The Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run enjoyed a 15-year relationship with Smoke Rise Farm as its race headquarters. This year race operations were moved a couple miles away to Silver Hill Meadow; an open, horse friendly pasture where large canopies wired with mobile generators replaced the shelter and comfort of the generous barn. Because of the unknown strain on the new facilities this year's race was limited to 250 humans and met capacity by April.
At the pre-race meeting some 500 runners, crew and friends sat in a field of Silver Hill Meadow listening to the amplified instructions of race director Jim Hutchinson. After his welcome & briefing Jim handed the microphone to standout race veterans Bruce Boyd of Connecticut and Zeke Zucker of Vermont who told us how the race would be the same over the first 70 miles and different the final 30. Zeke reckoned that the difference would be more difficult and noticeable to returnees. I wondered if this was just alarmism intended to promote early miles caution.
Michelle (wife) and I drove back to our White River Junction hotel where fellow Riis Park Strider Peter Block had arrived. "Team Thominator" crossed the river and gorged on big bowls of pasta & local brews while studying the course map and formulating a pacer plan at Lui Lui's of Lebanon, NH. By 9 o'clock it was lights out at the hotel and the struggle to sleep.
For humans the race starts at 4 a.m.; an hour ahead of the concurrent 100 mile horse race. Michelle accompanied me through racer check-in and to the starting banner. Trail buddy Michael Davenport of Arlington Heights, IL greeted us, his anxious smile lit by his halogen headlamp. An announcement cut through the darkness, "30 seconds until race start!" Collectively the field stiffened but it was another two full minutes before the countdown began, "10, 9, … 3, 2, 1". The beeps of digital watches mixed with hoops & hollers sent us gingerly down the first synthetically glowing dirt road.
It wasn't long in the shadows before I recognized that the new course had merged with the historic. This was my third time at Vermont. I came with lofty goals of getting a new pr, possibly breaking 18 hours and maybe cracking the top 10. My year-to-date training had gone exceedingly well though I'd underachieved at most of my build-up races. It felt good to be back in the auspicious Vermont predawn.
As color filled the morning landscape I heard the following from nearby runners, "I finished Western States exactly 11 months to the day that I started running.", "This year at Western States I made it all the way to the river in daylight but they didn't get a photo of me.", "Did you see a girl with one leg on crutches start the race today?", "How far is it to the next aid station?". This is typical early miles nervous jabber.
Fellow Riis Park Strider, Paul Gerlach was at the Taftsville covered bridge near 12 miles. He was there crewing Thomas Schnitzius of Colorado, and offered to relieve me of my flashlight. I appreciated his assistance and stopped for a brief chat before he shoed me off. It was just after 6:00 a.m. and the sun was up exposing a partly cloudy morning with temperatures in the 60s.
Heading into the first crew designated aid station a spectator tallied me 49th place. For the first time ever I connected with Michelle & Peter there at 18.5 miles. They traded me my morning shirt for my lucky "Chicago" racing singlet. Larry Hall of Lake Bluff, IL was on a chair tending to his blistered feet.
Michelle & Peter would leapfrog up to the next crew access station where Peter would pick on his "Student Prince" guitar while Michelle read her book sitting in the sun. One section stretched 13 miles between crew accessible checkpoints so they drove into the town of Woodstock for lunch and a look around. Meanwhile I ran and ate at aid stations and ran and drank from my water bottle and ran and followed yellow plastic plates with black arrows marking the course and ran and drew inspiration from the green Vermont scenery and ran and met others along the way. Russ Hoyer of New York finished 5th in 2001. He caught up with me at 21 miles and we shared the trail for over 10 miles. Up a steep long hill after 28 miles Chuck Landry of New Hampshire told us how he was stung by a wasp once on this segment of the course. Moments earlier I had observed wasps flying out of a hole in the trail. John, the Patagonia representative was in front of us pedaling his mountain bike and encouraging all racers. I ran into the 31.3-mile aid station to find Michael Davenport where we fueled up before pressing on together. We crossed the Ottauquechee River using the Lincoln covered bridge after 36 miles. Around 42 miles the trail entered a maze of plastic tubes that routed sap from maple trees.
