Oct 102012

100 moments, 100 miles: A Report from the Virgil Crest Ultra-Marathon

  1. Abandoned plans to run small distances and lift large weights this summer. Registered for the Virgil Crest Ultra-Marathon instead.


2. First long run of 12 miles after recovering from a stress fracture reminded me that I love, absolutely love, to run trails.


3.Ian called out to me from the lawn chair which he’d collapsed into directly after running the Vermont 100 in 21 hours. I thought he was going to ask me to get him a soda. He asked if I had support for Virgil Crest instead.


4. A planning session with Ian over burnt burgers and strong coffee. Maps, charts, and graphs. An offer to pace me for 42 miles through the night.  A runner that I have a ton of respect for becoming a friend that I could never have done this without.


5. Long runs on roads, quad crushing hill repeats. 20 milers.  Running 14 miles to the starting line of a 6 mile race trail and then racing it, power hiking the meanest climbs that I could find and dive-bombing down them. 25 milers. Running under the moonlight and alongside galloping horses while pacing Jeremy at the Vermont 100 Endurance Run. 30 milers.  Packing 5,000 calories worth of fuel and a ten dollar bill into a waist pack and heading out at sunrise for a sunset return. 53 miles. 25 miles. 20 miles., 12 miles., Taper  time….


6. Text from Jordan “Just registered for the Virgil Crest 50K!” Road trip.


7. Asked Mindy to come with me to N.Y She said yes.


8. Gear, food, supplies packed. Early morning freak out due to Jordan being late. Hit the road.
9. Nervous energy. A perfectly timed call from Jeremy to say good luck.


10 Eating lunch from an aluminum tray in the parking lot of a Shaws’s in MA. Horns honked, a guy smoked a cigar, and the sun beat down on the blacktop. Ate quick and beat feet for N.Y.


11. A 16 oz cup of Starbucks dark roast in my hand. The windows down, the music cranking, and Mindy’s head on my shoulder, 3 hours to Virgil.


12. The fire station and a bunch of green hoodie wearing, ultra running bad-asses from the mountains of Maine. George, Squirrel, and Scout registering for their 50 mile “fun-run” Rick and Ann supporting the team.


13. Took a pre-race picture, dug the pre-race shwag, snubbed the pre-race dinner, followed George and company to greener and greasier pastures.
14. BBQ ribs, sweet potato fries, collard greens, and cornbread at Hairy Tony’s. Good conversation, words of wisdom, words of warmth, delicious memories and plans for a post-race return.


15. Holy Shit. (The view of the Alpine Loop from the very, very, bottom)


16. Arrived at The Love Den, our uber-posh  rental where Ian, James, and Joe had race-prep fully underway.


17. Logistics covered, drop bags packed and  repacked, a walk under the starts to clear the head, sleep.


18. Wake-Up!


19. Oatmeal with loads of almond butter, shredded coconut, raw nuts and fresh fruit, Coffee. Shower. Battle-ready.


20. Group pic and out the door.

Photo: TMR Ultra Team pre-race at Virgil Crest Ultras


21. The longest walk to a race start….ever.
22. “I don’t know if you ever feel “ready enough” for these things but if there was ever a day for me to run 100 miles this is it”- Me to Jordan on the dark and winding road to race start.


23. The longest wait for a race start…ever.


24. Last minute hugs, a slice of banana bread, and into the huddle. The countdown begins.


25. 3,2,1…It’s on.


26. Almost ran straight into a tiki torch.


27. Circled the lake for the first time and looked forward to heading into the trails.


28. Glanced behind me to see a string of glowing headlamps lining the paved path around Hope Lake. Glad the journey had officially begun. Glad to witness everyone embarking on their personal adventure. Glad that the majority of them were behind me…


29. Sunrise.


30. Pulled into Gravel Pit, the first aid station, where I planned to hand of my headlamp to Ian or Mindy. They weren’t there yet. Good….


31. Out of the aid station, back into the trails, directly into a nest of wasps.


32. A black cloud swarmed my right leg, stung me 8 times, flew down the back of my shirt and stung me again as I flailed around smacking my back. Then one stung me on my head.


33. I talked with another stung runner who was nervous about allergies. Spent the next mile questioning whether I was feeling weird from being stung 10 times, feeling weird because I was 5 miles into a 100 mile run and fully aware of that fact, or not feeling weird at all.


34. Realized I was running my first 100 mile race while holding up my shorts which were inexplicably falling off of my waist.. (They fit well a few weeks ago….maybe all the running?) Planned to swap these out at the next stop and splurge on compression shorts for the next ultra.


