Wednesday, October 12, 2011

2011 Vermont 50 Race Report

September 24-25, 2011

My 11th start, and second without Rik.  I'm a little saddened that Rik doesn't make it out to this event anymore, but our group has expanded and more and more friends have come out.  It's makes the weekend and event something I continue to love year after year.  As per every year, we started out by spending a good chunk of Saturday on the patio at the Long Trail Brewery.  Beers are flowing, people are having a grand old time, but the afternoon is wearing on and we're getting antsy to move a little.  Peter, Leah's dad is up again from Pennsylvania to run the relay, says, "Well, we can always go to Harpoon, they're open until 9."   Well that was all the convincing we needed and within an hour we were at a second brewery having several more rounds of frosty brew.   Grant was the Vermont 50 virgin this year, so to give him the true Vermont50 experience my father gave me all of those years ago we slept on the ground, no tent, under a tarp.  Why you ask?  The theory is, if you put in enough time suffering the night before, the running gods will show you pity and spare your soul during the race itself.  

(Steve Latour and the Gang again Pre-Race, yes Leah may STILL have been tipsy in this picture)

 (Team Bounding Belanger)

After waiting around for an hour in the dark watching wave after wave of biker disappear up the hill we were finally ready to start.  Julie, Steve, Peter, Grant, Loni and I take to the starting line.  Julie, all nerves still, battling her own demons was chomping at the bit to get going.  Steve, the calm in the storm, always with a smile and a good story to tell.  Peter, excited to be running the other two legs after running the middle leg last year.  Grant and Loni beating themselves up already about how he should have trained more and how ill prepared they were for this.  

It's not 2 minutes into the run when my stomach grumbles.  I roll my eyes at how I opted to NOT eat that bagel this morning after i discovered how hard it was and quickly eat a GU and start slamming down water.  Grant notices this and says "Wow, you're starting already?"   By the time we make the first couple of turns the group is well spread out.  Julie is long gone,  Grant, Peter and I trotting at our usual pace, and Steve at the back of the pack keeping Loni company.    We hit the dirt and a familiar face says to me,  "Hey, where's your pop?"  It's Martin Philip, another trail runner that i had crossed paths with several times now at either a WNHTRS or Pisgah   It took me a second to place him.  I think it had been two years since we'd crossed paths last.   We pass a guy with no water bottle, no food, and no shoes?  Is that guy wearing Vibrams?  boy that poor bastard is in for a long long day.  I learn my first lesson of the day when the trail is re-routed due to the Irene damage.  Had I read all(any) of the 20 emails leading up to the event, or had even thought about it after all of my fieldwork it would have been a no brainer, of course the bridge would be out.  Needless to say we were treated with several more hills in the first stretch of trail than I was used to.  My calves were screaming and I wasn't even at mile 3.  I tried to keep that info to myself.   Commiserating about pain at mile 40 of an ultra, is OK, at mile 3, you're probably out of your league.   

 (If you look closely you'll spot a llama-llama-duck!)

I tell Peter and Grant to load up on food and that there's a long climb out of the first aid station.  I swear i pass 15 people just standing around at the table and catch up with Andy Weinberg and Joe Desena on the climb.  For those who don't know, they are the directors of the now infamous "Death Race" and other Peak Races/Camps just up the road in Pittsfield.   I try to match Andy's pace for awhile to catch up, but have to let him go after 1/2 a mile because there's no way I would have survived.

The guys catch up to me again and we trot along through the pines.  I love this stretch of single track.  It's still early enough in the race where you're fresh, it's a slight downhill and the ground is soft and spongy.  That and I know that there are several miles of hard packed road ahead so I enjoy it while i can.  At the turn there are huge signs telling you to go right down the hill if you are a 50 miler.  Yet, every year, some boneheads miss it. I overheard someone saying that they missed it this year too.  Unbelievable.   Martin has done a lot of training on these stretches of roads which is good.  He's well prepared for his first attempted at a 50.  Grant, on the other hand, after the first aid station really felt the climb and the tiredness from the run the week prior.  I tell him not to sweat it, pop some pain killers and push on.   At a climb he tells me it's time to take some salt, and i do, but while doing it, promptly spill my container all over the ground.  I begrudgingly pick a handful of them up and put them back into my bag.  Little did i know that later i would end up using the extra salt tabs that i would have left there. 

