I ran the Vermont 100 back in 2012, where I finished, grabbed my buckle, and promptly proclaimed that I would never run THAT stupid race again. EVER.
Then, along came the Grand Slam. I agonized over my decision to run the Slam this year. Not because of the difficulty and the timing of the 4 races involved, but because the Grand Slam includes the Vermont 100. Seriously…I would rather light my hair on fire and put it out with a hammer, than run Vermont again.
But, after much coaxing from close friends, I was convinced that I would have a LOT more fun at Vermont if I just gave it another chance. After all…I was new to ultra running back in 2012, so a lot has changed. They promised I would have a great time.
They're. All. Liars.
I'n not saying that Vermont is a "bad" race, it's just not MY kind of race. I even heard a rumor once that somebody actually enjoyed running the Vermont 100. It's an unconfirmed story, however, and it was told to me by a pretty shifty individual, but I suppose there could be some truth to it. Same dude also told me he saw Bigfoot an the VT100 course, so you can do what you want with all that.
BTW…if you want a more detailed race report than what I'm about to spew, you can read all about my first VT100, HERE.
At 4:00 AM, we headed out onto the "trail". The race starts on a rolling gravel road and aside from a few sections of paved road and jeep road, pretty much stays exactly the same for the entire 100 miles. There's very little variation, and it's a bit like having your iPod stuck on repeat while listening to a Justin Bieber song. After a while, you're like, "FINE! I get it! Next please!".
Typical Trail Section
We were fortunate that we had some cloud cover, because this race is notorious for being very hot, and ridiculously humid. So, all I had to deal with was the humidity, which sucked slightly less than also dealing with the heat.
My greatest weakness as a runner is dealing with heat and humidity, as evidenced at Western States 3 weeks prior. This is entirely my fault, because I choose to run at 4:00 AM every day and rarely find myself training in the hottest part of the day. That lack of heat training ultimately led to a nasty case of Rhabdomyolysis at Western States, which then led to a very slow and painful recovery before Vermont. All good stuff!
Did I mention the horses? Yeah…the 100 mile horse race runs concurrently, which provides us with the rare opportunity to wade through fresh mounds of horse shit, and hobble over recently destroyed trail. Where else can you get that?!?!
By the time I rolled into the Pretty House Aid Station at mile 21, I had pretty much decided that my original reluctance to run this race was well founded. But there's no way to get through the Slam without getting through the Vermont 100 first.
Coming into Pretty House
My legs were tired early on, and I knew it was the lingering damage from the Rhabdo and Western States. As much as I didn't want to be running this race, I knew I just had to deal with it and get it done so I could move on to the 3rd round of the Slam. That was my solitary focus for the entire race.
Somewhere around mile 30, I noticed some chaffing. This is another thing I'm never really well prepared for because I live and train in a dry climate. Like with most things that happen during a 100 mile race, I was trying to just ignore it, hoping it would get better.
Stage Road Aid Station
For a moment, I thought we were going to run an actual trail, but this is just a dirt road that led us to another gravel road at the top.
Vermont is a tricky race because it's actually very runnable, but the hills are relentless. Because I was just trying to get through this race, I chose to walk most of the hills, while running the downs and flats. It felt agonizingly slow, but it was the smart move.
Coming into Camp 10 Bear, Mile 47
By the time I got to mile 47, the chaffing had become a real issue. If things continued like this, I was going to have to let my hair grow out and change my name to Caitlyn. I took the time to apply some borrowed body glide. Sharing body glide between runners is either very disturbing, or very intimate, I'm not sure which. Either way, I was happy to have it.
PBR, grilled cheese and a slice of watermelon. This is pretty much exactly like any summer picnic.
The cloud cover was vanishing and the sun was beating down on me. I couldn't wait for nightfall, and hopefully a big drop in temperature and humidity.
I saw my crew again at the Margarita Aid Station at Mile 58. I was burning up, so I plopped to the ground in a patch a shade while I sipped cold water and got an update on the trail ahead. As it turns out, it was more of the same.
Coming into Mile 58
This photo clearly captures my enthusiasm and I shot out of the aid station to tackle another section of rolling gravel road!
Heading back toward Camp 10 Bear was a slugfest. The weather conditions were causing me to suffer, my chaffing really sucked and my mood continued to sour with every step. I tried making conversation with other runners as I came up on them, but everybody seemed to be in the same awful mood.
