January 19th, 2019
2002 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run
Saturday July 20th, 2002
UltraTails - 2002 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run
Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run – Saturday, July 20, 2002 – South Woodstock, Vermont
Ahh, Vermont. The Green Mountain State renown for its maple syrup, ice cream, winter sports -and- for ultra runners, 100 Mile Endurance Race run annually in July. Every year some 300 eager participants register, qualified by having completed a 50-mile race in less than 12 hours. Running the Vermont 100 earns you a commemorative plaque provided you finish under 30 hours -or- a silver belt buckle if you come in under 24 hours. The bruised and broken toenails, blisters, scrapes, abrasions, stiff and sore muscles throughout your body are not listed as official awards but you're sure to earn those as well.
Organized 100-mile footraces encourage participants to bring crews and pacers. This being my third running at this distance was Michelle and Peter's third time crewing me. They accompanied me to Western States in 2000, and Vermont last year. This year we knew the drill and the course. An extra bonus was adding long time Riis Park Strider (and webmaster), Mark Blaszczyk to "Team Thominator" (team named coined by veteran crew/pacer, Peter Block). The four of us met at Manchester, NH airport on Friday morning, race eve and drove the 120 scenic miles to race headquarters - Smoke Rise Farm, South Woodstock, VT.
Upon arrival we laced up our shoes and went for a brief team trail run. Then back to the farm for check-in, which consists of racer weigh-in, blood pressure and collecting our race packet. After a casual, mandatory race meeting dinner was served to the masses inside the barn... yummy pastas, salads, breads and carbohydrate-rich beer. During the gorging Mark purchased $5 worth of tickets for the raffle held after the race. Dessert consisted of Ben and Jerry's ice cream bars -and- one more beer.
I woke up without the assistance of an alarm at 2:22 a.m. after exactly 3 hours of sleep. For me, sleeping the night before a 100 miler is tougher than running the race. An hour later Michelle, Mark and I arrived back at Smoke Rise Farm. As fireworks erased the star-lit skies I checked-in at the barn, filled my water bottle, grabbed a bagel and walked with Michelle and Mark - past Steve Rojek (the farm's owner, horseman & keyboardist) playing variations of Chariots of Fire - down to the starting line. Michelle and Mark were clicking off pictures as the footrace started at 4 a.m. Collective cheers sent the runners into the night guided by hand-held flashlights and headlamps.
A mere 200 yards into the race my best ultra-friend, Michael Davenport pulled alongside me and we discussed the possibilities of the day. We run pretty much the same Midwest ultra circuit throughout the spring and summer. He also competed in my two other 100 milers. Somewhere on a pre-dawn uphill section he disappeared into the shadows as I opted for a more pedestrian, conservative pace. 45 minutes later, around 5:15 a.m. darkness surrendered to dawn and I dialed my headlamp off.
Near eight miles a race director instructed us to use the porta-potty provided and, "please don't use the side of the road for the next mile." There was one person in line. I decided that was too much time to wait so I'd just hold off. Funny how this zone, which I remembered from last year, comes just as the need does. I picked up the pace slightly for a couple of miles before taking care of that problem.
At 12 miles we cross the Ottauquechee River using the Taftsville covered bridge. It's a popular spot for fans to cheer on runners. One cheering comedian sarcastically informed me that I wouldn't need my headlamp for many hours. I thanked and told him that my crew would collect it at mile 18. I got to the handler access mile 18-aid station a bit early, though, beating my crew. Along a road section, a half-mile later I watched a car pull a U-Turn and double back to me. The passenger offered to relieve me of the excess weight bouncing on my head. Handing her my headlamp I gave her my name and race number. The driver leaned over and said, "oh, we know who you are." They drove down the road as I advanced into the forest wondering if I'd ever see that lamp again.
The next handler access aid station is 27.7 miles. Michelle and Mark got a temporary scare there as another team handler was desperately seeking the crew for runner # 263. Anticipating something terrible Michelle identified herself. Veteran Vermont 100 competitor, Zachary Grossman handed her the headlamp. We met Zach during the late miles of last years race. Calmed, Michelle remembered and thanked him for the service. This year he was crewing for Zeke Zucker, the runner who paced him the year before. Minutes later I arrived and got a good laugh as Michelle relayed this story to me. Mark snapped off more pictures as I weighed in and grabbed as much as one hand could hold. I remembered the next uphill was huge so I hiked it while enjoying two quarters of turkey sandwich and two boiled, salted potatoes. It was nearing 9:00 a.m.
Not far up the trail I caught up with John Caserta of Michigan. This was his ninth running of Vermont. Last year he and I along with six others ran off course for about 1.5 miles. We promised each other to be extra careful this year approaching that point of the run. At the 44.2-mile aid station I got to run in with Kris Setnes and Sebastian (her trail hound). It was thrilling for me to see Kris and Kevin at Vermont, a race they've both won before, even though they weren't racing this year. I weighed in only two pounds light but in good spirits with a surplus of energy. A quick visit with the crew and knowing that I'd see them in only ten miles sent me skipping off.
Well, there it was. The wrong turn that a bunch of us made last year. I made it again this year but recognized my mistake after only 3 steps, not 8 minutes! The course is well marked, no less than 3 yellow plastic plates with large black arrows point right but I was looking down and went wrong. A runner close behind was about to follow but upon seeing how untrampled the trail became I called back down asking him to check the plates. We got back on track and this crisis was averted.
