Vermont 50 – A race report

Posted on October 1, 2008 by

RR: 2008 VT 50 A PR Story


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Bikers continued to line up on the access road to Ascutney Mountain Ski

Resort, being called by class, and darting off into the darkness in large

groups. As my buddy Pete lined his bike up in the Novice class, I gave Sarah

some last minute instruction before walking down onto the pavement as well.

I was looking at the starting line differently today. The last month has

played out like an eternity. Questions asked.. answers given. A month ago

this very weekend I had a hard time finishing a 17.5 mile race in New

Hampshire Monadnock Region. Gasping for air, I leaned against trees

searching for something.. anything. On that day I thought about folding my

hand and taking my first DNF. Instead, I shuffled forward as I always do and

saw myself to the finish line. When I went to the doctors and heard words

like blood deficiency, cardia arrest and surgical proceedures.. it scared

me. I nervously moved forward with my physical struggle.. my mental battle

forever rages on. But on this day, this day beneath the clouds, under a

canopy of color, mingling with friends.. I looked up at the word START

stretched across the street and I knew today could hold something special.

What? I did not know.. but I was determined to find out. You never know when

its going to be your last race..


I stood on the starting line joking and chatting with Nate Sanel, Adam

Wilcox, Leigh Schmidt, Jack Pilla, Todd Walker and Pat Hamel. Part of what I

love about this sport is that over-all feeling of equality. Equality amongst

men where we stand at the threshold of battle and find the time to joke,

smile and enjoy each others company. Everyone wished each other well on the

journey we were about to take. I glanced one last time at the word start as

a precision based mental focus overcame my mind. Was this how today would be

run? A mental race, where I truly race against myself, fueling an inner fire

to succeed, to live, to strive, to survive… to prove? GO! We were off.


Nate, Adam and I hung together on the paved section before heading down the

first dirt road. Nate quickly pulled away from us and it was just Adam and I

not long after. Adam asked, “Where did Nate go?” I turned to look at Adam,

smiled and told him we might see him again if he’s going out that fast. I

heard Zeke Zucker pull up behind us and I rather enjoy Zeke’s pace early in

a race. So we hung back with Zeke and his group and plodded along. But there

was something different about this group.. a voice. I heard a female voice

and as I turned my head there she was. Ultrarunning and New England

Peak-bagging Legend Sue Johnston. “Hello John… you know you’re getting a

LOT better!” I was stunned. Sue and I share a rough history of

mis-representation, rumors and jabs. And here we were, on this day running

through the country roads of Vermont, having a civil and lovely

conversation. I congratulated her on some of her latest adventures and we

struck up conversation as we made our way up the first hill.


As the race wore on and we past our first aid station, Adam and I shared a

conversation about life. Adam and I have been friends for a few years now

and earlier this year I told him he could run this race in sub 10. He took

the challenge and ran beside me for much of the day. I enjoyed his company

immensely as we ran along. We came to a rather large mud puddle and we opted

to dodge around it given the early nature of the race in an attempt to stay

somewhat dry. We ran into the bushes around the puddle and as we came out

the otherside… I noticed a cut on my knee and a stinging sensation on my

legs. GREAT! Stinging Nettle! We ran in awkward positions as we itched and

scratched until we found a puddle on the side of the trail. We stopped and

washed our legs off to kill the sting before moving forward. As we ran into

the first Handler Station I found Sarah. I ran over to her and she had all

of my stuff sitting around a chair. I picked through my gear for what I

wanted and set her off to fill my bottle with water. I looked up and saw

Sue… “Adam! Lets go!” We were off. As we made our way out of Skunk Hollow

I looked at Adam and told him, “I don;t know if I can do it… but I’d like

to finish ahead of Sue.”


The next section of the course is a long continuous up-hill which runs us

along an immaculate rock wall bordering area hay fields. At the top of the

hill is the sugaring shack and shed filled with fire-wood to fuel the

operation. The past 2 years I’ve run this race, I felt terrible on this hill

and walked… today Adam and I ran most of it and in recognizing I was doing

so.. the gears in my head began to turn. I had three goals for this race. 1.

is always to finish. 2.) Was Sub 10:06 which would be a course PR. And the

Other was sub 9:47 which would have been a 50 mile PR. Goal 1 never changes.

