Just had to scratch that ultra itch.
The VT50 wasn't a priority race this year but it's one that's hard to let pass by. My goals were loose as my training has been all over the map this summer but I thought it would be a great opportunity to get redemption on last year's race, continue to learn how to race the 50 mile distance regardless of fitness, and catch up with some friends who were also racing. Add in "learn how to run in unseasonably hot temperatures". It was a valuable experience that taught me more about ultrarunning but also pushed me into some dark places. Here's how it went down:
*if you want to dive down a rabbit hole, here are the reports for 2015 & 2016.
Pre Race: Things were very relaxed with no expectations. A few changes I made this year were to load up on electrolytes the night before and morning of the race (calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium supplements) with the intention of topping off on vitamins / nutrients that may help reduce cramping. Did it work? Too many variables to tell, but not once did I get those debilitating cramps as previous years. The race plan was to go out fast as comfortable and take some extra time at the aid stations to stretch out muscles that showed early signs of wear and tear. All other race strategy remained the same. The crux would be Blood hill (Mile 31 - 36) and from there I'd have a good indication of how the rest of the day would pan out. I was still feeling some soreness from Reach The Beach and I knew I didn't have the specific training to hang with the podium this year, especially in the heat.
Race: I felt much more comfortable this year going out with the lead pack but also racing my own race. That meant stepping out of race mode and hanging out a little extra at the aid stations as well as walking to take in nutrition and let my stomach process with the added stress of the heat. The temps at the start were comfortable in the low 60s but sweating started on the first climb. I was able to hang out and run with Kanoa King for the first few miles. He was really fit and I encouraged him to go catch Brian Rusiecki. This could have backfired on him but it was the right move. It was Kanoa's first 50 miler and he had trained really well all summer so he had fitness and motivation to do well. After Kanoa disappeared I ran with a relay racer (Adrian from RI) for a bit before running with Tim Witton. Tim and I cruised into the 12 mile aid station together, with another 50 miler (Jim Deng). I took my time to stretch and let them go as Adam Wilcox passed me as well. I caught up to Adam and on the long climb out of Skunk Hollow and ended up running with Jim Deng for most of the Climb up to Garvin Hill. It was nice to bounce around with different 50 milers and help pass the time on the non-technical terrain, perhaps the best part of ultrarunning. At Garvin (18 miles) I was feeling good but had to stop for a couple minutes to keep on my stretching race plan. As I was leaving, I saw Ben Bruno arrive - lots of 50 milers immediately in front and behind me. The heat wasn't an issue at the point and most of the course is in the shade. I was drinking a bottle of gatorade between most aid stations (~4.5mi) and a cup or two of ginger ale at the aid stations. For food I had some Clif Bloks and gels and supplemented with aid station food (banana, watermelon, and gummy bears).
From Garvin things started to get difficult. It's a long rolling descent down to Cady Brook (mile 22 aid station), and a difficult long slow ascent out. I was feeling better than last year but not fresh and from here on out I just focused on getting to the next aid station. I was running with mountain bikers as Tim was now behind me and Jim well ahead. At Margaritaville I was starting to burn up and sat down while I drank some soda. I was able to get some ice and put in my hat which made a huge difference. I shuffled out alone and was concerned how slow I was running. The combination of the ice and recent nutrition help lift my spirits and I was rolling again with my sights set on Greenall's (Mile 31).
The last two miles into Greenall's went by slow. It's rolling and windy singletrack but once you hear the aid station a half mile out, you get a little surge. I was running well into the aid station with no signs of cramping and no red flags. I saw Jim who was having cramping issues and that motivated me to keep moving. I really should have taken an extra minute here and get some ice but race brain said otherwise. As I left, Jim caught right back up to me and we ran together for a bit and soon another 50 miler - Neil Clauson from CT - caught up with us. I unknowingly also passed Neil at Greenall's and he was running very steady (not walking the ups but not hammering the downs). This was the start of my yo-yo race - for the next 10 miles I would walk the ups and roll the downs and I was able to keep up with Jim and Neil through Blood Hill by catching back up on the descents. Jim stopped with massive quad cramps and I thought he was done. At this point I was out of gatorade but heard the music playing at the house that always had beer. I thought beer would be great and stopped for water then poured a UFO blueberry heff into my water bottle. I ran with Neil to Fallon's (Mile 37) and was in 4th.
