After running the Vermont 100 miler in 2007 and 2008 I skipped it in 2009 when I was lucky enough to gain entry into Hardrock. This year, given the fact that I was languishing at 130something on the HRH waitlist and that my recovery from WS100 was going pretty well, I decided to enter Vermont in the hope of running a good time.
I knew that a solid field was assembled for the race and that the competition up front would be tough. Nothing like Western States, of course, but still a pretty competitive group. As we ran down the hill into the darkness shortly after 4am on Saturday I settled into a group that included Pete Stevenson, Neil Gorman, and Andy Henshaw (among 5 or 6 others). The pace felt solid so I settled in and enjoyed the pre-dawn quiet.
As we began the long, gradual descent down to the Taftsville Bridge Andy Henshaw opened a gap and the pack let him go. By the time we got to the River Road Aid Station about 15 miles and 2 hours into the race Andy had about a 4 minute lead. While I ate my Clif Bar on the climb up from the river Mark Lundblad blew past me and Neil Gorman held a steady pace about 30 yards ahead of me. Pete Stevenson and I climbed together and then as we leveled out I found myself slipping a bit ahead of him.
Through the rolling hills leading to the Stage Road Aid Station (Mile 30) I just focused on keeping a steady rhythm and taking care of myself. It was starting to warm up and I knew I needed to stay on top of fluids and calories. I passed Neil on this stretch and on the last downhill into the Aid Station I slipped past Mark. After a quick re-fuel with my mom and dad at Stage Road I began the climb up “Suicide Six.” Mark passed me back on this climb and I powerhiked up to the ridge on top. Andy had 6 minutes on us at this point and it seemed like he might run away with the race..
As we rolled down to the short stretch of pavement around mile 35 I once again moved past Mark and learned that Andy’s lead was down to 4 minutes. I put my head down and attempted to push the pace a bit through this stretch thinking that if I could have Andy in sight on the long straightaway before Camp 10 Bear I might be able to reel him in without scrubbing too much energy.
Sure enough, when we hit the 1-mile stretch of highway and merged with the 100K runners I saw Andy up on the horizon probably 2 minutes ahead. I concentrated on keeping an even pace and gradually closed the gap. We pulled into Camp 10 Bear together where I met my crew, gulped down some chicken broth and re-stocked before heading out on the Camp 10 Bear loop which is the crux of the race between Miles 43 and 70. I felt good on this stretch and was able to eat three turkey sandwiches over the next three hours and my pace held steady. Mark passed me again around Mile 50 and stayed in the lead until “Margaritaville” at Mile 62. At that point he took a bit longer at the Aid Station than I did and and I left there in the lead. It turned out that I held the lead the rest of the way from there.
I also had a funny exchange at this Aid Station which kind of characterized the day for me. While I was filling up my bottles I heard a voice behind me,
“Hey Andy, do you want a pacer for the last 30 miles?”
“It depends who!” I said snippily.
“Me,” the guy said, “I paced Jack last year and he won.”
“I know who the hell won last year. OK, meet me at 10 Bear. What’s your name?” I grunted.
I cruised off down the road knowing I had eight runnable miles to Camp 10 Bear and then 30 to the finish. It was hot and humid but the exchange with Joe lifted my spirits. It would probably be good to have a pacer to keep me focused, I thought.
When I rolled into Camp 10 Bear the second time I heard that my lead had grown to about eight minutes so I got in and out quickly. On the climb out of there Joe and I became acquainted and he turned out to be a truly outstanding pacer. I apologized for being such a jerk back at Mile 62 and we had a chuckle about it afterward but in the moment it was time to focus on the task at hand and that was getting my third win at the VT 100.
We rolled into Mile 77 at West Winds and had a quick transition with my parents. I saw Mark’s crew there as well as Kami Semick’s crew. This was the first time all day I’d seen Kami’s crew so I knew she was closing well. As one of the best ultrarunners in the world Kami can never be taken lightly. Just seeing her crew got me down the hill out of West Winds much faster than I’d arrived.
The 11-mile stretch from 77 to 88 always takes a lot out of me and this year was no different. Joe and I tried to move well on the downs and the flats but the hot exposed climbs on this section forced me to walk quite a bit more than I remember doing previously. Since my quads were still in decent shape I decided to press the pace on the downhills through here to make me feel a little less guilty about walking. When we pulled into Bill’s at Mile 88 my mom told me I had a 15-minute lead. “Whew, a little breathing room.” I said.
With a quick shot of chicken broth in my gut and a handful of gels in my pockets I hammered the downhills out of Bill’s and really began to smell the barn. I was trying to run everything at this point thinking I had a shot at a sub-16 but the climbs were still tough. After topping out on the last one before Polly’s (Mile 95) we hammered the three minute downhill to the Aid Station and blew out of there. Seeing no other crews there but mine took a load off my shoulders and, I must admit, I took the foot of the accelerator a bit for the last five miles.
Joe kept me honest, however, and when we crested the last hill by the Blood Hill radio tower and saw the “1 mile to go” sign we began the final downhill hammer to the finish. In the end I ended up finishing 16:01 and change and felt great at the finish. Neil Gorman came in second about 30 minutes after me and then Kami 10 minutes after him. Mark rounded out the top-4 a couple minutes later.
All in all, it was another great day in Vermont. It was really fun having my mom and dad along to crew me and meeting and running with Joe turned out to be awesome. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know if I had a 16 hour run in me this time but I just went with the flow, took what the day gave me, and tried to stay focused throughout. In the end, it was an excellent way to spend a summer day in the Green Mountains!