2011 Vermont 50 Mile Ride or Ultra Run

This past weekend, we were back in Brownsville, Vermont for our annual pilgrimage to the Vermont 50 Mile Ride or Ultra Run. VT50 weekend is always a special one for us. I treat it like an anniversary because that is where Debbie and I met in 1999. We first saw each other in the parking lot at the Ascutney Mountain base lodge the night before the race. Friends and teammates, A. Zane Wenzel and Randall Dutton were with me for that first VT50, and they were with us again this weekend, 12 years later.

As for the race report, the simple story is: “it hurt.”

This is definitely one of my favorite events, but like most of my top races, I have a love/hate relationship with it. The course is ever-changing, but I still know it well. I know how bad I’m going to suffer if I’m not on my “A” game. After Hurricane Irene, it was questionable if the race was even going to occur. Vermont suffered so much flood damage during the storm that it took a huge effort from the already committed corps of volunteers to pull the 2011 race off. On behalf of all of the athletes, we applaud the volunteers. It must have been a real challenge to make it happen because it seemed that the race was plagued with issues, particularly around registration and timing. That can be overlooked because a real issue would have been if the race was cancelled.

Because of the flood damage, closed trails, and closed roads, the course was rerouted, which made it even more challenging. There was more than 7,000 feet of elevation gain and loss and there was a devastatingly hard new section of singletrack between miles 38 and 46. At that point in the race, I was moving at a snail’s pace, and it was pure pain. My own issues started around 5:50 A.M. in the dark parking lot. I pulled my bike off of the roof of Randall’s car and put on my front wheel. I released some pressure from my tire and went to pump it up to my desired PSI. I was holding my flashlight in my mouth so that I could see the gauge when my light reflected off something in the wet grass. I picked up a disc brake pad…my disc brake pad.

It fell out of my calipers. Not good. The spring clip that holds it in place had broken. So, 15 minutes before the start, I was in a bind. I chose the least stressful, but most difficult option, I removed the wheel again, shoved the pad into the pocket, and put the wheel back on so that it would stay in place. Of course, this meant that I was doomed to ride 50 miles with my brake pad rubbing. The result was that I could spin my wheel twice around before it stopped. The extra resistance can’t be exclusively blamed for my horribly slow race, but truthfully, I’ll never know. You just can’t determine how a mechanical issue like that effects your riding. Did it make my race that much harder? Did it wear me out? I decided that I wasn’t going to be annoyed by the constant sound (nearly six hours worth) of my pad rubbing the disc. The omnipresent sound was evidence that something was amiss, but I shut it out of my mind. There was no way for me to fix it under those circumstances, so I just sucked it up.

My legs just haven’t recovered from the beating they took on our White Mountain Hut Traverse. I was pedaling squares. I still had fun, loads of fun, but at times, that fun was experienced through clenched teeth. This was my first and last mountain bike race of the year. My preparation was sketchy. I didn’t just feel the pain in my legs, but I felt it in my arms. My triceps were mush. My lower back was tight. My body took a beating, and several hard crashes made matters even worse. The mud was wicked and the roots were very slippery. When you have ridden the VT50 11 times (I’ve also run it once), you know when you are having a good day and when you are having a bad day. In recent years, I’ve had more bad days than good. I didn’t do the race in 2010 because I was preparing for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. I watched our kids and crewed for Debbie. This year, she opted not to run because she has a big race in two weeks. The worst crash happened after I finished! Timing issues resulted in a huge line of riders stacked up in the finishing chute, which is at the bottom of a long and steep downhill. There were 20 riders and bikes in the way. I crossed the line and went from 25 mph to 0 mph in a split second, but a moment later as I was dismounting my bike, I was rear-ended by an over-zealous rider who couldn’t stop in time. I instantly cramped and collapsed on the ground. It was darkly comical. What is the point of all of those hay bales if you are going to ram into another mountain biker first?!

Debbie and I don’t mind alternating with races, but maybe we will both return in 2012. Maybe I’ll actually focus on the race. Originally, I was planning to do it on a rigid singlespeed, but the problem is I don’t have a bike like that. Now I’m having second thoughts. It was hard enough with a granny gear. I’ve got some time to think about it.

When you see the devastation wrought by Irene, you think to yourself that we are fortunate to go out and play in the woods like we do. Everyone in New England was disrupted by Irene, but Vermonters were hit the hardest. I’m so glad that we had the race. The results got botched, so it will be some time before they are right. I have high expectations for expensive races, especially mature ones, but I’ll save any serious criticism for another day. Even still, I’ve got May 25, 2012 when registration opens again.

This is the only race where we get to see both our trail running friends and our cycling friends. That is part of the magic. I want to mention that this was the second year that our five-year old son ran in the Saturday kids race and it was our two-year old daughter’s first time. She “ran” the half mile and he did the mile. They started in a massive downpour, which made it even more interesting. I saw a lot of smiling kids and parents. I hope they continue the tradition with this kids event.

As for my race, it was contrasted with A. Zane’s. He absolutely smoked the course in a stellar 5:05. It was great to see him ride so strong. As for Randall, he crossed the line with a huge grin/grimace on his face. Congratulations to Mark Hixson and Art Roti who once again did Team Horst Sports proud with a win in the tandem division. A. Zane and I have joked about taking them head on in the category that they have owned in recent years. The trouble is that I’m not sure if we could deal with each other for that length of time. What a day to ride a tandem! Those guys are nuts. Debbie is thinking about next year. She was a real sport to deal with our kids on a hectic day. I will have to deal with my muddy bike, but I’ve got 364 days to worry about that.

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