Leaving Fallon's I was still moving well but could no longer "roll" the flats or down. I was shuffling and walking more frequently. The main concern was not to overheat as the temps continued to rise. This next stretch to Stone's (Mile 41) was really tough. I was yo-yo'ing off Neil when out of the blue, Jim comes out of nowhere and was looking fresh. He came back from the dead and attributes that to bacon he got at Fallon's. Bad ass. Jim and Neil led the way to Stone's as I trailed behind a bit but kept them in sight. Even the gravel roads were getting tough to run at this point. I focused on Stone's and went into the pain cave.
At Stone's I once again took my time. Jim didn't waste any time and was out as I came in. Neil was a little slower but not too far behind. I got some ice, put down some fluid, and got a nice rinse with the hose. The next section of the course takes you a half mile across a field completely exposed. As I left the aid station I saw Ben Bruno. Damn, the hunt is on. With just 8.5 miles left, this is where runners start to close and you always have to be looking back. Also, I didn't notice, but the women's (Larisa Dannis) leader blasted through Stone's while I was busy cooling off.
From Stone's to Johnson is 10k and mostly downhill. I tried to make a move and passed Neil and put a nice little gap on him. I came up on Larisa and started to yo-yo off her when we hit the next ascent. This killed my "move" as it I found myself settling into her rhythm which was an unbreakable shuffle no matter the terrain. Just behind me Neil and Ben started to close the gap as I'd see them looking down the switchbacks through the trees. Mentally I was fading and they passed me. All three started to put a gap on me and I just did what I could. On the descent though, Neil pulled off with cramps and I watched Ben and Larisa slowly go out of sight on another climb. I was gassed and my quads felt like they were on fire. A new level of fatigue I had yet to achieve. So much so that I was starting to walk on some of the descents.
A bigger issue was the heat exposure. I was starting to feel sleepy and even walking felt like too much effort. It was a constant battle to shuffle and not walk. Another 50 miler came flying by - Kevin Hartstein - so now I was officially broken and in survival mode. I didn't care about my place and knew I could walk it in if I needed too. I painfully jogged the last mile to Johnson's (9 min pace) and took another break to prepare for the last push.
More ice in the hat and I was off walking up the mile long field. Exposed with a slight incline and I was reduced to a slow walk. I looked back and saw no one but 50k'ers. Neil was still at the aid station when I left and I was sure he would catch me. I almost hoped he did so I'd have a reason to run. I hung out with 50k'ers for the rest of this section, running for just a short moment in the shaded woods. We popped back out to the field and I was stuck walking again. The good thing was we got most of the final climb out of the way and started to sidehill in the woods to the finish. It wasn't until 1.8 miles left that I had had enough and was motivated to get this thing done. I surged and was running well once again, fatigue was momentarily subdued, and I found myself hammering to go sub 8 hours. When I entered the ski trails I had 8 minutes to get to the finish and I knew I had it if my mileage was correct. I was able to get back to 7 min/mi pace on the switchbacks to finish in 7:58:03.
Post Race: Compared to years past, with no falls, cramps, or other major issues, my body was in good shape. I was able to recover at the finish area and walk around relatively pain free. It was super encouraging to cover the distance in the heat and still finish within my goal time. I figured 7:30 would have been the fastest I could have finished in these temps so ending up where I did wasn't too bad. The huge accomplishment was not cramping and I don't know what exactly to attribute that to. Supplements, stretching, or pacing, it was nice to not have that be a limiting factor. The problems I faced this race were heat and lack of drive. I didn't want to push myself any harder than necessary but it sucked being passed so late in the race. One of these years I'll be able to close a 50 miler! Another thing to note was nutrition. I was probably behind a little on calories but thought I did a good job walking to take in and process a gel here an there. There was never a bonk but tiredness that I'd attribute to the heat.
I have to give a big thanks to all the runners I ran with along the way - Kanoa, Tim, Jim, Neil, and Larisa - and congrats to all those who sucked it up and finished on such difficult conditions. Around mile 48 I vowed to never race this race again, but I'm sure the "ultra amnesia" will kick in soon.