View of Asctuney Mountain from our B&B
This past Sunday I ran my first ever ultra trail run in Brownsville, Vermont where the race started and ended at Ascutney Mountain. The Vermont 50 is the official name of this epic weekend extravaganza. You have the choice of running 50 miles, 50 Kilometers (32 miles this year due to Hurricane Irene), or mountain biking 50 miles. I ran the 50K. This race is a benefit which raises money for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports. This non-profit organization provides sports and recreational opportunities to individuals with disabilities. The VT50 is an extremely well organized event that has become a tradition for many runners and mountain bikers. Thanks so much to the race organizers and volunteers!!
I did the 50 mile mountain bike race back in 1996 after a very fun but intense road bike racing season. The weather was perfect and the trails were dry on that late September day. I remember it was extremely hilly but that’s what I lived for when bike racing. I was also in my twenties! My experience back then could be described as very Pleasant! My serious road races were complete and my only goals that day were to enjoy the fall foliage, the company of other mountain bikers and the fantastic Vermont singletrack! It was a good day! BUT this year was very different in regards to trail conditions. Firstly many parts of Vermont were devastated by Hurricane Irene. She made such a mess of the trails that much work had to be done to restore and re-route the race course, hence the extra mile for us 50K runners! And a few days prior to the race, the weather was very wet which made the trails saturated and extremely muddy! The beautiful buffed-out race course I remember years ago was long gone! The race director, Mike Silverman and volunteers did the best they could and worked extremely hard to make race day happen. (Thank you so much!!!) But Vermont weather can be so tough sometimes! There were still several places on the course where getting my trail shoes completely submerged in gooey mud was unavoidable. My hats off to the mountain bikers who completed the 50 miles. There’s no way I would have done that race on a bike. What a mess! Running was hard enough!
Scott and I got down to Brownsville late Saturday afternoon to pick up my race number. We ended up staying at a local B&B close to the race start which was very convenient. I have to mention that the past 6 weeks I’ve been managing shin splint which is very common to long distance runners. I even had it during my last few blog posts but didn’t think it was anything serious and believed I could just run through it. Long story short: I had to taper a bit longer than planned. The week before the race I debated for the first time whether I should do the 50K or not. I had trained most of the summer for this race! I had done lots of long training runs including a 28 and 30 miler! I finally decided that I would do the race and then take some time off from running to get my shin better. Sometimes forced rest is a blessing in disguise! Maybe my body is just tired and needs a break, both physically and mentally! This summer was amazing and I did the most running I have ever done in my life! And I even acquired a great tan for the first time in 12 years!!
Chris, Scott & Me before the start of the race
So back to the race! We went off at 8:00am two hours after the 50 mile runners and mountain bikers. I ran the first 10+ miles with our friend Chris who was so great to do a few long training runs with me a few weeks prior to the race. Running with Chris was the best part of my whole race on Sunday! Thank you Chris! Due to Hurricane Irene, the beginning of the race was changed a bit. Instead of a few miles of easy dirt roads, we started climbing right away and this seemed to go on forever! It was fine as my shin wasn’t doing bad at all and I was enjoying the company of Chris and a few other folks here and there. It was cloudy, warm and humid but I was well hydrated and felt fine. I was very prepared for the weather conditions and had plenty of electrolytes with me!
Chris is an extremely talented and smart athlete. He has done Ironman triathlons, mountain and road bike races, marathons, and even won a 50K in Afghanistan! He decided to run at a civilized pace and then kick it up the last 1/3 of the race. His ‘civilized’ pace was my race pace! I was watching my rising heart rate on the Garmin while running up and down the hills with Chris. He’s stronger than myself and I knew I would have to let him go at some point! At mile 8 or so I found myself running right behind Chris and chatting less. It was easier for me this way because it felt like he was ‘pulling’ me along. Looking at the download from my Garmin, my fastest miles were with Chris!
After an aid station around 10 miles, another women caught up to us on the trails. Chris and I were actually very surprised to see her. There was only one other women ahead of me and Amy is a very experienced and seasoned ultra runner who is in a completely different league than myself. The woman who caught us was running very strong and I wondered who she was. We chatted a bit and introduced ourselves. Laurie was running this race for her 4th time so I knew I was in good company. Turns out she’s a very talented and experienced runner who lives in Vermont, not too far from me! And she’s super cool and nice. I hope to run with her in the future!
On a very muddy, treacherous downhill section of the course, Chris and Laurie got away from me. I was very tentative and inexperienced going down the muddy technical trails. Plus I didn’t want to fall and tumble down the muddy slopes and end up head-first in the mud bog at the bottom. It was fine since I felt I wanted to go my own pace. By mile 13 I was still doing fine and saw Scott at the first handler’s station. I didn’t need anything from Scott at this point. He had dry socks and trail shoes for me but I felt I would be OK for while. He shot a couple photos and I went on my way!
Mile 13 at first handler’s station
It was about half-way through the race that my shin started becoming more sore and running became painful. At this point I was running on a lot of singletrack with tons of switchbacks constantly running up and then down hill. Normally this would have been a lot of fun, but the constant climbing and descending was taking it’s toll on my shin and legs. Another challenging aspect of this race was sharing the course with the mountain bikers. There were times on the singletrack I felt like I was holding people up, but I was told not to stop and move out of the way for every biker or else I would never finish my race. A few times it was very scary hearing the bikers riding up to me so fast. Luckily they were always very nice and polite. I did try and move to the side whenever possible but sometimes it was much to tight on the windy narrow singletrack trails. This ultimately became very stressful for me with so many bikers on the trails trying to get around me. And there were many times where I would catch back up to some of them on the steep muddy climbs where they had to walk their bikes. When I did the mountain bike race in 1996 I don’t remember encountering the runners!
