Monday, October 29, 2007

L.L.Bean Bradbury Bruiser Race Report

Saturday it rained. And rained. And rained. When I left the Bradbury Bruiser course on Friday afternoon, the trails were immaculately raked and marked. And then the rain and wind on Saturday once again consumed the trail. The leaf cover and wet conditions left the runners with a very fun, eventful race course on Sunday morning.

My brother, Chris, and I arrived at Bradbury State Park just after 6 AM. We were a couple minutes late due to a planned and necessary stop at Dunkin' Donuts for a box of Joe for all our volunteers. The morning temps were in the high 40s with a clear sky. Perfect for a trail run. As we drove up, we were met by Ian Parlin, race director extraordinaire, and fellow Trail Monster Jim Dunn. They had camped out the night before to get a jump start on race preparations. I forewent the campout and watched the Sox on the tube and enjoyed the comfort of my warm bed. We immediately set out to get the start/finish line set up and to lay out the aid station supplies. The park rangers were kind enough to aid us in delivering the water to the stations using the park's ATV. This was not the first and only help the rangers provided. They were incredibly valuable to us and we could not have made this happen as easy without their support.

Surprisingly, the first runner showed up just after 6:30 AM, right after Jamie Anderson and his friend Kate showed up for their volunteer duties. Jamie and Kate were slated to handle registration and then the timing at the finisher's chute. I can say without spoiling this report that they did a superb job from recording finisher's times to auditing the list for unfinished, and presumably, lost runners. More on this later. By 7 AM the parking lot was full of excited runners looking forward to a unique and challenging trail run. They were not to be disappointed. The registration table was humming in the hour before the race with over an estimated 30 runners registering that morning.

Just before start time at 8 AM, Ian rang his Pineland cow bell to invite the runners to congregate for the pre-race meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to instruct all the runners, especially those new to trail running, the etiquette of running in the woods and to describe what they all would see soon enough on the trail. Everyone was cautioned on the slippery conditions, the obscured trails, and how to pass on single track trail. The energy in the crowd was noticeable and as everyone moved across the street to the start line shortly after the talk ended.

The start line was set up across the street from Bradbury Mountain and the parking lot, on an old jeep trail that allowed quite a few runners to run side by side for 1/10th of a mile or so before hitting the single track. The finish line was situated near the start on a perpendicular jeep trail. In between the two was the food table, a very popular spot with runners at the end due to the awesome volunteer supplied homemade baked goods and veggie chili from Bruce's Burritos (check this place out if you haven't already - it's awesome). Due to the slow nature of my GPS, the race started one minute after the posted start time. Ian was very gracious to give my Garmin the time it needed to lock onto the satellites. As I locked on, Ian rang the cow bell once more and the race was underway.

The pace out the gate was quick but restrained as Phil DiRusso took the lead. Following him were a few quick runners including Tom Page, Scott Ellis, Tom Tero and a couple other strong runners. In the mix also was Ian and myself. The first mile through through the Lanzo extension included some hooting and hollering from the lead pack as the snaking line of runners weaved back and forth through the woods, offering glimpses of runners behind us a number of times. The pace was an 8:02, which is no easy feat given the lateral movement this trail requires. Ian and I agreed that the pace was a little quick and of the eight or so runners that were in the lead, all of us held back as Phil and Tom Page took off. They would not be seen again until an unfortunate wrong turn presented them to us on the "O" trail.

Later during the slow, second mile (the slowest of the day until the "O" trail), more runners broke from the pack, leaving Ian, Tom Tero, and myself running together. The pace we settled into at this point was a much more reasonable 8:46 as we all tried to figure out how much to throw at the trail this early. Despite still being early in the race, the field of 100+ runners was starting to thin out. Up front Phil was pretty much alone with Tom Page, Dave Roberts, Scott Ellis and a couple others not far behind keeping the pace quick. As we passed the first Aid Station, manned excellently by Jimm Dunn, and headed onto the Ragan trail at mile 3, Ian decided he was going to ease up a bit. Tom and I turned up the pace as the Ragan trail provided a nice running surface (and a pretty cool raised bridge) and we clocked a 7:55 as we felt the runners ahead of us slipping away. As we entered the Ginn trail and mile 4, we sped up and ran a 7:35 as we reeled in Dave Roberts.

The three of us ran together for a couple miles and caught a glimpse of Phil in the lead as the trail doubled back on itself at mile 6. He looked strong and was surely headed towards a win. Our pace during miles 5 and 6 was done at an 8:00 average pace. Early in mile 7 Tom separated himself from me and Dave Roberts. My pace was a 7:19 and Tom pulled away pretty convincingly and I had nothing with which to respond. This mile drops the runners onto a long stretch of wide snowmobile trail and I could still see Tom ahead but within reach. There were no other runners visible behind me and Dave Roberts. Dave pulled ahead a little but I quickly passed him as he stopped for water at the third aid station, professionally crewed by Katy, of Chuck and Katy, and her friend (sorry but I never got her name). Thanks guys! Shortly ahead was the sight I look most forward to on any run, and that is my wife and kids. Kelly had pushed the kids in the double jogger up Old Tuttle Road, an abandoned road that is now mostly used as a horse trail. Quinn saw me quite a ways up the trail and I could hear his laughter for about half a minute before I reached them. I gave Quinn a high five and Riley got a blown kiss as I blew by them, on my way to the "O" trail and the finish.

About a quarter of the way into Mile 8 I was greeted with a surprise. I found myself being diverted from the well worn path that I had run every training run to heavily covered trail that weaved its way through the woods. This was completely new to me, as well as Ian I discovered in conversation later. Apparently this was the result of the course check we had commissioned before the race started from a well-intentioned mountain biker. The trail we were running was mountain bike trail, and well marked I should say, but not one we had planned to use during the race. I was momentarily stunned and quite afraid that this was a cruel trick from the local resident who had removed markings from another part of the course the week leading up to the race. My fear that the rest of the course had been tainted and rerouted was unfounded as we eventually were directed back onto familiar territory. All told this only added maybe a tenth of a mile to the course and despite my shock, I still managed a 7:28 mile.

Dave Roberts and myself once again reconnected and later in Mile 9 we caught Scott Ellis. I was surprised to see Scott as he is a fantastic runner who has posted some great results at some very difficult races, including winning the inaugural Pineland Farms 25KM last year. This mile was done at the mildly more conservative pace of 7:55 as I mentally prepared for the arduous task of tackling the always daunting and never tamed "O" trail. (I really wish I could find someone to explain the origin of the "O" name.) Mile 10 was even slower, run at an 8:38 pace, as the approach to "O" became imminent. It was about half way into this mile that we reached the final aid station (number 4) where Jeff Walker and family were serving up some tasty water and Gatorade. As I always carry my own "juice" I did not have need to stop but I did unsuccessfully try to communicate with Jeff. What I tried to say was "thanks" to Jeff and ask of the whereabouts of the runners ahead of me, especially Phil DiRusso as I was really pulling for him, but this all came out garbled from my tired body. It's never too late to say thanks, so "Thanks Jeff."

The entrance to the "O" trail comes approximately at mile 9.5. It was here that I saw Kelly's dad, Phil, for the second time. He had kindly driven well over an hour to be the videographer for the race. He got some great footage of the start and finish, runners weaving their way through the Lanzo extension, and of runners entering the "O" trail.

Shortly after entering the "O" trail, Dave Roberts and I took a wrong turn across a somewhat obscured barrier of boulders and downed trees onto an adjacent marked trail, which actually was the end of the "O" trail. After 9.5 hard miles, it becomes very easy to ignore trail markings and get confused. Keeping one's focus is a fundamental "have-to" and skill of trial running. Ian received an email from a runner who acknowledged how trail running is unlike a typical road race in that it is as much about mental stamina as physical stamina. You have to keep your wits about you and your head up at all times scanning the trail ahead of you to make sure you are headed in the right direction. Unfortunately there were a number of runners who did not follow this basic tenet and were met with frustration and confusion as a result. Fortunately, 99% of these runners laughed it off and chalked it up as a great experience and lesson for the next trail race Ian and I conjure up.

Back to mine and Dave's wrong turn. I noticed the misstep immediately and steered Dave back in the right direction. This is part of the reason I decided to run. I was very divided about whether I should run as I was one of the co-directors (albeit not an equal to Ian's amazing race directing talents). Ian and I thought it would be good if we were on the course to help runners avoid this mistake. In this case it helped. Dave and I once again were pounding the trail but at a much slower pace. The first full mile on the "O" trail took us 9:55. This trail is crazy gnarly with all kinds of twists, bumps, turns, obstacles, and switchbacks. You name it, the "O" has it. Still, we made good time and once Dave caught sight of Tom Tero through the woods less than 50 yards in front of us, he smelled blood and went after him.

We did eventually catch Tom not too far up the trail and in the final mile we ran into the lead pack who had become hopelessly turned around on the trail. Phil was unfortunately part of these wanderers and he decided to drop out at that point due to his perceived notion of fairness. While I think he was too harsh on himself and he definitely deserved the win, he stepped aside and let the remaining four of us battle it out. The lead group now consisted of myself, Tom Tero, Tom Page, and Dave Roberts. This group was not going to give up easily with the finish so close. However, as we made it to the same spot where Dave had gone wrong near the "O" entrance, the four of us went the wrong way again simply due to going too fast and not paying attention. We quickly resolved our mistake as Tom Tero and I recognized a downed birch tree laying across the trail and turned everyone around and got us back on track.