The Mud is pretty epic in spots. I can't imagine trying to ride this stretch on a bike.  I found out later that Martin had actually lost not one, but BOTH shoes in this stretch of trail.  I mention that drink up, we'll be at the aid station in 5 minutes at our current pace.  And perhaps we'll catch up to Leah after all.

We run into Skunk Hollow about 30 seconds after Peter, and catch a glimpse of Leah darting off down the trail.  And  about 30 seconds AFTER us, Steve L has caught up.  Grant loads up on food while i fill both of our bladders.  This next stretch of trail is one of the longest un-aided stretch of the day and it's mostly long painful climbs on hard packed roads.  As per usual i load up on a ton of food and take off knowing that i'd have 15 minutes to eat it on the next climb, i just had to get there without dropping it all first.
(Town Farm Hill stretch)

Steve and Grant pair up while i try to stay just ahead of them.  I'm going through a rough spot and am not feeling too chatty so I keep an eye on them over my shoulder.  They eventually catch me at the next running section and we all fall in line again.  Steve talks a bit about how he's the race director of a couple of events and how diverse their running club (TARC) is.  In the next long climb I notice a familiar piece of clothing ahead.  I think that's Leah, hot dog, it IS Leah AND Julie!  The starting group, sans Loni (sorry Loni) is all back together for the climb up Garvin Hill.  One of my favorite spots on the course.  I love the climb and the views are fantastic from the top.  Martin and Steve take off ahead while Grant, Leah and I take advantage of the photo op.

(Top of Garvin)
(Top of Garvin)

Leah zips ahead on her fresh (only 7 miles in) legs and Martin, Grant and I try to keep an eye on her from several switchbacks behind.  It was fun to keep her in sight and not know exactly how far behind we were.  Before too long you could hear the cooling sounds of Cady Brook.  Which was a relief as the cloud cover that we had on Garvin was breaking up and the temperature was rising.  

I get in and out of Cady quickly and tell Grant to grab a TON of food, he hadn't been eating much and we were about to climb for the next 30 minutes.  No matter how many years i have run the race, this stretch is always a bear and is a surprise on how much time is lost on this climb.  Martin tells me about how he'd run this stretch of trail a few times while training and how washed out it had been just a few weeks prior due to Irene.  Grant, was slowly falling behind.  At a nice water spot I told Martin to go ahead and I would wait for Grant. 
(A nice spot to dunk your head)

The trail starts to level out, and you think you're done when you get to the gate.  Or at least that's what Grant was hoping for as he caught up to me sitting there.  Only to be crushed when i told him that we'd be turning and going up this other hill.  The look of f me, are you serious washed over his face.  "I dunno Josh, you might want to run your own race from here."  I tell him he's doing fine still. And i'd been exactly where he was one year.  One of my DNFs actually happened right at that gate, when it was a location of an aid station back in the early 2000s.    Before too long we were trotting a little again, i had to snap a photo of this home made sign.  It was too perfect.  I wonder how many times someone had knocked on their door and asked if they had a tractor to pull them out. 
(My GPS was wrong?!?)

Shortly after you get to one of my favorite spots on the course.  It's what "Beware the chair" means to me the most.  You could spend hours here given the option.  I've sat here in years past and enjoyed the view over blood hill towards your final destination, a mere 20 miles in the distance.

