Saturday, September 26, 2009

from the archives: 2006 vermont 50k race report

i ran the vermont 50k in 2006. at the time, it was only my third ultra (third of three 50ks i ran that year, capped off with the jfk 50 miler in november). i was new to both ultras - and trails! the following year, 2007, i went back and ran the vermont 50 miler (following on the heels of the vermont 100 that summer).

i haven't been back there for either the 50k or 50 miler, but thought i'd post these race reports (2007 to follow) since the 2009 edition of both races kicks off tomorrow!

this report still has some of that utterly "newbie" flavor, which i like. i knew practically no one in the race field at tht time. while rob had camped out at the site, he ran the 50 miler and we never managed to meet up. the 2007 edition was very different. aside from the distance, i knew a good number of runners and it turned into a social experience!

vermont 50k

this weekend i took part in a trail run in scenic vermont. i drove up the day before, in wet, rainy conditions - and the forecast was for more rain on race day. but, as luck would have it, no rain when i woke up the next morning. as i drove to the start i actually had to stop as a small herd of sheep crossed in front of my car on route 44 (under their own direction apparently because there was no shepherd supervision to be seen). that strange incident had me smiling all the way to the check-in. instead of rain, it was overcast and humid. considering the forecast for more rain on race day, it was a good beginning.

the vermont 50k was staged at ascutney mountain ski resort in brownsville, vermont. it was run in conjunction with a 50m mountain bike race and 50m ultra. the staggered start times (bikes first, followed by 50m, and 50k last) were intended to ease congestion on the trails. unfortunately, good intentions aside, the lesson i took away from this weekend, was that bikers and runners should not share single track trails. put into perspective, there were 650 mountain bikers (the race had been sold out for months), 125 running 50 miles and 64 doing the 50k (as of the week before the race).

but that lesson about bikers and runners was still a few hours down the road. first there was a mandatory check-in for the runners, followed by brief instructions from the race director. the most significant information i took note of: watch out for signs marked with an X, which signified a dangerous obstacle ahead. these were actually posted for the bikers, but any assistance was welcome in my book. a sign marked with a W didn't mean water; it meant you're headed in the wrong direction, turn back. another helpful tip?

the race started downhill out of ascutney, briefly onto route 44 and then a right on a dirt road which started the uphill climb that continued to the first aid station at the 4.3 mile mark. a quick left, flat for about 100 feet to the sharp right onto the trail head. the trail went uphill for almost another 4 miles when we emerged onto another dirt road where we officially parted company with the 50m course - it went right, we swung left and headed for the second aid station at the 7.6 mile mark. this was the "official shortcut" that the 50k runners took.

we continued on dirt roads until rejoining the 50m course after about 11.5 miles. it was at this junction, just before our reaching the third aid station (official station #6) that we encountered the first wave of bikers. no problem since we were on dirt roads and plenty of space for everyone. everyone was very friendly. they had pretty much biked 30+ miles by this stage of the course. now only 20 miles left to the finish:)

a brief note on the aid stations. they and the volunteers were awesome. the stations were stocked with everything from junk food (chips, fig newtons, m&m's, gummy bears, etc.) to various sandwiches pre-cut into triangles and boiled potatoes. the only weirdness here was finding the replacement drink of choice was "heed." something i had never heard of before - and reluctant to try out now. i limited myself to trail mix and gummy bears, washed down w/water-diluted defizzed coke (occasionally switching to ginger ale).

but there didn't seem to be enough aid stations given the terrain. 10 official aid stations were spaced across the 50m course, but only 7 were available on the 50k. for the first half of the 50k, stations were spaced between 3 and 4 miles apart. then, for some inexplicable reason, they were spaced further apart between miles 15-28, and the final one was located 3 miles from the finish. it was also during this middle stretch that the course ran across numerous (way too many to bother counting after the first dozen) switchbacks (many of them single track).

about a mile beyond official aid station #8 (located at mile 19), i was doing a nice bit of power walking up two nice long hills, separated mid-point, by a dirt road. there were volunteers keeping watch for any rouge traffic that could have happened by as we crossed over. then a runner passed me on the second hill (as i was walking alongside some bikers walking their bikes). he looked fresh, and not the least bit bothered by the hill. at that point the biker just ahead turned back and said that was the lead runner in the 50 miler. at that point, running hills was something well beyond me.

since i had a fuel belt (initially filled with sobe lemonade), i wasn't concerned about physically reaching the aid stations. but for the record, i went for an hour and 15 minutes between aid stations 7 and 8 (5.4m), 50 minutes between 8 and 9, and it took me 1 hour and 37 minutes to go from station 9 to station 10 (5.57m). in future races, one more aid station would easily avoid the impression of too few of them. thankfully, a woman had put out her garden hose for us around mile 18 (a mile before #8).

by mile 22 (just after station #9) the heavens opened up and the rain forecast finally came down. i had actually squeezed an ultra-lightweight rain poncho in my belt - but i didn't bother to use it. at one point it got so dark under the canopy of trees that it seemed like it was suddenly night (at noon). luckily, the rain didn't last long but the consequence was mud, mud, and more mud. conditions were so bad in spots that bikers were actually walking their bikes - not unusual for uphills, but a strange site along the flats. in addition to rain, the wind had picked up significantly during the second half of the 50k. the colorful leaves blowing across the course gave the race a real feel that autumn had arrived.

an unmanned table with ice water and gatorade (the only non -"heed" sport drink i spotted that day) was located just before reaching the final aid station (#10). at the unmanned table i used the opportunity to refill my little 6 ounce bottles with water for the final stretch. it was just after i refilled those bottles that i spotted a sign that said "only 5 miles to go." that was the most discouraging moment of the day - if only because there were no other mile markers on the course (except for the relative positions of the aid stations), and i really thought i was minutes away from the final aid station - not two full miles away - yikes. but that's all part of the experience - and onward i went.

just after i left the last aid station (w/three miles left), it started to rain again. fortunately, that shower lasted only 10 minutes, but it was long enough to refresh the muddy trails leading up mt. ascutney. the final ascent got us to the top of the ski slope, followed by a downhill finish on the main slope leading down to the base lodge. given the beating my quads had taken for most of the day, i could only wince at the prospect of that downhill. but amazingly, the sun had burned off the cloud cover and warmed things up considerably. by the time i crossed the finish (in a whopping 6:45:40, 13:02 pace) the weather was absolutely perfect for the post-race bbq and party.

had i known how difficult it would be to run this race sharing the trails with so many bikers, i doubt that i would have chosen to participate (the 50 miler is a different matter). i would probably have done the pisgah 50k the week before in southern new hampshire. having bikers share the dirt roads and the wider trails wasn't much of a problem. the real issue was competing for space on the single track. at first it was just annoying. but the cumulative effect of literally dozens of requests to step off trail to let a bike pass became a major disruption to running (much less enjoying) the race.

which leads me to conclude on this mixed note. i doubt i would return to run this race (the 50k) as long as it is run in conjunction with mountain bike race. that is unfortunate because the course itself is truly spectacular - the beautiful vistas on the mountain tops are breath-taking and nice stretches of the course run alongside streams and rivers. so despite the seemingly unrelenting uphill character of the route, given a dry day without bikes zooming by, this is a course worth experiencing.

here is the 2007 vermont 50 mile race report.

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