After backtracking to the right trail, the race was on. Each of us in the lead pack of four could taste victory. Despite this incredible motivation, the pace of mile 12 slowed to a 10:15, largely due to our slowly trying to correct our mistake of taking a wrong turn. I would have sworn I was running my 10K road pace of about 6:00, but no such luck. It is really difficult to judge pace as trees "whiz" by you, you jump boulders, and skirt tree roots and stumps. There was some jockeying for position as Tom Tero took a slightly more aggressive approach to passing on the narrow "O" trail. He went for the lead by risking a run just off the side of the trail to pass Dave and Tom Page, who had joined us on the "O" trail when we came across Phil. Tom Tero's stunt and excellent trail running ability paid off and he was in the lead as we exited the "O" trail and entered the Knight Woods trail for the final quarter mile to the finish. No one could outkick Tom T. and he crossed the finish line in 1:41:31, just a fraction of a second in front of Dave Roberts and Tom Page. I was a close fourth three seconds behind these very impressive trail runners. Most impressive was that none of them wore a coveted bruise from the course!

To all our surprise, there was one runner at the finish line who had crossed the line seven minutes ahead of us. As I thought I knew who had gone off the front of the pack at the outset of the race and I was sure that no one had passed me, I went to investigate. It did not take any Sherlock Holmes expertise to discover that this runner had taken a wrong turn (let's call it a very, very innocent shortcut) and missed part of the trail. He was a very gracious person and stepped aside for Tom Tero to assume the position of victor of the first annual L.L.Bean Bradbury Bruiser 12 Mile Trail Race!

Shortly after our sprint finish, scores of runners started arriving. In fifth place was Scott Ellis, just under thirty seconds behind me and then a minute later we welcomed the arrival of the women's first place finisher, Catherine Sterling of Kent's Hill. Ian finished in an impressive 1:44:18, good enough for 8th place. Ian's wife Emma, running under the pseudonym of Gnarls Barclay (like the naming of the "O" trail, I do not know the story behind this), arrived a few minutes later and snatched the second place women's title.

The post race festivities included great grub. The chili was a big hit, despite my brother's best attempt to burn it and the fact that he used a stick found in the woods to stir it. Unlike most races, there were no fruits or similar health foods allowed at this feast. Since this was a grueling 12 mile trail race, we decided during pre-race planning that all the runners could afford and would appreciate the luxury of some home baked goodies like brownies, cupcakes and rice krispy treats, which were made by my daughter Riley. (Note to other race directors: there were tons of bagels left over but not a crumb of a brownie was to be found.)

The awards ceremony was held at the finish area and was attended by a good number of runners and their families, despite the chill in the air. Best Costume and Bruise awards were voted on by the crowd and happily accepted by the winners. Age group awards were picked up and the crowd slowly dwindled to the hard core cadre of volunteers that made this race tick. Jamie, Chuck, and Kate scoured the list for runners that might still be on course while my brother and father-in-law started breaking down the start/finish area. Other volunteers like Jim Dunn, Scott Ellis, and Eric Boucher (loads of thanks to these guys) made their way back on the course to pick up markers and clean up the aid stations.

It did not take long for a couple of helpful mountain bikers to find one of the missing runners and the park ranger rounded up another. There was still one runner missing more than four hours after the start so Ian and I ran the "O" trail to find him. I started my search at the end of the "O" trail and after about 10 minutes of running with no sight of this runner, my thoughts turned grim and I was getting worried I was going to find him unconscious on the side of the trail. Luckily this scenario did not play out but I did find a mountain biker who said he had directed a runner onto the Knight Woods trail which should have led him back to the finish. As I finished running the"O" trail I met Ian coming the opposite way and I turned around to run the trail a third time that day to pick up all the flags and tape. After about another hour of running and collecting, I made my way to the finish to find my exhausted brother. I also received word that the final missing runner had been found...on Route 9 walking away from the park still lost. Jeff Walker saw him, stopped his car and gave the guy a ride back to the park. And all that time this guy's wife and dog were waiting for him at the park. Ian had the bright idea of sending him an unclaimed age group award, which was an L.L.Bean gift card, with the suggestion he buy a GPS!

With the last surveyor flag tucked cleanly into my car with the pot coated with burned chili, my brother and I bid farewell to Ian and headed home. Since Sunday, I have thought a lot about how great it was to see this race go from a little thought to a full blown race with over 130 registered runners and 108 race day competitors. Tonight I watched the video my father-in-law took and was excited to see that almost every runner he videoed had a huge smile on their face. I have been running seriously for almost six years and this is the most I have given back to the sport of running which has given so much to me. Ian, myself, and all our friends that helped us get this race from conception to reality have aided in spawning a new phenomenon in Maine and that is Trail Running. I suspect we are here to stay and in a big way. See you on the trails...in Maine!

Check out a preview of the Bradbury Bruiser video. Footage includes the start, runners traversing the Lanzo trail, and the close finish. A full video with footage of all runners on both the Lanzo and the entrance of the "O" trail, as well as each runner's finish will be available somewhere soon.

video

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bradbury Bruiser Eve

It is the eve of the Bradbury Bruiser (too late to sign up online but you can sign up in the morning at the park). Yesterday Ian and I met at Bradbury in the early morning hours to survey the course and mark it for the final time. There was some damage done through the week from falling leaves and from a nearby resident who apparently took offense at the marking we left on the course. Last Sunday we raked and marked the Lanzo trail and I am guessing that a person who resides nearby and who complained about the markings took it upon himself to remove the tape. This left me quite perturbed for a few reasons: 1. this resident owes me the $3 for the tape, 2. he owes me for my and Kelly's time we spent out there marking, and 3. I want to know how much said resident has given to the park since he has been using it. My guess is this jerk does not even pay the $3 park fee when he uses the trails, while we are putting on this race (thus the markings) which will result in a nearly $2,000 donation. Match that and I have no problem with him removing our tape. Otherwise leave it alone and call me if you have a problem. The park has our information.

At any rate, we did mark the whole course and rake again. All told, we have put in close to 10 hours of raking time. Yesterday I had my wife and brother (visiting from VA) raking the Lanzo trail while Chuck Hazzard and myself raked and marked the "O" trail. Ian rode the course on his bike and marked and cleaned the rest. We are all feeling really good about the race and it is near go time! The race is going to be great. I have talked to so many runners who are both first timers and veterans and they are all pumped about the race. And these are all runners I have not met previously. The weather is looking to be perfect for both runners and spectators. I hope to see you out there in the morning!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pileated Woodpeckers, Banners, and LiveStrong


The last couple days have found me pretty sore and tired on my runs. This past weekend's run and work left me a little on the depleted side. Yesterday I ran with the boys (Ethan, Jim, and Tom) on the roads around South Freeport. The pace was moderate at 7:30s and the 6.1 mile run was pretty uneventful. That is with the exception of the weather. Unbelievable temps in the high 60s, low 70s and sunny. Not to mention the awesome fall foliage, all of which has now pretty much taken up residence on the Bradbury Bruiser course!

Today I was lucky enough to hit the L.L.Bean trails with Tom and Jim. Ethan is scared of trails. It seems he is too valuable of a commodity to risk an ankle twisting (defend yourself Ethan if you are reading). We all gave him a hard time and then headed out. The temps were again unseasonably warm with an overcast sky, hopefully which is the leading edge of a front that will bring our temperatures down for this weekend's race. As we were running on the trails we spotted a few unrecognizable guys walking off the trail in the woods. We all suspected foul play and sped up to get out of the imagined crime scene. (Later we would learn that it was a few of our coworkers who were attempting to run the trails but who had become hopelessly loss. To think we work for an outdoor specialty company...) The highlight of the run was the opportunity to observe a pileated woodpecker up close at work. This guy was pretty big and showed off his colors proudly. Quite a bird. I have been quite fortunate on the trails as far as bird watching goes. First an Osprey, and now Woody. Cool. This run was done at a very conversational and moderate pace at 8:40s for the just over 5 mile course.

Tonight Kelly worked hard on registration, start, and finish banners for the Bruiser this weekend. Given that Ian is an architect and a damn fine designer, this was bold of Kelly to undertake anything creative that would have to pass muster with Ian. I hope he likes them. Things are coming together for the race. The L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery School (ODS) folks are on board big time for Sunday and are planning on bringing out some pretty cool stuff to the race. It's gonna be exciting!

