Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vermont 50 Race Report - Slicker Than Snot!

I’m not sure how many times I heard, “This is a great course in dry weather.” Well, it was far from dry but I still thought it was a great course. At least the 18 miles of it that I ran as part of a 3 person relay team. We finished 4th in the Co-Ed Team category even though me and Trail Pixie were using the VT50 as training run for Stone Cat and “New Jersey” Dave was nursing a knee injury.

Since Dave had a bum knee he decided to run the first leg and shortest leg at 12.1 miles. Trail Pixie (aka Emily) would run the 2nd and longest leg at 19.6 miles. Her leg would also take her to the highest point on the course, Garvin Hill. I would run the final 18.3 miles from Dugdale Aid Station to the finish line. Dave, who has run the VT50 course several times, kept telling me my leg was the most difficult of the three. After hearing that a few times I starting thinking “What have I gotten myself into?” I didn’t see the entire course but I’m sure all 50 miles is hard.

There was a steady mist at the start of the race but it didn’t stay that way. The rain just got heavier as the day progressed, making for some of the sloppiest trail conditions in VT50 race history. Emily and I saw Dave off and then drove over to Skunk Hollow Aid Station to await his arrival. The first three male runners made it to Skunk Hollow in quick succession. The first three females had much more time separating them.

Dave finishing a wet and wild run.

Dave came roaring into the aid station around 9AM beating his prediction for a 2:25 split by 10 minutes. We talked for about 5 minutes and then Emily was off to run the second leg. Dave and I hung around for a while watching more running and bikers pass through. I saw my friend Michelle enter the aid station and walk over to the drop bag area. I ran over to lend a hand and helped her get off a rain jacket that she couldn’t seem to pull over her head. In the meantime KZ came in to the aid station as well. They both looked good here and were soon on their way.

Emily takes to the trail.

Michelle and KZ leaving Skunk Hollow.

Dave and I got into my truck and drove over to Dugdale so I would know where to meet up with Emily later on. On the way to Dugdale we saw two 50K runners coming towards us on a long dirt road. Dave, knowing the course well, told me they were going the wrong way. I opened my window and asked if they were lost. Both just looked at me and kept on running. By the time I turned around and caught up to them they were about a ½ mile off course. We finally got them heading in the right direction then I drove Dave back to the start so he could take a shower.

I went over to Dugdale to wait for Emily. I could tell the trail conditions must have been bad out there based on how much mud was covering the bikers and runners as they arrived at the aid station. They looked like a mud-wrestling contestants. After seeing this, I figured it should take Emily about 4:15-4:30 to complete her leg. Almost on cue, at 1:20 PM, I saw Emily coming down the hill into Dugdale with a huge smile on her face. We chatted for a minute or so and she gave me a good piece of advice. She said, “Watch your footfall and try to run on the side of the trail.” As I was leaving she said, “You’re going to have so much fun.” She was right.

Miles and smiles.

I started off on a flat section of dirt road that lasted about 50 yards before it started going uphill. That was a good indication of what was to come. Hills, hills and more hills as my leg had about 3200 feet of elevation gain. That’s not a ridiculous amount but it’s not the Salt Flats either. The dirt road didn’t last long and soon I turned into the woods for some serious climbing, and some truly serious mud.

I decided before the race that I would run the entire leg except for the longest and steepest sections. The first few miles involved a lot of climbing and I probably took it out a little too fast but this was the Vermont 50 and I was psyched! After much climbing I took a walking break to get my breathing back in check. The trails were getting progressively worse and running even the slightest uphill was difficult. One step forward, two steps back!

On the backside of the climb was a long and winding switch-back descent along some sweet single track. Under drier conditions you could really scream down this section and make up for time lost on the long climb, but not on this day. The trail was so muddy and so slick that running here was detrimental to your health. One bad fall could leave you careening down the steep hill or bouncing off tree trunks. I had to walk or at best, run very slowly for safety sake. It was a little frustrating knowing this should be runnable but wasn’t due to the poor conditions. After seeing two bikers take bad wipeouts I knew I made the right decision to slow down.

Single-track climb with runner and bike in sight. Photo credit: Dave

After 5.4 miles I was feeling good and running strong so I blew past the Fallon Aid Station and just yelled a quick “Thank You” to the race volunteers as I passed. The Goodman aid station was 3.8 miles away and I had enough Heed to get me there. More mud, more rolling terrain and more weary runners and bikers were found along the wide double-track on my way to Goodman’s.

As I pulled into Goodman’s there were several bikers just hanging around the aid table. They didn’t seem to have any sense of urgency and I suspect they were not looking forward to the final 9 miles to follow. I topped of my CamelBak and was off once again after thanking the volunteers. Standing in the cold and rain for all those hours can’t be that much fun, can it?

