15 years have passed, but it is still fun to revisit that day in 1999 when Debbie and I first met each other in the Ascutney Mountain Resort parking lot. The 2013 Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run marks the race’s 20th anniversary and the 15th anniversary for us. We met in October 1999, were engaged in October 2000, and married in October 2001.
It has become tradition for us to ride and/or run the VT50 and we haven’t missed one. We attended our first one separately, but starting with our second and every year since, we have been together. In the past seven years, we have had one or two children in tow. Our son and daughter have both participated in the kids’ fun run. Every year, the “50” is a milestone event for our entire family. In many ways, everyone who rides, runs, or volunteers at the VT50 has become our family.
For Debbie, the 1999 race was the start of an ultrarunning career that has taken her to more than 40 ultras around the world. In 1999, it was her longest ever foot race, but is considered “short” compared with her recent spate of 100-milers. That first race together served as an acceleration point for both of us. We have taken on increasingly greater athletic challenges and have enjoyed every step of the journey. We have also met many great friends. The VT50 is one of those rare events that combine the groups. If it wasn’t for that fact that the trail running and mountain biking communities converge in Vermont for this great adventure, we may have never met.
The two of us didn’t just begin a love affair with the VT50. We began a love affair with Vermont. Every time we visit the state for a race, a hike, or just for fun; it is a reminder of that magical day in 1999. We both hail from Connecticut and consider ourselves to be “New Englanders,” but Vermont is really our home away from home.
Our story is part of the story of the VT50 and we are proud to be associated with the race. Back in 1999, my Team Horst Engineering teammate, Arlen Zane Wenzel, threw down a challenge to do the race. After years of road racing and only a little mountain biking, I wasn’t too keen on riding in the hills of Vermont for 5+ hours, but his romantic description of the adrenaline induced euphoria of the final climb over Mt. Ascutney, was too good to ignore.
We arrived at the lodge on Saturday afternoon for number pick up and to spin the legs a bit. We were meeting our other teammate, Randall Dutton, and then we were going to head over to his family cabin in Chester. Zane described the next day’s dawn start, as cold, dark, and harrowing; with a 40 mph descent on pavement into a 90 degree right hand turn onto a dirt road with massive pot holes, and 200 mountain bikers who aren’t used to riding in a pack. My roadie instincts taught me that this was a start that I wanted to inspect beforehand.
While getting dressed for our ride, Zane pointed out a small white car with Vermont plates parked next to us. It had no bike rack. He mentioned on the drive up that 150 or so “whackos” would be running the 50 miles. I had never heard of such a thing. A pint-sized woman showed up to move the car and Zane addressed her in typical Zane fashion. Being married, he never had any inhibitions about starting conversations with pretty women. It was safe for him to look and sound stupid.
His first crack was about her lack of a bike. She snapped back that she was running the race, and that she couldn’t imagine riding it. Who was this girl? Running 50 miles? I joined the conversation and we discovered that her name was Debbie and that she was originally from Connecticut. She was part of some “Grand Tree” trail running circuit that organized races throughout New England. Her muscular calves gave away her fitness and her bubbly personality was intriguing. We exchanged a few more pleasantries, and then she was gone. Zane was casting me glances like I should have made a move. When she was gone, he chastised me, and I returned fire, blaming him for “blocking.”
We were ready to ride off, but something deep down clicked. I hadn’t been on a date in some time, but something was different about this chance meeting. Racing bikes every weekend with a bunch of guys is not the best way to meet girls. Many guys have this prototypical idea of what kind of woman they would like to spend their life with. This wasn’t clairvoyance, but I sensed something, and as a bonus, she was real cute! I went back in the truck and grabbed a Horst Engineering business card. I jotted a note on the back: “Deb, If you ever want to ride or maybe run, give a call – Scott” Thankfully, I added an e-mail address. I guess that it would be safer for a girl to e-mail a stranger rather than calling.
This was a major breakthrough for me. Just the act of writing the note was enough for me to gain from the experience. I told Zane that if she called, so be it. If not, I had broken through and would try with someone else another time. Secretly though, I was hoping that I would get a response.
We saw her twice on race day; once at the pre-race meeting at the lodge, and again when she finished the race. Neither time was appropriate for an approach. Plus, I didn’t want to face her after leaving the note. I would have to sit tight. It was her move. I was stunned to hear later to how close she came to ignoring the card. She could have missed it on her windshield and it would have become litter on the road. I’ve gotten enough race flyers on my windshield to know. Her version of the story is that she saw the card, but missed note and thought it was an arrogant way to make a pass. Thankfully, she saw the note the following week when she found the card in her car. She thought it would be harmless to reach out, but she didn’t recall what I looked like.
Later that October, she did get in touch via e-mail. Our online correspondence shifted to the phone, and we had a first date at Luna Pizza in West Hartford, Connecticut. Prior to dinner, we met at the local Eastern Mountain Sports, a place we both knew. We dated throughout the fall of 1999 and things just took off from there. We attended the 2000 race as a couple and haven’t missed one since.
Every year, we go back to that spot in the dirt parking lot and share a kiss. In the last 15 years, I have only skipped one race. I watched the 2010 event because it was too close to the Ironman World Championships. Debbie missed races during her two pregnancy years, but she was always there to crew for me. She has never finished out of the top five when running the 50 Miler, and she has run the 50 Kilometer race several times, winning it outright (beat the men and women) the first year it was held.
I ran the 50 kilometer once for a change of pace, but the rest of my races were on the mountain bike. Last year was my first time on my singlespeed and I loved it. I’ve threatened to run the 50-miler, but so far, I haven’t. I’ve also threatened to ride a tandem with Zane, but we haven’t pulled it off yet. Debbie and I have had some memorable races in all sorts of weather. Most years, we return to Randall’s cabin, which we refer to as “Shack Dutton,” on race weekend, but we have also stayed on the mountain, and even camped in the parking lot.
In 2007, I snapped my chain at the 16 mile mark. I repaired it, but it broke again less than a mile later. I struggled to fix it and then gave up. I pushed my bike to the next aid station and pondered my options. I was feeling great and hated for my day to end this way. I then pushed it to another aid station before finding a volunteer to drive my bike and helmet back to the start/finish. From there, I ran the rest of the way. My mountain bike shoe cleats and studs were ground down to nubs, but I finished. I’ve had some good results over the years and that race was officially a DNF, but not in my book!
Race Director, Michael Silverman, is also celebrating his 15th anniversary in 2013. He has been very kind to us over the years. He and the volunteers do a great job with the race. When we did our first, it was a relatively small affair. Now, all of the races sell out and it’s larger and more chaotic, but we still love it.
Debbie and I agree that as long as the VT50 is on the calendar, we will be there. I try not to look too far ahead, but I’m excited about having our kids join us for the full distance when they are strong enough. Happy anniversary to the VT50!