The race started at 4 AM on a cold rainy summer morning in a hayfield in central Vermont. I had never been with so many 100 miler racers before, and all 300 of us made quite a buzz for so early in the morning. The race organization couldn’t be beat. For the start, they had coffee and bagels under the main football field - sized tent, but I was full from my banana, peanut butter, and granola bar hastily scarped up in the car. In the crowd, people wore headlamps, water bottles, backpacks, tights, t-shirts, running shoes, compression socks and sleeves, and more. The field included elite athletes that were attempting the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning — running four of the oldest 100 mile races, all in one summer. The first race of the summer, Western States Endurance Run, was only 3 weeks prior to today, and runners I passed said they still felt the fatigue from it. One older thin man near me wore a yellow shirt with signatures all over. I asked who signed his shirt. He said all the elementary school girls from the Girls on the Run program he coached, as well as family and friends. What a great idea, I thought, to wear a shirt signed by so many loved ones and young runners. I put that in my hat of tricks for when I became a running coach and educator some day soon. What I didn’t know then was, the man’s name was Rolly, short for Roland, and he would be my running partner for the first 30 miles.
There wasn’t a starting gun that was fired, on account of it being 4 AM on a Saturday in rural Vermont. We had heard from the race director, Amy Rusiecki, many times to be kind, respectful, and unobtrusive with the private landowners whose land we would run through on the course. Drive slow, park only where directed, and, most importantly she said, don’t poop on their lawns. The fact that this needed to be asked of us was proof that, yes, people had pooped on lawns, in gardens, driveways, you name it. I also later learned in the race from returning racers that they had shot off July 4th- intensity fireworks at 4:30 AM a few years back, and that really pissed off the landowners.
After we counted down from 10 to 0, we all sleepily started jogging down a gravel and dirt road. I felt like we were falling over from sleep rather than bounding towards the finish line. When I looked behind me, I saw a sea of dancing white lights and heard countless footsteps and gear rustling. A truly unique sight in all my 27 years. I was so giddy to finally be at the pinnacle of my training, a 100 mile race. I was so grateful and happy that I was healthy, depression-free, and had direction in life. I was living the dream! I wanted to qualify for the Western States 100 through completing this race, though, so I had to ensure I finished. Slow and steady, I repeated. Slow and steady.
To be continued…