When you ride 50 miles with around 8,000 feet of climbing everyone hurts at some point.
The Vermont 50 was held this past Sunday in Ascutney, VT. This is a 50 mile mountain bike race held on over 70 pieces of private land. It included paved roads, dirt roads, fire roads, double track, farm land, and the sweetest single track you can imagine riding.
My EPIC weekend (yes it qualifies) started on Saturday night as I left my house for Vermont at around 7:45 pm. I rolled up to the hotel at around midnight. I “slept” till around 4 am and then headed for the race.
This race is special in that they hold a 50 mile run, 50k run and a 50 mile mountain bike race all on the same day on the same 50 mile loop. They hold a mandatory racer meeting at 5:30 am to educate everyone on which markings to follow and how to not scare the crap out of runners on course. And to educate riders on how runners can pass and will pass some bikers on the technical climbs.
There were a lot of firsts for me at this race:
My first time racing a full suspension geared bike
My first time riding in Vermont
And I raced a course that I had never seen let alone ridden before.
The environment was electric at the check in and racers meeting- I think there were over 770 riders and over 650 runners at the event and it closed out in 12 minutes…
My race started at 6:05 am as I was in the second wave to start. It was quite warm and even just a sleeveless base layer under my kit would prove to be too much. They started us (Expert Men 35-44) with all the other experts. This mass start was really cool- we start in the dark and just start climbing. I began about mid pack and the pace was fast on the pavement. I had to begin to dig deep pretty quickly as the race has to fit all that climbing in somewhere so why not the whole race long…
I used my 650 lumen Niterider light and I am happy that I did. There were people without lights and I knew that was not for me. I began to go too deep at around 5-6 miles in and I knew that I had to pull back. I began to worry that back in May when I registered for this race I was a little too excited for the race season to start. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? Did I train enough? It was so hard to even get 4k feet in climbing over 50 miles at home let alone get over 8k in 50…
People were joking that these climbs hurt so bad because our legs thought they were supposed to still be in bed.
At around 40 minutes in we were crossing a farmer’s field which he had plowed a 1 lane switch backed route through and up rolling hills when the sun broke through. As I had arrived in the dark and began racing in the dark this was my first taste of the views to be had. And it was awesome- I looked over my shoulder and began to feel better about everything. I knew that I had done the work to the best of my ability. I could ride 50 miles.
The race was organized to perfection. The course was marked so well over the entirety of the 50 miles. There were 10 aid stations! Yep 10. So every 5 miles or so you could stop, eat, drink, and converse with the awesome volunteers. On course people were cheering you on. The locals were on the edge of the course cheering and ringing cow bells as if they knew each and every one of us. Even the police were encouraging as I crossed the road (imagine that).
I skipped the first few aid stations but stopped at around mile 18- the crew there filled my bottle for me as I spoke to Joe Azze. It was great seeing him as he reminded me to ride my pace. That is definitely the key to a race like this. The only issue I had was that I had no idea what was left and how much I could push. As we pushed off up the hill I began to feel stronger.
At around mile 23 I finally started getting into a good rhythm. My bike felt great and I was descending like I knew what I was doing. I started riding with more people and using them to pace me (maybe held me back as well) as everyone knew the course better than I did. As you can see from the course geography the climbs just don’t quit.
At mile 25 I knew I could finish and I began to find that pain cave and just bury myself in it. I was now stopping to refill my bottle every 5 miles or so and it was almost empty at each stop. It was now around 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky and my legs began to twitch. The cramping was coming- I was able to stave off the worst of it by standing while climbing as much as possible, by downing Gatorade, and with the secret weapon…
Pieces of boiled red potatoes dipped in kosher salt. Holy crap were they tasty. I now know why people race endurance events- it’s all about the potatoes.
And then I rode the sweetest single-track that I had ever ridden and I knew that I had to move- so my silly mantra became:
Gotta make hay - I may not be a climber but I can ride single-track fast.
So I turned it up with 10 to go and just lived it up. Smiles all around as I knew I could finish strong that is if the trail would stop turning up towards the sky. The 2nd half of this race made the first all worthwhile. Just beautiful trails with awesome rock features that made me want more. The riders were all encouraging and the electricity of the forthcoming finish was strong.
So in the end I finished in 5:26 minutes- of that less than 5 minutes of stopped time.
I am a little disappointed that I didn’t break my stated goal of 5 hours but that’s what next year is for.
Time to thank the people who got me to this and many other finish lines over the course of this year:
Thanks to the Team/Commuters- you guys are a great crew to ride with each and every day
And of course to my wife Robin who puts up with me and my ridiculous rides to the trailhead in the rain and dark at 5:00 am to do a 5 hour ride.