Jun 112014

by Tom Whitaker –

My First 100 mile report


I quit the race at mile 68. I was sitting down in a chair at the road crossing and just wanting it to all be over. All I wanted to do was to get back to my tent, crawl into my sleeping bag and go to sleep so that somehow the pain would go away. I had convinced myself that I was satisfied with running eighteen miles farther than I ever had. I was also convincing myself that I just wasn’t meant to run 100 miles. The problem was that I couldn’t convince my crew or a Jedi who would not let me drop out of the race.
The pain had been building over the last twelve or so miles. I was on the third of four twenty five mile laps at the TARC 100. Even though the sky was now dark, much of the day’s heat had remained and I just felt like I couldn’t go on. My pacer, John Rodrigue, sat in chair next to me and I knew I was really letting him down after all the sacrifices he had made on my behalf. My other pacer, Chris Hayward, was waiting for me seven miles away at the start/finish area, and I felt even worse about him, not even giving him the opportunity to run when he had also sacrificed so much on my behalf.
The others who equally important to me as I sat there having my little pity party were my father Nate and AG Gillis who had been crewing for me most of the day. AG hadn’t been crewing for me all day as he had attempted to run his first fifty miler. Unfortunately he only completed one lap but that was no small feat as he only signed up a week before and really hadn’t trained, and as those who were there knew this turned out to be one tough course. Not part of my crew but instead working at the road crossing were George and  Ann Alexion. To have George “The Jedi” there at that moment turned out to be nothing short of a miracle.
I had thoughts of ending my day about three miles earlier as I came into the unmanned aid station at the fifteen mile mark on the course. It was unmanned except for my father and AG as we had scouted out the location the night before and planned for them to meet me there throughout the day, and now night. I was spent after the last five miles that had the biggest climbs on the course, and ironically some of the most runnable sections. Problem was that I could no longer run. John was working hard to keep my pace up but the pain in my knees and feet was too severe to do anything but walk as quickly as I could. I leaned against a fence taking in some food and liquids while keeping mostly quiet about my thoughts of dropping from the race. My dad had my hiking poles at the ready as I hoped using them would aid me in continuing my race. I was going to test them over the next three miles and if they didn’t do the job I was sure that I was going to quit.
Before I ever got to that dark place, I would say that most everything was working out as planned.
I had assembled an incredibly awesome team and had them all on board with my plans to get me through a hundred miles. My father and I were just about the first team to arrive at the Hale Reservation in Westwood, MA on Friday so we got first choice on a tent-site. We set up my six person tent that had enough room for our cots. AG arrived a few hours later while other teams also arrived. The three of us managed to find a cool restaurant after the place I planned on eating at was closed. After dinner, we hit the packet pick up area where I weighed in and diverted my eyes as best as I could from the finisher buckles and jackets. I didn’t want to think about the big picture, I just wanted to keep myself focused on the moments.
Back at camp, I gave my father instructions and written plans for the day. He has always fully supported me in all aspects and I couldn’t think of anyone else, besides maybe my mother or wife, who would do whatever it took to help me accomplish my goals. My lovely wife Mo couldn’t be there for me as she was attending her college reunion at Villanova along with our kids Maggie and Quinn. Her mission was to convince Maggie perhaps to attend a different college other than mine. This past fall we all went to my reunion at Norwich University, The Military College of Vermont and Maggie came back saying that she wanted to go there. Of course she is only eight and has lots of time to figure out her future but I would rather her not want to attend the same school that nearly broke me apart.
I actually got a decent night of sleep even though there was still some activity happening around camp, mostly from a family that had three young kids crammed into a tent less than half the size of my own. I was up a couple times during the night for mother nature calls and actually had to cross the trail that I would soon be running across. The alarm went off at four and I immediately set to work getting ready. A cup of tea, a bagel and banana for breakfast and I also chewed down a couple Pepto tablets as an attempt to ward of any digestive issues that I may encounter during the day.
As AG offered coffee to an Englishman from Nantucket who tented near us, I was ready to walk to the starting area. AG still had a couple hours before his race was to start. One more pit stop before I got to the starting area and before I really even had time to think about it the race was on.
I always find it really funny how slow the start is to an ultra race as I was surrounded by about eighty other adventurous souls shuffling along. I caught up with one of the two other runners I knew, Bob Dunfey, and I chatted with him briefly about the previous night. I did not see him again, and was soon following a pack that all knew each other well. As they chatted and shuffled I was thinking that I would have preferred some silence as I could just hear some beautiful bird songs in the air. I was also trying to listen for my watch to beep off the miles reminding me to drink and eat.
One factor of the race that I could not control was quickly becoming evident as the sun was rising higher in the sky, the heat! All spring many people had been complaining how could it was while I kept hoping that the temps would stay unseasonably low, at least for this weekend. I had been keeping an eye on weather reports and still feeling okay about low seventies but when I heard it would be up in the eighties I got worried, real worried. Heat is my enemy. To battle it I chose to wear my new Pineland Cani-Cross Race shirt as it really was the lightest I had in my synthetic drawer and had given my dad bandannas and sponges packed in ice and water to cool me off at pit stops. Beyond that, I couldn’t do much more except tell myself to make sure I didn’t drop before nightfall as I may have a chance to finish if I didn’t give up when it was to be the hottest time of the day.
The first aid station was at mile five and I came in fine and my father was there as planned.  So far the trail had been exactly as I expected. Very rolling single track with plenty rocks and roots. The course was well marked but I had to pay attention. There were even signs asking runners to stay quiet as we were running right behind some very nice homes. It was very surprising this massive park/reservation was able to exist in an area with so many homes close to it.

