Tag Archives: Trail Animals Running Club

Vermont 100: Horses, Runners, Crew and Pacers

23 Jul

It is 3:00 a.m. on a warm, rainy Saturday in July. The showers have just let up, and now the rain is a steady pit, pat on tent flies across a muddy field in the Mount Ascutney region of Vermont. We are all here, and no one is sleeping, for the 27th annual Vermont 100 Endurance Run footrace and horse rider event, which takes place on mostly private lands and dirt roads in the Hartland/Woodstock area.  All day Friday, the weather was gorgeous, but the rains came at night, fast moving, making me double-cross thankful that I was not running, but would be pacing a runner, for this event.

Suddenly, headlamps on, the first runners emerge from sodden tents, firing up camp stoves and slipping into gear that will carry them for the next 100 miles. As the 100-mile runners swiftly make their way to the main tent below, the rest of the campers turn over collectively in their sleeping bags. The next to rise will be the 100-mile runner crew (if the runner has a crew), followed by the 100-kilometer runners who will start later. And between tent city and the main tent, the horses and their trailers begin to awaken. Out come curry combs, picks, owners looking disheveled, with bits of hay in their coffee mugs. In the parking area there are two or three campers – an A-Frame trailer, a small home-built box trailer, and our Airstream B-190 hippie van, complete with tie-dye curtains and dancing bear decals that we thought we’d leave on when we bought it, in the spirit of happy camping. The hard top was certainly appreciated when the skies opened, and water for coffee heats easily on its propane stove. From our elevated loft window, we have enjoyed a view of rain, mud, runners, pacers, crew, dragging gear back and forth across a rain-drenched gully.

We get up around six o’clock, realizing that already the 100 milers have been on the trail two hours. A second round of activity erupts around seven o’clock as the 100 kilometer runners make their way to the start line. We watch. There are maybe thirty runners for the shorter distance, which still, at sixty odd miles, is a challenge and takes on much of the hardest part of the overall course. Off they go, skies cloudy but the rain holding off, for now. We mosey back up the hill, then out for breakfast. Up in Hartland, the Bassett family (a local family very involved in the race) owns The Hartland Diner that serves knock-out Vermont maple sausages. We each had three. A Bassett youth with red braided hair and “VT 100” in glitter on her cheeks serves us eggs, toast, sausages, and for Tom, big Vermont pancakes. As a pacer, I had the leisure of hanging out. Most of the pacers would not join their runners for several more hours. In the meantime, we finish our breakfast and joke about the diner’s decor, which consists of many plastic diner-saurs on the counter. Clever. The Bassett waitress asks if we were involved in the race. “I’m pacing” I reply. “Oh! I’m pacing too!” A brief exchange of smiles, pleasant see-you-theres.

The weather really starts to clear on our return. With the exception of backing into a fence (it was me), stopping to knock on the door, pay for the fence, the drive to and from breakfast was uneventful.

Back at camp, the sun came out strong. The 100 mile runners had been out for about six hours at this point. I estimated the mid-packers to be about mile 40. Nap time.

Pacing at Vermont 100 is a curious job. The pacer is picking up his or her runner, for the most part, at mile 69.4 at an aid station called Camp 10 Bear (or Bear 10, I’m not really sure.) The runners are tired. They have just run 70 miles. At six-thirty p.m., Camp 10 Bear was a very busy place. The two port-o-lets doors were constantly locked. Crew, most looking like bedraggled family members, stood around car hatches gaping with gear. When would their runner arrive? Did someone see him at the last aid station? I heard so-and-so dropped. Here come some horses! This is how conversation goes at 10 Bear. Runners, riders, crew cars arrived in trickles, each time an occasion for applause, cheers, families running forward to take water bottles and find out what their runner needed. The crews looked as tired as the runners and had been up driving back roads since five. A scan of the food at the Trail Animals Running Club Aid Station told me that, as usual, the best of the aid stations was right here.

