Sunday, May 20, 2012

Vermont 500 - a recap of our journey - part 2 of 2

After getting a decent night's sleep in the barn on my cot I tried to focus on the massive task at hand. Time seemed to drag on in the morning and I made my final preparations and then decided that i had better get ready (dressed) and then try to take one final nap in the mid-afternoon. As I laid there and tried to sleep I kept thinking about what I was going to do...running wise. Coming into the race I had come up with a few different strategies and had asked some of my ultra friends how they would handle things. Now, just hours before the race I didn't have a clue as to what I was going to do. But what I did know was that I had packed my stubborn with me and that I was going to give it everything that I had. I also knew that it was going to be an interesting race to say the least in regards to weather as it had rained pretty good yesterday and more rain was expected overnight and over the next few days and that worried me just a little bit as many people have said that their Hokas did not perform well in muddy conditions. And with me having placed all of my eggs into one basket (having only brought Hokas because that is all I own) I was going to have to prove them all wrong and show the world that Hokas could handle even the muddiest of terrains!

After finally getting a little bit of a nap in, I was all set to go! At 5:45pm we had a brief pre-race meeting. We were told that the course was well marked, easy to follow and that we should do our best and have a blast. And at 6pm on the nose we were off! It was nice to be starting the first loop in the daylight so that we could see what treasures were laid out for us to stumble over.

The course itself included a little 1/2 mile jaunt down to the river followed by a 9 mile loop (which wasn't actually a loop - more of a roundabout way of getting back to the original starting point) and then a return trip on the 1/2 mile trail from the river to the barn. Here are a few photos of the 1/2 down to the river...

Easy enough right? Right!!!! lol. Here is a copy of the course 10 mile loop that I didn't get to see until after the race and in reality I am glad that I hadn't seen it before hand! As one of my best friends and running mates (Billy Gebhart) stated, "Somehow the word "Loop" just doesn't do it justice!!"

Yeah...after the little 1/2 mile trip to the river we ended up facing 9 miles which included over 2,400ft of elevation gain or a total of 120,000 ft of gain over the entire 500 miles!

As I had stated before, Hurricane Irene had ripped through this area. One of the things that it had done was to wipe out the bridge (Fuster's Bridge) which spanned the river between us and the 9 mile loop on the Green Mountain Trails. So Mighty Pete, who I think owns or runs Amee Farms created a temporary bridge for us to use in the race. This bridge was a bit scary looking at first but just seemed to blend in with the rest of the horrors of the course as we went along.

As fellow runner/friend and the ultimate winner and first time finisher of the race Willy Natureboy Syndram would go on to say, "It consisted of steel I-beams, 2X4′s, 2X10′s, various other sizes of lumber, a couple chunks of firewood, straps of all kinds to hold it all together, and 300 pounds of rocks to keep it from floating away. I found myself questioning the bridges integrity, but as the days and nights wore on I came to realize it was indeed a sound and sturdy bridge worthy of a 500 mile race, a bridge that the Gods themselves would have been honored to use !! Climbing up the river bank from the bridge was evil and just plain mean, but I would soon realize that it was just par for the course."

So, now that we are 1/2 mile into the race, it is all downhill from here right?? Hell no...this is a  Peak Races/McNaughton races, sponsors/creators of such races called "the death race" and besides, I already showed you guys the loop on the uphill and boy did they. You know it is going to be bad when the first trail name that you come to is called "The Stairs"

this section of the loop, while pretty as first glance....

led to a steady amount of climbing via McNaughton style switchbacks (rocky, steep, and could turn into a muddy river bed in a heartbeat!).

In reality though i enjoyed this section of the course as it was very runnable and could offer some good fast power hiking spots as fatigue set in later on in the race.

Next up was the Crazy Mazie section of the course which weaved around and of course up - some very steep ups.

As you can see by the picture we were also starting to get into some of the thicker wooded sections of the wasn't called the "green mountain trails" for nothing. It was fun to run through the woods at times, and scary (yes I said scary) at others - but I will get into that a bit later.

Up and up and up we went as we got deeper and deeper and deeper into the scary woods (dang there is that word again!).

At points we were literally climbing across the face of the mountain on trails that didn't even exist as they were being created right under our feet by Matt (sorry I forgot his last name). As Matt seriously blazed sections of the trail each day during the race - using only a pick axe, a shovel, and his own willpower. It was nice to see the progress that he would make just on each loop that went by!

this new path eventually circled its way around and around the mountain in a spiral pattern (well an almost spiral pattern) until it finally reached the summit of the mountain and the little cabin on top which would serve as our one and only aid station (other than the start finish line) and place of refuge (which again I will get into in just a bit).

The cabin was a welcome site on each loop and meant that we had covered approximately 4.4 miles of the 10 miles in total.

