Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Vermont 100 Race Report - 2012

July 21-22nd
Brownsville, VT
A race of "thank you's"

Runner: Justin Contois

Crew (Entourage of Entourages):

  • Kate (wife/boss)
  • Isla and Everett (kids)
  • Jen (sister and PM handler extrodinaire/professional drifter aka "Fast and Furious")
  • Adam (brother-in-law aka "my slave driving landscaper boss and PM handler)
  • Jesse (AM Handler and Pacer)
  • Amanda (Jesse's wife and AM handler and "how did I get roped into this thing")
  • Matthew (Thomas the Train lover and Jesse/Amanda's little guy)
As you can see, I had help. Plenty of help. That is what it takes to complete something of this magnitude at this point in my life. With two kids under the age of two, graduate school, a cushy summer time job in the form of landscaping and training for a 100 miler, my head was spinning 24 hours a day/7 days a week. My wife mentioned to me that all she did was drive the Honda Pilot from place to place so Jesse could give me gels. This is true, but it also gave me a chance to see my little people, give them a big a hug and kiss, which in stressful times, make all the difference.

Here is the story of how it all went down. 

My goals coming into the 2012 Vermont 100 were simple. 1. Finish under 20 hours and possibly lower for a top 25 bid (initially I thought I could make top ten but who am I kidding). 2. Finish under 24 hours for a much needed belt buckle, as my shorts seem to no longer fit me. 3. Finish under the 30 hour cut-off. As we all know, many things can go awry on race day. Fortunetely nothing did. 

The drive up to Vermont was relaxing, as we took some back roads through Gardner, MA then into Fitzwilliam, NH up through Keene and over the Connecticut River into Vermont. A short spurt on 91 North put us right were we wanted to be, the Asctuney Mountain Resort. The first thank you goes out to Fran Graves. Fran is the technology teacher at the high school I teach at. He let us stay at the house the HE built for FREE. Thats right, six adults, three kids and centrally located so the farthest aid station was only 30 minutes away. The house is beautiful, well built (obviously!) and had the most comfortable king sized bed I've ever slept in. Fran did mention that I did just run 100 miles and that could have played a factor.

The pre-race meeting/dinner was excellent. I saw and spoke with many familiar faces, as the ultra running community I've come to realize, is like a swarm of bees. Whenever an event of this magnitude occurs (i.e. 100 miler), everyone attends. Jeff Lane and Greg Esbitt of Nougat fame where there, Julie O'Mara of our newly created Wachusett Mountain Running Club and Anthony Parillo a fellow competitor whom I've seen do well at many local ultras this year were all in attendance.

After filling our stomachs, we headed back to the house and finalized some crewing details. Off to bed, which for me consisted of lying there till 2AM. I never sleep well prior to race and this time was no exception.

Jesse was nice enough (or maybe just grabbed the short stick) to give me a ride to the start line. We commented on how this was just like any other Saturday/Sunday morning for us. Getting up super early and out the door while most "normal" people were still in dreamland. Jesse has been my training partner since the early spring, lives right down the road and runs a similar pace. It has been a pleasure training with him for these last few months and I thank him for joining me on this adventure.

With a four minute warning, I moved over to the start line, strategically locating myself in the middle of the pack. I have a bad habit of going out too hard and figured this may help for the for the first few miles. At 4AM, we started and my first run in a week and a half (finally!!!) was about to begin.

The first miles consisted of a bunch of downhill miles on gravel road and trail which made it easy to talk and run. I am not usually the talkative one while racing but made it a point to meet as many people along the way. Patrick Houde of Canada, whom I ran with at the Ghost Train last fall, was running and doing it well. Anthony Parillo and I shared goals and set a nice pace and finally Cherie Yanek of New York was someone who's blog I've read in the past, was right with me during the early miles.