I go from spectator to evaluator to friend to big sister in a fell swoop at 7:30 p.m. as I spot my runner. He is shaking his head as he comes down the hill, not smiling. I greet him and we move to get him weighed in. Then he immediately sits in hopes of recovering from a sour stomach, and after a few minutes, taking some time to lie down on one of the aid station cots, under a pop up tent. There are two other runners there – one with trench foot, one with severe chafe. They commiserate. I am anxious and want to get us moving, but I know that I have to be patient. Then the skies open. Sheets of rain come down. We are for the moment barely covered by the tent. We wait to run. Run? Off we go.

Crews cannot help after the aid station. This is now the pacer’s job. While we can’t carry gear for the runners, we can “hold on to” a bottle or jacket while the runner adjusts her pack, or headband, or while he tries to eat. Pacers can try to make conversation. Sometimes, this is not effective and is even annoying to the runner. A good pacer needs to know when to shut up. A great pacer can sense when to pull out a good story after a long silence. Mostly it’s a guessing game. A pacer needs to be thinking for his runner, willing to let a fart happen without comment, be ready to run ahead to aid stations to get water, or saltines, or to shout out a runner’s number. A runner just needs to at most run, but at best, by this time, walk efficiently. Each step forward is further than the last one. Sunset happens. The runners look hang-dog while the pacers try to be perky, taking in the view before everything goes black.

At dark, headlamps come out and bop along in front and behind, picking up sparkling sodden leaf reflection and mud spatter. At one point, I go down so fast I barely feel the landing as my butt slides in the mud. Hopping up, I am covered from ass to shins in Vermont’s finest.

Pacers from 10 Bear only cover the last thirty miles. Much of this is walking and fast hiking, but nothing too technical. Someone says this is the hardest part of the whole route because of the unrelenting mud and hills. Aid station, big hill, enter trail, mud, slide, down, out onto dirt road, a few miles, aid station. Several moments of bliss as we bop down a mud-covered trail when my runner is feeling well.

At the next aid station, Spirit of ’76, a volunteer remarks that they have seen many, many upset stomachs all day. Could it have been dinner the night before? No, probably not, he says. It was the rain and then the sun that came out, and the humidity. It is humid, still. Maybe seventy five degrees, at night, and the air is like breathing a cloud. I remark on the jazzy patriotic decor and pretty lights. A time-wizened volunteer tells me one runner came through and asked, “What does Spirit of ’76 mean?” I laugh. Probably wasn’t born yet!

The runners look battle-worn. Some lie down on the ground napping and alternately shivering. A couple go and retch up whatever is in their stomachs – not much. Hard to eat on a sour stomach. Hard to catch up when you haven’t eaten. Can I help? Would you like some soup? Soup seems to do the trick for now.

Crews look worried. They have been following – and then waiting on – their runners all day. Some of their runners have not come in yet. Even though the cut-off is a long way away, did they get caught in that awful storm? Are they somewhere out there being sick? Are they in a ditch? No, not likely. Just making their way, one foot in front of the other.

I have that go-go-go-go need in my legs. It’s one thing to have only gone seven miles when your runner has gone 76. Let’s find some compromise. I hear other pacers making the same case on either side of me. The pacer also has to continually assess the situation. Shivering is not good. Here, I say, hold this soup. The shivering stops. I get drillmaster big-sister bossy. This is not well received. But cajoling does nothing. Only time fixes this.

A pacer is fortunate if she has made sure to catch sleep for several hours before going out to pace, because a pacer needs to keep a clear head when the runner starts to get bleary. I am reminded of college drinking days, walking home from a party with someone much drunker and much more prone to be just about to puke than me (we all had that friend, right?) Trying to distract. I look around at what scenery I can detect in the dark – grassy hillside, wet tree limbs dripping, some animal crashing through the woods ahead. We come upon a pacer-less runner we had spent some time with before. She is off-and-on. She does not want a pacer. She is stubborn and resolute as she stumbles forward. I am beginning to think this 100 mile thing is for the birds, and I am glad I did not sign up to run it. (Nor will I ever. Tom jokes I will be online signing up for my first within days of Vermont… it’s been four and I’m still never doing it. Eighty is plenty for me.)

