Saturday August 18th, 2012
(Founders of Team Robert)
After Leah and I both got stuck late at work on Friday night we finally pull into the camp spot next to Grant, Loni, and Peter who have been on site and asleep for hours around midnight. Grant, the only one still up, was sipping a beer and trying to relax before we both embark on our first Ultra’s in MONTHS. We chat briefly about how crazy this is going to be on our minimum training and turn in.
At the start of the race it’s a huge meeting with all of the old gang. Mike, Dave, Vic and Deb, Adam, and of course the RD John Izzo. We catch up on latest races and upcoming races while in the registration line. Everyone asks if Rik (the patriarc of the team) is going to show up. I can only shrug and say, “he said he was, but that doesn’t mean much, he hasn’t run since September of last year.”
10 minutes before the start it becomes official, I hear that Rik has made it, along with my brother and another poor soul (Rik always brings a race virgin to sacrifice) whos name i can't recall. Of course, the virgin is the best trained of the three and Mike snaps a quick photo of the group pre-race while Leah, Peter and Grant socialize with the rest of the small (but bigger than expected) crowd. John gives us the pre-race standard chat and has us all line up behind the starting line, which in true old school ultra fashion, was a garden hose across the grass.
The first mile or two was down the dirt road we approached Blueberry Hill on the night prior. The gang quickly spreads out with Dave and Mike taking off ahead. Grant quickly behind them. I chat with the Torrito’s and Rik, and the rest of the gang that I havn’t seen in months. It’s nice to finally see the ultra family again. I quickly point out the tree monster on the left and promise to snap a photo of it later in the race. Before too long we’re off onto a great batch of single track and Rik falls behind quickly as expected. I chat with Steve and un-named guy for a bit before we start to catch up to team Bouncing Belanger on the first climb.
At the first extended climb Rik is no longer in sight. Steve keeps up with me for a bit. But with slower traffic I quickly pull away. Just before the first fork in the trail Leah catches me and gives me a kiss and says “I know you’re taking off, give me a kiss.” She wasn’t kidding...
As I get closer to the top of the mountain I feel amazing. The temps are cool, the weather is perfect to be in the woods. Cool enough to keep the bugs down, warm enough to run comfortably in my t-shirt and shorts.
As I get to the top of the mountain I feel, as Sherpa John would put it, reborn. I take a deep breath and yell which turns into a howl. I feel amazing. It feels so good to un-plug, to get away from technology, the bullshit of corporate, the joke of a media thanks to the political season. To just be....alive in the woods. It was great to run with my family and friends, but it feels amazing to run/climb at my own pace and be in then woods again.
The lake seems like miles below and the next stretch is very runable, and un-usual for me this early in a race, I run it....hard. I catch up to Joe “Millionare” Desena (Mr Death Race for those who don't know him) from Pittsfield carrying a massive bag of sand (I can only assume to increase his suffering) with another runner behind him and listen in on his exploits of being a pool boy for mob members earlier in his life. It’s interesting to say the least but at the first chance I have I say, “Hi Joe, I’ll see you at the next peak race.” And take off down the trail.
At the next turn I catch up with a local runner, Jeff (His Recap here) who I end up sharing a lot of miles with. He fills me in on the course ahead and how he’s trained on these trails for years. We apparently have crossed paths for years at several races in Vermont. The most notable being the old Jay Challenge (Ultimate XC, etc) years and years ago. He’s very nervous, maybe excited to be running longer and further than he ever has before. It’s the fun dynamic of these races, where I’m a 13 year veteran of a sport, yet I’m 20+ years his junior. As much as I enjoy helping other runners and giving my advice, it still feels odd being the teacher of someone my senior. A few turns later I catch Mike. We catch up on how Wakley was earlier this year. I joke that it’s too soon for me to be catching him. If you’ve read these recaps, you’ll know it’s approximately 17 miles before I normally catch him at Pisgah. I’m still running on my high and I start humming “kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit” from the old bugs bunny cartoons as I try to track down Grant (the jack rabbit)
I catch Delbac on the next climb and leave him in the dust as well. A rare thing this early in a race too. I fear that I’m going WAY to fast and I’m totally going to come unglued, but i'm to happy to care. I catch Grant at the next aid station and he’s already concerned about how long he’s going to be able to last today with the minimal training he’s got. I tell him we’ll work that out as we go and we head out on the out/back of the course. Which was great to see who was ahead/behind us on the course. As we pass Andy Weinberg of the Peak races he high fives me and says “you’re always smiling!” I laugh and smile more. By now Jeff has caught back up to Grant and I and we chat away the miles.