The next 6.1 miles were tough. The trail was now a quagmire. The terrain was constantly rolling with several big climbs and descents. I could have made good time here but running was difficult in many spots. The only way I could run safely downhill was when I could find some pine needles of leaves on the side of the trail. This would provide enough traction to motor downhill. Without this I found myself unintentionally glissading with every foot plant in the mud. Going uphill was no better and I was constantly slipping sideways and backwards on every hill. I was actually looking for rocks and roots to step on as they provided some traction on the climbs.

I saw a large puddle in front of me with no way around it. I ran straight thought the middle only to go knee deep in it. The water was cold and refreshing and it washed away the 5 pounds of mud clinging to my shoes. But the new found lightness didn’t last long. Within 10 minutes my feet were heavy again with the weight of thick Vermont mud.

This "puddle" tried to swallow me whole. Photo credit: Dave

This is when I started to feel badly about passing the 50 mile runners. Here I was running on fresh legs and they had 40+ miles on theirs. It just didn’t seem fair to me to run these two races together at the same time. I did my best to say something encouraging to each and every one of them as I passed. If they said something nice back I would tell them “I’m only running the relay so my legs are fresh. It’s not that I’m running that well.” If I ever do the relay again I wouldn’t run this leg for that reason.

Not too far out from the final aid station I came to a long section of dirt road that was mostly downhill. I turned it on here and it felt great to be actually running again. The dirt road turned onto about ¼ mile of paved road before turning again up a short dirt road. At the top of the hill the road ended at an open field. There was Johnson’s Aid Station, the last one before the finish line. Only three more miles to go!

I ran into the open field, uphill of course, and followed the markers into the woods. The mud here was the worst yet. I fell three times in one mile and I was walking! There just wasn’t any traction to be had anywhere. Up until now all of the mountain bikers had been friendly and accommodating when I asked to pass. But now with less than 2 miles for the finish I came upon two riders pushing their bikes ahead of me on the narrow single-track. They would not let me pass and there was no way around them. I walked behind them for at least 5 minutes before I could scoot by.

With one mile to go I came up behind Sherpa John who was walking. He said his legs were shot and even though I felt fine I decided to stay with him and help him to the finish. Not that he needed it. John is an ultra veteran and certain didn’t need my help to finish but I thought having company would at least make his final mile pass more quickly. We joked about his bad luck with weather. He’s run several foul weather ultras the past few years. I took another tumble when I turned back to say something to Sherpa. He gave me a 9.0 for the fall and subsequent summersault!

With the finish line in sight I told John to go ahead of me. He deserved the finish more than I did. I asked him if he could do a mud slide across the line and he did. Too funny! My split was 3:40 giving our team an official finishing time of 10:14:47. That sounded like a pretty good time to me until I saw about 40 individuals ran faster than that on their own!

Me finishing as Sherpa slides home. (Photo credit: Emily Trespas)

It was a great time even though the rain obscured the view of the beautiful Vermont country. I’m sure I’ll be back again but only if the sun is shining.


  1. Well done, Dan! I wish I could have seen you (and met Trail Pixie) at the race. We will have a much better chance at the Stone Cat 50. I must also congratulate you on your excellent use of the word "Glissade". I like nothing better than learning new words when I read something.

  2. Dan-great recap of your leg! I will send you the pix of you finishing to post. My Legs and feet feel really good --with no soreness. This is a first for me. Toughening them up! I must say that the course was HAIRY and we were some mud-loving tortoises out there. Great work out there on that last mucky leg.

  3. I enjoyed this post tremendously! I think the mud running would be fun to a point but everyone looked soaked. Heavy shoes, heavy clothes, heavy everything. I enjoyed the huge puddle that tried to swallow you alive. Well done!

  4. Nice job and nice write up, Dan! Sounds like training is going great for Stone Cat!

  5. Sounds like a great time Dan, I will have to think about maybe doing a relay at one of theses courses...it would help familiarize me to the terrain for a possible 50k ...I think I will plan something for next year.

  6. AWESOME!!! I would go back next year simply with the hopes of running in dry conditions. It really was a fantastic course! See you at Stone Cat!

  7. Nice recap. I thought of you when I noticed it rained heavily this weekend. With VT you just never know.

  8. Steve, I will certainly look for you at Stone Cat. It's a smaller crowd so we should be able to track one another down. Wear your signature ORANGE shirt and I wont miss you!

    Julie, so cool you'll be at Stone Cat. The loop course will make crewing easier for Dave and the kids too!


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