Sunday, July 22, 2012


The beautiful thing about taking care of someone for a day is how good it feels when you wake up the next day and the impact of your efforts starts to soak in.  Yesterday at the Vermont 100 was all about Rod and a little about Ken.

The last time all 3 of us Kailua Boys were together was in Leadville in 2010 where I came closest to capturing Rod's puking with my camera.  I had witnessed it firsthand at WS100 initially, then got a full serving at AC100 when he stopped at one of the later aid stations and I watched him throw down 3 cups of gatorade and promptly send them to the dirt off the side of his chair.  Afterwards, Rod looked at me with a blank expression, got up out of the chair, and continued on down a long descent at a fairly ridiculous pace.  At the time I was confused, surprised and impressed.

Rod near the top of hope pass in 2010, watering the plants
Since that Leadville trip, however, I've gotten used to the puking and it no longer scares me.  I know Rod does everything he can to manage this tendency of his, and he typically tries at least one "solution" every time he toes the line, but it's gotten to the point where I think he should probably just factor some "puke time" into his split predictions.  I mentioned that to him yesterday and I actually meant it seriously as well as in jest.

Chris, Rod and I after the LT100

 Although Leadville was not a puke-free race, it felt like another step forward for Rod from a solid AC100.  More important than the results, however, something really gelled with the 3 of us from our days as kids on the tennis courts of the KRC, somehow united in a singular purpose and with our frontman doing the work, a team aspect emerged from the primordial intentions of a "guys weekend."  I can't explain this, I can't really understand why I have such a great time with these two old friends, why 3 grown men would rather go run a bunch of miles on trails together than chase women or get intoxicated, but the formula served up a healthy heaping of happiness.

Since that Leadville trip, Rod claimed his first 100 mile victory at the Cascade Crest 100 last year.  Ken and Chris were there to crew and pace him, I sat out.  I really wanted to be there at that race, but I had commitments to the team I take to the Hood to Coast relay and I couldn't figure out a way to get from the HtC finish line in Seaside, Oregon to Easton, Washington in time to do anything helpful mostly because I needed to get the team back to Portland in the rental van before I could grab a rental car.  I also did not think I could safely drive 4+ hours each way off a 4:30 wakeup on Friday and no sleep on Saturday, and one of the things you learn as a pacer or crew member is that if you haven't taken care of yourself, you can't do crap for anyone else.  Rod's win was special to me because of my previous contributions to his 100 mile racing and I felt like I missed out on a moment, one which I could never experience again.

This isn't "pretty house" but I like to think of it that way
After Rod's big win at Cascade Crest, which followed his 2nd place at SD100 and my first 100 mile journey, I remember one specific evening when I exchanged a series of text messages with Rod about the Vermont 100.  I waned to see the course, thinking I might one day consider running it myself.  I thought it'd be the perfect venue for Rod to attempt another win, a course which might cater to some of his strengths while still being reasonable enough for me to consider one day.  Those text messages ended with one from his wife, Katie, which read "Rod is on a date, he will talk to you tomorrow."  I felt like such a jerk that I sent cookies to her to apologize.

Vermont materialized in Rod's calendar while I lagged on buying my flight and reached a point of overload at work that made me think I might not be able to make it after all.  Then a change, I lost my job and suddenly had all the time in the world although the budget for pleasure travel certainly shrunk.  I bought a ticket somewhat last minute, direct on Jet Blue which wasn't too bad and Rod upgraded our hotel to a 3 bedroom suite at the Ascutney ski resort.  I hadn't really met Ken before, just a few moments here and there at Western States when I paced Buchanan and he paced Rod, but since Rod is such a grumpy old man about who he lets into his circle I figured Ken and I would be old friends in no time.

The buildup to race Saturday was about as mellow as it could possibly have been.  When we got up at 2:30 am EST for the 4am race start, it still felt like the night before.

