For some hardy souls (with hardy soles), a marathon just isn’t enough. Three hundred runners have signed up for the Vermont 100 Endurance Race that takes place Saturday and Sunday in Windsor County.
The current course record is 14:53:09; the race’s Web site says “only a well-trained few” finish in under 24 hours, with a cut-off time for finishing of 30 hours.
This year, runners come from across the United States; several entrants are from Canada and one is from Germany. Most of the runners are age 40 and older. There are as many entrants in the 60-70 range as there are in the 20-30 range, and two runners are over 70 years old.
“Ultra” runner Laura Farrell founded the race 20 years ago. Farrell also founded Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports; the 100-mile race was initially designed as a fundraiser for that cause. The race continues to serve that purpose today, though Farrell has stepped down as the director.
The course, which begins at 4 a.m. at Silver Hill Meadow in West Windsor, has a few miles of pavement, but consists mostly of dirt roads and wooded trails. Runners will ascend (and then descend) over 14,000 feet during the race. Along the way, there are 29 aid stations with food, drink and first aid supplies; all of them feature a unique theme.
Those finishing in less than 24 hours receive belt buckles, the traditional prizes for ultramarathons. To compete, runners must have completed a 50-mile race in less than 12 hours. In addition to the entrance fee, runners also must show proof of at least eight hours of volunteer work at a previous ultra event. In ultramarathons, runners are allowed “pacers” who run with them for the final 30 miles.
Dot Helling of Montpelier has been involved in some manner with the Vermont 100 for almost all of its 20 years; she has run the race seven times. Helling became the first Vermont woman to win the race in 1997 when she finished in 19:33. No Vermont man has come in first, but organizers are hoping that in this anniversary year, that trend might change.
Helling said the Vermont race was one of the first in the country and is part of the Grand Slam of Ultra Endurance Races, which includes four of the original sites in the United States. There are dozens of races across the world. Helling has raced in many of those, but loves the Vermont course that she describes as “elegant.” She trains by doing back-to-back weekend runs of 30 and 20 miles, and by running at night. She admits that during one Florida race she was so tired she fell asleep hugging a telephone pole until another runner came by and woke her.
Helling is a mentor to Zeke Zucker of Jeffersonville, who will run the race for the fifth time this year. Zucker said age can be an asset because ultramarathons are more about endurance and strategy than strength and speed. He also notes older runners might have more time to spend training. “I can kill an otherwise productive day with a seven-hour training run,” he said.
Zucker enjoys being able to do something only a small section of the population can do; he credits the people who race for his enjoying the sport. One year, the runner for whom Zucker had signed up as a pacer quit the race before the assigned mile. Zucker learned there was another runner in need of a pacer, and he ran alongside that man. The runner told him he hadn’t been able to keep any food or drink down for 30 miles; Zucker was able to get him to articulate what he wanted. He helped keep him hydrated with his rather unorthodox requests (first beer and then milk). The runner finished ahead of the cut-off time, and the two men have been good friends ever since.
Craig Whipple of Barre ran the race for the first time in 2006, finishing in 28 1/2 hours. This year, he’s hoping to finish in less than 24 hours. For Whipple, it’s all about the preparation, as well as “the discipline to fit the training into a busy lifestyle.” It took Whipple quite some time to recover from his first race, but he’s enjoying the preparation for his second attempt this year, which included running a relatively slow Vermont City Marathon with his daughter. “I spend half a day every weekend on my hobby,” he said, “which just happens to be running down the road.”
Helling also races “regular” marathons, but prefers the smaller groups that compete in ultra races. She said the pace allows for conversation between racers and many of the runners have raced together for years.
Zucker believes the camaraderie is greater in ultra racers than shorter runs. “In shorter races,” he said, “you run against one another. In ultramarathons, you run with each other.”
Posted by Stuart Barrington