Over the course of the next ten miles something very slowly bad was starting to happen as I ran up and down more hills and past a number of damned ponds. I was wearing a hydration pack loaded with a Cytomax mix which a few weeks ago I took the time to properly wash out. After the washing suds had formed while inconveniently out for a long run.  I thought I had taken care of the problem. I even tested the bag since then but only with clear water. But now I could see some suds forming in the clear tube. As I am sure it was already close to eighty degrees I began to panic a little.Luckily it remained drinkable coming into the aid station at mile ten, even so I took in a little more fluids than usual. I was a little surprised to have one runner coming in my direction shortly after I left and I wondered if the course had been remarked to come back to this station twice and thus leaving my father stranded at the side of the road.

The course had the greatest elevation change over the next five miles. At one point there was even a good view of the nearby Boston skyline. I had been chatting with a few different people but when a guy from Philadelphia and I began talking sports we somehow found ourselves standing on the side of a road. We both knew we shouldn’t be at a road and I actually recognized the spot in the road from our scouting journey the night before. We turned around and fortunately a few hundred yards away we found the spot where we should have turned. Phew, if you’re going to get lost on a trail race that was the best possible way to have that happen.

By now, there was nothing but foam in the tube from my hydration pack. I soon found my father waiting for me at the fifteen mile mark. I quickly pulled out some food from my pack and shoved them into my shorts pockets. I grabbed some other treats from him and told him fill up my spare bladder bag and see if it would fit into the pack at the next stop, and if it wouldn’t just keep it in the hiking pack it came with. I had also had my father ready with a handheld bottle filled with iced tea. So I took that with me towards the next stop. Yes, I had tried to be prepared for the worst.

The trail can bring a number of surprises but the biggest of the day was when I was approaching the eighteen mile mark when I suddenly see my fellow Trail Monster runner Ryan Triffit charging towards me. I knew his wife Danielle was running the 50 mile race and he would be crewing for her, but why in the hell was he at that part of the course already? Was I moving that slow? After our usual enthusiastic greetings I noticed he had scraped up his leg and was really breathing more heavily than I. He was asking about aid stations and then darted off towards the road crossing. I yelled asking about an extra bladder, to which I got a negative and then he was off across the road. Before I had finished refreshing myself thanks to my father, Ryan came flying again across the road in full panic mode trying to figure where his bad ass wife was on the course. I wished I could have offered more help but I would have had to knock him down with a big rock first before he would have stopped to listen to me. I hoped that Danielle wasn’t experiencing any technical difficulties like me.

A little over mile away another aid station waited for me at the edge of a farm and thus a number of fields. There was a nicely mowed path skirting the edge of the fields and made for some of the most pleasant running of the day. The temps were still rising, and as beautiful a place as this was I feared the exposure that I would be facing on the second loop. The station was well stocked like the previous two but this one had a little something extra. Some guy was outfitted in a cow suit including udders. It was hard not to laugh out loud and I just had to comment that ‘he’ wasn’t supposed to have udders. He said his girlfriend’s mother had made it for him, so of course he HAD to wear it. I was still chuckling as I enjoyed circling around the fields again making my way towards the end of my first loop.

After the fields the trail got real rough in my opinion. It was just hard to run. There were few spots to get any pace and as soon as you did suddenly a large boulder burst from the ground forcing you edge up it and then carefully ascend it. UGH! I was hoping to complete the first lap in about five hours which meant a mere twelve minute a mile pace and now for the first time when I began crunching the numbers I knew this expectation wasn’t going to be meant, and if that expectation for one lap wasn’t going to be met, what about the entire race?

