Hard to know exactly where to start with this race, but first a little background. If you want to run an epic, historic, and even iconic 100 mile race, you really have to plan way ahead. 100 milers are more popular than ever, and the really good ones seem to be so popular that they either sell out quickly or have a lottery just to enter into the race. That is how this race got on my radar to begin with. A couple of years ago I started a journey towards running Western States. As most of you know, WS is a lottery race and requires a qualifying race each year to just get into the lottery. Each consecutive year you enter the lottery, the better your chances. Miss a year and you start over. All that being said, it seems that it could take as long as 5-7 years just to get drawn in the lottery, and given my current age (okay, I’ll tell you, I’m 53), chances are likely that I’m going to get only one chance to run WSER100.
Living in the Southeast doesn’t offer ultra runners many races nearby that serve as qualifiers for Western States, but that’s okay with me. I got my first ticket from running the Georgia Death Race under 21 hrs in 2015, and my second ticket from the Pinhoti 100 in 2016, and for those two years I really wanted to be drawn in the lottery. More recently, I’ve thought I’d like to take 7 or 8 years to get into Western States. I want to fully appreciate the journey to get there and be able to take in the whole experience. So I plan to find 100 mile qualifying races that inspire me, challenge me, and are epic to run. At the beginning of this year, as I looked at races and listened to podcasts (okay I’m a bit of a podcast junkie), I heard people say over and over again how Vermont 100 was an historic race, it was well organized, and said to be one of the most beautiful 100s on the East Coast. Sign me up!
I had been working with a coach who had also helped me pick Vermont as my “A” race and she had guided me in my training the entire year. I asked local ultra runner and friend Janette Maas if she’d be interested in crewing me at Vermont 100 and she was immediately ready to help out. Another local running friend and often training partner, David Yerden, had also signed up to run the race. We didn’t know if we’d run the whole race together but we’d at least start out together, run a controlled pace and manage nutrition and hydration at least until later in the race, and hoped to finish together. Vermont 100 has an excellent pacer program where you can sign up for a pacer and they match you up with someone who fits your goals and pace. I signed up for one and was matched with a great guy from Boston, Pete Cannon, who didn’t have 100 mile experience but had several ultra races on his resume and was a strong runner. At Vermont, you have to get to mile 70 before you can pick up a pacer, which is quite a bit later in the race than most 100 milers. In the last two weeks before the race, another one of my good friends and favorite running partners from Knoxville, TN got in the race off the waitlist! Stephanie and I had run several 50 mile races together and even the first half of a few 100s together, so I was looking forward to another strong running friend to keep me moving at a solid pace for at least the first 50-70 miles before getting to my pacer.
Off we went to Vermont and we saw some of the most beautiful views and sights. On the drive out to the Meadows for packet pickup at Silver Farms in West Windsor, Vermont, I knew we had picked the perfect “A” race. We went through registration, bought some Vermont 100 swag, went through the medical check-in, and went to the pre-race briefing. David and Stephanie decided to get a pacer at the last minute just in case we didn’t stay together or just needed another person to keep them moving forward. We skipped the pre-race meal and headed back towards town for dinner and to get to bed sooner because the race had a 4 a.m. start time.
Just before our 4am start
For me, Vermont was one of the biggest 100 mile races I’d run in. The gathering at the start of the race was huge with around 360 runners, crew, and tons of volunteers. There was a lot of energy and excitement at the start, and I was trying to soak it all in. We soon gathered at the starting line and with very little fanfare the race began. We started in the dark with our headlamps on, and with most of the course largely on hard-packed road surfaces, it was easy, gentle, downhill running for several miles. Because the course did not dump onto single-track trail, it was easy to run in the large crowd on the roads until many miles later when it began to thin out. The roads were smooth and easy to run a good pace, but before long we were navigating around large puddles of water and mud in one section because they had received a good bit of rain in the days leading up to the race. It didn’t seem like too long before it was back to easy, gentle downhill. I think we got to the first unmanned aid station around mile 7, but we still had plenty of water so early in the race, we didn’t stop for long. They did have Coke, so Stephanie and I both filled our reusable cups and got a quick drink. The next unmanned station came around mile 11.5. There were actually a few people here to help us, and again offered water and some Cokes. We filled our smaller bottles, got more Coke and headed out. It was finally at mile 15.4 when we got to a fully-stocked aid station and we all took a couple of minutes to grab something to eat and top off our fluids.
