The Power of Heat: Reflections on the 2019 Vermont 100 Mile

AJW's TaproomLast weekend in the woods and pastures of northern New England, one of the U.S.’s classic, longstanding 100-mile races took place. The Vermont 100 Mile, long a staple of the summer ultrarunning calendar, has stood the test of time as one of the great ultra events in the U.S. More often than not, this mid-July race has enjoyed pleasant, seasonable temperatures and mild humidity. However, it seems that every decade or so, the weather gods conspire to make it brutal. This year was perhaps the most brutal ever!

Most longtime Vermont 100 aficionados remember the 1999 race edition which had a record-high dropout rate of 55% and one of the slowest, but most impressive, finishing times in history by legendary runner Kevin Setnes who won that year at the age of 45 in a time of 16:53. This year, 20 years to the day later, the temperature and humidity was even higher and the overall carnage even greater.

In the week leading up to the race, runners, crews, and pacers watched as the forecasted temperatures and humidity levels continued to skyrocket. By midweek, race director Amy Rusiecki emailed the participants to prepare them for the worst. She even went so far as to call all of the country stores along the race route (and there are a lot of stores!) to advise them to stock up on more ice than usual. When race morning dawned, it was clear that it was going to be a tough day. Race-day temperatures exceeded 98 degrees Fahrenheit and heat indices exceeded 112 degrees Fahrenheit the mid- to late afternoon.

Early on in the day, many runners started out quickly, hoping to beat the heat in the relative coolness of the morning hours. This strategy would prove to be ill-advised as ultimately just about half of the runners would drop out of the race. Of the 321 starters, a mere 157 finished. That’s a finishing rate of 49% which is second lowest in race history and exceeded only by the 45% of 1999. By comparison, the 2018 Vermont 100, held under more typical conditions, had a finishers’ rate of 77%. Clearly, the 2019 race was one for the ages and as many have said, just finishing it was a victory.

All of this makes Gediminas Grinius’s winning time of 16:01 even more extraordinary, especially after his sub-16-hour sixth-place finish at the Western States 100 just three weeks prior. In addition, only five men broke the 20-hour barrier, a mere 10 women broke the 24-hour barrier, and Rusiecki gave out just 37 sub-24-hour buckles, the fewest in race history. Even in 1999, 45 runners got in under that 24-hour barrier.

What all this brought to mind for me is how much of an impact race-day conditions can have on an ultra. Sometimes, no matter how hard we train or how meticulously we prepare for whatever may come our way, Mother Nature bats last. When we venture into the world of ultrarunning, we know we need to expect the unexpected and prepare for the worst. But many times, even in doing that, we still fall short of our goals. I am sure that many of the 164 people who dropped out of last weekend’s race are dealing with disappointment and asking ‘what could have been.’ However, knowing how brutal it was out there should give them solace, for even having the courage to start, knowing what was in store for them, was indeed a victory of sorts and will hold them in good stead the next time.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week has to come from Vermont, one of the U.S.’s great beer states. Given the workmanlike nature of this year’s race, this is what I think is the state’s best ‘lawnmower beer.’ Zero Gravity Craft Brewery in Burlington, Vermont makes a no-nonsense classic lager called Green State Lager which is simple, tasty, and eminently pleasant. At a time in the craft-beer industry when everyone is trying to out do the next thing, it’s nice to see Zero Gravity going in the other direction.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Were you at last weekend’s Vermont 100 Mile? How was the heat and humidity for you?
  • How about that 1999 running of the race in its hottest conditions? Leave a comment to share memories you have of that event.

There are 25 comments

  1. LiPuma

    I was a DNF this weekend. I felt like it was a healthier decision based on how hot it was. It was impossible to hydrate correctly!

  2. John

    Was able to finish this as my 2nd hundred miler. My ice bandana was a necessity to get through Saturday. This was proven as it fell off at some point overnight (yes, I was using it even at night) and I therefore started heating up and getting uncomfortable after the sun rose Sunday morning. Humidity led to being constantly wet, including my feet which caused some issues. Directors and volunteers did an amazing job. A memory I will never forget.