And today something pretty special and symbolic happened to me. As I was sitting in a meeting, I noticed my LiveStrong wristband was beginning to tear. I was diagnosed with cancer on October 31, 2002. Next week marks the 5 year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. The 5 year anniversary is quite a milestone for cancer survivors. I donned my LiveStrong wristband immediately when they were released in May of 2004. Only once have I removed this particular wristband, which has been with me for three years and five months, and that was by accident. On a run one spring day I pulled my gloves off and the band came off with it. It wasn't until I jumped in the shower post run did I realize the band was gone. I retraced my run but could not find it. The next day a friend returned it to me. He knew I had lost it and stumbled upon it on his run. I call this divine intervention. Anyhow, I have debating for some time when and if I would ever remove the band. This afternoon answered that question. When I returned home I had my wife finish the tear for me and remove the band. The fact that I was forced to this decision on the eve of my 5 year anniversary speaks to me of some pretty deep symbolism and a message from above that a new chapter is about to begin for me. Wish me luck. Godspeed to you all.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bradbury, Bradbury, and Bradbury


This weekend was a planned Bradbury weekend and that is what it was...at least today. A group of Trail Monsters was planning on meeting out at Bradbury yesterday morning to run and clean up the course in anticipation of next weekend's race. The plan was then to go back out this morning to run and check up on all the work we did Saturday. Unfortunately underage hunters and rain changed those plans. We all decided Friday that we would surrender the woods on Saturday to the Maine youth that would be partaking in Youth Deer Day and stay dry in our homes.

This morning we all met at Bradbury at 7 AM for our usual weekend traverse of the course. I just have to say here that it is an awesome course and tons of fun to run. The group this morning was a good one, with Jamie Anderson and Brian Mainson there when I arrived, and Blaine Moore and Ian Parlin arriving shortly afterwards. Also in attendance was a new trail runner, Randy I think was his name. I am terrible with names, especially first thing in the morning. In fact, I think I still call Jamie James sometimes and vice versa. Sorry guys. I should also add that Phil DiRusso joined us a couple miles into the run. Phil has the amazing ability to just meet us on the trail. At random spots. I have no idea how he does it but somehow he can sniff us out.

Today really was about working out the subtle details of race day and massaging the nuances of the course and making sure everything was thought about before someone complains about it on race day. So before starting, we discussed the start area and finish area set ups (plans changed a bit since the park rangers were hoping we could minimize the impact on the campground that is next to the start). We then headed out on our run and quickly discovered that the leaves on the Lanzo extension trail had to be cleared away if we had any hope of getting more than half the starters to the finish. Luckily there was enough experienced Bradbury runners on this run to get us through with no problems. All in all, the course was okay despite all the rain and wind the last couple weeks. Especially the "O" Trail. Apparently Ian thinks he is made of kevlar and no Maine youth would take a potshot at him. He braved the Maine woods yesterday and raked most of the heavily leaf canvased gnarly trail that is the "O". I met the creator of the "O" trail today as I was cleaning the course and he deemed us "cruel" for finishing the race on the "O". No one said this was going to be easy. Back to Ian and his rake. Awesome. Ian did a fantastic job and made running the trail more about physical stamina than an act of navigation. Thanks Ian.

Distance was a question that needed answering today. A couple days ago we got an email that said our course was 13.5 miles. Uh oh. The course is hard enough without adding any unadvertised miles. I have run the course with GPS a number of times and measured the course at 12 miles each time. Today we did it again with GPS (Jamie and myself) and both of us got close enough to 12 miles to call the course 12 miles. Curiously I set my Forerunner 305 to record data every second (versus the automatic default 3 (?) seconds) and found the course to be 11.8 miles. Every other time with the automatic setting I have recorded 12.05 to 12.10 miles. Once I uploaded the data to SportTracks my course distance was listed as 12.1 miles. I am not sure why the 1 second recording would be that much different than what SportTracks corrected it to and what my GPS recorded previously. Any ideas? Jamie, using the automatic recording got a course distance of 12.o or 12.1, so 12 it is.

The best thing happened at the end of the run. Once we exited the "O" trail my tummy starting fussing about how hungry it was and then I saw Kelly with Quinn and Riley. Excellent. Even better, Kelly had brought a bag of six breakfast sandwiches for us all. Perfect. My wife is the perfect specimen. Not only did she come out to help us clean the course (with the kids in the jogger, she brought food for us all). (I just told her what I wrote about her and she prefers I refer to her as "Super Woman".)

After a scrumptious bite we headed over to our cars, changed into our work clothes, grabbed our rakes, received our assignments from Ian, and then headed out. Joining us after the run to help us clean was Jeff Walker. I have never run with Jeff but I hear he is quick. Even better, he is a good person for selflessly giving up his Sunday morning to come out and help us clean the course even though he isn't able to run the race due to injury. He will be out at one of the aid stations with his wife and two kids, so if you are running the race and see a fit looking guy at an aid station with his family, thank him. My assignment was to clear the Lanzo and Lanzo Trail extension. This is no more than a 1.5-2.0 mile trail so how long could it take to mark and clean. Well, after seeing Ian's work on the "O" trail, I knew I had to keep with the high standards he set. Kelly brought along Riley and Quinn on the thin trails in the jogger (she worked harder getting them through the trail than I did raking) while continuously assuring mountain bikers that she wasn't lost. Phil also came along with us and helped Kelly tie surveyor's tapes to trees, set orange flags, and place red arrow signs to assure that no runner gets lost. And I raked...and raked...and raked. The Lanzo and Lanzo Extension trails now have about a two foot path raked through the woods. I have the blisters to prove it. It was worth the work as about 99% of the bikers and runners that came through the trail behind me thanks me profusely but went ahead of me with a little trepidation of what an unraked trail would bring them. I fear that Ian's and my rake have spoiled everyone. Sorry people, this is a once in a year occurrence. I will continue to do this for the users of Bradbury State Park if some of them will come rake my disheveled yard! I can say with a lot of confidence that if you get lost on the Lanzo Trail or on the "O" trail you need help.

After today's work I feel much better about the course for next weekend. It is going to be a great race for the experienced trail races as well as the newby. We are looking forward to over 100 runners, which exceeds our goal for the race. This will be a great turnout for a new race that has only been in the planning stages for two months. This speaks highly of the possibility of a season long trail racing series in Maine next year. More on this later. I gotta go. It's a one run game in the bottom of the 7th. Go Sox, or Cleveland (I live in New England but have family in Ohio). Oops, correction, Pedroia just hit a two run homer. Three run game. Maybe I can get to bed early tonight! Go Sox!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Osprey

I was lucky enough again today to be able to enjoy a run during the most perfect fall weather possible. Tom and I headed out a little before Noon to run the L.L.Bean/South Freeport trail system. The run started as usual as we headed across Casco Street onto the trail system, into the tunnel under the road and around L.L.Bean's distribution center at Corporate HQ. We then entered the woods again to follow the network of trails that permeates the woods behind the office.

After running through a nice mixed forest for a half mile, the trails enter a clearing for about 200 yards. This is where the coolest thing happened. I heard squawking which I immediately recognized as some bird of prey, but I just figured it was a hawk or falcon, which we see often while running the woods. Instead it was an Osprey. A big Osprey with lunch in his/her mouth. There is an Osprey nest over at Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park a few miles away, but I had never seen an Osprey away from the water. Although as is obvious from the picture above we are never far from water in Freeport so I guess it was just out hunting one of the rivers or many lakes and ponds that dot the landscape. This sighting was very motivating and carried us along the rest of the run. After the Osprey left our sight we continued on up a nice long hill that left both of us breathing a little heavy. After this hill the course levels off for the next few miles as you run around some beautiful ponds. On the way back you have to navigate a pretty rough and rocky downhill and then one more challenging hill to get you back home...or at least to your computer in my case.

The trails in Freeport are excellent and ripe for a trail race. Maybe next season we will have to contemplate a 5 miler early in the season. The trails are relatively wide. They are definitely wider than Bradbury but not nearly as wide as Pineland. The couple hills, up and down, do make this a challenging run despite is shorter distance. Look for this one in 2008.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fall running in Maine

Fall is my new Spring. Growing up in Virginia, Spring was the best season. A beautiful dogwood in full bloom graced my parent's front yard. I still remember the smell. When I moved up here Spring all but disappeared. There is no Spring up here. So it seemed that everyone up here puts there hopes in Fall. Fairs, apples, cross country season, all kinds of great things. However my first Fall living here was consumed by my cancer diagnosis and chemo.

It has been five years since that first Fall and I have finally been able to embrace Fall with all the enthusiasm it deserves. I am on the eve of my five years cancer free and this is the best fall yet. The weather for running has been great, the leaves spectacular, and the apples tasty. Tonight I met the Trail Monsters, Ian Parlin, Chuck Hazzard, Chuck's dog Miss Ellie, and Eric Boucher out at Twin Brook. The evening air was chilly, like a good Fall evening should be, as we set out. The pace started out conversationally and got quicker after a couple miles and only got faster through the run. The conversation centered around the Bradbury Bruiser and trying to convince Ian that he is well prepared to run his first 50-miler at Stone Cat. His training has been spot on and we were trying to give him some confidence. Time will tell. What we do know is that he will be out racing the Bruiser. We all had a great time running under our headlamps as Miss Ellie guided us around the trails. The splits for the evening run or just under 6 miles was 9:12, 8:29, 8:16, 7:57, 7:59, and finally, 6:34. The 6:34 happened on the last straightaway as we all were happy to stretch out our legs. For you numbers people out there, my HR followed the trend of the pace: 137, 143, 150, 154, 161, and 172. The 172 average seems a bit understated to me as I felt like my heart was coming through my chest at the end. My max heart rate on the run, which happened at Mile 6, was 193. This is my max HR. So it was about to bust. Also, according to my Garmin, at some point during that last mile I hit a 4:41 pace. I don't know for how long nor am I sure I believe I actually got that fast, but we were all moving at the end. Good times.

