“Are you ready?” my Dad asked. “I don’t know.” I said. “What do you mean you don’t know? Of course, you’re ready. You’ve been training for this all year” he said. This was the conversation I had with my Dad over the phone the night before my first 100 mile run.
We got to Virgil, NY and the Gatherings Restaurant, which was also the start/finish area, in time to pick up my number, eat at the pre-race pasta dinner and attend the pre-race meeting where Ian Golden, the RD, explained everything he could about the race. After the meeting, we set up our tent and accepted an offer to go sit next to someone’s campfire. It was turning into a chilly night so the heat felt good. There were two women at the fire who were in the 50m race, Jim who was doing the 100 and Ed who was in the 100 as well with his wife there to support him. We all chatted for a while and once the fire started dwindling decided it was time for bed.
I slept pretty well for most of the night however I woke up early with the pre-race jitters and couldn’t go back to sleep. At 5am the alarm went off-just as I was falling back asleep. I got up, got dressed and tried to eat some breakfast. Normally, eating breakfast is not a problem for me but I wasn’t that hungry this morning. I noticed the time and figured I better get down to the start line.
The Gatherings also has seven cabins available for rent and the start line was marked by a couple of tiki torches on either side of the gravel road that accessed them. At 6:30am Ian said to go and we all went down the driveway and turned left towards the first loop which was up a ski trail at Greek Peak ski area. Coming from VT, Greek Peak doesn’t have much vertical but it goes up quickly. Everyone was walking and by the time we reached the top, the sun was coming up. Luckily, what you go up you get to come back down and all roads lead back to the Gatherings.
I did the first loop (a little over 6m) in just over an hour which was what I had planned on. Jack was at the aid station waiting for me with a big smile on his face-he had gone back to sleep after I left. I didn’t really need anything and wasn’t going to change into dry shoes like other runners, so I checked in and checked out following the person in front me to know where to go next.
The second section was out to another loop. This part of the course was on the Finger Lakes Trail and was sweet with soft pine needles and dirt under foot which made for a nice cruise. Eventually, you come out on to a hard packed, gravel road which leads to the Pipeline aid station. After going downhill on a paved road and down some more on a dirt road, you turned and started going up a service road under some power lines. I almost got off-course by going straight at the top of the hill. Some other runners found the course ribbons and we turned left to go down what we had just come up.
By the time I got back to the Pipeline aid station, my hydration pack was feeling pretty light so I switched to my fuel belt. I also had caught up to a couple of runners-Steve, who was doing the 50m race and Liam, who was also in the 100. I ran with Liam and Steve all the way back to the Gatherings.
Jack had my fuel belt bottles ready along with some GUs to get me in and out quickly. I did go look to get something to eat at the aid station but nothing was really catching my eye. I had been eating GUs along the way and wasn’t that hungry. I got directions on where to go next and also followed the guy in front of me to find the trail.
This last out and back section of the course plunges you into the darkness of pine trees and sends your heart rate right up with the steepness. It wasn’t long before you reached the top and it was an easy run to the Greek Peak aid station. By this time, I think I had caught up to Steve again and we were chatting while we ran. We had briefly met at the pre-race dinner and both of us had completed the Jay Ultimate XC Marathon.
We stayed together through the Rock Pile aid station and out to the Daisy Hollow aid station. Our significant others’ were becoming friends as well. The course out to Daisy Hollow was a mixture of trails and dirt roads. The youth groups hiking on the trail were nice to move over and let us by. I had to make a pit stop after leaving Daisy Hollow and Steve got ahead of me. His competitive juices must have been flowing because I didn’t catch him until almost reaching the Rock Pile aid station again.
Another quick bottle switch, more GUs and sips of Coke and we were off. We had to remind ourselves to run the roads in between the trail sections. Did anyone else notice the heart monitor strap hanging over the big white road sign? We kept our stop short at the Greek Peak station since the Gatherings was only 3.5m away. I had been leading most of the way and after Greek Peak I eventually lost Steve. I wasn’t too worried since he was finishing his race. I knew he was doing better than he planned and went on to finish fourth overall for the 50m which is fantastic since it was his first 50 miler.
Of all the sections, I wasn’t looking forward to doing the first loop again. When I came in, it was reassuring to see Jack already dressed to run. I grabbed some potatoes and headed out. Jason Rita, who was in second place overall, had just left and Jack thought I could catch him. I saw him ahead of me going across the field towards the ski slope. We both walked up however by the time I got to the top he was gone. I followed him around the loop-him not slowing down and I wasn’t motivated enough to try and catch him. When I got back to the Gatherings, Jack was waiting for me and it was time to get ready for the night.