35. Pulled into Lift House 5. to  Ian saying “You’re fast man. You should slow down”. Changed my shorts behind the porta-john, filled up a water bottle, and climbed up the Alpine Loop for the first time.


36. Steep climb,,,and another….and finally the  infamous stretch of straight -up single track  that I’d read about in so many race reports. Enjoyed a beautiful view at the top followed by a nice downhill stretch which, against my better judgment, I bombed  as hard as I could. Gained a few positions for my efforts and held them for the rest of the race.  (The plan at this point was to run hard until the wheels fell off, keep running hard until the whole wagon fell apart, and then drag the pieces through the mountains and across the finish line. And that’s pretty much  how it went…)


37. Picked up my waist pack and headed out to the road with a half marathon behind me and the 25 mile turn around at Daisy Hollow on my mind. Ian said “You’re going up hill again”. This surprised me- for some reason I had anticipated, and mentally prepared for, a downhill stretch. It ended up being the toughest part of the course and one of the low points of the race.


38. Legs started to wear out on me. This didn’t happen once during the Peaks 50 (aside from cramping I felt physically strong the whole way through,) and I regretted not jumping on more boxes, squatting more heavy loads, and flipping more tractor trailer tires throughout this training cycle.


39. Stopped to stretch my legs out on a tree-about 6 times. The stretch stops paid off and the pace picked up as the rain came down.


40. Deja’ Vue at Daisy Hollow: Pulled into Daisy Hollow in the cold and steady rain about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. I was grateful to see chicken soup (the first hot food of the race) and sandwiches. I stretched out on the cold and muddy ground and had the most incredible case of deja vue. The rain, the aid- station, the faces of the volunteers, this entire moment crystal clear in my mind from a vision or memory or a dream. Plenty of time for philosophizing on the way back…


41.Headed out from Daisy Hollow hard with a sub 11 hour 50 suddenly on my mind.


42. Raced the next 25 miles like I was racing the 50 mile runners.


43. Thought about what a nice 50 this would be.


44. Never once questioned whether I would or could finish the 100. (The DNF stats from previous years confirmed my fears of running a double-out-and-back 100. Sure must be nice to be back at the hotel with a solid 50 behind you as the sun sets on the lake and the smell of dinner fills the air….)I wondered if this temptation to quit would sneak in through some  mental window left open by the past 11 hours of running. Thankfully it didn’t


45. Ran my favorite section of the course over rolling and lush green single track as the post-rain
sunshine peeked through trees and spilled onto the trail. Enjoyed this moment to the absolute fullest

46. Chatted with a runner from Montreal who was dropping at 50 (he hurt his knee). He was friendly, had run a bunch of 100’s, and was good trail company. Until…


47. He casually mentioned that I was “a good rabbit” I have to admit that in my mid-ultra state of mind I took this to mean that he was running the 100, had pressed me harder than I realized (the pace of the last 25 miles was starting to set in on me) while he took it easy reclining in my shadow. He would assuredly drop the hammer as we emerged from the trails and onto the paved path leading to the race start, blow in and out of the aid station, and smoke me in this race. I dropped the hammer first.


48. Realized that running all day makes you (me) a little paranoid as my friend slowed down, wished me well, and prepared to drop out of the race and sit down to dinner just as he said he would.


49. All of my “feel-good” from the last 25 miles was suddenly gone….with a 1/2 mile to go until I reached Mindy, dinner, and the halfway point of the race I bombed out and had to do a super-slow ultra-shuffle around the lake and across the line


50. Mindy’s smile was sweet, sitting down for a minute felt great, and the plate of hamburger s (no bun) topped with avocado slices and tomatoes alongside several turkey roll-ups with small piles of hummus surrounding it all was one of the most beautiful things that I’d ever seen.


51. Packed a burger in a plastic baggie, woofed down a slice of banana bread for good measure, and hit the trails for the second 50 miles of the race feeling super strong and ready to run!


52. Ian geared up and waiting for me at mile 54.


53. Sharing moments from the past 12 hours with Ian as we rocked and rolled over the first stretch of trail and onto the road at dusk.


54. Scout, Squirrel, and George coming down the trail and closing out at kick-ass 50 miler together!


55. Headlamps on.


 56. Began our first pass of the Alpine Loop together. Black sky, small bright stars, and cool fall air moving in.


57. Climbing up the mountain towards Daisy Hollow for the last time. Yellow ropes hanging off of the steepest sections, Ian keeping me on trail at several critical junctures, both of us possibly entertaining the thought of a 24-25 hour finish in the very backs of our minds….\


58. Ran the smooth trails fast (well…mile 70 fast) and tried to not fall off the mountain in between.


59. Rain poured down.


60. Rain poured down harder.


61. Chased down several runners on a rain soaked stretch of single track in the deepest darkest part of the mountains in the deepest darkest part of the night. Traded positions a few times in an epic race battle that I won’t ever forget. Man…what a moment.


