I have never really written a race report per se other than the obligatory Facebook post after finishing a big race. I have always loved running ever since my father would take me to the track as a young boy. He had run cross country and track in high school and was quite successful (having run a 4:16 mile his Freshman year in college). He wanted to share his love of running with me. Except for a portion of time in my 20’s, that yearning for the runner’s high has continued to be a big part of my life.
At first it was just running a marathon, then qualifying for Boston (took me 3 tries to do so), then attempting to run sub 3 hours. After several unsuccessful attempts, my marathon times were at a stalemate between 3:08 and 3:15. Having run about 15 marathons and after reading “Born to Run”, ultra running was calling my name. Having run four 50 milers in the last 2 years, running 100 miles seemed like the logical next step. Plus, since the qualifying standards for the Western States lottery have been tightened up this year (2 time loser here), I pretty much had no choice but to become a little more crazy than wife thinks I already am.
I chose Vermont 100 because: a) Living in CT, it’s only a 3 hour drive to the race and b) I LOVE hills and Vermont has a ton of them. Training for the winter in the northeast included lots of cold morning runs in several layers. It was a production each morning to figure out what to wear in the sometimes single digit weather. Because of my work schedule, my training was varied throughout the week, but generally focused on 4-8 miles a day during the week and a long run on either Saturday or Sunday. Generally I ran 35-45 miles per week, but ran a relaxed pace with lots of hills. I did a 50 mile road race (Lake Waramaug) in April as part of the buildup, recovered and then started in with some serious training, averaging 70 miles a week for 6 weeks through early July. I ran on trails or hills as much as possible with the focus on the specificity of the weekend long run. To imitate the Vermont course, a mix of trails and gravel roads with steep climbs and descents worked well to harden up the quads for what was to come. I have my friends Chris L., Eric, Alan, Chris D., Scott, and Chuck to thank for getting up early with me on Sunday mornings to do different portions long runs with me. I built up to a 40 mile, 7 hour long run a month out from the race, culminating an 88 mile week. I knew at the end of this long run that I was ready. I was feeling good and felt I could have run another 10 miles at the same pace comfortably.
In getting my race crew, I first thought of my wife, but she quickly reminded me that travelling around Vermont all day with the dog and son in tow was not her idea of fun. She had crewed me at the Vermont 50 last September and was sick the entire day, but couldn’t imagine going through double the amount in the summer. She suggested a guys weekend with a few friends. I put the word out that I was looking for 2-3 people to help crew and pace me during the race. At Vermont 100 you are allowed to have a pacer for the last 30 miles. I wrote the following with some semblance of sarcasm.
I am looking for 2 people that are very organized and efficient, have good navigational skills, don't get lost in the woods (at night), have a positive attitude, have a great sense of humor, are a good story teller, are able to deal with my cranky ass at mile 85, and generally love being in a race atmosphere all day long! I don't think that's too much to ask is it?! I also would ask that one of the two pace me for the last 30 miles so that I don't trip on my own drool during that uncharted last section of the race. Keep in mind there will be a LOT of walking in that last 30 miles, so the pacer simply needs to be in some semblance of marathon shape. Plus any running at that point will be north of 10:00 minute pace per mile in my opinion.
Chris, Scott, and Eric graciously agreed to make the adventure to Vermont with me. Eric had paced me in the last two years of the Lake Waramaug 50 miler and has a sub 3:00 hour marathon to his credit. Chris has run several marathons, countless Tough Mudder races, and has been a great friend of mine for the last 5 years at least. Scott, who I’ve known for the last few years has run several marathons as well and is training for the JFK 50 mile in November. All 3 are very level-headed and I knew I could count on them.
The plan was to go up early on Friday, get checked in, set up camp (you can camp in a field near the start), get some lunch, and attend the pre-race meeting and pasta dinner. After setting up camp and having some lunch, we returned for some R&R to the camping area. We met Maddy Hribar, her sister Katy and their mom who were having trouble setting up their tent. I learned that Maddy had run Leadville 100 the year before in just over 24 hours. She was going to be among the elite women in the race tomorrow.
We then went to the pre-race meeting and learned all the ins and outs of navigating the course, how important the volunteers were, as well as what the race is benefitting. All of the profits from the race go directly to the Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports. A woman name Molly came up and spoke about how important that organization is the success and well-being of her autistic daughter. Being the father of an autistic son as well, it really hit home, and I’ll admit I had some tears in my eyes. I actually sought her out after the pre-race meeting to thank her for telling her story in front of everyone.