Mohawk on the left (Ken), belly shirt on the right (Rod)
We got the boys to the start line with smiles and headed back to catch an hour of z's, but after two cups of Dunkin Donuts coffee, I couldn't even pretend to sleep.  Chris and I got our gear together, hopped in the car, and went off in search of breakfast but at 6am in Windsor there aren't many options for breakfast so we struck out everywhere.  We gave up and attempted to catch Rod at the first aid station with crew access, aptly named "Pretty House."  I kid you not, these Vermont people have more charm than someone like me could ever appreciate.  As we approached Pretty House, we realized the crew driving directions had us circle the aid station and we were caught up in traffic doing this while we watched the leaders exit the aid station and continue on down the course.  I was bummed that we had already effed up our crewing duties since it isn't that hard to drive a car and sit on the grass with a bag of stuff waiting for Rod who had run 20 and was staring at another 80 ahead of him.  So bummed that we set off down the road in a foolish attempt to at least grab his headlamp which we thought he might be able to toss to the side without any of the other competitors making a fuss about crewing outside of the aid station or littering, both of which would have been grounds for a DQ.  We got far enough down a dirt road to see Rod in the midst of a pack of 4 or 5 and promptly gave up the effort, then headed to the Stage Road aid station and waited.

Crewing is mostly about waiting with a smile on your face.  That part drives me nuts.  I'm not good at sitting still and we didn't even have chairs with us since we had traveled so far.  I was asked to move the car twice as the aid station volunteers figured out their parking scheme, and we waited and waited and waited some more but Rod eventually came through, about 2 minutes behind Lee, the course record holder and frontrunner on the day.  We got a bottle exchange, took his headlamp and I breathed a sigh of relief, he was doing just fine and wasn't annoyed about the miss at Pretty House.  We had a bunch of time before the next crewable aid station so we waited around for Ken.  Ken rolled through right behind the first female runner, having gotten off course once already but in good spirits.  He asked Chris for his visor which was in a bag in the car and Chris went off to search for it and did not return.  I sent Ken on his way sans visor, feeling bad but not wanting him to waste time standing around waiting.  I eventually found the bag under some jackets in the car and stuffed it in his drop bag that he got to around 70 miles in, probably just as sun was setting.  Oh well.

Chris and I took a short break in the town of Woodstock, one of the most adorable little Vermont towns that you could possibly imagine, where we grabbed some coffee and surveyed the locals.  There's a bit of a Hawaiian style sense of community in the entire state and this was on full display in Woodstock, except that as haole tourists we were greeted warmly in Vermont :)

Camp 10 Bear the first time through
The biggest aid station of the day, Camp Ten Bear, was one that runners would see twice, once at mile 50 heading out and once at mile 70 heading in.  It was a zoo, complete with a microphone, band, 100's of cars, a swarm of bees, and mass confusion.  I didn't want to be there but after we quickly crewed Rod who still looked great I didn't want to abandon Ken without a visor.  The guy loves his visor, probably since he sweats so damn much and it helps direct the sweat off his brow like a rain gutter for his head.  I talked to Chris and we decided he would camp out at ten bear to crew for Ken and get ready to pace Rod while I went off to crew Rod at the next two aid stations.

I gassed up the car and grabbed a sandwich and some extra water and made it to the next aid station no more than one minute before Rod did.  I noticed Rod taking his time at this aid station, the fighter in him was on mute and the survival instincts were starting to kick in.  He popped his second Zantac of the day, took his bottle and gel flask, and continued on after a stop that seemed longer than I would have liked.

The approach to Margaritaville

The next aid station, Margaritaville, took a while to drive to.  The driving directions were actually cracking me up, some of the landmarks included "a truly ugly lavender house" and "snowplow blade" along with my favorite "stone house."  I arrived and watched Brian head out slightly in front of Lee, both of them looking strong but Lee taking a bit more time and Brian bolting through.  It seemed like those two would be duking it out for the win and I hoped Rod would be close enough to bridge the gap to them.  Perhaps 10 minutes later Rod arrived looking bad.  He told me he had puked and I told him it was hot and getting hotter than expected.  He sat for a bit, tried ginger ale, a ginger chew, bananas and potato chips, along with some ice water but nothing seemed to really help his mood.  I tried to cheer him up, still feeling that this was perfectly normal but I could tell he was bummed, just like he always is when he starts puking.  His legs seemed fine, the most bulletproof aspect of his body, but that damn stomach just tends to shut down in the middle of the race.  After he left I gave Katie a full update and headed off back to ten bear.