62. We figured out that I was currently in 8th place


63. Approached the Rock Pile aid station and, suddenly, started to not feel so good.


64. A handful of gummy worms at Rock Pile. Surprised that Ian passed on the pirogues. (He really liked them when he ran this race last year) Off into the woods.


65. Body-rocking nausea. Slow going and slowly going slower.


66. Hot spots on my feet going from a slow burn to an angry sizzle. And getting hotter…


67. Increasingly sick from everything ultra. The sugar, the gels, the bars. The cookies, the candy, the broth. The taste of another s-cap washed down by nuun and sliding down my throat. The cold wet clothes soaked in rain and sweat and stuck to my body. I was shivering. This stretch was going to suck….but as long as we moved forward we would move past it. Leave it behind. And at some point, hopefully, bounce back from it.


68. Ian mentioned James. Why hadn’t we seen him on the rebound yet? Was he okay? Was he off trail? He should have passed us a while ago…


69. Thought of my Dad who passed away a little over ten years ago. I wonder what he would think of these races. Would he respect it? Be proud of me? Or dismiss it as crazy? My Dad didn’t talk much but one thing that he said, over and over, when life got hard and tough got tougher was “This too shall pass”. I shared this with Ian as I held onto these words through a very low point in the night.


70. James! The beam of a headlamp peered through the trees and I knew immediately that it was him. He looked strong sporting that “I’m going to get your ass” smile that he races with. Apparently he hit a low point, bounced back, and was officially back in chase mode. Go get ’em brother.


71. The flames of a campfire, the glow of tiki torches, the sights and sounds of Daisy Hollow approaching.


72. Mile 75. I had looked forward to this moment throughout the whole race. I thought that a finish would be in the bag at this point, that if I had to crawl the last 25 miles then I’d crawl, but no matter what, I would finish. What I never considered was the possibility of passing out and being pulled off course. And I was this close to passing out as we headed back down the trail for the last stretch of the race…


73. My stomach began to slowly settle and the sickness ever so slowly began to fade.


74. The fire in my shoes blazed on like an inferno.


73. A slip on a slick rock sent me knee-cap first into something sharp and hard. For a second I thought I shattered my knee. I wondered if I’d be able to move once the first powerful wave of pain blew past and I envisioned leaving the woods on a stretcher with a DNF at mile 82.


74. Realized that my knee still worked and that if I could avoid falling off of the mountain during the technical passes or sliding down the mud-slopped peak of the Alpine Loop and breaking my neck, that I was only 18 miles away from my finish. But everything on me was breaking or broken at this point and it would be slow going form here.


75. Power hiking…


76. Ian asked if I would have trained differently for the race. Yes. Just as I realized early on in the race more of the functional strength training that I emphasized prior to the Peaks 50 and which left me feeling strong the whole race through would have been hugely beneficial. Unfortunately, it had been a crazy couple of months and my schedule just didn’t allow for me to maintain the cross-training volume while increasing the mileage for this race.


77. Approaching the Alpine Loop for the final pass. Preparing my mind for what was going to be a painful, painful couple of hours. Preparing my strategy for a quick aid-station stop (once we started hiking up that climb there it would be all out forward motion until the finish and I wanted to be sure that my  last stop at this drop bag before heading out for the last 9 miles was well utilized


78. I couldn’t believe what I saw when we approached the familiar glow of the aid station. There was Mindy with a smile on her face, a French press full of Alanzo’s Double Dark, and a bowl of the most delicious oatmeal that I’d ever seen. At 3 something in the morning in the mountain of New York. Man…


80.Late night -ultra carnage by the campfire. Several camp chairs surrounded the fire and were filled with dropped or dropping runners. Despair and accomplishment combined under the late night sky


81. Hiking boots. I’d packed my timberland hiking boots and a pair of thick wool socks in case the loop became to muddy to run and allowed a chance to dry my shoes by the fire while power hiking it at some point on the race. Now that my feet were shredded, each step feeling as though I was walking on shards of broken flaming glass, the boots were a survival tool that I was really fortunate to have packed.


82. Changed my shit, grabbed a hat, strapped on the boots, sipped some coffee, sipped some more, took a few bites of oatmeal and headed up the mountain.


83. Ian and I plowed up the first climb slowly, steadily and quietly together. The air was cool and turning cold. The slower that we were able to move the quicker that the chill set in.