And thanks to my buddy Blaine for his excellent write up on the upcoming Bradbury Bruiser. This weekend we are planning on running the Bradbury Bruiser course at 7 Am and then doing some trail maintenance afterwards at 9:30 AM. Everyone is welcome. Bring a friend.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sunrise and Bradbury


First, I want to give a big congratulations to my buddy, Jamie Anderson, who ran the MDI Marathon today and set a big PR. Congratulations Jamie!

Today I ran. Yesterday I did not. Some days I just want to wake up with my kids crawling all over me and have a nice leisurely time with my kids and wife. To be honest, leaving my kids asleep in bed is harder than any run I find myself on. I love to spend the waking hour with them but this is typically the only time I have during the day to get out and run. Once the kids are up, they are a full time job! So yesterday I forewent the run and hung out with the kids. This also gave me an early start on the shed construction.

This morning I awoke with less aspirations than running a marathon. In fact, when the alarm went off this morning I didn't want to leave it. However, shortly after rolling out of bed and into the car, I was ecstatic I had made that move. The sunrise this morning ranks in the top 10 best I have witnessed. There was a thin band of clouds across the sky that stopped at the coast line. The clear sky at the horizon over the water was golden while the clouds were bathed in red, orange and purple. These colors mingled perfectly with the hues of the maple leafs. Perfect. This was the type of sunrise you wish you could share with someone else because words could never do it justice, at least not my words.

As the sun rose in the sky the colors faded and I pulled in behind Tom as he arrived. We both started the run sounding like a emphysema ward at a hospital. While our pace was strong, our lungs were not. This resulted in weak legs as our muscles were not getting the oxygen they needed to keep moving. These colds need to move on. Despite this we had a nice run and decided to bail out after 9 miles and an hour and a half. Our average pace of 9:45 was slightly skewed by a couple restroom breaks and other stops. We had a few late miles in the 8:30-8:45 range that is quite a feat if you know the course. Speaking of the course, the storm we had last week downed about every leaf on the trees so the course was quite covered. Maintenance is needed and maintenance is what the course will get. Next week a group of Trail Monsters and others are headed out to Bradbury to clean up the course for race day. Anyone is welcome. Come one, come all.

And to the shed. It had all four walls, windows, but not roof. I'd love to share pictures, but none are available. In the meantime, feast your eyes on a little Andrew Bird in the streets of Paris. This guy is amazing. Enjoy!

Fun run in the rain

When you begin to distance yourself from your childhood, i.e. get older, you start to lose touch with the things that make kids kids. You become more serious, acquire significant others, car payments, mortgages, and crazy grown up project like building sheds. The one thing I can do with the exception of playing with my kids that makes me feel like a kid again is run in the rain. There are not too many things we as adults can do to feel completely free and liberated, i.e. like a kid. Today I exercised my right to be a child by running in shorts and T-shirt in chilly, rainy weather while motorists looked at me like I was crazy and I smiled back like a 5-year old. I knew they were itching under their skin to trade places with me.

I headed over to the locker room at lunch with every intention of running the L.L.Bean trails. I was intercepted in the hall on the way by Ethan and Tom who browbeat me into running the road. Apparently they were a little scared to get muddy from all the rain this daggon Nor'easter has left for us. So being the social being I am I acquiesced and joined them. At the outset I was a little chilly but quickly warmed up despite the incessant wind and rain. The 7:18 pace was a little quicker than I was anticipating given Ethan's assurance of "love run", the term we have given happy, all inclusive runs. The pace never changed much from the starting pace until mile 6 which we turned into a 6:50 slugfest in the driving rain. Good stuff. Running with my boys at L.L.Bean is always fun, but today was better than fun. Today I truly was blessed to be a runner!

Tomorrow I am hanging out a home to run with Kelly and the kids and try out our new BOB Revolution stroller - the duallie. I am also leaning towards unfortunately skipping the Craig Cup Race for Life 5K at Twin Brook to allow myself to get to work quicker on my shed. I am itching to put nail to wood. Sunday I am planning to be back on the Bradbury Bruiser course with Tom at 7 AM if anyone out there wants to join us. Until next time, enjoy the video below from some good, Norwegian rockers, Kaizers Orchestra...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nothing much to report

Sorry to report that there is nothing much to report. I took a couple days off after the marathon, partially to recover and partially to hold off the cold that is trying to take root in me. I did get out yesterday for a nice, easy 5 miler. Speaking of colds, yesterday my motivation was low but I figured correctly that a run would right the ship and make me feel better. I arrived in the locker room as Ethan and Tom were suiting up and I communicated that I was only up for an easy, slow run given all my issues. Tom replied, sniffingly, by cursing his cold shortly before Jim arrived cursing his. Boy were we a sorry sight. Jim and I were throwing around alibis to excuse our slow pace in advance while Tom was talking a speed workout (despite his cold) to work of his anger at his computer. And Ethan was Ethan, fast. The only speed he knows.

So we all set out and almost immediately Ethan and Tom took off from me and Jim. That was fine with us. Jim and I had a nice run that suited both our constitutions and returned to the office in no worse shape than we left. Shortly afterwards Tom arrived (Jim and I had cut off three quarters of a mile or so) and Ethan not too much later after leaving Tom to add on a little more distance. It pays to be fast.

Today I was off due to a commitment that made me arrive late to work. I did, however, get in a wiffle ball game after work...The Inventory Sluggers vs. the Finance Four Baggers. We got beat but it was fun nonetheless. Exercise is exercise. Hope to hit the roads/trails again tomorrow and Bradbury this weekend.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Humbled by the Marathon

Saturday morning I had the good fortune to run with my ultra buddy Jamie at Bradbury. We both agreed as we set out in the dark that we would not worry so much about running the entire Bradbury Bruiser course but rather 8-10 miles depending on time. It was a good thing we weren't dead set on running the course because within twenty minutes we found ourselves off-course scratching our heads. Neither of us carried a headlamp at the start and found ourselves groping our way through the woods. We did stay on course on the Lanzo trail but in the dark we missed a turn and ended out on the maine fire trail where the race starts. Boy do I have a hard time with this course, even navigating using the "course" feature on Forerunner 305. Don't worry if you are reading this and you are planning on doing the race - the course will be well marked and even raked for race day! Despite the misdirection a couple times, Jamie and I had a great time running. Everytime we found ourselves a little turned around on the course, Jamie reminded me that all was good because we were running and we were in the woods. Good stuff. When all was said and done, we ran just over 9.5 miles in 1:35. Good, relaxed run (except at 6 AM right before setting out when Jamie almost lost his keys to the gas tank...check his blog for more details).

Shortly after arriving home Saturday morning from my early AM Bradbury run, Kelly and I headed into Portland to fulfill our volunteer commitment for the marathon. Kelly worked registration setup while I got to unload about two dozen huge tables from the back of a truck and lay them out around the start line. This wasn't necessarily what I would suggest to do the day before a marathon. At any rate, the voluneteer deal went well and it was a pleasure working with the race director, Howard Spear. He does a great job with the marathon attacking it with lots of passion, not to mention that he is a huge proponent of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training, an organization that is dear to my heart for the research they fund in the fight against cancer and because they helped me successfully run my first marathon. Howard was kind enough to allow us to set up a table promoting trail running in Maine and specifically the Bradbury Bruiser. Good man.

My tough pre-race day continued when Kelly and I returned home and I started work on my new shed. My father-in-law, Phil, was there to help as he always is when I start a new project that requires nail to meet wood. He was there to finish my basement and for my daughter's playhouse. Now the shed. Saturday afternoon was spent lugging around 4x4s and 2x6x12x, some heavy boards. Also, the job on Saturday required site prepwork which means setting up a nice, level spot to put the shed frame. This included removing roots, rocks, and lugging cinderblocks. Ugghh. After roughly three and a half hours we had the concrete block and skids leveled, and the wood frame in place. Unfortunately I had forgot to continue hydrating during the process and I was feeling it. The rest of the evening was spent trying to play catch up with water. It was also great to relax and watch my VA Tech Hokies whoop up on the Clemson Tigers. Boy did I want to watch the LSU-Florida game but I had already made too many mistakes on my rest day and needed to get some shut eye.

