Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Vermont 50

This weekend I entered into uncharted territory by competing in my first ultra-marathon, the Vermont 50, a 50 mile race in the mountains of Vermont near Mount Ascutney.

The weekend of running started by meeting Mark & Scott and their families at the Cider Mill Road Race in Tolland on Saturday morning. The event accommodates all runners with a kid’s fun run, a one mile race, followed by a 5K. This gave an opportunity for all members of our families an event to run in. The Giguere family of 5 all ran in the mile, which marks the first time we’ve all run in a race together:). The event was well attended and amazingly the rain held off until the last runner finished the 5K.

After goodbyes to our families we headed north, in the rain, with Mark’s pop-up in tow.
As we got close to our destination Mark pointed out Mt Ascutney and other peaks in it’s range where the race would take place. I never realized before how much Mt Ascutney resembled Mt Everest.

Mother nature’s timing was kind to us with a break in the rain just long enough for us to set up camp at Running Bear Campground. During set up we were glad to welcome the arrival of Keith and Jana whom I met and had the pleasure of spending the weekend with at the VT100 this past summer. Keith, Jana, and I crewed for Mark and Scott, lending assistance to them at certain locations over the first 70 miles. Keith and I then paced, ran with, etc…Scott and Mark the last 30 miles to successfully complete the 100 mile race. The group was reunited.

Mike, a friend and co-worker of Mark and Scott's joined us for the afternoon and evening, the sole mountain biker of the group.


After race preparations and registration check in we pulled together a traditional pre-race pasta dinner and shared some good laughs. Not only did the camper provide protection from the rains, it also gave us an opportunity to kick back, connect the laptop to the local wi-fi, and watch various episodes of “The Family Guy” before turning in for the night. We were camping in style. Thanks to Mark for the luxury accomodations.

Race days typically start with high energy levels and anticipation, and this race day was no different. After a 5am wake up and last minute prep we headed to the Mt Ascutney ski area, the race’s start and finish location. The 50 mile run is accompanied by a 50K run and a 50 mile mountain bike race. The mountain bikers departed in intervals from 6:15 – 6:35. Finally our time arrived and with a quick start the 50 mile runners were off and running at 6:40.

The course’s terrain is made up of single track hiking trails, snowmobile track, ATV trails, dirt carriage roads, fire roads, etc. with continuous climbs and descents. The four of us started out together at a fairly rapid pace as the first few miles were the easiest part of the course. After a few miles we headed into some good elevation climbs on the trails which slowed our pace and brought mountain bikes into the game. We ended up leap froging with the cyclists for the remainder of the race. As we were slowed by the ascents, they were slowed even more having to push their bikes and then would speed past on trails as we headed down. Surprisingly, the trails were in good shape given the amount of rain over the past couple of days.

There were aid stations (with water, Heed, fruit, pb&j, chips, soda, chicken broth, etc..) approx every 5 miles, with handler stations that contained our drop bags at the 12 mile, 30 mile, and 45 mile marks. The handler aid stations were the only locations on the course where spectators were allowed and assistance could be provided. Keith and I headed into the first handler station at mile 12 just behind Mark and Scott and were welcomed by Jana helping us restock with gels, water, etc…Mark and Scott flew out of the transition area and I realized this was the point to focus on my own pace. Keith and I enjoyed some solid running together for the next several miles.

There are a number of variables that can come into play during these ultramarathons that can have a significant impact on your results and level of discomfort. Meeting nutrition and hydration needs are important but are often impacted by how well the stomach and digestive system are handling eating and running. Before the race I set my watch to beep every 30 minutes, which was my trigger to take salt pills, a gel, and be sure I was hydrating with the help of my 2 bottle Go-Lite belt pack. Around mile 12 I forced down a Cliff bar and my stomach was not happy with me for several miles and I deviated from my plan by reducing gel intake and turning to fruit at the aid stations.

Keith and I were surprised, glad, and disappointed to run into Scott about the 22 mile mark as we knew he must have been suffering to slow his pace for us to catch up. Scott was struggling with some MAJOR stomach and digestive problems that he tried to run through but was too much as he was unable to take in any needed substance to keep him going. It was tough to see him drop. I was impressed how well he handled the scenario and kept things in perspective. Scott successfully completed the VT100 and other 50 milers and therefore knows his fueling and hydration needs and still ran into an unavoidable and uncontrollable situation. This was an eye opener to me and a reminder that proper preparation does not necessarily equate to completion and hurdles may lie ahead.