In the forest at 51 miles I caught Michael who was suffering a bad spell. We traveled together for a bit and I tried to boost his confidence. He finally shoed me off stating this would be his last 100 miler. That troubled me but I figured his first class wife, Kris and crew would rally him at the next station.
At 54.9 miles Michelle provided Vaseline for the hot spots on my feet and a change of socks. Mark took more photos and Peter designated himself my "personal growth coach" spewing pearls of uplifting wisdom. Michelle stuck 3 slices of cheese and 2 salted potatoes in my hand and pointed up the road. The next 3.2 miles were uphill and I intended to run so I ate quickly while maintaining a pace that was just under my stomach-gag-reflex firing. It took 45 minutes to cover that stretch but looking back down the hill I saw no one keeping up with me.
At 60 miles we had more runner/crew photo ops. A great station! Jimmy Buffet theme with extremely friendly hosts, who'd love for you to stop long enough for a margarita. I was a bit closer -but- for the second straight year declined the margarita. As my personal growth coach might say, "don't let a race get in the way of a good cocktail." I can subscribe to that, but then the reverse must be true, too.
For me the race begins at 68.2 miles. It's there that you can pick up a pacer. I had three awesome pacers; each so eager that they had to draw straws to determine which section they would get to run. New bride, Michelle was up first so off we went at quarter-to-five in the comfortable Vermont afternoon. Beautiful bluish-green landscapes unfolded with emerald green farms and hills rolling out forever. We cheered at and were cheered right back by the horse riders who were racing the same 100 mile course but had mandatory rest breaks where we would leapfrog past. Michelle maintained an aggressive pace and moved us through her 15.2-mile section in 2 hours 52 minutes. We emerged from thick forest trail to the 83.4-mile aid station greeted by Mark and Peter, who waited on deck.
A quick tip of the scale showed I was maintaining my weight at only 2 pounds down. I grabbed two slices of pizza (yes pizza, which never tasted better!), a full water bottle and flashlight that Michelle insisted I carry just in case.
Poor Peter. At Western States he paced me 18 dusty, quad burning, night miles including a river fording. Last year it was 15 miles through Vermont forest and hills. This year his pacer duties were limited to a 6.6 mile sprint, much of that being dirt road. The highlight came at 87 miles where we pushed up a mile and a half incline named "Blood Hill". Peter brought us through his stretch 3 minutes, 40 seconds faster than I ran it alone last year; so fast that I never used the flashlight. At the ninety-mile aid station a time-calculating Michelle and pacer in waiting Mark welcomed us. It was just past 8:45 p.m.
Dusk was settling in on Vermont. We took some hurried photos, I topped off my water, Michelle casually mentioned that a two-hour effort over the last 10 miles would surely break 19 hours for the race, "but don't pressure yourself." That sent us off; the veteran ultra runner and rookie pacer. Half mile into it I requested Mark run up ahead instead of by my side. Unexplainably I felt crowded. Happily he obliged and made an ideal target to chase. We switched on our lights. With a near full moon we raced glow stick -to- glow stick, over and down the hills as they came to the final fabulous aid station at 96.1 miles. There we didn't stop or even break stride. Mark ran by yelling to those recording, "Number 263, 263." I followed screaming, "Vermont Rocks!" Some volunteers recognized us and responded "Go Chicago!"
The final 3.9 miles become rugged and hilly single-track trail. It makes for difficult running at night. Though he tumbled down once Mark kept pushing the pace, pulling me along. Sometimes he got so far ahead that he and his headlamp disappeared. A group of horse riders passed and warned us that a runner was coming up quick. In two years at Vermont I'd never been beaten over the last 50 miles. I took a quick look behind and sure enough, saw him coming, fast! Mark went faster, I went faster. I yelled, "go faster!" I was right on his heels. We were wildly rollercoastering downhill as the final runway lights came into view. Mark nearly wiped out where the trail ends on a downhill speed bump while making a 90-degree left turn onto farm path. It felt like a 5-K race kick as we finished in single file, all within the same second; Mark, me, the fast guy chasing us.
The "fast guy chasing us" was speedy, young Christopher Martin from New Hampshire. In the results his time is listed 15 seconds slower than mine. That doesn't seem accurate. Michelle said she noticed him tracking us way back at mile 82 while she was performing pacer duties. My time was 18 hours, 45 minutes, which is 23 minutes faster than last year. My finishing place was 16th, which is 3 spots worse than last year. There were many amazing performances at this year's race. Hans Put won in 14:19, getting to some aid stations before the proper personnel were there to assist. Ellen McCurtin dropped more than an hour & fifteen minutes off her time repeating as top female finisher in 17:51. Ultra-friend Michael pulled it together and got his best ever time of 19 hours, 46 minutes.
The course officially closes at 10 a.m. on Sunday and some runners "enjoyed the Vermont scenery" for nearly the full 30 hours. That's ultra stick-to-itiveness. An hour later barbecued chicken brunch is served in the barn as finishers are announced and hobble forward to collect their awards. Of the six raffle tickets that Mark purchased at pre-race dinner, two were called as winners. He shouldn't complain of blisters on his feet for some time.
Thanks to Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports, the organization and beneficiary that makes this all happen, the volunteers, support crew, sponsors and fellow runners.
Ahh, Vermont, you truly rock. Special thanks to Michelle, Peter and Mark of "Team Thominator", and yes, "We'll be back."
...copyright 2002, Bill Thom
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