The Hill(s) that Never End – Vermont 100 Mile Race Report (7/16/2016)

My first 100 mile is finished. After what feels like endless preparation, race day has come and gone, and it still does not feel real. Even though I ran for over 21 hours, the race feels like a blur. I was probably more stressed about writing this race report than I ever was about running the race itself just because of how hard it is to recall everything. I will do my best to recount what I experienced throughout the day, what the highs and lows were, and what I wish I knew going into the race. But even though it feels like it passed in an instant, the Vermont 100 was easily the most memorable and incredible thing I have ever done. Being able to push my body to such an extreme was a unique experience that so few people ever accomplish that I hope to cherish forever, regardless of how many more of these stupid things I run.

I guess it makes sense to start with the training and taper leading up to the race. With Bear Mountain, I did weekly recaps to keep me honest and give me a tool to reflect on my training progress. Knowing that my first hundred was going to be as much of a mental battle as it was a physical one, I decided to keep my training to myself and not add an additional burden. I modified my 50 mile training plan with a few double days, a 50 mile and 50K race, and generally just tried to increase the time on feet and elevation gain. I had several weeks of 70+ miles but my main focus was avoiding burning out. I was still traveling to California for a majority of my training so just completing all of my workouts was a major accomplishment.

Taper started with 4th of July weekend with some great hikes / trail runs up and down Mount Washington. Admittedly, it was probably a bit too much two weeks out from the race, but I stayed smart and took it very easy in the last 10 or so days of taper. I ran the Vert Sasquatch trail race in the Fells a week before the race which was a fun race just because I don’t remember the last time I ran that fast for that long during a race (and it was only a 2.4 mile race…). After that, I completely ran by feel. I ran what felt comfortable with the only real goal for the week being to run more than 15 miles. On Friday, I took a rest day and before I knew it I was picking up my bib and listening to the pre-race meeting.

For the 24 hours before the gun went off, I think Colleen would have described me as frustratingly unenthused. I wasn’t anxiously waiting for the start, my bib pickup, or pre-race details, or getting to bed at a certain time. I was just going to run 100 miles on Saturday, and that was that. I was intentionally staying calm, doing my best not to over emphasize what I would take at a particular aid station or what splits I needed to hit. The day was going to play out however it did, and I would roll with it. I gave Colleen (my amazing crew chief) and the rest of my crew general instructions like when I anticipated I would be at certain aid stations, how much tailwind to put in my bottle, and when I was going to change shoes. But that was pretty much it. I felt that if I lost myself in the details there was no way I would be able to run 100 miles.

I did manage to get a few hours of sleep Friday night and waking up a 2:15AM was easier than it was for me to wake up at 7AM most days. I had a bagel and some coffee, double checked I had all my gear, and was off to the start. I checked-in about 30 minutes before go-time and waited in line for the bathroom which took roughly 28 minutes. I know nerves has pretty much everyone rushing to the bathroom before a huge race, but I think more than 10 portos could have alleviated that situation immensely. I made it to the start corral with about 10 seconds before the gun went off and I was running into the night.

The pack of runners was so tight for the first 7 or so miles I could have run without a headlamp. I had a really difficult time staying collected and not running faster with the hope of banking some time for later. I knew that it was going to be a lot more miserable to run 60 miles and blow up then it would be to run conservatively for as long as I could so I kept it calm and just enjoyed the quiet running of rural Vermont. I had a few general plans and mantras for the day. The race was only going to be however far it was to the next aid station at any given time, I was going to take a gel every 45 minutes for as long as I could stomach it (until mile 88 essentially), and if I was going to walk I was going to “walk with purpose”.

There is about 20 miles of running until the first crew-accessible aid station. This section was extremely uneventful. Two things struck me most. First, the Vermont 100 is essentially a road race with some trail thrown in to keep you sane or connect you to another dirt road, so I was extremely thankful I ran in road shoes for the first 70 miles. Second, Vermont has way more dirt road than I thought possible. Reading the course description, I really thought that if we were going to be running 70+ miles of dirt road we would be in the middle of nowhere, but in reality there is just a lot of dirt roads off the main highways in Vermont.

I shared a couple of miles with an 11 time Leadville finisher, and as I did with every other 100 mile veteran I ran with, I asked as many questions as I could. Everybody seemed to have their own techniques or strategies, so I don’t think any of the advice really helped. But the conversation really did pass the miles. The Vermont 100 course is incredibly well supported, with aid stations about every 4-5 miles. In the first 20 miles, there were 4 aid stations: 2 unmanned and 2 manned. I made my way quickly through all of them, knowing that by mile 20 I would start taking slightly longer stops to eat more real food and stay focused mentally. We rolled along through the hills and before I knew it we were at the Pretty House aid station at mile 21 right before 8 AM anxious to see my crew.