Marathon race day was perfect. Kelly and the kids accompanied me to the start where we met up with my ultra buddies James and Jamie. James was suited up to run while Jamie was going to take the role of keeping Riley entertained (she absolutely loves James and Jamie). James and I headed off when the gun went off at a nice conversational pace which we kept until we met up with a faster acquaintance of mine and we sped up inadvertently as we became engrossed with the conversation we were having. For the first 10 miles we maintained a 7:30 average. Miles 11-16, as we talked to my buddy, found us running 20-30 seconds faster than the first 10. As we hit a good hill at mile 17 I was hurting. A couple miles later I realized James was holding back for me and I told him to move on. He had told me earlier that his ultimate goal was to run a 3:15 to qualify to Boston and I knew I was holding him back. He gracefully moved on and ended up finishing about a minute and a half ahead of me. Good race James. I did continue on pretty much on my average race pace of 7:40, so the wheels never came off, they just lost some air and required a little more energy to move them forward. This marathon experience was extremely humbling as in the past I was easily able to run my Boston qualifying time of 3:10 or faster at any marathon I entered where I wanted to run well. I have never taken the marathon distance lightly. All my friends and coworkers have this impression that after running 50 and 100 milers, a marathon is just another walk in the park. 26.2 miles is no joke and I treat it with the utmost respect. I love the distance and look forward to running many more, hopefully with a little better luck than this one! This was my third marathon of the year and probably my last of the year. Next up is the Stone Cat 50-mile trail race, which after this weekend's race, is going to be tough. But I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Twin Brook, LLB Trails, and Thanks!

First, thanks for all the great comments and nice remarks about my VT 100 race report. I am quite pleased that you all enjoyed the read, or at least told me so. You are all very kind. If you would like to read it again or read some other great endurance news, check out the Maine Multisports website.


This week has allowed me to run pretty consistently, unlike the previous few weeks. Tuesday night I met the Trail Monsters at Twin Brook for a nice run just shy of an hour. The first half of the run was on the Craig Cup route (bottom right of photo). This is a great cross country course with some excellent undulations which leaves your heart bursting. This is a tought race but a great time. Make sure you make it over to Twin Brook on the morning of Saturday, October 13th. Plus it supports a great cause. After finishing the run over the course, we headed over to the other side of the park for another few miles before calling it a great night. It is hard not to get out in the evenings up here and take advantage of the great weather we are having.

Yesterday and again today I got out at lunch to run the trails behind work. What a joy to have great trails right outside your office walls. It is very cool to find your self one minute sitting in an uninspiring chair and the next to be traipsing through the woods. Also I was lucky enough to be joined yesterday by a new trail runner and today by my partner in crime in the Freeport woods, Tom Tero. Both days I ran just over five miles and was constantly surveying the trails for a race course. Tom and I talked today about how cool it would be to put on a race on the trails. Ideally, we would have a five mile race next year on these trails, early in the season, to kick-off the L.L.Bean Maine Trail Running Series. It would be good to keep this a cheap, low-key affair. Maybe a $10 entry fee to cover a T-shirt. It would be pretty neat to start the "L.L.Bean series" on L.L.Bean trails. We'll first have to see how the Bradbury Bruiser goes.


So tomorrow I am taking a rest day and Saturday I will be back on the Bradbury Bruiser course. After running the course Saturday early AM, Kelly and I are heading over to do our volunteer committment for the Maine Marathon. I am also going to throw my hat in the ring for Sunday's race since I have done the race every year for the past three years and this will be my fourth consecutive. Plus I need miles for the Stone Cat Ale 50-mile Trail Race that's coming up in just over a month! And then I will put nail to wood and start constructing my shed! That should be fun after running a marathon!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Vermont 100 Endurance Run Race Report

Running long and happy in Vermont:
My experience at the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run

It’s 3:00 AM and the alarm just went off. Unfortunately it wasn’t necessary as the race director had already taken care of the wake up call for everyone – “Chariots of Fire” was being looped on the PA system. I thought it might be a nightmare but no such luck.

Just a couple hours earlier I lay in my tent staring up through the ceiling at the Milky Way marveling at how perfect a night I was witnessing and hoping the day to come would be as fantastic. Running through my mind as I watched for a shooting star to wish upon was my race plan. Had I accounted for every possibility? Was my nutrition plan right for me? Did I choose the right clothing? So many questions that did not need second guessing in the middle of the night before the biggest race of my life. I was about to run my first 100-mile ultramarathon and I knew what had to be done.

The 19th Annual Vermont 100-mile Endurance Run was held on July 21-22, 2007 and it was my first attempt at the distance. I had trained well and my average weekly mileage of 65-75 miles seemed to be just right. I had routinely run back-to-back long runs on multiple weekends consisting of a 3-4 hour run on Saturday and a 4-5 hour run on Sunday. I had also trained up to my longest run of 8 hours covering almost 45 miles a few weeks before the race. Given everything I read on training for 100s, my training seemed to be spot on. However, this didn’t give me much comfort. My longest training run or race before toeing the start line at the Vermont 100 was 50 miles. There were another 50 miles I would have to cover during the race that would have to be run on faith.

We arrived in Vermont at Noon the day before the race and drove straight over to Woodstock, just north of the race site. My wife, Kelly, and kids, Riley and Quinn, parked and stepped into a charming little spot in the center of town. This quaint town was a perfect introduction to Vermont and set the tone for the rest of the weekend. The beauty of the town did little to settle the butterflies that seemed to be congregating inside me which made lunch tough. My nervousness built as I looked around and easily picked out the few other souls that looked to be ultra distance runners. Nevertheless, I got my lunch down and fed the kids, and then we moved out of town to the race check-in at Silver Hill Meadow.

The 30-minute drive to the race site was awe-inspiring. The setting could be no less perfect. We passed centuries old farmhouses and stately manors, complete with horse stables and cow barns. Also on the road were groups of horses and their riders – most likely competitors in the next day's horse race that follows the same course as the run. The majority of the trip from Woodstock followed some of the very same roads I would run the following day.

There was a buzz around the check-in tents as we drove up. Horses and runners mingled as if they were fellow competitors, although I would guess most of the runners had never thought we would find ourselves running alongside these marvelous animal-athletes. Check-in was a simple process where I was given my simple manila envelope (no fancy race bag) and performance t-shirt emblazoned with an excellent race logo.

Next stop was the medical check-in. Each 100-miler requires medical check-ups before and during the race given the dangerous nature of running such distances and times. Base medical information such as weight and blood pressure are collected before the race to use as a base line for comparison during the race. I deferred having my weight checked at this point deciding to wait until I changed into my race clothes and allowing my body to work through my lunch. The medical staff did take my blood pressure. The result was 150/80. That is not a typo. 150/80. I am a 110/70 guy with a resting heart rate in the neighborhood of 40 bpm. I became nervous, sure the doctor sitting in front of me was going to sideline me right then and there. All he said was, “First timer?” He then assured me I was not the first fit person to come through check-in with ridiculously high results. I am also sure I was not the last.

We then headed over to our tent site to set up our living quarters for the next couple days. Already present at the site were my buddies Jamie Anderson and James Demer, also virgins at this distance. We had done a number of training runs together and their presence put me at ease. That peace of mind was short lived as still ahead of me lay the unpacking of the car and setting up our camping accommodations. For those of you who have ever camped with kids, you know how much gear is required. We chose a nice sight that happened to sit on the opposite side of the campground on the edge of a nice wood but which required me to schlep an uncounted number of loads about 200 yards; the last thing I wanted to do the day before the race.

While battling with the tent my pacers, Renie Allen and Brian Manson, appeared along with Brian's family. Their arrival coincided with the start of the mandatory race meeting. It was here that the race director and staff downloaded everything we would need to know to get from the start to finish, including an explanation of the new course (changed due to the discovery that the prior course had been measured short). We were guaranteed that if we finished the race, we would have to travel at least 100 miles. We then headed over to the on-site pre-race dinner. My hat is off to the race director and staff as they put on a most excellent pre-race dinner. Topping it off was the free beer that was advertised by a boy no older than 12-13 years old wearing a cardboard sign reading “Beer”. Unfortunately, beer wasn't part of my pre-race plan but my buddy Brian drank one for me. Dinner was absolutely perfect and contained what one would expect from any pre-race meal: spaghetti in abundance, veggie and meat lasagna, fantastic salads, and dessert choices too many to name. My daughter tried all the sweets and assured me I should have done the same.

After dinner my crew and I headed back to our tents and discussed the next day's race plan. In my typical fashion I left all the planning to the very end. Even though I had months to prepare, here I was the night before my longest race ever sitting with my crew trying to figure out what I would need and when. I was filling Ziploc bags with salt pills and electrolyte drink powder when I should have been in bed. At any rate it was great to spend time with my crew. I also took this time to pass out the L.L.Bean Fitness Fleece jackets I had embroidered with “VT 100 Crew” to each of my crew members (as an employee of this company, I have to plug them), along with a pair of Injinji socks (an unbelievable “toe” sock). This was a small token for what my buddies were to do for me over 100 miles the next day. We all then retired to our respective tent for an expected restless night of sleep. I was not disappointed.

Here I was shortly after 3:00 AM trying to ignore the “Chariots of Fire” wake up call (truly, my only complaint, albeit shallow, of the whole event), donning the clothes and shoes that would carry me hopefully 100 miles, but all I could think about was how absolutely perfect the morning was. The Milky Way was boastful on that Vermont morning as were all the constellations I had not taken the time to notice in years. I knew then that mentally I was ready for this day. The fact that I could step back from what I was about to do and take notice of the beauty around me meant the day was going to be good! Vermont is truly a feast for the eyes and had bestowed on me a beautiful day with perfect weather and all I had to do was run 100 miles through this bucolic setting. Piece of cake.