I expected the final aid station to be a little closer than it turned out to be after I had recrossed the road. My watch was already indicating twenty five miles but no start/finish area. I had to cross a couple of beaches to finally get there and thrilled to find John waiting for me along with my father. Also on hand was fellow Trail Monster Jamie Anderson who was crewing his wife in the fifty. While my dad handed me over the new pack, John and Jamie led me to the food and drink table encouraging me to eat and drink. I made sure I still had plenty of treats with me in my new pack and set off on my second lap.

The miles seemed to be flying by, not because I was running great, but I found myself in good company of a couple of other runners, both of whom had already completed hundred mile races including TARC’s (Trail Animal Racing Club) 100 miler the previous year held at a different location. I knew from others that it had been a challenging race as there was lots of mud and swamp like conditions but these two indicated they were finding this course to be much more technically challenging. One runner was Giles, the Englishman who tented near us. We talked more about soccer than running. Before I knew it I was in mile five aid station. John was really checking me over and my pack, telling me that I wasn’t drinking enough and then he and one of the aid volunteers began to question my urination frequency. I had gone a couple of times during the day, and felt that I needed to go, but they said that was not enough. They then made me drink like a lush losing a drinking game of asshole. I really wasn’t feeling bad but I obeyed and didn’t question as I knew it was going to be a long hot day.

The other runner I spent a lot of time talking to was a woman from Western Mass named Donna who is really a bad ass ultra machine. We talked more about dogs than running which again made the miles fly by. I was still trying to remember my orders from John and took in even more fluids at the next aid station. I was also doing a decent job with caloric intake and really pleased that I was having absolutely no digestive problems. That’s kind of a lie, as I did lightly throw up around the 50K mark but that moment passed by quickly. But just like playing a drinking game, what are you supposed to do after you puke? That’s right, get right back up to the table and resume the game.

As I approached the peak with the Boston view, I was able to catch a fifty mile runner. I could tell as their race number bibs were in green as opposed to our white ones. He looked like a fit runner so I presumed he must just be crashing a little bit on his second lap. Soon after I spot a guy just off the trail with some nice camera equipment. He calls ahead to someone else that this guy behind me is approaching. He doesn’t point his camera towards me, so I tell him not to bother as the guy coming up is much more handsome than myself. Then I don’t really know why but when I get to the top I feel like I just need to moon Boston. I love Boston too, well at least it’s sports team, and certainly not it’s traffic. With my shorts back on I apologize to cameraman number two as I ascend from the peak.

I begin to play cat and mouse with a woman ahead of me who has her game face on. After she overtakes me going up yes another hill, we both are a little surprised to see a couple women coming towards us. They begin to question us if we are on the right trail, or going the right direction. We both try to tell them they are somehow off course but they are in total disbelief. I question which aid stations they have been to and which peaks as well. They can’t answer me well and I tell them I don’t know where they went wrong but they are off course. They really don’t believe me, or at least don’t want to. I want to help them but I don’t want to get into an argument about how I am right and they are wrong.

My father is waiting again for me at the fifteen mile station, also there is another runner who is looking pretty dejected. He has that long distance stare that doesn’t want to believe what is happening around him. I fear for his race future. My father tells me that he has been near the top most of the day. The volunteer who was checking me over back at five now pulls up in his truck, and I quickly get my stuff together wanting to get out of his way before he may question my facilities, which I feel are quite well.

Although I do enjoy the company of runners during races, I also enjoy having the woods all to myself, and with less than three hundred runners combined between the two races over a course of twenty five miles, I do find some of the solitude that I enjoy. You really can’t get that while running many road races. Maybe if you’re in the lead, but that sure as hell won’t happen for me in this lifetime. But I do enjoy having someone in front of me even more than anything. So I spot one guy not far from the road crossing and I set my sights on him. I politely say hello as I catch him and tell him that it is good that he is smiling so much, then I see his green bib and tell him of course he should be smiling as he is almost done and jokingly that I don’t really like him at which he laughs understanding my humor.

I am thrilled to see new volunteers at the road crossing, not anything wrong with the previous ones, but now Ann and George Alexion are safely helping runners across the road. There is a small amount of food and water available here but I have my father there once again who hands me back my old pack saying that it wasn’t soap suds in the bag just excess air causing the bubbles and that John has shown him how to take out the air to keep the cool liquids flowing into my system.I give Ann a hug before crossing the road and introduce my father. She states that she sees the resemblance, I respond by saying, “Do you think he’s that handsome?” I’m all smiles and feeling great and give more hugs to George in the middle of the road.

The woman who I had been running close to was now back in front of me and we crossed paths with a fifty miler who said to us, “This isn’t any fun.” I didn’t say it but totally disagreed. I couldn’t believe how much fun I actually was having. Sure things were rough and I was a little fatigued and still had more than half my run ahead of me but I was not sharing that same attitude.