Now it was time to eat! At the pasta party, we ran sat down at the same table as Tom Green. Tom Green was attempting to finish the “Grand Slam of Ultrarunning” (four 100 mile races: Western States, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch over the course of 13 weeks). Tom was the first person to do it in 1986 and was now attempting to do it again in his early 60’s. He finished Western States less than 3 minutes before the cutoff, would go on to finish Vermont in more than an hour before the cutoff, and Leadville less than 5 minutes from the cutoff. He would go on to run Wasatch, but had to drop mid race with a medical issue.
Back to camp we went to go over final instructions for the race. I’m a little meticulous and OCD with everything that goes on in an ultra. I want to leave nothing to chance. The three guys had a good laugh about all the different gels/shot bloks, and other items that I had brought for the race. https://www.facebook.com/scottcooney/videos/10152520281129484/ My nutrition plan was to take in 200-300 calories an hour as long as I could and drink 30-40 ounces an hour. This would be in the form of gels/shot bloks, fruit, pretzels, potato chips, and whatever else I could stomach. For hydration I would carry a 20 ounce Amphipod hand held and alternate between Tailwind (powder based electrolyte drink with calories) and Nuun (non-calorie, but has electrolytes) as long as could stomach. Both drinks are very light in taste, but I knew at some point I would want to change over to Coke and/or Ginger Ale for liquid calories. I seem to crave Coke especially in latter half of ultra races.
At Vermont and with usually any 100 miler, they keep an eye on your weight. At pre-race check-in you get weighed in along with your blood pressure taken. They weigh you again at 3 different aid stations during the race and if you are 7% or more under your pre-race weight, they pull you. No questions asked!
Night fall came quickly and it was time to get some shut eye. I was surprisingly not terribly nervous the night before and fell asleep fairly easily, but still woke up a few times to make the short trek to the port-a-potty at the camp. I got about 5 hours of sleep as wake up was at 2:45 a.m. with a 4:00 a.m. race start. Cars were starting to stream down the gravel road leading to the start. The rest of my crew awoke around 3:00 a.m. and we were ready to go. I made my final preparations, put on a headlamp, got my water bottle and Ultimate Direction belt with my Shot Bloks, gels, and electrolytes all set. Since the start was virtually a ¼ mile walk from our tent, it was nice to relax and be able to walk down to the start less than 10 minutes before the start. Upon getting to the start it was one last time to the restroom and it was GO time! I lined up about 10 meters behind the front and then the gun went off.
The Vermont 100 race course starts off going downhill on a gravel road so it’s easy to start off fast. Plus the temperature was cool at 55 degrees. I wanted to run almost solely by heart rate (keeping between 130 and 150) in the first half of the race. People were passing me left and right but I felt content with slow easy pace around 10:00 minutes per mile. I started chatting some with Alex McDaniel, whom I had seen the last few years at the Lake Waramaug ultra races. He is an accomplished ultra runner with a couple of good showings at Western States. I picked his brain a bit to find out what kind of time he was looking for. He has run around 20 hours before at Vermont, but said he was looking to go a little above that this year as his training cycle wasn’t as good as previous years.
My goal for Vermont was to finish in under 20 hours. Based on other runners that have run Vermont whom I know that I am on par with for a 50 miler, their times were typically between 19 and 21 hours. I felt as long as ran smart in the first half of the race, I would have a chance to be close to that time. I also wore a pace bracelet that had calculated paces for the major aid stations, plus a projected super goal time (based on a finish of 19 hours) for each one. I continued to click off the early miles, but making sure to stay on top of my nutrition and hydration. Around the first aid station at 7 miles, I started to run some miles with Greg Esbitt (who had finished a few minutes in front of me at Vermont 50 last year), so I knew I wasn’t going too fast. He doesn’t start out too fast, so I tried to keep the pace easy with him. There were was a nice long downhill with a mile just under 8:00, but we did drop probably 500 feet in elevation so I knew it wasn’t too fast. Coming into the Taftsville Bridge aid station in Woodstock, I was pretty much right on schedule at 2 hours and 32 minutes for the first 15 miles. A quick refill of water and a few potato chips and I was on my way.
Coming out of the aid station, I came upon Maddy. We started chatting a little, but it was clear that she was pushing the hills a bit more than I was. I was content to keep my heart rate in check and walk the uphills when needed. A few miles before the Pretty House aid station at 21.1, I shared some miles with Mary Beth Strickler. Mary Beth seemed to be having a great time just clicking the miles off. She was running her 3rd 100 miler and was looking to finish in under 24 hours, but was certainly way ahead of schedule.