Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vermont 50- A Tale of a Ninja Stealth Strike


9,000 of muddy elevation gain

I hadn't been planning on running Vermont 50. But then my buddy and Salomon teammate Glen Redpath suggested that I come out and run it and then run Tussey 50 miler 6 days later, a race I was already planning on running. Since Vermont 50 is a part of the Montrail Ultracup, 2 spots for Western States were up for grabs and since I am somewhat interested in running that race next year, I figured it would be a good opportunity to get a spot sans lottery. I hoped to do a secret ninja strike on the race to get the spot, as I did not sign up that early and also didn't want to sabotage my "A" race (Tussey) in the getting of it. I wanted it to be quick and dirty (but as painless as possible).  I thought it would also be an interesting chance to see how well my body could recover between 50 mile efforts.

I flew in to NYC on Friday, Sept 27 before the Sunday race, and was met with beautiful weather and a pleasant forecast for our next days drive up to Vermont. Of course, the weather report for Sunday was rain, rain, rain. We were watching the weather forecast on Saturday and the weather person described Sunday as what would be a great day to stay inside and cozy up on the couch with a bowl of warm soup. Or run 50 miles behind a pack of hundreds of bikers who tear up the trail before you get there. Glen and I went for a nice run on Saturday morning and finally took off for the 4 hr drive north about mid-day. The pleasant weather of Saturday at least let me enjoy the splendor of the New England fall. We drove through miles and miles of beautiful fall colors on the parkway and arrived in Vermont in no time. I always forget how small the states are around here. We went straight to the motel and then headed over to Ascutney Mountain Resort where check in and the pre-race dinner was. I met up with my friend Frank and we all tucked in to our meals. I had brought some "safe" food to eat which I gobbled up while Glen had the pre-race meal offerings. In hindsight, my meal was probably a bit too light. We had had a large lunch of gluten free pasta salad with tons of veggies and so I wasn't super hungry, but I think I should have eaten more at dinner. We headed back to the room, got our stuff together and watched Wanted on HBO. I had gotten a good nights sleep Friday night and as soon as we turned off the lights, I was wide awake and didn't fall asleep for a really long time, if ever. It's kinda funny since I wasn't stressed about the race at all. In fact, I was feeling overly calm, to the point of being worried that I was too calm or perhaps (I considered for moment) uncaring? I definitely cared though, I haven't raced that many times this year and this was my first solo trail race post TransRockies and I wanted to show off all the work I had done all summer getting strong on the hills. Vermont  (as I said about the 100 miler last summer) is no joke. There is a heck of a lot of climbing, nearly 9,000 feet. And in the Vermont 50, nearly all of the race is on dirt and singletrack.

I didn't sleep well but still woke up feeling ready to go. I had no nerves, I was just ready to get running. Even when we arrived at the start, which was packed with nearly a 1,000 bikers and runners I never felt any apprehension. That is not to say I felt cocky or confident. I guess I just had a "we'll see how this goes" attitude. I wanted to run well, I wanted to place in the top 2 but I hadn't felt fantastic in a while and my summer really packed in a lot of training, racing and traveling. 

Starting just after 6am, they started lining up the cyclists who would be going off in waves before the runners started at 6:40. This would prove very interesting all day long since the bikers tore up the trails ahead of us, but also because I would catch a good deal of the field over the course of the run.

I lined up near the front. I figured there is no use in pretending like I am going to go out super slow. It was rainy and drizzly and cool, but comfortable. It was Seattle kind of weather which is fine with me. I lined up with Meredith Terranova whom I had met at TransRockies and another fast local(ish) girl who I didn't know. Meredith and I both had a strategy of running only hard enough to come in top 2, but I also knew that I was going to run my race and ensure that I was comfortably in WS.  Before I knew it, they yelled "Go!" And we were off.

As much as I had said I was going to run only hard enough to place Top 2, deep down I knew that if I felt good I would not hold back. I wouldn't run outside myself but I wouldn't hold back. That said, within about 5 strides of the start line I was leading out the entire pack with Meredith and the other girl on my right shoulder and a few of the guys on my left. Someone goes, "is this a 10k or what?", to which I responded, "heck no, its a 5k". The race goes down the driveway of Ascutney, turns left and continues on one of the few longer road sections for about 4 miles. I was passed by Brian Rusiecki and Glen ran next to me and right behind us was (I think) Stephen Taylor. I was running a pace that was faster than the men's course record, but I was well aware of that and knew that when we hit trail, I would slow down especially with the mud. I was running comfortably and my heart rate was pretty steady, so I just cruised. Plus, I really knew that my strategy regarding the other women was break early and establish a huge lead and then settle in and make them catch me. Long before we hit dirt, the rest of the field was out of sight behind us. I kept working though, knowing there was quite a long ways to go before I could let up. If ever, that is. Problem with the strategy is unless you have crew taking your competitors splits, you never really know how close or far off your competition is.