My crew's game plan was easy (on paper at least). Forgo the mile 22 handler aid station, Pretty House, as it was too early for the munchkins to get up, dressed, fed and out the door by 6am. I was totally cool with that and carried my Nathan hydrations vest and 15 gels to get me to the mile 30 handler, Stage Rd.  Somewhere along the many downhills prior to Pretty House, I caught up with John from San Fran and Vincent from Montreal. We had a sub 18 hour pace going (going by John's pace chart), but it felt comfortable and we continued to tick of the miles.

As things go in ultras, people slow and then speed back up. I soon lost John and Vincent as I slowed a bit at one of the intermediate aid stations. I soon was cobbled up by a pack of three runners, Tim from NY, and Daryl and Mike both from MD. The four of us would run together for the next 20 miles or so till Camp 10 Bear at the 47 mile mark.

Along the way we picked up many others like Larissa Danis, Nate Sanel, and Deb Livingston, but like I mentioned before paces vary and people speed up or slow down. It was nice to conversate with so many like-minded folks and it took my mind off the pain my quads were enduring.

Somewhere between Pretty House and Stage Rd aid stations we hit the marathon mark and climbed to a section of the course called "sound of music hill". It was beautiful. 360 degree views that went on forever. Many previous reports mentioned how the hill was so tough. Luckily, I had no trouble with it, but the downhills were becoming more and more painful. Already.

Coming into Stage Rd at mile 30.5, I checked my watch and it read 5 hours even. Not bad for a 100 miler on hilly terrain.  I quickly filled my bladder, had a cup of gatoraide and began to look for my crew. And look, and look. They were no where to be found. I was demolished. All I wanted to do was see my wife and little ones. I began to get worried. Maybe they got lost, injured and so on. So many things were racing through my head. I didn't know what to do, so I just ran. I ran about 100 feet out of the aid station and looked to my left. There they were, in a second overflow parking lot, just getting out. I had beaten my time to the aid station and they had got turned around a few times getting to the aid station. Hugs and kisses all around, a re-stock of gels and goodbye till mile 47.

From here, our foursome spoke of jobs, families, working the following Monday and so on. Good running banter that clicked the miles away. I would take off a bit on the downhills and the others would catch up on the flats. As we came into 10 Bear at 47 (8:06 elapsed time) we all got weighed for the first time. I felt great and was eating and drinking regularly.  I was only a pound down and they said, "Get out of here". A quick change of hydration packs from back pack to a waist pack (mistake) and one hand held and I was in and out in less than 3 minutes. My family, Amanda and Matthew waved goodbye and good luck, I thanked them for being there for me. There job was now done for the day.

Immediately upon leaving the aid station, my lower back began to feel the weight of the single water bottle waist pack. Not sure why, I've been using it all summer in preparation, but in retrospect, this was mile 47 and not 15 of a training run. At this point, Tim and I made it out of the aid station before Daryl and Mike. We had come so far together, but parted ways here.

Tim and I had similar paces and spent the next 20 miles together (all said and done we ran over 40 miles together) and got to know each quite well. He is a police officer from NY, married and enjoys checking out the local breweries. We spoke of our favorite beer and how Tim's wife had an allergic reaction to the yeast in beer. I think I have the same problem, as I have one beer and am severely hung over the next day (interesting thing to note: I haven't had an alcoholic beverage in over 9 months). She got tested, had some shots and now drinks Tim under the table (sorry Tim, had to throw that in there!).

We rallied each other and I can truly say that Tim pushed me to a sub 20 hour finish. He ran the course last year and had some course knowledge. We walked when we should have walked and ran when we had to. If I was alone, no doubt in my mind, I would have run way too much too soon and would have been completely gassed or dropped at a later mileage. Many thanks to you Tim, you helped me achieve my goal by running a smart race.

Tracer Brook (mile 57, 10:04) marked the first time I would see my "super crew". My sister Jen and her husband Adam (my slave driving landscaper boss, who on wed/thrus of race week had me hauling 98lb Versa Lock blocks around). Jen has crewed before at Wapack and Adam was my crew chief at the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness (possibly the toughest crewing job of any ultra in this country), so I knew I was in good hands. I switched out my single bottle waist pack here for a second hand-held, which worked well for the rest of the race.