  3. Stewart

    Plodding along in the heat, trying not to overdo it, I succumbed to the shade tree at the 40 mile aid station and realized that I needed to back off further to give my stomach a chance to resume emptying in the preferred direction (downward, toward where fluid, electrolytes and nutrition get absorbed). I dumped a lot of ice into my water, walked to Ten Bear, and then set out to see if I could stay ahead of the cutoffs and if not just how much further I could get before the clock ran out. Which it did at 55 miles.
    Sewed a custom ice pocket in my hat, but would have done much better with an ice bandana and a lot of ice in my water pack’s bladder. I found it odd that my quads felt more tired than expected, but not odd at all that chafing was an issue.
    Guess I’ll have to come back for the 100K, at least, so as to wear in good conscience my “Ten Bear: A place so nice you’ll visit twice” T shirt :-)

  4. Nick

    I thought I was ready as I found last year hot and needed up dropping at Margeritaville. The bonus last year was meeting AJW at Bills. This year was way worse and made me realize I should have continued last year.

    The race itself was great and Amy did a great job from the pre-race “we don’t need heroes we need finishers” pep talk to the extra ice. The other thing that needs to be mentioned is the amazing communities the race goes through with their hoses, buckets, and troughs to keep the runners and horses cool.

    All in all this is an amazing race with an amazing organizing committee and community around it.

  5. Scott Hunter

    Sounds like this year was comparable to 1999. In 1996 I ran vt100 just under 22:30. I finished 50th overall and 8th in my age group. in 1999 I finished in 25 hours. 50th overall and 8th in my age group. A friend of mine ran it in 1999 and 2000. He ran it 2 and a half hours faster in 2000. The heat in 1999 was a 2:30 penalty. LOL

  6. Atlee Burpee

    I was glued to the weather forecast during the preceding week, teased and frustrated as weather websites bounced back and forth from low 90s to high 90s. High 90s it was. I’m glad I survived my first Vermont 100, even if it was a bit slower than my A goal. It is a beautiful course. I’m sorry if the horses won’t be running with us next year after such an amazing history of horses and humans running this epic course simultaneously.

  7. Mike Kent

    Which year does the Vermont 100 recognize as the hottest? As a 1997 finisher I’d like to know if I ran the hottest or second hottest VT 100.

  8. Andrew Gilbert

    Anyone out there was putting it on the line and has only gained in experience and depth. That was an epic day. I had the honor to pace a good friend in the 100K and it was one of the toughest runs mentally I have ever experienced. And I got an ice bath after 30 miles and was chugging San Pellegrino’s all night. He dug deep and with the help of other friends, including a freak of a 2nd half pacer made it to the finish. Amazing effort for anyone, inspiring to see in an over the hill mid packer like myself. We felt like anyone and everyone, DNF, 1st timer, pro, pacer, crew, aid volunteer, rider, organizer that was part of it were heroic. It’s an awesome event every year. This conditions just made it EPIC. Amy rocks. Her energy infects everything. The organization was ready. Wow!!

  9. Vincent Savino

    As an aide worker at Birmingham station, it was apparent on the posture and faces of the runners coming through, that this was was an endurance race of extreme circumstance.
    All the training, all the preparation, all the expectation was meet with the circumstances of the day. And near Birmingham, if the heat didn’t get ya, the swarms of flies would.
    Everyone that passed through demonstrated impressive perseverance. Courage. Daring. Motivation. And the “OK” to take a quick break, catch your breath and then move on.
    Only those of you who attempted such a feat, really know what’s it’s like. Those of us who caught a glimpse of your travail are in awe and respect of your attempts and achievement.
    Hats off to all who started the race and went to their distance of the day. You stated something most other humans would never dare.

  10. Nick

    Great Article and equally amazing course! This was my first VT100 & I thought my training in Atlanta would give me a slight edge enduring the high temps. Wow did I eat humble pie all day!!! I wouldn’t have been able to finish without the amazing volunteers, crew and support staff! Aid Stations were exceptional (stocked with extra ICE, supplies & happy/dedicated volunteers all day). Special Thanks to the local area EMT who kept me cool and hydrated! And yeah, I got a good crash course in electrolytes but that’s a conversation for another article.

  11. Andrew Carlson

    Atlee Burpee states “I’m sorry if the horses won’t be running with us next year after such an amazing history of horses and humans running this epic course simultaneously.”

    Is this true?

    1. Andrew Gilbert

      I think there might be confusion over a statement “this is the last race to include riders and runners and we are very proud of that” as in VT100 is the “last race in general” not this is the last iteration of VT100 to include both ?? Not 100% clear though and trust they will clarify. It’s awesome sharing with the riders. Would be a loss.