…Except they weren’t there. I didn’t stress the details but I did say get to the aid stations 30 minutes BEFORE the time on my pace sheet. Quickly, I started to panic. I was planning to change to a tank top here to stay cool, switch to a handheld water bottle to fit ice and more Tailwind, grab more gels but all of that was out the window. But as quickly as things started to seem out of control, I reigned it all back in. I knew my crew didn’t purposefully miss me and if I really needed to stick to my plan that badly I could wait a minute or two. I had enough gels to run the next 10 miles until I would see them next. It wasn’t hot yet, so I was fine in my t-shirt and pack. So, I ate some watermelon, told the volunteers to tell my crew I was on my way, and took off.

Sticking to my plan, I chipped away the miles to the next unmanned aid station at mile 25. I refilled my bottles, and kept moving. I spent a few minutes with someone who had run the race twice before, who advised me to just treat the hills with respect. Between 25 and 30 was pretty damn hilly, so I had no problem respecting the heck out of the hills and hiking hard up and letting gravity do the work on the descents. Bobbing up and down through a few meadows, I hit a long dirt road section that descended to the Stage Road aid station at mile 30 that my crew was cheering for me at!

Mile 30 Crew Stop
Colleen taking care of me at mile 30

I whipped off my pack, changed my shirt, applied sunscreen and body glide before eating half a PB&J, taking a gel, and heading back out. Seeing my crew was a huge pick me up, and I really had no hard feelings about not seeing the at mile 21. The next section of the course would be the longest I would go without seeing them for the rest of the race so I made sure I was well stocked and ready to go. Right out of the aid station was a brutal climb that I actually really enjoyed because I was able to pass quite a few people. The day was starting to heat up, but I had ice water in my bottle and ice under my hat to stay nice and cool. Before I knew it, there was another aid station cheering me around a bend! The miles were flying by so quickly and easily that I felt incredible. The training was paying off, I felt smart and strong so far, things were going great and would stay that way if I stayed on top of nutrition and my pace.

Right after the aid station, I ran into a runner from Nicaragua (who told me his name, but, you know, ultra-brain). We ran close to 7 miles together talking about our ultra running experiences, what our goals were for the day, what was hurting at that point, and what it was like in Nicaragua. The conversation was so engaging and welcome that the 1.5 hours or whatever it wound up being felt like nothing. We rolled into the Lincoln Covered Bridge aid station and ate some popsicles and marched our way up what I am pretty sure was the biggest climb of the day. Right after the climb I pulled a bit ahead and hammered a long downhill to Lillian’s aid station where I grabbed some real food and took off as quick as possible. Camp 10 Bear was the next aid station and it was only 4 miles away. I wanted to get there as quickly as possible to see my crew and some familiar TARC faces and be close to halfway done with the race. Right out of Lillian’s was a really long road section that really only stunk because I was getting hot before some fun single track and exposed dirt road before 10 Bear.

Camp 10 Bear Stop 1
Colleen is always trying to steal my food…

As I ran down the road into 10 Bear, I saw my crew around the car when Laura shouted, “Perfect timing! We just pulled up”. They grabbed my gear and ran with me to the aid station. I took a bit more time here to eat a lot of calories (mostly of grilled cheese, bagels, and watermelon) and cool down. A volunteer hit me with a sponge of ice water and I instantly felt reinvigorated. Being at mile 47, I was shocked how well I felt and knew that sub-24 was going to happen, now it was a matter of how far below I could get. I left the aid station and ran to what many described as the worst climb of the race. Honestly, I don’t think it was that bad, but it was pretty steep for a bit of it and in direct sunlight. I was climbing really well still and happier going up than down. I passed someone at this point who told me her mantra for the day that I plan to adopt at my next 100 miler: “Don’t be an idiot for the first 50. Don’t be a wimp for the second 50”. Well, it was time to not be a wimp.

Pretty much right after mile 50 I hit my first major low of the race. Nothing was hurting, my stomach was fine, I had plenty to eat and drink. But just looking at my watch and going “okay, now just do that one more time” felt crazy. 50 miles is really far! 100 miles is stupid far. But I knew I wasn’t going to quit, so I just did my best to grind out the miles until each aid station. I probably lost some time here struggling mentally, but next time I think I know to just push through.

Before I got to the next crew station, I asked another runner if he knew where the aid station was. He told me it was up this hill, but it was a never ending hill. Turns out he knew what he was talking about because 2016 was his 24th time finishing the race! After the never ending hill,  I saw my crew again at mile 59, lovingly named Margaritaville. The best part was my friend Matt was now with them! He surprised me by driving up to Vermont from Boston and I instantly snapped out of my funk. I told Colleen and the rest of the crew I was going to take a few minutes at Margaritaville to regroup and make sure I was ready for the rest of the day. When I took off, the hills started right back up and I thought to myself that no one hill is really never ending, but the sheer frequency of the hills was.

Margaritaville!
Rolling into Margaritaville! Thankful to see Matt / not hear any Jimmy Buffet

Running back from mile 59 to 10 Bear at mile 70 I had some stomach issues that forced me to walk a couple stretches I wanted to be running, but other than that things were good and my stomach thankfully settled at the aid station. I switched my shoes at 10 Bear, ate some food, and took off with a pacer finally. Amina paced me the next 6 miles which included a pretty intense climb out of 10 Bear but rolled pleasantly along single track and dirt road until the Spirit of ’76 aid station. Amina and I chatted about how the day was going and how great I was feeling. This section of the course was easily my favorite with nice views and more trail than I had been getting the rest of the day.