I had done my best to keep running with the exception of hills, which were quite abundant. Some I felt were ridiculous to walk even in an effort to save energy. There was one hill to ascend shortly before coming back into the fields. This brought me back to my power-walk and I decided to keep with that pace although I was on the flattest stretch of the entire course. I watched as the woman, who’s name I learned later as Lori Wetzl and has an amazing ultra resume, pulled further ahead of me, but I disciplined myself to save my energy as the sun’s rays lashed out it’s most intense heat of the day. I came into the aid station only disappointed as the cow suit was not being worn by anyone.

An amazing thing happened as I strode out of the aid station, some clouds obscured the sun. I picked the pace back up not wanting to waste this tremendous opportunity. Even though I was again running, Donna last name Utakis, who I also later learned has a stellar ultra career, caught back up to me. I hate being passed in a race but now it was actually pretty nice being able to strike back up a conversation with her. It helped to get through what I still thought of as the toughest part of the course before we got back to the road crossing.

This time after crossing the road, I did grab a little something to eat and this allowed George to catch up with me. He gave me some real encouraging words and basically told me how it didn’t matter how fast I went the rest of the race. In case you don’t know who George is, let me tell you basically that he is an inspiration. He’s not the fastest runner on the trail but he finishes, he finished four one-hundred mile races last year alone. So when he wraps his arm around your shoulder and gives you support and advice how to finish a hundred mile race, you pay attention.

I crossed the first beach heading towards the starting area, which was now getting well used by the local public, and why the heck not as it was a perfect beach day. One boy who looked a little older than my daughter, stood still and just stared at me probably trying to fathom who or what I was. I smiled toward him and asked how the water was. He said it was good and I moved on wishing that I had time for a swim.

Back at the starting area my crew was waiting for me with John all suited up and ready to roll. AG was now on board as sadly his race day was over, but selfishly I was a little glad as I didn’t want him totally spent trying to keep up with my father all night. I had a full wardrobe change planned, but just changed that to a sock and sneaker change. So off with my Brooks Cascadias which were a pretty solid shoe that had done their job on the rough terrain and on with practically a new pair of New Balance 1025’s, a style that I had gotten plenty of use from but wanted a new pair with as much cushioning as possible. Also on hand at the aid station this time was Ryan, who agreed I should keep my shirt as it was a little damp and that could serve me well as the heat wasn’t going to let up anytime soon. He also shoved a piece of watermelon in my face and told me to eat it. I don’t like watermelon but I began to take a few bites being careful to avoid the seeds. I also broke out one of my secret weapons, Pedia Lite Frozen Pops. They were in a sleeve just like those one we all had when we were kids, except these had plenty of electrolytes. So although they were no longer completely frozen at least I could drink whatever was leftover. I also changed watches, as I’m sure my the charge on the GPS didn’t have much juice left after over eleven hours of running.

I don’t feel like I wasted anytime at the stop, as every moment was productive, and soon had John a few paces ahead of me. We only talked shop for a little while and then we just began conversing. I really didn’t know John all that well before this race but would learn really what a great guy he is over the course of the next eight and a half hours. I had only run with him once and learned about his experience at the Leadville 100. Close to the fifty mile mark of the race, a fellow competitor who John had befriended fell and needed assistance. John being the extreme high quality individual who he is, of course helped and in doing so missed the cutoff at mile fifty by fifteen minutes. With his timing chip taken away, he and his pacer who was to start with him at this point decided to run the course anyway. John finished the race in a time that should have given him a buckle but his concern for another racer left him with nothing to keep his pants up. That is why I asked John to pace me.

When we weren’t talking, John was reminding me to drink. The heat hadn’t really let up whatsoever. We successfully got through five mile aid station and although we, well really I was slow, it didn’t seem too long before we got to the ten mile aid station. I was really glad to get there as I was feeling like the wheels were starting to come off. I wasn’t totally spent but I could feel myself starting to crash. I was kind of surprised to find Jamie there but then quickly spotted his wife Kate sitting not so far away wearing flip flops indicating that her day was done. She showed us a blood blister the size of Delaware on the back of her heel. Ugh! I was having a hard time picking out food while downing some Coke, so John bounced around for me while I took a seat on a picnic table. I started to eat a cup of Ramen noodles when I looked up and spotted the guy who I was sure was going to drop back at the unmanned aid station. He had on Birkenstocks, and no they do not make any running sandals or shoes yet, and even though I looked like shit and was feeling more and more like it, he still said to me, “I wish I was in your place right now. Just get to the next aid station.” I was starting to have that same blank stare that I had seen on him earlier so as much as I wanted to really acknowledge and appreciate his kindness I diverted my eyes from direct contact with his. Which wasn’t all that hard to do as one of the volunteers came to the tables wearing kind of a short white bathrobe. He had semi-long black curly hair that must have been wet from swimming in the pond, and was also wearing some big sunglasses and a captain’s hat and some funky thin sandals. We all looked in his direction and I commented to John that I thought this guy looked like a pornstar director. He seemed nice enough and came over to offer assistance. We were all chuckling a little, when I gave the dropped runner a look and then he asked the volunteer did he know what he looked like. John told him what I said and we all could finally laugh out loud. The guy took it really well and actually said that was the nicest compliment he had gotten in a long time.

