The first time I participated in this race was in 2011 on my mountain bike with Philip my fiancées uncle. That Vermont year blew my mind of how though this course was and the challenge of mountain biking. Despite my lack of experience and getting my ass kicked with a steel toe boot, I had a blast!
On the way home I told Philip I would come back to run the 50. I knew I suffered a lot but I wanted to come back and accomplish Vermont as a runner. For some reason that held a lot meaning to me. Well, I kept my promise and got back up to run my first 50 miler. Who knew it would be my first 50. Why did I wait so long to even run a 50?!
Our group decided to camp close to the race start at Mt.Ascutney campgrounds. It was only 5 miles from the race start which was perfect. The campground was well kept and everyone I came across was really nice and friendly. By the time we set up camp I was pretty tired and ready for some sleep. Nothing beats sleeping in the outdoors during the fall. As I reflect back I’m glad that I decided to camp because it made my Vermont experience much more pure.
I woke up the Saturday morning feeling rejuvenated. I had a little breakfast and made my way to my friends campsite. I apparently missed story time because Elizabeth was reading the director’s cut to Adam's recent Wasatch 100 experience. Shit, I had to wait till it was posted on the Mountain Peak Fitness website. I'm sure the narration and commentary were hilarious.
By mid-day all of us were in an open field with 4 dogs playing Frisbee, soccer and volleyball. It felt so good to stretch the legs in a different way. Who would have thought I would be practicing my soccer and volleyball skills the day before my goal race. I was thinking if I DNF’d from the race I would pick up soccer or volleyball.
Soon after we drove over to get our race packets and drop off our drop bags. Before leaving I took a look up at Mt.Ascutney knowing that tomorrow I would be coming down that mountain into the finish. There was no doubt I was ready to move my legs.
Back at camp that evening Chef Elizabeth made up a pretty hearty stir fry. I think she has a shot of taking down Bobby Flay. After dinner we cracked some jokes around the campfire, talked about race strategy and the unusually hot Vermont weather. Typical Vermont weather at this time is in low to mid 70's sometimes lower. It was going to be 80 plus race day. I didn't let it bother me because it was out of my control. I was more focused on getting my rest because I was wiped out from the volleyball and soccer practice I did earlier that day. I said my goodnights and crawled into my tent and faded to sleep.
4:15 am race day morning, I woke up to the sounds of alarms going off at the campsite. Still groggy I thought to myself, here I go. This was the most anxious part of my day with all the excitement and butterflies literally coming out of me. Len and I and made a little breakfast and made our way to the race briefing by 5:30am.
If you ever get a chance to do the Vermont 50 as a runner you will feel like an outcast at the race meeting because it’s dominated by mountain bikers. I kept on thinking of my bike the whole time. The comradery is also strong between the runners and bikers which makes this race unique.
The meeting was special as race director Mike Silverman dedicated the race to Chad Dennings who tragically passed away doing something he loved early in the month. Dennings was an accomplished athlete in endurance community especially at Vermont. I never meet him but my friend Nancy did when she participated at Emerald Necklace a three day stage race that Chad hosted in New Hampshire. She spoke very highly of him and how nice he was. God bless that man.
Before my start I got a chance to see the expert mountain bikers take off. I knew Joe and Evan were pushing hard right from the start in order to secure position on the trails. The mountain bike start definitely had my adrenaline going.
After watching that start I got a chance to catch up with Sebastian a friend from NJ. We were both filled with excitement for the day. Soon enough I was toeing the line with less than 60 seconds left to go with no thought but to enjoy my run.
Once the race started I settled within the first couple of miles which is quick for me. I think it was due to the beautiful Vermont scenery surrounding me.
The first 12 miles of Vermont had some nice rollers and a climb or two that got you warmed up really fast. Those miles were on carriage trails, some roads and single track sections. I made sure to race my own race and not follow the crowd which is so hard to do. Ultra running teaches you to be patient not just on the trails but off the trails too.
Skunk Hallow (aid station #3) was the first major aid station which had drop bags. I was feeling good even though it was early. I grabbed my drop bag and Julian and Michelle were right there asking me what I needed, refilling my water bottles and handing me gels. They were my NASCAR pit crew. Elizabeth came to check in and give me some sound advice. It was really great to have their support.
I walked out of Skunk Hallow to allow my food to digest before starting up the wheels. Right after Skunk are gradual climbs which lead to Gavin Hill the highest point in the race at 18 miles. I actually ran most of this section however I consistently reminded myself keep the effort easy if I felt I was pushing. I wanted to save some juice for the end and have a strong race finish. I still haven’t had a strong race finish in ultra. It’s definitely something I’m going to work harder for in my training. Also around this time the fog was starting to disappear which unleashed some vicious heat.
During my run up to Gavin Hill I found myself passing my first mountain biker. It was pretty cool and humbling knowing that I was able to pass a bike on foot. I would end up passing a couple of more bikes throughout the race.
What caught my attention as I got close to the top of Gavin Hill aid station where the maple syrup trees. It was so cool to see how the farmers harvested this sweet crop. That reminded me to pick up my own stash of Vermont syrup. Sorry Aunt Jemima but your syrup just sucks.