(Beware the chair, they're the devils work)

From the wonderful spot photo'd above the trail ducks back into the woods and you come out on the start of the VT100 course back down towards Smoke Rise Farm. When you pop out on the road you get a long slow climb up to Margarittaville and the Frozen Fins.  I drop my pack here and grab some food. I know I will have put some distance between Grant and myself in this last stretch of climbing so now it was time to utilize it.  I wait for maybe 5 minutes. Several runners come into the aid station and leave.  I get a little worried but decide that i'll talk this time to use the restroom only to find that i had a pretty good amount of rash on the rise.  Finally Grant slowly walks up the hill.  The lack of training, last weeks race, the heat, and the many many climbs we just came up has beaten him down badly. I tell him he's doing fine, to eat some food, drink some soda and lets keep walking.  We were still ahead of the cut off and he would snap out of it.  Unfortunately he would have nothing to do with it this time.  "Josh, you've gotta go ahead,"  ... I'm pretty sure i'm going to drop at Dugdales.  The second part he didn't actually say, but he said it with his eyes and his body.

I reluctantly walk on ahead and before the next two turns i've easily put 1/4 a mile between us looking back through the fields.  I catch up with Martin on the decent down into Dugdales.  He seems glad to see a familiar face again and we chat a bit about how Grant was going through a low and that he might be done.  His knee is bothering him a bit and I ask if he'd been taking any pain killers.  At this point I was 2 deep myself and the drugs were obviously kicking in.  I blasted down the hill leaving Martin behind quickly.  I catch up to a couple who were really nervous about missing the cut off.  I assure her that we were well ahead of the cut off, at least i felt that way, and then I started doing the math myself.  I don't run with a watch, i run this race by feel.  And I had FELT like i was well ahead of the cut off.  That was until i got to the bottom of Dugdale's driveway when a bonehead sitting on the stonewall said i only had 6 minutes to climb the hill before the cutoff.   I look at him like he's got 3 heads.  And once i got to the office time keepers they mentioned i had almost an hour.  I laugh and tell them they should go correct the fella at the bottom of the hill before people give up before even reaching the aid station.  

At the top of the hill i see Leah and give her the scoop on Grant.  "Whatever you do, don't let him just quit.  Give him a few to sit down, have a beer, eat some food first.  And if he still isn't feeling up for it.  Then it just wasn't in the card."   How's Peter doing?  Leah had put almost 15 minutes on me in the last stretch.  She assures me i'll catch him but I doubt it.   As i'm leaving the station i hear Martin tell me that he'd caught me and I was a SOB!  We laugh and walk out of the aid station together.  He's concern about going further than he'd ever gone before.  I told him that this next stretch of trail was the reason i keep coming back to the course.  The tight wound single track, the party house with the cooler with the beers, (of course, by the time I get there, it's full of empties).  The temps at this point are still steaming hot.  I take my shirt off and Martin gives me a cat call.  I respond with a, "oh yeah, all the ladies love my white pastey belly!"  The two woman on the switchbacks around us don't even smirk.    
(The Birch Tree "Claw")

At the party house they had put a hose out for the runner.  I soak myself to the core.  My body temperature felt like it dropped 10 degrees.  I've got new life.  I know Falloon's is at the top of the next climb and after that i should be well ahead of the reaper.   It would be the last time I saw Martin or ran with anyone really.  I screamed in and out of Falloon's and sang my annual line near the "love shack" where Sherpa had left Gilly and I the mushroom note the year prior.

I would hit my last low of the race coming into the relocated Goodman's Aid station.  The woman that owned the property saw how hot i was and said. "I've got a hose right over there on the side of the house."  I thanked her for her generosity and told her that 50 miles was plenty enough, and extra steps weren't in the plan.  She then responded with some military-esk bs quote that really rubbed me the wrong way, essentially saying a strong runner would take her up on it.  I thank her again, through gritted teeth and turned my hatred towards the boneheads running the aid station.  The peanut butter and jelly was smashed, the snickers were melted flat.  I asked if there was any turkey sandwiches while drinking the last pre-poured cup of coke.  "Oh, well this stuff has been out all day, so it's probably not any good."  One idiot tells me holding up at least a pound of cheese and turkey still deli wrapped sitting on the table in the sun.   The other dummy goes, "Well, there's probably some here in the cooler," and proceeds to pull out a whole other pound of turkey and cheese.  SERIOUSLY?  You couldn't be bothered with putting the gross stuff either back in the cooler before it went bad or hell, maybe on a sandwich?  And then you then tell me that 2 feet from you IN a cooler you had cold stuff and there still wasn't anything pre-made?   WTF!! HAVE YOU BEEN DOING?  PLAYING GRAB ASS WITH THE PUSHY PROPERTY OWNER?  I just look at the three of them smiling at me from across the table like over-medicated retards and say forget it.  I leave the aid station and proceed to just eat the reserved GUs i had packed in case i ran into something like this.  Sadly, at the VT50, this is nothing new.

