Peak Ultra 55M - Pittsfield, Vermont 4,4

Elevation Gain: 12,250' - High Point: 3100' - Low Point: 820' - Results

June 1, 2013 - The Peak races are known in the ultra-running community as being
some of the toughest challenges one can attempt; the vertical profile and 
elevation change alone are enough to indimidate all but true mountain goats.  It
has become the kind of event I seek out... baaah... for my physical entertainment.
While not nearly the toughest event I've done, the Green Mountains of Vermont
did not disappoint.

Having run at McNaughton in 2008 under Andy Weinberg's race directorship I
was looking forward to seeing what deviant twists he would throw into the mix
to make this event even more challenging.  That being said, now that the race is
in the books, there seems to be no limit to Andy's creative deviance.  Kudos.

Annie and I drove to VT the day before and settled into a nice ski lodge near the
Killington Ski Resort.  I'm more accustomed to sleeping in the car at the start the
night before an event, so was not surprised when I slept fitfully in a nice cozy 
bed.  Sleep deprivation seems to be a part of this lifestyle, so we arose early and
headed fifteen minutes to the starting line at Riverside Farm under balmy 60-
degree temps with thick valley fog.  After getting race-ready I wandered around
in the dewy grass enjoying the sublime beauty of this special place, caught up 
with Andy, then wondered over to a cabin where runners doing the longer events
were staged.  

The Peak events include a 500-mile, a 200-mile, a 100-mile, and a 30-mile race
in addition to the one I would do.  The 500- and 200-milers camped out in the 
cabin while not running ten-mile loops up and down the mountain behind us.  I
congratulated the first finisher of the 500-mile event as he stretched out on his
rack, obviously in total misery, but with a glimmer of elation that his 8 or 9 days
of effort was complete.  Also there was Michelle Roy who was 70 miles short of
completing the 500-mile event.  She was in remarkably great spirits for already
enduring so much as we chatted while she enjoyed a foot massage.  The cabin
was a smelly refuge for exhausted runners, but had the feel of a place of triage
for war-ravaged refugees.  I don't believe I have the mental makeup to do what
these folks are doing - it is truly all mental - but I admire them immensely. After 
running the same loop they would follow 50 or 20 times, I would definitely choose
most any other alternative form of craziness over this recreational challenge.

The race began after Andy's warning of attacking ruffed grouse along the course,
not to mention lions and bears, oh my!  Fittingly, we didn't go far before we 
started to climb a series of switchbacks, up up and up, then back down again
before wading knee deep across a river whose bridge had been wiped out last
year by Hurricane Irene.  The warm temps and high humidity had us all soaked
before we reached the river, so the cold water was refreshing.  In the first few
miles the usual frisky enthusiasm of younger runners moving forward with
impatience was the order of the day.  It is sometimes hard to hold back from
going with the more fleet of feet, but wisdom and experience held me to a more
conservative tempo at the start to ease my body into this all-day endeavor.  The
true reckoning would come later, as it always does.

After finding my legs and comfort level I began to move without strain past some
who had raced out ahead at the start.  As with all of these races you reach a
point where you find companions that are more or less the same in their
performance ability and you form a sort of impromptu cameraderie.  The social side
of ultra racing is an integral part of my enjoyment at these outings, perhaps
more rewarding than the effort or the achievement.  I took up with a few 30-ish
runners, moving up and down the hills together without much regard for any
competitive impulse.  For over half my time on the course I ran back and forth with a 
very impressive athlete, Sara, who had given birth to her first child only four months
previously.  Sara is proof of what it means to be the best human being you can
be, tough and attractive, living the best life you can live.  When she told me she
ran five miles the day of her daughter's birth and only had 90 minutes of labor,
I knew I had a worthy companion.  When I asked this ultramarathoner which is
a tougher place to be - 8 centimeters of dilation or 80 miles into a hundred miler -
she didn't hesitate to give an ultrarunner's answer.  Smiles all the way around!

