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#VTcheeseparty Recap

When I first suggested to Sweaty Em and Stephanie that we form a relay team for the Vermont 50, all I could think about was getting these two up to Vermont in the fall. A weekend of running, beer, cheese, and friends — what could be better?

What I failed to grasp, however, was just how grueling the actual running portion would be. I mean — people were running an entire 50 miles on this course. Surely 19 would be no big deal.

Well…spoiler alert/cliff notes version: 19 miles on trails is hard. Really hard. I realize most of you probably grasp this concept already. Trail running is much harder than road running (who knew?!). Let’s just call it a case of extreme denial.

It turns out that running for hours and hours through mud, pouring rain, and up and over so many mountains really really steep hills is just a little different than running on the roads. And in the end, all my grand plans of “adding on extra mileage” so I could get to exactly 20 miles went right out the window…at about mile 14. Seeing as it took me almost as long to complete my leg of the relay as it does to run an entire marathon, I deemed it a “time on my feet” run and called it a day the instant I handed off to Steph.

And through all this…I somehow forgot to take one picture of the entire weekend – well, besides this one lone picture of a beer.

Please don’t ask why. I was exhausted and starving at the time, which hampered my ability to think logically. Plus, I suppose I thought that the fact that this was my 3rd different type of pumpkin beer in 2 days deserved documenting…or something.

Harpoon_pumpkinHarpoon UFO Pumpkin – delicious!

Which means that the few pictures you see in this post were ones I managed to steal from Emily or Steph (thanks guys!)

Okay…now that you know the ending, let’s back up a little, shall we?

Pre-Race

The #VTcheeseparty festivities officially began Saturday morning when Steph and her husband/driver extraordinaire arrived in my tiny little town. After showing them the best this town has to offer in terms of food (i.e. taking them to our one and only sandwich shop for lunch and then over to the cheese shop for sampling/purchasing), we drove to Ascutney Mountain Resort to pick up our packets for the race and figure out how long we would actually be running.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that the relay portion of the weekend was added in as an after-thought to appeal to a slightly less hardcore crowd. After some confusion with our bibs (which were eventually found in the “cyclist” section of the packets), we tried to get a clear answer about the leg distance so that we would know what order we’d be running in. Not only were the legs listed differently on two different places on the website, but the individuals working the Information booth at registration had no idea how long the legs were actually supposed to be. It took some map checking, a little math, and (finally) a talk with the RD to figure out that Steph and I would actually be running roughly the same distance on Sunday (18.9 and 18.8 miles, respectively).

With everything worked out, we traveled back home for some race prep — carbo loading in the form of local pizza and beer, race outfit decision making, and horror movie watching. I went to bed with my alarm set for the awful hour of 4:00 am.

50 Miles of Trails – Relay Style

We arrived back at Ascutney around 5:30 am for a “mandatory” pre-race meeting that seemed less than useful. We filled up on NYC bagels and peanut butter, and got ready to send Emily off into the woods.

Vtcheeseparty bagels

Fun Fact #1: the Vermont 50 was scheduled to start at 6:25 am. Sunrise on Sunday was at 6:47. Emily (our first runner) hadn’t slept at all the night before. Perfect conditions for starting a trail run in the dark…

Fun Fact #2: Unlike other relays where you can drive along the course and cheer for your runner, a trail relay meant that once Emily started, we wouldn’t see her again until the exchange. Understandable, but still kind of a bummer.

We knew it would take about 2 hours for Emily to run her leg and only about 30 minutes to drive to the exchange, so we had a lot of waiting around to do. I drank, used the porta-potties several times, wavered over my actual race outfit (hat or no hat? These are important decisions!), and cheered on the cyclists and runners who were coming through the exchange. At this point in the race (about 12.3 miles in), everyone was still in high spirits. It was so cool to watch people come in, chat with their support crew, grab things to eat and then somewhat leisurely make their way back onto the course. Ultra running is a whole new world — and I kinda liked it!

Teamwatermelon before run

Just before Emily arrived at the aid station, the rain started to fall. I ran back to the car, put on that hat, and got ready to experience the first long trail race of my life.

