Anna Longdill – Vermont 100 mile run account
Race report: 21-22 July 2012
After successfully completing the North Face 100 km race in the Blue Mountains in Sydney, Australia 100 in May 2011, I decided to embark on a bigger challenge and entered the Vermont 100 mile race, Vermont held every year on beautiful dirt roads and trails around the historic town of Woodstock, Vermont, USA.
Taking on a 100 mile race requires complete commitment and consistency in a number of facets of your life: training, recovery, nutrition, logistical planning etc.
I raced some buildup races including the Molesworth 85km and the Tarawera Ultra 100km, where I got to place 4th woman.
From May to July 2012, training stepped up significantly, and I used Total Sport's T42 race as the centre of a 3 day training weekend down on the Central Plateau.
The course research hit a snag when I worked out that there were no detailed course maps available. I later learned from the organiser that the race covers about 30 pieces of private land, and part of the agreement with the land owners is that the race will not publish maps (no doubt to prevent people like me who want to go and run bits of the course). I did manage to get hold of a rudimentary map from the very obliging race director, Julia Hutchinson, and could at least see where the course went on dirt roads, so we were able to go and check out some of those areas.
The course followed a clover leaf pattern. The roads were mostly hard packed dirt or gravel with lots of shade and beautiful surroundings . They were hilly. I knew this, and had trained for hills, but the number and scale of the hills turned out to be a problem for many of my competitors. There was over 4500 m of elevation gain and loss across the course, most of it rolling hills that never ended (the last one was from 98.1 miles to 100 miles which wasn't particularly enjoyable).
Friday was registration day when I completed medical checks. The race base is at Silver Hill Meadow, which is a big meadow on a private farm, not far from our cabin. The other interesting thing about the Vermont 100 is that it also includes an endurance horse race, so it was quite a sight driving to registration seeing runners, tents, horses, horse floats, support crew etc.
Briefing was later on that day. I dropped off my drop bags which had been prepared earlier in the week with spare nutrition and clothing items to be delivered to aid stations out on the course. By this time, my older brother Simon, who lives in Detroit, had arrived. He had agreed to pace for some miles later in the race.
Race start was at 4 am on Saturday July 21. I was up at 1:30 am for pre race breakfast. I didn't think I would get any sleep at all when I went to bed around 11, but surprised myself and was out like a light until the alarm went off. Other vital pre race matters were attended to: copious amount of sunscreen and bug spray being applied (I had learned that Vermont has a particularly annoying type of fly known as the black fly which bites, and wanted to avoid those if at all possible).
Race start was uneventful and I followed my race plan in terms of nutrition, hydration, heart rate and pacing to the letter for the first 5 hours.
The first horses came past on a long descent at about 14 miles in. That was a real blast. We could hear them coming down the road behind us, and everyone had a nice chat as they went past. Ended up leap frogging a lot of the horse/rider combinations for most of the day as they were obliged to spend quite a bit of time in medical and vet checks for the horses at various points on the course.
I first saw my support crew at 30 miles: the Stage Road handler station where I refilled bottles. I was on a real high, as we had just climbed up this long hill which led to amazing 360 degree views over all of Vermont and through to New Hampshire (it is known as the Sound of Music Hill). What a blast
The next 17 miles was fun. A lot of people who had gone out too hard were feeling the effects of it, particularly as the weather got hotter and the hills got harder. I was feeling really good and still on target with heart rates, and well ahead of my expected pace. I got a real buzz running through the Lincoln Covered Bridge (Vermont is famous for its covered bridges).
At 47 miles I met my crew again: Camp Ten Bear. This is a central focal point of the race as it doubles as the aid station, handler stations and medical check points for both 47 miles and 70 miles. It is crazily busy and there is a really fun atmosphere. I jogged down the hill, spotted the medical people, quickly took off my vest and jumped on the scales for the first weight check of the race. All ok there.
Also used the opportunity to cram some solid food in (boiled potatoes and sweet potatoes were taking my fancy at this stage) and ran off. About half an hour later, I figured that I probably over did it on the food consumption as I felt a bit sick, and had to ease off the calories and stick to water until I felt right again.
It was during this next section that I had my first real down period of the race. Experienced ultra runners had told me of these races being like pendulum of emotions, with very low lows and high highs. They were right, I went through a down period and half an hour later was in a really good stretch.
Somewhere around 66 miles, I kicked a rock on the trail and very nearly fell over. I managed to save myself by a large stride on my left hand side. At the time I thought I had done well to avoid a fall. But there was more to come. A few miles later, I noticed a niggle in my left hip flexor. I ignored it at first, but it wasn't going away and wasn't getting better. So I took an anti inflammatory, which helped enormously and meant I was able to keep making good progress down the trail.
I came through ten bear again at the 70 mile mark, and weighed in again. Down 1.8 pounds, not a concern at all. I had been looking forward to this for some time as it was the point on the course where I could pick up my pacer, Simon. It would be nice to have some dedicated company. It was now just after 6 pm, I had been racing for 14 hours.
We set off from camp and conquered the difficult, long, technical hill that followed. I was very relieved to be doing that in daylight, and pleased that Simon would actually get to see a fair bit of the Vermont countryside before dark.
We got through to mile 77 in ok shape. My hip however was getting worse and worse. The medication had worn off and it was now severely painful to run and walk, particularly down hills. It was now a matter of survival.
Mile 77 to the next handler station at mile 89 were the worst, most challenging, and most painful part of the race. It was dark, the terrain was challenging, I was miserable with hip pain and I started to feel nauseous as well and was having difficulty getting food or drink down. It was now a matter of fast hiking, and making relentless forward progress, being ruthless with stops. We eventually got to the handler station at mile 89, Bills, where I knew that medical staff would be in attendance. I was getting really worried, as it was so painful, that I might be doing permanent damage so wanted some reassurance that it was ok to carry on. I didn't really get that from the doctor or indeed much assistance at all, so we pushed on. Simon decided to stick with me the whole way.
We saw Pete again at the last handler station: Pollys, which was the 96 mile mark. By this time, I was fairly confident I could get to the finish under 24, but was so over the whole thing, with my hip screaming with every step, that I just wanted it to be over. Rather than contemplate how sore I was, we charged straight through that station and continued on down the road. The wrong road. One of the course turn markings wasn't there, so we missed a turn and ended up going about 600 metres off course. Thankfully we figured it out quickly and retraced our steps. This can happen and is more likely when you are very tired.
The last aid station of the course was at 98.1 miles. The sole attendant told us that it was 1.9 miles to the finish, "up that way". He wasn't wrong. It was a constant, grinding up hill on switchback trails, sometimes rough under foot. I kept thinking I was getting close, but alas, no. Finally, after 23 hours and 18 minutes, I reached the finish line. I had achieved my goal: a sub 24 hour finish. I ended up 102nd overall, and 11th female. 30% of the 300 starters failed to finish.
Thanks to all those who supported me to get me to both the start line and the finish line: my coach (and companion on many long training runs): Russell Maylin, my family (in particular my dad who accompanied me on many long hikes in training), my employer, Meredith Connell, Simon, the incredible pacer and Pete, my husband and the best support crew any one could hope for.