Rod and Chris discuss the plan at 10 Bear
I got the scoop from Chris that Ken was in good spirits when he came through and we got Chris ready for pacing duties.  Rod arrived at ten bear looking a little better than before but took a little chair time and some ginger ale in an attempt to calm his stomach further.  At that point he was thinking more about anyone behind him than catching Lee and/or Brian in front of him.  They took off and I packed up and left, after transferring Ken's car stuff to his ten bear drop bag in some vain hope that having his visor at mile 70 for the last dregs of daylight might somehow make him feel happy since we really couldn't crew for him with only one car.

The next aid station, named "the spirit of 76" was truly one of the most picturesque of the day.  We parked in a field next to a barn and I met Meredith, who's husband, Paul Terranova, was one of two in the "Grand Slam" which consists of 4 of the most prestigious 100's in the country (Western States, Vermont, Leadville, Wasatch)  and will be following all of that with a trip to race Ironman in Kona this October.  Meredith had paced Aliza, a Vermont resident, to 3rd at Western States last month and is a resident of Austin so we swapped some fun stories about all the places and races we had shared space at without knowing each other.  The others in this mix included Mike Le Roux, the reigning ultraman champ and some serious eye candy for the ladies, along with James Sweeney, more on him later.  Glen Redpath was pacing Paul on this section, the very same section he had gotten lost on during his own Grand Slam quest previously and wound up taking a DQ, so he knew how tricky it was.

Almost mustering a smile
Brian came through before I even arrived, and had an hour on Lee who stumbled into a chair looking like he came for the win and didn't care about second place.  Within the span of about 3 minutes, Mike, Jim, and Paul came through and I went from a bit of a subdued spectator to an agitated crew member when I told Rod that he was now 3 minutes behind 2nd place (Paul with Glen pacing).  Meredith tried to give Glen two fingers to indicate they were in 2nd place without being rude to Lee who was still seated in a chair and not looking too good but I don't think Glen figured out what she meant.  Jim's girlfriend was pretty excited as were the Le Roux crew, the energy just picked up at that point and I remembered Joe Grant's "oh, it's on" from Unbreakable.  I quickly packed up and caught Meredith walking back uphill to the cars, my competitive excitement no longer controlled.

I zipped back to the general store, bought a sandwich and coke for Chris who with his little detour wound up running about 20 miles, and got to the next aid station, with another fantastic view, early to prepare for battle after updating Katie on the situation.  I'm not sure she understood anything that I said this time, I was in a frantic frenzy as I believed with all of my heart that Rod would beat anyone within range over the final stretch.  I lined up Rod's final bottle at the aid station, threw some ice in it and we all waited.  Meredith would be taking over pacing duties for Paul from Glen for the same stretch, so she and I stretched out a bit and I have to admit I was thinking the whole time "no way you win, no way."  Of course it doesn't matter at all what the pacer thinks or does, nor does winning or losing matter, especially in the "battle" for 2nd, but all of that is the rational side of post race acceptance.  The hype of being in the middle of it all is fighting for that sub-16, 2nd place, or whatever it is that pushes you to your best.  I was prepared to do anything I could to make sure Rod got as much as he could out of himself in that home stretch and I knew, I just knew, that there are very few on this planet who can compete with him at the end of a 100.