Despite the ungodly start time of 4:00 AM, Kelly was a saint and accompanied me to the race check-in. The area around the starting line was electric; it was like a big party. All other race starts I have been at always seem to be dominated by a hushed nervousness with everyone deep in thought of what they were about to do. Standing in Silver Hill Meadow that morning, surrounded by runners about to race a 100-mile course that ascended and descended over 15,000 feet, there seemed to be nothing but giddiness and excitement. Even standing in the porta-potty line was great as I was the recipient of much appreciated advice from veterans on how to handle numerous issues I might encounter during the day.

I was lucky enough to run into one of my Maine running buddies, James Demer, while Kelly and I wandered around the start area. Missing was Jamie Anderson, but I had confirmed he was out of his tent and had checked in. As James and I moseyed over to the start, the race director gave us a “get ready to go” command and shortly afterward I was surprised by the starters gun. (At the JFK 50-miler I was still one half mile from the start when the race started.) I gave Kelly a quick kiss and I headed off into the darkness of the Vermont morning with James, very thankful I had run into him.

It is after the gun goes off that you are hit with the overwhelming understanding and awe of what is ahead of you. It all becomes real. At mile 1 the thought that I still had 99 more of those to go hit me. It was at this point that I realized how much of a benefit it was to be running alongside James. The conversation we were having while running in the tunnel of light our headlamps were casting saved us both from sinking into despair. James and I carried on at a reasonable pace, somewhere around 10:00/mile, which while it doesn't seem fast would put us at the finish line in a brisk sub-18:00 hours. The thought here was that this pace was conversational and would put us in no worse a spot in the later miles of the race than a 12:00-13:00 pace. The pain would be equal so we might as well try to get as close to the finish as we could while we still felt good. There are different schools of thought on “banking” time, with the general consensus being it is a bad thing to do. However, I had decided before the race that this is would be in my game plan and in the end I think it served me well.

At around mile 5 James stopped for a biological break and I had no choice but to continue on with my race plan. After a couple minutes of running in the early AM darkness alone I regretted my decision to leave James behind. It was lonely, so I sought out another soul amongst all the bouncing headlamps with whom to share the trail. I found a buddy in a 100-mile veteran with whom I shared the distinction of having lived in the Washington, D.C. Area. We ran and shared stories of the D.C. area and made the mistake of missing a turn. This was quickly corrected and we separated shortly afterwards, as our walk/run race strategies were different.

After running with a number of other runners over the next few miles, I heard a familiar voice as James rejoined our group around mile 10. This was a most welcome occurrence. As we cruised over the beautiful farm roads of southern Vermont, our group now numbered somewhere around six runners. The sun had risen and the day was shaping up to be absolutely gorgeous. It was at about this time that I also caught up with my D.C. buddy I met earlier. I noticed an Army Ranger tab tattooed on the back of his calf, which surprised me. The irony did not escape me that here was a guy who had been a highly trained member of our Armed Forces and he almost allowed me to get lost! I summoned my courage and shared this observation with him, and he laughed and replied that his Ranger days were obviously well in the past.

At mile 15 we passed through the first of the covered bridges on the course and we were passed by the first group of horses. This was the first of many encounters with the horses, the last coming at mile 98. Horses aren't new to the 100-mile endurance run; they are in fact the reason we run this distance. It is my understanding that the Vermont 100 is one of the last of the 100 milers that still have runners and horses competing together, despite this being the origin of the 100-mile race distance. It is a shame because they are true athletes and majestic to behold as they come trotting by you. This is just one more reason why the Vermont 100 is such a special race.

Shortly before the first handler station at mile 21 I encountered my first issue of the day. James and I were trucking along pretty well when I stopped to take care of “business”. When I was ready to head out my first step came up lame as my groin muscle tightened up and would not allow a full extension of my leg. This had happened to me a number of times during training but never quite this bad. Here I was with 80 miles to go with a dysfunctional groin muscle. I stopped and stretched for a couple minutes and luckily the problem seemed to work its way out. Problem averted and I did not notice it the rest of the day. This was just one of the many things a runner can encounter when running a 100 miler. The best advice I have for dealing with these unwelcome issues is to just take them as they come, listen to your body, and work your way through them. Every issue that I faced that day went as fast as it came. This was an amazing lesson to learn, and one that I am sure will come in handy in future races.

After getting through this first hiccup, I headed towards the first big milestone of the race. Pretty House Station at mile 21 was the first stop where handlers and runners could meet on the course. Seeing Renie and Brian was such a treat, and mentally refreshing. The first 21 miles was the longest section without handler support; each successive handler station would be closer and this was a huge mental victory. Just the thought of seeing your crew is a huge pick-me-up, which is why it is critical in these races to have your friends and family support you while out on the course. It was at this point I dropped my hydration pack and opted for a handheld bottle and was able to choke down some food. Brian had a pot of coffee brewing in the bed of his truck that was tough to run away from, but James and I headed back out on the trail java free. That would have to wait until I really needed it.

The next handler station was 10 miles away and these were probably the 10 easiest and uneventful miles of the day. The sun was still low in the sky, which added a nice color to the hills. It was during this stretch that James and I came upon one of many friendly Vermonters we would meet that day. After a fairly excruciating climb, we spotted an elderly woman standing out in her yard just looking happy to be alive. As we had been enjoying the scenery through which we had passed, we took time to say hello and thank her for allowing us to run through her front yard. She was so grateful that we had taken the chance to say hi and she thanked us, saying that all the runners that had come before us had not spoken for lack of breath. Well, I guess James and I were doing something right since we could still talk. This was the motivation I needed to keep on my race plan knowing that if the runners ahead of me were cresting the hills exhausted I would definitely be seeing them later in the day!

Stage Road station at mile 30 came quickly and I met Brian and Renie to undertake the routine I would carry on all day; run in stoically and smile for the cameras, take care of my nutrition needs, apply sunscreen, rub my legs with muscle relief cream, and just take a moment to regroup. The next handler station was Camp 10 Bear, and at 17 miles away was the next to longest distance between handler stations. An important feature of Camp 10 Bear, at mile 47.2, was that it was the first medical checkpoint of the race. It was critical at this stage to make sure I was hydrating properly and eating enough as a drop in weight of just 5% would sideline me until I regained it, and a loss of 7% would have me DNF'd and likely in a hospital. Given my proclivity to eating, I didn't anticipate this to be an issue.

A few minutes after setting out for Camp 10 Bear the course took a vertical turn for the worse. One minute we were heading down this nice country lane and the next we were scaling Vermont's answer to Mount Everest. Despite the rising sun and altitude gain, we still marveled at Vermont's beauty. Around every bend in the road and at the peak of every hill were awesome sights to behold and reminders to give thanks that we were here. If we weren't gawking at majestic valleys highlighted by the most perfect light the sun could provide then it was the classical New England architecture with a special whimsical Vermont touch that kept us entertained. There was never a dull moment.

The excitement and bliss we were running with was shattered somewhat when at somewhere halfway between the last handler station and Camp 10 Bear James decided he had to slow down and let his body take care of some GI issues he was facing. This was indeed the saddest point in the day as James had been the perfect compatriot to run alongside that morning. I had shared some of the best 40 miles of my running career running beside James that morning and now I was alone.

After leaving James I passed a number of other runners who really didn't seem to be looking for any running buddies, so I ran alone for a few miles. Funny enough, of the 100 miles I ran that day, the three or so miles I ran during this stretch was the only time I traveled solo. Coming into this race I was sure that a field of just under 200 would get quite stretched out over the course pretty quickly. I have run marathons that had four to five times more participants and run at least half the course without any interaction with other runners. Ultrarunners just seem to be more chatty and social, probably due to the long time we spend on a course and the conversational pace most of are forced to carry. Perhaps also we are not in that much of a rush to get to where we are going but would rather enjoy the journey.

After this short, lonely distance I came up on a runner that was ready for a buddy. We started talking and all of a sudden he asked if I was Stephen Wells. Of course I answered affirmatively. Needless to say I was a little taken aback and asked him the obvious question of how he knew my name. I was shocked by his answer. Dan and I had first met briefly during the first few miles of the 2004 Maine Marathon and we became instant buddies. It turned out that the two of us, while young and fit guys, had undergone chemotherapy treatment for cancer. How amazing that we were both once again running together, at the biggest race of our lives, and he remembered my name. What a small and fantastic world we inhabit. Reuniting with Dan was extremely uplifting and motivating and came at exactly the right point in the race. We ran a few more miles together before letting our race plans dictate our pace, forcing us to separate. I did see him the next day and he finished under his goal of 24 hours, earning him a silver buckle.

Entering Camp 10 Bear at mile 47.2 was a momentous occasion. It was here that I got to see Riley for the first time that day, and to reunite with Kelly. (Quinn was napping in the car, no doubt as a result of one of his epic chow fests.) I grabbed a kiss from my girls and then refueled, lathered on more sunscreen, donned a visor, and headed over to the first weigh-in of the day. Every veteran runner I spoke with up to this point spoke fearfully of the dreaded weigh-in. If you had done something wrong with your nutrition (retaining too little or too much) and your weight was outside the accepted ranges (anything greater than 5% loss or even a little gain) the medical staff can make you sit until you bring your weight back in check or worse, they can pull you from the race. If the medical staff deemed you to be unfit to continue, there was no room for debate. You were benched. So it was with these thoughts coursing through my mind that I stepped up to the plate. At check-in the day before I weighed 160 lbs. After 47.2 miles I weighed 161. Okay, everything seemed to be working, maybe even a little too good. The doctor asked if I had been voiding my stomach and bladder during the race, which I had. So off I went. As I left the aid station I was thinking that I might be the only person that could gain weight while running 100 miles.

