Vermont 50k Part 2: Start Slow, then Taper
Amazingly, it’s been almost two weeks since I finished the Vermont 50k. You wouldn’t know it. I’m not struggling to move, the chub rub has healed, and the shirts they gave me have been worn and are in the laundry. But I know I did it. Boy, do I know.
I got up at 5:45 AM the morning of the race because I am a total maniac. Everything was packed, but I wanted to be ahead of schedule. Which we were. Because the race didn’t start until 8. I know, I’m annoying. Shane rolled out of bed shortly before 6:30, we ate hotel breakfast, and got to base camp around 7:20, which was about ten minutes before the pre-run briefing. Once the RD went over trail markings and I pinned on my bib, I was calm. What more can you do, right?
Look at this big dumb idiot. So young. So naive.
While we were waiting around for the start, I got a nice surprise when Amy, the RD of the Vermont 100 spotted me and came over. It was really cool seeing someone else I know from the running community, especially someone I look up to. (If you want to volunteer and learn from one of the best, sign up for a long shift at the VT100 finish tent. She’s truly great at what she does.)
The race started right on time, cruising down the road and pretty quickly going off asphalt onto the dirt roads I love so much. I was trotting along in last - shocking no one - when I looked up to see the first hill of the day. It was a bitch, too. That was one of the last times I saw runners for 10 miles. My plan was to power hike all the climbs and run all the flats and downs, so power hike I did. Halfway up that hill, I realized there was a small group of people on the porch of a house I was passing. In their yard was a skeleton in running gear beside a sign reading “Still trying to get to the top of the hill!” I cracked up and thanked them for the laugh. It wouldn’t be the last of the day; Vermonters are wonderful.
I did make a mistake in my nutrition on that hill that would cost me for much of the day: I waited to take my salt caps. I figured that because I was hiking and it was cool, I didn’t need them yet, despite sweating. WRONG. So wrong. I ended up taking a cap a half hour before the first aid, which was too late.
Views on the way to Coon Club.
At the top of that hill, the next three-odd miles were largely road with a few pieces of single track connecting them. I popped out of the first section onto a familiar hill, realizing in horror that it was one I’d ridden many times during the Moonlight Madness. Another hill that didn’t end. Ah, well. C’est la Vermont, I suppose? At 8:55 I cruised into the first aid station, Coon Club at 3.8 miles, feeling good, though my fingers were starting to swell. I grabbed some chips, popped another salt cap, and refilled my water bottle.
Coon Club to Ralph’s at 7.1 was a really fun stretch. Right after the aid, you were in the forest on some absolutely gorgeous single track trail. I was bombing down the declines and felt fast and in tune with my feet. I ate a few gels, kept drinking, and moved along well. Somehow, I had cell service most of the day, so I was able to let Shane know how close to target I was when I hit the aid stations. He was expecting me at mile 13 by noon, and I was on track, if not early due to how good I felt. I scared the hell out of a horse and three donkeys on my way to Ralph’s; they did not understand what I was doing or why and stared at me the entire time I was in their field of view.
This is Go-Fast Trail.
At Ralph’s, I arrived at 9:50ish, ten minutes before my projected time. I hit the port o pot to reapply Body Glide, which ended up being pretty futile, and attempted to take my last salt tab. Unfortunately, the 3-pack was the victim of manufacturing and my 3rd cap was just the empty shell, saltless. Dumbass me shrugged and drank water, even though my fingers were still swollen. A few chips will definitely fix my electrolyte problem, right? (Wrong.)
Somewhere between Coon Club and Ralph's.
The four miles from Ralph’s to Margaritaville was where shit got ugly. My beautiful morning of mountain views and running in the groove exploded when the WRONG knee decided to shit the bed. I couldn’t even believe it. I’d taken two weeks off, bought a brace, done lots of stretching, and my LEFT knee was the one that blew up? In hindsight, that’s kind of funny, but at the time, sitting at the 8 mile mark and looking down the long miles ahead, I was big worried. How could I run on it? The creeping soreness had given way to a pretty serious ouch on random steps, and I was struggling. Worse, I knew the road I was on, knew that it was a long, gradual incline, and was none too thrilled about it.