Somehow I got down that cup of Ramen, but unfortunately not for long. Just after we left the beach I had that feeling and was soon stooped over with my hands on my knees. I thought it would be quick but really my stomach decided that it wanted everything out. Back at the beach John had been telling me it was okay if things reappeared but it was more important just to get something in first. I felt my stomach retching and felt like that kid losing drinking games once again, oh yah that was me back in college. John kept a little distance but was like that good friend who pats you on the back while your worshiping the porcelain gods, but then he was like that asshole at the party who insists you keep drinking knowing what you just went through. Well John wasn’t acting like an asshole certainly but began to tell me that I was now going to feel much better and that I needed to get back to running this race.

John was right. I did feel better and was once again enjoying running. That feeling lasted for only a couple miles until we had to make a couple steep climbs. There were a couple of young girls at the peak looking out towards Boston so I kept my shorts on this time but made sure John got to enjoy the view while we were there.

John must have sensed that I was slipping away once again as he dominated most of the conversation as we made out way toward the fifteen mile aid station. My wheels weren’t just coming off, they were shredding into pieces being left on the side of a highway like a dead smelly skunk. My quads and hamstrings were feeling normal enough but everything below my knees hurt like hell. Even with well cushioned shoes and a fresh new pair of socks my feet were screaming in agony and I could no longer run. I knew my dad,AG and poles were not far up ahead and now as I wore my headlamp I searched for familiar sights indicating their presence. Soon there was a light pointing towards us and I could tell it was AG and I asked if we were close, to which he said we were just about there.

I leaned against a fence, that I think is actually a steeple for horses as there were a number of them on this part of the course. I certainly didn’t pretend to imitate National Velvet and jump over any of them. I sponged down as the heat had only let up slightly, ate and began to wonder how and when I was going to break the bad news to my crew if I felt like I couldn’t recover. One of my goals going into the race was to allow myself the opportunity to recover as the race had a thirty two hour deadline and that no matter what went wrong I should have time to recover. I also had a goal to respect the sacrifices people had given me in my pursuit of that elusive buckle. But now, all those goals were being put aside and I wished I could just silently walk off the course.

With hiking poles in hand we made our way to the road crossing. None of the pain went away and as I became quiet and withdrawn John began to question what I was thinking about. I replied, “Pain.” He did his best to keep me talking by asking random questions about me, to which I mostly gave one word answers feeling really guilty that I was probably dropping out very soon. As we came upon an open ridge I turned off my headlamp in order to see that last few colors of the sun for that day. It was beautiful and I was glad to share it with John, hoping that at least I was giving him this beautiful moment.

John continued to be very encouraging giving me really positive feedback about my efforts but I also knew that he wanted me to run more. He would say it was time to do so and would pick the pace back up and I tried but could only manage short yardage before I felt like I was being sacked by a three hundred pound linebacker and driven back to the line of scrimmage.

When we finally spotted the road crossing with John giving me more congratulations on making it this far, I finally told him that I wanted to be done. As my father pulled up a chair for me to sit in I also told him I was done. There was great disappointment coming from both of them. They began questioning why and I really didn’t want to answer or even talk, I just wanted to sit and wallow in my misery. George was soon on the scene saying, “But you’ve got this Tom.” Him and others were telling me just to rest a while, take as long as I needed in that seat but that I couldn’t quit now. George soon began feeding me cold coffee and shoved a GU packet in my face. It was all pretty awful. I sat avoiding eye contact even in the dark while the group worked to motivate me. I watched other runners pass going in both directions, each time George sparking up to help them safely cross and saying, “Got to do my job, I’d hate to lose another.” Deep down inside I was cracking up. George continued to hound me the most, telling me what I needed to do and how I could do it and that I had plenty of time to do it in. I motioned for someone to hand me my dad’s backpack that had a number of supplies in it and was just out reach. I don’t even remember what I wanted from it but I heard George say, “I hope you don’t have a gun in there Nate.” Again, I was laughing tears inside. I was getting cold despite the temps and George even got me a jacket saying it was his first ever ultra jacket and I could wear it and get it back to him whenever or even not. I had managed to take off my shoes which felt great and asked a number of times for my father to bring the truck around. If it had been behind me I probably would have just crept inside it, but it was parked somewhere out of sight and he did not take one step in order to retrieve it. Damn, these guys were making it impossible to quit.