And I just ran. And ran and ran. 5 boys took off pretty much as soon as we hit the trail and I swapped places with one of them a bunch over the day. He wasn't carrying anything, not a waterbottle, not a gu, so for the first half we swapped spots but after about 50k, I passed him at an aid station and never saw him again.

I can't give you a blow by blow of all of the terrain since it pretty much was just a bunch of slippy, slidy, muddy uphill running. We ran over ATV trails, single-track and farm trails in the backs of people's pastures. There is 21.6 miles of dirt roads and 28.4 miles of single and double track, which really leaves not alot of time on the pavement. It was great and forgiving terrain, other than the mud. I wasn't able to bomb the downhills as much as I like because the mud made for such precarious footing that I would have lost it and fallen over or into a tree. I was shocked that I actually stayed on my feet the whole race. I blew through the first two aid stations, the first because I didn't need anything and the second because it was so packed with bikers that I would have lost 5 minutes just trying to get water. That was my only real complaint out there. The aid stations operated purely first come first serve, yet that meant that the top runners had to wait for cyclists who were out for a fun ride and were in 500-600th place. It just makes it interesting.

I knew that that CR was 7:35 and for the first half I was on track to break it, but for about the second 1/4 of the race, I could tell that the mud would not be conducive to getting that record. I felt good and strong, but when you slid two steps backwards for every stride, you are slowed. I ate a gel about 2.5hrs in, filled up my bottles at every other aid station and just nipped along. As I said, I would love to give you a blow by blow of every root, mud puddle (that would be every step) and trail, but it all blends together in my mind. I think part of the reason is because I was really in the moment. I was really zoned in on my running. I wasn't overthinking, I wasn't distracted by music. I was just running, watching my footing and monitoring my fueling. The biggest hill comes pretty early on and you just feel like you run uphill for about an hour, up to Garvin Hill aid station (Mile 19.3) and then continuing uphill until about mile 24. Despite the massive climb, I just kept on running. And feeling good.

I hit halfway about 3:40-3:50, somewhere therein and was very pleased to see that despite the mud, I was still running really quite fast and strong. I downed somemore fuel along the way, hit a few more aid stations and merrily clipped off the miles. At the mile 31.9 mile aid station there was a huge cheering crowd which really buoyed my spirits. There were a lot of bikers and I needed waters, so I asked to bully my way to the front of the line so I could not lose any time. By that time, those cyclists and I had become friendly and so they happily obliged saying, "you better not let me catch you!!". I really appreciated their understanding. The miles passed in happily, the air was cool and moist, my head was shaded by the trees which were starting to change colors and I enjoyed the scenery of what is quintessential New England fall. I was just in love with the running of this race. Sure the mud sucked, the hills were brutal, but I was constantly reminded why I love the 50 mile trail distance so much. It is my favorite race, a mix of speed, strength and endurance. I never had a moment of doubt or negativity. I just ran. All smiles, joking and carrying on with the cyclists.

From about mile 40-46, I felt like the miles were ticking away very very slowly. I didn't feel bad, I was just a bit cold, wet and muddy and faintly smelling the barn. I finally arrived at the mile 47.2 aid station, pounded a coke and headed out. I knew the last 3 miles of the race were not pleasant. They are switch-backs up Ascutney Mountain, and then the last 1/2 mile drops you down fast into the ski lodge (basically down the ski mountain). I wanted to arrive at 47 feeling decent and strong enough to make it up the climb without slowing down too much. I also knew that the mud would be gnarly and slow me even further. And as advertised, the last few miles were not easy. They were not however profoundly harder than any of the other miles we had done. It was just that you basically have to climb UP to the finishline. This section was particularly slippery and since it was narrow switchbacks up the mountain, I didn't have the luxury of running on the edge of the trail like a good deal of the day. I pounded up hill, passing bike after bike. I started to see signs for "miles left" and got really excited. While I was no longer on CR pace, on another other day without the mud, I would have been which was good enough for me. I was almost done and that felt great. I finally crested the hill and saw the 1 mile to go sign. And then, I bonked. Hard. I had taken my last gel at 6:30 into the race and it was now 8. I had had some coke but no more calories. I bonked so hard, I literally stopped in my tracks and said "whoa". Thankfully, I had a packet of Sharkies in my pouch left and I tore into them, trying to power forward as I shoved half a pack in my mouth. I got some energy and bounded down the trail. I could hear the screaming of the fans below and I shot out into the field and through the orange chutes. They are a bit cruel at the end, you come screaming down the mountain to nearly the finish line and then they make you take a hard left run about 50 meters back up hill and then dump you straight down across the finish line. I pushed all the way across the line and triumphantly won the Vermont 50 mile race. I was 5th overall and first woman in 8:06. I felt great the whole way and despite my feet being brutalized from being soaked all day, I accomplished all of my goals including not killing myself for the WS spot.

