Monday, September 25, 2017

2017 Vermont 50 Race Report

So apparently if you want to run a race in unseasonably hot weather, you just have to make sure I am entered! πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚  This year's edition of the VT50, in its 25th year, was held in a heatwave, with none of the typical mud that everyone talks about in reference to the race. All week long, predictions were for near record high heat across New England, and Mother Nature did not disappoint, with the actual high for Ascutney reaching 90 degrees on race day. Now, that is hot!!

Stress levels for the week were running a bit high, with the high temps weighing heavily on my mind, along with the fact that Sam had picked up a cold earlier in the week and had developed a pretty bad cough. I was worried about dragging her along when she wasn't feeling great and wondered if I was just being selfish in wanting she and Ryan to come with me for the weekend. Such is the reality of being an ultrarunning mom. There is always something (or someone) to worry about! And just focusing on the things in your own control is tough. I know Ryan was wondering whether I'd be able to put the stress out of my mind enough to focus and complete the race, but we decided to get the car packed up anyway and hope for the best. After all, sometimes just making the decision to get out the door is the hardest part.

We headed over to Vermont on Saturday morning, stopped for lunch along the way and got me checked in for the race before heading to set up our campsite at Ascutney State Park. There was free camping available in the field near the race start, but I was willing to shell out a few extra bucks for a nice, quiet campsite and a good camping experience for the three of us.

The campground was quite nice, and after dinner at Harpoon Brewery, we headed back for a fire and marshmallow roasting before going to bed fairly early in anticipation of a long, busy day on Sunday.

Home for the night...

Dinner outside

Carbo loading is a good thing, right? And this Cranberry wheat beer was delish!


Firelight family selfie ;)

We had picked up some different cough medicine for Sam and she konked right out, allowing all of us to get a better night sleep, which was a welcome relief!

I woke up at 4:00 am for breakfast and coffee and to get organized, and apparently there were a bunch of other racers who had had the same idea as us, as there were headlamps moving around at all the campsites around us :) Ha!

We headed over to Ascutney for the 5:30 pre-race meeting. It was a bit surreal arriving and finding the start area overtaken with bikes. This is a pretty big event overall, with 6 waves of bikers (650 finishers) going off before the 50 miler runners started at 6:30 am.

That's a lot of bikes...

While we were milling around (the pre-race meeting was essentially useless), we ran into Dave Bidler, who was there to crew and pace a friend running his first 50. It was fun to catch up with him for a bit before the race start.

As the sky lightened, the waves of bikers headed off down the road and the start area thinned out. There were plenty of port-a-potties, which was nice, as I think between the runners and bikers there were over 800 people there. Crazy!

Pre-race family portrait :) Love my crew!

At 6:30, with little fanfare, us crazy runners lined up and were soon off and running down the paved resort road. My plan was to keep things as easy as possible. Especially given the predicted heat, this was to be a time on my feet effort and running fast had no part in that plan :)

The first hill came just as my watch beeped mile 1. OK, Vermont, I see what you are doing here ;) The views as we hiked up the road were spectacular, mist rising up from the valley, the hills off in the distance. We passed cows grazing in the field, beautiful houses, grassy fields, and the hills just kept on coming. The race was a good mix of dirt road, fields and single and doubletrack through the woods. I had been a bit worried about the roads, but in fact, it was nice to be able to get into a groove and just go on those sections. And the singletrack, which in other years apparently has been quite muddy, was this year a soft dusty track between rocks and roots.

I tried hard to keep my pace really really mellow in the first 12 miles, and people were simply flying by me like I was standing still. Aid stations were nicely spaced every 4-6 miles, and I did stop to use the port-a-potty at the first aid station before moving on to the singletrack through the woods.

I came into the mile 12 aid station and ran right to the bathroom before meeting up with Ryan and Sam for a quick water and gel refill, and a little chatting to get caught up on their morning. It was only around 8:30 in the morning and I was already soaked. It didn't feel super warm yet, but the air was heavy. I wiped the sweat off my face with a cloth and headed on.

