2017 Vermont 50 Mile Ride or Run

What a day! Yesterday’s 25th anniversary Vermont 50 Mile Ride and Run was amazing. There were so many great storylines to this event. It’s redundant to say how much this race means to our family, but every time we do it, we meet people who don’t know our history with the race.


I met Debbie in the parking lot at Mt. Ascutney Ski area, the afternoon before the 1999 race. My friend, Arlen Zane Wenzel, was with me that day. Then, in the race, which was my first VT50 (and his third), we finished two seconds apart with me getting the advantage. He and I have traded friendly “blows” ever since, but through thick and thin, we remain loyal teammates. Debbie also finished the 1999 race, her first ultra, which set the course for what has become a long endurance sports career. Many people also don’t know that Arlen, Debbie, and I did a lot of three-person adventure racing together in the early-2000’s. The Hi-Tech/Balance Bar Adventure Race were three person teams, and I dare say, we were a pretty good trio, but I don’t think Arlen has run a step since the series ended!


Arlen  and I were standing together at the VT50 finish line again yesterday, separated in the results by 14 minutes. He got the best of me, but he also had the advantage because he had gears and suspension on his bicycle and I rode my rigid singlespeed. I’m frequently questioned about my bicycle choice and my simplest reply is that I like the extra challenge. It’s a totally different style of racing.


A few hours later, Debbie finished the mountain bike race. Yes, you read that correctly. After an absolutely incredible summer of running, she opted to ride the VT50 for the first time. This wasn’t a spontaneous decision. When she planned her 2017 race schedule, she hoped for it to unfold this way, and it did. She registered in late May, just a week or so before she got official word that she made it off the Hardrock Endurance Run waitlist. After last month’s Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run, she swapped her running shoes for mountain bike shoes, and did a bit more riding than usual. She did half of the Winding Trails Summer Tri Series races using her mountain bike, and she commutes to work once or twice a week, so riding isn’t foreign to her. She primarily uses it for cross-training.


She went into the VT50 with hopes of riding under seven hours, and she accomplished that, finishing in 6:43:53. Coach Al Lyman helped her with the training, and she got some technical skills coaching from Jimena Florit. I did a few long rides with her too. What was interesting was that she showed more emotion at the finish line than she has shown at any of her recent ultras. Last night, on the drive home from Vermont, we talked about what she was feeling. Her recent long distance runs have been so taxing, and well…so long, that she hasn’t been able to fully experience the joy of finishing. Even kissing the Hardrock was anti-climactic after 41 hours on her feet. That race was more about the journey, and less about the finish. After running more than 80 ultras since 1999, it has become somewhat routine, and sadly, in the past few years, she hasn’t experienced the same thrill that motivated her early on. Riding the VT50, after having run it a dozen or so times, was something totally new, and challenging. So, on a hot day, she did something that made her smile. She says she wants to do more mountain biking, and specifically XTERRA Off-Road Triathlon, which sounds fun to me.


She has now finished the Vermont 50 Mile Trail Run, the Vermont 50K Trail Run, and the Vermont 50 Mile MTB, for the “trifecta.” I don’t know who else has done that. Maybe someone has. She has also finished the Vermont 100 Mile Trail Run. If she ever runs, and finishes the Vermont 100 Kilometer Trail Run, then she will have covered all the distances. Of course, to really separate herself from the pack, she will have to also ride the Vermont 100…on a horse.


The VT50 has been a family affair since our son, Shepard, was born 11 years ago. Over that period of time, the race has become a lot more family friendly, with Saturday dubbed “Kids’s Day.” This year, we drove up mid-day on Saturday, stopping at the Putney Co-Op, our usual spot, for lunch. Later in the afternoon, at Mt. Ascutney, Shepard and Dahlia both the Kid’s Bike Ride (approximately 1.5 and 2.5 mile options) and the Kid’s Trail Run (approximately .5, 1.5, and 2.5 mile options). The un-timed events were about an hour apart, and attracted lots of “little ones.” The kids also had to brave the heat, though thankfully it was a tad cooler on Saturday. Debbie’s Mom, Barbara, also joined us, which has become a tradition. This year, she didn’t have to sleep in a tent. Nor did we. We were able to join our hosts, the Bettencourt Family, and a group of other teammates and friends, at a local “ski house” near the start/finish line. In addition to the Livingston’s and Bettencourt’s, the group also included Arlen, Erik Emanuele, John and Johnny Meyerle, Spike McLaughlin, and Joshuaine Toth. Other Team Horst Sports mates were at the race, but had their own accommodations.


