September 26, 2010Vermont 50 Mile Endurance Run
50 Miles - Brownesville, VT
I was excited to return to the Vermont 50 for the fifth year in a row. After DNFing at the Leadville 100, which in turn ended the Grand Slam for me, and then deciding not to head out to Utah for the Wastach 100, that meant I was able to sign up for the Vermont 50 a race I had not previously intended to run. So I was excited to put my name into the mix and get out into the hills of Vermont, one last time. I had no idea what to expect heading into this years race. After struggling to recover from Leadville with sickness.. it was a tough call. I knew I wanted to enjoy the course this year but how was all going to depend on how I felt when I woke up in the morning.
I arrived at Ascutney Saturday night after a bit of memory issues while packing up the car. Forgot my bottles.. was in Nashua.. drove to Epping.. and was all ready in Manchester when I realized that I forgot them again. It was hard not to laugh at myself seeing as I wasted an hour and a half driving around Southern New Hampshire all because of memory re-lapse. Is this an age thing or a tired thing? At Ascutney I checked in, got my bib and then enjoyed the Spaghetti dinner that happened inside the hotels restaurant. They did a nice job feeding us all. I started thinking about race day pretty early on. My thoughts all revolved around who I was going to run with. I had a few choices.
I could run with Gilly, who in 2009 came to the Vermont 50 and ran in the mud. At mile 47, she had arrived 10 minutes late and was pulled from the course.. crushed. She was back this year for redemption and I had thoughts of running with her helping to see her to the finish line. Then there was Josh. Josh is a better runner then he realizes. Typically Josh runs with his father, side by side, which is quite fantastic to watch and/or be apart of. But when dad is at home, Josh turns the engines on and can run like hell. I knew he was thinking of PR.. which was currently at 10:52. I could help him reach his PR.. or then there was this girl I heard about from Gilly. Her name is Bekky and she is a new student in the UNH Outdoor Education Department. As part of one of the classes I previously took, she was doing the VT50 as her endurance challenge. Gilly told me this girls time goal was 8 hours and 30 minutes. I could help bring this girl down to earth.. and get her to the finish line..
Why help anyone at all though? It was a pretty easy thought for me. This was the fifth time that I was lining up for this race and it's likely to be the last time. I was thinking back to my first year running it. It was my first 50 miler and I had no idea if I was going to make it. I wanted to qualify for Western States. It was Joe Desena who lined up that year with me (2006) and told me he'd run the entire race with me, step for step, all the way to the finish.. and yeah.. "you'd qualify for Western." I could think of no better way to spend my final time on this course then by helping someone else as Joe had helped me. I had no real time goals for this race, no real needs wants or desires... I thought long and hard about how I'd best enjoy my day out here and this was it. So, the thinking continued.. who would I help.
Rain never materialized overnight, thankfully, and we woke up to a balmy morning this time of year. It was 52 degrees at the start of the race, some 20 degrees warmer then in years past. I milled around the race tent before the start, listening to Zeke's unique voice booming across the participants. I ran into a bunch of folks I hadn't seen since before the VT100, folks I hadn't seen since May and it's always great to catch up with the familiar folks. It's even more exciting to meet the new faces, folks who I'm facebook friends with but have never met. I enjoyed a variety of conversation and then Gilly introduced me to Bekky. It was finally time to head out to the road, it was warm in the tent and outside 52 degrees didn't seem so balmy anymore. We all stood at the starting line, arm crossed trying to hug our own warmth inside. Waiting for Zeke to tell us to leave. It seemed like the number of runners out there was lower then most years but the RD would later tell us the number of runners was above 500. The command was given and we were off down the access road.