I wouldn't be so pissed about this if the damn race didn't cost so much.  11 years ago i ran this race for 55 bucks, day before race.  There would be plenty of food at the aid stations, and hell there was ACTUALLY FOOD saved for the back of the packers at the end.  Since that time.  The race has grown and the focus has become less and less on the back of packer and more and more on the bikers and the elite runners.  I mean, it's great that the race is growing and more and more people are loving the sport, but the back of the packers are the people that NEED that stuff the MOST!!
*Ahem* Sorry about that.  

The next stretch of course ties back together with some familiar terrain, then some unfamiliar terrain. I'd catch a handful of bikers on the next climb.  They'd blast past me at the end decent.  Much of the trail work done in this last stretch is fantastic.
(New Bridge)

Somewhere around the 5 miles to go sign my stomach twists and then turns.  It hadn't been great all day, and  it never is in the heat.  But with the 3 GUs I'd eaten in the last 5 miles, combined with not eating real food since Falloon's 5 miles before that, it was at an all time low.  I take a few long swigs of water hoping it would sedate it.  No deal, it was beyond the point of no return and I barf just off of the trail.   Gross? Perhaps, but my current record at this race has been, two times I've puked from the heat, and two times i'd finished strong.  

(Who hasn't run a VT50 without stopping and taking this pic?)

I cruse through Johnson's catching up to a nervous biker who's been waiting for a fella he'd started with hours ago.  He was debating on riding on himself or waiting longer for his friend.  He asked me what i would do. I told him i wouldn't wait for him here.  You've still got 3 roller coaster miles and the more time you wait here the less likely you'll be able to finish this thing.  Hell, his friend might not have even made it past a previous cut off.  He reluctantly nods in agreement and is off.   The next several miles i trot along alone.  I stop to take a photo at the waterfall and enjoy the last few miles of the day.  I wonder how close Peter is, or Steve, and i wonder how Martin hasn't caught up to me yet.
(Final Mile Waterfall)

Before i know it the trail cuts out onto the final slope.  The course switchbacks a few extra times giving me plenty of time to hear the crowd roaring for the runners and bikers just ahead of me.  I pause at the bridge to snap a photo of the finish line before blasting down the hill past the rest of our crew and finishers towards my 7th VT50M finish.   Before too long Martin runs over the bridge and is greeted by his wife and kids.  I give him a grand high five as he runs through the shoot.  It's always neat to be there for someones first 50mile finish, especially when you can see them share it with family.  You can read his recap below.  

Loni - DNF - Margaritaville (27.6M) - 6hrs +/-
Julie - DNF - Dugdale's (31.9M) - 7.5hr +/-
Grant - DNF - Dugdale's (31.9M) - 7.5hr +/-
Peter & Leah  - Team Bounding Belanger - 11:14:53
Steve L - 11:33:19
Me - 11:44:43
Martin - 11:57:17

Other Recaps/Links:


leeapeea said...

Great photos as always, dear. Was fantastic to share a few miles with you on a new (to me) stretch of the race.

Unknown said...

Josh! I stumbled on your blog! Too cool report!! Thanks.

Jon and I were going to pace at Ghost Train, but our runner dropped pre race. How was the weekend? I'm reading A Cldyesdales Tale so I'm really curious about it...

Astrid (from WNHTRS)