Part 4: Step Two: The Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Run: What do you do when it hurts?
by Ian Torrence
The Lead In
To be perfectly honest, if you had asked me the Monday before the Vermont 100 Mile how I was feeling and what my strategy was going to be for the race, I would have probably told you that I wasn’t going to Vermont. Why do you ask?
It started a week and a half before I was to leave for Vermont. I was at work, doing a re-vegetation project at Hovenweep National Monument (in southeast Utah). The site needed to be prepared before any plants could be brought onto site and dropped into the soil. This “prep phase” consisted of moving rocks, raking and shoveling dirt, basically spreading topsoil and contouring it to blend with the rest of the
landscape. Somewhere in that process I injured a small muscle in my hip flexor region. It was eerily similar to the injury I had last summer, an injury that took me five months to recover from. It hurt to run and, initially, even walk. I waved goodbye to my summer’s running plans right there in the middle of a dirt pile.
As each day progressed the pain seemed to subside exponentially. I decided to wait until the last possible moment to make my decision on whether to go to Vermont or not. On the Wednesday night before I had to catch my plane to Vermont, I decided to go for it. My decision was greatly influenced by two important people, my girlfriend, Anne, who was to fly east with me and take on crew duties, and my mother, Glenda, who was to meet us in Vermont for the race and join Anne with crew responsibilities. Without their advice and help I would have probably passed on this race all together. I tested my hip out on the days preceding Vermont. Each day the injury seemed to feel that much better, but a tightness and twinge would develop if I tried to run across uneven surfaces—not good signs for a race that incorporates trails and dirt roads for a majority of the distance.
I do have a history with the Vermont 100 Mile Run. In 1995 I came to Vermont in search of my second 100-mile finish. It was not to be. I dropped at mile 63. That has been my only ultra DNF out of 97 total ultras. In 1998, I returned to Vermont and ran a much smarter race, finished in 16:38 (still my 100-mile PR), and placing second overall.
Let’s fast forward to the day before the race (Friday). It is extremely difficult to go through pre-race rituals when you think you won’t even make it to the first aid station. Shopping for race food, setting-out race clothes, mixing drinks, and putting batteries into flashlights seemed like a waist of time for me. I felt my time could have been better spent by having a beer and watching Lance Armstrong dominate in the Alps. At least someone was racing well. The pre-race check-in was hard to go through as well. Everyone wants to know how you’re feeling, what your race strategy will be, and what kind of training you’ve been doing since Western States. My answers were truthful. “I hurt myself at work last week, I am just hoping to finish without any pain, and all I could do was ride my bike last week.” Those are tough responses when you truly want to answer, “I am feeling great, I am ready to rip it up, and I’ve had some of the best runs of the year this past week.” But I went through all the motions like usual: I checked in, weighed in, had my blood pressure and pulse checked, and attended the pre-race meeting.
I felt good the morning of the race, including my hip, but I had yet to test it out. The race started and, as instinct would have it, I found myself tailing the front pack. Just as quickly as I had realized that, I backed off. I lost site of the front-runners on the first section of trail that is run in the dark before the sun rises. I knew that running fast here and aggravating the injury would most definitely ruin my bid for a finish. It took nearly 45 minutes of running to pass before I felt the first twinge in my leg. It occurred on a long downhill. I quickly backed off and put the “brakes” on. This would go on for the remainder of the race. I would actually forget about my struggle with injury at times only to be reminded of it when I took a downhill aggressively.
The injury never got worse. It stayed the same, only hurting when I pushed the pace or opened my stride on a downhill. Actually the last twinge would occur between mile 40 or 50. It coincided with the totally and utter disappearance of my quads. Because of all the braking on the downhill, they were toast halfway into the race. I was no longer able to attack the downhill or stride out on the roads, because my quads were pretty much done. Because I was forced to convert to a slower pace (and even slower downhills), my injury did not “speak” to me during the rest of the race.
This actually turned into a wonderful race for me. I felt a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders when I finally realized that I had a very good chance to finish the run. I got more excited after every aid station I was able to pass through. Every footstep was a step closer to a finish line that, a day earlier, I thought I would never see.
Anne and my mom keep me moving in the right direction, both mentally and physically. I had a most excellent run between miles 68 and 83 when Kevin Setnes joined Dale Peterson and myself as a pacer. Our banter made the miles pass quickly. I also shared some good trail time with Harry Lepp, Tim Roy, and Tim Shea.
Having lived in the desert southwest for a good bit of time, I took time to absorb the abundant green surroundings that Vermont had to offer. I had forgotten how diverse and ever-changing the Vermont 100 Mile course was. Pastures, farms, meadows, tree lined lanes and the rolling hills of the Green Mountains were all awesome.
The final downhill into the horse stables to the finish was very painful for me. My quads were no longer working and my knees would buckle if my foot placement were not perfect. I was lucky that I had to use my flashlight in only the last mile of the run. Things could have been much worse had I had more trail miles to cover in the dark with rotten quads. I crossed the line in 16:58:06, good enough for eighth place overall and first in the men’s 20 to 29 age division. I could ask for nothing more and could have never had fathomed that I might have done so well in the days leading up to the event. Yeah! I’m happy.
My injury still lingers, but is no worse than the days preceding the race. I will rest it, as well as my quads, and hopefully find joy at the finish line in Leadville in four weeks.
Special thanks to the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run race management and volunteers for making an event so memorable! Results and information about the Vermont 100 Mile Run can be found at www.vermont100.com.