I had never before pinned on Bib #1 and I must admit when I did it felt heavy, burdensome even. Maybe it was the humidity or perhaps just the feeling of responsibility it carried with it but it was there nonetheless. With that, the 20th running of the VT 100 was on!
We started in the dark with a light rain falling. Within the first mile a lead pack of five guys developed. Joe Kulak, former Vermont winner and Grand Slam Record holder kept us all entertained for the first 15 miles with his stories and wisrecracks until he decided to slow down a bit and burden those a bit further back in the pack with his nonsense. Jack Pilla, Vermont's finest 100 mile runner and one tough 50 year-old dude, was running strong and smart. Glen Redpath, all-around fast guy with a little something to prove after going off course last year. Kevin Sullivan, Massachusetts attorney running his first 100 and gunning for the big prize. And myself, attempting to defend my win from 2007 and hoping that the humidity wouldn't kill me after a year in the dry, high altitude air of the Northern Rockies.
The sweat was pouring off of me within the first 30 minutes. The air was still and thick and everything seemed wet and heavy. When dawn approached a slight bit of breeze kicked up and the running became just a wee bit easier. Nonetheless, by the time we hit Taftville just before Mile 15 we were well off of last year's pace and it was clear that this would be a different race than 2007.
After shedding Kulak, Glen took over the pacing duties and hammered the uphills between Taftville and Stage Rd (Mile 30). Jack was staying with him stride for stride while Kevin hung back with me to then catch up with the front runners on the downhills. It was a pattern that would repeat itself often throughout the day. Glen and Jack on the ups, Kevin and Andy on the downs.
The heat spiked a bit after Stage Rd. and the Suicide Six climb was really tough. By this time Jack decided to back off a bit being the smart guy that he is leaving Kevin, Glen and me to take turns up the climb. We got to Tracer Brook (Mile 57) together and the race was beginning to take shape. From my perspective, it looked like the edge would go to whoever slowed down the least over the last 40 miles.
At this point I decided it might be a good idea to run a few more of the climbs to see how I stood up to Kevin and Glen. It was clear after a couple of these that I could not hang on the ups and that I would only get a gap on them if I hammered a few more of the remaining downhills and then pushed hard over the last 30 miles which is the toughest part of the course with the longest stretches of technical trail in the entire race.
I picked up my pacer Bryon Powell at the Camp 10 Bear Aid Station at Mile 70 and Glen, Kevin and I were still all together. Amazing! 70 miles into a 100 mile race and the lead pack of three was still all together. Leaving Camp 10 Bear we began to hear thunder rolling across the Green Mountains and it appeared we might be in store for a nice afternoon thunderstorm. Well, a few minutes later it came and it came in droves. For an hour stright it rained and poured. The trails quickly turned to mud and, frankly, with the lightening so close the exposed sections were scary. It was at this point that I pulled slightly away from Kevin and Glen. At Mile 77 I had five minutes on Glen and one minute on Kevin. If I was going to win this thing without a sprint finish I would have to keep the pressure on now.
Bryon made sure I did just that! Forcing me to run all but the steepest hills I was able to open my lead slightly over the next 11 miles into Bill's (Mile 88). During the stretch the rain stopped, the sun came out and it got hot and humid again. It was clear that the last 12 miles would be brutal and the stress level would be high. I blew through Bill's and we were off to the races. I arrived at Polly's at Mile 95 and finally felt a bit more comfortable with 7 minutes on Kevin and 15 minutes on Glen. However, knowing that the last five miles are some of the toughest on the course I couldn't take anything for granted. And, Bryon wasn't going to let me do that anyway!
So we powered through those last five miles in less than 50 minutes and I got to the finish line first. Kevin was there 7 minutes later and the rest of the pack not that much further back. I was pleased with my effort but also keenly aware that I have work to do between now and Wasatch. The conditions with the humidity and the torrential rains were, indeed, challenging and maintaining focus proved to be extremely important. In the end I was pleased that I was able to keep it all together.
One final note, the Vermont 100 is truly a classic. While it may lack the glamor of Western States and the sheer physical beauty of Hardrock it is, nonetheless, a classic old-school 100 Miler and should be a must on any Ultrarunner's to-do list.
In seven weeks I head to Utah to attempt my 20th 100 Miler. Until then, I hope you're all enjoying an excellent summer of running!