The Last Great Race (Part 3) - 2019 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Race

7/21/2019 03:00:00 AM

Covered bridge crossing in Taftsville.
Wow, that's the first thing that comes to mind when trying to sum up this past weekend. What was meant to be the easiest of this summer of hundred milers turned out the be the toughest so far. Not because of its terrain, but because of the conditions. The weather forecast for Saturday promised record temps in the upper 90s combined with extremely high levels of humidity and zero wind. Unfortunately, that's exactly what we got and the day turned out to be anything but an easy outing.
Red barns could be seen anywhere along this beautiful course.
For the third of six races that are part of the "Last Great Race" series of ultrarunning, the six oldest 100 mile races in the US, I was able to trick, I mean convince, my friend and running buddy Jeff Morgan to come along as my crew and pacer. I picked him up at 4:45AM Friday morning on our way to the airport for our 6AM flight to Manchester, NH, the closest airport to West Windsor, VT I could find for a reasonable price. We arrived in Manchester, picked up our rental car and arrived at the Vermont 100 race HQ in West Windsor, VT for packet pickup with 30 minutes to spare:-) We still had plenty of time to check out the race expo and catch up with lots of trail family.
Running along the river in the early miles.
The main benefactor of the Vermont 100 is the non-profit Vermont Adaptive, an organization whose sole purpose it is to enable disabled or physically challenged athletes to participate in sports. To support this effort, runners are encouraged to try to raise donations for this worthy cause. I didn't shy away from the challenge. As a reward, runners raising different amounts for the cause leading up to the race earn prizes, like a coffee mug, a race hat, long sleeve zip top and even a Patagonia duffel bag. I was lucky enough to earn all of this sweet race swag, so it was definitely a win win effort.
View of the mountains beyond the river.
After packet pickup and pacer checkin, Jeff and I hung around for the mandatory pre-race briefing, giving us more time to chat and catch up with other runners. The pre-race briefing was both entertaining and inspiring with one runner benefiting from Vermont Adaptive's work speaking about his experience. Afterwards, dinner was served, but Jeff and I opted to check out a local Thai restaurant that catered to my plant based diet and my need for beer:-)
Interior framing of the wooden covered bridge in Taftsville.
We finally checked into our very conveniently AirBNB located in Quechee around 8PM and by 9PM I had my running kit and pack laid out and my bib number folded and pinned on my shorts before dozing off into lala land while watching some random Netflix series on my laptop. The race morning alarm was set for 2:30AM to make it to the race start in time for the mandatory morning race checking, so I needed to fall asleep quickly. Thankfully, I passed out 5 minutes into the show.
One of the many horses and riders that I seesawed with all day...until they dropped me.
I woke up 5 minutes before the alarm went off, taped my feet, got into my race kit, filled up my water bottles, fixed a quick cup of coffee and took care of my mandatory pre-race morning routine. Jeff and I rolled up at the race start 30 minutes to go. I got checked in, bumped into Sean and Walt for a quick pre-race photo opp and then lined up for the 4AM start. We took off on time and not 1 mile into the race, the "front pack" of about 30-40 runners took a wrong term that essentially put me and Sean (we were running together at this point) at the back of the pack once we caught back up to the runners on the course. Sean and I spend the next 30 minutes or so to try to make up ground and catch back up with the pack until we were running somewhere behind the top 50. This as not about placement  but more about sitting in a spot were I was neither chasing a runner or being chased by another runner, allowing me to run my race at my pace. Against traditional ultrarunning advice, Sean and I had both consciously decided to actually bank some miles before the heat of the day would force us to slow down. The thinking was that the slow down would be forced on us regardless of how fast we were running now, so we would hopefully be able to recover some during the hottest part of the day before picking up our pace again as dusk approached.  
Endless gravel roads through beautiful Vermont farms.
Unfortunately for all of us, that relief we all expected to come with nightfall never really materialized. Instead, runners were cooked all day and night by near record temps, humidity and a heat index well into the triple digits. I still believe my plan to "bank" some miles early worked out, even if the heat caught up with us much earlier than anticipated. By 11AM, temperatures had risen to levels that got my attention. At that point, I had covered nearly 40 miles and felt good about the race and my condition. However, the heat would start its toll soon after. Along with the heat and the humidity, there was one thing that affected my nearly as much if not more...horseflies. Horseflies are the true devil spawn. They have no other purpose than to annoy horses and runners alike and grind us down mentally. Well, I don't really know their affect on others, but I know it wasn't just me who barked out loud yelling at the horseflies to leave me alone, so I could suffer in the heat and humidity without being bothered by them.
Speaking of mile 40, just before reaching that point we had the only water crossing of the day, crossing a creek while being submerged no further than to shin level. However, that creek crossing had a greater affect on me than I would realize until much much later. While I stopped after the creek crossing to dump out a bunch of small rocks I picked up while crossing the creek, I did not notice that I also picked up a lot of creek bed sediment that would deposit itself inside my shoes and socks, causing my feet to literally be rubbed raw in combination with the constant moisture of sweat and humidity. Luckily, it only resulted in a couple of toe blisters and some raw spots on top of my feet. It could've been a lot worse.
I met up with my crew for the first time 21 miles into the race at the Pretty Horse aid station. I was in fantastic spirits, but I also started right away with filling my buff (neck gaiter) with ice to keep me cool. I kept with that strategy for the next 70 miles. I only stopped getting iced down with 10 or so miles to go. Jeff was fantastic, allowing me to zip in and out of aid stations by having bottles ready to be swapped and nutrition ready to be shoved into my race vest. Still, there were times when I needed just a moment to either sit down for 2 minutes or find some shade. The heat had truly become oppressive whe n the clock hit noon.
Miles 40-60 were a real struggle. I imagine most runners suffered the most during this section, causing may of them to drop out of the race altogether. First, this section consisted of the hardest climbs of the day. Second, these climbs were mostly fully exposed. Finally, the sheer heat and relentless horse flies would affect even the most experienced ultra runner. I was no exception. I had to slow my roll and hope for relief once darkness fell. Again, the cool down never happened, so that anticipated relief wasn't quite as effective as all of us runners had hoped. A slowdown was inevitable.  