Margaritiaville (mile 62, 11:08) was next and it had the party atmosphere that I had expected. Right around here, I was done with my gels. I just couldn't get them down. Not bad, 62 miles in and about 30 gels down the pipe. I started going with the potato wedges doused in salt. I would have at least 2-3 at each aid station that provided them till the finish. A re-app of body glide and I was gone under 2 minutes.

Just before Camp 10 Bear the second time, mile 70, I dropped Tim and latched onto Jack Bailey of Marshfield, MA.  Jack was running his first 100 miler and was killing it! I knew I remembered his name from the winter, as he tore by me in the opening stages of the GAC Fat Ass 50k in January. He finished a close 3rd to Gabriel Hemlinger and Ben Newphew. We spoke of other races we had participated in, our "how I stared running ultras" stories and mentioned some of the local guys doing well on the ultra scene. I mentioned Adam Wilcox at Hardrock and he mentioned Josh Katzman at Western States. I then went on about how these guys were solid runners and people in general, as I have run/raced with them a bunch over the last few years. Just then we hit a turn and I see a tall dude, no shirt, yelling at us. It was Josh!!! He mentioned, before the race, that he would be close by at a family function and would swing by to cheer a bunch of us on and to drop off some goodies.

He said we had 4 minutes to get up a hill (a large one at that) or else I wasn't getting my goodies. Jack and I powered up the hill, which would have been a sure power-hike if Josh wasn't there, and eventually reached the Camp 10 Bear aid station for the second time (mile 71, 12:40). I quickly hurried over to get weighed and I was down about 3 lbs. from my starting weight, 157ish and still felt good.  Jen and Adam were right there to refill of my bottles, while I threw some potatoes and salt down the hatch. I thanked Josh for being there and headed off with Jesse on the last 30 miles of the race.

My quads were getting pretty bad at this point and I heard that the last 50k was the toughest. Meaning more hills. The ups were actually easy for me. Its was the downs that slowed me to a crawl. The clock read 12:45 for 71 miles. All I wanted was sub 20. Could I do it?  We settled into a decent pace until we hit a solid climb no more than 1/2 mile out of 10 Bear. It started in the woods then out onto a dirt road and up past some beautiful houses. Sub 20 seemed daunting to me.

As you might notice, I can't really recall the course in its entirety. There was dirt road, some single track/cart road and some pavement. It either went up or down and rarely ever was flat. The scenery was stunning. A blue bird sky gave way to rolling green hills, forests and farms. Properties were well maintained and you could tell there was some $$ in the area.

The Spirit of 76 (mile 77, 14:07) aid station was our next stop. We ran the flats, hobbled downhill and power-hiked the uphills all the way there. I inhaled some soup broth, refilled my liquids and was relieved to make it here before sun-down. I had heard from many reports that if one makes it to this aid station by sun-down, you got a good shot at sub-24. I was in well before that and was confident, that even if I had a meltdown, I could recover and still walk it in for a buckle.

Off through some meadows and into the woods we went on a sweet piece of single track. We caught some runners and got passed by a few more. I can honestly say I didn't mind getting passed at this point. I never do "enjoy" getting passed, but at this point I was running "my" race and nothing else. I would, however, see a few of these runners ahead and repass them towards the end.

Bill's Barn (mile 89, 16:55) was our next stop, but not before passing near the start line, going down the massive hill leading to Silver Hill Meadow (ouch...) and hitting the Cowshead aid station. I was happy to see a few friendly faces here. Mark Blakeley and Chris Cappellini, both from MA, were moving well and beat me out of the aid station.

Bill's Barn was kind of a tease. I could see and hear it off in the distance, but not before running through some fields with rough footing, up a massive hill and sharp right then past the handler parking (which I thought was Bill's but still had another tenth or so to go). Bill's was bumping with people and all kinds of activity. I hoped on the scale and was down only a pound. Good to go. I swapped my salt stained shirt for a new dry one and grabbed some ginger ale and potato wedges to go. Jesse and I had 11 miles to go.