George called out to his wife Ann across the road asking where they had some ibuprofen gel caps. I found out later that she was telling AG that if someone was going to get me out of this state and back in the race, George was the man for the job. I washed the pill down with some of the cold coffee figuring at least I if I did this I would perhaps feel better as I slept the night away in the tent, if someone would ever allow me to get there! I did slip my shoes back on hoping that I would be allowed to go to the truck. George offered to tie them for me but then said, “Maybe I shouldn’t, you’ll probably kick me in the teeth.” More inside tears.

Amazingly the pain in my legs and feet started to go away. I didn’t tell anyone, I still wanted to be done. I did however have to get up to urinate. There was sudden silence when I stood up and walked in the opposite direction and not across the road. I began to think, alright it doesn’t hurt anymore, I should give this a shot. My shoes were on but untied, and now with my Trail Monster shirt on I grabbed my pack and poles and started to head across the road without saying a word.

John managed to quickly get ahead of me and we were off with my main goal being just as George had also been saying, “Just get to the next aid station and give yourself a chance.” My dad and AG said they would meet us there, which surprised me as they hadn’t been to that station all day. We made it to the field as we discussed the sacrifices our soldiers, including John’s father had made during World War II as it had just been a couple days past the seventy year mark of the Allied Landing at Normandy. Those guys had courage and I tried to channel some of that courage as I shuffled my untied shoes as quickly as I could through the dewy grass.

I soon spotted a runner up ahead who was making every attempt to keep a running pace. I felt awful as we passed him walking. I can’t remember saying anything to him, but I’m sure John must have given him some words of encouragement, as he seemed to possess an endless bucket of it.

Volunteers kindly greeted us after I announced my bib number. An awesome number it was, 101! I looked around for food while coke was being poured for me and saw some grilled cheese sandwiches sitting atop a grill. “What can I get you?’ one of the volunteer asked. To which I replied, “I want a fucking grilled cheese.” I wished I said please, but she just laughed and said, “You can have a fucking grilled cheese,” and handed me one wrapped in a paper napkin. I make some pretty mean grilled cheese sandwiches but this was by far the best one if my life! The coke was really good washing it down and before I took the time to look for my father and AG I was back on the course. I was told later that they were sitting in the truck watching us, but didn’t want to come out fearing I may want to get in.

Getting back to the road was a thrill. I was walking pretty well now and even able to run a little. John had kindly even tied my shoes back up for me. I barely stopped at the crossing, only long enough to give George a hug and say, “Fuck you George,” in the most sincere way I have ever said that to anybody.

Now I was a man on a mission. Next aid station a little over a mile away with Chris waiting there for me. I was greatly looking forward to seeing him. I was confident that I was going to get this done. Only twenty five miles lay between me and that buckle, but more importantly my pride.

There were some cheers as I crossed the beach in the darkness with John still just ahead of me. I heard a new voice calling out my name, which I recognized as Chris’s and was just able to make out his shadowy figure. My crew took my stuff, as I hugged Chris and made my way to the food table. I took in some food and liquids while John pulled Chris aside obviously giving him some updates and hoping some more advice on getting me through the final twenty five miles.

Before I took back off, I made sure to give John big hugs and any kind words that I could muster in appreciation of the job he did getting me to that point. I gave my father big hugs as well hoping that I would always be able to support my own children in their greatest times of need like he had for me. I kissed a bracelet on my wrist that I borrowed from Mo and a rubber band one that Maggie had made so that in some way she and the kids could be there with me. Just starting that last lap felt better than finishing any race I had ever run. There was no way I was not going to finish.

Chris took the lead and I quickly brought him up to speed on how to keep us on the course and a little what it was like. I also told him that we didn’t need to really be running, but a fast hiking pace should get us through the night and to the finish line in plenty of time to beat the thirty two hour deadline.

For those running friends who don’t know Chris Hayward, you should. We call ourselves Trail Monsters but Chris is really a Trail Beast, something slightly beyond a monster. Four years ago when I came up with the idea of running the 100 Mile Wilderness of the Appalachian Trail I called Chris asking if he was interested in pacing me for some of it. I did this knowing he wasn’t a runner but competed in multi-day adventure races. He didn’t understand the whole pacing gig and instead asked if he could just do it all with me. I said sure and we had another friend, Eli Lazurus an accomplished runner join us as well. That day turned into disaster for me as the heat and humidity was far greater than even this day. I managed to do only thirty miles, and that much just because I couldn’t stop until we got to our support vehicles. Eli dropped at that point as well leaving Chris all alone. He managed to do forty five more miles before he had to call it quits.  About a month and a half later he, Eli and another friend of Chris’s, Nicholas Ernst, set out on the same mission. I was the one this time to be invited but declined as I had other commitments and didn’t want to face that failure again. They became the first people to do that section non-stop taking thirty nine hours to do so, inspiring others to tempt the same fate and establishing themselves as some of the biggest bad asses in the Northeast.

