Vermont 100 Endurance Race
July 20, 2013
Silver Hill Meadow
Last year at the Vermont 100, I bonked. Hard. I went into the race with big goals, but an insufficient training base on which to achieve them. Charging out of the gate like a right lion, I tired myself early by pushing an unsustainable pace. When minor issues arose, I ignored them. Of course, those minor issues turned into major problems down the road. Battered, defeated, and injured by mile 70, the last 30 miles turned into a death march. I finished, and it hurt.
The race made me think long and hard about why I run. While I love the thrill of going hard and fast, I’ve never been much of a racer at heart. Running, for me, is an exercise in pure joy. It’s something I do because it genuinely brings me happiness, which has in turn made me a better person. I made a decision after Vermont last year to always run first and foremost for the love of it. Never again did I want to suffer as I did that day.
Arriving at Silver Hill Meadow, my plan was not to plan. I had no pace chart, no detailed crew instructions, and no ambitious goals of any sort. I simply wanted to run as happily and consistently as I could for the entire 100 miles. Too simple an approach? Only the race would tell. Yet even under the deafening roar of thunderstorms that ripped across the night sky, I felt oddly at ease.
Thunderstorms gave way to a brilliant show of fireworks as we lined up for the start of the race. The few minutes preceding a 100 miler are always quite magical. A tangible, intoxicating sort of energy permeates the air. Time slows to a crawl as the seconds tick down to the start. A last burst of pre-race angst – Am I truly ready for this? – and suddenly you’re off. Once again, calm.
Fresh and rested, my legs were thrilled to get moving. The early morning miles ticked by with ease and laughter, as I shared stories (and dodged the occasional mud pit) with my new friend Emma. Turning onto our first extended hill of the day, I couldn’t wait to climb.
Rob loves to remind me of how I used to detest uphill running. When out training together, on even the gentlest of inclines I’d break into a hike and state point-blank that I do not run hills. The memory made me smile, as I thought back on my odd progression as a runner. I will never quite understand how something I struggled with for years ultimately became my strength. How I savor those climbs now!
What goes up must come down, and Vermont is famous for never being flat. I settled into an unusual rhythm where I’d run the inclines at a strong clip, and then jog the downhills at a very moderate pace – essentially keeping my pace even on both the climbs and descents. Consistency at its best?
I jogged into Pretty House – mile 22.5 and the first handler aid station of the day – feeling happy and strong. Rob quickly swapped out my hydration bladder and handed me a fresh flask of VFuel. After going crew-less at Zion, I was grateful to have his support. One shirt change later (as I somehow tore my beloved white tank top, much to my dismay), and I was on my way again.
With the running field dispersed, I found myself largely alone. Elegant as always, I somehow managed to pop my gel flask all over my face and down my shirt. Thank goodness for wet wipes. The perennial multi-tasker, I got to work cleaning myself up as I jogged down to U-Turn aid, laughing at what a sticky mess I must have seemed. Another climb, a good bit of descent, and I soon found myself at Stage Road. I thought back to last year’s race, and how miserable I’d been here. This year, my spirits were soaring.
Photo courtesy of Patchanida Pongsubkarun
Rob promptly got to work switching out my bladder and gel flask as I mentally went through everything I’d need for the next 16 miles. The journey over to Camp 10 Bear – mile 47.6 – always feels long, so I checked and double-checked my supplies to be safe. A quick hug later, and I was off once more.
Mud pit dodging became the name of the game as I wound along the trails on Suicide Six. The woods were shaded yet brutally humid, and I soon found myself yearning for ice. Ice, ice, makes everything nice – especially when scooped liberally down your sports bra. Oh, the joys of being a female runner. I left each aid station quite the little freezer box.
Other than a little more mud to contend with, the run over to Camp 10 Bear went smoothly as could be.
Photo courtesy of Ben Kimball (Northeast Race Photography)
Heading over for my medical check, I was surprised to note that my weight was up 1.4lbs. To be honest, I expected it to be a little higher given that my clothes were drenched in water. Rob encouraged me to eat, as up until that point I’d been using gel as my single fuel source. Knowing that the section up ahead was tough, I heeded his advice and quickly scarfed down a PocketFuel. My stomach had been rock solid since the start, and the coconut cherry almond butter tasted like a dream.
There’s something about the mid-point of 100s that always seems to get me. You’re already heavily invested in the race as you’ve traveled so many miles, yet there is still lots of distance to cover. The thought can be overwhelming. As I crested the hill out of Camp 10 Bear, I could feel myself slowly sinking into a low. Refusing to give into negativity, I firmly reminded myself of my goal to run happily. I had many things to be thankful for at this point in the race – my body felt strong, I was supported by the most wonderful crew a girl could asked for, and I’d already made so much forward progress. Breaking into a hike as I tackled one particular beast of a hill, I was glad to feel things turning around. It’s amazing how positivity can conquer even the most negative of mindsets.
Up ahead, a small sign – 50.3 miles down, 49.7 to go. Glancing down at my watch, I performed my one and only time check of the day. I’d passed the halfway point in 8 hours, 40 minutes.