Next up were the fun times on the Rolita's Way/Roland's Run and Warman trails on our way to the Labyrinth!!!

I always got a kick out of these signs that denoted that they were for experts only as I immediately wondered where my path was then...but alas the pink ribbons led the way...

Wooohoo....some down hill!!!

Some very STEEP and muddy downhill!!!!!

the trail weaved its way up and down around a single track path for about 1/2 a mile until it intersected with the Warman trail (I love the name of that trail as every time I saw it or say it I just want to pump both fists into the air and let out a battle cry, roar, or grunt if you will - yes I am a what!).

Once on the Warman (ROAR!!!!!!) trail we began to climb once again on the single track trail until we arrived at the entrance to hell! otherwise known as the Labyrinth.

the Labyrinth was a .4 mile maze of trees that you had to work your way through in order to come out the other side - sort of like a rat and cheese maze! It was fun the first time - as it was still day light and we had never experienced it before, but at night and as we continued to grow more tired as the race progressed the paths seemed to change right before your eyes and speaking of sure could see alot of them glowing in the darkness amongst the trees - SPOOKY!!!!!

there were signs all over the place, tree roots jumping up out of the middle of nowhere, slick rocks, and lots of mud in the Labyrinth as well.

And just when you thought that you were done with it, the maze opened up into another section of twists and turns and it threw you back into the madness! I do not know how many times I got turned around in this mess and how many times I recall praying for the Lord to "just get me out of this section" as it was a bit freaky and intimidating at times.

Finally after having our prayers answered by making it out of the maze we made our way to the da-da-da-da-da I'm "luvin it" trail (i don't know how many times I sang that little McDonald's jingle and craved a Large Sugar Free Vanilla Iced Coffee when I made it to this point - atleast 50 I would say!).

this short section of the trail was fun, very runnable, and full of zig zagging switchbacks and whereas the last section was dark and ominous, this section of the trail was bright and colorful (even to a colorblind person such as myself).

After about 1/2 a mile or less there was a "connector" to the Fuster's Trail which led us to the infamous Fuster's trail (which I know I changed the name of to another f-word many a times).

this connector was a little rocky path that climbed its way back up the mountain for a little bit before dropping us off out onto the the longest trail of the course.

Fusters was a gorgeous beast! It had it all... long runnable sections, some steep climbs and descents, rocks, mud pits, downed trees, waterfalls, creek crossings, bushwhacking through pickers and a few technical portions. It was an obnoxiously long zig zag down the mountainside that we loved to hate and hated to love.

 Fuster's was, for a lack of a better description, a cruel joke from Andy the race director - in that he want to see just how close he could get us to the end of the loop/bridge section before tossing us back up the road for another mile or so of fun. And then, after all of that, he gave us the river section....

this river section was like an obstacle course or a shorter version of the infamous Barkley's 100 miler. Your best bet was to just follow the pink ribbons and plow your way through the madness, all while trying not to fall in the river 50 million times.

What a rush! I will never forget the fun I had with Luis A. Ramirez (on left in photo below) and his two pacers (Jerome Scaturro - middle, Billy Curtin - right) as we plowed through this river section like a frickin' freight train!!

And then, at the end of this madness we found ourselves back at Mighty Peter's Funhouse Bridge and balance beam river crossing and the final 1/2 mile trip back up to the start/finish line.

well, there you have it... you all just took a 10 mile jaunt around the course with me, which means that we now only have to do this 49 more times!!! Ok, ready!!! Oh...OK, I won't take you through that 49 more times, instead I want to share just a few of the adventures that I incurred along the way.

the weather...

I must start of by saying that the weather was absolutely perfect... if you were a flipping duck! And even then I would think that the ducks would start to get sick of it. You see, during the 10 days of the race I think that the sun was actually only out for 1 1/2 to 2 days at most. this is not an exaggeration by any means as I think that we actually started to get excited when the forecast changed from a 100% chance of Thunderstorms to a 100% chance of showers!!!! In other words, instead of torrential down pours we would still get soaked to the bone but only in a slower time frame!!!

The weather played a huge impact on many aspects of the race: the way we dressed, the way we ran, the shoes we wore (even me.. as I had taken 6 pairs of Hokas - 4 old school Stinsons and 2 new Stinson Evos) and even when we ran.

I knew going in that I had to be prepared for anything so I packed a bunch of long sleeve shirts (10), short sleeve shirts (15), light running jackets and ponchos (5), long johns, a winter coat, a bunch of gloves, beanies, baseball caps, 30 pairs of socks (drymax, wright socks, toe socks, wool sock, etc.) and a bunch of other odds and ends (gaiters, ski mask, tights, compression calf sleeves, etc.) and boy was i glad that I had done so.

the rain was bad...there is no other way to put was wet (yeah sounds like a no brainer) and it was cold! What I mean by this is that sometimes when it rains it is just that annoying rain that just spits at you and barely gets you wet at all, well that was not the case here as all of the toilets in Heaven were overflowing onto Pittsfield and someone didn't bother turning off the shutoff valve. I felt as if I were Charlie Brown at a baseball game and the rain cloud was just sticking right over the top of our heads.

