Twenty years ago this week, I ran my first Vermont 100 Mile and my third 100-mile race. As a relative newcomer to the sport, I was somewhat in awe of the talent and ability in the field. As we started the race in the predawn darkness, I found myself running alongside a handful of ultrarunning dignitaries, many of whom I had heard of but few of whom I had ever met.
There was Belgium’s Hans Put, a multiple-time Hardrock 100 finisher as well as a Barkley Marathons fun run finisher. Along with Hans was Pennsylvania’s Joe Kulak, a newcomer to the scene with a fast road racing pedigree. From New Mexico, Eric Clifton, complete with his trademark colorful tights, took it out hard, as he often did in those days, and chatted the early morning hours away. Ian Torrence, already a star on the scene by 2002, was running the second leg of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning that day. And then there was John Geesler.
As the sun rose and the day began to warm, I fell into stride with John and immediately took note of his unique look and measured approach. Clad in road shoes and wool socks, Geesler had the visage of a hardened veteran. His salt-and-pepper ponytail bounced along as he ran. With a cotton T-shirt, a pair of long, baggy shorts, and a waist pack with a metal army-issue canteen strapped to it, John was a guy who stood out among the rest.
We quickly fell into an easy conversation. I learned that John was from upstate New York and was running his 12th Vermont 100 Mile. I said quietly to myself, “I think I’ll try to stick with this guy.”
By mile 44, after running together for several hours and embarking onto the camp 10 bear loop, John slowly pulled away from me. He would go on to finish third that year behind Put and Kulak in a time of 16:01. I ended up finishing about 50 minutes behind John that day, and I was so honored when he was there to greet me at the finish.
With his metronomic running style, deep course knowledge, and innate pace control, I have always thought of John as the classic Vermont runner. Even though at the time he already had impressive finishes at Western States 100, Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile, Mohican 100 Mile, and Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, I continued to think of him, more than anything else, as the consummate Vermont 100 Mile runner.
I ended up going back to Vermont four more times in the ensuing years and each time I went, I enjoyed catching up with John, running a few miles with him, and watching him do his thing.
And so it was, with great interest and excitement, that I learned earlier this week that John is still going strong. At this year’s event, after two years of COVID-19 cancellations, he finished his 28th Vermont 100 Mile. Now each year that he returns, race director Amy Rusiecki assigns him a bib number that corresponds to his number of starts. At the age of 68, John is no longer the 24-hour runner he once was.
But his 28:33 finish last Saturday, wearing the number 28, proved to me that he is still the consummate Vermont runner and has plenty of gas left in the tank. In this age of bucket list races and “one-and-done” ultrarunners, it inspires and motivates me to watch as John goes back, year after year, to the race he loves.
And so it is that I suspect, no matter what else happens in the world between now and next year’s race, we will see John Geesler toeing the line at Vermont going for his 29th finish. I can’t wait to watch!
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from The Alchemist brewery in Stowe, Vermont. Known most notably for their award-winning Double IPA, Heady Topper, in recent years The Alchemist has released a variety of different beers that they brought in and out of rotation. One of my favorites is their take on the classic American Pale Ale, Broken Spoke American Pale Ale. Balanced at 6% ABV and brewed entirely with Amarillo hops, Broken Spoke has a decidedly West Coast flavor and a slightly fruity finish. If you find yourself in the North Country, a stop at The Alchemist will be well worth your time.
Call for Comments
- Have you ever run with John Geesler or seen him in action?
- What are your memories of him?