Of Simple Granola and bees and notes and sucky airlines…….my stories from the Ultra.
Let’s just get the big story of the weekend out of the way. For some unknown reason, Delta decided that it wasn’t necessary that my baggage travel with me from my connecting flight in Detroit to Vermont….despite the 4-hour layover. You can probably see where this is going. All, repeat ALL, of my racing gear was in checked baggage. Racing shorts, shirts, 2 pairs of shoes, 2 pairs of socks, compression sleeves, Salomon hydration pack, food, medical supplies, etc… By the time I discovered this, it was probably about 2:00. I didn’t panic. The Delta agent first said that it would come in around 7ish from Detroit, but before I left the airport it changed to “We’re going to send it to LaGuardia and then from LaGuardia to Burlington. It should be here around midnight. We will have someone bring it to you” MIDNIGHT! It’s a 2-hour drive from Burlington to Killington. There’s no way I’m going to trust you to bring it to me in the middle of the night. I want it in my hands as soon as possible. So, after driving to Killington for packet pickup and pre-beast party, I drove back to Burlington and waited on pins and needles for my gear to arrive. Big sigh of relief when it came out of the carousel. Drive back to Killington. Get to bed at 3:00 a.m. only to get back up at 5:30. So, now not only have I been limited to running a total of 25 miles since May, I’m going to attempt 28 miles with obstacles up a mountain in one day on 2.5 hours of sleep. Lesson learned. Delta can’t be trusted!
Lining up in the back to start the race. I wasn’t trying to win this race, so I was considerate and placed myself near the very end of approximately 5oo people starting at 8:00 a.m. That cost me a lot of time because I was then stuck behind LOOONNGGG lines of people at the obstacles and on some of the single track trails up the mountain. That should have been a time when I was moving much faster, but instead I was standing and waiting. It probably added 15 minutes to my finishing time and came close to causing me to miss the cut-off time at the final checkpoint.
Fueling myself during the race was a wildcard for me. I’ve only run distances a couple of times in which I needed some fuel, and in those, a few GU gels were sufficient. This was entirely new to me and because of my injuries and inability to train at long distances I didn’t really know how much food and water I needed. I decided on a small 1.5 liter Salomon hydration pack and that turned out to be a good decision. Cool temperatures meant less fluid needed, which meant less weight to pack. I was able to make it through both laps without issue for hydration. I packed a bunch of GU gels and Cliff blocks in my pack for the quick fuel, but I also needed a little bit of ‘real’ food. For that, I was confident with Simple Granola. It tastes good, is nutrient dense, and I just plain love it! Now, the problem. The multiple and very long barbed-wire crawls meant that the hydration pack was put through the ringer as it had to be dragged along. After the second crawl I discovered that a)I had lost some packs of food and b)water and mud had gotten in the baggy and destroyed the granola. Uggghh!
At the end of Lap 1, Ultra racers were routed to the bin area where we could refuel. I ate a banana, drank a P90X recovery drink, grabbed some more GU, ate about 4 Simple Granola balls, and stuffed a couple more in a baggy in my pack. I hadn’t made the best decisions so far with nutrition, but the Simple Granola was a great one. It gave my stomach a break from all the processed sugar crap and went a long way toward sustaining me on lap 2. The other good decision was that for lap 2, I filled my pack with 4 servings of P90X recovery drink. That equated to 1000 calories containing both simple sugars and protein. I didn’t cramp but maybe once the second loop after having cramped several times on lap one.
During lap 1, after emerging from the frigid lake following the monkey ropes and doing 30 burpees, I entered back in the woods shivering uncontrollably. The knee and foot pain was noticeable. I wasn’t feeling very confident with my physical state and then suddenly a new pain emerged. I felt a little prick on my right ankle…not uncommon for running through the woods. I thought I had just gotten brushed by a thorn or the sharp point of a twig. But then the pain started getting more intense and then suddenly, it was like “aaagghh, what is going on?!!” I looked down and there was one of the largest yellow jackets I had ever seen just stinging the fire out of my ankle. I brushed it off and kept going as the pain got more intense, radiated through my ankle and I could feel it starting to swell. Really? A bee sting?! Really? Come on!!! I had bigger things to worry about so the pain was forgotten until later in the race when it started to itch!
The turn, the transition area, the bin area, the halfway point….however you want to refer to it was a difficult area for most racers including me. It was the point where you actually stopped, regrouped, and re-psyched to repeat the agony just experienced. The clouds had rolled in and it was just plain gloomy. When I came in, I heard moans, groans, and complaints. Some were questioning whether they should go back out. Others just flatly said they weren’t. It wasn’t the atmosphere that I needed so I tried to shut it and changed my shoes, socks, and shirt and tried to figure out what I was going to do for food. In the recesses of my mind, I could faintly hear the voice telling me to quit. That was not even remotely an option for me though, so as soon as I had eaten my fill of Simple Granola and changed clothes, I trudged back out before the voices could start again. It was one of the bleakest moments of the race.