The first time we would get to our crew chief and enabler would be at mile 21 – a beautiful little stop in the road called Pretty House. It was beautiful and I remember the huge crowds of people cheering for us as we arrived. Just getting to Janette was a huge boost to our spirits, and as we ran from AS to AS, checking one more off the list always feels good.
Pretty House AS, Janette getting our first “proof of life” photo
From there we ran through one more unmanned AS and then back to Janette at Stage Road AS – mile 30. My pacer was also working at that AS during the day so it would be a chance for him to see our pace and check how I was feeling. Somewhere between mile 21 and mile 30, my feet were starting to feel the pain from running on the hard road surface. I knew the toughest challenge for me might be the road surface. I’m not a road runner and don’t really have good road shoes that I love. I had spent several weeks trying out different Hoka models to find a good cushioning pair of shoes but wasn’t happy with the room in the toe box. I normally run in Altras, which I love. But the zero drop of the Altras on the road surface is a killer on my hamstrings, as I pronate and am a heel striker. I’ve been happy with Topos, shoes that are fairly new to the market, but they don’t have a large amount of cushion. With no luck finding another pair of shoes that I loved, I went with my Topo’s to start. In a last minute purchase, my husband bought me a pair of Adidas trail shoes which I had used for a total of 28 miles before Vermont. I loved them, but didn’t dare start my race in them, instead putting them in my drop bag at mile 47.
How could you not love this race!
So coming into mile 30, all I could think about was looking at my feet and doing what I could to patch things up and get through the next 17 miles to the pair of Adidas in my drop bag. Pete came over to check on me. He was super cool and took care of my pack and continued to bring me food as I sat in a chair assessing my feet, wrapping my small toe and changing socks. Hoping that was good enough to get me through the next 17 miles, I also took some Aleve after we hit a large climb headed out of there. We went through three more AS before we got back to Janette at mile 47. I was feeling good and my feet were doing considerably better, although I had been counting down the miles to changing out my shoes. I hate taking too much time at aid stations, but I’ve learned that it’s sometimes necessary to fix things before they become big issues. When I got my shoes off, I was happy I had no blisters. The issue was just the beating my feet were taking on the hard surface. The change of shoes and fresh socks were a small piece of heaven at that point, although the damage was done. I knew I could make it and was in a happy place.
We are all still moving good and having fun!
We now had a 22 mile loop heading out of this AS, Camp 10 Bear, before we’d be back to this same aid station and pick up our pacers. We also knew there was a big climb just ahead of us. We had all been running great and at a steady pace all day, but Stephanie was beginning to struggle a little at this point. Her hip was bothering her and her legs were not feeling good. The hard road surface was getting to all of us. We chatted briefly with her, afraid of her falling further behind or continuing to struggle. I didn’t want to leave her behind, but I also really wanted to run my own race at the pace I was comfortable with. I knew I had trained hard coming into this race and was still feeling strong. I was so happy when Stephanie seemed to rally during this loop. While she got behind between the aid stations, she was always close behind as we came into each one. It got dark before we got back to Camp 10 Bear at around mile 70. We picked up our pacers and Pete jumped in to help refill my pack as I sat a minute, put on a dry shirt and drank some cold Coke.