At 44.7 miles Michelle & Peter and the scales awaited. It was minutes after noon, sunny and mid 70s, our first of two trips through station Camp 10 Bear. I weighed in ½ pound below my pre-race weight of 146. Michelle saw to it that I ate a banana and two salted, boiled potatoes. We had a photo op before moving on.
I had been clicking splits on my watch but not checking them because it was too early to get caught in the trap of racing the clock. Most everything was going well except the high humidity had me sweating heavily since before sunrise. This kept my feet moist and I developed nagging blisters early on. Also, along the sharp downhill trail sections my toes were slamming into the front of my shoes and bruising some toenails. These are common problems and not enough to ruin my run. At the 55.4-mile aid station Michelle provided me with globs of Vaseline for the bottoms of my feet and a new pair of socks. I ate two more salted potatoes and grabbed four for the road. Michelle zipped ice into my mesh cap and plopped it atop me. I was looking forward to the next three-mile uphill road knowing that there were runners to catch.
Half mile later I'd finished the potatoes and started a slow jog. Within a mile I was picking up the pace and picking off runners. Strong sunshine was beating down which melted the ice, which dripped sunscreen into my eyes, which I hadn't counted on but didn't distract me from my mission on this hill. It took 45 minutes to cover 3.2 miles; that was fast enough to catch 5 runners and I now had 5 more in my sights.
I caught up with that second group as we entered the recently renamed now officially, "Margaritaville" aid station at 60.5 miles. Here the "Parrothead" volunteers would be pleased to make you a margarita or serve you a Corona. Michelle advised against it and Peter concurred. This is a top-notch crew I have. Peter snapped a photo before pointing me down the road.
A favorite segment of mine is the 5.4-miles that leads back to the 68.7-mile aid station. It's mostly downhill and mixes gentle trail with fast dirt road. I ran it relaxed in 9:36 pace catching one more runner. Thunder clapped overhead but I never got rained on. Entering Camp 10 Bear for my second time I saw ultra-man Rob Apple of Tennessee leaving on his first time through. We waved, exchanging "good lucks". I weighed in slightly light again. The fun was about to begin as you get to run with a pacer from this point to the finish. Peter was ready for his pacing section, dressed in his moisture wicking navy shirt, baggy shorts and new sunglasses.
It was just after 4:30 in the afternoon as we set out. One of the toughest climbs is a ¾ mile trail section around 69 miles. May be runable to others but I prefer to power-hike it. At the top we hit dirt road and noticed a runner was gaining on us. Peter knows that in my previous races no runner has caught me in the last 50 miles at Vermont. He wasn't going to let that streak break on his watch. He got out in front and swiftly pulled me along. We didn't see that runner again. What we did see was the new course that Zeke Zucker had warned of during the pre-race meeting. It seemed much more rugged trail and less cruise-able dirt road and I no longer considered Zeke an alarmist. I followed Peter as his shirt became drenched in sweat until finally we pushed up a climb to the 76.7-mile station. Two spectators cheered us, "No one else has run up this hill!"
Michelle greeted us at the aid station. I handed my water bottle to the friendly volunteer who turned out to be UltraRunning's and Cool Running's Don Allison. "Hey Bill, you're having a great run", he passed back my full bottle. In past year's he's served as pacer for some fast runners of this race including the winner in 2002. Peter relinquished pacer duties to Michelle. It was barely past 6:00 p.m. - still plenty of daylight as we resumed our journey.
Michelle is gentle by nature. A disposition that changes once she laces up her running shoes. I hung on to her aggressive pace as we toured the Vermont countryside. Near 84 miles the course came within a few hundred yards of the finish line before looping away. Michelle kept pushing, eagerly seeking a "bogey at 12 o'clock". We finally caught a runner late in her 12.5-mile stretch. Then there were two more runners with their two pacers who appeared as we made the 89.2-mile checkpoint. It was the last weigh-in station; I was exposed 3½ pounds down at 142½.
"My Atkins diet must have kicked in.", I quipped.