Goal 2 is something I think I have a good shot at achieving.. 3 is a far

fetched goal where I typically set the bar too high. As we ran up this

hill… Goal 1 was well within my sights.


As Adam and I climbed another hill around 20 miles we spotted Nate. Nate

slowed down, walked backwards and waited for us. We did some of our usual

jawing back and forth (yes I know I start it Nate). At one point Adam and

Nate were behind me running together and I had a flashback to this years

Vermont 100, “Gee guys… this is a familiar sight. You two behind me.” I

think Nate was getting pissed. I’m not used to seeing him without his

glasses. He didn’t look 100% to me and I thought about not giving him shit

anymore until he fired back… “When I pass you later I’m not going to let

you forget it. I’m going to give you so much shit! I’m going to burry you!”

Nate then tried to slow me down as I was indeed running uphill and at a

faster pace than I normally do… and then it happened… I said it. “Ya

know guys… just once I want to leave it all out here. I want to run fast,

get tired, hang on for dear life and crash into the finish line a total

mental and physical mess.” The replies echoed through my soul, “Then do it.

Go for it!” The gears turned a little more as Adam and I moved ahead of



As Adam and I moved away from Nate and through the new “Rollercoaster” aid

station, I looked back and Sue had caught us. We made small talk as we

carried on. I tried my best to keep up with her.. the whole time thinking I

was crazy to even try, afraid of burning myself out. Moments later it was

just her and I with Adam a bit further back. “Sue… I owe you an apology.”

For a while now I’ve wanted to right and wrong and today seemed like the

perfect day to do it. We exchanged apologies and cleared the air, making

sure we were on the same page about what events transpired to bring us to

our more embarrassing moments in dealing with each other. I was relieved and

felt a huge weight lifting from my shoulders in knowing that a wrong was

righted… and continued on. Adam, Sue and I ran into Smoke Rise together,

picking from the aid station table. I started to linger as I sometimes do

until I heard, “Come on John!” I looked up and Sue was waving for me to come

catch her and continue on together. From foes to friends… we were helping

each other.. her more-so helping me. As Sue and I made our way out of Smoke

Rise I was feeling great and moving fine… Adam began to trail off and we

suddenly lost him.


As Sue and I ran I told her I wanted to PR here today. We had just run the

first 26 miles in 4:20. Sue told me, “If you keep up your current pace you

can pass a lot of people. Just keep it up.. you’re doing great!” I listened

to her closely and started to think that I CAN DO THIS. I moved forward with

purpose, thinking methodically about how I wanted the rest of this race to

play out. A lot of thoughts crossed my mind. The start line.. the finish

line. My scare with anemia. My life in general… and then motivation and

inspiration comes from the most unexpected places. I had a vision. A pair of

eyes started at me from the trail and lured me forward. I was focused..

fixed on a goal.. I ran on. I made my way into Dugdale’s where Sarah had my

chair waiting for me. I wanted my waist pack but it was up in the car.. she

ran to get it. I sat in the chair and changed my shoes as quickly as I

could. My Brooks Cascadia’s were killing my feet due to their lack of arch

support. I threw on my ASR 5’s and felt instantly better. Sarah arrived with

my pack… I only had one baggy of drink mix… “Where are the extra bags of

mix?” They too were in the car. Thankful I got to change my shoes, Adam’s

dad filled my bottles for me. I needed an energy plan. I drank more of a

boost than I normally would, loaded my pack up with gels.. and decided I’d

conserve what drink mix I had in the bottle. I was disappointed but still

determined. “How you doing John?” … “I’m on a Mission… it’s called 9:47”


I left Dugdale’s and turned back to see Sue again. I stopped to answer

Nature’s call and as I ran back out onto the road we ran together along this

section of the course that closely mirror’s the final miles of the Vermont

100. Sue continued to encourage and push me to run run run. “You are doing

great John… just keep it up.” It seemed as though every time I put my head

down today in a moment of underlying defeat, Sue Johnston picked me back up.

