Vermont 50 – Reflection of my first Ultra Marathon

A reflection of my first ultra marathon.  
Why would I ever want to run 50 miles you ask? 
 I have run 27 marathons (including the 4 Ironman triathlons), and that has always seemed to be enough of a  challenge for me.  The ultra running, runners, training, mindset has always sort of “scared” me and honestly I never had the desire to go there.  Until I was diagnosed with cancer.  For some reason, after surviving lymphoma this past year I feel like I can do anything, and I want to do everything!  Show how strong I am, what I can accomplish and that I am determined to accomplish whatever I set my mind to do.  
How did I get in all the training necessary to feel ready when I really had no idea what to expect?
I was a little wary when I didn’t get in any “ultra training” – my longest training mileage was 27 miles… I did however read somewhere that it was important to run back to back long runs.  So for 10 days straight, calling it my “Double Digit” challenge, I pushed myself to run longer than 10 miles for 10 days.  I ran 100 miles in 8 days.  I felt amazing, strong, confident and ready.  My body has many miles of base throughout my years of running, and I have run through some pretty tough physical issues (chemotherapy, spleen removal and more).  It was marathon training PLUS. 🙂  I am in training for my first New York City marathon and have been working on speed, so this ultra training was adding more miles than ever before.  
What about mental preparedness?  
My husband Steve is my biggest supporter and really helps me get in the mindset of success.  Because he is a data guy (I am more of a “wing it” person) – we balance each other out very well.  He insisted on a map.  He kept asking me what my plan was…. So I put together a plan (maybe only the week before, but still I had a plan…).  I looked at a 11:15 min/mile to finish in 9:15 — I got so much info from some new friends on Twitter that were also running the 50, it really helped me.  I was so excited for the race day, I was never apprehensive or tentative.  I approached it head on!  I knew where I was going and how fast I wanted to get there. 🙂  Mantra of the day?  “The faster I run, the faster I am done!”  
Do I rely on “gear”?
Yes. 🙂  For many reasons my Garmin (405 CX) has been my coach for my solo training.    She keeps me in pace, helps me maintain an even effort (or in my case fast in the beginning and not to dog it too badly in the end).  Mentally Greta (my pet name for my Garmin) tells me how far to go the next aid station and how far along we are on the course.  It was so great to celebrate 1/2 way, the marathon point, the 30 mile mark etc…  She died at mile 34 and I cursed her for not hanging in there with me, but oh well.  Gary Garmin (my old 405 back up joined me for the last 10.  The other gear that was so incredibly important was my choice of “dancing shoes” to run in.  🙂  I love my Inov8 FLite’s for short trail races and really wanted to be sure I had the right grip on the rocks and mud.  I researched and ended up buying a pair of Inov8 MudRoc’s for the day.  They were PERFECT.  Nice nobby bottoms for grip and light and fast for racing.  I was very happy with that choice indeed.  The only other gear to make note of is Body Glide so I don’t chaffe and be in pain afterwards from long miles & sweet.  Success in gear choice is always a happy feeling.
What motivates me? 
Lots of things!  My husband is number one – leaving me no excuses for lack of mileage or any “not to par” pace.  My “extreme” competitive nature is a HUGE motivator.  Goals in general get me out there pushing every day — hitting my PR in a 5K this summer blew me away that I can still kick so fast and defy my age.  I ran a 6:20 avg mile for a 19:56 5K on July 4, 2011 at age 47 placing 3rd overall woman.  🙂  Another reason – keeping my weight down.  I keep a fine balance with the balance of my love of wine, chocolate & food with running.  I need to mention my friends on DailyMile.  I have become a part of this runner community online and it is just so wonderful to have all these people supporting me & motivate me that I have not met in person – but feel like I really know them.  I met my friend Jill on DM and she drove all the way from Western New York to run the last 10 miles as my pacer!  It was some final days before the VT50 on Twitter getting some great info from veteran ultra runners that really put me in a great mindset of confidence and preparedness.
How was the experience? Did I have enough support?
Anyone who has done the VT 50 can relate to how well it is managed.  The communication before the race from the race director was amazing and the information on the website was great.  My questions were answered timely and for a “rookie” ultra girl, I felt ready. The race doesn’t have mile markers, but they communicate all the checkpoints where they make computer record of your number and “wine & dine” you with HEED, water, grapes, PB&J, bananas, M&M’s, oranges & more.  On the back of the T-shirts and bike jerseys they have all the names of the checkpoints named after the area, landowners or terrain & hills.  Greta kept track of the miles & I knew that just about every 4-6 miles there would be a rest stop of sorts. I was able to fill my water bottle & get just a quick something to boost my fuel intake (on top of my GU supply) to keep going.  Not so sure the Coke & Ginger Ale were a good choice, but they sure tasted good at the time.  🙂
Did my “game plan” work?
Being competitive I started near the front, not knowing how I would fair, but I just love to go fast in the beginning to get to my running “comfort zone” and even out my heart rate.   I ran with this guy Greg from Maine who was running his first ultra and we had a nice chat for the first 4 miles and ran pretty fast.  Maybe too fast, but that is usually my tactic & I haven’t completely bonked at the end yet.  I lost Greg – as we were intermixed with mountain bike riders & other runners.   I would hear someone breathing behind me and thought it was him.  It was someone else – so I decided to introduce myself to every runner that came near me.  The ones I remember were Tom & John and this mountain biker Bruce — He says “If you need to pass me just yell MOVE Bruce! and I will feel like I am at home”.  The Mountain Bikers were all so nice, friendly and courteous.  It was like a moving cheering station.  Running up Blood Hill I ran past this biker that had speakers on his bike playing rock music – crazy!  Once in a while I would ask a biker sitting on the side fixing a flat or chain if they were ok.  They laughed and said “you gotta love runners trying to help bikers.”  