At about mile 23 I felt as though I had gone much further as the continuous climbing was taking it’s toll, my stomach was pissed off at me still, my feet were screaming at me, and fatigue started to set in. It was the perfect time to be heading into Smoke Rise aid station. As I approached I could hear Bob Marley’s “Wait In Vain” blasting which really picked me up as I came into the aid station dancing and singing and apparently a little delirious, one of the benefits of ultra running. Just the lift I needed.

I still had a long way to go and started focusing no further than the next aid station and was pleased to know the next one at mile 30, is a handler station and would likely see Jana. As I entered into this aid station there were several spectators gathered around who provided much appreciated encouragement. Jana had pulled my drop bag aside and had it ready for me so I could change socks, re-lube, change shirts, reload on fuel, she snapped pictures…(she was of great help all day, Thanks Jana) I was greeted by Scott who was a spectator at this point and appreciated his words of encouragement as I reconnected with Keith and headed out on our journey.

Keith was in great shape as he kept a good pace and engaged others runners and cyclists in witty conversation while I was still dealing with stomach pains and decided to be a hermit. Even though much of the course is on private property there were only a handful of homes along the route. I was surprised to come upon the yard of someone’s house who had their hose out for use and a cooler with a sign on it that read “cold beer”. Was this a mirage, or some sort of hoax? Keith moved quickly to look inside. “Bruce, there’s cold Long Trail Blackberry Wheat beer in here, what do you think?”. I was tempted to partake for about 2 seconds and then realized it would probably mean the end for me so I moved on as running 50 miles and drinking beer probably should not happen in conjunction with each other.. We continued… Keith moved ahead as I had to pull aside and water the trees. As things progressed I realized that I would be putting use to the TP that I’ve been carrying with me for 32 miles or so. Well, well, well, what do ya know, after dropping a couple of pounds I felt great!!! No more stomach issues, the fatigue subsided, and my feet were no longer barking at me. I had no idea that foot pain could be related to the digestive track!!

Entering aid station

With my renewed energy and strength I focused at the task at hand, and enjoyed time spent meeting and talking with other runners as I knocked off a couple of more aid stations. Even though I was dealing with some discomfort I felt relatively strong. Leaving the aid station at mile 40 brought me delight as I knew that most of the trek to the next aid station was down hill and that I would likely see Amie and the girls. I emerged from the forest and out onto dirt roads and Mt Ascutney came into sight. As I turned a corner onto a paved road I was overcome with emotion when I heard “THERE’S DADDY”, it was music to my ears. As I was greeted by my family they informed me that the aid station was right around the corner and they would run with me..very cool…it was uphill, but I turned on the jets to let them know that Dad is still king, even after 45 miles. I got some hugs and kisses, grabbed some quick fuel, some salt from my drop bag and Amie asked “Do you need anything, or want to change your shoes?” “No, I just want this to be over with, I’ll meet you at the finish.” And off I went feeling tired, strong, and delirious all at once.

At aid station, mile 45

Leaving aid station, responding to Amie's screams of excitement...

The conditions of the last stretch up Mt Ascutney were what I anticipated the whole course may have been due to the rains, thick mud. Certain areas had to be walked. As I made my way closer to the finish there were signs of encouragement hanging from the trees and the sounds of live music entertaining those at the finish line. For the first time during the race it started to rain and it felt great. The last stretch of the race was down a ski slope where the kids were waiting and ran part of the way with me to the finish. It was great to receive congratulatory cheers from and give high fives to Amie, the kids, Scott, Jana, Keith, Mark and their supportive families while running through the chute to the finish.

What a great support crew!!!

This was the most miserably enjoyable experience that I can remember. Is that possible? I finished in 10:08, 71st overall.. Keith finished in 9:57, 66th overall. Mark finished in 9:08, 35th overall…great work!!
206 runners registered for the race, 188 started, and 162 finished.

Jana and Keith
PS..Keith..thanks for picking up a Long Trail Blackberry Wheat for post race..

Mark and Keith getting necessary food, post race..


Scott said...

Great report Bruce! You did awesome! Impressive performance. Despite my woes, I had a great weekend hanging with you and the fellas and look forward to getting the group together for future adventures.
Congrats on completing your first 50!

KMag said...

Great work bud! Awesome race and a very nice report. What a wknd! Can't wait for the next adventure. All my best to you and the family

Fancy Schmancy said...

Great job, Bruce! I love the pics of you and girls. I love that they ran with you, and Amie, too. You are an inspiration! Please keep posting. Something tells me you have awesome stories to share, besides your races. You have a way with words.

Love, Cousin Nancy

p.s. don't clicky on my Fancy Schmancy i.d. I doubt my blog is the kind you and Amie want to read!