At the turn we see just how far ahead of Dave, Mike and the Torrito's we are. And then we see Loni at the turn and stop briefly to get the update on the 14 milers who turned around prior. I guess my brother had taken a pretty decent spill and was bleeding from his hand. Rik, being as trained as he is, was being force fed salt from Loni so he’d survive.
(Sugar Hill Reservoir)
After leaving the next aid station Jeff fills us in on the terrain ahead, and in turn, Grant and I fill him in on what to expect from his body and what he should be doing to eat/drink to survive the distance. It’s a great trade off.
When we get to this sign and the name “sucker brook” it sticks in my head. I ponder it for a few miles and then it hits me. Last year at this time (maybe this exact date) Leah, Loni and Istayed at Sucker Brook Shelter while hiking a stretch on the long trial. I feel like a complete tool for not thinking of it sooner.
As the miles pass we talk about real food. And how we're looking forward to a burger at the end. Jeff wonders about, and then we talk about being “DFL” at races. And how even if you come in DFL at an ultra, it’s still a win. It’s a matter of just getting to the finish line. He laughs about how he came in dead last at a cross country ski race years and years ago in Hanover, NH. The golf course that Leah, Loni and I had run so close to just the weekend prior at the Stoked Race.
We circle another pond and are passed by the first other runner we’ve seen in about 7 miles. We ask if he’s speeding up or if we’re slowing down. He only says “I’m running the same” and pushes ahead. Well fair enough then. The three of us continue to chat away the miles until we roll into aid at mile 20. After I struggle with my pack for what feels like 15 minutes Jeff tells us we’ve got a wonderful downhill stretch to the last 8 mile loop. At this point, Grant has snapped out of his lull and decides he’s happy about not pulling out earlier in the race. We roll into aid station at mile 24-ish and as she says “we’ve got watermelon…” I cut her off and say “...and grilled cheese! Rumors of your bounty have traveled miles!” (we were told of the goodies at the previous aid station) No one else may have got the joke, but it still makes me laugh. Jeff says “ok guys, I’ve got to take my time, you better go ahead.” I think the miles/pace we had been maintaining was ok for Grant and I, but too fast for him. We wish him the best and take off up and over Chandler Ridge.
With the knowledge of the trail ahead (thanks jeff) we tried to leave some fuel in the tank. We knew the long switchback climb would be rough, but we were full of watermelon and grilled cheese so it was hard to slow down. The trail in this stretch is AMAZING. The stone work done, phenomenal!
Grant and I chat about how w’re feeling. How we’re going to run Pisgah this year. How confidant he’s feeling about a DNF at VT50 last year and The potential 100s in 2013. After what feels like miles without seeing a marker we start to question ourselves. Are we lost? Have you seen one? No? Me either. Crap, could we be lost? Nah. Can’t be.
Thankfully on the decent off of Chandler Ridge I see the runner that had been “running the same pace” ahead of us and we were closing fast. Our legs were starting to feel the climb as we stubbed our toes on rocks and roots, narrowly avoiding tripping and falling on our faces.
I chat with the aid station people back at the end of the 8 mile loop about how far ahead of Loni and the gang we were. Not as far as I had hoped, but a lot further than I normally am, so I’m pleased. Grant and I have held up for the most part, and pretty well for the minimal training.
In and out of the last aid station we were on the home stretch. A stream crossing, back into the woods and onto un-groomed cross country ski trails with deep mud in spots. Because we were so late in the race you could see which lines people had taken through the mud so we were able to take the dryer lines.
I get a HUGE laugh as we are stepping over limbs and I say to grant “Oh man looks painful” from the imfamous QWOP video because that’s how we looked going over these things.
Cat Tail….Uh oh….John had left us one trick up his sleeve to finish off the run. Grant goes ahead while I grab my camera. Before long he disappears into the brush and says “well, no way around this.” A few steps later he wasn’t kidding...
From the swamp it's only a 1.1 mile jaunt back down the dirt road we started upon. The sun was shining, Grants GPS had long since died so we knew we were well over the 8 hour mark. But i had guessed that we'd finish somewhere before 6. Which would be close to 9 anyways. I pause briefly to snap a photo of the "tree man/monster" from earlier.
(the tree man)
We trotted in side by side for a 9:41:46 finish time and laughed with John at the finish. We both thank him for putting on an amazing race and showing us a fantastic course. If anyone is looking for an ultra race that still has that old ultra feel....this is the one for you. Camping in a field, cheap entry, good (REAL) food at aid stations(not last years Halloween candy), and a post race BBQ where they will actually still have food for you even if you are the last runner. Hell, the RD will even help try to push start your car if you need it.
Thanks for the invite John. Already tentatively put the event on the calendar for 2013!
(enjoying our post race spoils)