Once again upbeat, I made good progress down to Tracer Brook. Reaching the base of the hill, I was delighted to see my friends Signe and Mike by the river. I had not expected to encounter any familiar faces until the next handler station, so it was a most welcome surprise. Their high-fives and words of encouragement powered me up to Seven Sees, where Rob, Scott, and many other friends were cheering.
I decided to switch over to Coco Hydro in my bladder. Solid food sounded appetizing, so I quickly ate a Raw Revolution bar as Rob helped prepare my supplies. We discussed whether or not it would be worth it for him to meet me at the next handler station (Margaritaville) which was only 3.4 miles away. Given that I didn’t plan on lingering there, I encouraged him to head directly back to Camp 10 Bear so that he could relax a bit before pacing me.
Another up. A long stretch of down. Margaritaville, where ice once again made everything blissfully nice. En route to Brown School House, I caught up with a few running friends which made the miles pass by pleasantly. As we began the climb up to the aid station, I gradually pulled away and found myself alone once more. A little more ice, and I felt fresh and prepared to tackle the trip back down to meet Rob.
The skies opened up during those 5 miles back to Camp 10 Bear. I had been wondering when the forecasted rain would materialize, and as the water splashed across my skin I felt intensely rejuvenated. Happy. Delightfully happy.
Last year at the Vermont 100, I hobbled into Camp 10 Bear injured and defeated. This year, I charged into the aid station feeling strong as could be. Last year, I had dreaded those final 30 miles. This year I knew in my heart that I was prepared to tackle them.
Once again my weight was up at the medical check, though this was to be expected as I resembled drowned rat more than runner. Concerned that it might get cooler at night, I opted to change into a dry shirt before we took off into the Vermont countryside. It was comforting to know that Rob would be beside me for the remainder of the journey to the finish line.
The stretch of course over to Spirit of 76 is one of the most beautiful sections of the race. For the first time in the three years I’ve run Vermont, I was able to appreciate stunning landscape around me. We ran through fields and wound along trails, staying quiet for the most part so that we could take everything in. Arriving at the aid station, I was now leading the women’s race.
With plenty of daylight to spare, I was hopeful that we could perhaps make it to Bill’s (mile 89) before dark. I chuckled when I realized that I’d need to wear my bulky Fenix headlamp for the next 11.6 miles, as I’d left it in my Spirit drop bag to be safe. After chatting briefly with the delightful Zeke Zucker, Rob and I were on our way once more.
In the past, I’d always hit a tremendous low between Spirit of 76 and Bill’s. This year, the miles seem to tick right by. I was thrilled that I still had the strength to push on the uphills, and continued to take the descents at an easy pace. As we neared the barn, I felt truly lucky to have the opportunity to experience this section of the course in daylight. The views towards Mount Ascutney were simply magical.
The finish finally seemed in sight as I jogged into Bill’s for my final medical check. In need of a little caffeine, I took in a chocolate espresso PocketFuel and double-checked to make sure I had ample gels on hand. As the sun began to set, I wondered just how far we’d get before I’d need to use my headlamp.
Heading out under the glow of the setting sun, those final 11 miles felt surreal.
Part goblin? Photo courtesy of Rob Lalus
Other than a brief stop at Keating’s for Mountain Dew, I pushed straight through. Emotions welled up inside of me as the sound of the G.A.C. band echoed softly ahead of us, letting me know that the finish line was near.
One mile to go. The sign seemed to glitter under the beam of my headlamp.
I smiled as I thought back on the 99 miles that I had traveled, and began to wonder what my finish time would be. I had not checked my watch since the 50 mile mark, and found the uncertainty quite thrilling.
Charging down the final hill, I crossed the finish line in 18:38 – first woman, eighth overall, and a PR on the course by 2 hours and 15 minutes.
It felt like a dream. It still does.
Photo courtesy of Rob Lalus
Thank you to Julia and the many wonderful volunteers for making this race possible. To Melanie, Anthony, Justin, Eric, Scott, Jess, Mike, Signe, and Tammy for your constant encouragement throughout the race. To Emma, Zak, Nate and Bob for sharing several wonderful miles with me. To Traci for inspiring me with your incredible Grand Slam attempt. To Amy for always believing in me. And most importantly, to Rob for your everlasting support.
Some fun facts…
- Gels consumed – 35 VFuel (peach cobbler)
- Bars consumed – 3 (Raw Revoultion)
- PocketFuel consumed – 2 packets
- Cups of Mountain Dew consumed – 4 small
- Water consumed – Lots (NUUN and Coco Hydro mixed with BCAA powder, glutamine, and beta alanine)
- Salt consumed – 28 SaltStick tabs
- Protein consumed post-race – SFH Recovery (chocolate)
- Calories burned – 7,987
- Average HR – 129
- Max HR – 163
- UltrAspire Alpha race vest
- HydraPak 2L bladder
- Polar FT4 heart rate monitor
- Flag nor Fail “Work Is in My Blood” white and pink tank tops
- Salomon Whisper II tank
- Pearl Izumi Infinity Run skirt
- Hoka Bondi B2s
- Darn Tough socks
- Dirty Girl gaiters (rainbow leopard)
- Headsweats race hat
- Beast of Burden head wrap
- Ryders Nitrous sunglasses
- Black Diamond Gizmo headlamp
- Fenix HP11 headlamp