We have to have been the worst group of miscreants to run around out there. It was Josh and Leah, Gilly, Bekky and myself. We were whooping it up in the early morning air, cracking inappropriate jokes, talking about youtube videos no one wants to see. It was a riot, at least I was having a blast, smiling ear to ear and excited for the day. This is a far cry from the dread I felt when the alarm went off this morning. All I wanted to do was stay in my tent in sleep.. but figured that would be the most expensive nap I'd ever take. Yet here I was, bounding down the first sections of road, feeling like a sloth. I felt awful, slow, fat... thats pretty much how my lackluster year has gone. Lack of any real training has caught up to me the last few races and I was feeling it. I was bummed.. knowing that there was certainly no PR in store for the day.
Josh was quick to remind me that if I ran with him I'd set a personal slow on the course. In looking at Gilly, I immediately went to thinking how she needed to do this race on her own. She needed to learn, needed to put her guts out there and go get it. Leah was in the relay, Loni was no where to be found.. I just kept running. I was half way up the first hill when I realized that it was Bekky who was keeping pace with me. She was picking my brain, asking questions about this race, others races and UNH OE. It was in that moment that I knew I'd found who I was going to run with.. and it was Bekky. We made it into the first aid station where we grabbed fruit and then headed right for the woods. We were both warmed up now, settling into a pace.. and our day was only just beginning.
Into the Wild
After leaving the first aid station, Bekky made it pretty clear that she was glad we were running together. The first hill doesn't end at the first aid station, it continues in the woods, and continues and continues. She wondered what her race would have been like had she chosen to run it all, and the thoughts now that she's seen the course weren't so pretty. We walked when we felt like it and ran when it was necessary. We ran all the downs and flats, enjoyed the twisting and turning singletrack and you could even hear a few hoots and hollars as we bounded through the forest. In between the fun, we talked about Outdoor Education and UNH. The department, the classes, the people. Bekky is really excited to be in our major and at the end of the day I can tell you that I'm excited she's there too. We talked about the class she's currently in and I quickly discovered that she was running with her Dewey book, quoting Dewey's Experience in Education and trying to draw parallels from our activity to what she's learning in class. Sometimes this doesn't come easy, but when you're doing something so life changing as running your first ultra, it becomes pretty easy. She stopped thinking so much and just let it all come to her naturally. Beyond school, of course we had plenty of time to get to know each other, our supportive/unsupportive familes, and who it is we hope to become.
We made it into Skunk Hollow Tavern when Bekky was shocked we'd all ready run 12 miles. Time flies when you talk and talk and talk. Company is the best thing out during these races. In the aid station I found Gilly's father who had transported my aid bag to the stop for me. I grabbed what I needed and turned around to see Bekky all ready to go. I was shocked! This girl had done her homework. Not only did she have a steady pace, but the girl was in and out of the aid station, refilled, fed and ready to rock. I was impressed and we took off together. out of Skunk Hollow the course heads out onto the roads. We climbed a long hill that lead us up to the rock wall. The rock wall is a long rock wall that has to go on for a mile. It's on both sides of the road and keeps animals in the pastures. To our left, one the top of a high pasture is a house made of stone, worth at least 2 million not included the 100+ acres of land with it. We pass by the house which owns this immaculate one mile rock wall, with every single stone expertly placed so that the wall is perfectly square. At the end of the wall is a sugar shack complete with 8 or 9 cords of wood and thats just what we can see. It's quintessential Vermont and always awesome to run by all this craftsmanship.
It was on this section of the course that we began conversation with a woman who was wearing a G.A.C shirt. I told her about the GAC at the VT100.. and how I thought they were rather quiet and selective with their cheering this past year.. and thats when I realized that this was Paula. If you read my VT100 report, Paula was the unfriendly woman who was puking her brains out on the way to Margaritaville, (Karma is a bitch as you'll read here later), and today was a completely different story. Paula, in much better condition, was a real gem out on the course today. Her every move and word was accompanied with a smile and friendly words. Still in High School Skinny shape after the 100, I joked that she'll be running her way into a little black dress after the run. She smiled and we shared some more laughs. She was so pleasant and the GAC should be happy to have such a friendly and outgoing member.