Hundreds are long, and they have a tendency to hurt
Jim arrived first which was a bit of a surprise.  He received one of the most sensational kisses from his girlfriend which I think backfired a little bit.  It seemed to switch a gear in his head, he went into the aid station in 2nd place with confidence and left it after stating out loud that he isn't strong on trails and basically opening the door wide for someone to catch him.  I felt bad because I had watched his girlfriend put so much into this race and I know how much of a mind twister that final stretch of a 100 can be, you care so much and so little about things that in retrospect take on completely different values.  I thought Mike or Paul could very well be next and that Rod might have to hunt down 2 or even 3 guys but I was delighted to see him come through next.  At that moment, with 11 to go, I knew second place was in the bag.

It sounds cocky to say that, but I know Rod well enough now.  I love pacing him.  Absolutely love it.  He closes like a true champion in his 100's, he closes as strong as I have ever closed in any race I have ever done, with fire, intensity, and drive.  The 11 miles we ran together felt like a solid training run for me, I'm a bit sore and I was breathing hard for all of it.  I asked him if he felt like fighting for 2nd to which he almost said no but then proceeded to pick up the pace.  We caught Jim on trail, walking as we ran.  Rod caught on fire and as we entered an open field he bounded down like a wild animal loose on the set of The Sound of Music.  I looked back, with over a mile of visibility, and saw nobody.  With 8 to go, second place was his to lose.

The last bit was just pure pleasure for me and seemed like a hard effort for Rod, the perfect kind of running for each of us.  So the beauty of pacing is that you are fresh and if your athlete is having a great day and is a stronger runner than you, you both can reach your own zen state simultaneously.  Perhaps one analogy is when a weaker swimmer throws on some zoomers and swims with a stronger swimmer at his/her full speed.  Both get that euphoria, both get to push themselves, and both feel special and somehow, for that moment, touch on greatness.  Now that I think about it, other than when Rod paced me at States last year, I've never finished with him in a 100.  I just realized this a few seconds ago.  I've always been the early pacer, the one who does the work but gets none of the "glory," the one who has to leave a little in the runner's tank for the next pacer.  This time I got to empty that sucker and I loved every second of it.

I told Rod sub 16 was doable and he said he didn't care, then picked it up again.  We were holding 8 minute pace on the flats and dipping well under that downhill, running hard, very close to my limit on dirt even though my legs were fresh.  I hadn't even brought a headlamp or "head torch" as the Aussie, Le Roux called it afterward and we were going to finish in daylight, enough daylight to see clearly even in the heavily wooded sections.  Rod ran 99% and only power walked for a few seconds as we blitzed through the final aid stations.  It would have been recklessness if the roles were reversed, but the vast experience and years of training prepared Rod to handle the challenge of the moment.  We reached mile 99 on trail where Rod, the alpha, kicked it up another notch and said, "I'm going to the front."  He ran every step of the final hill, turned the corner and hit the last half mile of trail.  I asked if he would be so kind as to give a fist pump or two at the finish and he said he sure would, then added some hoots and hollers as I peeled off to the side to let him savor his first sub 16, a chair, some chocolate milk, and a very well earned 2nd.

We went back to Bills, where I had started pacing, to look for Ken or see when he went through but 2 hours after Rod's finish there was still no word.  The one downside to an old school race like VT100 is that not having live athlete tracking makes finding people very difficult.  I say that as constructive criticism knowing full well that Julia, the RD (who I gave a big hug to as we left because she did such a great job of keeping a smile going throughout the whole weekend) is as awesome as RD's get and also with the realization that most of the course has limited or no cell phone signal.  But having seen it done at various other races, and especially well at most of the big ones, VT100 should really try to figure that part out soon.

We got some food and sent Rod to the showers, then Chris and I returned to the finish where we found Ken in the med tent after 84 miles of running and a bit of puking himself.  He was in good spirits though, and we returned him to his room before I passed out on the couch, too tired to even make it to a bed.

A warm and gentle sunrise greeted me a couple of hours ago and inspired this.  I wish I had taken more photos during the day, but we were all moving fast, there wasn't a whole lot of extra time to do much more than what got done.  I made a few new friends with this trip, and expanded my view of the ultrarunning community, one of the most interesting groups of people I've ever met, chock full of fun personalities and quirky styles.