Last Wednesday I turned forty. I spent the day packing and grocery
shopping and laundering and wondering why previously functional body
parts suddenly hurt for no apparent reason and listening to friend’s
laughingly sing “Happy Birthday!” on my cell phone’s voice mail.
On Thursday, my husband and Ned and I left home to go back to South
Woodstock, the site of the VT 100 Run and Ride, the only concurrent
100 mile ultra run and endurance ride held today in the USA.
VT is special to us, not only because it was where we completed our
first 100 two years ago just before dawn (yawn, stagger) but because
it is a beautiful course, full of climbs and quaint New England farms
and gardens and rock walls and views over the mountains, and more
magical exponentially because the ride course is shared by nearly 300
runners. Sue and John Greenall work tirelessly with countless
volunteers to make it all happen. Quite honestly, camp looks
bizarrely like a circus.
(It is important to know that, amongst other than the runners
themselves, there is clear consensus that while 100 mile riders are
nuts, 100 mile runners are a whole special brand of crazy!)
My husband, as a birthday gift of sorts I’m sure, had volunteered
months prior to just come and crew (without competing himself), and a
new-to-endurance friend, Zoe (also crazy), had agreed to come up from
NJ to try crewing for the first time. Rich knew what he was getting
into – nearly 100 miles of driving from crew stop to crew stop (the
ride is a single 100 mile loop, as opposed to some rides with loops
out of base camp) and slaving over high maintenance Ned and me. Zoe
was in for a baptism by fire, but she’s a manic sort, so we knew we
could put that to good, some might call it exploitive, use.
It rained nearly the entire way to Vermont and it had been raining
copiously at the ride site for some time, but the rain switched to
off and on showers by the time we arrived and set up, and we were
pleased on Friday to see that the ride camp field was draining pretty
well from potentially-government-protected wetland to just a little
Runners arrived, filling the camp, going for pre-runs, and we caught
up with friends and packed up the plethora of stuff needed to crew
thru a 100.
The weather was ridiculously Ned-friendly – highs in mid 70s, lows in
the 50s, little chance of more rain. The course is Ned-friendly too,
with lots of climbs and descents, but also a great deal of gravel and
hard-pack wide-open road riding, which is Ned’s favorite kind of
trail. He also seems to love chasing down (but not actually charging
over) the runners and having that much more company on course.
Our plan was to pick up our pace a bit, this would be our fifth 100,
our fastest completed by about 1 a.m.
The runners started at 4 a.m. in the dark to the piped in sounds, ad
infinitum, of Chariots of Fire, and Ned and I started out right with
the pack of eighteen starters at 5 a.m. It was to be about 12 miles
to a 10 minute stop and go, and the pack stayed fairly formed and
traveled at a sane pace, and Ned and I actually took the opportunity
to go up front for several minutes along one road, which allowed Ned
to be ego-boosted (how do they know they are “winning”, I wonder) and
to really stretch and go at his own pace. I told everyone,
laughingly, to enjoy the sight of us up front, it wouldn’t last long,
as we’re well known for finishing mid-to-back-of-the-pack. They
cheered and yelled “Go Ned!” and I was pleased to be sharing the
trail with experienced folks, most of whom I knew and admired.
My GPS said 16 miles when we got to the stop and go at about 6:30,
and we all came in in a pack (those poor in-timers, attacked by the
mob of us). Rich fed Ned, I hit the potty (aka the woods alongside
the barn), and drank some Pepto Bismol. My tummy was not feeling
good at all. Maybe the excitement of leading the pack?
We started passing the last of the runners, giving them plenty of
space, cheering them along and having our photos taken by several of
them, as they stopped and turned to face us alongside the road,
giving us the thumbs-up.
We all headed out in a pack as well, and Ned got chummy with Patti
Pizzo’s Spot, who has an enormous and effortless trot, and at least
seven or eight of us arrived together (including we Pattis, Team
Rojek, Christina on Lana Wright’s horse, Suzette on a cute bay, Wendy
Bejarano on Jake and Doug Lietzke on his chestnut) a few miles later
at the first (18 mile) hold.
Zoe met us there, having stayed in a hotel the night prior after a
nightmare drive north. She’d had to leave later than planned as she
was taking her Citizenship Oath (becoming a dual citizen of the US,
along with Canada, where she was born) in Newark the afternoon prior,
so she just met Rich there. She says she became a citizen simply to
cancel out my presidential votes.
The extra set of hands was great, and Ned vetted thru with As except
for gut and skin tenting – time for some chow and lytes. The weather
was grand, crisp and cool and with fairly low humidity. July? Who
We headed out of the hold amongst the first riders, and this was a
long loop, 24 miles, but it went fast with two pit crew stops
(Desitin for Ned’s pasterns, a snack for Ned, a few sponges of cold
water on his neck and we were off quickly at each of these) and Ned
trotting along joyously with several of the front runners.
At Vermont, the horses have vet checks, the runners have aid
stations, crowded with family and friends and volunteers, all
cheering you on. It is grand. Ned, alternately puffs up and does
the big trot, sure he’s won the Derby, or later in the ride, asks to
stop and visit for a while.
