First of all, pardon any grammatical mistakes, I have not slept now for over 30 hours (but will be doing so immediately following this post). I drove up to Titusville, PA last night and parked myself at the aid station that marked the 62 mile mark on the 100 mile course. I timed it perfect where all of the leaders had already gone through, but now the "middle of the pack" group was coming in.
Runners filed in, one at a time and most had pacers. The few that didn't said they were good as is. I was starting to worry that my drive up there would end up for naught, when I caught a glimpse of a runner (Sue) coming into the station about 8 pm. When she made it up to the station, she looked a bit frazzled. I overheard her talking to her husband that she had just ran several hours completely by herself and though she got lost in the early darkness. The whole experience had spooked her quite a bit. I walked over and politely asked her if she'd like some company for a while and she said she still wasn't sure if she was going to go back out. Come to find out that this was Sue's first 100, and she was on killer pace. A group of us at the aid station along with her husband, started to gently nudge her into continuing. We poured on the support and after getting her composure back, she said that she'd keep going and that she'd appreciate the pacing company. And so it was. I was now pacing Sue for however long she wanted the company. The course was set up into 31 mile loops, with a final 7 mile mini-loop at the end. We were just starting the 3rd Big loop (miles 62-93).
We starting jogging out of the aid station and she immediately seemed to be doing better. Another runner, Leo, caught up to us and the three of us ran together for most of the entire 31 mile loop. It went by at a pretty good clip and was almost entirely in the dark. The temps dropped down into the low 30's and so we had to keep moving to keep the blood flowing. We made our way and traded ultra running and family stories. Leo, was always on the ball with providing us with the necessary comic relief (with many a one-liner). Aid stations and miles went by and with about 2 miles left in the loop the sun started to come up again. We were estimating about a 27+ hour time into the 93 aid station before the final 7 mile mini-loop. The cut-off at this race was 32 hours...and justifiably so. The course was feisty. I already knew this though from my 2006 backpacking trip around the same trail. The 100 miler had over 17,000 feet of total elevation gain (that's more than Leadville or Vermont). Sue's goal was to finish, and she was on pace to also break 30 which was awesome for a first 100.
When we got to 93, things were going ok, and we both just wanted to get the last seven done. Leo decided to hang back and so we left the station without him. for the first 3-4 miles of the loop, we almost entirely jogged. I don't know where Sue was getting this burst from, but it was fantastic nonetheless. At about mile 4, Leo came sprinting up from behind us and was on a complete TEAR. He must of had one hell of an energy drink because he politely blew by us and said he wasn't stopping. We nodded and told him to tear it up.
At mile 98 we came down the trail and on to the public bike path for the last 1.5 miles of the race. Sue was starting to get pumped and our time was still only 28:45. I told her that at the running pace we were doing, she was going to finish in about 29 hours....Awesome time.
We rounded the last part of the bike path, hit the very short road section and came up to the high school marking the finish line. The crowd started cheering and Sue's husband (Jim) was taking all sorts of videos and pictures. Sue turned the last corner and ran up to the finish and crossed the line in 29:02, with a 3rd place overall finish for the women. Not only did she finish her first 100 and win a fantastic buckle, but she won a plaque to hang it on for finishing 3rd. Unbelievable. What a great experience. I am glad I was able to be a part of someone else's first 100, and see that look that you get when in sight of that 100 mile finish line. Now I truly know what it looks like and how I must have looked at the Vermont 100 back in July.
At Aid Station