There are fleeting moments of great revelation between runners and pacers. I see a pair of headlamps ahead and hear laughter as we climb a hill. Laughter is good. We are catching up, and I strain to hear the conversation. On and off we pass people, and they pass us. In my head I have an image from my runner’s story that won’t go away. A good story to remember to tell Tom later when I get back to the hippie van.

An unmanned aid station and several hills later, I am beginning to school-nurse worry about my runner friend. We discuss the situation. Things get better, but then slip back to worse. The words “not sustainable” are uttered and I wrack my brain trying to think of every anti-nausea solution out there that hasn’t been tried yet. It is three a.m. and I know from studying the elevation that we have a couple of good dirt road hills ahead. I have a tin full of first aid but none of it will work, unfortunately. At Cow Shed Aid Station, I know we are just down the road, down the hill, from headquarters and the campground. From here the route goes out away from headquarters and back again in another part of the clover leaf. Runners at this point, mile 83, are either jubilant or simply done. There is a nice campfire here that seems to dry the humid air. A man tending the fire asks questions and talks a lot. The chairs are all taken. One runner snores, given in to sleepiness.  This aid station has COFFEE, which I take, black please and thank you! Soup for my runner.  The volunteers quietly chat as runners come and go. A decision is made. We are Calling It A Day at mile 84. A respectable distance but nothing much registers except weariness for my runner. I offer myself to pace a new runner but I know that at this point, every runner who wants one has got one. I will jump in the van with another pacer and runner who are CIAD. The van arrives. The pacers climb back to the third bench back, since the driver wants the sick runners to sit near a window, just in case. I greet my fellow pacers, one on either side of me. The woman on my right says, “My runner already got taken, but I had to wait.” We are all quiet. “You guys should check in with medical.” It is a short drive back up the hill to the campground and the big tent. We stagger out of the van and into the tent. Now I get to be runner, if needed, for dry clothes, cell phone, wallet? Then I am released from duty. It is a little less than 24 hours since my runner started. I go back and forth in my head as I walk back to the car. Should I have not let him quit? Should I have not insisted on the medical tent check? I get into the van and Tom is sleeping. He wakes up when he hears me. Another adventure over. Now we can sleep. In the morning, I will find out how my runner fared, but for now, it’s lights out.

Sunday we rise bright and early to another gorgeous sunny day. Oh, had the weather been like this yesterday it may have meant a little less trench foot, a little less chafe, a little less sick and shivering. Horses, Runners, Crew and Pacers start to pack up. You know the runners because they walk funny. Crews sleep in. The horse owners are taking down temporary fencing and brushing everyone down. There are still runners out there.  In order to be official finishers, they must finish by ten. I wonder when my runner would have finished had he felt better. I am guessing 25, 26 hours, enough for a coaster but not a buckle. It will take time for him to get back into the swing of things, to find and sign up for another 100 attempt. This distance is not for sissies. Even the 30-hour folks are tough as nails and determined as the horses that joined them on the trail yesterday. We see them stagger in, the sun at their backs, a day and night out there behind them. They are all heroes to me, course finished or not.

Photo courtesy 30bananasaday.com

Persephone finally digs herself out

26 Apr
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Cellar hole, South Kingston land trust trail, January 2015

I realize I haven’t written here since December. I have had many adventures this winter in which I shoveled snow, shoveled more snow, ran in snow, worried about ice dams and the weight of snow on the barn’s roof, slipped and fallen in snow, and driven in snow. The snow didn’t stop until… well, we had a few flakes last week, and it’s April.

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…and then the snow came, in February.

But it *really* stopped in March. And although I did get out there and run in the stuff, I slowed down some this winter.

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A beautiful winter run in Canonchet preserve. Farm field and woods. January 2015

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Curious monkey with Mister Monkey, coldest run ever. 2015.

Part of it was that I did not have a specific race I was training for. Despite my perhaps overly-ambitious plan to run the 80 mile North South Trail in June, I didn’t have any marathons on the calendar. I signed up for the Quonset Point half marathon because it was cheap and it was going to happen on my birthday. For the most part, Tom and I spent our winter hibernating, and running some.