I ran the next few miles with a runner who at this point had taken a very negative view of things. He seemed to be consumed with the notion that everyone else was running the race all wrong. "Why is that person trying to run up this hill when we are walking and he is gaining no distance on us?" "Look, now he's walking. He should have done that a long time ago." For me, it is critical in races that take a lot of mental stamina to surround yourself with only positive thinkers and to think only positive thoughts yourself. Why complain when there are so many beautiful things to comment on and you are able to compete alongside hundreds of other people who share your same passion and zeal for life. You have to keep away from dark thoughts. Otherwise an already hard event can become unbearable. Once we entered some single track where running side-by-side was difficult I wished him well and pulled away. Later that night as I crossed the finish line, he came up and congratulated me. Unfortunately he was unable to continue past mile 62 when his hamstrings froze up and left him immobile. I'm not sure the positive thinking would have got him through that issue, but it most certainly would not have hurt him.

Fortunately, up ahead there were plenty of others looking for company. At the halfway mark of the race I met up with Charlie. Charlie was a Godsend because I saw in him someone that I could go the distance with. He was positive, lived in Vermont and knew the course intimately as he had trained on it, had competed in Ironmans so I knew he was tough, and had a wicked good sense of humor. I think I was a Godsend for him as well because he had been suffering through some hamstring issues and needed someone to motivate him. I answered his call simply by chatting with him to take his mind off the discomfort. It seemed to work as he was moving quite well shortly after we started talking. He was a walking guidebook of the racecourse. I almost felt like I was cheating as he narrated what the course was going to throw at us around each corner.

One of the most memorable aid stations was Tracer Brook at mile 57. As I came running into the station I was greeted by my most enthusiastic fan, my daughter Riley, who came bounding out into the middle of the road to give me a hug. This greeting did me better than a hot bath and beer. I now know that when in dire need of motivation, a beaming smile from a loved one will carry you many miles. I ran the next few steps with Riley (who at two and a half years old was probably the youngest crew member on the course that day) to the food table where I grabbed a banana and proceeded with Riley to the rest of the crew. I will never forget Riley telling all the spectators around us “That’s my daddy” over and over. That was the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me during a race. I cannot even describe the feeling of pride that overwhelmed me. I would put money down that the leader of the race didn't feel as proud as I did at that point when he won the race! At the same time she was doing this she had stolen and eaten my banana, which I didn’t realize until a hundred yards up the road. The banana was a small price to pay for a priceless mental boost and eternal memory.

Charlie and I continued on together through the Margaritaville (mile 62) and Brown School House aid stations at miles 62 and 65, respectively. Margaritaville is considered the most "famous" of Vermont's aid stations, largely because it is one big party run by the Vermont Parrot Heads who will make margaritas for any runner needing one. It was here that I witnessed a volunteer, at the request of a delirious runner, throw water on that runner and slap him while repeating to him “Thou shall not quit.” The next aid station was the Brown School House aid station, named for the charming but dilapidated schoolhouse that happened to be brown. I found humor in the Grateful Dead theme here when I noticed the first brownies of the day…they did look yummy and tempting but I rethought the fun they might contain and focused once more on making it to the finish. I did take a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the hippies, which I believe had consequences for me at mile 70. More on that later.

Beyond the deadheads the course became very flat and runable. So keeping with my race plan of power walking the hills and running the flats and downs, we ran. But given the elevation gain of 15,000 feet over the course, you have to run at every opportunity if you want to have any chance of getting near a 20 hour finish (my “A” goal). As equally important is to learn how to power walk. This must be incorporated into your long, training runs to make them effective. It is just as easy to waste energy walking poorly as it is to try and charge up every hill. Maintaining a long, sustained run effort after a 60-plus mile day is difficult. The one thing that kept motivating Charlie and I to maintain our run was the fact that the next major stop was once more Camp 10 Bear at mile 70.2. This was not only the sight of the second medical check but also where we picked up our pacers, those angels we had been daydreaming about since the last time we were at Camp 10 Bear the first time over 20 miles ago.

A couple miles shy of Camp 10 Bear, after having maintained a solid run for almost an hour, my stomach started acting up. It wasn’t a profound shift in the unbelievable feeling of well being I had carried all day but a very subtle one. By the time we reached our pacers at Mile 70.2 my stomach was really nauseous. After over 13 hours of running this was only the second issue I had to deal with since my groin cramp 50 miles prior. Yet, while I was worried as I stepped on the scale to be weighed, I was still amazed at how well things were going. And then my weight was read by the doctor and compared to my previous measurements, and a look of concern passed over the doc’s face. My weight of 164 lbs. was four pounds over my original weight. The initial thought was that I must be in the early stages of some sort of my kidney problem or I wasn’t taking in enough salt and was retaining water. I disagreed with the prognosis and made the case that this couldn’t be since I had been continuously voiding my bladder and stomach. I also felt fine in every other way and was not delirious. He decided I was okay and let me on my way. Now with Renie pacing me. Thirty miles to go to my tent and lovely L.L.Bean cot!

The first quarter mile with Renie was easy, flat farm road, which was a great introduction to Vermont running for Renie. Then the course went vertical, up the steepest, nastiest single track of the day. My initial thought, despite how tired my legs and feet were, was one of concern for Renie. I felt horrible getting my friend into this. My concern was unfounded, as Renie could not control her excitement, almost to the point of annoying my extremely sensitive nature at that point in the race. However, this was great because it wrenched me from my fleeting thoughts of despair and put me back in the place I needed to be, which was in a state of wonder at what I was doing and how lucky I was to just be running with a friend in a remarkable place. The stomach felt bad but I was moving.

The miles passed pretty slowly to the next aid station where I was to meet Brian. Renie and I kept swapping positions with Charlie and his pacer and sometimes we ran as a foursome. Finally at mile 77 we rolled into the “Spirit of ‘76” aid station. It was named this because it fell at mile 76 on the old course that was found to be a couple miles shy of 100. The current course corrected this shortfall but the aid station’s name stayed. The volunteers at this station were professionals at treating all runner maladies and recommended I sip hot chicken broth, an excellent source of everything when running ultras. This did settle my stomach enough for Brian and I to head off into the waning light of the day feeling happy again.

Brian was as equally ecstatic as Renie to finally run. When I started running five years ago, it was Brian who was my original running buddy. I took my first real runs with him and we have been running together ever since, so it was quite special to be on this journey with him. It was critical at this point in the race to have a pacer who was familiar with me because this was when I really needed help. I was still suffering from stomach nausea and was becoming a little sleepy. This is when I pulled my most audacious stunt of the day. I had been running for roughly 16 hours and I could not get my mind off the empty cot that was waiting for me back in my tent. I knew sleep was not an option as I still had many more miles to cover so I did the next best thing; I closed my eyes while running and asked Brian to use voice commands to make sure I didn’t run into a tree. After about five minutes of resting my eyes, I “woke” up feeling remarkably well. Sometimes when you are in a bad place it doesn’t take much to get out.

Despite my stomach issues Brian and I made fantastic time on the trails and were having a great time. Just like the old days back in Yarmouth, Maine, we were simply happy to be running. Our run was made even better as a new buddy, John from Georgia, approached. He was moving at a remarkable pace and I felt a twinge of jealousy as he approached us like we were standing still. He was chatty and we all shared pleasantries, including my stomach issue. In the spirit of sharing, he promptly pulled out the ultrarunner’s secret weapon from his waist pack; the one thing a long distance runner should never leave home without but which I was missing. Tums. He offered up a few of these magic pills and like an angel, moved on ahead as if he was floating. He came and went so quickly, while at the same time dispensing both sage advice and medical help, that Brian and I quipped he must have been an apparition. The story gets stranger. I swapped places with him once more on the course around 11:00 PM as he came out of nowhere, after having apparently been lost on the course. The next morning I checked the race results and he wasn’t listed. Spooky.

The reason Brian is such a great friend is his kindness and willingness to go out of his way to help despite his best judgment. This was evident by the simple fact that he was out in the middle of the night running through the Vermont countryside with me. Brian possesses the one prerequisite of all great crewmembers and that is an unbelievably fantastic humor. Miles 77 to 88 were some of the best miles of the day, excepting the last four and a half I ran with my wife, Kelly. Near the end of Brian’s pacing duty we were making great time when we came upon an old woman. She was standing on the porch of what appeared to my unstable mind to be a gingerbread house from the Grimm fairytale. The nice, old woman kindly invited us in for a drink of ice water. Anything cold sounded nice to me and so I almost fell for this trap. I relayed my gingerbread house thought to Brian and he felt it better to be safe than sorry. Brian then steered me back on course, saving me from the same fate that befell Hansel. A little help refocusing goes a long way in the latter stages of a long run.

