VT50 MMXIII

[Originally posted at MTBVT.com]

The Vermont 50 is one of those races I look forward to each year, whenever I am able to enter it.  Actually registering can sometimes be as challenging as completing the race itself.  On-line registration opens on May 25 in the evening and the mountain bike field often fills up in a matter of minutes.  One year it was around 12 minutes, others it has been closer to an hour.  I’ve missed the registration a couple of times in the past but managed to get in by the skin of my teeth this time around.  It’s always a gamble, too, because you have no idea what race day will be like.  Some years it can be clear and frosty, others cold and raining.  This year, things worked out extremely well and the weather turned out to be as close to perfect as anyone could imagine.

2013 was the 20th running of the Vermont 50 and would be the 5th time I’ve raced it.  It is run as a fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports – a non-profit organization that provides equipment and support to help people with disabilities participate in many different sports.

Whether biking or running (yes there are people who run the 50 miles), the Vermont 50 becomes a weekend affair.  On Saturday, we needed to get our registration packs at the Ascutney base area.  I also left off a drop bag with some stuff I might need at mile 30 of the race.  This year, they had quite a few vendors set up with tents.  They even had free ice cream.  Those extra calories would get burned off the next morning anyway.

Vendor tents on Saturday.
Vendor tents on Saturday.

My alarm went off at 4:15am.  What was I thinking?  This was way too early.  I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed and tried to overcome the mental fog.  Everything in my being wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed and sleep for a few more hours.  I am not a morning person.  After eating a bowl of oatmeal, I finished getting my gear together and loaded up the car.  It was dark out.  There’s something amusing about witnessing 1300 cars converging on the same spot in the wee hours of the morning.  My wife dropped me off and I had just enough time to sign in, get my final details organized and line up for the start.

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The singlespeed riders went off with the experts at 6am sharp.  It was amazingly dark when we hit the road.  This was not your typical pre-dawn low-light conditions but “blanket over the head” dark.  Overnight, a thick layer of fog had settled in the valleys and was blocking what little ambient light might otherwise be available from penetrating down to ground level.  It actually made me a bit nervous on the start since the pack didn’t seem to be slowing down any.  We followed a gradual descent for less than half a mile before the climbing kicked in with gusto.  At least the race organizers had put some glow sticks out along the edge of the trail on some of the non-traveled road sections.  Since I was flying with limited visibility, I shadowed one of my fellow singlespeed riders who had a headlight.  This worked well for the first few miles.

Just as we were getting enough daylight to actually see with, the course turned to the first real trail section.  This always ends up being a long hike-a-bike section and my legs were screaming.  By the top of that climb, we were mostly above the valley fog and could get down to some real riding.  For some reason I was having trouble settling into a groove.

The early part of the race generally consists of gravel roads and a lot of Vermont class-4 roads.  These are technically demanding enough that it keeps things interesting while not creating the insane traffic jams that would be inevitable if single-track were introduced this early into the race course.

My plan was to get in a reasonable position early on and hold my own for the first third of the race, saving my energy to attack later in the race.  Somewhere around 12 to 15 miles in I realized that I was having difficulty maintaining my typical race pace.  I just had no energy or drive.  I actually stopped on one of the long gravel road climbs to take a break and mentally regroup.  I seemed to be losing ground in the field but I couldn’t figure out why.  I decided to press on and work out the remainder of the race as best as I could.  I would not let myself DNF without good reason.

As I mentioned before, the weather for the race this year was exceptional.  I normally don’t look around much while I’m racing but found myself taking in the scenery this year at several points.  Foliage was near peak and the sky was a perfect blue.  With the early morning sun lighting things up, it really was spectacular.  It was the kind of scenery you see printed on postcards.  If I weren’t racing, I would have stopped to get some photos.  I was tempted on numerous occasions even though I was racing.

For me, Garvin Hill is the turning point of the race.  It is the highest point on the course and it is after this point that the course turns more technical.  Every year they place an aid station right at the top of the long climb.  I stopped at the top of this big grassy climb for a few minutes to rest and refuel.  Again, the view was amazing.  Reluctantly, I returned to the race at hand.

See all the flat sections?  Me either.  The elevation profile looks like your typical Vermont skyline.
See all the flat sections? Me either. The elevation profile looks like your typical Vermont skyline.

The middle miles of the race are always a bit unclear to me.  More single-track is introduced and we spend less time on gravel.  I was now getting into things a bit more.  I found myself catching up to riders in the tighter terrain and passing a few here and there.  I took one more final rest and refuel at one of the aid stations somewhere after mile 30.  I was hungry and ate quite a bit here.  The specifics are all a bit of a blur now.

The final leg of the race was a blast.  Much of the remaining course was single-track and I was starting to feel good.  I caught and passed many riders in the final 10-12 miles.  I don’t know if it was the food or if riding single-track is just more motivating but I was having fun.  In previous races,  I’ve pretty much hated the final climb up the mountain, but I was almost into it this time around.  That’s not to say that I was wishing for more climbing by the time I was well up the mountain.

It felt glorious as I rolled out of the woods and began my descent of the final switchbacks toward the finish.  I was able to keep the power on to the end and finished just under 5 hours.  That put me in 9th place among the singlespeed riders and 84th in the overall field.  Not my best performance by a long shot but nothing to whine about either.

Finishing up!
Finishing up!

With the good weather and dry conditions, course records were set in pretty much every category.  The winning bike rider came in at 3:55.  Three hours and fifty-five minutes to cover 50 miles of mountain biking.  I’m still having trouble getting my head around that pace.  Equally mind-boggling was the winning run time of 6:09 – ON FOOT!