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Farm scene, Kenyon village, February 2015

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Headstone, Kenyon village, February 2015

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Monkey done. No more snow, please.

Around mid-March, we learned that my Dad was not doing well, and so I made plans to get to North Carolina. We all scrambled to get there. My Dad’s reputation of being hardy and history of bouncing back made me slightly doubtful of all of the hubbub, but then I got a second call that my plans better be firm. I flew in on Wednesday, March 25th. In some ways, it was like a reunion, because all of his kids were there. We got to spend three long days talking, singing Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel (badly), and eating my mom’s wonderful dinners. My Dad, Bill Janes, died on Saturday morning, March 28th.

My Dad.

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Two artists sketching. Christmas 2014.

I could wax poetic about my father, what he did, what he meant to us, what he MEANS to me, how fair and wise he was, how giving and courageous and curious he was (he put the curious in Curious Monkey) and what a lover of justice, the environment, and family he was. He has many fans. I’m not sure I have the words. He was just a really cool guy. He was tough when he needed to be. He liked to hike and run. He loved being outside. He loved his kids and grandkids. And his dogs. He loved to eat. He loved my mom.

The day he died, we were all there. He was home. It was sweet and sad.

After being pretty much cooped up in the house for three days, we all kind of burst forth into this sunny day. I took my rental car and went for a run in Blue Walls Preserve.

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It was hard. Lots of climbing. But it was beautiful and that’s what my dad would have done, if it were him in my running shoes.

He left a wonderful legacy, and he also left us all with a tremendous chest cold. I spent the next three weeks with the worst cold I have had in years. I am still not over the cough.

A week after he died, my grand-niece Diana was born. I still haven’t seen her because of my cold. I intend to make a trail animal out of that kid. Lily and Jake are great parents so far and I am so proud of them.

When I say I didn’t make plans this winter, I was a little bit lying. I DID put myself on two waiting lists for trail races. Right around the time that Dad died, I found out I was going to be running both the TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) Spring Classic Trail 50K, and the 21 mile Wapack and Back (without the “and back.”) I was happy, because it meant I finally had a goal, but I couldn’t seriously train until the cold let up. Maybe the cold was a physical way to grieve. I don’t know. I did get on the bike one or two days. And out on the road I went. Eight miles here, three miles there. The week I got back, my good friend Georgia got me out for a 24 miler on the East Bay Bike Path. It was a glorious sunny day, with a high wind. The birds were singing. I thought about Bill, and had a moment where I fell apart. Like a passing shower, I recovered quickly. Just one little bird did it.

Then, on April 12th, I ran the Quonset Half Marathon put on by Ocean State Multisports for my birthday. It was a great day and I felt strong despite the chest congestion and coughing. I finished in two hours, and of course, had wonderful birthday cake that evening to celebrate. The following weekend, my friend Georgia invited me to run the More Half Marathon in New York City with her. My friend Bonnie from work loaned me a RISD Road Kill jersey, which I wore to both half marathons.

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Georgia and I had a great time in the city. I saw my childhood friend MLE in Brooklyn. We had dinner and many smootchie moments. She was a little bit Janes kid growing up and so it was nice to celebrate Bill’s life with her. The next day, I ran central park. And once again, coming up over a hill and seeing the dogwood in bloom, I had a passing shower moment. Just utter, gut crunching sadness that passed almost as soon as it came.

Since I was running for Georgia’s daughter, who had hurt her knee, we kept the pace light, and even ran with Ang the last mile. We finished in 2:14.

