Back in 2006 I ran a bunch of marathons and one ultra, the
Vermont 50 Mile Endurance Run. The experience completely
changed my perception of what I was capable of. Sure, I
finished at the back of the pack, and sure, a lot of my
friends run much tougher, longer races, but I was proud of
the accomplishment none the less. A few months before I ran
this race I was smoking a pack a day and selling fish in a
crappy South Carolina town. You never know how close you are
to the adventure of a lifetime!
2006 VT 50 Race Report:
It's 4:00am. I'm warm inside my sleeping bag but I can tell
the air outside is freezing. I hear my friend Jamie's cell
phone alarm ring from his tent. It plays The Ride of the
Valkyries by Wagner. I jump out of my tent just as I hear
Jamie yell "Let's get it on!" from his. While the rest of
the campers are snug in their RV's resting up for a big day
of whatever it is people do at roadside campgrounds, we're
preparing for the longest run of our lives… so far.
As we drive to the base of Ascutney Mountain all I can think
to say, over and over, is "Dude, were going to run 50 miles
today." To which Jamie replies "I know. We're crazy." I'm
not sure if it's nerves or lack of sleep that keep my
conversation so restricted. Maybe my brain is too busy
wrestling with the idea of what I'm about to do - second
guessing its own sanity - to be bothered with formulating
Upon arrival we go through the standard race check in
procedures: pin on your number, stand in line for the
port-a-pottie, drink coffee, eat a bagel, get back in line
for the port-a-pottie, wonder what you got yourself into,
get back in line for the port-a-pottie etc. This is the
first time I've prepared for a race while it was still dark.
Something about it definitely adds to the excitement of the
whole thing. It also adds to the intimidation factor.
Everyone around me seems a little more hardcore in the
darkness. I can't help but feel like I'm way out of my
Eventually the sun peaks over the horizon and the runners
take to the starting line. I find my place in the middle of
the pack and the spectators (all eight of them) find theirs
on a grassy slope nearby. I survey the misfit pack of
ex-druggies, exercise addicts, crazy musicians, Thelma and
Louises, and shirtless, bearded, over sixties. Not exactly
the same crowd you see at your local 5k fun run.
We're off. Oh s*@t. What am I getting myself into?
A few minutes after the start, a long haired intense looking
runner pulls up alongside me.
"Are you Chris?" He asks.
"Yeah." I say, more than a little startled. Until now I was
an anonymous beginner in a crowd of seasoned ultra runners.
How the hell does this guy know me?
"You must be Jamie." My new buddy says to Jamie, who is
running beside me.
Holy crap? How did he know that?
"I'm John Holt." The up 'til now stranger informs us.
Ahh, myspace. It's a whole new world now. This was John Holt
of John Holt & Generous Thief fame. We're myspace buddies.
Catching up with John is nice, but also a little scary. He
is much more established in the sport of ultra running than
me, so I have no business keeping pace with him. I know if I
try to keep up I'll never make the distance. It gets even
scarier about three miles into the run when John informs us
we are running at "suicide pace". Yikes. Still, I'm having
too much fun chatting with the myspace crew to drop back
I lose track of John and Jamie shortly after the four mile
aid station. By now I've come to my senses and decide to run
my own race. I'll see them at the finish line... if I make
Miles five through ten are pretty uneventful. Walk the steep
up hills, run everything else. Somewhere around mile ten I
start getting tired. More tired than I've ever been at the
ten mile mark of a standard marathon. This is very unnerving
considering the distance I still have ahead. At the mile 12
aid station I'm still feeling bad. This is where the battle
between mind and body begin. A battle that's probably going
to last all day.
This is also the beginning of the longest stretch between
aid stations. From miles 12 to 20 there is no support. I ran
a marathon in New York last month that was on a nice, level,
paved trail around a lake with water and food stations every
mile. Now I'm running alone in the woods on muddy single
track with 8 miles to go before my next opportunity to fill
my water bottles, and 38 miles to go before the finish line.
The furthest I've ever run in my life is 26.2 miles. My legs
are already killing me. What the hell have I gotten myself
For several miles I try to convince myself I'm not going to
call it a day at the next aid station. I'm having all I can
do to keep the negative thoughts at bay.
I'm tired and sore and nowhere near the halfway point.
I'm not a real athlete.
I'll never make it.
Luckily for me, during the arduous trek from 12 to 20 I meet
up with Anthony and Ira, my new best friends for the day.
I'm still feeling miserable, but I don't want to show it.
Before long Ira's the one feeling crappy and I switch to the
role of motivator. This takes my mind off of my own
suffering and helps pull me through to the 20 mile aid
station. For the next few miles we take turns convincing
each other we're almost there, until eventually we're
telling the truth.
One really cool thing about this race; the aid stations
sneak up on you. There are no mile markers or obvious
landmarks to tell you where you are on the course. You just
keep running, hoping you're close to the next turkey
sandwich and warm cup of Coca Cola until all of a sudden,
there it is around the corner.
During one seemingly endless climb on a section of single
track Anthony asks if either of us smell smoke. I'm thinking
for sure Anthony is experiencing olfactory hallucinations,
and even make a few jokes about it. A minute later I can
smell the smoke too... and is that Jimmy Buffets voice I
hear? Great, not even 20 miles in and we're wigging out. Not
Turns out we haven't lost our marbles yet. The smoke and
music are coming from the 20 mile aid station up ahead. We
made it! Not only does this station have some of the best
food on the course, it's staffed by the local chapter of the
Jimmy Buffet Fan Club. Parrothead or not, Cheeseburger In
Paradise sounds mighty good after three and a half hours of
listening to your feet slap the ground.