“Come on Sherpa… you’ve got this.” I carried on. As we made our way up the

road and turned onto the next section of Single-track… I replayed what I

said to Nate earlier in the race, “Ya know guys… just once I want to leave

it all out here. I want to run fast, get tired, hang on for dear life and

crash into the finish line a total mental and physical mess.” Just once I

want to leave it all out there… hang on for dear life… total mental

mess….. At this point in the race I still feel great and I know full well

that my pace thus far was MUCH faster than I had ever run this far into a 50

Miler before. I WAS laying it all out here… I WAS getting to the point of

hanging on for dear life… and who knows what the finish line would bring.


As I ran ahead I caught up with Ian and Emma Parlin. Ian was hoping for a

sub 9 hour finish but was feeling nauseam. As we made our way along the

switchback sections of mile 35ish.. Emma and I seemed to be pushing and

pulling each other a long now. I didn’t know where Sue had gone.. and I was

starting to tire. I heard cheering and applause up ahead but know there are

no aid stations near-by. As we rounded the final switches leading up to the

house on the hill, the owners were having a porch party cheering all of the

competitors on. I ran up the hill clapping for them and thanked them for

allowing us to use their land. Then I heard the magic word… BEER! “Where

is the beer?!” “Around the corner in a cooler!” Say it aint so. I rounded

the next turn and there was a sign with an arrow pointing at a chair resting

on the hill with a cooler on top. I walked up to the cooler, openned it and

found some Long Trail Blackberry Wheat… HEAVEN! I pulled one out of its

plastic coffin, unscrewed the top, raised the bottle in the air and yelled

“Cheers!” placed it upon my lips and chugged about 3/4 of the bottle of

Beer. I placed the rest on the chair for the next thirsty runner and hurried

along. Emma asked me, “Sherpa, did you just down a beer.” “Why yes I did..

and it was AMAZING!”


Emma raced ahead with me in hot pursuit… I couldn’t chase her long as she

quickly disappeared but I carried on in my blistered pace. My legs began to

go numb, my knees were starting to get sore, my brain was going a thousand

miles a minute. I thought about a lot of things.. I thought about

everything. I thought about people important to me. I thought about my

life.. I thought about the impossible… which for those who don’t know DOES

NOT EXIST. And then I thought about what I try to preach to people I meet…

Human Potential. Yeah.. that thought of Human Potential, what it is, where

it is.. how do I tap into it? I ran up another road section I’ve always

walked at the race before turning onto a long section of trail which leads

into Goodman’s Aid station at 39 Miles. As I turned onto the trail.. I found

my human potential. I tapped into the unknown area of my soul which I

discovered on this very day that I had merely glanced upon before. As my

eyes locked on the course, I did some math in my head, “If I can only make

it to Johnson’s by 3:30pm.. I can break 9:47.” My eyes fixed on the trail ,I

sought motivation from an unsuspecting place. The most gorgeous pair of eyes

I’ve ever seen appeared before me. Was this another hallucination? No.. it

was something else. I stared ahead, left right repeat flying down the trail

towards Goodman’s. I popped out of the woods and onto another rd forging

ahead leaving nothing but the mud and leaves in my wake.


I ran into Goodmans and saw Scott Deslongchamps “I’m hoping to break 10” he

exclaimed. “You’ve got it in the bag Scott.. just keep going!” He at his

watch and then looked at me. I stood there eating a grilled cheese. My legs

shook from shock. My arms quivered. Sweat gushed down my face. I was soaked

from head to toe.. feeling good… but I was doing what I wanted to do. Run

fast and hang on for dear life. “Sherpa.. you are FLYIN!” Scott yelled…

“I’m hangin on Scott… hangin on!” Another female runner offered some

encouragement as we both took off down the trail. 40 Miles down… 10 to go.


These last 10 miles of the course are probably the worst. The section

between Goodmans(39) and Johnsons (46) are the most technical and muddiest

on the course. I continued to pass weary runners one by one as I felt myself

beginning to fade. I had refilled my water bottles at Goodmans and was now

pumping power-gels into my system at a disgusting rate. I was fighting off

exhaustion and my body was begging for forgiveness. The pain in my legs is

now screaming with torture.. I’m hanging on as tight as I can and pushing

forward. I caught a few bikers and used them as a pacer, much like I had

used horses in the Vermont 100. Up and down hills, through streams, across

bridges.. over rock and root.. through deep piles of mud that splashed all

over every inch of my body as I ran feverishly across the land. Sweat poured

down my face and as I wiped it off, tiny shards of salt scraped against my

skin. My legs felt like they were starting to cramp.. I downed some S-Caps

to ward off the inevitable. I was truly leaving it all out here.. physically

and mentally. I hopped off the trail around mile 45 and onto a dirt road. As

I lifted my head I saw Mt. Ascutney… I started to lose control of my

emotions. I got choked up, tears welled into my eyes and only one managed an

escape. I talked myself into hanging on for just a little bit longer…

“Just hang on John.. keep it together… we’re not there yet.” I put my head

down and ran across some more fields and onto the next road where I found

Emma. She had a good clip going. We crossed the bridged and rounded the turn

onto 44. She looked back and saw me.. I was a complete mess. My face was

beet red and on fire. My legs burned and screamed. My pace was slowing…

but I had found my human potential. “Come on John… You’re gonna get your

PR… lets go!” She fired me up as I walked into Johnson’s aid station.

Sarah asked what I needed.. I opted for a few more gels and a refill of my

bottles. Some more fruit from the aid table and I was off.



What used to be the final 3 miles of the course from Johnson’s was now the

final 4.6. And the longest 4.6 miles of my life. I had no idea where I was..

just that I needed to keep moving. I heard a few reports of what time it was

along the way and a realization had popped into my head back before mile 35.

I COULD potential shatter my VT50 PR.. and my 50 Mile PR and complete what I

thought was impossible. Nate told me he wanted to break 9 hours at the

Vermont 50 way back at the beginning of August, “Good luck Nate.. I’ll never

see that.” Was my reply. And yet here today underneath the clouds.. under

the canopy of color.. with my Human Potential placed brilliantly before me..

I all of a sudden found out what possible is. I pushed up the final miles,

placing my hands on my hips and running every uphill that I could. I sucked

down Gel after gel in an effort to get as much energy in my system as I

could. I drank water and breathed deep. The hills had been saturated with

water all day long. Mud covered every inch of the course.. but as I wrote in

my blog only days before.. I am the Mud Master.


I was lost in a sea of switchbacks when I heard Emma again.. “Sherpa.. LETS

GO!” I was talking to a biker about how the course had changed. I grumbled

and continued on. My legs are done. My muscles are tightening with every

step. As I ran along, I concentrated on how my body was actually feeling.

This was indeed a special moment and I didn’t want to forget it. I honed in

on my muscles and suddenly I felt it. Every since fiber in my body was

working together to achieve what I said was impossible., which from this

point on does not exist. I forged ahead along the sides of Mount Ascutney in

what has always been one of my favorite races of all time even before today.

The leaves fell from the sky as the wind picked up. And I began to sing

songs in my head. What is Human Potential? I once wrote, “Well you see, I

believe that in every human being lies this untapped potential to achieve

great things. Whether those things are physical, subjective or spiritual..

it doesn’t matter….I want to be a part of the process where individuals

can realize their Human Potential and tap into it… Drink from the waters

of your soul and your heart will carry you to places of grandeur. No it

won’t be easy, it might hurt.. but IT CAN BE DONE. The human body is the

most amazing instrument you will EVER own. Why don’t you take it out for a

spin and learn what your potential REALLY is. You’ll be surprised.. I

promise. Human Potential is UNLIMITED, so don’t be afriad to get in line and

take a drink from the waters of life.”


Human potential is unlimited and in those final miles, I rode a wave of

spirituality that sent my heart into a frenzy. I drank from the waters of

life as the waters of my soul spilled from my pours. I ran as hard as I’ve

ever run before, discovering what my own Human Potential is.. practicing

what I preach. So many times in sport people tell us what is right and what

is wrong. You have HAVE to do to accomplish certain goals. Sometimes its a

matter of running fartleks and repeats. Sometimes its being told you need to

eat right or you’ll never be in shape enough. Sometimes you’re told that a

6:31 50K two weeks before the Vermont 50 will never equal a sub 9 in the

mountains of Vermont. But its the times when your human potential knows what

is best. When that will power fuels your engine and gets your meat turbines

turning over. Its the times when your HP politely raises that middle finger

into the air for the naysayers to see… that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE and

IMPOSSIBLE DOES NOT EXIST. And just as it says on my shirt.. “You say I

can’t, I’ll Show you I can” I soldiered on. I rounded the last turn and

across the ski slopes. The grass is muddy and soaked. I bear left and begin

to run down the hill, I take a sharp left and look straight ahead at that

next sign…. FINISH.


I run as fast as I possibly could. I thanked god for giving me strength, my

grandfather for his courage and I thank those who’ve helped me today.. Sue,

Emma and Nate. My legs flew everywhere as I ran down the final stretch..

clapping my hands in sheer excitement. I ran all out across the finish line

fearing I would fall.



I crossed the line and stopped. My hamstrings and quads curled up into

balls, into the tightest cramps I’ve ever felt. I couldn’t move as tears

streaked down my face. I’m drenched with sweat, my body is shaking and

quivering. Shock begins to set in. My vision is blurred, I’m dizzy and can

only hear one thing amidst the cheering supporters. I heard my own voice…

the voice that keeps me going. The voice I listen to rather than an iPod..

the voice that at the finish line on this special day said, “8 Hours and 58

Minutes John… You did it man… You did it! You ran as fast as you could,

left nothing out there, came crashing across the line… you are indeed a

mess mentally and physically. You discovered your human potential.. its in

you man… its in you.” I placed my head into my hands, got on my knees..

and cried.


I stood up and was assisted by Eric. Eric usually does the time for the

VT100 in a kilt. He picked me up and walked me over to get my medal. We

walked into the nearby tent and shared 2 cups of Powerade Endurance drink.

We clinked cups as he thanked me.. apparently I motivated him in the final

miles to push for the finish. Great job Eric! I found Pete who had finished

in a time of something over 6 hours coming in 2nd for his age group in the

Novice Class of the Mountain Bike Race. I was so happy to know Pete came out

today and discovered his own Human Potential in his first 50 mile Bike Race.


I watched as Nate crossed the line.. he spotted me and pointed at me, “YOU

are a friggin mad man… good work man.” Thanks Nate. I walked down to the

food line and saw Sue Johnston. She congratulated me on my run and then

asked..”John.. did you run that fast because I was here? Did you want to

beat me?” I looked her dead in the eye and with a smile said, “Absolutely.”

She smiled and we had a picture together of us in our new found friendship.

Thanks to Sue.


And Adam… Adam broke sub 10 hours as well… just as I knew he could. Good

Job Adam.


And so I sit here writing this report. Unsure of what REALLY to say. I am

still in a state of disbelief. I have no idea how in the world I did that

even though I know my potential finally came to light. I’ve never been this

tired.. this sore after a run. I know I left it all out there. I’m extremely

satisfied. I’m humbled… and I’m ready to start a new year of adventure in

running. You never know when your last race is going to be… so dig in, go

for a ride.. and see where your soul will lead you. Over mountains, through

the pastures and along the muddy shore. The roads of dirt, pavement hurts..

and it hurts forever more. The sun will shine, the rain will fall.. your

heart will carry you through. But as the clock ticks by, and your brain

lingers on.. the only thing which fuels you is YOU.


(Standings will come as they are available)

Happy Trails.



— November 2008!

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