We continued to make our way through the woods now with the climb up Garvin Hill around a few more corners. We re-entered the woods which was all maple trees. Each tree had a bright blue tube attached to it and that bright blue tube connected to a bigger black tube. All of these lines were carrying the tree's syrup to a holding tank. The holding tanks then had another line that took the syrup down to the nearby sugar shack where the water is then boiled so all that is left is pure syrup. These lines wove in and out of everywhere and we joked that it looked as though we were running through a gnarl of spider webs. The leaves were gorgeous, temps still cool and all we're thinking about was pancakes and syrup. We then make that final steep climb to the top of Garvin Hill where for the first time in years we are treated to a view of the Vermont countryside. Over the last few years it's either been raining for foggy to the point that there is no view but this year, a blanket of color is laid out below us as we look out towards the hills to the West. A stunning view, one that at first leaves us speechless. We get into the aid station and thank the VERY friendly volunteers. Those of us who ran last year were reminiscing about the cranky crew that manned this spot in 2009; this years volunteers told us that crew refused to come back. We thanked them very much for their time, gave a few resting bikers some guff.. then heading off down the trail. I raised my arms up and yelled "Waa hoo!!" The view was stunning and I had to let it out.. simply amazing.
Down and around we go as the trail now weaves it's way in and out of the woods, down and around pastures and houses, on and off of roads and into what seems like the middle of no where. At Cady Brook I see an aid station work who is wearing a Yankees hat. Lots of these folks in Vermont. I give him some ceremonial crap and I get the usual "We'll make the playoffs." Truth be told.. I really don't care but it's really fun to jar at the yankee fans; they're so upsetable! Cady Brook is in the black hole of the course. The forest here is dark and deep. We mosey our way up a long hill. Some runners run it, today we decide to be smart, take our time.. and see what happens. We keep talking and laughing, just enjoying the day.. and the moments of silence were now becoming a bit more frequent. It's getting harder for me to turn my legs over after we break, something I can't stand but deal with. The trail is easily discernable, where the bikes have all riden they've blown the leaves off the trail. So you'll have a blanket of yellow and orange on the ground with a stripe of brown down the middle. There isn't a bit of mud to be found on the course this year and I'm loving it even though it's extremly dusty.
At Smoke Rise Farm we see the gang from Margarittaville. It's just about lunchtime now and they've got burgers rolling all ready and warm soup. I asked if anyone was drunk yet, "not yet.. but buzzed!" We grab some grub, get refilled and head up the road. I don't wear a watch when I run but I know we're right around 12/min mile pace still, about where we've been since the beginning and still running a solid race. We run then walk then run then walk up the hill out of Smoke Rise. Around the corner a mother and her daughter are out ringing a bell and shaking a pom pom as they have every year. It's getting warmer on the course and the cloud cover is making it darker from time to time. We get off the road and dump back down into another fun winding downhill trail section. It takes us down to Dugdales which is the next handler stop. We're excited, moving well and still all smiles.
We enter Dugdale's where I head right for the porta potty. Happy that for a change I've only done this deed once on the course today but dreading the chaffe to follow. When I get out of the porta potty, I see that Leah who has since finished her relay section, has my red bag and has gone to work at preparing my waist pack for me. She's crewed for me before so she jumped right into action. She emptied my trash and refilled me with gels. My bottles were ready to go and I drank some boost. At the aid table I grabbed fruit and gummy bears. I was so happy Leah helped me get going and so greatful for her work that I gave her a huge hug to thank her. Bekky was all set to go, her and her mom offered me more candy, I took some gummy bears and we walked down the road. I was telling her that this was Silver Hill Meadow, where the 100 is. We were on the final miles of the VT100 course now and we were running with Marge. Marge is the newest member of The Animal Camp and was wearing our color proudly. She was looking great out there and I was showing her the this and that of the VT100 as well. We climbed the hill and ducked off into the woods where we climbed some more. I was feeling awful and running wasn't helping.. this is where the karma comes in.