I also had a good day on the bike. Because the VT50 is exclusively on private land, open only to racers one day/year, the course changes slightly from year to year. The distance is consistent and most of the trails are the same, and I went sub-five hours for the fourth time, in 16 tries on the bike. It’s worth noting that three of the four times (in a row) have been on my singlespeed Seven Sola SL, AND in my 40’s. The first time I went under five hours was back at that first race in 1999. Yesterday, I had a rough patch around 35 miles, and 45 and got passed by nearly 30 people over the last 15 miles.


I was on pace to have an even better day, but faded a bit in that last third of the race. That was a bit demoralizing, but my legs were heavy and as the more technical climbs and singletrack come in the final third of the race, I was forced to push my bike a lot. I run a particularly heavy gear (like a 17 tooth cog equivalent in the rear) with my belt drive set-up, and it was hurting me on the hills. By late morning, the temperature was in the low-90’s Fahrenheit. I suffered under the baking sun along with everyone else, and by early afternoon, it was even hotter.


I’ve done this race in the wet and cold. In past years, we have had frost on the ground at the start. Yesterday, I went off in the first wave at 6:00 A.M. and was wearing shorts and short sleeves, with no base layer. It was very pleasant. I used my Light and Motion Urban 800 commuter handlebar mounted light. It was dark in the woods for the first hour, and I was forced to wear my Rudy Project sunglasses (Racing Red lenses) on the tip of my nose. I peered over them to see the trail clearer. I had a close call while it was still dark. A deer darted in front of me as I was going down a steep hill. That was hardly the first time I’ve had a deer run in front of me on a ride, but it always freaks me out. A collision is a real possibility that I wish to avoid.


It turns out that I had one bad crash with an immovable object, around the 12 mile mark, not long after I saw the deer. I was descending at high-speed, and took a right hand turn too fast. My rear wheel slid out, and I slammed a tree with my head (helmet), left ear, and left jaw. I hit the tree so hard that my sunglasses flew off of my face. I was having a strong start to the race, and didn’t want to lose ground; I was stunned, but got a shot of adrenaline, gathered my sunglasses, bike, and wits, and remounted. It took 10 minutes for me to get my senses (and confidence) back, but eventually I was moving well again. The only lingering effects are a sore jaw and a tender ear.


The views from Garvin Hill and other high points were spectacular. It was a gorgeous day. The dirt roads that wind past the horse farms in South Woodstock are always my favorite part of the course. I love those roads and used them to my advantage, pushing my big gear and holding my ground. I ended up 7th singlespeed rider and 71st overall. Arlen caught me around the 30 mile mark. He started in Wave 2, five minutes back. He gave me a pat on the butt, but didn’t say anything as he rode past. I wished him luck, but there was no way for me to stick with him. I kept him in site for the next three miles or so, but eventually, I lost contact.


I was the 6th singlespeed rider going in to Johnson’s, the final aid station, but I got caught by one more rider in my category. I never drink soda, but I needed a boost, so I stopped for three cups of Coke, and he slipped past me. I was watching everyone that went by, but was a bit helpless at that point. I noticed his drivetrain (one gear) and gave chase through the baking hot fields on the lower slopes of Mt. Ascutney, but never closed the gap in the final 2.5 miles. The last descent to the finish was welcome and I flew down the hill.


More than 800 mountain bikers started, and there were 653 official finishers. 146 50 Mile runners finished and 176 50K runners finished. I don’t know how many started, but it was carnage for the runners. There were a lot of DNF’s in the heat. Debbie said that it was so much easier to ride. After all, you can coast on the downhills! We saw so many friends at the race. I can’t even name them all.


Joe Azze from Mountain Peak Fitness, was all over the course. I can’t wait to see his video footage. I said that Arlen had a great ride. He was stoked with his finish, 34th overall and his third fastest time. Following us were Anthony Eisley (great comeback), John Meyerle (fast Dad), Spike (great to see you even in a Coppi jersey), Brett Chenail (great rookie ride), Johnny Meyerle (third in his age group doing CCAP proud), and the Arthur Roti/Andrew Caputo tandem team.