Spirit of '76
Trading out the bottle for the pack before the sun sets.

At mile 76 I switched pacers, put my pack back on, and took my headlamp as Laura and I took of for a 12 mile stretch. We had aid stations every 3 to 5 miles so it was easy to break up, but soon after it got dark my spirits tanked. I went from feeling like 100% all day to like I had been hit by a truck. I started to walk more but thankfully was still running and asked Laura to pull me along. I just needed to make it to mile 88 for my next pacer switch. From there, things would feel manageable. We slogged along, constantly passed by cars in both directions which caused my headlamp (which adjusts to ambient light) to distractingly flicker on and off and various brightness levels. I did my best to ignore it and we got closer and closer to Bill’s Barn at mile 88. Right before the aid station the course markings changed from yellow to white and I almost had an instant panic attack that we had gone off course. Thankfully a crew van passed us and reassured that we were on course and right near the aid station, so crisis averted.

At Bill’s, I took my time to take my final gel for the day, pack my bottles with extra caffeinated Tailwind, and at as much real food as I could stomach. At this point, chicken noodle soup was quickly becoming an elixir and I downed a cup at every aid station from Bill’s until the finish. I left Bill’s with Amina pacing me for the next 6.5 miles. I could tell we were both tired as neither of us really chatted much, but one of our headlamps started blinking. I was convinced it was her’s, but we took a minute to examine the situation and it turns out my lamp was about to die. Turns out all of the cars passing in the last section forced the lamp to constantly be adjusting and it zapped the battery. I was so frustrated I wanted to chuck the lamp as deep into the woods as I could and never see it again, but I resisted the urge and took out my wimpy spare. Amina and I ticked off the miles as I asked her every 10 minutes how far we had gone. Finally, we got to Polly’s aid station for my final pacer switch and started the last 5 miles to the finish.

Matt paced me the last 5 miles and was full of energy, spooky stories, and plenty of pep to get me moving quick to the end. I told him I wanted to push and finish as quick as possible and we moved as well as I could until the last 2 miles which pretty much climbed to the finish. At this point I started mildly hallucinating roots were moving like snakes or that tree trunks on the side of the trail were animals, so that was a new experience. With about 3 miles to go, thunder and lightning started to pick up. With a mile and a half left, the skies opened up and drenched us. Those list miles were epic, running through a torrential down pour, the rain drops catching the light of our headlamps. As we pushed on, the normal glow sticks changed to gallon-jugs with glow sticks submerged in them. We passed a sign that read “half a mile to go” and before I knew what was happening I was through the finish line hugging Colleen and chatting with Amy the Race Director about November Project. After 21 hours and 26 minutes, I had run 100 miles.

Finish Tent
Sipping on some lemonade after 21 and a half hours of running and getting soaked in the last 2 miles.

I wobbled over to the finisher tent and ate the best cheeseburger I have ever eaten, chatting with my crew about the race and the experience. I was eager to get to the hotel to shower and sleep but as soon as I stood up, I started shivering violently and was ushered over to a cot to lay down warm up. It was the strangest sensation because I felt so hot but was shivering harder than I ever had. About 20 minutes later, the feeling subsided and I was back in the car about 24 hours after I had woken up.

It all went so well that after writing this race report I am a bit bummed that I don’t have some epic story to share. I ran 100 miles as well as I could as a novice at the distance. I paced my self better than I ever have, my nutrition was on point, and I kept myself thinking positively for as much as the race as I could. So what’s next? 3 days post race, I am feeling pretty confident about my decision to enter the Grindstone 100 so I am definitely going to be in Virginia in a few months attempting my second 100 miler. I want to thank my crew (Colleen, Laura, Amina, Kristen, Sharon, Tony, and shockingly Matt) one last time, the race director and incredible race committee, and everyone who has supported me in ultra running over the past year and a half one last time. Without a doubt, I am definitely hooked on this distance and cannot wait to see what happens next.

VT 100 Buckle
Me and my crew after the award ceremony showing off my buckle!

Strava:

Vermont 100 (87 Miles of GPS Data)

Gear:

  1. New Balance Zante / Saucony Perrigrine 6
  2. Ciele GoCap
  3. Garmin Fenix 3
  4. Petzl Nao (until it shit the bed)
  5. Gu (Once every 45 Mintues)
  6. Tailwind (one scoop per 10 oz of fluid)
  7. Probably an entire watermelon

6 thoughts on “The Hill(s) that Never End – Vermont 100 Mile Race Report (7/16/2016)

  1. Wow, congrats!! Amazing that you ran 100- I just ran my first trail marathon and am hooked! But only 1/4 the distance 🙂 Sounds like you’d recommend the VT 100 over another lengthy race too, right? Thanks for this great post and recap and good luck with your next race!!

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  2. Pingback: NP Summit 4.Whoa – Yoga Word Nerd

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