So as we climbed a hill of mowed down briars, I felt crummy. For some reason my stomach had been unsettled for the last few hours. I didn't know whatw as wrong or what to do but I asked Bekky how she was. It was warmer now and she wanted to take a layer off so we stopped. As she removed long sleeves I stepped off the trail and into the shrub where I proceeded to bend over and puke freely. Out came gatorade, gummy bears (whole) and orange pieces. I think there was some boost in there too but.. the world was not agreeing with me. I threw up some 4 times when I looked down below and saw another runner climbing the hill, I waved hello as he caught up. I stood up and looked at him when he asked, "You ok? Going to make it to the next aid station?" The look on my face was priceless. With a HUGE smile I looked at him, bright eyed and said "Hell yeah man.. this is all just part of the party." I immediately felt better and we were now running quicker then we had in the last 2 hours on the course. It was time to roll and it couldn't have come at a better time.
From here the trail continues with roller coaster single track that weaves back and forth and in and out. We'd be bread and buttering runners left and right. A runner is 500 yards ahead of you yet right beside you. We kept leap frogging the same two guys. They'd let us go, we'd let them go and so on. I told everyone about the party house that was coming up and the cooler of beer they usually leave out for us. Yet as we reached the house this year, no one was home. No cheering, no yelling, nothing but eery silence. As we rounded the corner I saw a small cooler. I looked inside and all it had was water and spare bike tire tubes. Damn! NO BEER! I was so disappointed yet we carried on. We crossed a road and headed back up another long hill and I knew Fallon's was at the top. We entered the aid station and I had a fig newton and some Ginger Ale. My stomach is feeling much better but I don't want to take any chances. Apparently I have some nutrition to figure out for the future. Bekky and I make quick work here, I share my ginger ale with a biker who looked dogged and we carried on down the trail. Down below we took a sharp left into the woods at a shed and as we went to climb the next hill, I found a fungai. The thing was huge. I took it off the tree and carved my message into it "Josh & Gilly LET'S GO" I put the mushroom message on the groun in a spot where I was certain their heads would be down and they'd see it and then we took off running.
Bekky was starting to get IT Band issues now and from time to time she'd slow down do a walk. Mostly on the downhills which is where the IT Band is most known to flare up. She walked a bit gingerly down the steepr hills but for the most part, she sucked it up and toughed it out. She kept telling me that if I wanted to go ahead I could. I won't lie.. I thought about it.. but only briefly. I was having a great day, enjoying the course and everything about the day.. I was in no hurry. I had no idea what time it was nor did I even care. We were just running. We'd come this far together and my goal was to get this girl to the finish. I feared if I left her.. she might find reason to slow down or quit. I didn't want that; so I made my running trot a bit slower and just slowed down a bit for her in the places that I knew would hurt. She was doing great. The only thing now was... the course was rather quiet. We were running sections of the course where I usually see 50Kers coming out of the woods and 50 milers slowing down. We saw virtually no one.. and I began to wonder a bit.
We entered Goodman's and I was happy to see John Bassette and his crew there. John is the VT100 Pacer coordinator. I looked around on the aid table and they had grilled cheese. My favorite! I was so excited to just stand there and eat quarter after quarter of grilled cheese. All told I think I ate two whole sandwhiches and rank a soda. Bekky was ready to rock so I thanked John and his crew and we left. I warned her that it was a long ways to Johnsons now.. 6 miles or so.. and it's not pretty. Everything you've experienced in chunks on the course thus far, is thrown at you in one last thrown down with the course during this next section. Prepared, yet tired, we took it on together. We talked and cracked more jokes and the miles just ticked by. Somewhere in the dark spruce we passed a 75 year old man who had started his quest at the 50K at the same time we started the 50. He was walking his best, with a walking stick and chocolate smeared on his lips. All smiles.. this guy was true inspiration. Especially given all those folks who constantly tell us how we'll be missing our knees at 60.