The course was surprisingly free of rocks and roots; while it had its share they did
not predominate.  Much of the route was on snowmobile trails that were leaf-
covered and well marked.  I expected a day full of climbs and descents, but
neither were as steep as I had imagined - most were gradual, walkable going
up and runnable coming down.  What I did not anticipate was the amount of
shoe-sucking mud on the course, slowing progress and momentum for much of 
the day.  Despite shoes being destroyed from the mud it was still easier to 
engage all the muddy areas by stepping around them to the side, requiring
considerably more energy and agility.  After awhile you got real tired of this
and had to give in to walking with increased care so as to avoid catastrophe.
The idea of being in a foot race soon gives way to understanding you are merely
trying to endure the hardships until you finish.

Sara and I each stopped regularly at stream crossings of all sizes to stand in the
water to clean off our shoes, wash the mud off the legs, and do everything short
of a total sitz bath in the cold water.  It was refreshing and helped keep core
temps down on a day that would see 90 degrees.  It was hot running; fortunately
the humidity went down as the temps rose.  Nonetheless, the heat took its toll
on many who chose to drop out prematurely.  I was thankful for the abundance
of water in the mountains when I discovered that aid stations and water stops
were too few and far between.  I know I filled my water bottles more than a 
dozen times from the hundreds of little fresh streams we crossed, rehydrating
with nature's koolaid.  It got so that I stopped drinking the water from the aid
stations because its warmth was unpalatable.  Most of the last six or seven hours
was run completely on cool crystal clear wild mountain water.

By mile 42 Sara was having continuing difficulties because of the heat.  Hooking
up with her friend there we bid adieu as she felt she would need to walk much of
the way to the finish.  I still had lots of run left in my legs so moved ahead to
engage the last ten-mile loop, the one that the centurion racers were doing
repeats on.  After stopping at the Groom's Cabin (start/finish) I started up the
long climb to the top of the loop.  I felt good, except for tendons above my left
foot starting to cramp with weariness from all the climbing.  It took me 45
minutes to mostly fast walk to the top, then switchback part way down the other
side to replenish my fluids at a stream next to a water stop.  Still feeling good
I passed several people laboring back to crest the top of the mountain.  After
starting the long switchbacked descent I passed the fifty mile mark (more or less)
in about 12 hours and 10 minutes, which was real respectable, given the heat,
humidity, and all the mud I had to negotiate.  I continued to roll down hill, back
and forth, passing more people, until I got to the river at the bottom.

With a bit more than two miles to go, while moving well, I caught my toe on a cut-
off sapling on a down hill stretch and it laid me out hard in a face plant I won't 
forget about very soon.  It felt like I drove my large toenail half way back into
my foot.  My right shoulder took the brunt of the fall and hurt sharply once I got
back onto my feet.  In the entire day this was my fourth fall - the first three had
been Category 1 falls; this was a Category 6, and it knocked the stuffing out of me.
Nothing broken and no blood.  "If a bone ain't a showin', I just keep a goin'."  Two
guys passed me and I told them I lost all enthusiasm for running anymore.  With
a bit of a climb left before the final descent to the finish I was cooked.  A trauma
like this fall just plunged me past the point of recovery.  A good day was coming to
a close, but now it couldn't come fast enough.
Struggling to shuffle when terrain allowed I did the only thing left to do - pursue
relentless forward progress, and forget about the misery.  My race ended with the
fall, so it took me a while longer to reach the finish, a kiss from my wife, cheers from
the crowd, and a shiny medallion, in a time of 13H 54M 54S for 55 miles (11th of 46).
After a tall cup of Coke, I was good - good and tired, ready for a bath.  I had 
managed to complete my day before dark, though I had a headlamp just in case.
I hung around for awhile, thanked Andy and yuck-yucked a bit with other finishers,
before heading back to the lodge to close the day.  I left wondering about Sarah and
many of the others I had shared this day with as darkness settled in over these
wonderful Vermont hills.  I could only send energy out in hopes that their finish would
not be too delayed.  You share some very special memories with the people you
make tracks with in these mountains.  While the event is fleeting the kinship runs deep.

With a day of rest after driving home, I am none the worse for wear.  I am left with a
certain satisfaction of being fit enough to rise to the demands of such a challenge, bear
the suffering without complaint, and emerge with enthusiasm and great expectations
for the next event in two weeks.  Why do I do this?  I think I just answered that.