Peak 500 – Michelle’s Race
My Peak 500 Race report this year is being broken up into 3 parts as really I witnessed more than one race happening the 8+ days I was in Vermont. Below is the first segment – Michelle’s Race.
I can’t remember when I first learned of the Peak 500, it was probably during 2011 or maybe even 2010 when I first learned of Spartan Race, the Death Race and Peak Races in general. In most of the time I have thought about Peak 500 I have also thought about one woman – Michelle Roy. I am not sure how Michelle and I became friends, most likely I pushed my way in during 2010 or 2011 trying to learn all I could about endurance racing and the Death Race. The beginning seems unimportant now.
My experience with Michelle and Peak 500 really started in 2012 when I stopped to awe at the race and cheer Michelle on and inadvertently did the 10-mile loop course with her in a pair or reef flip flops. In 2013, I had planned on pacing her then in a last minute happening she (along with race director Andy Weinburg) urged me to run the 100 while I was also there to write about the Peak Races for IRunFar.com. It was shortly after my failed attempt at 100 and Michelle’s second attempt at 500 that I told her I would head to Vermont in 2014 if she indeed decided to attempt the 500 again. About a week after that conversation she signed up once again, and I wanted to honor my word.
All year long we chatted across the country about the race. Michelle lives in MA. She trained with her friend Julie O’Mara and in all honestly actually trained for the race this year as oppose to just showing up.
Here is what you need to know about Michelle before detailing her race, the basic facts. Michelle is in her mid-forties, she has been racing ultras for longer than most and was doing it before it was cool. She has probably 200+ ultra distance finishes under her belt. She has been there and done that with some pretty high profile races. She is a self-professed middle packer, who spends her weekdays teaching middle school technology, science as well as hosts a Lego and Robotics club. She gives her all to her students and creates safe environments for them to eat lunch in her classroom for the kids who need a safe place to eat away from judgment. She has battled and conquered eating disorders not to mention beat cancer not once but three times. She is open about her life but also doesn’t wear it on her sleeve or yell out to the world how beastly, badass, survivor, or tell of many of her successes. In fact, it’s taken several years of knowing Michelle to get a fuller picture of who she really is. The one thing that is undeniable about Michelle is her love for the trails and especially the trails of Pittsfield, Vermont.
Michelle showed up on Thursday morning hours before the start of the Peak 500 – a 500-mile running race held in Pittsfield, Vermont on Joe’s Mountain in 10 days. The participants would traverse a rough 10-mile course fifty times in order to complete this almost impossible race. In the past only 2 people have ever finished the race with a handful trying each year. This was Michelle’s 3rd go at it. Like a seasoned Peak Racer she came prepped this year with her own pop-up camper and the best trained she had been yet for this event.
As the five participants toed the starting line this was the year for it to happen for Michelle. Her fiancé Bob was there for the first couple of days then Julie O’Mara and I would take over for the week and Bob would come back Saturday night. Michelle pushed hard from the beginning quickly building up miles at the beginning of the event in order to “bank them” for later in the week. The first couple of days met us all with what felt like non-stop rain, muddy trails, overall tough conditions for all. A few days into the race, the plan was adjusted from 500 miles to 400 miles as a huge marker to hit as her best had been a 380 the previous year.
Without going into full detail, the race was not always smooth sailing and Michelle battled with a few things that would have taken most competitors out of a race. She pressed on each day adding more miles, running through pain that would have had most of us just stuck in bed. But this post and race isn’t about some tough lady suffering. That was just part of it, really the race for Michelle and for all of us around her was a celebration of the trail, or nature, and of what the human body can do.
Many days we laughed about stupid stuff, talked about deep stuff, and talked about more stupid stuff. A few days into the race we set up a system, Michelle was doing about 40 miles a day. She would do lap 1 with Julie in the morning after they had a coffee club talk, I would arrive around when they had just gone out and take care of any laundry, food, or other items that needed help. She would do lap 2 alone. Lap 3 I would short cut it to the top of the mountain, meet her and Julie for most of the lap then shortcut it back to camp to have whatever was needed for her last loop of the day. Some days I would accompany her on that last loop, other days she would go it alone and I would wait and help Kale (another competitor on one of his night loops).
It’s hard to describe what happens on the trail, if people heard us they might have been scared at some points, annoyed at others, and run away at other times. But it’s that time on the trail that is the best part of the race. The greatest part of Peak 500 is the stuff you leave on the mountain. I can detail her food intake (that’s for the next post), or detail her daily schedule, sleep patterns, and all the bumps we hit along the way. But those are just details, in 10-days you will run the spectrum of emotions and will do a lot of silly, stupid, brave, funny, honorable, exhausting, and questionable things but those are the details. What I can say is Michelle ran her race, and ran her race on her terms, which at the end of the day is a complete success. Michelle was forced to look deep into her own mental blocks (as we all do in long races) however in past years she let others dictate her race, this year she looked at that dark place, stared at it, and accepted it then moved forward. A task many of us are not able to do, it’s not fun, it’s hard, and it’s not always pretty when we have to look at our own demons. This from my point of view is Michelle’s greatest success in the race, moving past a spot that had crippled her in the past. In the end Michelle hit her 400-mile mark the furthest a woman has run in the race to-date.
So, what does that mean, well technically she DNF’d. But in Peak 500 you never really DNF you hit your mark and finish where you finish whether that is at the finish line or not. You don’t get the buckle, but really this race isn’t about a buckle or prize. The prize in this race is being out there, pushing your body, and enjoying friends on the trail. A feat Michelle hit during this years race. She let no one dictate her actions, and let the trail guide her way for the 10-days of racing. She ran everyday and until the clock had stopped for the 10-days.
This unconventional race report is really a celebration to Michelle and her racing, although this is an odd post it will make sense to those that it needs to. For Michelle she is an incredible woman in the ultra running community and although not some household name has been around running trails since many of us were in grade school or even younger. She will not toot her own horn, in fact her race report consisted of below:
I ran a lot
I ate an entire sheet cake
But since it’s my website and my write-up I can do what I want and Michelle has to fly across the country to yell at me in person. Michelle is a unique athlete. She can run a stupid amount of miles, and do so enduring terrible conditions. She is strong, she is a survivor, she is a dork, and she is a role model. Her mouth can get her into trouble at times, but she holds honor above all. She is a mentor and she is one of my mentors. She is a runner, not for the sponsors, not for the bling, not for any of the crap most of us find ourselves running for, she is out there for the trails, for the people, and for the joy that only a trail can bring.
I say once again, Congratulations Michelle and thank you for allowing me to be part of your 2014 Peak 500!
Read Julie’s Account of Peak 500: We all Have Our Mountains to Climb