We hit the final downhills with fury, trying to keep Bekky on her game and not hobbling with the ITB. The miles are just ticking by now.. fewer and fewer places to go. We pass a few runners, a few guys gingerly walking, one not pleased with the constant zig and zag of some of the sections.. but we're moving. We blast out onto the road and enter a farm where Ascutney is high and mighty in front of us. 4 miles to go and we're all smiles, thinking about food, the finish and accomplishment. We try to keep our heads about us still running that same 12 min/mile pace we started with. We see Gilly's father and boyfriend waiting for her. Then we see Leah. We stop to walk a bit, saving energy for that final climb past Johnsons. Leah walks us up the driveway and into Johnsons aid station, mile 47.5 Bekky see's her mom while I entertain Leah and she entertains me. We grab food and drink they take off again knowing that Josh and Gilly were 15 or so minutes behind us at Dugdales...
We tackle the final climb of the course with zeal and anticipation. We want it to be over now. Suddenly climbing doesn't feel so hot anymore.. and we know running downhill hurts a bit. Even my IT Band is starting to say hello. Yet it's in these final miles that I feel so proud of my new runner, so proud of Bekky for finally taking on this challenge she had heard about over a year before and only now finally had a reason to go for it. She could not have run a more perfect race from nutrition to pacing to having the perfect crew. It amazing, humbling and inspiring to watch all at the same time. I really was speechless. A tiny lump formed in my throat as I fought back tears though.. because I was thinking about Leadville and the Slam. I was thinking about my struggles at the VT100.. and the amazing year I've had despite being a tad slower. I was so happy to be here in this moment, happy to be back, happy to be finding that finish line.. that I couldn't help but get a little emotional. So I started to tell Bekky about "Last Moments." I have a professor who told us about how she works with terminal patients and she just thought about last moments. How in life, we never know when THIS moment will be our last... that if it is our last moment.. what kind of a moment is it going to be. It was here that I told Bekky that this was a hell of a last moment.. and if it's not the last, it's a mighty fina rendition to the last of many moments we've had in our lives. And it's these moments that make all the others, good or bad, worth while.. and keeps us coming back for more.
As we traversed the final ski slope, I looked back as we were about to take that final turn when I saw.. Leah behind me. I did a double take, looked back again and there he was. Josh. Talk about final moments. My jaw dropped and my eyes widenned. I think I almost pissed myself but I turned around and made the kid chase me. We yelled back and forth a few choice obsenities, then I slowed down and asked if he wanted to finish together. He wanted his PR.. I looked back.. now about 30 yards ahead of Bekky.. I looked at Josh ahead of me.. and yelled, "Go get it Josh! You deserve it!" Josh finally beat me in an ultra, missed a PR by less than a minute, and me.. I waited for Bekky.. and we continued on. As we approached the chute, I saw Loni on the sidelines. I had to stop. Loni has been training for an entire year.. and I mean entire.. training more for this then I have for anything.. just to finish her first 50 and she was pulled at Dugdales. I had to give her a hug and I told Bekky back about 10 miles prior that if I saw her I would. So here we were, in the chute and I stopped.. to give Loni a hug and told her how proud I was of her and how inspiring her effort is to me. Then.. I looked ahead and Bekky was now waiting for me. I sped up and we ran, side by side, through the chute and across the finish line. We'd done it... all 50 mile in 10 Hours 53 Minutes 16 Seconds... a new personal Slow.. and one of the more enjoyable Last Moments I'd ever had.
After medals and pictures, we waited for Gilly. With her family at the fnish we knew she was close. At 11:53, with 7 minutes to spare and a face on the verge of tears, we see Gilly and her pacer Paula come barreling down the trail and into the chute for her first Vermont 50 finish. It was bitter sweet. She got her redemption and she got it on her own... I couldn't have been happier for everyone.
I gotta say thanks to Mike Silverman and the rest of the Vermont 50 team for putting on one of the more amazing races in our country. I've travelled a lot, done alot.. and I have to say that this race doesn't compare to any other that I've done. It's worth every penny to run here, rain or shine and it all goes to an amazing cause. Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sport. Providing opportunities to those with disability. Huge congrats to them and thank you!
(A Few stolen photos coming)