Friday, March 20, 2009

The Peak Winter 52.4

Run 1 (The Night Marathon)

We were to meet at the Pittsfield General Store at 9pm. I get a call around 8pm from my father (Rik) and found out they were across the street in the Fire Dept parking lot waiting for everyone else’s arrival already. I’m pleased to find out that there are 8 of us now joining in on this journey through the night. The 8 of us work out the logistics of parking and we leave Rik’s truck at the halfway point with what supplies we all think we might need 6.55 miles into our trek. Carl is rooting through his bags and the heckling begins, “KEVIN! WHERE ARE YOU KEVIN?” I’m psyched; this is going to be fun, 8 ultra running friends in the cold dark woods of Vermont. Who could ask for a better Friday night?

10:07, we’re off, 7 minutes behind schedule, probably a record for us. Rik, Tim, Ray, Tom, John, Adam, Carl and myself. As we start heading up the first accent we find out that the snowmobile is so compacted that we don’t even need our snowshoes. I’m probably the happiest of the 8; after all, I had only been on snowshoes 3 times this year. The trail was actually in really good shape, the snowmobile tracks had done an amazing job leaving ridges on the trail to provide decent traction. Every once and while we’d find a nice glazed over ice patch that would send whoever found it 10’ back down the slope. There is general chatter about how undertrained and how nuts this is. Nothing negative though, it’s a battle, it’s what we all love, and it’s why we are all here. The Barkley 100 comes up. We find out Carl is already IN and is in serious training mode. Meanwhile Rik and I remain on the waiting list and as far as I can tell will be lucky to survive 1 lap. Before too long we find ourselves out onto a road and it’s squishy, but certainly run-able, so we’re able to jog for the first time of the night. The trail is mysteriously familiar to me. I’ve got such a terrible memory for so many things, but once I’m back out on a trail that I hadn’t seen in over 2 years it all flows back. Oh yeah, this is where the bar was, there is a cemetery up ahead. Oh yeah, this is where I had the bathroom break behind this old oak. I put the idiot in idiot savant.

The 2007 course from above looks like a lolly-pop, we've completed the stick and now we’re about to start our loop around the sucker. It’s a long sweeping snowmobile trail that contained some nice run-able hard packed snow sections, some 2-3” deep typical Vermont springtime mud, and areas of about 50’ of sheer glare ice where you’d try to stop but be left at the mercy of inertia. I settle into a good pace along with my dad and we plug on through the darkness. Before we know it we see the 6 other lights head of us milling around in a circle and realize we’re at the truck. “Alright, half way, to half way, to half way,” I say. Rik had been telling us all of how he’s going to have Wine and Cheese at this stop but we all opted out of it. As much as that sounds like fun, with the task that we have lined up ahead of us it’s just unreasonable. It’s around midnight, we’ve all been up for 18+ hours and fatigue is setting in. I refill my water bottles, pound a boost, and half of a Starbucks Mocha-chino thing. I give pop the other half in hopes that it’ll lift his spirits. We load our bags back into the truck and slowly start the long climb back up to the top. It’s about a 20-30 minute “ultra-hike” up the muddy road. The weather is per typical Vermont night. Warm breezes followed by jet blasts of cold air depending on how the wind was swirling in the valley. One by one we all end up turning off our headlights and marching at our own paces up the hill lighted only by the now fully exposed moon. I see the first start of the night, and I wish for a safe journey.

Rik’s starting to fall a bit behind as he and I settle in side by side in our standard Robert Ultra shuffle. While he’s hacking up a lung, I find out that he’s been fighting a cold. Add in his long work days, tax season, and his fire/rescue duties I can sense the gas tank is running low. He tells me to go on ahead but I run with him, but I don’t care, I’ve got nothing to prove here.

The 6 lights ahead of us bob out of site and we get into a rhythm of trotting/sliding down the front side of Joe’s back to the cars.

First loop, 3 hours +/-

Rik is really feeling under the weather and he decides he’s going to take the road back to his truck. Tim volunteers to go with him, which makes me happy as I was worried about his condition and his lack of sleep. A pedestrian wandering down winding route 100 at 1am on a Friday night would leave anyone feeling uneasy.

The 6 of us take back off up Joe’s, for some reason I’m still feeling amazing. Could be the Starbucks Espresso shot I just pounded and I march up ahead of the rest. Tom settled in with me and we pulled away from the other 4 on our second climb up Joe’s. Tom talks about his plans to do the death race here in Pittsfield in June and how he’s fresh off of a marathon two weeks ago and how he’s still in recovery mode. I find out his a student at Norwich and his training is impeccable and I jokingly say to him “I have no business being at this pace with you.” But before I can let off the gas and settle back into a nice comfortable pace Adam comes screeching by. The 3 of us hold up and pound down our GU gels while waiting for the other 3 to catch us before our second loop around the backside of the mtn.

