My Vermont 50 Love/Hate Relationship

I have a love/hate relationship with the VT50.  Scott and I have been coming back for 15 consecutive years to run, ride or cheer others on.  We even brought our daughter in 2009 when she was one week old to be part of the festivities. The VT 50 miler was my first ultra in 1999. The VT 50k in 2004 was the first ultra that I ever won outright.

There was even one year where I thought I won the VT 50 miler coming in under 8 hours with my best time ever on the course only to find out that a new (to me) runner had beaten me by 30 minutes.  I couldn’t believe it was true but after some research I learned more about Aliza Lapierre and over the years she has proven to be a top-notch runner besting her CR this year by over 20 minutes!  Needless to say I never got to win the VT 50 miler and at this point never will but I still fantasize about it!  I have had really tough races here over the past couple years.  My body seems to rebel on this course now.  Maybe it’s the dirt roads.  Maybe it’s because the race typically falls at the end of a long season.  Whatever it is this race still has a special place in my heart that can never be altered.  The memories are cherished along with all the friends we’ve made; Mike Silverman, Zeke Zucker and all the amazing people who make this race happen are forever a part of me.

This year’s weather was perfect!  It started out cool and foggy.  The sun remained tucked behind clouds for most of the race but the brilliant sun that finally snuck out in the afternoon was just perfect for lounging around in at the end of the race.

The day before the main events was just as great with lots of fun things going on.  Shepard competed in the kids 5k and Dahlia chose the ½ mile trail race.  They both had a wonderful time.  I ran behind Dahlia in her race and it put a smile on my face to see her running steady and determined.   Up to that point she was very shy about racing since she doesn’t like people cheering for her, but last week she announced to me that she was “okay” with it now!  It is crazy how they can just change their mind (or behaviors) on a dime!  The expo was also very nice with free ice cream and Owl bar samples, as well as a Suunto (who I had a lot of questions for) rep and other reps ready to answer questions.

Our family decided to camp out with dozens of other runner and bikers on the lawn near the end of the parking area.  We invited my brother, Tom to come with us to watch the kids while we were out gallivanting in the VT woods.  Uncle Tommy is such a treat for Shep and Dahlia.  He was a big help.  We love him very much.  I did not have to wake as early for my race since it started at 8am so I was able to help get the kids dressed and get them breakfast.  I was feeling good and ready to perform to the best of my ability so I started near the front and took off with the top woman.

I held a good pace that felt comfortable by not too hard.  The first 1/3 of the race is mostly dirt road now with lots of climbing.  My plan was to not ingest anything but water until 1.5 – 2 hours in.  I did have a good liquid breakfast of Vega One 2 hours before the start.  A few girls passed me and I counted that I was in 6th place but I felt calm and steady so it did not worry me.  I came into the third aid station (Skunk Hollow) finally deciding to take my gloves off and also thought it would be a good time to ingest some Hammer gel.  I was an hour and forty minutes in and at 12.9 miles.

Skunk Hollow is a major aid station where both 50 milers and 50k split once again.  I turned left as I was supposed to and then headed straight through the horse fences while I was focused on packing my gloves away and getting some gel.  One I got my UltrAspire pack back on I started running again and headed back into the woods.  The trail went straight up and started crossing other trails without any signage.  I began to have doubts.  I could have sworn I saw to runners go this way.  I ran to the top of the hill.  I started yelling for people.  I ran all the way back down to the edge of the woods and still did not see any signs.  I decided I must be on course and ran back up going even farther.  The ground was trampled on but I could not decide whether it was sneakers or just horse prints.  I finally stopped and made the decision that I would need to go all the way back to the aid station.  I ran as fast as I could, feeling frustrated and mad.  I ran down the hill, out of the woods, in between the horse corrals and there it was; the sign to turn!  It was on a little box on the ground just after the aid station.

A lot was going through my head at that moment.  I was mad at myself for making such a dumb mistake, mad at the people all around the aid station who didn’t stop me from going straight past the turn (I remember that the course used to go that way), sad that I could not now finish with a time I know I am capable of.  With my adrenaline pumping I surged past dozens of runners.  I could not believe the number of people who had come by while I was running up and down the wrong hill.  I figured that I had lost about 20 minutes and that’s a lot in a 50k!

One good thing came out of it though.  I got to see my friend Emily Merriam out on the course.  She was one of many who had passed and when I came up from behind she was shocked.  Em tried to cheer me up a bit.  She looked great and was having a good time.  I was happy for her but my competitive urges made me want to try to catch up to where I was. I pushed on, hoping that my energy level would hold or even increase and maybe that I would come in at least somewhere near my goal time.  Every 45 minutes or so I alternated between Hammer gel and Perpetuum.

My fueling was great but I was wishing for more speed, which wasn’t coming.  I never felt like I absolutely had to walk but my running was more like a jog and I began to struggle mentally with whether it mattered to push since I lost 20 minutes or to just cruise it in.  The first place male 50 mile runner went by me in a flash.  He was unbelievable! Later, I found out he was running about a 7:30 minute mile average to finish in a new men’s course record.  Wow!  The first place 50 mile woman, Aliza Lapierre, came by me with less than 2 miles to go.  I cheered for her and she looked up with concern in her eyes and said, “Debbie, are you okay?”  “Yes”, I replied, “just a wrong turn.”  She expressed her sorry and floated down the trail to a woman’s course record!   I crossed the line around 5 and ½ hours with a smile on my face.  I had persevered after making such a bad mistake.  I was happy that I was able to get over my ego and continue on.  It was hard to be out there wondering what could have been, but it seems that all of my races this year have had that theme.  I don’t know what place woman I came in.

It doesn’t matter this time.  This day was to appreciate all that I do have; a wonderful husband, loving children, caring family, a supportive coach, incredible friends and a mind and body that can do these kinds of adventures.  Who knows if I can cover the VT 50k in 4 ½ hours again someday or the VT 50 miler under 8 hours in the future?  Maybe those fast times are long gone for me.  But maybe there are surprises up ahead.  We never know if we don’t try.  So I am going to keep on trying, because this is what I LOVE!

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