But I signed up for the race; I knew what I might be in for. So I slogged along until suddenly, the mountain bikers joined me from a trail on the right. They were in the race, too, but doing 50 miles. One woman passed me, saying that my pink bottles reminded her of flowers and that I looked like a princess in my skirt. While she was definitely blind or lying kindly (I looked like a sweaty sack of rats), she picked me up emotionally and I ran into Margaritaville feeling better and still ten minutes ahead.
Margaritaville saved my race. The station captain, Quack, is a friend; she runs the Margaritaville aid at the Vermont 100, where we met. When I saw her and went to say hi, she had a margarita in my hand and a smile on her face before I could finish. Of course, this made me smile, too. Margaritas mid-run? Yes, please.
She asked about my race so far, and I told her about the knee, joking that I only had to make it two more miles until I could have Advil. But Quack is magic. She had Advil there, and I downed three pills and an entire cheeseburger before I left. They don't call them Cheeseburgers in Paradise for nothing. Heading up the hill after Margaritaville, I suddenly felt light. Maybe it was the cheeseburger. I’m sure the salt helped. Maybe it was the Advil, though there hadn’t been time for it to absorb. More likely, though, I think it was seeing Quack, a friendly face, that pulled me out of my pity cave and sent me on to the next aid station.
From Margaritaville to Greenall’s was probably my best section of the day. It was only 2.4 miles, but it was familiar trail I’ve ridden many times. I bounded along, somehow managing to crank out quick downhills and keeping my hiking pace strong. Mountain bikers rejoined me here, and I won't lie, I was jealous of how damn fast they went downhill. Uphill, though? That was the great equalizer. They were power hiking right along with me. I leapfrogged for a while with one guy who had a popped tire, but he managed to make it through. We all came out of the woods exactly where I expected at the top of Silver Hill, and I careened down the damn thing like a crazy horse girl playing ponies during recess; galloping was the way I controlled my knee pain on declines.
Silver Hill, home of the Vermont 100.
Finally, I got to Shane. He had been texting me encouragement all day, and was so goddamn happy to see me that I couldn’t help but feel awesome. I recapped my knee issues and swapped out the Body Glide in my belt for Advil. The glide wasn’t helping anyway; these thighs can’t be denied. An offering of chafeage was necessary. I had a shot of maple syrup, some potato chips, and filled my bottles with the sports drink they had, Untapped Lemon Tea Mapleaid. I was drinking well, but thought switching to Untapped might help my salt issue. I grabbed another bag of salt caps and jetted out of the station, still on time. I probably left too quickly, since I totally forgot to grab more gels. You know, like an idiot. The next stretch was a serious six miles with big climbs. I considered going back, but decided against it since I was already in the trees by the VT100 finish, and I just didn't feel like it.
Solid decline down to Shane in Silver Hill Meadow.
So, I climbed. This section was also beautiful, as Vermont is wont to be, but it was loaded with switchbacks. I didn’t take many pictures during the middle of the race since I was busy paying attention to where the hell I was putting my feet. The woods were full of runners and bikers, and you had no idea who was on what trail or whether they were ahead of or behind you. Eventually, though, we came into another section of winding trail and I started to hear music. It was actually really decent bluegrass music, and I picked up my pace since I thought it was the aid station.
We're all power-hikers uphill.
It was almost better than an aid station. One of the landowners that had let us use their property for the race had a party going and set up an unofficial station in their yard with water and beer, as well as positive signs leading you in. I had half a beer there, and damn if it wasn’t delicious. They were funny as hell, picking everyone up with their jokes and positivity and sending us on the last two miles to Fallon’s in a good mood.
Shortly after, though, my watch died. It was around 17.3 miles when it flipped me the bird, and I had a small coronary. Should I run Strava on my phone? Nah, too much battery. So I said to hell with it and started guessing based on time. Generally, I’d been running 16-19 minute miles, depending on terrain, so I decided to go by that. After Beer HQ, we came out of the trees to another absolute monster of a hill. A line of us were trudging up it, staring at our feet, huffing along like pack mules. Ten minutes into this bullshit, I just started to laugh. A voice from behind me joined in, and thus I’d connected with Fred, my running buddy for the next eight-odd miles.
Fred is a lovely man from Quebec, and we chatted our way into Fallon’s at the top of (surprise) another hill at around 1:45 in the afternoon. I told the volunteers there I was looking for salt, since my fingers were like tight sausages at this point. I still felt good in the gut, legs, and brain, but I was crusted in sweat and my hands were so swollen you couldn’t see wrinkles in them. And like the wizards that aid station workers are, they produced a cup of ramen. I swear, it was like ambrosia.