The next block of miles 20-31, I mostly ran alone. The field was beginning to thin out a bit. I hadn't had any meltdowns so that was a plus. During this section I zoned out pretty hard. My mind drifted to family members, friends and bits of pieces of music I've memorized. This race doesn't allow headphones, so in addition to my training I memorized some of my favorite tracks from Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Clutch and M83. It was the key to my mental survival at times.
I eventually passed through Margaritaville aid station. This is a fun hip island aid stop that will make you want listen to Jimmy Buffett forever or not. I thought I was rolling through a party when I got there. I grabbed the basics and drank a bit more since it was getting hotter. My thirst was increasing so I knew that wasn't a good sign. I didn't want to fall behind on my hydration mid-way through the race. After I left I was hit with a waves of climbs, damn... they wouldn't stop. Vermont climbs were similar to mosquitoes on an evening night, always coming to make you suffer. If you decide to do Vermont prepare for the ups and downs. This course will make you suffer if you don’t.
The 50k split finally came and it was in a exposed field. I wasn't sure to be happy or miserable. I grabbed my drop bag and went for a clean shirt because my current shirt was saturated with sweat and dirt. The new shirt actually revived me so that was good. Heather who is Sebastian wife called out for me and asked what I needed. She definitely sped up the process of getting me in and out, thanks Heather!
I ran through more beautiful trails trying to stay focused on my nutrition. If I didn't it would be a very long 19 miles to the end. It gets harder later in the run to focus on anything let alone fueling. My biggest weakness is nutrition it has always been my demise. I made a huge effort during my training to focus on fueling. At this point I still felt good so I was doing something right!!
After rolling along for a bit I found myself at another aid station reconnected to Lenny. Man I was thrilled to see him but he wasn't looking to great. I was also beginning to feel blah with some tingly in the legs which forecasted some possible cramping. I went over to the aid station and grab some Scaps like a crack addict. I told Len let’s move together through the next section. We both needed some motivation from each other to push forward. I felt our spirits were slightly lifted with the company of one another.
The next aid station was only 4 miles away and my mind was still intact. I soon came out of the woods and looked forward over some farmland to see Mt.Ascutney. Wow! What a glorious site to see! I was definitely getting closer to finishing with 40 miles in. I ran past this farmer in his huge tractor, he gave me a wave as he harvested his crops. A lot of this race is run through private land so I definitely made sure to thank all the locals when I saw them. Throughout the whole race I really felt that all of Vermont was supporting me along the way.
At Lindas aid station which is the second to last aid station, I asked how long till the next section and was informed roughly 6.5 miles. This was the longest segment of the day. I don't even really consider it that long but by now my sails were coming down and the heat was finally working its way on me. At this aid station you could also pick up a pacer. I didn't have a pacer but after 5 minutes of being back on the trail this chipmunk volunteered itself and lead the way for a bit before diving back into foliage leaves. Thanks for pacing me little guy!
Lenny eventually got his energy back and passed me. It was great to see him charging and I tried to muster up some strength and follow but I couldn’t. I found myself walking a lot which I didn’t want to happen….errrrr.
I final got to a familiar road and knew I was closing in at the last aid station. I was pretty beat and was just grinding my gears like a car that was about to overheat on a highway.
Standing at Johnson aid station at mile 47 I looked over and saw the sun starting to descend into the Vermont skyline. I forgot of how toasted I felt with 3 miles to go....it doesn't get any better than this.
A woman at the aid station could tell I looked pretty spent. "Honey, you only got 3 miles to go. You got this in the bag!!" I knew this section from my 2011 mountain bike experience. The climb was going to be a walk maybe some shuffling at best and the downhill was going to suck because my quads were blown!
I finally saw a sign that read 1.5 miles to go. That was the best sign I saw all day, whooooo! I just pretended that I was going to run down to Clove Lakes from my house which is roughly that distance. I can’t even explain in words how it felt to run down Mt.Ascutney, you just have to experience it yourself. I knew I was about to finish my first 50 miler. Damn what a day!
As I crossed the finish line I instantly underwent a transformation. My spirit was revived and I felt much more connected to myself and the outdoors than ever before. I embraced the moment and memories of my adventurous year flicked through my mind like a comic book. I saw Elizabeth and Joe from a distance smiling giving me a huge thumbs up. I completed the Vermont 50 as a runner and a mountain biker, wow what an accomplishment for me. In the words of my two year old nephew Liam, "I did it!"
Special thanks to my coach Ben Nephew and to Elizabeth Azze. Elizabeth has always given me encouragement to push myself. Her passion for adventure, nature and endurance are contagious and it has encouraged me to expand my foot path on the trails.
Coach Ben, thanks for making me work hard week in & week out leading up to Vermont. I definitely became stronger and more confident runner going into this race. With your help you made my day manageable and most of all enjoyable! Importantly, it was great creating a friendship with you.
Laura, your determination and endurance to get through medical school and capture your dreams has always inspired me to work harder. Thanks for supporting my passion for running and the outdoors.
Congrats to Lenny, Joe and Evan for completing the race!! It was great to share the trails with you on a hot Vermont day. Cheers to all the other runners and mountain bikers!!
Thanks volunteers for all your kind and encouraging words that helped me reach the finish.
On the drive back home Monday morning we were passing through the Catskills and Lenny said "Any interest in going up Indian Head today?" I laughed and said next time.
Other posts you may be interested in:
MPF Athlete Evan Fineman's 2014 Vermont 50 Mile Mountain Bike Race Report
Click here for more posts from Vermont adventures!