Vtcheesepartystart

After starting on a tiny stretch of flat single track trail, we turned onto a dirt road and immediately started running uphill. I started off very conservatively, but since this was a long training run for me, my main goal was to run as much as possible….which I quickly realized was not the same strategy everyone else had. As soon as we started climbing that first hill, everyone around me started to walk. I don’t blame them. It was steep, they were already 12.5 miles in to what was going to be a very long day, and we were going to be gaining a lot of elevation over the next several miles. But here I was, dressed in obnoxiously bright colors, on fresh legs, powering up a hill. To say I felt a little out of place was an understatement. All the other runners around me were so nice (at least they seemed to be…who knows what they were really thinking) but I kept feeling the need to apologize. I found myself wishing that I had a huge sign on my back that said: “Don’t mind me! I’m just running the relay!!” Even our bibs were the same color as the 50 mile runners.

However – what I soon realized was that most people didn’t really care about my race strategy (or lack thereof). This wasn’t a competition in the same way that road racing is. I made jokes with other runners, started conversations when I caught people, and just started enjoying the view.

I know I babble on and on about how beautiful Vermont is, but honestly, this run was incredible. I feel like I got to see the best that VT has to offer on this course — rolling hills, quaint farm land, manicured trails, mountain views, and the vibrant colors of changing leaves. The scenery was always changing. Sometimes we’d run up a hill and I felt like I could see for miles around. Other times, I was in the middle of the forest, running on a single track trail and feeling like I was the only person on earth (which would’ve been a little creepy except for all the pink arrows pointing out the way. The Vermont 50 course was incredibly well marked). For the first two-thirds of my race, all I could think about was how lucky I was to be running.

{Side note: here is a picture of me running, just in case you need a visual. That’s me if you click “next” too!}

I didn’t look at my watch at all for the first 6ish miles. It was raining, so I kept the watch tucked under my arm sleeve and just ran by feel. I didn’t worry about trying to run fast or keep a certain pace. It was such a freeing feeling. And truth be told, I couldn’t have gone fast even if I wanted to. As you can see from the elevation chart below, the entire course was either up or down. There were no flat sections. Running up and down steep trails that got progressively muddier as the race went on in shoes that are not meant for off-road running was tough. I love my Saucony Mirages, but the bottoms are essentially flat…probably not the best choice for a day of mud.

VT50 relay leg elevation

I covered the first 6 miles in about an hour, which was pretty much what I had expected. I ran through that first aid station, and then focused on making my way down the steep descent without falling. People and bikes were flying by me on the downhill sections. Besides being a little disconcerting (most of the cyclists were very considerate but narrow trails meant that I literally had to pull over into the brush and wait for bikes to pass), it served to further highlight my inefficient race strategy. Running up the climbs and putting on the brakes down the hills was clearly not the smartest race plan I had ever followed, but as a trail newbie with inappropriate gear, I was just determined to do the best that I could.

The second hour was pretty uneventful. I took a Clif shot around mile 7, picked my way down the hills, and soaked in the beauty (and rain!) all around me. Around mile 11, I stopped at an aid station to grab some Gatorade, and accidentally picked up a cup of Mountain Dew instead. I never drink soda, yet somehow didn’t even notice that’s what I was drinking until a volunteer informed me that my cup was not actually filled with lemon lime Gatorade. Oops. The few sips I had were surprisingly refreshing, but I was nervous about how my stomach would react so traded the soda in for Gatorade. After a quick 30 seconds, I was on my way again. I figured I had about an hour of running left, and started getting excited to count down the final miles.

Soon after I left the aid station, the rain started picking up…and so did the hills. I kept trying to move forward as quickly as I could, but had to laugh when I found myself physically unable to run. All my vigor from the first two hours had faded away. My body was tired, the hills were slippery, and it was all I could do to hunch over, press on my quads, and stagger up the hills. The miles sloooooowly ticked by. I took a Hammer Gel at mile 14 and got excited that I had less than an hour left of running.