Once I had recovered a little, I changed into some dry clothes to enjoy the post-race meal in the sun.  Pretty much everyone  seemed to be in good spirits as they finished this year.  A little later, my wife, myself and our daughter helped out with the finish line work of recording racers as they came in.  It was actually quite fun to take part in this way.

The final descent to the finish.
The final descent to the finish.

As always, the Vermont 50 was a well run event.  There were many, many volunteers who worked all weekend and were up well before we had to get moving on Sunday morning.  Mike Silverman, the organizer, seemed to be everywhere all the time making sure things were running according to plan.  A huge thank you goes out to him, all the volunteers and to the numerous landowners who let us invade their property for one day a year for this lunacy.  Given the scale of the event this is no small feat.  I’m hoping to be back again next year.

Photos: http://www.skipix.com/skipixv2/viewsubcategory.php?lang=en&subcategoryid=548

ARG!!

VT50I missed it.  Registration for the Vermont 50 was this Friday, and I missed it. I don’t know how quickly it filled up this year; but in past years, it has taken less than 15 minutes for all 600+ openings to be taken.  Last time this happened, I was out in my yard working on things and missed the registration.  This time, I was on the road driving and had completely forgotten about the registration date.  I remembered later that evening, but it was too late.  The registration was closed by the time I had logged in.  Actually, only the mountain bike race was full; I could still enter the 50 mile run if I wanted to.  Since I hate running, that’s not going to happen.  I guess I’ll feel better if the weather is wicked cold or rainy.  The only guaranteed up-side to this is that I won’t have to drag myself out of bed at 4:30AM on September 30.  Maybe I’ll show up just to watch and/or volunteer – but only if it is later in the morning.

VT50 results

It took several days but there are now some results posted from this weekend’s race.  They are “draft” results so they may change a bit due to the problems the race organizers had with coordinating our numbers from registration.  Apparently, there was a problem where last year’s registrations accidentally got mixed up with this year’s when they were putting the bib number packets together.  I don’t anticipate much to change that would affect my standings and the results are pretty consistent with what I expected.  Overall, I was in 26th place and 6th place in the single-speed class.

VT50 Finish line

Strangely, I’m not familiar with many of the names of the riders that came in ahead of me in the single-speed class.  A few of the single-speed riders that came in shortly behind me are guys who I have raced against in the past.  After racing for 50 miles, the fact that we are all within 5 or 10 minutes of each other is somewhat amazing.  I thought it was noteworthy that another single-speed rider who is about 10 years older than me, came in only 10 minutes behind me.  I find that encouraging since that means I could have at least another 10 years of good racing ahead of me.  Given some better training over the next year, I think I could even improve my results significantly for the 2012 VT50.

Also, Joe Brzoza came in 3rd place in the “clydesdale” sport class with a finish time of 6:26.  Bob Parker came in at 7:24 and Wil Blanchard at 9:33 – decent finishes for all.

The draft results can be viewed here.  I will update this post once the results are truly final.

The Vermont 50 – 2011 edition

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.

The rubber chicken that went along for the ride.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.

Stopping to eat at Garvin Hill
Resuming the race after stopping to refuel at the aid station on Garvin Hill. Photo by Lars Blackmore

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.

My bike - not too muddy considering the course this year.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.

Barbara helping at the finish

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.

VT50 Finish

Countdown to the Vermont 50

2007 VT50 StartThe Vermont 50 is one of those races I tend to look forward to all season long. I’ve entered this race three times in the past and every time something major goes wrong for me. The first year I was having a great race until sometime around mile 30 where all the spokes in my rear wheel decided to go loose. All of them. I dropped from 7th place to something like 33rd. The next time I bonked somewhat near the end of the race but managed to come in around 38th. The last time was a complete mud-fest (2009). In my excitement about the race I failed to eat enough food before and during the race. I bonked hard and quit about 35 miles in. Lame.

I’m hoping to correct these problems this year – especially the food issue. Bonking is never fun.

Since I work at a college, September is a busy month for me.  Consequently, I’ve not ridden as much over the past few weeks as I would like. That may be a good thing as I tend to over train if I’m not careful.

To make up for scheduling problems, I decided to do a 6am ride this week to get in a hard ride and to see how things operate for me in the morning. I got out of bed around 5am. Not as early as I will need to be for the ’50 but unpleasant enough to get the feel of things. If I could arrange the world to fit my desires, one thing I would do is start my day sometime around 10am. Anything prior to that is like wandering through a thick mental fog, so getting up for this was an incredible demonstration of will power. I ate and took the car out to Kingdom Trials. The one thing I  learned in this process is that it has become DARK at 6am. Since there was a thick fog it was even worse than usual. I tried wearing my yellow/orange tinted glasses but that proved to be completely out of the question before I even got into the woods. Even without the glasses it was difficult to see once under the tree canopy. I was using the braille method for riding single-track. The woods were wet from the previous night’s rain. This, coupled with fallen leaves, made for a wonderful experience when navigating around root strewn corners. No major crashes but I managed to break yet another spoke. I will be rebuilding the rear wheel with 14g spokes once the season is over.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad ride. I stayed on the East side of Darling Hill the entire time. It was cool enough that I wasn’t completely drenched in sweat as I normally would be after a hard ride. That will be my last real workout before I race on Sunday.

I still need to figure out what I’m bringing for food and pack to camp at the base lodge area Saturday night.  A few minor repairs to the bike (the spoke) and I should be all set.  Now if I can just kick this head cold.