The only notable this go around was as we made our way through the muddy quarry the moon was in full display in front of us. I always forget how spectacular the moon is. You normally only see it in slivers and so far away. But when it’s close to the horizon and in this shade of orange you can’t turn away. It’s magnetizing. At the bottom of the hill we meet back up with Rik and Tim who had made it to the truck safely and were finally thawing out. We grab what supplies we think we might need before we get back to our cars and bid them farewell.

I settle in with Carl “Barkley Slumdog” Asker for a bit and get a window into his training methods for Barkley. I wish I had anything to contribute, he’s running laps on a track with extra weight and the only thing I’m doing to prepare for this thing is drink and hope I miss the cut off again.

The group of us head back down the front side of Joe’s for the last half of this 50+ mile journey. I find myself actually leading the pack a couple of times. Everyone seems to be very cautious of the ice. Meanwhile I run towards it and slide down it in skiing fashion. On the last really long stretch I get a good 40’ slide with one leg tucked under me in true professional baseball slide fashion. While it looked cool and was safer that way, I got soaked something fierce. Oh well, I figured, I was only 10 minute to the car and the warmth of a new pair of clothes.

We arrive back at the cars around 4:47AM. I’m pumped, THRILLED even, knowing that I’m about to get an hour or two worth of sleep before trying to go further 2x as far as I ever had gone on snowshoes.

WE all load into our cars are drive over to Aimee farm where we all park and make ourselves as comfy as possible for our short nap.

26.2 miles – 6:44

Run 2 (The Day Marathon)

Even though I had tossed a turned a few times and never got any good sleep I’m abruptly awakened by a diesel truck blasting through the muddy parking lot behind me at 7:45. He swings open his door with The Who blaring. I fall out of my passenger seat and start putting on my now only damp running gear and walk towards the barn to pick up my number. Everyone else appears to be awake, and moving around smoothly, I’m feeling it already, and I wonder what today will bring.

It’s nice to be back doing Ultra’s in VT. I get to see all of my old running buddies again that I don’t see in the off season. Delbac, Lecharitte, and Myers swap stories about how our off season has gone and how they are feeling for today. They tell me they had already spoken to John and then asked me what the hell I was thinking trying to do this stunt. Obviously they know me better then I know me, probably from years of running with my father and I. I simply can only reply with, well I figured what the hell do I have to lose? It’s not like I REALLY NEED another hammer.

I drink another Starbucks Espresso Shot, munch down a bagel, grab what I think I might need in my drop bag and walk over to the start. Lap 1, we’re off, I settle in on pace with John and Adam. Tom is long gone with his friends and Ray and Carl settle in at their pace a bit behind us. I’m feeling pretty good surprising now, the stiffness from the cold and the night before seem to be long gone. Or perhaps it was the adrenaline from the start of the official race. I was running with, and then ahead at times, of John who I knew was much more qualified to pull of this kind of a stunt. The trail descended down from Aimee farm towards the snowmobile bridge river crossing. Once over the bridge you’d make a big loop up and over Joe’s Mtn. The “hike,” I say hike because I can’t imagine anyone running, up Joe’s I broke down into 3 parts. The first section seemed like endless switchbacks to get out of the river valley. Some quick little switchbacks where you could see people 3-4 minutes ahead of you on the trail and others line swooping switchbacks where if someone was right in front of you they’d be long gone now. The second section consisted of what seemed like a climb to almost the summit before taking a hard left where you’d decent back down to the same elevation where you started. After marching up a bit of the snowmobile trail we ran on the night before we again were confronted with a long climb to the top of Joe’s, this time with no switchbacks or breaks, just pure calve screaming climbing. The snow is still nice and crunchy from the cold the night before and I feel like I’m moving along at a good pace. I refuel at the top and enjoy the dark cool evergreen trail known as the labyrinth. One last little uphill and you are on a wild “ski-shoeing” ride down the front side of Joe’s. I dubbed the term Ski-shoeing for when you’d be running downhill with your snowshoes but find that you’d end up sliding more each step then you would anything else. It was a battle just trying to keep your balance but I was having a ball. The sun was shining; it was still early in the day. Feelings were very positive at this point. I arrived back at Aimee farm just ahead of john and just behind Adam and the VT crew.

I grabbed some more drink powder and topped off my bottles before grabbing two gels and a Starbuck's mocha drink to power down on the square ¼ mile jog around the field before disappearing back into the woods. On our way back onto the second lap we are greeted with Carl and Ray on their 1st trip back. They are doing well, all smiles and appear to be having a grand ol’ time. On the next trip up Joes Adam was now long gone and John put the hammer down. I was sweating bullets and had to let up. I knew that if I was to have anything in the tank to go around 2 more times after this I’d have to conserve now. After watching he disappears on the switchbacks it was a lonely climb. I didn’t see any other runners until I caught Dan restocking at the summit aid station. I was thrilled to have seen someone finally. I was in my mid race lull and I had to break through it. I got in and out of the aid as quickly as possible knowing that running back towards the finish line with someone hot on my heels could be just the kick in the pants I needed. When I get back to the snowmobile bridge I see Lecharitte and Delbac, he makes the comment “John said you were slow as a slug!” I laughed and told him we’ll see about that. I see Adam leaving the Aimee Farm and he said he doesn’t have a lot of run left in him, and that John is just ahead of me.