Going from a season of “signed up for nothing” to race almost every weekend, yesterday I did the TARC Spring Classic 50K. This endurance run takes place in Weston, Massachussetts. Tom and I had been here before when volunteering for the TARC 50 and 100 miler, a few years ago. We arrived bright and early, and dragged my gear from the car to the fenceline by the horse area. I wasn’t nervous. I have gotten my share in of longer trail runs and like I said, I wasn’t afraid to get out and run in the snow. But I hadn’t run all week due to a little pain in my hamstring. The day before, I had ridden 41 miles on the road bike, hoping that would give me some warm up for the owie hamstring and serve as my “back to back” endurance effort I needed in preparation for the North South Trail in June. I had a goal time of six hours, thirty minutes. It was about 40 degrees at the start, a bright sunny day promising temps in the 50s by the afternoon. I was a little over-dressed to start with, and didn’t know too many of the other runners. I did get to meet a woman from TARC who deals with their merchandise. She was super friendly and helpful, and I couldn’t help but buy a TARC jacket. I went out on lap one wearing the jacket. It would come off by lap two.

First lap, I went out conservatively, in the herd, running slowly, stopping occasionally when everyone else ahead of me stopped. Things thinned out about mile two. The course was delightful. Not a lot of rocks and roots, like Rhode Island, but a lot of leafy lanes and doubletrack. Some good hills. A lot of turns, all well marked. TARC puts on a good race. As I came in from lap one, I knew I needed to take off some clothes, and maybe fix a bunched sock. So I did that, and ate, and went to the porto-let, and all in all spent far too much time at the snack table.

 

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TARC Spring classic trail map

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TARC Spring classic, in my head.

 

Second lap was hard. I was alone, having lost a buddy who had been chatting with me and telling me stories. I was mostly alone, and failed to recognize where I was, so everything seemed longer. I knew from the first lap that there was this last.   left.   turn.  It came right before the finish, and it was followed by a little climb, a drop, and then an exit onto doubletrack that led straight to the finish line. I could not wait for that left turn. Where is it? Maybe I went the wrong way. Come on. Where’s that turn. Where’s that f**king last left turn??? A right turn. Another right turn. A long straightaway… some singletrack with some stones, rocky, rooty, muddy, hop a creek, another right turn. Another straightaway. And finally… The Last F**king Left Turn.

Third lap, back out. I took less time at the aid station. Time was cooking. I got in to a groove, and reconnected with my buddy Pete. Pete was from Massachusetts and works as an IT guy, and comes from a big family. His sister is an artist. Hearing all of these stories, lap three really flew by.

Lap four, I lost Pete, and was on my own again. But there was a group of marathoners who were finishing up their last lap, and they were having a trail party. They sat on my heel, which was fine, entertaining me with their talk. I kept my pace even and tried not to think too hard about my hamstring. I caught up with Pete at the end of this loop.

My fifth and final lap, Pete and I agreed to stick together to make it more bearable. Everyone was tired. The half marathoners and marathoners were for the most part done, so it was quieter out on the trails. We ran with Brenda, a Trail Animals regular, and she kept us talking and alert throughout. Tradition dictated I “say goodbye” to different trail features as it would be the last time I would be seeing them (until next year.) Goodbye steep hill. Goodbye lovely farm. Goodbye ferny glade. GOODBYE LAST F**KING LEFT TURN. I didn’t think about my dad during the race. Each of my loops was maddeningly consistent: 1:15 with 2-5 minutes at the aid station. I finished with a time of seven hours.

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Finish line, 2015 TARC Spring classic. Smiling because done.

I hugged Brenda and Pete, and then invaded the aid station. M&Ms, oreos, fig newtons, cheetoes, leftover potatoes, corn chips, half an apple, an orange, a snack bar, two cups of straight coca cola. The last of the runners were coming in, and we cheered for them. The two guys in kilts. The determined last runner. We all sat or stood around, on tarps, in chairs, or changing to fresh clothes. Finally, Tom and I decided to hit the road.

As we pulled up Bell Schoolhouse Road, Tom pointed out the great blue heron alighting from a pine tree at the base of the hill. Suddenly, the seven hour day gave way and I choked on a sob, and had another passing shower where I was filled with such loss and sadness that my Dad was gone, and I would never see him again.

It was over before it started. Winter seems endless. We await that final F**king left turn. A bird takes off. Something pushes through the earth and blooms.

 

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