The TL:DR of this post to “beat the heat” for a hot 100:
- Make friends on the course.
- Ice early, often, and everywhere you can on your body.
- Wear white to reflect heat.
- It’s never as bad as you think.
- Start out painfully slow.
- The 5-minute nap is a powerful tool.
- Be blessed with a completely selfless pacer.
- Watch your heart rate. It’s an indicator of stress just like the horses on the course!
Adjust your expectations if racing in hot conditions. I joke that life is about managing expectations, and this race was no different. The race changed from a sub-24 to completion when I saw the weather forecast. Having an ego will get you killed, and this being only my 2nd 100 miler it was more important to finish. Some much-needed advice came from a friend of my parents, Barry Lewis. An experienced ultra-runner and long-distance tri-athlete. He knew that trying to “bank” time in the morning is a poor strategy that will lead to failure. He stressed the point of running “painfully slow” in the beginning. It was tough to watch so many people take off in the beginning, but he was right. If I could control my pace I would be reeling them in at the end, or at least not just another casualty of the heat.
It is human nature before we start any task to think it’s worse than it truly is. We make problems greater than they really are. Fear cripples us before we even start. WHY? It’s never as bad as you think. At the start of the race, I noticed the course had a large amount of tree coverage. There were only a few exposed sections. This made me breathe a sigh of relief. The temps were high but never felt unbearable (heat index of 106 was what was reported on the course). I started to use ice at the first aid station. I knew if I had ice on me before the sun came up I would keep my core temp down. I stayed ahead of hydration but still drank mostly to thirst. I put ice in my drinks and for my chest at every aid station. Everyone has a different strategy, I just filled a ziplock bag with ice and stuck it on my chest. It was held in place with my hydration vest. The added benefit of the zip lock bag is you can drink the icy water when it melts.
During the race, I chatted with my fellow runners, made friends, and heard stories of what brought others to the 100-mile distance. The ultra-running community is very friendly and people love to share their stories. I’m no different and made many friends along the way. They help break up the miles and take the focus off the pain. If you are left alone with your pain for 30 hours, odds are, your pain will win. It is easier to suffer through a race of this caliber if you know your friends are suffering too. Even if you just made those friends a few hours ago.
I was able to see my Dad at a few of the aid stations. The support of my father reminded me of the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise and the section about parental involvement. We only can reach a level of performance if we have the support of our parents. Dependant on how much they care determines how much time, effort, encouragement, and overall success we will enjoy. I have to make sure I extend the same to my 3 children. Making sure that I take an interest in their hobbies and support their efforts.
For a 100 mile race, most would say the real race begins at mile 70. Camp 10 bear was the last place you see your support crew and was where I was going to meet Mark Richardson. Mark signed up for an ultra himself when he chose to pace 30 miles. Is that even common? Most people I talked to in the race had 2 or more pacers for the last 30 miles. I didn’t realize that maybe I shouldn’t have put such a large requirement on somebody like that. My last hundred was run with 2 other runners for the majority of the 2nd half. I’m unsure if I could even run the later miles of a 100 completely alone, the night can be the most challenging mentally and physically. As much as running seems like a solo sport, ultra-running never feels like one. You talk to everybody out on the trail and you have support from complete strangers at aid stations.
The fact that this race would match you up with a pacer is a great service. Kudos to the race director for making that happen. That made all the difference in my success and in helping me “beat the heat”. Mark signed up to see the course and see if he wanted to run VT100 himself. He didn’t know me but made the trip up to support a complete stranger! I met Mark at such a critical spot in the race and was already 18 hours in. He didn’t even know if I would drop. Mark was ready at 10 PM to run, and really do whatever was needed to get me to the finish.
One unexpected effect of the heat was blurred vision in my left eye. I guess the muscle was fatigued and couldn’t focus. Mark watched the clock as I took a brief nap around the 80-90 mile mark. I was so tired at this point in the race I was closing my eyes as I was running. The short nap was an effective tool to get me both mentally and physically back in the game. I should have done it sooner, I should stop putting off little problems in a race because they can easily become larger issues. I was fortunate this was easily corrected with a nap.
Something else I would have done differently was to wear my headlamp around my waist. I had never seen so many flies on the trail, but that might just be normal for Vermont. I should have moved my light around my waist so they wouldn’t be flying into my face. Mark was also kind enough to lend me a bug mask to wear!
Since VT100 is one of the last 100-mile horse races in the county I learned some interesting facts about the horses. A fellow runner who made performance rubber shoes for horses mentioned they use heart rate to gauge stress level on the horses! There are hold stations on the course where they monitor the HR recovery after they have the horse do a gallop or trot. This will show if the horse is close to overexertion. For hot races, a heart rate monitor can provide a critical insight into when to slow down or walk before it is too late.
Finally, Mark and I were in striking distance of the finish and we had just left the final aid station. We scarfed down some delicious waffles from Polly’s and set out to complete the course. I was using every aid station as a checklist to be completed. I just kept saying “get to the next aid station”, and really before I knew it they were all done. All I had to do now was make it to the finish line. Something came over me in those last few miles and I wanted to see how many people could I pass. I swear we passed at least 20 people, with each one giving us a little push to pass the next. It was one of the high points for me in the race because I felt good to still be able to run this late in the race.
The question comes up all the time. Why run 100 miles? I like the problem-solving of it. I enjoy training. Come race day, I enjoy meeting new people going through the same experience. It teaches you that life rarely goes as planned. My current favorite quote is “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” As soon as you start thinking negatively the race will go south, but that is true of everything in life. Try to stay positive regardless of the situation, and regardless of what happens to you.
High-quality pics and video of the Vermont 100 that I took can be found here.