Vermont 50 (km)
Undertrained, but still so much fun.
Objectively, the weather was excellent for running through the New England autumn all day, but when you compare it to last year’s Vermont 50 (see post), it was just heavenly. However, I was still nervous going into this race because I started ignoring my training schedule up on the fridge midway into a hectic summer. I originally signed up for the 50 miler, but dropped down to the 50k, hoping I could just “wing it” with that distance, riding on the past year of properly-trained races. I was burned out after doing one ultra after the other since my first 50k at the Vermont 50 last year. I had also convinced Cody into running the 50k this year, and he had trained even less than me (which evens out, given his natural abilities). We decided to just run the whole thing together, enjoy a beautiful fall day, and do our best.
We started out from Mount Ascutney Resort on down the paved road, warming up enough to take off our hoods by the time we started up our first big climb as we said goodbye to paved roads and onto the hilly dirt variety. Up we climbed — hiking by now — past the familiar quiet morning scenes along the course: the couple drinking Bloody Marys from their porch and the cows in their field, wondering what the heck these colorful-spandex-clad bipedals were up to.
The dirt roads rose and fell dramatically until the first aid station. My fresh knees said “bring it on” as I flew the downhills, enjoying spreading my arms and making one big leap to the next. It was simply too much fun to hold back. But soon thereafter, my feet started to complain as they hadn’t in races before. Blisters. I could feel them coming under my big toes from all the fun leaping down the big hills. Luckily, other pains overtook the sensation after around mile 10, but I wholly attribute my lack of running anything over 8 miles in the past few months to my feet getting a little soft.
I dropped my woolly long sleeve layer at the first aid station — Coon Club, around mile 3.6. Then we turned left into the woods for our first stretch of trail (the wider snowmobile/ATV variety). It was a pretty steep climb initially, but then some downhill, and we were out of the woods before we knew it as the course took a left onto another dirt road, where it splits from the 50 mile course.
This next section on smooth gradual uphill road was where my feet really bothered me. Cody was doing great — even running over to the sides of the road to pick up dirty beer cans. What a guy. Before long, we were at 2k Ralphs aid station, filled with the friendly faces of my running club pals. I had my first Coke of the day (I only drink soda during races and it’s sooooo good then), and invigorated, we pressed on up more dirt roads for about 6 miles in all, before cutting over into a field after Margaritaville aid station (10.7 miles). We stopped for me to try to readjust my shoes/socks for less blister pain. Bikers seemed to just be hanging out having a party there, while runners made a bit more haste. I had some turkey + cheese sandwich corner and we split some hot ramen. Delighted at our little mid-way meal, and with my shoes slipping around less, we ventured back on the wide-variety of trails again (horse trails?).
Shortly thereafter, we met up with the 50 milers (bikers and runners) again and we were on the same course until the end. Then came the extremely wind-ey single track mountain bike trails, weaving to and fro through the woods. I didn’t envy the bikers as they couldn’t really get any speed up with the hairpin turns, rocks, and roots everywhere. I was getting dizzy myself and almost tripped a few times. I did appreciate the gentle slope that allowed us to run most of the uphill stretches without getting too tired. The joys and woes of switchbacks…
As I remembered from last year, at around our halfway point, we started to hear the party sounds of the unofficial aid station at the top of the hill in these woods around Blood Hill. First it was faint, then louder we heard music and laughter. For a really long time, we heard but couldn’t see the source as the trail wound around every which way. Then finally we were greeted by a little kid holding a PBR offering it to us. What a fun scene. Last year, I recall the joy of standing in a sprinkler and cooling off after a tough and hot climb. This year, Cody and I took them up on their beer offer, and split a PBR. Bless them, they also had pumpkin pie and bacon quiche. We took some photos, quickly finished our beer, and made happy haste down the trail, and I promptly tripped and fell in some luckily loose (soft) dirt. Embarrassed but totally fine, I brushed myself off and continued through the now very treacherous single track.
By the time we reached Fallon’s Aid Station (19.3 miles), I was really fixing for some caffeine. I downed some Coke and ate some potatoes dipped in salt. The course dipped back into the woods again, and as last year, this section was kind of a blur until Stone’s (23.22 miles), then we pressed on for the most mentally challenging section of the course — the long stretch between here and our last aid station at 29.32 miles. By now, Cody was feeling it in his knees, and I was just plain tired. Even though this section is a net huge downhill, we had slowed down a lot. There was a section around mile 27 that zig zagged through a muddy field where we ought to have been able to pick up the pace, but instead we just shuffle partied our way down, happily moving aside for bikers to pass.
When we finally made it to Johnson’s, I was reinvigorated by the realization that we were almost there, as well as feeling grateful for the difference in the weather from last year. The last section features sunny switchbacks up a ski hill that were just death last year, trudging exhausted in the heat. This year, it was quite pleasant, and we pushed to at least maintain a semblance of running on even the ups. I assured Cody, whose spirits weren’t quite as high as mine, that there was a really lovely section through the woods at the end of all this back and forth, and it didn’t disappoint. Though not quite as much of a refuge this year, the trail swings around this beautiful waterfall as we made our way close enough to hear the finish line. Soon we were out of the woods for the last bit, passing signs of encouragement (“1 mile to go”, “Be tough”, “1/2 mile to go”). Down we went, back and forth through one more ski field until we finally had the straightaway to the finish. Cheesy as it might be, I insisted we hold hands as we crossed it. I was so proud of Cody and happy that we could do this together. Though my lack of training was definitely not a great idea, I was glad to still participate in my favorite race in ideal weather conditions. I’m sure I’ll be back next year, and hopefully in better shape. Though the memories of pain and suffering on the course are fresh, I still fancy a take at the 50 miler. We’ll see what next summer has to bring, but for now, I’m happy to be taking a bit of a hiatus from extreme running.