APPALACHIAN TRAIL ADVENTURE RUN

   
       
Jim, Sue, Cody, and Tater at Springer Mtn., start of the Appalachian Trail Adventure Run

 

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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
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DAY 77-79:  FRIDAY TO SUNDAY,
 JULY 15-17
 
Start: Woodstock, VT (VT 100)                             
End:  Same
Today's Miles:                       -0-
Cumulative Miles:          1,205.9
   
 
"I guess I'll run the Vermont 100 in July. What's another 100 miles?"
- Sue, naively optimistic back in March
 
 


 

This year's beautiful VT100 logo, above

 Below: Sue talking with friends John and Liz Walker (on left) and Hans-Dieter Weisshaar at the pre-race dinner.  7-15-05

The problem with running another one hundred miles this weekend became obvious a mere 45 minutes into this race, when my right butt and leg became quite painful, then numb. Uh, oh.

Now what???

For the first time in almost 26 years of running, I developed a new over-use problem: a pinched sciatic nerve.

I've heard about the chronic, debilitating problems runners have with sciatica caused by a herniated disc in the spine. So when I described my symptoms to all the sympathetic runners who were passing me after about eight miles into the race (the point at which I could no longer stand the pain while running, and started walking), I was dismayed when they all uttered, "Sounds like sciatica."

Oh, no! Not me!!!

Oh, yes, but not the kind that emanates from a bad back. If I understood Hank correctly, it's from a badly rotated right hip (sacro-iliac), resulting in a stretched piriformis muscle and pinched sciatic nerve. (Correct me if I'm wrong, Hank.)

Who's Hank?

REUNION WITH OLD FRIENDS

Hank Glass, DC, an old running friend from the Atlanta area.

Turns out Hank and his ultra-running wife, Tracy Rose (who was on the Atlanta Track Club women's running team with me when I was a lot faster) moved to this area of Vermont three years ago. Hank drove up to me in his jeep soon after I started walking on one of the dirt roads in the early part of the race and queried, "Sue?"

I recognized him, but at that point, out of context, I couldn't remember his name. CRS Syndrome strikes (especially potent when combined with serious pain). He reminded me who he was, and told me he was going to be doing chiropractic adjustments on runners at the Camp Ten Bear aid station at the 44 and 68 mile points in the race. He couldn't do an adjustment on me out there on the road but he promised if I could get myself to Ten Bear, he'd work on me and see if he could fix the problem.

Well, there was more than one problem here - my rapidly-numbing leg and knowing I'd be out of the race if I went anywhere to get it fixed. Even if the race director allowed me to take a ride to the aid station and return to where I left the course, I'd miss the first cut-off at 18 miles.

I decided to keep on walking as fast as I could, trying to massage my right butt (glute area) and put pressure on the point where it hurt. It didn't work. It hurt like hell, especially uphill. Even though I'd started taking Celebrex Thursday night it wasn't helping this pain. If it was, I don't want to know what it would feel like without a pain killer!

I asked ultra-lister Joe Lugiano to tell the folks at the next manned aid station that I was in trouble and might be late. He went one better, asking his wife to wait for me at the Taftsville bridge to see if I wanted a ride to the start/finish area. (I thanked her but declined, wanting to see if it would "go away.")

MAKING A PAINFUL DECISION

When I got to the aid station past the Taftsville bridge at 12.7 miles I was about fifth from last and tired of the searing pain I'd experienced for over two hours. It was obvious it wasn't just going to "go away" without professional intervention or rest or something more than what I was doing. The race director, Jim Hutchinson, happened to be there. He confirmed that I wouldn't have time to make the first cut-off if I got a ride to Ten Bear, had Hank work on me, and returned to AS #4.

Rats. I couldn't go on; the pain was too great, and I didn't want to screw up the leg even more. I officially dropped out.

Thank goodness VT doesn't issue wrist bands that get cut off when you drop; that hurts even more than just telling the aid station captain you're toast.

I'm pretty pain tolerant. Most runners who do 100-milers are. It's a requirement, I think. So you know I was in a world of hurt to even consider dropping out.

After the aid station closed, one of the kind volunteers, a VT 100 veteran who lives in Massachusetts, returned Don Adolf and me to our vehicles at the start/finish area. Thanks, Di. The co-race director, Julie, and others commiserated with our misfortunes. It's so much more pleasant to revel in congratulations for a finish than to explain what happened to cause a DNF!

FRIED RUNNERS

At least I wasn't the only one - this year's drop-out rate at Vermont was the second highest (41%) since the race began seventeen years ago and the winning times were about two hours slower than last year's course records (extensive changes to the course last year new course records in 2004).

Why? High heat and humidity. It was in the upper 60s at the 4 AM start on Saturday and during the night it didn't get below 70 degrees. The humidity was very high, with only intermittent rain during the afternoon and night to help cool off the runners. Most of the race was partly or fully overcast, but ironically it was sunny most of the time during the afternoon Saturday, when it was probably in the upper 80s or low 90s.