Heading out of the mile 12 aid station

The next crew stop was at 50k, but with several aid stations in between, things were nicely broken up. I got into a groove of powerhiking and passing the group of guys I was around on the uphills, only to have them fly by me on the downhills. Classic. Around mile 15, I realized that the sweat was starting to run down the back of my shorts into my shoes. Things were warming up indeed. 

I had been doing a decent job of taking a gel every half hour, but at the mile 18 aid station, I started in on the Coke, my ultra fuel of choice, especially in the heat ;) A cup of water, two cups of coke and I was back on my way. Then again at mile 22 and again at mile 26, with ice in my hat at both of those aid stations too. Although much of the course was actually in the shade, the heat was pervasive and with little air movement, things were getting more than warm, it was just plain toasty out there. 

Sometime in the span between mile 26 and the crew stop at mile 31, I started to feel a bit woozy, I wasn't sweating much, I was having thoughts of stopping at 50k, rationalizing that I didn't really need a 50 miler, that 50k was more than enough, that I could do a big weekend next weekend too, that surely Ryan would understand. As the trail wound through open woods and the dust kicked up and stuck to my sweaty legs, and the ice melted, leaving me hot and tired, I was sure I was going to drop. I mean, who cares? It was just supposed to be a training race...

Meanwhile, Ryan and Sam had had lunch, gotten ice for me and were waiting in the blazing sun at mile 31. I ran out of the woods, into the field and was surprised to see so many people at the aid station. Where had they all come from?! I swear there were not that many people around me out on the trail... turns out it must have been an influx of 50kers coming in from another direction, but it was disconcerting to me and Ryan just thought I was plain crazy ;)

Brian Rusieki, 2nd place runner, running into mile 31

Beautiful view

Coming into 50k

Ryan had set up a chair and our stuff over in the shade so I bypassed the aid station out in the blazing sun and ran over to sit down. I told him I wasn't feeling good, and he said of course you're not. I told him wanted to go home with them, but he said that was not an option and shoved a popsicle in my hand. Well that Minutemaid Frozen Lemonade pop from Dave's cooler was just the best thing ever! Delish! I also chugged back some coke, had a few fritos and grapes, and let Ryan put the ice bandana around my neck. I hadn't been sure I wanted it, but man did that cold ice feel good!

Iced up and being pushed back on the trail ;)

Of course, once I said the words aloud and Ryan dismissed them, I knew I was in it for the long haul. I felt much better having sat for a few minutes, taken in some calories and gotten cooled off. It was going to be a long day, for sure, but once I left, I didn't have any more noise in my head about stopping. The only thing to do was to push to the finish. 

Cranky runner endless waiting :) My littlest crew member πŸ’—πŸ’—

The stretch between the 50k aid station and the 37 mile aid station seemed to go on forever. The trail was some lovely singletrack but it just wound on and on and on and it never seemed like we were getting anywhere. Not to mention, I kept hearing music and thought for sure we were close, when in fact, it was an impromptu aid station set up in someone's back yard, offering beer, water and ice, and there were still several miles to the real aid station. I declined the free beer, much to Ryan's chagrin when I told him the story, but I loved their energy and was glad to take some more ice for my hat.

Finally, finally, we reached mile 37, where I hit the port-a-potty once again, got more ice for my hat, chugged some coke and headed back off into the woods. Walking down the hill with one of the guys I had been leadfrogging with all morning, he said, I have to keep walking, I mean, I can just feel my core heating up like crazy. And indeed, it was just damn hot, but there was nothing to do but keep putting one foot in front of the other, albeit with a lot of walking involved at this point. We were both buoyed by the fact that the next aid station was mile 41, even if both of our watches were showing mileage shorter than the official race aid station distances.

The mile 41 aid station was also the spot people could pick up pacers, so there was a fair amount of activity. I saw Dave there waiting for his friend, and once again had a few cups of coke, put some ice in my hat and took off across the hot, open field. There was much walking. Soon after, the trail entered the woods and there were nice ribbons of singletrack twisting and turning through the countryside. On a good day, I'd run it all, but here, with the heat and miles beating us down, most of us were walking. I decided I would try to run more. My quads were starting to cramp up but I knew, the more I could run, the sooner I'd see Ryan and Sam at mile 47 and the sooner the finish would come. I did end up passing a fair amount of people in this stretch, despite moving at a fairly glacial shuffle.

