After running 100k at Virgil Crest Ultra last year I decided I would take it easy and only run 50 miles this year. The Denali trip took a lot of training and I wasn’t sure if I would be in running shape by September. We drove out to Virgil on Friday and got there in time for the wonderful pasta dinner. I was hungry and I was also hoping the aid stations would have the wonderful food that they had last year. I only run these events for the food (well, I do like the running part too)! We set up our tents and tried to sleep but it was way to hot for that, a bit different than the icy start last year. At around 2am the wind picked up and cooled things down a bit. I finally dozed off only to be woken up by my alarm clock at 4:45. It was time.
I cooked some hot water and made some oatmeal and hot tea. I got dressed and headed out to the start under a large moon and starlit sky. It was beautiful! With everyone lined up at the start with their headlamps on I could feel the excitement building up inside me. Before I knew it we were off! It was a lovely start to a long race and things were going great as we headed up the first hill. I had my friend with me who was running his first ultra and at 21 years old I wasn’t sure if he would be able to pace himself. We chatted and I told him he could stick with me if he wanted and I would do the pacing for both of us. Little did I know that this would be one of the hardest things I have done in a race, but at the same time I wanted to see him finish.
Don was waiting at the first aid station when we came through and he had on a big smile! Ben and I were feeling great so we grabbed some quick water and a snack. I gave Don a quick kiss before heading back into the woods. Things were going great for Ben and I. On the trail I caught up with Rob and we chatted for a while about stomach problems and running. I sure was hoping not to have any issues this year. I managed to get a bit off track but soon found the trail again. Soon I was at the Lifthouse aid station looking up at Greek Peak. I remembered it tearing me apart last year between mile 50 and 55.8 and was not looking forward to doing it twice again this year. Oh well, I was ready for a challenge.
Ben and I started up Greek Peak and enjoyed some wonderful fall foliage and views of the valley below. We went up and down and then up and down again and back to Lifthouse 5 where I changed my shoes out for some dry ones and also threw on my cute watermelon socks. Smiling again, we were off. Don was there with a big smile cheering us on. Ben had officially run further than he ever had before! His longest run prior to that point was 10 miles.
I warned him about the long hill ahead on the way to Rock Pile. We slugged up the hill and then were able to run nicely again for a little while. Don was at the intersection before Rockpile and he threw some more Accelarade in my waterbottle for me. Ben and I got up to the Rockpile where I pigged out on watermelon and pineapple. Just what I was craving at that point! Then I was off again and up some more big hills headed to Daisy Hollow. I was getting nervous because we were getting close to the turnaround and we hadn’t seen anyone come by yet. I told Ben something was up as I was sure there was no way we were that close to the front. Close to the turnaround we finally saw the leaders. A couple people ran by and then I saw Ryan flying by us and he was looking strong. Then one of the 100 miler women came by and all of a sudden we were at the turnaround. Somebody told me I was in first place for the womens 50 and I freaked out! I didn’t expect to be near the front and certainly did not want the stress of being in the lead for the first half of the race. I sucked up some chicken noodle soup like a vacuum, thanked the volunteers, gave Don a quick kiss and took off running.
The second place girl was about 15 minutes behind me, not a lot of distance between us for such a long race. I wondered if I could hold onto the lead. I also wanted to help Ben finish. I was holding us at a pace to finish around 10 hours for the first 25 miles and then backed us off to about a 10.5 hour finish. I was still feeling strong and was watching Ben to make sure the pace was good for the two of us. We soon found ourselves back at Rock Pile pigging out on some fresh fruit and then making a mad dash for the Lifthouse.
Coming down the last hill before Tone road I ate shit really hard in a rock garden. I sucked it up and kept on running. We got back to the lifthouse and then headed up Greek Peak for the dreaded second time around. This climb again rewarded us with spectacular views of the area. Ben and I chatted and I started panicking that we were not going fast enough for me to stay in the lead. I had gone about 35 miles and was in the lead, a first for me. Ben decided to tell me that I should stop getting excited because I wasn’t fast enough to hang onto the win. By the time I came off of Greek Peak and back to the Lifthouse I was in tears. Don wondered what was up and I told him that I wanted to win this race more than anything else and I didn’t know if I would.
Ben and I ran up the road, me with tears in my eyes. I couldn’t even eat my cookie as I was so upset I wanted to puke. Don came by in my car and told me I had a 30 minute lead on the next woman and to chill out. I still couldn’t relax. Ben and I pushed through the next few miles and when we got to mile 46 we both got a nice emotional boost. We knew we would finish and knew we would finish well! Don gave me a hug and a kiss as I choked up with tears and took off down the hill to the finish. At this point I had dropped us down to an 11.5 hour finish. I kept us on a run the descents, jog the flats, and walk the ups plan. We did this until we hit the paved path and we both decided we were going to walk a bit. I was an emotional wreck for so many reasons; helping Ben finish, staying in the lead, the difficulty of the course this year, and lack of sleep. When we crossed that finish line together, holding each others hands up high we both felt relieved.
Don was at the finish with a big huge smile! Ryan had gotten a 2nd place finish overall, I placed first in womens, and Ben and I tied for 5th place overall! Not bad! I think if my head were in it I could have finished a bit faster but this race was not about me this year, it was about helping a friend finish his first ultra and he really surprised me with his amazing finish!
This race makes the Vermont 50 feel like a walk in the park. For anyone looking for a real challenge then this is the race for you! Virgil Crest will chew you up, spit you out, and stomp you into the ground. It will also have some of the kindest and most wonderful volunteers, aid stations, and director. I will be back next year for another Virgil Crest beating.