I flew through all the aid stations, so fast through the first drop bag point that I forgot my bag and didn’t realize…. It seemed like a “Cheer” station — I thought oh boy- next drop station is not until mile 31.  Oh well.  Thank God I packed a ton of GU in my bags.  Greg (from ME – my first connection) was telling me about his nutrition plan of having a GU every 1/2 hour, so I was trying to do the same – it really did work for me – I hope it worked for him too!  My original goal which I didn’t share prior was to average around 11 min/mile to hit a 9:15 — my feel good plan during the race blew that goal away.
How were the conditions? Let’s just say -Vermont ain’t flat!
The trail was muddy, uphill and downhill extremes.  I LOVE my Inov8 MudRoc shoes which I bought the week before the race.  They were sparkly clean at the beginning and caked in mud by the end.  The knobby bottoms were perfect for grip on the hilly rocky areas.  Some so rocky and steep I had to walk, although I didn’t walk much until after mile 20.  Runners advised me to walk the hills so I had steam at the end, but I felt so great I just ran as much as I could figuring I would resort to walking near the end if I had to – which of course I did walk the hills at the end.  What goes up must come down, I kept telling myself – especially when I got to Blood Hill and was walking a 16 min/mile.  Although it didn’t seem fair that some of the up was road and the down was technical and muddy.  Just sayin’ 🙂  The wooden slat bridges, the rock bridges, the “lack of bridges” 🙂 maybe beautiful in a hike, but when covered in mud they can get slippery.  I had 2 “bobbles” where I almost crashed into the rocks, but caught myself (great way to pull a muscle) – one time almost doing a cartwheel.  I would call out behind me “did you see that?” and they would respond “nice recovery”.  My arms were sore and I didn’t know why, until I remembered my near crash experiences.  🙂 
No crowds like a marathon!
I have to say – the cheering sections were few and far between – so unlike those major marathons I have been doing lately.  No bleachers, no bands on the side of the road, no little kids wanting to slap your hand for good luck….  BUT my “support crew” of Steve & Jill supported me immensely-  really boosted my confidence and attitude.  I was in third place the whole way.  All the way until Jill joined me at mile 41.  The volunteers were amazing — always encouraging  , checking in with me and so helpful!  The race director was awesome with all the communication and Zeke (who I met at VT City Marathon 2009) was so informative as the announcer for the pre-race info it truly felt like home!
Feet, Legs, Heart, Head
My system to check in with myself at the end of the race (if you can call 15 miles left the “end”) – My feet were a mess.  On the downhills my toes kept slamming in to the front of the shoe and I definitely had 2 black & blue toenails.  Right in the beginning my right side big toe nail dug into my 2nd toe and cut it – I could feel the bleeding throughout, but not enough to take the shoe off.  Blistering was happening, but the shoes felt so perfect gripping on the rocks I didn’t want to move anything around inside.  Legs were still hanging in there, although my quads were feeling tight like they wanted to seize up.  I took some electrolyte tablets at the aid stations early on and wish I had taken some throughout.  My calves were doing the same thing…. but on the uphill walks I stretched them out and that seemed to help.  My heart was thrilled, filled with joy of accomplishment, loving the surroundings, the beauty of Vermont at every turn.  When I don’t have my iPod to distract me I realize the beauty of our earth so much more and with 50 miles to explore, I was feeling very thankful.  The head issues were the toughest to get through as I really had no idea what to expect and when I push myself early I always pay in the end.  I am so incredibly competitive and when I realized I could place well, I pushed harder.  When it was near the end — I just wanted it over.  The last 10 miles I was so lucky to have a friend to cheer me up and keep my spirits high.  Jill Clark was truly amazing!  She may have been worried she would slow me down, but I was feeling pretty darn slow at that point… she was my breath of fresh air!   Without her there I know I would have slowed my pace even more… looking back now, I really didn’t slow as much as I thought I did.  I still had something left for the finish and glad she was there to push me through.
It’s not over until its over.
My Garmin battery died.  Greta was no longer there to push me fast.  I felt like I was just surviving up the hills, hoping that I was maintaining my pace.  It was the last 20 miles and I was experiencing “mental failure”.  So lucky that I had the back up Garmin (“Garmin Gary” coming out of retirement) to finish me out after the last aid station because that competitive clock was ticking.  Then my friend Jill joined me — her smiling happy face and bubbly attitude was just what the doctor ordered for the last 10 miles!  She asked me how I was doing and I got to whine for a while…. then I could sense it in myself another one of my favorite sayings “Suck it up – Buttercup!” 🙂  She encouraged me and talked to me the whole way out and around and up and down the final switchbacks, which were very technical and a little annoying. 🙂  The downhill finish was slant hill on the ski slope and my toes were killing me – 2 black & blue toenails and some cuts I just couldn’t avoid the whining…  OUCH OUCH OUCH I would yell as I slammed my quads down the hill.  The 2 girls passed me in that last section.  It was a killer to my psyche as they pranced by. 🙁  Jill ducked out toward the truck on the side and let me finish in the corral.  I was so happy it was over, I had counted down those final 8 miles and just wished it had gone faster for me.  I was truly amazed with my time, as Greta wasn’t there to give me that feedback.  I looked at the computer from the race guys and I finished in 8 hours, 30 minutes and 13 seconds.  I was thrilled, proud, excited and truly elated with my finish!  I couldn’t stand up and needed to be lowered to the ground.  It felt so good to just stop running at that point in time.  I remember looking around watching the people supporting and cheering – so thankful for my husband’s support and love.  It was truly an incredible race.
We wandered around, got a nice bite to eat, all healthy foods at the buffet for racers — something to drink and waited for the results to come in.  They told Jill it would be a couple hours. So we went to the truck & my Prius where my sweet husband had some champagne on ice for celebration of my finish!    We said thank you and good bye to Jill as she hit the road and then went back to the race where Zeke awarded me my “jug” of maple syrup in a bottle etched with the VT50 logo.  My first ultramarathon to place 24th overall (254 entrants for the 50 miler) — 4th woman and 1st in my age group was a HUGE accomplishment and below all the mud, I was beaming with pride. 