At least two people required IVs at the hospital for heat exhaustion symptoms, one of them a very experienced 100-miler from a hot, humid Southern state. Many experienced runners and several of our good friends succumbed to the heat and dropped. I was sitting next to the communications guy at the 55-mile aid station for two hours and heard a lot of the problems as they came over the radio.

I was in good company but it doesn't make my drop any easier. My primary goal this summer is to finish the AT, so I'd already decided that if anything went wrong at VT to jeopardize an AT finish, I'd quit. What concerns me more than the DNF is how much the pelvis/sciatic problem will undermine my attempt to cover the remaining 969 miles I have left on the AT.

The really great news is that Jim finished with his second-fastest 100-mile time!!! We are so happy about that, considering his training for this race was less than ideal. He had a time of 27:13, excellent in this weather, too. We've only had a couple weeks of really hot and humid weather and it's been while he's been tapering.

No telling what time he might have had if everything had been ideal: if we'd been in hot and humid Roanoke all spring and summer, if he'd gotten in the training mileage he normally would for a hundred-miler, and if the weather had been milder like last year, when 95 people at VT broke 24 hours.

I'm really proud of Jim's accomplishment!!

LOTSA FRIENDS

I admit it: one of my favorite parts of 100-milers is reuniting with old friends from all over the world that we haven't seen in several months or years, and meeting new friends. Ultras are very social events - before, during, and after the races.

Jim and I went to the weigh-in on Friday morning, expecting a herd of people to be there like show up early at Leadville. Not so. There was no wait for our numbers, shirts, blood-pressure reading, or weight check. Although the web site said the medical folks would be ascertaining that we'd trained adequately for the race, the only such question asked of me was an afterthought before I got out of earshot, "You've done these things before, right?"

Upon entering one of the large tents set up at Silver Hill Farms we soon spotted Joe Lugiano and his wife, Hannah; Bruce Boyd, who's run the race every year (always coming in sub-24), and Jeff Washburn, part of the lively group of runners from GAC .

We saw Paul DeWitt, course record-holder at Leadville, and introduced ourselves to Krissy Moehl Sybrowski, popular Montrail rep (Montrail is one of my sponsors). Paul and Krissy went on to win this year's race.

We saw many more friends in the afternoon when we returned for the pre-race briefing and delicious supper (best assortment of food I've ever seen at a race, although some of it was gone by the time we got to it):

  • Melanie Johnson (Oregon) and Liz Walker (Georgia), women who are doing the Grand Slam this year; John Walker, Liz's husband;
  • Mary Gorski (Wisconsin), one of the most entertaining race report writers on the ultra list, and her husband, David, a great crew person;
  • The bionic Hans Dieter-Weisshaar from Germany, coming off another Hardrock finish a week ago;
  • Caroline Williams and Joey Anderson, fellow VHTRC members;
  • Steve Pero, just visiting from his home in nearby New Hampshire (he returned with Deb on race day, but they weren't running VT so soon after Hardrock);
  • Aaron Goldman (Arizona), one of my favorite ultra-people. Now in his 70s, Aaron keeps on running 100s with his daughter and other family members enthusiastically cheering him on while crewing for him. I ran with him about thirty miles in my first 100, Vermont in 1998, and he left quite an impression on me. Congratulations for another finish, Aaron!
  • Kevin Sayers (Maryland), who has one of the best ultra running web sites on the 'net;
  • Don Allison (Massachusetts), talented ultra runner/editor of Ultra Running magazine; Don didn't run but was there to mingle and cover the race.

MAKING NEW FRIENDS

It's fun to meet new people while running ultras or crewing. These folks stand out in particular:

  • Joe Cosmos, an ultra lister who introduced himself to me at Camp Ten Bear, where he volunteered all day before pacing a friend all night! Joe has been reading this journal and recognized me when I came in to see Hank for the adjustment (and I started crewing for Jim there). Joe was friendly, helpful to all the runners, and gave Jim a pair of running socks to use after the podiatrist lanced a blister and told him he needed to put new socks on. Thanks, Joe. Jim used your socks successfully the remainder of the race (56 miles). If you contact us with a mailing address, we'll send your socks back - clean!
  • Ben Benjamin (Oregon), who Jim ran with off and on the whole race. We were able to help Ben by loaning him one of my lights before he got to his own, and he helped Jim by running with him many miles. Ben finished a few minutes ahead of Jim.
  • Dave Granum (Oregon), who remembered running ten miles with me at the MacDonald Forest 50K in Oregon in 1998. Dave walked with me a while before I dropped out, offering encouragement and advice. Later he also dropped, so we shared more time talking while waiting for the race to end.
  • Rick Sandison from Idaho, running and finishing his first 100. Like Jim, he wanted a qualifier for Western States. If he doesn't make the lottery we have him seriously considering The Bear, which is close to him and Jim's favorite 100-miler.
  • Sarah, Karen, and Judy, women who were crewing and pacing other runners. We're sorry we don't remember your last names, but we enjoyed your company!

