Vermont 50 New Course PR!
Vermont 50 Mile Endurance Run
Brownsville, VT – Ascutney Mountain Resort
50 Miles – 10:06:26
“People should learn endurance; they should learn to endure the discomforts of heat and cold, hunger and thirst; they should learn to be patient when receiving abuse and scorn; for it is the practice of endurance that quenches the fire of worldly passions which is burning up their bodies.” –Buddha
I woke up shivering after a restless night’s sleep in the upper parking lot of Ascuteny Mountain ski resort. We rushed here Saturday after attending 2 weddings in one day, pitched a tent and got as much frigid rest as we could for the next day’s impending adventure. I told Sarah that I wasn’t feeling 100%, 85% or 90% at best. It has after all only been 29 days since my last 100 miler and now I’m lining up for a tough 50.
The Vermont 50 is, in my opinion, one of the premier events in new England Endurance Sports. Mountain bikers of all ages, divide up into classes to take on the 50 Mile course. At the starting line we even spotted a few tandems! Then there is a 50K, 50 Mile relay and 50 mile solo running events which saw over 400 runners register for this year, making it the largest field in the events history. I was pumped as after all this is one of my favorite races to run and for various reasons. The course is challenging and the scenery is gorgeous. Cool temperatures combined with the changing colors of the leaves, make for one surreal experience.
34 Degrees was the temperature at the start of this year’s event. The sun rising in the east allowed us to see the fog nestled into the many valleys surrounding Ascutney Mountain Resort. The bikers took off in waves, one after another as I assembled myself for the race. Paul Kearney, who was on my spectacular crew during the VT100, was running the race today as his 1st 50 Miler on the road to his very own VT100 adventure. We started the race together and headed off down the main road talking to a few friends I had made at this year’s Pittsfield Peaks Ultra Challenge.
As we found ourselves running past the first aid station and heading up the first hill on the trail, we settled into a great group of guys. Bikernate, Jeff from CT, and a guy from New Jersey whose name escapes me right now. The course was now run on mostly single track for the next few miles. Fog had lowered itself into the woods as we ran through cracking about as many inappropriate jokes we could think of. We even started to talk about favorite movies and tv shows. It was really rather enjoyable. We came across a female Mountain biker who was being carried out by medical staff. She had crashed her bike hard and broke her hip. As she rivaled in pain, she explained that it hurt worse than child birth. We all thanked the medical staff and lent some encouragement to the woman being carried away.
Soon we emerged onto the flanks of Garvin Hill. The fog was now actually BELOW us and this display of undercast was simply amazing. We watched as the clouds danced through the valleys below and it was turning out to be a simply gorgeous day. The sun now shone brightly for the remainder of the race, warming us up to a cool 65 degrees at best, and perfect running weather! As we looked back down the hill, we saw Nate and Jeff now behind us, we harassed each other a bit before taking off on our own pace.
Paul and I reached Smoke Rise Farm in 5 hours and 29 Minutes into the race. The mileage to here is just over 50K which made the time good enough for a 50K pr for me (5:35). I knew we were going way too fast but also that the next couple of miles was a long uphill section. We got our aid, watched a biker jump into the bond and continued on up the road at a good clip. Part of what makes the VT50 a tough course is lack of handler access. I saw my crew 3 times between the start to finish and I could have used them more. After Smoke Rise, I would have a difficult time staying “with it.” My hamstrings were really sore, the back of my left knee hurt and I knew I was falling apart. I put my head down and pushed as best I could from here to Dugdales which was still 2 aid stations and a lifetime away. I just needed to make it to my crew.
At Dugdales I found Sarah, Dad and my step mom Helen waiting for me.. and of course DREW. I got all the aid I needed and then some. I watched John Holt run ahead of me.. he looked so strong. Paul even left the aid station before me and it took my step-mom saying, “quite wasting time” for me to get out of the station. I felt a lot better with Boost, 2 gels, 2 S! Caps, a fig newton and water in me and a recharged bottle of Clip 2 in my hand. My wrist hurt from running with my hand helds today, I’m not entirely sure why.. I feel like I’m falling apart. However, I knew that if I was to make up for any lost time or to try and get ahead of the game, between miles 35 and 48 was the time to do it. So I once again put it to the me and the earth.