With only 30 miles to go, it’s not quite the home stretch, and we know there’s a lot of race left, but it feels much more manageable with just a 50K left. Pete led the way as we all left Camp 10 Bear and headed up another huge climb. We had heard, as well as read in race reports (okay David did most of the race report reading), that the last 30 miles of the course are some of the toughest miles. Of course, all runners know the last 30 miles of a 100 mile race are the toughest. This is when the wheels come off, you often hike at night, and in general just slow down. None of us were expecting an easy 30 miles to the finish but we all knew we’d finish.
Pete led us up the hill at a good pace. I had told him that at night I like my pacer right in front of me. I like for them to worry about keeping me on course and I can just focus on their feet and the trail. If they stay moving at a good pace, I’ll push myself to keep up. This was a nice section of single-track trail which we had waited for all day. Single-track are some of my favorite trails to run, and we did just that. David and Stephanie stayed not far behind as Pete led the way and pushed us all at a good pace to the next AS. It didn’t seem long, and a few miles later we got back to Janette again to crew us at the Spirit of 76 AS. What else would you call a mile 76 AS? I raced in to see Janette, grabbed food and some Coke and was off again. At this point, both David and Stephanie were behind me, but I knew they had their pacers and also knew we were all finishing this race. It was time to run my race, I was feeling great, and Pete was doing an excellent job leading the way and guiding me through the night hours. I was still hiking the hills strongly and keeping a good pace on the downhills, as well. It didn’t seem like any time at all before we got back to Janette at the mile 88 AS. I needed to change out my headlamp that seemed to keep going through batteries and grab some more food. Just as we were headed out of the AS I checked my headlamp and it wasn’t working. I used Pete’s backup headlamp for the rest of the night.
Seeing my enabler Janette for the final time before the finish and grabbing my spare headlamp
The next 7 miles or so were probably the toughest miles for me, but for no specific reason. I still felt pretty good, I didn’t have any stomach issues, my legs felt great, I was still eating and drinking well, and my feet were still basically status quo. Pete’s headlamp wasn’t as bright as mine and I think with some fog or dust in the air (I could never quite tell what it was), and just being in the real early morning hours, my mind was slower and it added up to slowing down. The sun came up and for the first time I took off my pack to get my camera out and take a picture of the sunrise. It was beautiful! Now that I could see the course again in the daylight, I was taking it all in and enjoying every minute of the journey! This was my happy place!
Enjoying this gorgeous Sunrise!
We now had just 5 miles left and we took off out of the last manned AS. They had some good food there and we grabbed some, knowing there was no more until the finish. There was one more unmanned AS just 2.5 miles down the road. I threw away some trash but otherwise just kept going. I hadn’t heard that the last 2.5 miles of the race were really tough, but at that point, mentally, they are all tough. My Garmin had run out of battery life a long time ago, so I had no feel for what my time was. I kept pushing as much as I could and was excited to see the finish line, although those final miles seemed all uphill and really long.
Just after my finish!
Two days before my race I spoke with my coach and we discussed my race plan. Plan A was to finish. This was my Western States qualifier and I had to finish this one. That’s always Plan A! I would have been more than happy with just finishing. Plan B had a time range I’d like to finish in! After putting in really long weeks of training, I’d love to see that pay off. When I finished and saw the clock, I was in shock! I was definitely well within my Plan B time and it was a new PR for me. I had stuck to the plan my coach and I carefully laid out, went out conservatively, kept up with my hydration and nutrition, and saved myself to finish strong. I was really proud of executing the plan we put in place, and I spent the day with some of my favorite running friends and enjoyed a beautiful course and an awesome day!
If that was the end of my Vermont 100 story, it would be a success! But really, the best part of the race and the highlight of months and months of hard work was getting to see David finish his 100 mile quest! It had been a while since he’d seen the finish line of a 100 mile race and getting to see him finish strong and claim that finish brought tears to my eyes. We enjoyed a great race together with Stephanie, and all of us finishing was a great moment!
Words just can’t even begin on this one….
This calls for celebration!