When you think of picturesque Vermont, 95+ degree heat might not be the first thing to enter your mind, but the 31st annual Vermont 100 Endurance race was all about the heat! High temps, high humidity and a soaring heat index made this Vermont 100, one of the hottest years on record.
Vermont is a beautiful course with a lot of history running through it. As one of the Grand Slams of ultrarunning, it is the only foot race in the world to have horses and their riders race alongside the runners on the same course at the same time. It is also a fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, an organization empowering people with disabilities through sports. This was my second year on Team Run 2 Empower, runners who raise a specific amount of money for Vermont Adaptive. It was great catching up with my other teammates. Running the Vermont 100, you meander through old jeep roads, wind up trails that go through farmyards, and take in some of the most beautiful views around, especially when you climb up and over The Sound of Music. It truly is a community event, bringing in over 500 volunteers to take care of the 450+ runners (including the 100k event).
The hustle and bustle at base camp on Friday revolved around the weather. All conversations led to the impending heat. Race director, Amy Rusecki spoke at the runner meeting regarding it, saying “Don’t be a hero, be a finisher.” As I glanced around at all the runners, I could feel a sense of calm. We all knew we had to take care of ourselves, run smart, and watch out for our fellow friends along the way.
The 4:00 am start, was a balmy, sticky 75 degrees. In years past, folks have started in snow hats. As the countdown began, the nerves settled as I stood next to my husband, Guy. We had ran the entire Vermont 100 last year together, but knew that would be a huge feat to repeat this year. We needed to take care of ourselves and not put added pressure on staying together. The first five miles is gentle, guiding you along an open dirt road and down a trail that follows a babbling brook. Then the climbing begins. The sun was starting to come up as the first of the 100 mile horses began to catch us, signalled by the sound of their thundering hooves. The horses start an hour after the runners, and it’s always a rush to hear them coming up behind you. One of the riders that morning just happened to be my mom, marking the first time her and I had shared the 100 mile trail in Vermont.
Mile 19, I urged Guy to continue ahead without me, I knew I needed to regulate my body temperature and take it slow in places he could cruise. We kissed each other goodbye, knowing we’d be in good hands along the way. I had no time goal, my main focus was to finish. I came into Pretty House (mile 21) feeling good. Grabbed some ice and good wishes from my incredible crew, Amanda, Jim, Justin, Jase, Henry and Reeve, hugged my two sons and continued on. It was getting warmer by the minute, but ice at every manned and unmanned station was a gift, it felt like there were Ice Angels everywhere, at every corner.
My mind was focused on running towards mile 40, where for the first time in race history, we’d be crossing the Ottauquechee River. Almost every runner had the same idea of laying down in the river. It was a sense of euphoria as I took my pack off and laid completely under water. I had dreamed of this moment from the start. Telling myself this would be a brief reward for the hard work, but knowing a five-mile climb after Lincoln was awaiting. I allowed myself five minutes in the river, and then began climbing. Runners were taking naps in the shade of an old Maple tree at the next unmanned station, as I gathered more ice to stuff in my bandana and sleeves. I shared the miles with old and new friends, it’s amazing how the miles can drift by in good company.
At Camp Ten Bear (mile 48), my crew got me in and out of the aid station quickly, not before a sock/shoe change and a nice foot rub. Leaving this station brings you up and over Agony Hill. Yes, that’s the name of it. It’s an exposed dirt road that leads you to a trail of steep intense climbing. After climbing Agony, I was greeted by hundreds of unwelcome visitors, deerflys. For the next several miles, they swarmed and bit and harassed me as I navigated the trails. The trails provided shade from the sun, but had an oven-like feel. The dirt roads, allowed for more air flow, but no solace from the sun. This was the toughest section for me. My body temp was rising, as the temperatures peaked. So I slowed even more and knew at Margaritaville (mile 58) I would see my crew again. This was my low point. I laid down on a towel with my head on ice. My crew was calm, but stern, telling me I was indeed ok, and that a dry change of clothes would do me good. They are always right. It was incredible to see my sister and law Elaine and her partner Chris, they really pushed me to get up and keep moving forward.
I headed out, with my headlamp as darkness ensued, a little teary-eyed leaving my boys and crew. They had told me Guy looked fantastic and was about an hour ahead of me, I was so proud of him. I knew I had one more aid station before I would see my crew and pacer, Jim. The night was so warm and sticky, but the wind was starting to kick up. I secretly wished for a storm to roll in and cool things off. This section can be lonely, but my friend Nat was ahead and every so often would yell, “You good back there Krista?” I just love this community, always looking out for one another.
As I ran back to Camp Ten Bear 2 (mile 70) I was so relieved that over the next 30 miles, I’d have my pacer, long-time friend and 2x finisher, Jim. Leaving, you climb up over Heartbreak hill, another intense mile long climb through the woods. I knew I was going to have to push to make cut off times. Jim kept me distracted by the stories of the day, I could just cruise and listen, letting my mind wander. As we approached mile 83, Jim wasn’t feeling well and I told him I’d be ok alone until the next crew stop, Bill’s. The ironic thing is that my house sits at mile 87, so I was coming alive, although it’s never easy to pass your house 24 hours into a race. At Bill’s (mile 88) my son, Justin took over pacing duties, and would be with me for the last 12 miles.
Finishing this brutal race with my son, Justin by my side, was a beautiful moment I will never forget. He kept me focused, he did all the math for cut-off times, he made me smile. As we rounded the last corner to the finish, my eyes became wet. There were many moments throughout the day, when I didn’t know if I could make it, but with the team effort of my friends, family, random strangers and volunteers, together we did just that.
***You can read our featured VT100 race report in the September 2019 issue of Ultra Running Magazine