…or so I thought. At this point, I was soaking wet. My legs were numb, my shoes felt like they weighed 80 pounds each, and idiotic me had put my iPhone in the back of my hydration pack without any sort of protection. I was pretty sure that 2+ hours in the rain had destroyed it. So when I saw the next aid station around mile 16, I stopped to ask a volunteer if she had a plastic bag I could take. Thankfully she was nice enough to empty out a baggy for me. After grabbing a few watermelon slices (most refreshing aid station treat I’ve ever had!!), and securing my somehow still functioning phone, I was on my way again for the last miles.

During that last part of the race, I found myself walking more and more steep hill sections. Some of the trails were still surprisingly crowded with cyclists (they had started before the runners so I had expected not to see anymore bikes at this point), which made it tough to navigate the more narrow sections. I kept finding myself hopscotching with bikers – they would walk their bikes up steep portions of the trail, I’d pass them, and then they’d come flying by me on the downhill sections again.

The final 3 miles were some of the most challenging of my life. It wasn’t because I was out of energy or felt like I couldn’t make it to the end. In fact, I was itching to just stretch out my legs and run. But we had finally gotten to the downhill section I had been looking forward to for hours and I suddenly found myself unable to move. Hours of rain plus hundreds of bikes on narrow trails had left the course completely torn up. The mud was up to my ankles. All I could think about was not falling on my face — or causing a collision with a cyclist/runner. At this point it was hard to tell if the inclines or declines were worse. Going up, I couldn’t get any traction and kept finding myself slipping back down the hills. But going down was terrifying. There were a couple of sections where I completely lost control. I bombed down the hill, convinced I would wipe out. I have no idea how I stayed upright. Miles 17 and 18 clocked in at a blazing 12:52 and 12:43, respectively — my slowest miles of the day, despite the fact that they were mostly downhill.

After what seemed like forever, the next aid station came into sight. I ran up that final hill as fast as I could and was so excited to see Steph and Emily waiting. After a quick warning to Steph to be careful because of the mud, I handed off the invisible baton…and my race was over.

Garmin Stats:

There wasn’t any sort of official relay timing, but according to the maps/aid station mileage, my leg was 18.9 miles long.

Garmin reports: 18.62 miles in 3:14:17; average pace: 10:27 (fastest mile was a speedy 8:36 on a downhill section of mile 8. Only 7 of my miles were under a 10 minute pace)

In case you were wondering, my marathon PR is 3:18. And that’s all I’ll say about that…

Post-Race

Teamwatermelon winning

This post is ridiculously long as it is, and I’m getting about as tired of typing it as I’m sure you are of reading it. So I will wrap it up with bullet points.

  • Waiting around and not being able to see or cheer for your runner for hours is tough. Especially if it’s still raining. However, it’s made a little easier when your husband’s plans suddenly change and he’s able to come up and meet you for the post-race celebration (best part of the day).
  • We finished 3rd overall in the relay division! Which was pretty exciting, seeing as two of us were running our first long trail race ever and one of us was tapering for her 50 mile race this weekend. Sadly we did not get a prize for this victory.
  • We celebrated our finish in the best way I know — with a trip to Harpoon Brewery (see beer photo above) and then a slumber party back at Casa de Conkey filled with more beer and 3-year-old Grafton cheddar (aka cheese perfection). We practically had to kick Steph and her husband out the next day, and Evan and Koli have been depressed about losing their new best friend ever since.
  • I am already trying to figure out when we can have a #VTcheeseparty Round 2. This time, you are all invited.
  • And in terms of trail running…while I can’t say I’m motivated to go out and sign up for a 50 Miler (I have so much respect for those who completed the entire 50 miles last weekend, but I’m not quite sure that’s for me), I do want there to be more trail racing in my future. The race was grueling. Everything hurt the next day. I feel like I need to take a week off to recover. But…I sort of loved it. In a weird, “this hurts so good” kind of way. The Vermont trails haven’t seen the last of me, that’s for sure!

18 Responses to #VTcheeseparty Recap

  1. I’m just beginning training for my third 1/2 marathon but I can’t imagine running for 19 miles on trails! good work! :)
    Kristi @ lifesprinkles´s last post ..Pumpkin, Pumpkin Everywhere!

  2. Great post Lauren! I’m excited to finish mine tonight! I had no idea I would leave this weekend with so many emotions and thoughts about the race.