I switched to a long sleeve shirt and kept my fuel belt. The plan was to switch to the hydration pack for the last 26m. I had some more potatoes while we walked up the road. Once in the woods we started running and since Jack hadn’t run yet today, he was ready to move. Along the way, my stomach started getting a little queasy. It had been happening off and on all day and was usually solved by eating something but this time I knew it was because I was too hot so I took it off my long sleeved shirt and then felt better. We met Yassine just before reaching the gravel road and he told me I was in second place. I hadn’t noticed if Jason left the Gatherings before me and couldn’t believe I was in second! I finally assumed that Jason was ahead of me and Yassine didn’t see him on the Tuller Hill loop. The volunteers at the aid station confirmed I was in second place-no one else had been through except Yassine.
The Tuller Hill loop was dark and lonely with only four glow sticks towards the top of the hill. I was moving along but I had to keep asking Jack to wait for me. One of the volunteers and her daughter came down the hill to walk up with us to Pipeline which was sweet. Luckily we went through early enough to miss the race car traffic.
On our way back to Gatherings, we finally started to passing runners going the other way. I was wondering where everyone else was. We passed the second place woman with her pacer and she enthusiastically cheered me on. I was sad to find out later that she had dropped. Later I commented about being tired and questioning if I could keep going but Jack just ignored it and said let’s go. I figured he would say that which was reassuring to me.
Back at Gatherings, I got my hydration pack, a few potatoes and headed out for the last 26m. The plan was to make it out to Daisy Hollow by 2am (2:15am at the latest) and make it back under 24 hours.
The first uphill went slow and I was glad to reach the power lines. Jason caught me just before the Greek Peak aid station and we played catch up for most of the night. He would get ahead but would still be at the aid station when I got there. He would leave and I would catch him at the next one. I knew the distances between the aid stations but in the dark it’s hard to tell where you are. I kept looking at my watch and looking for the lights of the aid stations.
I got to Daisy Hollow by 2:15am and Jason was there changing his socks. I left before him but my right IT band had started to tighten up so that I was having a hard time running. I usually can change my gait to compensate but not this time. Walking felt faster and it was less painful than trying to run. It wasn’t long before Jason motored right by me and that was the last I saw of him. We passed a few runners again on our way back. I remember seeing John around the howling dog section. I kept looking at my watch and wishing to see the next aid station around every corner. I was walking as quickly as I could and we finally got to the Rock Pile. I took a cup of soup with me-graciously declining the invitation to sit at the fire and eat- so I could keep moving forward. I realized on my way to Geek Peak that I wasn’t going to finish under 24 hrs. I was disappointed but on the flip side I knew I was going to finish (goal #1) and I felt confident I could finish under 25 hrs (goal #2-finish under 30hrs).
I didn’t want to stop at Greek Peak but Jack made me so I could eat something. Ian was there and I pitched the idea of numbering the sections to make following the course easier.
It was only 3.5m to the finish. I thought I negotiated the last downhill, single track section pretty well considering the tightness in my IT band was spreading to the top of my calf. We came out of the darkness in the pine trees and into the glow of my second sunrise on the dirt road leading to the Gatherings and the finish line. I pointed out the first loop to Jack as we went by and suggested he could go check it out then he would know the whole course. He didn’t take me up on it. I started some sort of shuffle just before the driveway and ran across the finish line (goal #3-run across finish line, not crawl).
Jack ran ahead to get the camera and Ian was there to see me finish as well as a few volunteers. Thanks to Jack for his support-luckily, it didn’t break our relationship and thank you to the volunteers who also contributed to my successful finish. Ian was kind enough to let us use the shower in his cabin which felt wonderful. We napped for a little while after but it was hard to get comfortable and I was afraid of getting really stiff so I got up, made a few phone calls to let family and friends know that I had finished and walked to the finish area to see who else had come in.
Breakfast was ready and the burritos were an excellent idea. The homemade breads and cookies were delicious too. The hand made coffee mug awards kept the personal touch ambiance that Ian and his volunteers had established with this race. Fifteen out of twenty-six finished the 100 m course so with the small group of runners and support crews (our thoughts with the three others who were still out there) the award ceremony was intimate and emotional. Thanks again to Ian and I’m looking forward to my next 100 miler.