The trail popped us out on a downhill road, and I wanted to move faster but a shuffle was all my legs had to offer. Still, it was enough to pass a few people here and there as we came out to a road junction with a view of Ascutney down and to the right. More roads and fields and some singletrack, and then a flat road along the river, with a woman outside of a house offering to spray runners down. Oh yes please! That cold water felt so good. And then, across the river, I could see cars in a field and heard Ryan yell out, and around the corner for the final aid station. Ryan had once again parked in the shade, and I sat and had some coke and cold water and a few grapes and had my ice bandana, now long melted, refilled for the final stretch.

Sam having fun in leaves near the aid station at mile 47

The aid station itself was up a steep hill from where the crew were parked, so I stopped there for one last cup of coke, and then began the ascent up through a big field. I could see people snaking on the grassing singletrack winding through the meadow. Up and up and up. In the sun, it was so hot, my quads hurt, the urge to run was nill. I took a few running steps here and there, but mostly just trudged upwards. Finally, we reached the top and the singletrack cut into the woods, winding us down and around and up through the forest. This last stretch seemed to go on forever. I passed several people here, and I knew we had to be getting close but it felt endless. Finally, a sign that said 1/2 mile to go and we popped out along the ski trails. The trail crisscrossed back and forth, and Dave and his friend flew by me. I was putting out as much as my legs were willing to offer but there wasn't much to give ;) and I had to let them go. I crept past a few other runners struggling down the steep slopes and finally, that glorious finish chute!

Sam at the finish line

Final stretch to the finish!

I finished in 10:35 and there was a smile on my face as I crossed that line, for sure! While I feel like on a perfect day I could beat my 50 mile PR from Stonecat (9:25) on this course, I also knew that going into this as a training race without a full taper that I was realistically shooting for more like 10:00. Given the temps, I feel like 10:35 is pretty solid and it put me right smack dab in the pack, for 73rd of 146 finishers (230 starters, so only 61% finish rate). The relentless hills combined with the heat made for a rough day out there and it certainly wasn't pretty at times out there, but I'm proud to have pushed through and gotten it done!

Overall, I thought this was a really well-done race. Yes, it was one of the bigger races I've done and with the bikers, it had a whole different feel, but it was a good event. I didn't have any problem with bikers out on the course - in fact, I think I only leapfrogged with about a half dozen of them out there! Perhaps with the dry course, the bikers could go faster, or perhaps because I started slowly and was more in the midpack, I missed the chaos of it all, but I had no issues. I thought the course was quite beautiful with lovely views through the fields and out over the hills, gorgeous streams and waterfalls along the singletrack in the woods, and a good mix of terrain that was never boring. The aid stations were well stocked and run, and there were port-a-potties at almost all aid stations, which I really appreciated! The volunteers were friendly, and the course was well marked, with almost all road crossings guarded by local policemen. With a large field, there was a good camaraderie out there, and I enjoyed leapfrogging back and forth with people and not being alone for long stretches of time, which I feel I often am in other long races. Plus, at the finish line, the Lazy Cow was giving out free ice cream cones to all racers at the end, which just made my day! :) 

As I type this out, I am exhausted, I have chafing all.the.places, I am sunburned on my face and neck, my quads feel like they've been beaten to a pulp, and part of me wonders why I do this to myself. But on the other hand, I'm proud of having been tenacious enough to start and to finish, and I really enjoyed this race in the way you can only enjoy a race that makes you suffer.

Many many thanks to Ryan and Sam for spending the day trekking through the VT countryside to bring me ice, cool me down, feed me snacks, support me and cheer me on! This couldn't and wouldn't have happened without both of their never-ending support and it meant so much to be able to have them both with me at this race! I am one lucky gal πŸ’•πŸ’•

And now to rest up for a few days and get back to training!

73/146 overall
19/39 women

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

D, such a great race report! Such tenacity to stick it out..I love the part where you were all set to quit, but you didn't! Nice work shutting off the inside your head voice!