The last couple miles before every aid station where I anticipated seeing my handlers were done at an extremely strong pace, and the last couple miles I ran with Brian were no exception. We ended up passing my buddy Charlie for the last time. I spoke with Charlie the next day at the awards ceremony. He fell victim to hamstring cramps and fell off his 20 hour pace and finished in 21 hours, 36 minutes. You just never know what will happen in a 100-mile race. Most of the veterans I ran with during the day seemed to be waiting for the wheels to fall off, and they did for most of them as their finish times indicated.

Brian and I entered Bill’s aid station at mile 88 just before 10:00 PM and were greeted by Renie and Kelly. It was here that I had my final medical check, including a weigh-in. I stepped up to the scales for the final weigh-in with some trepidation that proved unnecessary. I weighed in at 160 lbs., the same as my starting weight. The next day there was some runner chatter about scales sitting on soft, sloped earth that had to have contributed to the assumed incorrect weights. I am not really sure what happened but I felt good and I no longer had to worry about going on a diet after finishing my 100-mile run! After finishing up with the doctor I hit the food table (the Vermont 100 has been described in other race reports as a 100-mile buffet table and now I know why) and for the first time since my stomach issues started at mile 70 I had some solid food. I do credit a lot of my success and general well being during the day to my ability to continuously eat solid food. I followed the advice of “eat early and often”. I may have been a little too successful following this advice, which is what likely contributed to my bout with nausea, but it was better than bonking and I learned a valuable lesson.

More importantly, the last 20 miles of struggling through my stomach issues had found me repeating the mantra, “This too shall pass”. I had not really had to draw on this meditative and strengthening phrase since dealing with chemotherapy treatments almost five years ago. Having a powerful mantra to remind yourself to keep after a goal is priceless when things seem stacked against you and others around you are throwing in the towel.

It was with a renewed sense of vigor, and a handful of Tums just in case, that Renie and I headed off into the night. Twelve miles to go and the end was in sight. I would meet Kelly at the next handler station for her to pace me home. Renie and I flew over the single-track trail we encountered shortly after leaving the aid station. At this point I had been running with my headlamp on for an hour or so. There is something ethereal with running in the dark through the woods with only your own light to guide you. To add to this surreal experience the course was lined with green glow sticks to make sure the runners did not stray from the path. The green glow sticks hanging from the trees created this feeling of running through an enchanted forest. I am not sure if this was a result of the peanut butter sandwich the hippies made me back at the Brown School House or the 18 hours I had been running, but nonetheless, it was fantastic.

So as Renie and I followed the green glow sticks on a cambered single-track trail that switched back and forth down a hill, we came across an elderly gentleman that seemed to be staggering a little. He was running sans pacer so I slowed my scorching pace to check and make sure he was still with us. He replied cheeringly that all was well. I asked once more to make sure and he just laughed, as if to say, “Get a move on you young whippersnapper, I’ve done this before many times”, so I moved on. From Mile 89 to 92, we passed three runners, which was very encouraging. I have always prided myself on and judged a race by how many runners I passed, and on the flip side, how few passed me. In no other race did I find passing others so rewarding as I did the last 10 miles of the Vermont 100. After leaving a little aid station at mile 92 that was set up in a volunteer’s carport, the hills began again. Miles 92 to 95.5 seemed particularly cruel. All I could do was lean into the hills and keep moving one foot in front of the other.

While enjoyable, these were a long three and a half miles. But like everything else during that day, they passed and we made it to the final handler station. Kelly greeted us with the most beautiful smile I have ever seen and her enthusiasm was like high octane. I was feeling better than I had all day as Kelly and I headed off to 100-mile glory. The last four and a half miles were the most enjoyable miles I have run in my short, but distance laden running career. Kelly and I are very different runners with very different expectations of the sport. We run significantly different paces, and she has a hard time taking the running advice I am always itching to give her. She just wants to run. Well at Mile 95.5 we did just that, with no encumbrances. Our kids were tucked away and being watched by Brian’s wife, Amanda, and I was too tired to even consider dispensing advice and my legs could not even begin to maintain a cadence outside Kelly’s comfort zone. So we ran together contentedly, enjoying this rare moment of running together with no other concerns but to keep putting one foot in front of the other while following the green glow sticks through the enchanted forest.

We passed a few runners during the last couple miles, one of which was the elderly gentleman Renie and I had passed earlier; the same one I imagined called me a whippersnapper. Apparently he had come and gone through the last station without me noticing. I chatted with him for a few minutes and learned his name was Dan Brenden and he was an attorney from Phoenix, AZ. He seemed to be doing much better than when I had seen him before in what I thought was a confused state. I was mistaken. I asked him if he had run a 100-mile race before and he replied he had run eight already this year. This was his ninth of the season, only three weeks after getting his silver buckle at Western States. This man was a stud and I felt foolish with having been worried about him earlier in the race. This just goes to show you never know what boastful resumes participants in these ultraendurance events carry. Approach everyone humbly with humility and you will learn much.

Just a couple miles shy of the finish as Kelly and I were passing through a pockmarked trail that seemed to have been rototilled under countless horses’ hooves, we passed a couple horses. All day I had shared the trail with these majestic creatures and here I was at Mile 98 overtaking two of them. I have read about man versus horse races that used to be commonplace in the beginning of the last century, and here I was doing it. While I would not be on the same results page with the horses, it was still pretty cool passing them. After this I ran blissfully, feeling like another 100 miles was completely within my capability. The green glow sticks were becoming more frequent as the course entered into some of the more difficult single track of the entire 100 miles. But I could have been running over hot coals at this point and I would not have noticed them. I was so close to accomplishing the goal I had been training for since deciding to tackle this distance back in November as I completed the JFK 50-miler. I have this wicked sense of humor that forces my mind to start planning my next grand adventure while in the middle of the current one. As much as I was enjoying myself on this 100-mile excursion, I spared myself this cruel trick during this event.

As we crested the top of what we were hoping was the last hill the course would throw at us, the green glow sticks hanging from the trees were replaced with milk jugs filled with water illuminated by a submerged glow stick. The effect was truly surreal. I followed these glowing green orbs until they finally led me to the end of the forest and dropped me at the end of my journey. As I crossed the finish line 20 hours, 27 minutes and 37 seconds after the start, I was in 16th place and felt an amazing sense of achievement, much as we all do when we accomplish a goal that has required a ton of blood, sweat, and tears.


At the finish line to cheer me in were Renie, Brian, Amanda, and most amazingly, my children, Quinn and Riley. I was surprised to see them awake and waiting for me at half past midnight, but their presence was very welcomed. There is no better finish to a race. At each of my other major races, I have carried Riley across the finish line. I knew at the beginning of this race that I would not be able to continue this practice for a couple different reasons: it would be too late for Quinn and Riley to be at the finish and I would probably be too exhausted to carry myself across the line, much less my children. Simply having them at the finish was awesome. Unlike marathons and the Ironman, ultramarathon finish lines are devoid of mass spectators, largely due to the late night finished, small race field, and the gap of time between finishers. But having my family and best friends there to greet me made me feel like a rock star entering a sold out stadium!

What followed was the same as at any race, regardless of distance. I moved on to the food tent and tried to replace my depleted stores. I became quite cold and was forced to wrap up in a blanket and sip on a cup of hot chocolate that was as well received as a bottle of Dom Periogne on graduation night. My buddy Dan, the 100-mile repeat offender many times over, arrived shortly after me and we shared a nice conversation while warming up. (I would learn later that morning that a number of runners had been DNF’d or held by the medical personnel for a while due to hypothermia, even though the nighttime temperatures only reached around the mid-50s.) I had originally planned to wait at the finish line for James and Jamie to arrive but once I sat and had some food, exhaustion overcame me. I made my way back to my tent, had a hot shower courtesy of my Zodi personal shower system (love it!), and found heaven in the way of my cot…and didn’t move a muscle until I heard James and Jamie talking war stories the next morning outside my tent.

As it was only 6 AM when I woke and the cut off time for the race was not until 10 AM, I made my way over to the finish line to watch some finishers come in. While the 24-hour cut off for silver buckle winners had passed with 4 AM, this by no means diminished the unbelievable excitement and emotion that accompanied each finisher. A couple times the celebration at the finish line made me tear up. If you ever need inspiration, go stand at the finish line of a marathon, Ironman, or ultramarathon near the cut off time. Witnessing the very personal struggle against adversity near the cut off time of any race is enough to push anyone to try harder in all aspects of life. After hanging out at the finish line to see the last of the official finishers, my family and crew joined me for the Sunday brunch and awards ceremony. My finish time did earn me my first ultramarathon silver buckle. Since then I have decided to throw my hat in the ring to go after the buckle of all buckles: the Western States 100. If all goes well in the December race lottery, which will choose the approximately 400 lucky souls that get to race in 2008, I will embark on my next 100-miler in the Sierra Nevada next June. Wish me luck.

The Vermont 100 was a beautiful race, from the selfless volunteers to the flawless scenery, and from the buttoned-up race organization to the unparalleled camaraderie of the runners. All these things made this the perfect run. Never once did I despair, as I was totally captivated by the event from mile 1 to 100. For a first 100-miler, I could have chosen none better.