My favorite question of the day took place at the second pit crew
stop on that loop – Zoe and Rich checked with me on what I needed,
the usual sorts of things – water? Electrolytes? And then Zoe asked
if she should snap the glowsticks attached to Ned’s breastcollar. It
I laughed and laughed and laughed and said it wasn’t THAT long of a
loop and trotted away, still roaring.
Into the 42 mile hold with Team Rojek and Patti Pizzo.
A few minutes to pulse down, but Ned was clearly in his element,
eating like a pig and clearly enjoying himself. We were riding in a
new Solstice saddle at that point, but he’d gotten the tiniest rub
from one of the pads, the Supracor I think (this THRU the sheepskin
pad – Ned is the equine version of The Princess and The Pea), so as
planned, we switched him to the treeless saddle
Crucial error here, related to the potty, which will surprise none of
my friends or those who read the Endurance News article about our
first 100 mile completion (subtitled “A Tale of Determination,
Urination and Hallucination”). I took a walk to the potty while Rich
and Zoe tacked up Ned. Ended up heading out a little over a minute
after my out time.
Patti and Spot were gone. We headed out alone onto the 18 mile
loop. No hope of running to catch them as Ned had switched
immediately over to “pout mode” having lost his new best friend on
the planet and having no company. Eventually Linda Crandall and her
mare, riding in the 75 mile ride, caught us but it was of little
comfort to Ned. He wanted Spot. He wanted to be winning. And if he
couldn’t be winning, he was going to crawl. There was no cajoling,
no spanking, no urging him into going faster. He followed Linda’s
mare in a completely lackluster fashion.
We had an endless climb up a long road, and it was here Ned hit his
low point, allowing Linda’s mare to trot away, refusing to trot at
all, and I climbed off to hand walk for a while. Maybe he was tight
behind, I thought. Maybe I went too fast at the start. His skin
pinch and gums looked good, his eyes were bright, he appeared to be
in absolutely no metabolic distress, he’d been eating and drinking
great all day, but as Mary Coleman likes to say “it was a sit and hit
sort of situation.”
A runner passed us, and I told him I thought we were done, that Ned
might be tight behind. He expressed sadness, but we both agreed that
such things happen. I started to fantasize about being back at camp
mixing up Cosmopolitans and grilling and sitting and watching the
runners come in. Not so bad. I patted Ned and eventually climbed
back on and we continued to crawl along. It couldn’t be too far to
the hold, we’d get him checked out and get a trailer ride back to
camp. I was at peace with this. Some days it was just too much to ask.
Then we heard the pitter patter of hooves behind us. Ellen Tully,
Wendy Mancini and Cara on Irving’s Spark, all in the 75, catching up
with us at a jog. Ned’s head went up, and as I started to tell them
we were done as they passed, he leaped into a trot and joined them.
I wasn’t sure whether to kill him or hug him, so instead I just
laughed and in we went to the hold. Ellen, an old pro, assured me
I’d been duped by the big boy. We were soon caught by Linda Carangia
and Nancy Walker, old chums and entered in the 100, and in to the
hold we came, where Ned was starving but all As, despite his usual
show of displaying his penis during vetting and refusing to trot
until he’d gathered it up. Poor Zoe had to trot him back and forth
and back until Otis could see he was perfectly sound.
Just as soon as he didn’t have to swing his hind legs around his
It is always such a relief to have vets who know Ned vet him as I
don’t have to explain and re-explain the penis thing. Ah, the
quirks that make Ned, well, Ned.
We were at 60 miles at this point, and I was hours ahead of my
previous course time, and had the company of two other 100 milers
with whom I could finish. Ned was not in any way, shape or form
tight behind. Things were looking up.
Well, other than the fact that my husband had hit a rock in the hold
area, and dislodged a “non-essential” part of the steering assembly.
Who knew there were “non-essential” parts of a steering assembly?
Zoe continued to crew with zeal and enthusiasm, kneeling on the
ground behind Ned, applying Desitin to his pasterns in the hopes we
could stay one step ahead of the scratches which plague him at 100
mile rides (and ONLY at 100 mile rides).
“That looks unsafe, Zoe.”
“Will he kick me?”
“Well why didn’t you warn me he kicks?!”
It was going to be a long day.
Ten miles to Tuackenback Farm, a gorgeous farm with yellow buildings
and this huge lovely lawn where we have the 70 mile hold. I got
separated from Linda and Nancy for a couple of miles, and they
stopped at the Margaritaville runners’ aid station and they both had
We were going fast enough that we were pacing along with some of the
Top Twenty runners at this point, and boy, they looked great, running
evenly and smoothly, looking as tho they were just out for an
It was about 6:30 when we were at Tuackenback (our cards were kept
for an AERC research study, so I might be lying about some of this
stuff) and Ned was ravenous for grass. Still all As. Well, except
for the B on impulsion given to Ned by Nick Kohut as reward for
another penis dangling lackluster trot out.
