[Editor’s Note: Words by Michael Lebowitz; photos by Patchanida Pongsubkarun.]
If Western States is the crown jewel of ultras, the Vermont 100 may be the last vestige of the, “Let’s meet at the farm on Saturday morning and head out. You know, maybe go north and follow the horse trail. Who’s making the chili?”
In my memory, ultramarathons and shorter trail races used to be like this, mellow gatherings of families and friends who endured one of their own who just had to get up way early on a Saturday morning and meet up with Dusty, Snake, Weasel, and that blonde girl to run a hundred miles. Krissy Moehl, the youngest female to ever win the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning says that she started running ultras simply because she loved training for road races on her local Chuckanut trail system. It didn’t take very long, she says, for the dread of running the mountain trails to transform into her greatest joy. Her story is not unusual. Over time, land-use licenses and growing knowledge of health and safety considerations brought about a more organized approach, a logistical puzzle made up in parts of beautiful sight lines, physical challenges, weather events, forest fires, and, “What the hell, nobody has ever run THAT!”
Where States explodes from inside the shadowed confines of the Squaw Valley Olympic Village, a faux European mountain town or monastery, if your mind works that way, Vermont starts at Silver Hill Meadow in West Windsor. No mountains or monasteries to be seen anywhere nearby, no great landmark vistas to mark the inevitable passage of your time on the course, just the palpable, shadowed sense of rolling countryside.
Nick Clark says,
Vermont is old school, but very well done. The aid stations are plentiful and well stocked, the volunteers are fantastic, and the scenery is spectacular and typically New England. I found the unique, arrowed trail markings to be fantastic and a much superior, if more time consuming, way to mark a course. At no point during the day did I feel unsure of whether or not I was on course. And believe me, aside from the course markers, you have absolutely no idea of where you are when running the Vermont 100, other than at the top, middle, or bottom of yet another bloody hill.
At 11:00 p.m. the night before the start, it was pouring rain, great sheeting walls of water and rolling thunder. A light and sound show, as if in warning to the gathered aspirants that their individual passage this day will most assuredly require the sure and certain knowledge that 100 miles is always 100 miles, that it is not easy, that underneath the clearing night sky it is now time to begin the day’s business of managing the pain. Of feeding the “beast.” Of being reminded once again that no one ever beats 100 miles into the ground but rather more poignant, every single time one is taught to respect the miles and the person running them.
Indeed, a 100 miles is a joint effort between the runner and the natural world both, external and internal, rendering the successful traverse as a victory of discipline, faith, and courage in the acceptance of what is real so that one may be be finally, totally present in the adventure. Everyone, nervous, damp, ready, fearful, hopeful, is huddled in the tent at the start-line area. When the countdown finishes, all the runners rush from the tent and onto the course. The deluge a few hours ago is now a faint memory to be gobbled down in the early miles. Vermont 2013 is fairly begun.
Again, Nick Clark,
I do think of the Grand Slam as a grail of sorts but, again, more from a competitive standpoint. I hope it will be something I can hang my hat on, be content with, something that will allow me to move on from personal competition. My son has many goals, even at the tender age of 6.5, and I find myself much more interested in helping him achieve those than I do in achieving my own these days.
Some Slam competition facts courtesy of Ian “The Sharmanator” Sharman:
- Number of starters before Western States – 31 (plus Nick Clark unofficially a “stealth Slammer”)
- Number of runners left after Western States – 28 (plus Nick)
- Number of runners left after Vermont – 26 (plus Nick)
- Neil Gorman’s 2010 total time to the end of Vermont when setting the Grand Slam record: 34 hours, 47 minutes
- Scott Jurek’s 2004 total time to the end of Vermont in his Grand Slam: 32 hours, 17 minutes
- Nick Clark’s total Grand Slam time to date: 32 hours, 51 minutes
- My total Grand Slam time to date: 32 hours, 18 minutes
And herein lies one of the story lines of the 2013 Grand Slam, the duel between Ian Sharman and Nick Clark for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning “win” and record.
Nick Clark, some more:
My first question upon sitting down (at the finish in 15:54 for third place) was about Ian and his fate. I’d heard nothing since a comment hours earlier about him being in rough shape, so I was shocked to hear that he was just four minutes behind me. And then there he was, the chipper Englishman popping out of the woods with a strong, late-race rally for a very hard-fought, well-deserved, sub-16-hour, fourth-place finish.
Moving to the Rockies [at Leadville] in four weeks, Ian will start with a 33-minute lead; both of us holding significant advantage over Neal Gorman’s existing course record (2.5 and 2 hours respectively). But this one ain’t done until we hit the Wasatch finish line. Neal was solid at both Leadville and Wasatch, so all it takes is one blow-up for both me and Ian, and Neal’s record lives on into 2014.
Living quietly beneath the radar is Nick Pedatella with a 20:34:06 and a 20:17:16. A great day at Leadville and two “bad days” at Leadville and everything tightens right up.
There are story lines, voices, and images from the middle of the pack, too.
Traci Falbo recounts last Saturday,
“I always feel hopeful and optimistic. At Vermont, I wanted redemption from my race at Western States. (I got sick and puked.) I had never really had a bad ultra before then. (They’ve never been perfect, but not awful.) So, ultimately, in the last three weeks, I’ve questioned my abilities as an ultrarunner… Did I have my last good race? Did I lose my mojo? Am I getting weak? Should I have pushed harder at States even though I was so sick? (My pacer said I probably should have been pulled.) I know that logically these are stupid thoughts. I just ran a great world-championship race in May, but nevertheless they are things I’ve thought about. I ran Vermont too fast in the beginning and didn’t care… I wanted to know where I was. I fell off as the race went on, but am still pleased with my performance and know that I still have my mojo.“
Ryan Lund, 38, ran his first 100 at IMTUF in 2012 in roughly 30 hours. His second 100 was a 22-hour finish at States this year and his third is a 21-hour finish at Vermont. These are the building blocks of a very good Slam and, more to the point, of a very fine running career. He trains in Boise, ID with Joelle Vaught which may be the secret ingredient to his success.
Keith Straw has run the Slam twice before. He adds the Badwater Ultramarathon into the mix each time and has done so again this year. His unfailing good humor, humility, and calming presence have been reassuring to the first time Slammers. He is also well on his way to a very fine Slam finish.
Complete 2013 Slammer results, to date.