Somewhere in the woods around Mile 38, I lost Paul. He was mentioning feeling fatigued and I knew he just needed some time to snap out of the funk. So I took off ahead of him in the hopes that he’d catch me. I on the other hand, was having an amazing time running all of the single track and switchbacks on this section of the course. Shorts up and downs, we wind over and around various hills, cross roads, follow streams.. it really is an amazingly beautiful course.. quite peaceful even. At Mile 40 we popped out of the woods onto a dirt road where a group of spectators had gathered to cheer runners on. I became confused when I saw this because I thought it was the mile 42 aid station. I slowed down and started searching for the food tables.. then I saw Sarah and my Dad snapping photos.. “What is this?” Sarah told me nothing and to keep going.
I moved my legs as fast I could. My quads were finally starting to feel a bit tight. I was cramping up a bit and took some S! Caps to fix the problem. Like clockwork the cramps went away. I couldn’t remember if 42 was a handler station but I put my sights onto making it there. Jeff from CT came up behind me and we ran together until the station. This kid was great! 21 years old and full of immense energy, running his first 50 Mile race after having shattered his knee cap months ago. His energy was contagious and I really enjoyed his company. Upon reaching the station I was out of it.. I didn’t know what I wanted or what I needed. I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was my buddy Pete. He said Hi and I just stared at him.. he said, “John.. its Pete.” I had to think for a moment if I knew any Pete’s.. and then I came to. He got me some gummy bears off the aid table as I filled my bottles. Nate had caught up to me so I decided to wait for him before taking off thinking we’d run together.
Not long after we left the station, it was evident to me that Nate was in great shape. He was moving much faster than I and sounded a lot happier. I knew I was struggling and I let him take off. I hung back with another guy who had run Pittsfield Peaks. We talked a bit before we began to leap frog one another for a few more miles. Johnson’s was the next station and I knew Sarah would be there waiting with the rest of the crew.I got excited and moved as best I could down the winding trail. I was tired but still giving it all I had to try and break 10 hours like I had wanted to. Then came the signs that told us 5 miles to go… 4 miles to go… this played serious tricks on your mental game for sure. I saw a mountain biker who was companioned of cramps and told his buddy he was done. With 5 miles left, I handed him my S! Caps and told him to “Finish the damn thing.”
We come out of the woods and onto a dirt road, as we turn the corner to run through a local farm, Mount Ascutney appears before us and it looks huge! I knew I was almost home and tried kicking it in a bit more, but only to feel a couple of twinges in my legs. I was on the verge of more cramping and I was a bit frustrated. An entire year of racing, training and studying for this sport and I still don’t have it entirely right.. But I knew what I did have a lot of and that’s Heart… I had some left. I ran back into the woods and out onto the next road where I could hear traffic from the cars on Busy Rte 44. I glanced up ahead and saw Drew and Pete waiting for me at the corner. “Lets go Johnny!” They ran with me into the station where I tried to quickly refill with the absolute essentials. My crew was now Huge.. it consisted of Dad, Helen, Sarah, Pete and Bekah and her friend Carmen… I had 30 Minutes to run the last 3 miles to the finish and break 10 Hours.
I ran out of the station and hurried along as fast as I could up through Johnson’s farm. Paul came flying out of nowhere and passed me like I was standing still. Then came the biker I helped get back into the race.. he thanked me for the help and I congratulated him on his efforts. The last 3 miles seem to go on forever as we climb up Ascutney and run across parallel to the valley below about half way up. I started passing other runners and vowed to not let anyone else pass me from here to the end. I dug deep, reach down into my soul and kicked it in one last time looking for sub 10 hours. I turned the corner and started running down the ski slope. The crowd cheered and I happily crossed the finish line where I thank Zeke Zucker for his hard work… 10:08… DAMN! I put my head down and walked up the chute with my medal on. Sarah gave me a hug and congratulated me as did the rest of my friends and family.. but I was disappointed. 8 minutes too long..
I set a personal best on the course by bettering my time from 2006 (10:36). 30 Minutes off. I was 19 minutes longer than my 50 Mile PR (JFK 50 2006) and this now became my 3rd fastest 50 Mile time yet behind the JFK50 and 2006 Nifty Fifty in RI (10:05). Stonecat is my next Ultra… I think I’ll start training with some time off.
Notes: Great to see and meet so many great people again. Many thanks to you all for your continued encouragement and friendship: John Holt, Nate, Paul, Jeff from CT, that guy from NJ, The guy from Canada, Dave Delebec, Josh in NH, Chris Wile, Charles Dona and Leigh Schmidt. I also have to thank my crew and friends once again for come out to check out ultra-running. I only hope they have a better understanding of why I do what I do.