I got soaked to the bone so many times it wasn't funny... I literally rain out of dry clothes a couple of times and honestly had to start looking at my used clothes in terms of levels of dryness in order to figure out what I could put on again to go out and run in. The worst part was when i had to do this for my socks as I had to try to wear two pairs at once most times in order to try to help prevent blisters as much as possible. there is nothing worse then putting on clammy, muddy, cold, wet socks after you have taken the time to dry off your feet and protect them. Wet gloves is a close second...

And with rain comes mud...and this was not just any ordinary mud, this was a McNaughton/Peak Races specialty ordered mud that sucked! I mean it literally sucked the shoes right off of your feet at times.

At other times it just caused you to slip and slide all over the place...yeah the Hokas were a bit tricky to get use to running in in the mud at first, but once you got use to it and learned how to attack the course (smash right through the mud puddles) they were amazing. I will say that I was surprised to see that I was better off in my old school Stinsons instead of the new Evos when it came to running in the mud...but the new Evos really rocked the rest of the course!

Another issue with the shoes, even though i had 6 pairs was trying to dry them out in between using them. we made use of a large industrial sized fan to try to speed dry them as much as possible. Again it came down to having to pick shoes with a level of dryness a couple of times as some days I ended up having to change shoes 2 or 3 times just to make it through.

I must say a great big thank you and give a shout out to Willy's crew/Pacing expert Philip Sustar (on right in photo below) as he was not only an amazing asset to Willy but to so many others including myself as well. Philip, who I am now proud to call a friend, took care of Willy (on left in photo below) first and foremost and then, in his downtime, when he could have been resting, went out of his way to see what I needed help with. Philip strung some clothes lines in the barn and bought some hangers to try to assist in the drying process of all of our clothes. He even convinced the residents of the third floor of the barn to allow each of us to wash and dry one small load of clothes and then he even did the laundry for us. He always asked what he could get for me whenever I came in from a loop and even went to pick up all of our food for supper a few times when Andy was busy with other race duties. Nothing but love and respect for that man! thank you Philip.

Another factor that the weather brought into play, that also had to do with the mud was the fact that for the first time in any race I had to use poles. I had, by choice, never used them before, but there was honestly no getting around it in this race and I must say that, although they took a bit to get use they were a big, big help in regard to balance. thank you so much to Willy for talking me into trying a pair and in fact lending me a pair of his to use.

the wild...

Being from Phoenix the only coyotes I know about are scrawny, toothless ghouls that play ice hockey or atleast try to (sorry Trent I had to put that jab in there)...actually, the animal version of the phoenix coyotes are not very fierce looking at all. But on the contrary, Vermont Coyotes are frickin' huge!!! As a matter of fact I honestly thought that they were wolves and I was scared shitless!

I mean come on...look at this picture above and the description below from the Vermont fish and wildlife website:

"Coyotes are wild canines, with dog or wolf-like features. Weights are slightly heavier for males, with average weights in the western states of about 30 pounds for males versus 25 pounds for females. A coyote immigration has impacted eastern states since the early 1950's and the eastern coyote is now recognized as a true breeding subspecies of coyote. The eastern coyotes do attain larger body weights than western coyotes, and this may reflect hereditary traits as a result of cross breeding between northern coyotes and eastern timber wolves. Weights of over 60 pounds have been recorded for some eastern coyote males, although the majority weigh between 30-35 pounds."
I was, no lie, stalked by three coyotes that were huge! I honestly thought that I was a goner as I had these 3 bad boys darting up along side of me, crossing in front of me, and howling repeatedly as they chased me up the mountain side toward the summit cabin. I was scared out of my mind as I freaked out and flailed in the mud as I tried to rush my pace and get away from them. I fell a few times, screamed like a girl, and damn near crapped my pants until I finally reached my way to the cabin and locked myself inside until the sun came up (about 45 minutes later) as I was not about to go back out there and into the labyrinth area in the dark with them out there. And yes, I was not the only one to see and hear them and yes it did happen again on another occasion, but I didn't freak out as must the second time as I realized that I did have carbon steel tipped poles with me that I could use as a weapon if needed. but nonetheless I did say a few extra prayers along the way and quickened my pace up quite a bit.

Also, being from Phoenix, the only moose I know of is Bullwinkle! Well that all changed in Vermont too as I also had a staredown with a moose...a frickin' big ass moose!!!!