After scarfing a couple PBJ's, filling up the water bottles
and downing some Tylenol we bid adieu to our Hawaiian shirt
clad hosts and head out.
30 miles to go.
Within minutes something very strange starts to happen. My
legs start feeling good. Real good. I don't know if it's the
Tylenol or the PBJ, but I'll take it! The next 6 miles fly
by and before we know it we're at the marathon mark. I am
now moving into uncharted territory. I can't believe how
good I'm feeling. I feel like the first 26 miles were just a
warm up and now I'm ready to start running. Miles 26 through
33 cruise by like Christmas morning when you're seven.
Anthony, Ira and I pass the time laughing, talking about
religion, politics, hot chicks and everything in between. We
might as well be out for a morning jog before work. Aside
from some disgusting skunk water at one of the aid stations
(try running 3 miles with nothing but putrid, rotten egg
tasting water to drink) and a downpour at around the 30 mile
mark, this section of the course is a breeze.
There's a strange phenomenon in running that probably has a
name, although I have no idea what it is. Your brain seems
to plan accordingly for the distance you are going to run.
If you set out to do 10 miles, 10 miles is all you will be
able to do, even if you've run 20 many times before. Running
another 10 after would seem unbearable. If you set out to
run 26, you'll be exhausted by the end and another 26 would
When we hit the 33 mile mark, Anthony points out that we
only have 17 miles to go. On any other of the 10,000 or so
days since I've been on the planet, that would have sounded
like a death sentence. 17 more miles? You've got to be
kidding me! For some reason, today is different. As far as
I'm concerned the race is in the bag. 17 more miles? Shoot,
we might as well be done already. I can't help myself. I
pick up the pace and take off ahead of my new buddies.
For about 4 miles I feel invincible. I smile a goofy
endorphin induced smile and let my legs carry me
effortlessly through the woods for the next 40 minutes. And
then everything changes. I hit another wall. And this time I
don't break through it. From mile 37 on the race turns into
a death march. I struggle constantly to keep putting one
foot in front of the other. Every patch of moss on the
ground looks like a great place to take a nap. I worry
ceaselessly about making the cut off times at each aid
station. I fight the idea that quitting now would be ok.
I've already run further than I ever dreamt possible; that's
enough of an accomplishment isn't it? I can quit now and not
feel like a loser, right?
After loading up on Mountain Dew, pretzels and GU at the
mile 42 aid station I take note of the mileage to the next
stop. 5.57 miles. Two hours ago 5.57 miles sounded like a
cakewalk, now it seems like an impossible distance. How can
I possibly keep tricking my legs to carry me for another
5.57 miles? I'm not sure what's keeping me from giving up
right now. I could throw the towel in, have a bowl of soup
and catch a ride to the finish line for a beer. Instead I
convince myself to take one step down the trail, then
another, followed by another. Eventually I've taken enough
steps to carry me halfway to the next aid station. I can
stop thinking about turning back now.
I'm running in a trance now. The outside world is gone.
Nothing exists but pain, my feet and the ground. I trudge
along in this state for what seems at once like seconds and
an eternity. My sense of time has long ago abandoned me. I'm
still worried about making the cutoff, but I have no way to
tell if I'm on track. Take another step, and another, and
My concentration is broken by a distant voice. Is someone
yelling at me to turn around? I look up from the ground and
realize that in my daze, I have run several hundred yards
off course. I turn around, manage a wave in the direction of
the farmhouse where I assume the voice came from, and head
back to my missed turn, cursing the uphill that just moments
ago, heading down, was a welcome respite.
I arrive at the final aid station and find Anthony and Ira
waiting for me there (They had long ago caught up and then
passed me). The feeling of camaraderie that comes over me
when I see them and realize they waited to make sure I
finished the race washes away all the misery from the
previous 14 miles. We take off together and cheer each other
on, reminding each other that there's only three miles to go
and we're going to make it.
Two miles to go.
We really are going to make it.
I pull ahead of my friends somewhere during the last mile.
As much as I appreciate their company, something is telling
me I need to be alone when I finish this. I want it all for
With about a half mile to go the trail opens up and I find
myself standing two thirds of the way up Ascutney Mountain.
A beautiful sunset serves as a backdrop for the sleepy town
of Brownsville, complete with the silhouette of a church
steeple. I want to stop and soak up the scenery but think
better of it and take off down the mountain toward the long
awaited finish line. As I zig zag my way down the ski trail
I fight back the tears I can feel welling up inside me. I'm
actually doing this! I can't believe it. The finish line is
now in view. I feel the hair on my arms stand up as the
cheers of the few remaining spectators grow louder. I'm on
the home stretch. I see John Holt waving his arms and
yelling "Great race Chris!" I see Jamie clapping and
cheering wildly. I cross the line. Someone puts a finishers
medal around my neck and I start to tear up.
13 and one half minutes under my goal time.
As I hobble my way to the car I try to bask in the glow of
accomplishment but the glow isn't there. I'm happy I made it
through the race and even a little proud, but I feel more
like a spectator than an athlete, like I just managed to
hang on for twelve hours rather than competing. Maybe it's
because the crowd is gone, the post race BBQ has dwindled
down to cold couscous and soggy chicken wings, the beer tent
is packed away and the few remaining runners chatting in
groups by their cars don't look as sore as me. Maybe I'm
Maybe I'm supposed to feel this way. Maybe this is what will
keep me striving to do better. Maybe what I'm chasing is a
dangling carrot and I'm just going to have to keep chasing
it. So I'm not a world class athlete yet. I'm at least 50
miles closer, right?
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