Vermont is the best and I will hear no argument. Probably between Coon Club and Ralph's.
The four miles from Fallon’s to Stone’s went quickly with Fred for company. He was also dealing with some knee pain from an IT band issue. Talking to him, I think that’s what I’ve got, too. A few times I got ahead of him on declines, but we were both happy to walk the hills. His watch was in metric, which was kind of fun, and he started counting off how many kilometers we had left. I think we were both happy to see ourselves enter the final third of the race.
At Stone’s, I needed to hang out and try to get more salt into myself, since the sausages were slightly better. I knew ramen was working, and the volunteers made sure I got plenty of it. I housed two full cups of broth, took some salt caps, and grabbed a few for the road. I had felt a bit of a rumbling in my stomach, and not from hunger, so I tried the port o pot to no avail. After a bit, Fred and I left at 2:50 and headed toward the final aid, Johnson’s, which was six miles away.
For me, this was the most technical trail of the day. There were even more switchbacks here, and some of the trail sections were entirely rock. That was pretty wild, and even the bikers were having trouble. Two in a row nearly fell over when their tires slipped going around a tight turn between trees. It was in this section that I lost Fred. Even though my left low back had started to throb (probably because I was bending over too much when climbing), I was still moving okay uphill and could do most flats and downs. This section of trail turned into a lot of really runnable decline for the last few miles, but I had run into a problem. I now needed that port o pot in the worst way.
Lovely, gentle downhill. Super runnable. Me? Not super runnable at this moment.
That sucked, since I had to do more walking in the last two-ish miles of that section than I wanted. It probably set me back about 20 minutes overall, but my goal was finishing. I was able to run a decent chunk, but my digestive tract made it real clear when I had to walk again. This was not a use-the-woods situation. When we emerged into wide, recently-mowed field, I was passed by another friend, Mark, who I’d worked at an aid station with this past summer. He and his wife Liv were running the 50 mile relay, and he was cheerful and running smoothly going by. I’d been mentally in a good spot, but seeing someone I know seems to have a really positive effect on me, and I ran most of the rest of that section in to Johnson’s. I could hear Shane screaming positive nonsense at me across the river as I came down to the turn.
A view of Mount Ascutney right before Mark passed me.
I caught up with him quickly before heading across the street to the aid station and tossing some more food down my face. I don’t remember what it was, but I loved it, and the volunteers there were so excited. They knew how close the finish was. We all did. Leaving Johnson’s I had 2.5 miles to go, and I knew a lot of it would be single track in tough ATV trails. I didn’t expect Mile Long Field, which was annoyingly true to its name. It was funny (and fucked up) weaving back and forth across it, a bunch of tired lunatics marching towards the end of a crazy thing we had all, for some reason, paid to do.
This is the field that never ends. It just goes on and on, my friends.
It took forever, nearly, but the last mile and a half were mostly in the forest. I even got to see a waterfall, which my picture does no justice to, but alas. I saw it in real life, and it was wonderful. The sharp declines had pretty much thrashed my knees by this point, so I was picking my way down them and only running flats and gradual declines/inclines.
Way more vibrant IRL.
In spite of it all, I crept up on the finish, still smiling. At the top of the ski slope, the trail emerged, and the last half mile saw me weaving down and around. There were lots of people there, some waiting for their runners, some having just finished, some bikers. The energy was high; I heard cheering even before I came out of the trees.
I crossed the line and finished my second 50k in 10:08:52. I got a hug from Shane and a medal from the RD, which was awesome. I had no idea they did medals! My final reward was a beer, brought over by one of the mountain bikers we’d had dinner with. It was, without a doubt, the best beer I’ve ever had.
How many chins does it take to open a beer after a 50k?
Ten minutes after me, I was so happy to see Fred cross the line, and Shane and I cheered for his finish. He worked his ass off to get there in spite of an injury, and it was great to see that pay off. Sharing the trail is what makes this sport so worthwhile to me. Yes, I’m out there to test my limits, but it’s much more rewarding when you’re doing it with friends. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the whole day. Everyone I talked to all day long was so positive and friendly, and I’m even more excited for the Sky to Summit 50k in November. And this time, Shane is running, too. Cheers to an amazing sport, incredible people, and seeing how far we can go.
Now time to go drink a quart of chocolate milk, eat a burger, and pass out.