Image Detail
this run in occured by the "Luvin it' trail and the thing just stood there, lifted its head up high and stared at me as if to say "What the hell is your scrawny butt doing out here in my woods boy?" - I was not sticking around to give him (or her) an answer. I high tailed it out of there as fast as I could, which really was interesting because this section of the trail was an area of short switchbacks so I was actually just running back and forth in front of the moose for a bit - it was almost to comical to think that even though I was running away fast all the moose had to do was to charge straight down the middle of the switchbacks and he (or she) could have been on top of me in a second. in this instance my little poles wouldn't have even made a dent in this giant!

And as if the frickin' coyotes and moose were not enough I met up with a porcupine in the Labyrinth that just would not get the hell out of my way! Granted the little thing was cute as a button and it waddled around so comically, but it flaired up its quills quite a few times at me when I got too close and I felt that it was better to be stuck behind it then to be stuck by it! So needless to say I shuffled along behind it until it finally decided to get off of my path and out of my way!
Image Detail
Other than these three animals I did see a few snakes, squirrels, and tons of birds. Heck I even heard a few screach owls in the night! It was certainly an adventure that I will never forget. Now had there been any evil cows there too... I might have just packed it in!!! lol.

the weary...
during the race one of the additional big factors that I had to contend with was fatigue and figuring out when to keep pushing it or when to shut it down for a break and/or a nap. In reality, what it all came down to was that I had to listen to my body and let it do what it needed to do and then it seemed to respond better for me in the end. there were times when i could have pushed it longer and tried to complete one more loop but then my body would have taken longer to recover as the slower lap would have actually meant more wear and tear and breakdown of my already expended muscles. And then there were times when I found that I was able to push myself further and harder without it having a negative effect on me because I was mentally in the game at that point in time and I felt good about myself and how things were going - alot of which had to do with the out pouring of love and support that I felt from what i started to call my cyber crew (all of you - my family and friends, the jester nation, friends of family and friends of friends). You all were so amazing and helpful to me and I cannot thank you all enough - I love you all! Michael - you unbonked me (even though you were sleeping); Casey and Bridget - you guys inspired me; tammy and tammy - you too kept the encouragement coming and information being posted; Kaylee your messages/videos were cute; Petra your high fives helped again!; Ian you mentored me; Ed you frickin called me while you were running in a 100 miler!!! and rallyed the Jester Nation lol!!! And there were so so many more and I feel bad for not mentioning you all...but I do appreciate everything that you did - this was for all of us!!!!!

going right along with being tired was the fact that I was in a little bit of a battle with Willy, although I knew that he was the better man, I wanted to do my best and put up a little bit of a fight - and I think I did for a little while anyways. willy was a frickin' machine out there and he was pretty sneaky too...yes he was wise in the mind games and he played me like a fiddle...sneaking out when I thought he was sleeping and down for the night...he was the master! But it was his sheer strength and determination that made him the better man those 10 days as he pushed his way through pain and agony beyond what I was facing (especially with his feet issues) and he deserved to win. I told him flat out that it was an honor to finish behind him in this race and that I was honored to witness his pure conquring of the course. I am proud to call him a friend and in awe of what he did out there. He is a professional ultrarunner and a professional gentleman.

Overall I would have to say that the first 220 to 240 miles felt good and were easy on my body (so watch out ATY 2012 72hr run!!! lol - yeah right the course is too flat for this mountain goat!) and I think that this is a really good sign for things to come as I continue to pump out the hundred milers and now look to seek out a couple more long runs like this distance of 500 miles or more... (I could see it happening again soon). Nick "the enabler" Coury has already told me of a
Well folks, thats about it, I guess that I could have went into more of a day by day blow of things but it would have just entailed me telling 1 it rained, day 2 it rained some more, day 5 - guess rained some more!!!!

OH CRAP!!! speaking of rain... I did forget the part about how we got so much frickin' rain that the bridge flooded over and parts got wiped out and that we evacuate the island for a bit! I ended up in the chest high waters of the river and damn near froze my butt off!

I could not stop shivering but i could not stop in the race either so i had to keep motoring on onto the new course that they temporarily set up for us - a paved 10 mile loop that hurt so bad! Here Andy is giving me the directions to the new loop (which I am glad that I only had to do three times!).

A notice from Andy and Peter  the next morning was a welcome sign to return to the mountain once the bridge was resecured!

Well...that is it folks! I hope you all enjoyed the ride and I hope we all do it again soon!!! And he is to hoping that Andy puts on a 1000 miler next year because Willy my is on!!! lol.


  1. Wow!!! Nice report. I've been in Hokas over the last year and did my first 50k trail in them recently. Would you do it again in the Hokas? I plan on completing 50 at McNaughton next year as I help pace my friend in his attempt at 500. I hope to meet you in person. Thanks for sharing. ~ Jeff

    1. Jeff - I would definately do it again in Hokas - they are amazing!!! I am hoping to get back there again next year... it all depends on if I get into Badwater or not.