Race Report: The 2012 Vermont 100 by Harry Hamilton
The Vermont 100 mile foot race is no joke for sure. Many endurance racers have stated that it is runnable. If I haven’t conquered a course that is described as runnable I don’t subscribe to that notion. Last year I had raced this course and the course won. This year’s race plan was exactly the same as last year. I even ran in the exact same shoes. The only difference was my fitness level that I hoped would allow me to reach my goal time.
The weather was prefect. The morning was cool, comfortable and overcast. I started out towards the front of the pack and settled into a reasonable pace. Once I warmed up and was in my zone I planned to stay there all day long. As the miles passed through the rolling hills I only took power walk breaks when the climbs were steep. I was moving along nicely as I approached Camp Ten Bear at mile 47 when a voice that sounded like my conscience popped into my head. “Remember to take walk breaks. Save some energy for the last 30 miles.” It was the voice of teammate Randy Miller. I arrived at Camp Ten Bear in 8:23:32. I weighed in, found my drop bag, supplied up and took off. So far so good.
I think that I was around mile 51 when I strode into an aid station. As I was filling up my bottles I heard someone call my name. It was my teammate Julian Vicente and he was sitting in the dreaded chair! I can’t remember the short conversation, but it involved me telling him to get his ass moving. We started out slowly and Julian mentioned that he was having knee issues. I knew right away that it was the knee that was bothering him during our training repeats on Perkins Drive at Bear Mountain, NY. I also knew how this would end up. Julian did the smart thing even though he undoubtedly will be disappointed.
Miles 47 through 70 were a critical section of the race for me. I relaxed and settled into a more conservative pace. These miles passed by nicely. There were a lot of descents during this stretch and I ran this section conservatively to save my quads. I came into mile 70 in 12:52:56. Mountain Peak Fitness Teammates Elizabeth and Julian were there and had my drop bag ready for me. I was loaded up and ready to go, but I didn’t see my pacer. Just before I had to make a quick decision to head back out onto the course I turned around to look one last time and there he was. It was a quick introduction and off we went.
Miles 70 through 77 start with a short tough climb. My stomach was full from the aid station refueling stop, so it worked out perfectly that I could power hike while my stomach settled. I went back into my running zone and planned to stay there until Spirit of ’76 aid station at mile 77. Sometime after the climb my nemesis decided to rear its ugly head again; blisters. There were a few minutes of yelps, pain and obscenities, but I knew that they would break in a couple of miles. I felt sorry for my pacer at this point. He was from New Hampshire and probably was not used to this language. It reminded me of the movie “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie’s father “wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan."
Miles 77 to 88 were the most critical section of this race for me. These 11 miles would either make or break my day along with any shot at a respectful time. Last year this section fried my quads and rendered me useless. As Yoda told Luke as he was training to become a Jedi, “remember your failure at the cave.” I told my pacer not to “pull” (cycling term for staying up front and doing all of the work) during this section. During these miles it is too easy to pick up the pace. That can lead to a crash and burn later. The plan for this section was to stay in my zone for the climbs and the flats and remain semi conservative on the descents. I was rolling along nicely during this section and Randy Miller’s voice was nowhere to be heard. It was all good! At mile 85 or so there was a long climb on a gravel road. I noticed that my pacer was really quiet. It didn’t sink in at the time, but this was not a good sign. My pacer fell behind me. I had instructed him prior to this that I wanted him in front me or alongside of me, but not behind me. Then he asked me “what happens if I can’t keep up with you?” I told him to talk to Elizabeth at the aid station. I also told him that I didn’t want to hear the conversation. By mile 87 I was shouting back at him that he had to go ahead and see if Elizabeth can take over the pacing. He didn’t respond. He was fried. I forged ahead.
At mile 88 I came into Bill’s aid station. I could see Elizabeth on the left side of the course. I asked her if she could pace me. Her reply without hesitation was “of course.” I ran over to the medical check, weighed in and refilled my bottles. I trotted back to where Elizabeth was and grabbed what I needed from my drop bags. Elizabeth was ready and off we went. Elizabeth started off a tad too quickly, so we backed off the pace a bit. I knew that I was going to surpass my initial goal time for this race, so I did some quick calculations and came up with a new time goal. It was going to be close to achieving, maybe by a minute.
Miles 90 to 97 were rolling hills with three hard climbs that we power hiked. During these climbs I remember looking up and seeing the illuminated lights that were marking the course hanging from the trees. The climbs were so steep that I felt I was looking up at lights that were dangling from the sky. Sometime during these miles my left ankle decided to give me sporadic sharp piercing pains. After about 20 minutes or so I decided to do what Jens Voigt the cyclist would do. Speaking out loud I told my ankle to “shut up.” It did.
At mile 97 I asked for the first of a few time checks. I had three miles left with 30 minutes of time. It was going to be close. My plan was to stick to the pace and sprint the last ½ mile on the trail. When we got to mile 99 I thought that the rest of the way would be semi flat or downhill to the finish. As Jim Carey’s character the Grinch said, “Wrongo!” A climb to power hike. I thought that I should run the climb, but I didn’t have the energy at that point. I remember thinking that the game was over and I wasn’t going to reach the new goal time because I had walked the climb.
At less than a mile to go I tripped, presumably on a rock. As I was falling my shoulder hit the ground. I started to roll yelled out “GO” before I got up. I remember Elizabeth looking back at me while I did my roll. It happened so fast I don’t even know is she broke her stride. I was up and moving again, back on pace.
A short time later we passed a sign that looked like it said a ½ mile to go to the finish. It was dark and I wasn’t sure exactly what it said. I asked Elizabeth if that was a “finishing sign” and she replied “yes.” I started picking up the pace to the finish. I started to see that the trail was illuminated with some sort of lighting on both sides, but I was just trying to bomb it to the finish and I really couldn’t see what kind of lights that they were. I started to hear people cheering in the short distance. I saw a straight band of lights. I thought that this must be the finish. I started sprinting for that line. I crossed the line, stopped and turned around to see the time on the clock. 18:55. I made it by 5 minutes. I had broken 19:00:00. My team mate Julian was there and so was my first pacer that I dropped just before Bill’s aid station. It felt great!
I would not have broken 19:00 if Elizabeth hadn’t paced me for the last 12 miles. My first race as part of the Mountain Peak Fitness / Campmor Team has been a positive experience and has already paid benefits. This was a PR by 1:42:00. I ended up finishing 17th overall and second in my age group. Not too shabby for a guy who carries an AARP card.