It was my first ultra event of the year. The appeal of road trips to races hasn’t been as strong this year and as a result, prior to the VT100 I had only run three other races, only one of which was over 10k. So what was the appeal of an alleged ‘easy’ 100 that I’ve completed on four previous occasions?
Well, the Vermont 100 isn’t an easy 100. It is certainly more run able than many other hundred mile ultras, but it is still the same distance. The constant pounding downhill and potential for hot humid conditions make this event as bigger challenge as any other. The atmosphere of this race, for me, is its greatest attribute. If you immerse yourself in the adventure of the VT100 and camp at the start/finish you become part of a community of runners and riders. As one of the few ultra races to still host an equine endurance race at the same time, the fields around the marquee are filled with tents and horse boxes. Arriving on the Friday to check in, there is always a buzz of excitement. As runners and crews gather, the excitement continues to mount and for those running it is tempting to hand out to enjoy the banter as the evening light fades. But, with many miles to cover the next day, no-one seems to mind as you slope off to sleep. Being so far away from residential areas, the sky after dark is a spectacle to behold, at one point I woke and marveled at the stars above with my head hanging out the tent in the cool night air.
At 2 am, it was time to get up with just two hours before the start. I like to eat well, drink coffee and hope nature takes its course before the race – which it did at 3:55 am! With ablutions completed in record time, there was just enough time to wish the rest of the Bimblers well and find a space at the start not too far back from the line.
The starting pace felt quick, a large group of runners sped off into the dark ahead and without experience of these situations it can be easy to try and run with the pack. Gradually, the sound of footsteps started to fade as the field stretched out. I saw one or two fallers and passed several people breathing way to hard that early in the race. With each hill I adopted a slow dogged pace that followed over the crest and down the other side. To begin, I would gain on the ups only to be overtaken on the descent; but gradually the gains outweighed the losses going down as more runners faded back. Had I gone to fast too soon, or were they finding a more comfortable pace?
We passed through the village of Woodstock, this was a detour around storm damage from Irene last year that has washed away road bridges. It felt like we were covering more miles on paved roads but this was compensated by seeing friend and supporters lining the sidewalk. And on we went….
For me the distance passed smoothly, things felt good, my time at aid stations was brief and the temperatures were reasonably cool. I settled into a regime of eating, drinking and steady pace, I thought all was fine. As Camp 10 Bear drew closer for the first time, waves of nausea began to surface and then fade if I ate. Each time the sensation would return a little quicker and I dreaded the thought dealing with this cycle for the rest of the day.
Climbing on the scales at the first medical check point and I was 8 pounds below my check in the previous afternoon. A volunteer told me to sit down and rest – what? She instructed my crew to take me somewhere to rest – what? I smiled grabbed as much food as I could carry while my bottles were filled and quietly left. It might sound reckless but I have been through similar situations, I eat as much as possible walking up away from the aid station and continued packing as much as I could comfortably eat as the next few miles passed. A few miles before Tracer Brook there is a long climb to negotiate, several runners passed and I became a little concerned that I had over extended myself earlier on. Miraculously though, as I left Tracer Brook I caught a few of these runners and feeling better from the concerted effort to eat and drink pressed on.
At Margaritaville I asked Jonathon for anti-chaff lube, he and parents Bounce and Mrs. AJC had been great all day performing as efficiently as a Nascar pit crew at every aid station. Jonathon reappeared with the lube, without looking up from soda I pointed to the leg of my shorts and said, “Just under there will be great, thanks.” There was momentary movement followed by rapid hesitant recoil as comprehension of what I had said sunk in. “Just kidding.” I smiled. The look on his face was priceless!
Round two at Camp 10 Bear weigh in my weight was still down, the ‘advice’ to rest was a bit more intense but this came with the admission that while my weight was low I looked OK. The compromise was to promise to eat some turkey. Apparently, the protein was going to help restore weight. I didn’t argue with this judgment or mention the fact I don’t eat meat, so with a fresh supply of PB&J I set off once more. There is a definite psychological boost at this point, you are almost ¾ of the way and even though there are several more miles there is a greater confidence in making it to the finish.
The road trip to VT this year was a big one. There were 6 bimblers attempting the 100 miler and 1 doing the 100k. Joining them was nearly 20 people fulfilling some form of crew role who were kitted out in bright yellow tee shirts with the letters BS printed the front. Arriving at the stops you would easily make out these friendly faces and because they called out your name, other people would do the same. On more than one occasion it seemed the entire aid station knew me by name!
Spirit of 76 was its usual chaos, several people all talking to you at once and someone lying on the ground at my feet taking pictures. As I left I realized Guthrie had asked if she could pace as from Bill’s sadly, the runners she was crewing had stopped, but in the melee I hadn’t answered. When I arrived at the cow shed, I asked if she was ready and of course she was unprepared. While I gathered fresh food and drink, she hastily jumped into action. No running shirt – she grabbed my spare. No bra – no problem, that’s what crews are for! So off behind the shed she and Mrs. AJC resolved that. No headlamp – a spare was thrust into her had from the crowd. No bottle – she grabbed one of my spares. I had said I wasn’t waiting for her to get ready but as I left she fell into step.
I don’t usually use a pacer, I have a belief that self-sufficiency is part of the event, but I was happy to have her along even though her exuberance quickened the pace on more than one occasion! Those final miles passed quickly, a few horse passed us in the dark; we passed a few more runners fading in the gloom and were also passed ourselves at least once. With about 1.5 miles to go and the final unmanned aid station, I asked Guthrie for the time. I had deliberately avoided asking before then. I was hoping I was quicker than last year but didn’t want to jinx myself. Guthrie revealed that we were on course to break 19 hours. “OK, let’s pick it up!” I said. We then passed the 1 mile to go sign and Guthrie started a commentary as if were the peloton chase a breakaway. The ground was strewn with rocks and I wanted to concentrate on not tripping. “Kerry please focus if you fall and roll an ankle, I’m not stopping!”
Up the final hill, across a road and those wonderful gallon jugs of water with a chemlite suspended inside appeared, this was it the final yards. We burst into the lights at the finish to the cheers of friends, another Vermont completed.
It turned out my time of 18:53 was quicker than my previous PB, but in some ways it didn’t matter. The day had been an experience of support from friends and strangers, of doing something many people can’t contemplate let alone attempt. Of escaping emails, twitter feeds and the other pressures of everyday existence, where the priorities of life are as simple as eat, drink, and move. Running a hundred is almost like pint of summer ale.
As you saver the final mouthful, it’s way too easy to say, “That was good, I think I’ll have another!”
Thanks to the crew, Bounce, Mrs AJC, Jonathon, Guthrie for pacing and everyone else who supported.