84. Ian ran ahead a little to keep warm. I tried to do the same, and failed.


85. The descent down the steepest stretch of single track was painfully suspenseful. Each movement hurt like hell and each slip, fall, or unexpected slide brought with it a new, fresh pain as well as the possibility of rolling down the hill.


84. As we passed the most scenic stretch of the loop Ian stopped suddenly to point out the glow rising behind the mountains. I smiled. I had envisioned this moment for months and it was nothing short of epic. Several times throughout the night Ian had stopped me to look at the stars or to point out the beauty of a late night trail run. This is helpful on so many levels and was truly much appreciated.


85. We shuffled down the final hill and moved towards the glowing aid station for the last time. I had 5 miles on my mind. Five hard miles that I couldn’t run a step of no matter how I tried and that would take almost 2 hours to complete. 5 miles until I saw Mindy, who would pace me to the finish. 5 miles in the light of the rising morning sun along some of my favorite stretches of trail on the course.


86. Pancakes and sausage dripping with syrup. Enough said.


87. 1.5 miles of uphill road


88. Back into the woods. The morning was becoming increasingly gorgeous and I attempted to run a few times during this stretch but the combination of my busted knee, ,shredded feet, and blown- out quads didn’t allow me to get more than a few steps into a stride. I enjoyed the view as best I could, talked lively with Ian about all that had happened  mentally, physical, and emotionally over the past 25 hours, and looked forward to seeing Mindy at Gravel Pit and putting this race in the bag.


89. Gravel Pit. There she was, geared up and ready to go. The smile never left her face throughout this 25 hour ordeal and I only wished that I could have run this last 4 miles smooth and easy with her. Mindy’s presence made the hardest 4 miles of my life as “easy”, as “enjoyable” and as memorable as they possibly could have been .


90. We saw the contours of the road from behind the treeline and knew that the Lodge was right around the corner.
91. The field near the finish line was empty save for a small group who began to cheer when they saw us coming down the road. It was my team, each recovering from their own battles and each taking the time to welcome me to other side of the finish line. Amazing…


92. As we neared the line we broke into something like a jog.


93. Across the line. 27 hours and forty eight minutes after starting this run I was welcomed with hugs, words of love and encouragement, and a belt buckle that I held in my mud-caked hands and absolutely beamed at.

Photo: a hard-earned reward


95. The miles that led me to to the finish line of the Virgil Crest 100 all hit me at once in a moment overwhelming power. It absolutely shook me and I’ll never forget the feeling.


96. Joe, who had gone through a very hard stretch at this race, crossed the finish line and proved that he has absolutely no quit in him. An absolute machine and a total inspiration.

97. Jordan finished his first 50k after an early mile injury forced him into painful slow-mo for most of the race. Another incredible example of the mental toughness that need and the mental toughness that you gain to accomplish these things. Congrats brother!


98. A return to the restaurant and a dinner that I was admittedly too shot to even realize I was eating. But the experience of being there with Mindy and Jordan was one that I won’t forget.


99. A small Comfort Inn on the outskirts of town. A trip to Friendly’s for huge ice cream sundays. Comfortable beds, my ultra-comrades passed out from the events of the day, and the Simpsons on the TV on a Sunday night.


100. Three weary out-of-towners stumble (or hobble) out of a hotel lobby in the early morning and hit the highway with the little town of Virgil N.Y and the Virgil Crest Ultramarathon in the rear view mirror

Post-Race “team pic” by Ian Parlin

 Posted by at 12:00 pm

  3 Responses to “Virgil Crest 100 – David Bidler”

  1. An awesome, inspirational report Dave. I’ll never be able to run a 100 mile race but thanks to you, and the other trail monsters who so generously provide your experiences, I can live one. Thanks for providing both the good moments and the bad. I felt them all amost as vividly as you (But not quite I’m sure.)

  2. Dave

    I like the “bulleted” version of your race report. A very impressive feat, finishing VC the way you did – your first 100 mile race, and honored to make a small cameo in your report. I’m looking forward to hearing about your racing plans for next year. Keep jumping on those boxes!

  3. Really enjoyed reading your amazing experience with the Virgil Crest 100. I just signed up last night and reading your account has made me realized what I’m up against so I will getting into the weight training. I’m 62, from Nova Scotia, Canada and this will be my first attempt at a 100 miler. I’ve done, what I consider a lot of trail running homework in the last 3 yrs. to finally get me to attack such a feat as the 100 miler. So, I’ll be back reading your story over probably many times to keep me inspired and to remind me to be strong.
    Cheers, awesome story and happy trails, David.

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