    We definitely made our entrance into trail running by doing one of the hardest around! Maybe there is a less harsh one around that we can do next :)
    Steph´s last post ..The Vermont 50 Relay aka #VTcheeseparty (Part 1)

  3. Also, you got some great race pictures! I am possibly considering buying one of mine since it was such a crazy experience!
    Steph´s last post ..The Vermont 50 Relay aka #VTcheeseparty (Part 1)

    • I was thinking of buying mine too! I might get a digital copy of one of them for the same reasons that you said. It’s definitely a race I will always remember.

  4. Sounds like a lot of fun. So what I took away from this post is that maybe the midnight 14 miler that I was considering doing might not be the best idea if I’m only used to running on roads.
    Rena´s last post ..Zombifying my run

    • haha well…it would definitely be a challenge! I think it sounds fun though! We had a really hilly course with some serious elevation. And even after all that, I still would like to do more trail racing…though next time I might try to find one with slightly smaller hills!

  5. I loved this race report! That elevation profile is out of control. I don’t think I would even want to run on hills like that on the road…much less on muddy, slippery trails. Crazy! I am looking forward to doing some trail running this winter (we have tons of trails around here that I have barely even touched!)…but reading about the mud, etc. scares me a little!
    Corey´s last post ..Going With the Flow

  6. When I ran my first ultra (34 miles in the mountains of WV) I had NO IDEA what I was getting into as I’d done all my training on roads/paved running trails. Needless to say, I survived the race, was the 5th female finisher and vowed to run more trails in the future. My next ultra (31 miles in VA) I logged a much faster time though the trail was far less technical. Trail running is fun and challenging. And ultra runners are a breed unto their (our) own. =)

  7. See, this is how it starts. You think you love running, and you’re good at racing, and then one of your friends is like “Hey, trail race?” and you’re all “Sure, running is awesome!” and then the trail kicks your butt and you feel stupid and humbled and the next thing you know you’re signing up for a 50k.

    Um. I’ve heard. Ahem.

    I’ll TOTALLY come run a trail relay up in Vermont. Trails are the best in general, and VT in the fall? Near Harpoon? Um, yes please.
    LizScott´s last post ..Good Things

  8. This sounds SO much fun. I’ve signed up for my first trail race, a 10k in December – thanks for the gentle hint that I may be running for more than an hour ;) You’re a total star for running that – it sounds incredibly difficult but amazing at the same time.

    And yes, buy the race photos. I always look like fat death in mine, you look really good in those. Invest!!!!
    Cathryn Ramsden´s last post ..Roasted Butternut Squash salad

  9. This sounds so fun and kind of crazy :) I love it!
    XLMIC´s last post ..Let’s Go!: on a trip up and down my favorite hill…

  10. Well, not to sound like a broken record, but you are awesome! I felt your every step reading the recap. I continue to be so proud of you.
    Love, Dad

  11. You are adorable. Isn’t it funny how these sorts of challenges are the most fulfilling but we often find so little time to complete them? I know for me I prefer to choose challenges that can be objectively compared to others (but then again I guess that’s the case with all long distance runners)
    Lauren´s last post ..ThinkThin natural protein bars

  12. Congrats on your first trail race! Great job!!! I’ve stolen Stephanie back :-D
    Kristin Miller´s last post ..NYC Running Routes: Roosevelt Island

  13. Congratulations on a great race! I loved the photos of you running!

    If you are going to keep trail running I would suggest the Saucony Peregrines, I wear those on trails and I also have the Saucony Mirages. They are similar, still minimalist with a 4mm drop, but they have more support and the bottoms of the shoes are more appropriate for trails.
    Jamie @ couchtoironwoman´s last post ..Weekend Between Races

    • Thank you very much for the recommendation! I’ve thought a lot about getting a pair of trail shoes (especially after my move to VT) so I’m going to try these out!

  14. Congrats! Sounds like a fun time. Have heard the same about trail running being tougher – great experience.

  15. […] Saturday, we headed to Mt Ascutney, the site of the crazy trail race I ran last fall (but not the same trail). It was a tough, but beautiful hike. About halfway up, we stopped for […]

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