"You're a little low, but lucid", the medical volunteer laughed, "you can continue!"
I gulped down three cups of cola, thanked Michelle for her skillful guidance, grabbed the flashlight that Peter offered, and watched a runner and her pacer leave the station. I gave chase. The forest was darkening at 8:30 p.m. as I passed them. The trail was downhill and uneven so I concentrated on my flash lit footfalls until I noticed something terribly wrong. Paths were zigzagging in all directions from the main trail. There were no markers. My heart pounded faster as I yelled to no one in particular "runner lost… runner lost!" Minutes later the trail was roped off which immediately pirouetted me 180° back up from where I came. I glanced at my watch and bounded uphill for 4½ minutes. There was my mistake. Two yellow plastic plates at chest level nailed to a tree with arrows pointing right over a stone fence, which bordered the trail. A burned out glowstick hung limply atop the plates. I charged out of the forest into an open field and spied another runner and pacer some 200 yards down the trail. Yes! The green grassy trail beautifully marked in the waning twilight. There were giant shredded wheat hay bails shrunk wrapped in white form fitting plastic covers piled along the path. How suddenly my perception intensified. I caught the first team, and then the second team and apologized for passing them twice. I was off course for at least eight minutes but thought I could still get a pr provided that I kept driving the pace.
At the 95.3-mile aid station Michelle & Peter nervously waited in the darkness. A couple of horse riders came in. Both times they falsely assumed it would be me. Michelle was ready to pace to the finish. When finally I arrived there was time for just one cup of coke and a short explanation before tossing my water bottle to Peter and chasing Michelle down the road. The course chart listed the next aid station as 2.6 miles away. It was mostly dirt road, which we covered in 10:09 pace. We didn't stop at that last aid station, just shouted out my race number and asked, "How far to the finish?"
"About 3 miles!", the attendants cheerily responded.
We ran and chattered; "I thought it was supposed to 2.1 miles from here." "They must be wrong. The chart said only 2.1 miles." "I hope so because we only have 30 minutes to get my pr." "Maybe we'll have more roads and less trail." "That would be awesome but the finish looked awfully rugged." "Let's just keep moving."
We moved quickly along the darkened dirt roads. The trails were a different story as they became overgrown in the grassy areas and thick frosted devil's-food in the soft spots. We knew of the tall communications tower that marked the last half-mile of the race which we could see, but we always seemed to be running away from its blinking red beacon. I watched the 30-minute mark tick by and let out a groan. (Actually, not a groan, but inappropriate to quote here.) Finally a man in the shadows yelled, "200 yards downhill from here!"
Tiki torches lit the final downhill and led us to the finish banner. Michelle and I crossed holding hands to the rousing cheers of the few gathered at the open field of Silver Hill Meadow. Race Director Jim was there. So was Peter who snapped off our final action photos. Our official place was 13th with an official time of 18:48:27 - not a pr - off by 3 minutes 26 seconds - 3rd place age group. To celebrate back at the main tent I had a full body massage (thanks Beth), lots of water and 2 beers (thanks Peter), and a talk with Paul Schoenlaub of Missouri whom I'd met at the starting line some 19 hours earlier. I shivered as Michelle helped me into dry clothes. Then "Team Thominator" headed back to the hotel.
On Sunday at 10:00 a.m., 30 hours after the start, the course closed and the race was officially over. Tom List of Vermont finished with a time of 29:59:27 thus winning the award for the runner, "who enjoyed the Vermont scenery the most". Leigh Schmitt of Massachusetts was first overall in 14:53 and Sue Johnston of Vermont led the women in 17:49 finishing 8th overall. All runners were recognized and collected their awards at the post race barbeque on Sunday noon. Afterwards I talked with director Jim Hutchinson and told him how I missed my pr by 3½ minutes. His response, "You'll have to come back next year to get it!"
Ahh, Vermont. It couldn't be more fun if it were a 100-mile water slide! Thanks to Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports for making it all happen, all runners and horse riders, sponsors, crew, pacers and especially volunteers. My extreme appreciation to Michelle & Peter of "Team Thominator" who know how to guide a guy through the best running day of his year, every year!