That’s just the news I needed. I pound down two more GU’s and get out of there as quickly as I can. On the 3rd climb up Joe’s I took a page out of what I saw my father do here at the Peak 50 miler last June. I spot a nice dead branch and break it down to perfect walking stick hike. I found that this doubles my hiking/climbing speed. Even with my now doubled speed, Tom (our Ringer) blows past me as if I am standing still. He’s on lap 4 and looks like he’s on his first, while I’m still struggling up lap 3. I catch John in no time, in fact, pass him and see Adam leaving the station at the top. I hand over my hiking stick and proclaim to the kid tending the fire, “here’s a good poker stick.” They both exclaim, “So this is your last loop then?” “I wish, I’ve got another one, but if I carry that thing down the backside of this thing I’ll kill myself.” I know that John’s a stronger runner on the decent so I left him as far back as I could on the incline expecting him to rip past me on the backside of the loop. He comes darn close but I manage to hang onto a 1-2 turn lead coming back into the Barn.

I notice that I’ve now caught Adam who’s gone to his car to get a headlamp expecting to be out after dark. I assure him that it’s just not possible that it’ll take us that long, but in the back of my mind I wonder. I slam down a 16oz red bull and call back across the field to John, “YOU GOT THIS JOHN, YOU GOT THIS.” To which he responded with the finger, as was expected. John jogs up to us as we cross the snowmobile for the second to last time and the 3 of us head up Joe’s for one last grueling climb. I find myself another hiking stick and take off at a pretty comfortable pace. My feet are soaked, cold, and with each step squish in my shoes. I know I have to keep moving at a quick pace or they’ll freeze. Even though the 3 of us are together there isn’t much speaking, just huffing and puffing. Adam who’s been a machine all weekend must have been ready to be done. He was out of site of John and I while we were on the first section. We joked about how someone who said he, “had no run left in him,” certainly had plenty of hike left. John was starting to slow down now, stop even at times, I would wait up for him a turn or two ahead and holler back some words of encouragement hoping that he’d catch up. I was starting to freeze. When we got to the top we found that the station had been abandoned, there wasn’t much left other than an over sized Campbell’s soup can that I assumed had been used as a scoop, and some scraps. I took the over sized can and scooped out some of the now cooling ash filed soup and drank it right down hoping the warmth would bring my body temp back up. When John marched into the aid station it had started to rain. He joked about how much Adam was probably cursing him right now. Luckily for us as we started to descend into the labyrinth the rain let up. John howled in pain for the first time really letting me know how bad it was. If I had realized how crippling was I would have offered him some Advil sooner. He told me to go ahead, but I knew I was going to finish this thing either way at this point, and the least I could do was keep a friend company on his painful final stretch to the finish line.

On our final few turns I made the comment to John that when I accepted this challenge to do 50+ miles in the snow I forgot about rugged the landscape around Pittsfield was. And how it was much like a wet cereal bowl, up on all sides and nearly impossible to get out of. We were treated to a warm glow of a sunset as we approached the snowmobile bridge for the last time. A couple had walked up the trail a bit and asked if we had seen another runner. The middle aged woman made the comment “At least you’re having fun right?” To which I looked back and I saw John give this woman a look that could have killed. I turned back forward and couldn’t contain my laughter. “John I thought you were going to swear in that lady’s face!”

Final stretch, we can see the smoke rising from the bonfire at the finish line. We wonder how far ahead of us Adam was. Next thing we know we see Ray trucking up behind us and then past us. He said he was cold, I don’t blame him, I know I was freezing myself. I guess he had left Carl at the top because he was just too cold going at Carl’s pace. John and I make the final two switchback turns talking about how we were able to do this when both of us were unsure if it was even possible. In the last 50 feet the 4 remaining people at the finish line cheer for us like we’re 1 and 2 at a record breaking 5k pace. I laugh, as if this is a race, but trot in just to make them happy.

We made it, Jason grabs us our hammers as John, Ray and I all shake hands and talk about how crazy this journey has been. Adam comes back across the parking lot all bundled up in his jacket, the crazy SOB had finished 20 minutes ahead of us. It’s cold and getting dark, we all agree to get together for the next crazy stunt John has planned for us and part ways.

26.2 miles –8:44:12.3

I treated myself on the way home to 4 Wendy’s sandwiches and a 24oz Long Trail Double Bag. I’m a glutton I know, but anything to get the taste of Boost and Go out of my mouth was welcomed. It was my first real food in over 24 hours. All I can say is I’m still riding the high from the race. I was so apprehensive going into this thing with minimal mileage on my feet. Never mind that the previous 2 years at this event I had shown up expecting to run the full marathon only to drop after 13.1 and go home a beaten man. This time, 5 fellow runners and I put it all on the table, not once, but twice in 24 hours and all left with our heads held high, and with another hammer in our collection. I figure a few more years and we should be able to start our own framing business!

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