I headed back to the parking lot, got my stuff, grabbed a shower, changed and headed back up to the finish line to hang out for a bit. Glen grabbed some food from the post-race BBQ and I tucked in to a great wrap that I had picked up in Brattleboro the day before at my favorite co-op there. We got our awards and said our congrats to our friends, new and old and jumped back in the car for the 4hr drive back to NYC. As we drove back, I had the sense of my experience that day fleeting from my memory more than a race usually does. Maybe it is because I had to immediately think in terms of recovery for this weekend's upcoming Tussey 50 miler, but it has taken active reminder to myself that I raced 50 miles three days ago. I am very proud of my effort, how strong I felt and how much fun I had.



My gear (head, shoulders, feet and mouth):
I am separating out this from the rest of the post, in lieu of shameless product dropping in my post, so that those who are interested can know my opinion on my footwear, clothing and fuel and those that aren't can skip it!

I rocked the Salomon Whispers, they are super light and even so they worked really well for 50 miles. My feet felt great the whole time, despite being soaked from the mud. I was just happy to keep my shoes on my feet since there were a few times the mud tried to wrangle them away from me. I wore my short sleeve Salomon Racing Jersey and my running skirt, but since it was rainy and chilly I rocked my Primal Wear Arm Warmers in the rad Samurai tattoo print. I love these sleeves, they are actually cycling sleeves but work perfectly for my arms. They are skinny to fit the width of my runner arms, but long enough to actually cover my super long arms. They kept me a perfect temperature and protected from the elements.

I carried my fuel in a Nathan Thermal Quickdraw and my Nathan waistpak. I only carried one bottle which was more than enough since there were 10 aid stations on course and carried all of my fuel in my waistpak. I kept my fuel needs low (800-900 cals) and utilized my fat burning by taking my Vespa and supplemented with Clif Shots, Chia Razz bars, Luna Moons, Sharkies and FRS.

Thanks to the cyclists!
I got to know a bunch of the bikers in some sections where we alternated passing each other on the ups and downs. Since I was the first girl and running in the top ten, most of the guys found it pretty awesome. It was nice to establish over the course of the race a mobile cheering squad. My particular favorite was Tom Eckert. He and I traded places for most of the day and I would usually catch him at an aid station when the bikers took much longer breaks than we did. I definitely did not envy the cyclists since they ended up having to hike their bikes ALOT more than they might have if there was no mud. Even on the flats and downs they had trouble. And it is a lot harder to hike in cycling shoes that is for sure. I really appreciated all their encouragement! And we all know that I absolutely love cyclist, so having them out there was definitely a good thing.


9 comments:

  1. Congrats! I didn't realize that gets you a spot into Western...AWESOME!!

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  2. Wooohooo congrats Devon! Western States is great. That's awesome!

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  3. Sweet race report! Gotta love the Coca Cola! I am looking forward to hearing about a repeat win at Tussey! Hope the Babycakes aided your recovery.

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  4. Congrats Dev! You rock!!! Bummed I missed you when you were relatively close, but alas, I had my own little mountain run planned here in Maine. Glad you had such a great race in tough conditions. Way to power through the slop!

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  5. WS, here she comes! I was hoping you'd show up for bandera for this reason...oh, well:)

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  6. Olga- I would still love to come to Bandera. I can be convinced :)

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  7. Here comes States! Congratulations. Sharkies save the day yet again.

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  8. YAY! Super stoked for you Devon, way to run!!!

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  9. NIce job Devon - as always! And way to push it through to the end.

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