Two days after the Vermont 50 and I’m still in a lot of pain, worse than yesterday in fact, and I occasionally find myself wondering why I did this. The decision to run the Vermont 50 was an easy one though, that Emma and I made several months ago. At the end of May we found out about the death of a friend of ours, Chris Douglass, and when we learned that he had planned to run the Vermont 50 this year we immediately agreed that we would do it for him. At the time running a 50 mile race 10 weeks after a 100 miler seemed like a completely reasonable thing to do, and it was easy to remind myself that Chris was the kind of guy who wouldn’t think twice about running major races without much time in between.
In hindsight I can say that 10 weeks is plenty of time to recover from a 100 mile race, however training for a 50 miler at the same time as recovering is a tricky balance and I don’t think I got it quite right. But I’m still relatively new to this ultra running stuff and I’m learning as I go. It doesn’t matter how much advice you get from other people about these things, the only real way to know what you’re capable of is to go and try it and hope that you’ve done enough in training to prepare you for what comes up in a race. One of the challenges of ultra running is that the difference between a training run and a race is vast, and sometimes you encounter things 6, 7 or 8 hours into a race that you never did in training and you need to be able to deal with it and keep going. I suppose that’s part of the appeal, unlike most other races where you know you can finish and the only question is how fast, in an ultra there is always going to be unknown factors and the potential for a DNF looming somewhere out there.
One aspect of this race that made it special for me and Emma is that this was the first ultra-marathon that we have been able to run together. And by run together I mean line up at the start line together. Emma has been running much longer than I have and there has never been any question in our household about who is the better runner, but I was the first to make the step up to ultra running last year. When Emma decided to try her hand at ultra running this year we picked different races because of our different work/school schedules and our training schedules never aligned. But the Vermont 50 was the first major race since the 2004 Maine Marathon where we trained together and toed the line together. The difference this time was that I thought there was a chance I might be able to keep up with Emma. We agreed to stick together for as long as we could, but I made Emma promise that if I couldn’t keep up she would go on and run her own race. I had ambitions of running under 9 hours and I thought that with Emma setting the pace I would have a pretty good shot at it, as long as I could hang on for the whole distance.
Saturday morning we packed up the GreaseCar and set off for Vermont with a full tank of veggie oil and a whole lot of energy, after a 2 week taper we were both craving a long run. The drive was uneventful despite the rain and we talked about the potential for incredibly muddy trails which we both liked the sound of. No one runs ultras because they’re easy so to have another challenge, like 50 miles of mud, thrown in just makes it more of an adventure. We stopped in Newport, New Hampshire for lunch at a nice little diner called the Country Kitchen and had some fantastic omelets and hash browns. Unfortunately we almost brought the lunch back up on our way out when we noticed photographs of George Bush in the diner.
Even more evil than previously thought: George Bush eat’s kittens! Fortunately kittens were not on the menu at the Country Kitchen.
It was a short drive the rest of the way to the Ascutney Mountain Resort where we went to pick up our race numbers, this would also serve as the start/finish area of the race the next day. We immediately bumped into race director Mike Silverman (who gets our vote for most stylish RD of the year) and had a nice chat with him. When picking up our numbers the volunteers wanted to see if our ID’s actually said Giant and Gnarls and they were disappointed to find that they didn’t. Instead of t-shirts everyone got a nice green canvas bag this year with the race logo printed on it. My first thought was “cheapbastards!” but the bags are actually very nice and quite useful. I didn’t like the idea of having to pay extra for a shirt but in the excitement of it all I ended up buying a $40 hoodie and Emma picked up 2 t-shirts.
No sign of Chuck, but after meeting up with fellow Trail Monsters Valerie and Ryan who were going to be doing the 50 mile relay with their friend Judy we left our drop bags and headed off to Killington to find out hotel. For reasons that were hard to remember we chose a hotel that was about an hour away from the race start, and just as I was about to start cursing our own stupidity we came across the most magnificent structure in all of Vermont. The Long Trail brewery! There was a brief moment of hesitation, then a hard U-turn and before you knew it we were sipping Long Trail Harvest Ale. Mmmm… Ale
Back on the road to Killington, I was expecting the Comfort Inn that we booked to be a real dump, that’s the kind of luck we have with hotels (because we pick the cheap ones) but this place turned out to be pretty nice. Our “room” was actually an efficiency about the size of our apartment, but more efficient because you don’t have to deal with annoying things like walls and doors getting in your way as you move from place to place. I remember why we picked this place, so we could cook our own all-you-can-eat pasta dinner. And take a bubble bath. We went to bed feeling really good about the race the next day.