By the time Jeff had dropped off the car and taken a shuttle back to Camp 10 Bear aid station at mile 70 to pace me for the 30 mile home stretch, my mojo was pretty low. Jeff had to listen to a bit more of my complaining than usual. Honestly, I struggled not to let the horseflies get to me...big time. Jeff's crewing and pacing work coupled with the amazing volunteers really pulled me through this monster of a beatdown. 
Even though I managed to run the first 50 miles in exactly 10 hours, I was never confident that I wold break 24 hours. In fact, the miles immediately following mile 50 were the slowest of the day for me or at least they felt like it. This continued after Jeff joined me as pacer at mile 70. We immediately started another major climb, which once again had me questioning my ability to break 24 hours. But no matter how much uncertainty I experienced or how much I felt I was slowing down, I never doubted that I would finish this race. 
I did think about my fellow racers many times during the day. I was wondering how Walt and Sean and Nick and Shannon and David were doing. While I shared the early miles with Sean, we had gotten separated somewhere around 15-20 miles. I figured they'd all catch up to me eventually or they were already ahead. I wouldn't find out everyone's fate until the next day. 
Jeff and I continued to power through the terrain, heat and horseflies finally topping out atop the final hill before running the final stretch into the finish. When I crossed the finish line, the clock showed 23 hours, 22 minutes and 59 seconds. Mission accomplished, race 3 of six completed and third consecutive sub 24 hour finish accomplished as well. I was lucky to come through this rave largely unscathed, but I could not have done it without the fantastic support of Jeff Morgan and the amazing RD Amy and her amazing crew of race volunteers. You all made this experience very special and I will remember this forever, especially sharing the trails with the horses racing the Vermont 100 Miler as well. The Vermont 100 Miler is the last remaining race in the US still having runners and horses run the same course on the same day. When it was all said and done, I had climbed 17000' in 98* temperatures with zero wind. Next up, Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run.



Typical Vermont farmhouse along the course.






Refreshing river crossing that ultimately took its toll on my feet.






Beautiful sunset during the Vermont 100.



Three guys on a mission from left to right: Walt running 50 100 milers in one year, Sean running the original 8 100 milers and myself running the original 6 100 milers in the US.
Gear list and drop bags
To be added.

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