The Vermont 100 is one of the four grand slam ultra-marathons in the US. The course features 17,000ft of elevation gain and the many miles of dirt and jeep road make the footrace fast and runnable. This year, the weather caused many challenges, with temperatures ranging from 70-95 degrees with the heat index topping out around 115 degrees. The Vermont 100 offers distances of 100 kilometers and 100 miles, and is one of the last remaining races to offer a 100 miler for horses. I came into the race with three objectives for my first 100 miler: finish the race, place in the top three, and win it.
It’s Going to be a Scorcher
No way in hell, people can’t run 100 miles in day! At a dry ice shop off the highway leading to West Windsor, Vermont, an older storeowner greets us. My friend Josh Katzman runs one of the aid stations at mile 48 and 70, and we need dry ice to keep his supplies cool for the following day.
We pick up 50 pounds of dry ice as the Vermonter grills us about who would be crazy enough to run that far or dumb enough to host an event in this kind of heat. We politely smile; you often do when you describe this passion-hobby to a stranger. I can’t believe you can track this thing online, I’m watching this all day tomorrow for all the people who quit the race! He cackles as we leave.
Well before the sunrise, I toe the starting line with 357 other hopeful trail runners. I love ultramarathons because all types of people can finish a 100 miler. You meet old folks, young folks, tall, short, CEOs, camper vanners, people who are stringbeany and people who eggplanty. It doesn’t really matter.
As the gun goes off, I spring to the lead and settle into third. A sea of headlamps bob like buoys in the sticky Vermont air. My mind is clear, my heart is calm, I’m finding my Zen. Abruptly, I see the frontrunner turn around. Seriously, less than two miles in and we are already off course?
Leads reshuffle and about fifty runners double back on the mistake. I dip and dive through the herds of ultra-runners. Eventually, I find my rhythm. Now I’m ready to race. I cruise through 7-minute mile downhills and 9-minute mile uphills, because I can do that for 100 miles, right?
The early miles come easy, as expected. Everyone’s strategy on the day is the same: get out hard while it is cool, slow down as the temps heat up.
Eventually, I catch up a pack of four runners who are behind the race leader, Gediminias Grinius. Grinius placed sixth at Western States and has placed top ten multiple times at UTMB. He’s good.
All the guys get on like we’ve already met. We talk about our jobs, our homes, our running, our crews, and mutual friends in the trail community. We absently tick off miles in stride.
Eric strikes up a conversation, I’m pretty sure we have a friend in common out in Boulder. Andrew Skurka! My mind revisits those rugged West Virginian mountains and some of the amazing people on my trip. I heard it was a rainfest, Eric says offhandedly about the West Virginia weather.
The is heat creeping up on us all. I think we all could use a rainfest today.
About twenty miles into the race, it is time I make a move. My pack takes each hill with less enthusiasm and the sun isn’t at full strength yet. Ready to trek on solo, I head out of the next station with vigor. As my crew drives by, we joyously fist bump like we are jamming out to Levels by Avicii. I don’t see the sign turn left.
As I cruise down a deserted country highway, I realize I am on a deserted country highway. Uh oh. Nothing indicates that I am in the middle of a race. Flashbacks of missed trailheads and lost time that occurred during my record-breaking attempts on the Pacific Crest Trail and The Appalachian Trail flash in my mind. I timidly turn around and, a few minutes later, see Adam Kimble from the pack in the distance. Over the distance, I yell, Are we going the right way?
I think so! He replies. He is a chill dude, so I trust him. I turn about face and carry on down the wrong way. Five minutes later, a car informs us that we are both wrong. I guess we will run 103 miles today!
The course winds through open fields, on endlessly hilly jeep roads and over a few challenging single-track climbs. I cross tree covered peaks, country farms, and second growth forests – there is even a 150-foot long river crossing. Vermont is a beautiful state. If you haven’t been there, you should. And you should run the Vermont 100.
If only Grinius would chill out, appreciate the scenery and let me catch him. His lead went from five to thirty minutes after my mishap. Despite the lost time, I shouldn’t overstep my limits to catch him. Forty miles in, my quads already start to feel shredded. Thousands of miles of training from my last two training blocks didn’t prepare me for this much downhill running.
I can’t cut into Grinius’ lead.
Did I Mention Earlier that it was Hot?
I will never again underestimate the power of a crew and ice. Each time I enter an aid station, my crew is be there, waiting patiently. My wife, Katie, my-brother-in-law, Drew, and my best-friend’s-sister-turned-roommate, Molly. Bless their souls for what they went through to crew me.
During a hot race, both your internal and external body temperature heat up. While you can have control of your external body temperature, if your internal body temperature rises you don’t have many options. One-and-a-half degrees of additional internal body temperature is the difference between prime athletic performance and heat exhaustion.
We are like a Nascar team at the Vermont 100. Volunteers admire our efficiency.. As I arrive, Katie shouts directions to the crew and myself. A chair is already set up. I sit down as Drew takes my pack, refilling my water bottles. At each aid station, they ask how I’m chaffing and if I need new shoes. Despite my perma-drenched skin and clothing, I made the right choice with my Columbia Montrail Trans Alp shoes, and I’m not feeling any chaffing. #blessed
Molly grabs a sponge from the ice bucket. Cold chills run down my back as my body slowly releases deep seeded heat stress. Another icy blast springs from my forehead, clouding my vision and rushing down my chest. I look down and Drew is squeezing another sponge over my tiring quads. The cold is finding its way deep into my system, preparing me for the next section. Oh boy, I could stay here all day.
But I can’t. I may have gained considerable distance on the pack, but Grinius and his lead are slowly growing.
The Figurative and Literal Descent into Darkness
Mile seventy and I just vomited on the side of the road. Can you believe it? It took me this long to puke, and I’m not facing GI distress. I feel great!
I haven’t run to my potential in an ultra, because I can’t burp. Okay, that is an overstatement, but you try running 100 miles and shoving food and liquid into your stomach and not burping. I get uncomfortable.
I tried a new strategy this time. No more gels. I was going to drink my way to freedom with the new hot product in the marathon world, Maurten. I had 80% of my calories from Maurten and added with salted potatoes, pickle juice and chicken for protein. The results were shocking. Vermont 100 is the first race where I didn’t experience a mental bonk. My higher calorie per hour ratio is more than I’ve been able to previously manage with my stomach. Katie didn’t have to get on my case as much about undereating. This new strategy is good for my body and my marriage!
That being said, the race isn’t all fun and games. I’m hurting and my pace suffers. Drew started pacing me at mile seventy-seven. I walk a lot more than I told him I would. At least we saw a bear around mile eighty! As we meander through more dirt roads and more trails, I hope he’s having a good time. The first touches of darkness hit the sky.
The downhills are no longer friends with my quads. Every time I try to run, my soul tires and I can’t hold the jog for more than a minute. We hit the last aid station. Desperately, I ask, How long until the finish?
Katie and my crew aren’t quite sure. Five miles, four miles, it is something like that.
A volunteer overhears are confusion and confidently says, You have three point four miles left to the finish.
I almost faint in delight. My chances of catching Grinius has long since gone out the window. I’ve resigned myself to second place. Drew and I walk it in, for the most part. 17:37 for the Vermont 100. I lay for an hour on the race director’s floor, delirious and exhausted.
Damn, that is pretty good for your first 100.
I hope you found this post fun and informative 🙂 Would you rather run a race like this in 100 degree heat or 30 degree cold? Let me know what you think!