By mile 20 I got to see both Jess and my Scott who were out doing a run of their own between getting to the handler stations. It was so great to see them at this point. I was running slower and feeling rather uncomfortable with my shin and legs. The constant up and downhill running was taxing my poor shins, upper leg and quads! At this point I was worried about my legs and feeling a bit cranky! Jess was very encouraging and supportive and helped me find the energy to soldier onwards! Thank you so much Jess! And Scott too!
With about 13 or so miles to go, I found myself on a trail in some beautiful open fields with gorgeous views (This whole race is beautiful!). My friend Joe went by me on his mountain bike and recognized me! It was so awesome to see Joe! He gave me a high-five and we exchanged some encouraging words to each other! I used to work with Joe at Burton Snowboards! It’s amazing how helpful it is to see a friendly face on a race course when you are suffering and having a difficult time. When Joe saw me, I was running very slowly and just managing my pace and pain. It wasn’t horrible but it was still very hard and uncomfortable. You know you are having a tough time when you ask ‘how many miles to go?’!! I had my Garmin but it isn’t very accurate in the woods with the windy switchbacks.
Almost at the finish at Ascutney Mountain!
From about mile 19 to mile 28 I somehow found the strength to press onward through the wet muddy singletrack. This part of the race became a bit of a blur for me. There was a ton of wet singletrack with constant climbing and equally steep descents. There were also lots of mountain bikers trying to get by me. I was focused on just finishing and doing the best I could in spite of the pain and discomfort. I was no longer in race mode. This became a slow enduring run to just finish the race. It also became very sunny, warm and humid. I’m guessing the temps reached in the low to mid 80s. (We left the race party at 4:30pm and the car thermometer said 81F). Oddly enough the heat didn’t seem to be an issue. This was probably because my poor shin and legs were just so sore that the pain was overriding any other discomforts. Also I had my hydration pack, gels and electrolytes to keep me well hydrated. If my legs were feeling better I would have been able to run much faster! My shin and upper leg was taxing the heck out of me!
When I saw the “4 miles to go” sign, I was extremely happy and relieved! A mile later at the final handler’s station, Scott handed me a water bottle filled with fresh clear water for my last 3 miles. These miles were tough! My shin and legs were shot! I was doing more of a shuffle than run! But I knew that I could get through another 3 miles! After seeing Scott, the course went back up Ascutney Mountain. It was steep, hot and sunny! I was surprised when a couple guys running the 50K race passed me! I hadn’t seen any other runners in my race for a long time! The final mile of the race went down some open switchback trails on the Ascutney ski resort (now closed sadly!). This mile was very difficult for me. I was running very slowly and with a limp! A photographer took some photos and I managed to smile for a few steps. Luckily the finish wasn’t too far ahead. I ran to the very end limping! But I finished and was so happy it was all over! That was the toughest running race I’ve ever done! It made my first marathon in May seem like a picnic! Seriously, the Boston Marathon in April will feel great after Sunday’s brutal race course!
Myself and Nancy who was a top 5 finisher in the 50 mile run! She is an awesome athlete and a cancer survivor! You inspire me Nancy! And thank you for this photo!
Overall I was the 3rd women in the 50K race and first in my age group. I was 14th overall out of 160 men and women. For those like me who enjoy looking at numbers and race statistics, you can find them here! The 4th place woman was only 57 seconds behind me which I didn’t know about until after the race, thank goodness! That was way too close for comfort! Being injured I could not have run much faster! My time was 5:21:18 for 32 miles. I was hoping to run 5 hours or under on a normal 31 mile course without any leg issues. But next year I have plenty of opportunity for improvement! To put things into perspective, my first and only marathon so far (26.2 miles) was run in 3 hours and 16 minutes. It took me over 2 hours to run an extra 6 miles on Sunday! While my results look good on paper, this was a very painful race for me with my shin splint and my upper leg issue. The good news is that next year I can try again and I know I’ll do much better! (as long as I stay uninjured!!). It was a great learning experience! I know what I need to do in order to come back and have a fun race! And that’s the most important thing! Having fun!
In closing I want to say that Mike Silverman and his group of volunteers did an amazing job in spite of the aftermath from Hurricane Irene. They worked hard to make sure the race wasn’t cancelled! I also want to mention that I was very grateful for all the vegan food options at the post-race party! There were real honest-to-goodness veggie burgers without dairy or eggs! There was fruit and plenty of yummy hearty salads of different grains and noodles which were also vegan. Scott took my number and got me this huge plate of food to eat (it was sore and painful for me to walk downhill to the food area). He is also a vegan and was very impressed with the food choices! Thank you so much to the race organizers for providing this delicious, amazing and nourishing food after a very difficult race! Normally we are out of luck at post-race bbqs and dinners. This was fantastic and worth writing about!
A bit self indulgent but I splurged and ordered a professional photo from SkiPix. The photographer took this shot a half mile from the finish! The smile is deceiving as I was living in the “pain cave” and running with a limp to the finish!