Many people have mentioned tears in their posts about the Ultra. Tears from pain. Tears of joy. Tears of disappointment. I was nearly brought to tears by my daughter who had written me a note on a note card. I put it in my bin to read during one of the darker moments of the race. That moment came sooner than I expected. It was gloomy when I left the transition area to begin lap 2 and my spirits were down. I was already tired, battered, and mentally dreading the next 14 miles. I went immediately to the note because I couldn’t let myself drift mentally “out of the race”. The note read. “Come on Daddy. You can do it. You’re the best! I love you!” My eyes clouded over and it was all I could do to contain the tears. Immediately I regained momentum and took off running. Those words stuck with me throughout the race and I thought of them several times when I needed a boost. In some ways, I credit that note for allowing me to make the cutoff. Sadly, just like some of my food, I lost the note along the way…most likely under the barbed wire, but I will never forget reading it.
There were long stretches where I ran alone. At times it was pleasant, at other times it was soul-sucking because I felt the darkness closing in on me. At one stretch, I turned to prayer. I’m not one who ascribes to the “genie in the bottle” God, to whom you just ask for things when you need or want them. I fail sometimes, but my relationship with God is one in which I believe I should be mostly listening to what He wants me to do and not asking him for help with what I want to do. This time, though, I needed the spiritual lift. I’ve never prayed during a race. I actually dont’ think about much of anything except going as fast as I can. The Lord’s prayer. Scripture..”Yea though I walk through the valley of death…” Pleas to get me through the race. For a time there I felt as close to God as I have for awhile and I was happy as could be. My spirits were lifted and away I went.
I mentioned this in my review of the Ultra, but the rainstorm during the last 3 or 4 miles and especially during the descent down the muddy mountain was the most memorable part of the race. It’s almost indescribable how miserable it was slowly stepping your way down the mountain, barely being able to see which slippery rock or 8 inch mud hole you were about to hit. The times I slipped, fell, and slid on my behind were uncountable. I’m trying to think of the words that will aptly paint the picture, but I can’t. I’ll just leave it at this. I wondered what would happen if someone were seriously injured on this descent. The only answer is that they would have to be helicoptered out because the area was unreachable by ATV and people would have been unable to carry the person down because it was all each individual could do to take a single step without crashing down the mountain themselves.
It’s said over and over and over again, but there are some fabulous people who show up at these races and I have been blessed to make new friends at each race. This was no exception. New friends like Andrew Halder and his wife who I met at the Detroit airport on the way to Vermont and Leyla Di Cori and Ektarina Solovieva at a pre-race party. Facebook friends and people I had “met” through this blog like Chris Meredith, Matt B. Davis, Jaime & Nicole Negron, John Shue, Chad Weberg, and Sean Sparandero….and even getting extended conversation with a Hurricane Heat friend, Jan Peter Brajer. It was such a pleasure to talk to these great individuals in person and listen to their stories. Finally, there were numerous people who offered assistance when they found out my gear had been left behind by the airline. Offers of fuel and clothing were abundant. Todd Sedlak offered to lend me anything I needed and I’m grateful for each and every offer! Spartan Racers are great and I’m thrilled to be part of this amazing group of people.
I have been flying my entire life and never lost a bag (knock on wood), but when I talked to Adam Juriscin the night before he told me everything for the race he was carrying on. So I followed that lead. I think for a “normal” race, its no big deal. Go buy some shorts and shoes and your off. For this one, I knew I needed 100% of my gear. Thanks for reminding me I made the right decision. I remember telling you before the race, that if you see me “just wanting to finish” then please push me to do more. I didn’t even get the chance to, and you did. Great job getting through it despite everything. See you at the next one!
Matt, I had never had a bag issue either. This was just about one of the worst times for that to happen and I’ll be more diligent next time. I did not want to go into this crazy thing with gear I wasn’t familiar and comfortable with. Wish we would have run into each other, but maybe next time!
Awesome story thanks for sharing your experience with the rest of us. I’m looking to do the Vermont Beast in 2013. I’ve done the Tough Mudder in IN 2012/KY 2013. I’m sort of just starting to get into the outdoor racing. I would like to try this in about 2 years, do you plan on doing this race again?
Eric, thanks for reading! I plan on doing Vermont every year. It is the site of the Spartan Championships and the premiere race. I definitely recommend this for anyone into obstacle racing.
Jeff that sounds great. We’ll i’m hoping to see you there then 🙂 along with many other racers to meet. I was checking out the layout from others posts and this looks like a really awesome time from a fun and challenging stand point. I like the fact i get to run up a mountain and back down it. Now trying to decide about the ultra beast ….
I’m a little late in reading this and your other UB post, but my 2013 registration link sits in my inbox and my mind rolls around the “should I?” or “shouldn’t I?” These posts have definitely been helpful. I do know that if I race, I will not be checking any bags. 🙂
I say ‘go for it’! It’s crazy difficult, but well worth the experience. No, do not even think about checking a bag with your gear! 🙂