It was just beyond dusk at this point and the view looking back at Bill's Barn was beautiful. One of the many scenes I'll alway remember on this picture perfect course. With headlamps on, Jesse and I hit some single track through the woods. I actually felt like I was moving well during this point, but once the steeper road descents came, the quads began barking loudly. An intermediate aid station came and went and finally Polly's was our last stop.

Jen and Adam, like at Bill's Barn, were anxiously awaiting me. Christmas lights were strung around the tent and fence posts giving the place a surreal atmosphere. I felt eerily calm arriving at this aid station. They had bottles ready to go, I ate some potato's and salt and off we went. Jesse and I discussed a slight discrepancy of the distances at this point. I knew Pollys (18:32) was at the 96 mile point (a mile later than most years due to a re-route) and I had 4 miles to go. But on the table, it listed the intermediate aid at 2.2 then the finish another 2.2 after that. Not sure, but that makes 4.4 in my book. The extra 4 tenths were killing my moral, plus the 2.2 to the aid station prior the finish, was the longest 2.2 miles in my life. I think Jesse thought I was going to lose it. At one point, he saw lights up-ahead and said, "I think thats it". It wasn't. I almost strangled him in my mind. Of course I didn't say anything, because who speaks much after running 98 miles. I think I just grunted.

We hit the intermediate aid, a quick refill. A sigh of relief. And the realization, after seeing the updated mileage of 1.9 on the aid table, that my journey would be over in less than two miles. The next stretch I ran hard, well, it seemed like I ran hard. It was some single track through the woods in back of the Silver Hill Meadow start/finish area. I could hear cheers of people coming in so I knew I was close. Next were the milk jugs, lit with glow sticks. I've read that this is the finale and a the finish was right around the corner.

Around that corner I came and through the finish in 19:29:00. Done. Did it. Sub 20 with time to spare.

This was an all-around great race. The volunteers were amazing. Julia Hutchinson, the RD is amazing. Zeke Zucker, the gentleman who designed the course is awesome. The scenery, the townspeople, and the feel of Vermont were all unforgettable. I thank you all.

I must also thank Tecnica for putting the most bad-ass shoes on this planet on my feet. Katie Gould and Tecnica made my feet happy for 100 miles. No changes of shoes, socks and no blisters. Not bad!! A big thank you to New England Backpacker for stocking me up with my favorite gels (Peanut Butter and Mint Chocolate) through a special order. Thanks guys. And to Christian at New Chapter for keeping my vitamins on par throughout my journey.

Must give a shout to Adam Wilcox and Shane Skowron for giving me some insight on their previous VT100 runs. It helped guys, thanks. And to all the others who wrote a race report. I read ALL of them. No joke. I read over 40 race reports in the weeks leading up to the race, and some numerous times. It helped, so thanks.

One person runs a 100 miles, but many push us to the finish. Thank you all.




  1. Great report and it was fun to relive it! The last portion you ran really well. I don't understand why you were upset about the mistaken aid station though. We're you tired from something?

    1. Haha! Funny man eh. Remember, I am pacing you at Ghost Train...

  2. Awesome Justin! I've been waiting to hear how it all played out. Congrats, and hope that recovery via landscaping is going well!

    1. Awesome run, Justin! Way to crush it your first time on the course.

    2. Thanks Adam! I think i may give it a go next year...with a little more downhill road training of course!

  3. Great report and awesome job out there Justin! I'm looking forward to running with you again soon. Hopefully next time I can hang on for longer!

  4. That sounds like a plan Anthony. I'll see you out on the trails soon!

  5. Justin, thanks for filling in the details. Logistics are always daunting. Say hi to Anthony Perillo for me we see each other on the xc ski trails and he is a customer of ours here at the Backpacker. Congrats on a great race.
    Bob Fitz

  6. Amazing race Justin. I actually know Daryl and Mike from MD. They're coaching a trail program in our area. Under their tutelage I hope to finish Vermont this year.

    1. Thanks Hai! This was one to remember. Mike and Daryl were great guys to run with. Say hi to them for me if you get the chance and good luck with your training.