Chris understood what needed to be done as he said to finish that journey they had to pretty much do the same, hike fast and not stop. My watch was losing power and I arranged with my dad and AG to meet us at the campsite with my first watch now all recharged, as well as my spirits.

Chris was doing a great job setting the pace and keeping the course and I was thoroughly enjoying catching up with him. We got to the five mile station where I had another grilled cheese and some other goodies, resetting my watch wanting to track the five miles between the stations more than more overall distance or pace. I really had no idea what time of night it was but only knew it was still going to be dark for a number of hours. I hadn’t done much training for the night, so this was a new experience but was enjoying it and feeling really good that I wasn’t feeling like I needed to get any sleep. As Sam Shepard said in that fabulous movie Roadhouse, “I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead.”

When we spotted our first glow in the dark bracelet on the ground, we figured someone must have dropped one. But then we saw more and more and THEN we spotted the lights at the ten mile station. There was one other runner there and the porn director had changed back into more appropriate attire. I didn’t waste much time there and told the other runner that we might be able to catch a good view of the Boston skyline lights. He said he didn’t think so, and I wasn’t sure if he was dropping or just acknowledging the speed, or lack thereof, of his own pace.

I showed Chris where I had my reversal of fortune and warned him about some of the big climbs ahead of us. Chris was still doing a great job following the course markers and we didn’t waste anytime. Our pace was somewhere around a fifteen minute mile. A slow pace indeed for a runner but an impressive one as a hiker. All my years of hiking was paying off. This pace was going to keep me going to the finish. If I had forced the pace any faster I’m sure the wheels would be loosening up once again.

We got to the overlook, and turned off our headlamps to enjoy the moment. We were alone and so I showed Boston my backside one last time. Shit, this was getting fun again!

Still as planned my dad and AG were once again waiting for us. I was glad they were still able to be there as they had to park at an intersection across the road and I feared some local residents may have called the authorities about this strange vehicle that had been parked there at various times throughout the day.

The next time I heard my watch beep indicating another mile done, I realized this now meant that I was now only into single digit numbers to finish this race. I screamed that fact out loud to Chris along with a few other obscenities. During the night we had actually managed to pass a few other teams and now I was determined to keep them behind me for good. So I directed Chris to pick up the pace and we got a little running in. We did stop for a moment turning off our headlamps now to enjoy some of the colors of the sunrise on the same peak where John and I had seen the sun set. I was a much different person now.

I had a little disappointment coming to the road crossing and not finding George and Ann there, but their duties were done. Still, the volunteers were awesome and we barely stopped even with my father and AG also there to lend assistance.

As we got closer to the field I had a moment of panic as I looked through the woods seeing what I thought was fog rolling off a pond. How could that be? We were nowhere near water as far as I recalled. Four times around a place and you get to know it pretty well. Well not well enough for me to prevent slipping and stepping my right foot into some pretty nasty mud. My panic soon subsided as I realized the fog was actually covering the field and I looked forward to some more dewy grass to clean off my shoe, after all it was practically a brand new pair.

The views across the field were breathtaking as we continued our power hike to the aid station. My dad and AG were there and out of the vehicle this time. The guy who had been wearing the cow suit was still there as he had been all race long. After handing me a can of coke I asked him his name, Bob, and sincerely thanked him for all the work he had put in. I wished I could have thanked them all. As I spotted a team across the field coming toward the aid station I made our move to keep them in front of us. I went to hand another volunteer the can of coke but he said keep it and just drop it and that he would walk with us and pick it up. A few more guzzles followed by a burp that could be heard across the field and I turned to hand back the can but he was more than a few steps behind and said to drop it, which I did. Chris suddenly said he would have some just as it left my hand, and I said, “Sorry, ultra foul.” The volunteer managed to pick it up and hand it to Chris before too much spouted out.

We were all smiles to the team now approaching us who were running. After my stomach settled I told Chris that we needed to do a little running to make sure that team didn’t catch up to us. I did slow it back down to a power hike pace on the hills but soon enough we were out of the field. We ran as best we could with me glad that I was now forever done with what I thought was the most technical part of the course.

The volunteers were very enthusiastic at the road crossing stating that we only had a mile and a half left. One of them, whom I didn’t even know, called me by name and told me that I was blowing up Facebook. I felt a little like Ellen at the Oscars.