Poor Zoe, I can imagine her telling her non horsey husband about the
crewing experience and lamenting about having to trot Ned to and fro
because he has “this penis thing.”
The 50 milers, starting at 2 p.m., joined us on trail here, and it
was a busy place. I chatted with Nancy Roeber-Moyer outside the
porta-potty and we contemplated whether it wouldn’t be more fun to
just do LDs from now on, doing some social drinking in the afternoons
and cutting down on our consumption of Advil.
The temps were dropping and we had another 18 mile loop ahead of us
with two crew stops, one near Smoke Rise Farm (Rojek’s farm) and one
on the road where ride camp was located. Linda and Nancy’s horses
led thru the woods, where big and lanky Ned had more trouble
negotiating the twists and turns and steep downhills of the trail,
and he’d jump out in front on the wide roads. Ned thinks 100 miles
of interstate “trail” would be ideal, thankyouverymuch. The horses
trotted VERY enthusiastically down the road heading to camp, got
crewed and were a teensy bit less enthused as we turned them away
from camp towards Route 106 and O&H Farm, the location for the 88
It was fully dark now, the runners passed us and we passed them
alternately, many had the pace runners they were allowed to pick up
at 70 miles. Many wore headlamps to light their way, and Ned just
hates headlamps. He’s okay when behind them, but hates having the
trail alternately lit and darkened in front of him, it seems. We had
what seemed like a forever-long climb to the trail into O&H Farm, and
Ned was hot when we came in. At 10 at night, we were using ice to
cool him down and untacked him to help the process. I cursed about
that – it is so easy to screw up re-tacking in the dark.
Once again, a penis dangling trot out, and Doug Shearer, who doesn’t
know Ned quite so well, had him trot again, looked a bit perplexed (I
would too if I didn’t know he’d dangled his way through the pre-ride
vetting in, and every vetting for just about every ride for the last
few years), but said he was fine to go on.
At this hour, it gets tough to eat and drink for me. You just want
to be done, but you know you need to keep taking care of yourself, as
12 miles is twelve miles and you need your faculties and strength to
get through it. I managed to down part of a PowerBar and a Snapple
Ice Tea. We re-tacked in the dark and Linda and Nancy waited a few
minutes on me (it took longer for Ned to pulse down) and we headed out.
Nancy was trying out her new headlamp and Linda and I yelled at her
for looking at us when she talked to us, as she blinded each of us a
couple of times. Ned was happy out front on the road until a
headlamp got too close from behind, either from a runner or Nancy and
would walk and pout until his vision was restored.
At this point, I knew he was a little sore and leg-weary. He sought
out the shoulders of the road rather than the concussive road surface
and asked to walk the downhills. Still, he was doing the big Ned
walk, ears forward and plucky so I let Nancy and Linda go on ahead
and like we’ve done so many times before, we enjoyed the last several
miles on our own.
Saw Rich and Zoe at the crew stop about five miles from the finish,
gave Ned a snack and told them to skip the final crew stop and meet
me at the finish. Boy, that sounded great! The finish.
I had quite a lot of horse left, and Ned alternately walked and
jogged in. I changed diagonals to make sure he was still even on
both hinds, tried to keep myself straight and light in the saddle
despite being sore and weary myself, and we had a long chat about
what a treasure he was, and how sorry I was for having screwed up his
good time with his fast friend Spot. I told him to make sure he told
Sarge, his barnmate, that he had been WINNING until I messed up.
Lessons learned, once again, and clearly for Ned 100s are largely an
emotional and mental (more than physical) challenge – just as they
are for his human partner.
Shared a couple of granola bars with him, let him snatch grass here
and there but kept him moving on, promising him lots of grazing time
once we were done.
Soon the trail glowsticks turned to glowing jugs on each side of the
trail, marking the last downhill section of trail into the finish line.
In we came, at about 12:30 a.m. (4 hours cut from our previous VT 100
time, and I was NOT the turtle this time). Rich and Zoe there to
cool him down and cover his rump with a wool sheet. We vetted out
amongst more laughter and eventually got Ned to trot. He looked
grand once he got his innards back, well, in. Hugs and
congratulations, and all As except for that damned “impulsion” mark.
Nancy and Linda had finished in fine form several minutes before.
Had heard that Patti and Spot came in 2nd, and that there was a good
completion rate, no serious problems. Such a relief.
Runners were coming in (and would continue to do so until 10 a.m.),
and Ned planted himself grazing the lush grass alongside the runners’
tent while Zoe and Rich hauled his stuff back up to camp. I chatted
with one runner shortly after he finished and asked him what he’d be
doing first now that he was done.
“Hot chocolate” he said.
We chatted for a while, comparing the horses and the runners, and
places we’d be sore, and how we might consider the possibility of
going down stairs backwards for a day or two, and how long we’d rest
before starting up again, looking for the next ride, the next run,
the next challenge.
Two, make that three, crazy creatures, communing on a starlit July
night, reveling in a success few aspire to, and even fewer achieve.
And most profoundly humbled by it.