Getting up at 4am is never a good way to start the day – even if it is to do something that you enjoy. I ate a big bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Then some toast. Then some more food. I ate while I packed up the few remaining things I needed for the race. I drove from Ludlow to the Ascutney resort in the dark. Along the way I ate a banana. I also had a PB&J sandwich. I ate several other things from my bag of food. I was determined not to bonk. It is actually somewhat difficult to keep eating when you’re no longer hungry but I did not want a repeat of my previous experiences.
I was a few minutes later than I had planned to arrive. There was a detour which, along with several damaged sections on Rt. 131, slowed me down a bit. I signed in and then hung out with Joe, Bob, Dave and Wil for a few minutes before my start. I then went to the start just in time to see the first wave of expert riders head out. I talked briefly with another rider before moving to get in place for my start. I looked around in the very limited light and didn’t see any other single-speed riders. I asked an official where they wanted the single-speed class to line up. He responded with “They’re already off.” Great. I guess they must have mentioned the start time change in the mandatory racers’ meeting that I missed.
With that, I had my own little start and took off to catch up with the rest of my class. I was basically alone riding down the access road and onto Rt. 44. There was just enough light to see where the edges of the road were. I turned onto the first dirt road and caught up with a couple of other late or very slow riders. In previous years we followed this long gradual descent for a couple of miles. Since some of the bridges were washed out from the flooding the course was altered to turn up a long steep climb. It was the never ending climb. I managed to catch up and pass the majority of the single-speed riders on this climb and started catching some of the expert riders before we went into the woods for the first real trail section. Speaking of that first trail section, I always loathe it because much of it is too steep to ride and I end up blowing up while walking/running. I’m a horrible runner. My calves were screaming when I was finally able to get back on the bike.
I managed to slowly pick off some more riders and eventually caught up with Emile Smith. He was riding the same Trek/Fisher Rig bike that I have. I’m not sure how I recognized him at first but I was pretty sure I knew who it was. We discussed our bikes when the terrain permitted. I have raced against him a few different times in the past and we finished pretty close to each other. Together we kept a good pace for a couple of miles before I pulled away from him for good.
Several miles later I caught up with David Skrocki. We talked and rode together for a few miles. His pace was nearly perfect for me and I was able to catch my breath a bit when the climbs weren’t too steep. Eventually, I moved on picking up a few riders here and there.
Some time before Garvin Hill as I was climbing up a dirt road, I started counting the tire tracks in an attempt to figure out how far back from the lead I was. As near as I could figure from this, I was somewhere around tenth or twelfth place overall. I was also starting to get some hints of muscle cramps in my calves but nothing that would be a problem. I attributed this to the soreness from the long hike up the first trail several miles back.
I ran out of water around mile 26. I knew that I had a large bottle in my drop bag at the feed station at mile 31 which I intended to use to refill my camelback. I figured I could hold on for about 4 more miles. It wasn’t too long before I realized that the cramping in my calves was not due to the climb but the first symptoms of dehydration. I was getting “twinges” in my quads and hamstrings if I attempted to dig deep on the steep climbs. I figure that I wasn’t aware of how much fluid I needed since it was relatively cool in the early morning and I wasn’t sweating profusely (like I normally would in a race). I loaded up with as much fluid as I could at the next aid station which meant that I only needed to limit my damage for another three miles. It was a long three miles but I made it without losing any places.
The latter part of the race I rode almost entirely alone. I had a handful of riders pass me but I held on pretty well. I had to drink frequently and I loaded up on fluids whenever I hit an aid station. One of the frustrating things about the Vermont 50 is that they put the best single-track at the end of the race. This stuff would be just plain fun to ride if I weren’t quite so exhausted. Still, I kept up a respectable pace and only yielded to a few riders.
At the end of the race you drop out on to the main road and then climb up to the last aid station before the finish. I drank a LOT of fluids. From there the trail winds its way up through a hay field. Soft, wet, grassy ground which just sucks every bit of energy out of each pedal stroke. It is quite possibly the most demoralizing portion of the race. For the last couple of miles I was no longer interested in going faster to improve my results but more out of a desperate desire to end the suffering. Once out of the field it is a long single-track climb part way up the east side of Ascutney. Thankfully, once the climb is complete, it is a rolling gradual descent to the finish area. This part is a ton of fun to ride – especially when paired with the mental relief of knowing that the finish is within a mile. I just let the bike go and flew in towards the finish.
Finally! After three previous attempts, I finally had a decent race at the Vermont 50. No flats. No mechanical problems. I didn’t bonk. While I probably could have raced a bit better with some better hydration, I really felt like I ran a good race. I came in at 5:17 from the start. I was hoping to finish under 5 hours but the course was a bit slower this year due to the mud. I finished in 5th place for the single-speed category (out of 43) and 25th overall. Nothing to complain about when there are 800 riders to compete against. The official results haven’t been posted yet. They were having some serious problems with registering the bikers this year and the standings were very messed up as a result. Since my wife was working as a volunteer at the finish line, I am quite confident of the time and place she told me. With only a couple of dozen people finishing before me, it’ll be hard to mess that up.
Immediately after finishing a race, the idea of doing it again is completely undesirable. In fact, I didn’t even want to get on my bike at all. I figure another couple of days and I’ll be thinking that the 2012 VT50 will be a good idea. They really put on a good event. There was plenty of food, hoses to clean up with and a (mostly) warm shower at the finish. The burritos were great! This year was particularly nice as it was relatively warm at the start (50F) and almost hot in the afternoon with the temperatures getting up around 80. Hopefully next year it will be warm again and I can improve my results a little by drinking more.