Art and Andy were the only tandem this year. Art’s longtime partner, Mark Hixson, was a late scratch, and less than a week before the race, Art convinced Andy to join him as his stoker. Art captained the entire way, and they were happy to finish as strongly as they did, despite reporting about one wild crash that had bodies and bike flying. Those two just might be the most popular riders on the course. The tandem always gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so.


In the running race, we saw a lot of friends finish. Notably, Debbie’s client, Mindy Randall, who persevered in a big way. Brian Rusiecki came up short on the win, and was visibly suffering in the heat, but he still smiled for a post-race photo. It was very cool to see Larisa Dannis running strongly again. She has returned to New England (New Hampshire specifically) after three years working in San Francisco. Prior to moving, she dominated the northeast ultrarunning scene. Just before she moved, she had a breakout performance, finishing second at the 2014 Western States Endurance Run, where Debbie was on her crew and paced her in the final 30 miles. Larisa has struggled with her form in the past few years, but I know that she is back in her familiar place (the White Mountains and Green Mountains) and is getting her mojo back. I first saw her Saturday evening when I went for a spin to scout the start, and she was doing the same thing on her feet. Her Mom Sandy, spotted us at the finish, and we welcomed her to our shady spot under the Horst Engineering tent. When Larisa finished, she was overcome by the heat. It took a while to get her cooled down, but she was all smiles. Debbie and I are happy that she is getting her confidence back, pulling for her in this comeback, and hoping that she remains injury free.


Tony Bonanno, our good friend from the Shenipsit Striders had a strong finish in the 50 miler, and got an age group award. I missed his finish, but called him on Monday morning to check in, and congratulate him. Tony and I are occasional lane-mates at our local YMCA pool.


Not to be overlooked in all of the hoopla about heat and results, is the fact that since its founding, all proceeds of the VT50 have gone to Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports. V.A.S.S., founded in 1986, helps  youth and adults participate in adaptive sports programs and activities year-round, including skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking. This race (founded in 1993), and it’s sister race, the VT100 (founded in 1989), have been V.A.S.S. primary fundraisers since their inception. On Saturday afternoon at the race expo, our kids got to try out some of the adaptive mountain bikes.


They have four wheels and can be pedaled and steered with your arms, or steered with your chest. They weren’t easy to maneuver, but they gave our kids a feel for what it must be like to use one of these cool devices. Our kids are fortunate to have use of all of their limbs, but other people have to make due. Speaking of limbs, Debbie saw something amazing while she was riding. She saw a man riding the race with one leg, and no prosthesis. He had amazing balance and power. He had a helper, who was carrying foldable crutches on his back (while riding), in case his friend needed to walk for any reason. She said they were in great spirits and she was notably inspired.


The VT50 wouldn’t happen without a cadre of great volunteers. Mike Silverman has been the Race Director since 1999, so every time Debbie and I share an anniversary from our meeting date, he shares it with us. Having been around the race for so long, we have gotten to know some of the other volunteers, and even if we don’t see them for 365 days, we always recognize them at the start/finish, at the aid stations, and elsewhere on the course. It’s common for me to thank the volunteers in a race report, but this year, they deserve special attention. They needed to haul more water than ever. They had to deal with dehydrated bikers and runners. They had to sweat like we did. In past years, they have stood in the pouring rain and froze their fingers trying to stay warm. This year’s challenges were of a different sort.


It was nice to have a house and shower close to the finish line. Everyone was covered in a layer of sweaty dust. After washing up, I returned to the finish to cheer for others. It was a fitting that several of us shared mini-growlers of Face Plant Ale that I picked up at the Breakaway Brew Haus. We lingered for most of the afternoon and didn’t pack up until Debbie’s award ceremony. She scored a commemorative bottle of VT50 maple syrup for winning the Novice Masters age group. That honor was a fitting way to cap the race for us. It took a while to pack up, and the cleanup will continue throughout the week. We were home by 8:00 P.M. We have a busy work week and cyclocross season kicks in to high gear on Wednesday with the Midnight Ride of CX and continues with six races in an 18 day stretch. I have to get my legs loosened up for that.

Race Results

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