Nobody at this aid station knew how to fill a hydration pack, but their cheerleading skills were some of the best I've seen during a 100 miler.
As I was trudging down the trail, heading to Camp 10 Bear, I hit a low point in the race. I was mentally vacant and my body just wasn't cooperating. This is when the skies suddenly opened up and unleashed the a torrential downpour that far exceeds anything I have ever seen during a race. In a matter of a few seconds, I was soaked, causing the chaffing to rear it's torturous head, and the roads were submerged in rushing water.
This broke what was left of my spirit. I just stood in the middle of the road and laughed. I wasn't laughing because it was funny, I was laughing because there was nothing else left to do.
By the time I reached Camp 10 Bear, the rain had slowed to intermittent showers. I toweled off, borrowed some more body glide and took a few minutes to pull myself together.
This is also the point where I can pick up my pacer. I normally prefer to go it alone in these races, but I knew Vermont was going to be mentally tough, so I recruited a trusted friend to take me the last 30 miles. Jason Howland had paced me before, so he knew the drill and required no break in period, so this was a good match. Jason and I rolled out of the aid station, headed toward the finish.
The sun finally set, and we were running under the glow of our headlamps in quiet. I wasn't in a chit chat mood and Jason knew it.
Even though the sun had faded, it still oppressively warm and the humidity wasn't budging. If anything, it seemed worse. Even Jason commented on the conditions and he lives in a humid part of the country. It didn't appear that things were going to improve at all.
During these later miles, the course frequently leaves the gravel roads in favor of dirt roads and ATV trails that meander through the woods. In normal conditions, this would have been a welcomed distraction, but the rain and horses had pretty well destroyed the path in front of us. We slogged through miles of greasy, mucky mess.
Exhaustion began to take hold around mile 83. I don't normally get drowsy during these races, but something wasn't right and my mind was trying to shut my body down.
The first sign of exhaustion is a steady stream of hallucinations. I've experienced them enough to recognize it when it happens, but it's still hard not to react to the things I "see". I kept my mouth shut during this time, mostly because I didn't want my pacer to think I had totally lost my mind.
As my body gave into the exhaustion, I was having trouble staying awake. After nearly passing out on the trail a few times, I announced to Jason that it was time for a 5 minute power nap. I walked to the side of the road, curled up in a ball, and fell asleep instantly. I'm sure Jason would have let me sleep for hours, but I woke up after the second person came by and checked on me. They just wouldn't let me sleep.
By the way, I've heard of people sleeping on the side of the trail, and I've even seen it several times, but this was the first time I had ever slept in the middle of a race. I rather enjoyed it!
The next several miles were much the same. Fighting mud, hilly gravel roads, and eventually, exhaustion began to creep back into my body.
By now, a sub 24 hour finish was a distant memory, so I was in no hurry. I did whatever needed to be done to make this as easy as possible on myself.
We met Jo at Bills Aid Station at mile 88 and I tried to get some more calories in my belly. I had been pretty nauseous for the last 20 miles, so eating had tapered off to an alarming level.
Rather than eat, I curled up on a blanket and fell asleep again.
I could get used to this sleeping thing...
After a quick nap, we headed out. Jason and I were picking off runners at a steady rate for the rest of the race. These were people who probably needed a nap.
At mile 97, the nausea finally came to a head and I began to vomit violently in the middle of the road. I won't lie, I was a bit surprised by the volume of material that I managed to hurl onto the ground. I didn't quite expect all that. After three good sessions of puking, I put it behind me and headed to the finish.
Barely Squeaking in Under 26 Hours
I didn't need to stop and talk to anybody. I didn't need to shake hands and share stories. I needed another nap. I walked directly to the rental car, hopped into the back seat and fell asleep as soon as I got prone. How I was able to sleep over the powerful stench of my body remains a mystery, but it happened.
Thankfully, I've made my way through the first two stages of the Grand Slam and am headed to Leadville in a few weeks to get my 5th consecutive finish there. And I couldn't be happier about it!
Sincere thanks to Hammer Nutrition, Topo Athletic, Gear:30 and my great crew for playing the role you do in all my races. There's not a chance I could do it without all the great support.
Topo Magnifly road shoes that I wore in Vermont. Awesome shoe! Available in August, so look for them. They're actually a pretty shoe once you wash the horse shit off.
See y'all in Leadville!