My first ultramarathon
I had been training since May for this race and the day was finally here! My friend, Doug, who was racing too, and his girlfriend, Irene were staying with us. We woke up at 5:15am and got ready in the dark. I ate some toast with coconut oil and almond butter, tried to figure out some estimates of where I thought I’d be at the two aid stations Cody and Irene could meet us at (Greenall’s 13.4mi & Johnson’s 29.3mi). I was cranky because of nerves, and worried we were going to be late for our check in. We made it to Ascutney with plenty of time. It was now light out, but chilly, but happily there were fires in trash barrels. We were among the first to check in, so we just hung out with Rye, I ate half a bagel, and used the porta potties. The race meeting at 7:30am was somber as we honored the mother of the organizer who had died a month ago, and one of the other race organizers who died only the previous week. We got our instructions – follow the red arrows unless there are blue arrows, in which case follow those, share the course with bikers, hydrate. Good to go.
At 7:50am we made our way to the starting line. Doug took his shirt off and went way up front while I hung back and got some last Rye snuggles and well-wishes from Cody and Irene. It was a quiet start to the race and everyone started at a slow pace. It felt way different than the feeling of starting a half marathon. People didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry and many groups were having leisurely conversations. We ran down paved Hotel Road, took a sharp left onto State Rte 44, and then turned right up a gravel hill Brook Road. One of the houses had signs in the yard, the most memorable: “Want a Bloody Mary?”
It was a nice quiet sunny run up the beautiful dirt road from Brook Rd left to Pierce Hill Rd. It was the perfect temperature (for now), running past my favorite sort of Vermont-y scenes: cute brown cows in a field, even some calves, nice light filtering in through the changing leaves. Lots of runners were still together as a pack, but hardly anyone was talking now. The gravel road wound downhill on Coon Club Rd and to the first aid station (Coon Club 3.8mi). I was happy to see the porta potty – not that I needed it then, but in the future maybe. My infamously terrible stomach was ok, but annoyingly sloshing, and it did so for miles. From there we headed into the woods for our first stretch of trail turning left off Hunt Rd.
I should note that from the start, I was walking up hills I would normally have run in training because I learned a little at the Killington half marathon about doing trying to keep running up hills. If only my toe didn’t also hurt so much on the downhills. For my wedding three weeks prior, I had “gel” polish on my toes, and it led to pushing painfully back toward my toe every time I ran downhill.
There were some nice quiet stretches down gravel roads, in and out of the woods. It wasn’t too long until the next aid station (2k Ralph’s 7.1mi) where we were greeted by a man wearing a ram’s head mask cheering for us and dancing. I used the porta potty, ate a pretzel but it was way too hard to eat dry food at this point. They had so much good looking stuff though! It’s really true what they say that ultramarathons are basically eating contests with running in between. Fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, chips, M&Ms… If only any of it felt appealing to me. I pretty much just stuck with my Gu gels the whole time.
Then we were on dirt roads for a while and met up with the 50 mile course for a section. I saw at least one 50 mile runner – pretty impressive that they had made it that far already. I felt good running the gradual uphill of the roads. The next aid station (Margaritaville 11.0mi) on Reeves Rd was flocked by bikers. It was starting to get really hot so I drank a Dixie cup of Gatorade. The course turned into a field, and I chatted with a strong-looking guy who was training for a 150k! This was only a training run for him!
The course steered into trails through the woods which must have been used by ATVs since they were wide enough. The trail merged for good with the 50 mile course and I ran into some confused runners since the blue arrows went away. I told them I thought we were on the right track. I hoped so, at least! I was looking forward to seeing Cody, Rye & Irene at the next aid station (Greenall’s 13.4mi). The course turned and went through a field and I could hear the crowd at the bottom. I found my crew just past the aid station. They were surprised to see me so early – only 25 minutes behind Doug! I had only eaten one gel from my vest stash, so I only took some electrolyte tablets from Cody. My water in my vest was also lasting me so far.
From here, the course got super windy and more like traditional mountain biking trails, and we were sharing it with bikers now. It was interesting with the single track having to pass and get passed by bikes. It was starting to get super hot and my water was running out. I was seeing fewer and fewer runners – we had all spread out a good deal at this point.
Before the expected aid station (Fallon’s 19.3mi), I could hear music coming from up ahead. Apparently there is this unofficial aid station that always has beer, all tucked back in the woods around Blood Hill. The best part – they had a sprinkler running! The cold water on my face felt amazing! Unfortunately, they didn’t have drinking water (and I passed on the beer), but it wasn’t too long until the next aid station. Feeling refreshed, I went on through the winding wooded trail with the bikes.
The next aid station was a welcome stop for all as it was really busy! I filled up my front bottle/bags with ice cold water, and tried to eat a salted potato, but it was too raw so I just licked off the salt. Then it was a short while more in the woods before coming to gravel roads that seemed to go on forever.
This part is fuzzy in my memory – just lots of windy trails with mountain bikes, and some gravel shady roads. On one of the gravel road sections, my coworker Jessamyn from Ibex was at an aid station (Stone’s 23.22mi) where I filled up my water again and drank some Gatorade. I was hurting – all the heat was getting to me. But I was still excited to be out actually doing the thing.
The next stretch to the final aid station (Johnson’s 29.32mi) was brutal. Open stretches through fields and some paved roads meant heat. My water and Gu supply was running low and even though the course was downhill, it was difficult with the heat. My knee started hurting like it never had while running though it seemed ok to cautiously carry on. I was happy to finally see the lot of parked cars which I knew meant the last aid station was near, I was relieved, but not so much to run. I hobbled up to where Cody and Rye were. Irene had gone ahead to the finish line to make sure she caught Doug finishing. I must have looked miserable in that heat. Cody said he was proud of me. I gave him my Gu wrappers and took some more, though the end was near enough I didn’t use any. I got more water (too much) at the station, and ice, and had the woman put ice in my shorts back pocket too. I got hosed off. It was heavenly.
Then up the miserable ski slope up Ascutney I went, winding back and forth in the direct sunlight steadily up, walking a large portion of it I would surely have run if not for the heat, trying to run the uphill sections that mercifully took us into the woods. There were other 50k’ers grouping up, everyone just trying to give a solid last push. I was making deals with myself – just run for 0.5 miles more, then you can walk for a stretch, etc. Finally, the trail went into the shade for a longer stretch, past a beautiful section in the woods with tempting streams, pretty bridges. There were signs saying “Last Push”, “1.5 miles to go!”. I pushed on until I could hear the crowd at the finish line. The last mile was in the direct sun down a grassy and steep ski slope. My toe was really hurting and I just wanted to be done with it, but I kept on, switchback by switchback. Finally I was at the finish line. I heard Doug, Cody and Irene cheering for me, saw Cody, and I pushed oh so hot through the finish for a time of 6:24. I got sponge showered which felt like a good start but I was still so hot. I got my medal, found Cody, and then found some shade in a daze while Cody went to make me my recovery drink. No stomach issues, and eventually, I felt good enough to walk around and eat some snacks from the tent.
We waited around for the results to come in. Doug got a prize – a jug of maple syrup for a trophy. With a time of 6:26:20 (12:27/mi) I placed 56/175 overall, and 8/10 in my age group (Female 20-29). I was proud of my time as I didn’t think I would finish under 7 hours, but I felt like I could have pushed harder. I am already looking forward to my next ultra!