MORPHING FROM RUNNER TO CREW

It's happened before: I've DNF'd at Western States and Leadville when Jim and I were both running the race. I dropped, got cleaned up, and returned to the course to crew Jim the rest of the way. Each time it was a complete surprise to him because I was behind him and he had no clue I'd dropped.

Well, it was "deja vu all over again" at Vermont.

After returning to the camper to eat, take a shower, and retrieve the dogs from the boarding kennel, I packed all the things I thought I'd need the rest of the day and added some goodies for Jim. I forgot ice, but fortunately the aid stations were well-supplied with ice. I needed it, too. Hank told me to ice my butt (excuse me, my piriformis muscle) as much as possible the next 24 hours.

So there I was at several aid stations, waiting for Jim to come in and helping other runners as needed, sitting with an ice bag under my right butt cheek. By evening my leg did feel better, although I was still limping some.

The acronym C.R.E.W. stands for "Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting." Jim was never cranky to me, although he was beat up by the heat the first time I saw him at Camp Ten Bear (44+ miles). He looked better at Tracer Brook (55 miles) and the second time through Ten Bear (68 miles). In fact, he was one of the few folks who RAN out of that aid station. My only concern was that he wasn't eating at the aid stations where I saw him, but he had less nausea than usual during this race, despite the heat. He was apparently drinking and getting enough electrolytes.

There is a lot of waiting and driving while crewing but I enjoy the job. I know what I like when Jim's crewing me (encouragement, a wet cloth to clean my face, and reminders about what I need to take with me and do at the aid station), so I try to provide all that and more to Jim. He's good about not wasting time at aid stations. The most time he ever spent in one was when he or the podiatrist was working on his feet. He ended up with three blisters that hurt but weren't debilitating.

Jim knew I was hurting and needed rest; he insisted he didn't need me to crew at night. He was on about a 25-hour finish pace at Ten Bear when he left before dark, so I knew to get to the finish by 5 AM. I went back to the camper and slept deeply for about five hours.

A GREAT FINISH FOR JIM!

I got to the finish just after 4 AM. Sixty-four runners had already come in, then there was a 42-minute period with no finishers. This is fairly common, as folks will push hard to beat that 24-hour, 100-miles-in-a-day milestone. If they see they aren't gonna make it, most will back off and come in later.

Jim was the 94th finisher. I could see him coming down the "chute" in the woods, so I was ready with the camera at the finish line:

We had plenty of time before the post-race brunch and awards ceremony to return to the camper and get cleaned up. Jim napped a couple hours, then we headed back for some food.

Vermont has just a good post-race spread as pre-race. There weren't as many choices but they were all good: half a baked chicken, veggie burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, vegetable and fruit medleys, bread, and several flavors of ice cream. We got there at the end of the line and there was plenty of food left.

The awards ceremony started early, to our delight. It was sad to confirm that several friends didn't finish, but great to share in the success of others. We missed a few friends at the ceremony (Aaron, where were you??) but understand their fatigue or need to return home. Jim received a plaque to commemorate his finish (photo below; Rick Sandison is on the left, RD Jim Hutchison on the right):

At the time of this writing (Sunday evening), Jim is walking around fairly normally. We napped this afternoon and feel more human tonight.

I'm so glad Jim finished in fine style and miracle of miracles, enjoyed the course! He had a less than enjoyable experience here five years ago when he paced me in pouring rain all night while I was chronically throwing up. He wasn't thrilled about a course with mostly roads in an area where he thought the locals weren't very friendly. He said he kept thinking of ways to quit at the beginning of the race.

But he ended up having a great time. He loved all the beautiful farms and houses, found out many of the homeowners enjoy having the runners come by (several had water available outside, others waved and talked to the runners), got to run with a variety of interesting folks, and enjoyed having the horses and riders around.

He liked the course, although he (like others) swears it was "mostly up!" (Not possible, since it starts and finishes at the same place.) I hope he'll return some day to break that magical 24-hour barrier. He's done it at Kettle Moraine, and I know he can do it here.

WHAT'S NEXT

As for me, I'll probably be back here some day, too. Although I also like the western single-track trail type of 100s better (like Jim), Vermont is special to me because it was my first 100 and it's one of only two I've finished. It's so beautiful here. We want to return in the fall sometime to see the gorgeous leaf colors (lotsa maples) and run the 50-miler in the area.

Meanwhile, the Appalachian Trail beckons. All the encouragement I've received from friends and acquaintances this weekend has me even more anxious to return to Pennsylvania to resume my adventure run. I don't know how much my new sciatica/piriformus/sacroiliac problem will impact me on the Trail, since I won't be able to get regular chiropractic adjustments very easily on the road. I imagine it's gonna plague me the rest of the journey.

But I am determined to finish, no matter what it takes. We plan to drive back to Port Clinton on Tuesday and I'll be back on the Trail Wednesday. I'll probably have to walk the rest of Pennsylvania, with all the rocks, so I don't impact my hip/leg as much as running would. Hopefully, the pelvis will stay in position properly and I can resume running when the Trail gets better in New Jersey.

Stay tuned! The adventure continues . . .

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil