by Deborah Sexton
July 19-20, 2003
I chose Vermont as my first 100 mile race because it had a reputation as being an “easy” 100. As I was running through one of the final aid stations, one of the volunteers informed me that the course had only 87 feet of level ground. I don’t believe that these 87 feet were consecutive. The elevation gain and loss for the whole race is nearly 15,000 feet. So if you are good at hills, this would be your race.
This also is a great race to run if you like horses. There were 15 horses signed up to run the 100 miles (same course) and about 60 horses signed up to do a shorter 50 mile course. By the end, you became very skilled at dodging horse poop.
So it all began at 1:19 a.m. Saturday morning. I had requested a wake-up call at 1:20 a.m. At 1:21 a.m. when the phone hadn’t rung yet, I got up to do my final preparations for the race. I caught a ride with my fellow North Texas Trail Runners (NTTR) —Letha, Robert, Jay, and Mark. We left the hotel around 2:10 a.m. and got to the race site at 2:45 a.m. Not having much to do until race time, after putting on my knee straps and gaiters, I laid down on a cot at the back of barn to wait until the start.
With only three hours of sleep the night before, I shouldn’t have been surprised when a fellow runner woke me up by tapping me on the shoulder and said, “Five minutes to the start.”
As we walked to the bottom of the hill where the race would begin, “Chariots of Fire” was being played on a grand piano moved to the porch of the farm’s main house. Fireworks went off for about five minutes. Then the gun went off, and we started on our trek. Definitely the coolest start to an ultra I’d ever experienced.
I was freezing cold, as usual, but comforted by Kim Sergeant, who said. “Don’t worry. You’ll warm up pretty quickly on the first hills.” She wasn’t kidding.
The first thing I noticed at the start of the run was the smooth terrain. It was mostly dirt roads or trails covered in leaves, grass, or pine needles. We also ran on some pavement. I had never run on such a smooth surface in a trail race. There were a couple of spots with rocks and roots, but overall, it was so much easier on my feet than any of my previous races.
There were 33 aid stations. Some of them unmanned. The longest distance between any aid station was 5 miles, and only one was that far away. Many were less than 2 miles. So there was no reason to go hungry or thirsty.
There were 10 stations where your crew could meet you. Aid station #6 was the spot I had planned on meeting up with my crew, which was my husband David. I had estimated reaching that 18 mile point by around 8:30 a.m. and much to my surprise I passed through a little before 8 a.m. ahead of schedule. David was getting ice and missed me, but Mark Dick greeted me with his walkie-talkie about 200 yards ahead of the aid station to inform Jay Norman I was coming. Jay filled my bottle and helped me on my way. At this point I was on a sub 24-hour pace, but I knew I could never keep that up. But it was a heady feeling while it lasted.
The rest of the day was uneventful. I ran from aid station to aid station, walking uphill, running downhill. No more than the usual aches and pains. I passed people, they passed me. Frequently it was the same people. We talked about where we were from, whether this was our first 100 (it was for many) and other races we’d done. Right before Cox’s, aid station 22, mile 60, I started running with Paul Davis, who was running his 15th Vermont race. At Cox’s , the theme was Margaritaville. The volunteers were dressed Hawaiian, there was a margarita machine, and the food included hamburgers and chicken. I forced down some chicken soup and accepted an orange lei from a little boy. I also picked up my flashlight.
Paul and I continued together for the next two aid stations, which brought me back to Camp 10 Bear, mile 68.2, and it was here I picked up my pacer.
I never met my pacer before the pre-race dinner on Friday night. His name was Damon Lease, he lived in Vermont, and had run the race three times. I hooked up with him via another ultra friend I had met at the Rocky Raccoon 50/100 miler last February. I could not have had a better pacer. He gave me a preview at each stage of what was ahead. (Sometimes I would have preferred to remain ignorant.) He forced me to eat, and as much as I did not want to eat, I believed him when he told me I’d bonk if I didn’t take in enough calories. He constantly checked that my feet were OK, that I was drinking enough, taking my electrolyte capsules, and that I stayed at a fast enough pace to beat the cutoff.
But the best thing about having Damon with me was that he talked, talked, talked. We talked all through the night—those depressing, tough hours in the early morning when it would have been easy to think only about how tired I was, how bad I felt, and how much farther I still had to go. We chatted about everything under the sun and the hours just flew by.
The best advice I could give to any first timer is to find a pacer like Damon. He made the race so much more fun and ensured I finished. He was awesome. I am forever indebted to him.
Around aid station 30, it started to get light again. This was Blood Hill. Supposedly the toughest hill on the course. It still didn’t compare to anything at Squaw Peak, a 50 miler I had done in June in Provo, so I cruised up that undaunted. I didn’t have to stop once.
I can’t tell you what a difference the daylight makes. At this point, I knew I was going to make it. I dumped off the flashlights at aid station 31 and headed for the barn literally. My feet hurt pretty badly at this point specifically the toes, and at mile 96 aid station I changed to larger shoes.
The last four miles were nothing but up and down, with the downs really scrunching the toes, but I was determined to finish as quickly as I could, and I ran (if you can call it that) any part that wasn’t uphill or steep downhill. I passed a few more people including one poor guy who had resorted to walking in his socks because his blisters were too bad to keep his shoes on.
I crossed the finish line at 9:09 a.m. (29 hours 9 minutes) to the cheers of waiting spectators. I promptly started to cry as I plopped my butt right down in the dirt about a foot across the finish line and pulled off my shoes. I’ll spare you the details of that.
It is a tradition in my running club, NTTR, that when you run your first hundred, you have to wear the club’s official toenail necklace. This is a special necklace which is strung with toenails lost by NTTR members during 100-mile races. Since I had “forgotten” to get this treasured lucky charm from the club president, Mark Dick was kind enough to string the toenail he lost during the Wasatch 100 last year on a piece of dental floss for me to wear. Special thanks to him for bringing this for me and spraying it heavily with perfume. Who knows? I may never have not finished without it.
This race could not have gone any better. The temperature hovered around the mid-’70s during the day with an occasional gentle breeze. I’m guessing it dropped to the ’50s in the night but with the jacket I was comfortable. The race takes you through a number of towns in the Green Mountains and the landscape was filled with beautiful forests, fields, flowers, and horse farms.
It made a big difference to my time to have David crew for me. He had my water bottle full of ice at each handler aid station as well as anything else I needed so I did not have to waste time digging around in a drop bag for tape, fresh bandana, etc.
The support was phenomenal. You knew that all the volunteers, pacers, and crew members were there to do everything in their power to help you finish. It was wonderful to have so many NTTR members there as well. Letha, who just finished Western States, and is going for the Grand Slam (Four 100 milers in three months) is just an inspiration. Anytime I felt badly during the night, I reminded myself that she had walked through five hours of cramping at Western States, and here she was three weeks later doing another 100. Mark Dick tackled one of the hardest 100s of them all—Wasatch—in the most horrible weather conditions, and still finished under the cutoff time despite the fact that it was his first 100. Jay Norman and Robert Tavernini with their countless number of hundred milers to their credit were proof that it could be done. With friends like these, you have no choice but to finish or die trying.
It was a defining moment in my life when they announced my name to walk up and get my finisher’s plaque. I wasn’t walking very well and I tried to persuade David and then Mark to go get it for me, but no luck so I hobbled up there myself and Jay Norman took my picture. It represented the accomplishment of a dream I had had for three years ever since I had met an older gentleman in an airport with a Vermont 100 miler shirt on. I never thought I would do it so soon.
I had a lot fun, and it was a very positive experience. I’ve surpassed another limit and I am looking forward to raising the bar on the next one. As soon as I can walk again!