Race Report: 2014 Vermont 50 Mile Run “Balancing Family Life & Ultrarunning” by Len Huffman

The 2014 Vermont 50 was held on September 28 in the beautiful area of Brownsville, VT. It is a 50 mile bike or run, following the same course. When I signed up for it I was anticipating crisp fall weather. Unfortunately participants got something a little more like summer with temperature in the low to mid 80’s. It made a tough race even tougher.

I heard about the Vermont 50 back in the spring from several of my Mountain Peak Fitness / Campmor teammates. Joe Azze was doing the 50 mile bike and Jules Moore the 50 mile run. I had not run a 50 mile race in 2 years so I wanted to give it a go. My obstacle though was my new baby daughter. How could I train for such a long race and take care of an infant. Plus the race would require me being away from home for a few days.

After some discussion with my wife it was decided that I would sign up for the race and we would find a way to make things work. In the past I would just head off in the mornings for my runs or be gone half of Sunday getting in the miles. Now I had to plan for each week when I would run. I thought it would be a pain but with an understanding wife it went alright.

So what does it take to train with a baby in the house when you are a stay at home dad? For starters I would look at the entire months for appointments, family get togethers and other events. I could then eliminate days I could not train and plan around them. Each week I would plan out my short and long run days and most importantly communicate them with Debbie (my wife). You do not want to surprise them on a Sunday morning saying you will be gone for 6 hours.

Some days I was out running a 4:30 am and some days with the jogging stroller. I added lots of walks in when I could to get more time on my feet. There were some days where I only got in a mile or 2 but it was ok.  Flexibility is the key to making it work. I knew I would get my miles in, if I was short one week i’d make it up the next. By the end of September I felt ready to challenge the hills of Vermont.

Race morning was a bustle of activity, with the mountain bikers (650 of them) starting first. As our race started at 6:30am, the temperatures were still very comfortable. The first mile was great on the road and flat. Runners were soon meet with the 1st of many climbs at mile 2. I mixed running with power walking as it was way too early to over extend. The miles flew by and I was on track for my goal of around 9 hours.

I was eating and drinking as planned. I reached mile 25 in 4 and ½ hours. Everything was good except for the heat. The day kept getting warmer and warmer. Somewhere around mile 28 it hit me like a brick. I started to become terribly overheated. I thought I had been keeping up with my fluids, constantly refilling my amphipod handheld. I was forced to a walk. Thoughts of stopping filled my head. I had become extremely sick in the heat in races in the past, sometimes requiring medical care. I was worried this would happen again. I thought of my family at home and did not want to push myself over the edge. I told myself just get to the next aid station, mile 33, and then evaluate yourself then. It could not come soon enough.

I finally arrived and took a seat in the shade. I consumed lots of fluids and salty snacks. I spent about 15 to 20 minutes contemplating whether or not to continue. Finally I decided to just make it to the next aid station, about 4 or 5 miles away. I would reassess my condition there. Those were some hard miles. Being almost all uphill did not help how I was feeling. In the close to 2 hours it took for me to cross that span, my mind was filled with thoughts of quitting but I had no choice but to get to the next aid station.

When finally there, I found a shady spot and contemplated my next move for the next 20 minutes or so. I had all but given up when I saw MPF teammate Jules crest the hill. He was looking good. I told him my situation. Jules urged me to continue on. He told me to just follow him. Soon we were on the trails again. I was holding on trying to follow, even at our snail pace. He paced me for a few miles but I faded. I did all I could to keep him in sight as motivation to go on.

I finally arrived at the aid station at mile 41 ish. There was no stopping now. I was too close to the finish. Jules continued on as I hydrated and ate. Sluggishly I began my final miles. I’m still not sure why but after a mile or 2 I became rejuvenated. My energy was back. The course turned to a really fun single track section. I picked up my pace and ran it with vigor. I soon caught up to Jules and took over the pacing. After another mile I was on my own again. My rebirth continued as I came to the final aid, at mile 47. Only 3 to go but hard ones from what I heard as you go up the mountain & then down to the finish. I must say I killed those last miles, passing a handful of runners. I finally crossed the line at 10 hours and 50 minutes. It was a grueling day and was happy to be finished.    

Lenny crossing the finish line

The Vermont 50 turned out to be an epic event. The course was very challenging with lots of big ups and downs. The scenery was beautiful. It was also extremely trying for me. For about 12 miles I was in a very dark place. The mind screams more than the body to stop. I found a way to get past that both from within and without. Running may be an individual sport but without friends on the trail like Jules to pull you along at times, I would have been done.

Lenny & Jules at the finish!

I also learned that although I have a full family now (and it’s going to be even bigger soon) I do not have to give up my ultra-running ambitions. It takes more planning and communication to achieve the training needed but it is possible. It also helps to have a great wife who understands how much running means to me. Next season I will be even more time challenged but I guarantee I will be at the starting line of my favorite races.