just like the old days when we ran 5k’s. Up through Bills, down through the fields, up Garvin, onward past smoke rise farm that hosted the VT100. So many familiar places, yet so different in the daylight. On that day I experienced pain I had never experienced before. Shooting searing pain.

“Beware the Chair,” was the mantra of the day that my father preached to me at every aid station. The excruciating pain, the limping, the slow plod along, it’s ever so vivid now as it was then. Experienced runners passing us, asking if we were ok, then pushing on with their own battles. My shoes have taken quite the beating. The soles were actually pulling away from the shoe itself. Thanks bargain bin! I grab duct tape and wrap it entirely around my shoe to hold the soul on at the 40 mile aid station. I remember my father laughing at my struggle. I assume now it’s just what you are allowed to do when you bring an ultra-virgin into one of these events. I didn’t want to go on, I sat in the road a few times.

“Keep moving, the devil will let go of your soul. It’ll happen.”

We kept talking about how I needed to break 12 hours so I could run the 100 with him the following year. How I needed to pick up the pace if we were to stay ahead of the cut off. Then something happened. The Devil let go. At mile 46 I don’t really know what came over me. I started running, by the time I got to Johnsons at Mile 47 I was about a minute ahead of my father. Turning the corner to Johnsons I could hear my father yelling ahead to me the corney line of the time.


I never looked back. I ran the last 5k that day in 30 minutes. I power hiking the up hills and held my butt cheeks apart and yelled in pain down on the down hills of that last stretch. There it was, the ski slope, the finish line, tears of joy and pain rolling down my face. I spotted another runner crossing the field ahead of me. I say to myself. “I think I can catch this guy.” I’m feeling amazing, the doubt of not finishing has left my body and I feel anew. I start catching up to the runner, it’s the last stretch, and what do you know it’s Charlie! I caught Charlie that sunny Sunday afternoon; I beat him by 2 seconds. I finished in 11:38:19, a full 5 minutes ahead of my dad.

It’s a running joke that my father still likes to tell, that you can never be that close to me late in a race or I’ll “pull a Charlie” on you. It’s hard explaining to your college friends and teachers that you are walking funny because you ran 50 miles for fun.

I grew a lot that day. I learned a lot about myself, but mostly I couldn’t walk right for 2 weeks. I’ve never looked back really. From then forward, the VT100 in July as a pacer/crew for my dad and then the VT50 in September where we run together has been a staple of my race calendar since.

As for Darren, he never caught me that day, but he put me in my place the following three years.

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