We walked the paved road uphill and started discussing finishing time. I told Chris how on Ultrasignup.com it was predicted that I would finish the race in about twenty six and a half hours. After checking his watch, he told me that was pretty dead on.

As we got closer and closer to the finish Chris commented on how well the course was marked. I told him he just wasn’t used to markers in his events which only gave him maps and told him to get to spots any way possible. We spotted another team up ahead and I just needed to take them down as well. Turns out that they were just completing their third lap but I continued to be motivated to get to the finish as soon as possible.

We crossed the first beach and said to Chris that I felt like I was running in sand. We didn’t let up and soon I knew we were close to the final beach and finish line. As I turned the corner and heard some cheers I spotted one more runner ahead. Even as I unbuckled the chest strap to my pack to expose the Trail Monster logo and also unbuckled the band holding my race bib, wanting them both to be in clear view at the finish line, I burst my way past that runner, who also was only finishing his third lap, and crossed the line saying, “Number one o one is done!”

I can’t even remember who I hugged first. But whoever it was I hoped they felt the joy rushing through my body. Some race officials quickly told me to go back over the mat as my timing chip apparently didn’t take. Throughout the race I worried about this very situation as I never remembered crossing a mat at the beginning and that somehow I might end up by disqualified. So I did as I was told and even though nothing happened one of them said it was alright they had my number and time.

I was giving out lots of hugs and glad that John was there to receive one as well. He had caught some sacktime back in our tent while Chris lead me through the night. Lots of people were asking what I wanted, mostly a cup of coffee was my greatest desire. The race director congratulated me as well offering his services. I said I wanted to weigh myself and he lead me to the scales. I was shocked to see that I had only lost five pounds during the course of the race. As John handed me my coffee he said that was because he had continually forced me to drink.

The director, Bob Crowely, then asked me what size jacket I took. He had me try on a medium and it fit a little loose and he said that would be good as it shouldn’t be too tight. I also said I wanted to leave some extra room for all the food I was going to eat over the next week. Then he asked if John was one of my pacers and when I said yes, he offered a jacket to John as well. I quickly told Bob I had another pacer and called to Chris to come and get a jacket. That was and incredibly awesome thing to do for those two, I couldn’t think of anything better to give to them for all their support and sacrifices. Then Bob asked if it wanted a buckle. Did I really need to answer that question. As my dad handed it to me, I opened the box and gave it a good old smooch.

Shortly thereafter, John looked me square in the eye and said his duties as a pacer were not yet over. He proceeded to tell me what I needed to do in order recover from running one hundred miles. The first thing I needed to do was to get into pond and cool the legs off. Honestly I would have climbed a tree a nose dived into the sand if he had told me to. How could I not do whatever he told me to do.

I walked into the water, trying to pick a spot with the least amount of pollen. AG followed me and said, “Dude, do you know what place you came in?” Of course I had no idea. “Fifth!” I was shocked. I was sure many people had dropped but not a clue where in the field I was. My smile was suddenly longer than the course itself.

Now with my coffee finished, I sat down in a chair and was handed a can of America’s best beer in 1883, Pabst Blue Ribbon. My dad got Mo on the phone and I got to tell her that I was finally done. She had been in contact with my dad throughout the previous day and into the night and I wished I could have kissed her but settled for the marvels of modern technology to share in the moment.

I enjoyed cheering on some other runners coming in for the finish, including Donna who was the first female across the line. I didn’t stick around for the rest of the finishers. Even though there were only fourteen after me to complete all four laps out of seventy nine starters with the last one beating the deadline by about half an hour. That computes to a 15% finish rate. Even for a hundred mile race that is a very low percentage. The 50 mile race had plenty of carnage but 80% somehow beat the heat and the challenging course, including DanielleTriffit who was the fifth woman to finish.

Our party winded down as John and Chris left, Chris actually ready to drive back home to Bethel. I told you he was a beast. The three of us headed back to our tents for a little nap before we made our ride back to Maine. I could barely sleep partly due to my legs starting to ache but my soul was still to excited to give my body proper rest.

How’d I do it? The truth is obvious that I had a great team that made sure I met my goal and didn’t give up on myself. My father said to me during more than once during the race, “You’ve got some really great people here for you.” I’m so glad that he came away with the feeling that I do these races not only for the challenges they present but to share in special moments with special people. I myself come away from this event more aware of that than ever, and that those moments and people do extend far beyond the rocks, roots and mud. Thank you to all for giving me greater appreciation, I just might never had gotten to that point if a certain Jedi hadn’t used his mind tricks to get me out of that chair and away from the dark side.

  One Response to “TARC 100 – Tom Whitaker”

  1. Great story Tom. Thanks for taking the time to write it all up. You are a beast.

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