The Vermont 50K went almost exactly as I expected it to go. It was HARD. It was significantly more difficult than the Dirty German 50K for a variety of reasons. But, it was the most beautiful and scenic race I've ever run.
Josh, Whiskey, and I made the journey from Philadelphia to Brownsville, Vermont on Saturday in about 6 hours. We immediately headed to the race expo where I picked up my race bib and t-shirt. The long-sleeve technical shirt is one of the nicest I've received from a race, no less a trail race. It will definitely be seeing many cold winter runs this year.
Image on the race tee
I also picked up some free, homemade Vermont pumpkin ice cream while at the expo! This stuff was amazingly good. Vermont sure knows their dairy.
After the expo, we drove about an hour south down to the Mount Snow area, where we would spend the weekend. My cousin's girlfriend (and my bridesmaid) Katie offered to have us stay with them at her family's house for the weekend, and we immediately obliged.
Driving around Vermont
I went to bed early on Saturday night with sore throat that had been nagging me for the past few days, crossing my fingers and toes that it would go away by the morning.
I woke up groggy at 4:30 AM on race day and felt the same pain in my throat I had felt the night before. I shrugged it off, since at this point a DNS (Did Not Start) was not a possibility in my mind. But mentally, my game was off. I had never been sick on race day before, and had no idea what would happen once I started running and breathing heavier. I never felt so unsure about myself on race morning, but oddly, this did not manifest itself in normal pre-race butterflies. So I ate my bagel and drank my coffee, and we headed out the door at 6 AM.
We arrived at Mount Ascutney in the chilly morning fog, and headed to the 7:30 AM 50K pre-race meeting. The race director was witty and fun, and made sure to tell everyone NOT to throw their GU packets on the ground (thank you!) Afterwards, the 250 or so 50K runners "lined up" at the start. The 50 mile mountain bikers and runners had already started at 6 AM, so the atmosphere was intimate and relaxed.
At 8 AM sharp, the race director yelled "GO!" and we were off. I started out slowly towards the back half of the pack, but did not have a GPS watch on (purposely) so I did not know my pace. The goal here was to run solely by feel and not rely on a Garmin to tell me how I should be running.
Start to Coon Club (Mile 0 - 4.2)
The first mile or two were uneventfully run on paved roads. The fog still hung thick in the air, but I finally felt warm and thankfully, my throat was becoming a non-issue. Then we hit our first hill, which everyone walked, including myself. This proved to be a theme for the rest of the race.
Early morning fog
After what seemed like 4 straight miles of steep ups and long downs on both paved and dirt roads, we reached Coon Club, our first aid station. I sipped some Gatorade and dipped a potato in salt and quickly went on my way.
Coon Club to Ralph's (Mile 4.2 to 7.5)
After the first aid station, we immediately headed out onto some beautiful trails and I was happy. The climbing did not stop, but I didn't mind since we were finally in the woods.
At Ralph's aid station, I sipped on some Gatorade and Coke, ate a potato and grabbed a PB & J quarter for the road. I did not take any cups of water from the aid stations since I used my hydration pack for water, exclusively.
Ralph's to Margaritaville (Mile 7.5 to 10.5)
This section included mostly dirt roads, with some trail mixed in. while I wasn't crazy about that terrain, the fog began to lift and reveal some amazing views.
We met up with the mountain bikers at Margaritaville, and I was thoroughly impressed by the spread. There was the standard fare of Gatorade, water, soda, potatoes, M&M's and chips, but then there was another entire table with turkey sandwiches, cookies, Ohio Buckeye chocolates and more. I stood there overwhelmed, while listening to Jimmy Buffet blaring. Ultimately, I went with my trusted foods and drinks, thanked the volunteers, and moved on.
Margaritaville to Greenall's (Mile 10.5 to 12.9)
The next two miles were not too memorable, but I felt much better than I expected and looked forward to seeing Josh and Whiskey at the next aid station.
I arrived at Greenall's aid station at 10:45, right around the time I expected. I was happy that I was not pushing the pace too hard, though most of that was not by choice thanks to the steep hills, which I walked.
Coming into Greenall's
After I gave Josh and Whiskey kisses, I used the restroom and headed towards the aid station. As I planned in my race preparation, I filled up my hydration bladder which was about 1/3 full. I felt that I was definitely drinking enough liquids at this point and felt excellent overall. As I was nibbling on a potato and talking with Josh about the race so far, I saw my Oiselle teammate Lauren approaching the aid station table. She was also running the 50k, and her fiance Nathan was running with her.