Those of you looking for data:  Here are my splits — just for the first 30- I have to pull the last 10 miles off another account, so this is what I have to share so far:  

Avg Pace
Summary 6:05:39.0 34.62 10:33.6
1 7:35.4 1.00 7:35.4
2 9:34.2 1.00 9:34.2
3 9:10.2 1.00 9:10.2
4 10:11.8 1.00 10:11.8
5 9:41.2 1.00 9:41.2
6 9:18.0 1.00 9:18.0
7 7:00.5 1.00 7:00.5
8 9:20.4 1.00 9:20.4
9 8:33.1 1.00 8:33.1
10 10:33.6 1.00 10:33.6
11 9:17.3 1.00 9:17.3
12 9:29.1 1.00 9:29.1
13 9:45.5 1.00 9:45.5
14 9:12.9 1.00 9:12.9
15 9:53.1 1.00 9:53.1
16 9:17.5 1.00 9:17.5
17 11:07.6 1.00 11:07.6
18 12:24.5 1.00 12:24.5
19 9:30.8 1.00 9:30.8
20 10:37.3 1.00 10:37.3
21 9:36.1 1.00 9:36.1
22 12:10.7 1.00 12:10.7
23 12:18.2 1.00 12:18.2
24 12:04.8 1.00 12:04.8
25 10:17.9 1.00 10:17.9
26 11:47.5 1.00 11:47.5
27 10:46.3 1.00 10:46.3
28 9:46.3 1.00 9:46.3
29 10:45.7 1.00 10:45.7
30 15:44.8 1.00 15:44.8
31 12:10.2 1.00 12:10.2
32 11:24.9 1.00 11:24.9
33 12:42.9 1.00 12:42.9
34 15:00.2 1.00 15:00.2
35 7:26.7 0.62 11:58.9

Finish time: 8 hours 30 minutes and 13 seconds  
10:12 minutes per mile average
24th overall
4th woman
1st in 40-49 age group

Now what?
I reflect on all of this days later and wonder what is next for me… I have the New York City marathon on my calendar and have some fast goals for that race.  It won’t be easy, even though after running 50 miles it may seem very short!  I feel more addicted to running than ever before, realizing all its benefits, accomplishing what I have accomplished in my racing and training.  I guess we will see where this taste of “ultra” leads, as my choice of races may just be a little longer in the future.  🙂  After all, the ultra run is an incredible challenge for my body and my soul- and after surviving cancer this past year — all I want to do is kick as hard as possible.

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Nancy Cook 2021

About Nancy

Nancy Peck Cook is a trainer and speaker who has presented in front of large and small audiences for the past 25 years.  Her work as an executive and volunteer trainer for the American Cancer Society during the growth of the signature activity Relay For Life trained professionals to be more confident and successful in their roles. 

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