Greenall's to Fallon's (Mile 12.9 to 18)
We all left Greenall's around the same time, and ended up running with each other for the next five miles to Fallon's. It was nice chatting with Lauren during the race and motivating to have a teammate on the course.
Before we knew it, we reached one of the biggest climbs of the course and after trudging up a seemingly endless 1600', we reached Fallon's aid station. I joked with a volunteer that this was my favorite aid station so far because it was a reward for the big climb we just conquered. Lauren and I also got a nice Oiselle shout out from one of the volunteers, who noticed our Roga shorts and told us she had just been out to visit the HQ in Seattle.
Fallon's to Linda's (Mile 18 to 22.9)
After hanging around Fallon's for way too long and regrouping, I set out alone to conquer the next 5 miles. These miles were definitely a low point of my race. I'm not sure if it was the realization that I still had a half marathon to go or that my stomach seemed to be revolting on me, but I was quite miserable for this section of the race. I tried my best to sip water slowly to make sure I kept up with my hydration needs as the day got warmer, but each sip made my stomach more queasy so I stopped drinking all together for awhile. There were some gorgeous views in this section which I tried to distract myself with.
The "Sound of Music" section
The other significant downside of this section is that there were two LONG ascents on dirt roads. These were tricky climbs that were steeper than they looked, judging by the mountain bikers heavy breathing as they slowly passed me. I regretted the fact that I was losing so much time by walking these long climbs, but knew that running these hills would not help me finish any faster.
Beautiful distractions - I wouldn't mind getting married here!
Once I reached Linda's, I sipped on Gatorade and ginger ale to try to settle my stomach. I was not bonking, per se, but I definitely was not feeling good. Looking back, I think my electrolytes were imbalanced. I was not sweating a lot thanks to the cool temperatures, but I still should have taken a few salt pills. The cup of Gatorade every 5 miles was not enough to resupply all the electrolytes I was flushing out with water.
Linda's to Johnson's (Mile 22.9 to 28.2)
My stomach started feeling a bit better during this section, but it was at this point my hip flexors started screaming. The constant ups and downs had done a number on my hips, which would be in pain for the remainder of the race.
During this section, I also recall beautiful single track trails that were smooth, with some roots. However, they were not technical by any means compared to Pennsylvania's rocky trails. I wish I could say I enjoyed them more than I did, because at least every 3-4 minutes, runners had to jump off the trail to allow bikers to go by. Most of the bikers were thankful, but some whizzed by without an alert or thanks.
Naturally, we climbed up another hill to reach Johnson's aid station. At Johnson's, I downed several cups of Gatorade and filled my hydration pack again just to be sure. After a disappointing shock that I had 3 miles to go instead of 1.5 (the previous aid station mismarked a few of their signs), I picked myself back up and got back on the trail.
Johnson's to Finish (Mile 28.2 to 31)
Almost immediately after getting back on the trail, my attitude changed as the trail opened up to view Mount Ascutney in all its glory.
I actually said to a woman on this trail, "this view really makes the whole thing worth it," and she chuckled in agreement. We re-entered the woods on some fun cross-country trails that wound up the mountain and past a gorgeous waterfall. At mile 29, we started seeing mile markers every half mile that counted down to the finish, and encouraging signs that accompanied them. I usually think this stuff is pretty cheesy, but I found myself looking forward to these signs like my life depended on it.
Once we reached the 1 mile-to-go marker, the trail opened up onto the face of Mount Ascutney. We traced alpine ski switchbacks that crisscrossed the face of the mountain. I could hear the finish line the whole last mile, which built me up for a strong and emotional finish.
As I approached the finish, I was elated to be done. This was the hardest race I had ever run, and not once did I consider dropping out during the race.
I crossed the finish line in 7:10:32, about 10 minutes behind my expected finish time of 7 hours. This was obviously much slower than my previous 50K time of 5:55, but I knew the 5,600 feet of elevation gain would add to my time significantly. Ultimately, I was just happy to finish this race with my legs still functioning and a smile on my face.
Immediately, Josh came over with a chair and a beer, and I was overwhelmed with exhaustion. I had never spent so much time out on a race course before, and it was a humbling experience. I realized that if I want to complete the Stone Mill 50, I will need to put in a lot of hard work over the next month to prepare myself for 12+ hours on the trails.
Overall, I had an amazing experience at the Vermont 50K. Looking back, I don't have any regrets about the race itself, though I wish I had done more hill climbing and descending in training. It was definitely the most difficult race I've run to date, and I believe it has helped me become both mentally and physically stronger for the Stone Mill 50.