  12. yarganosaj

    I bailed on my goal time and halfway through, I knew I was not going sub 24. I kept it nice and easy, hydrated well, kept up on my nutrition and all was well. I took advantage of the ice, hoses along the course, and the fabulous volunteers. No blisters, minimal chaffing, and urine was clear all day. I wore arm sleeves to stuff ice down at aid station, wore a sun guard/shield that covered my ears, neck, and face, and changed my socks after the river crossing. I tempered my effort, survived, and felt great afterwards. It was manageable in my opinion. Hot, so very hot!!!…but manageable.

  13. William Jackson

    Having experience was what got me through Vermont. It was very hot and humid early so I kept my pace comfortable and used salt right away. I saw people running pretty fast and knew it wasn’t for me. The ice the race provided was perfect and spaced out very well. I’m a large person and a heavy sweater but I was heat trained pretty well rom work and training. I felt great to mile 89 then got lazy with continuing the ice ritual so I faded a little and backed off my sub 24 goal to feel good for after. Knew it could be risky to my health. Was 41st overall in 24:42 and I’m super proud of that. If you finished it is one to be very proud of. Glad people took care of themselves and others. Amy’s words as a race director were great for first timers and veterans alike. Sometimes we need help from ourselves :) cheers

  14. Jeanette

    Props to all who ran in this heat. As a rider who dearly loves this ride, it is my understanding that this is the last ride in the country that runs horses and humans on the same course at the same time. To my knowledge there will continue to be horses at this run in the future. I plan to ride next year as well and hope to see you all there!

    1. Jeremy

      It’s only the last 100 mile ride in the country with both humans and horses. There’s a 50 miler in Arizona called Man Against Horse in which riders and runners compete on the same course at the same time.

  15. Faith

    Thanks for this. I was one of the 51% that DNFd. Turning in my bib was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in an ultra. I chose not to try to bank time and arrived at Pretty House right on my target, but unfortunately things unraveled quickly as the temps soared. I do try to remember the courage it took to even toe the line, but it still stings. I’ll be back next year for redemption!

  16. Maureen G.

    I was lucky enough to finish my 2nd 100miler at VT 2019. Time goals had been thrown out the window since Thursday before the race and it was all about managing the heat, fueling and hydration this year. My race fell apart a bit when the sun started to sent and heat of the day was over but the humidity rose (for me this was around mile 77) – for me, when the sun went down it was far worse than the middle of the day! My stomach was not happy in the humidity and I couldn’t keep anything down for almost the last 30miles, but it was good enough to hold on to my placing goal of top 5 women. I felt the extreme conditions helped me learn a great lesson in running on feel and not worrying about time and staying within the moment and running my own race. I can’t wait to be back!

    It was amazing how in addition to the incredible preparation and addition of extra unmanned water stops by the race director/committee, the VT community also came together to leave hoses, buckets of water, fresh cut watermelon, and jugs of ice out on the course as runners and horses passed by. :)

    VT100 2019 – where the chafing scars and memories will last a lifetime!

  17. Robert Jensen

    I was a volunteer with TARC at Camp 10 Bear this year. I was there from 6:30 am on Sat until 1:30 am on Sunday. That was 18 hours on my feet, in that heat. It was pretty tough. All the runners that came through C10 B have my deepest respect. All I could think about was THANK GOD IM NOT RUNNING! I watched in awe as runners came in and went out. I began to think about running the VT 100 again. Its been 8 years since my last Vt 100. Ive finished it 4 times. I think Im going to try it one more time, try for my 500 miles. To all the 2019 Vermont 100 runners, thank you, weather you finished or not, you inspired me.

  18. Joe Lugiano

    The 1999 Vermont 100 was my 10th start of 18 eventual starts at that very special race. Having had 8 sub 24 hour finishes there I felt that the heat would not be a factor since I was living and training in NC. I felt it was running OK but slower that year and coming into Camp 10 Bear at 44 miles, I was standing behind another runner at the scale when the med tech said to that runner that he was down a few pounds and he recommended that he get to a hospital to get rehydrated. Looking over the sidelines there were a number of other runners who wer, e laying around trying to recover from the heat. When it was my turn, I stepped on the scale and was OK on weight but looking at my wife who was crewing me, her beat red face told me that while I may have been able to finish, I was not sure how she would make out over the next 10 to 12 hours that it might take me to finish, so I decided to stop. She told me that she saw a thermometer that read 103 degrees. It was a good decision on that day. Gotta think of the crews to keep them alive for another day.

  19. Stephen

    I chose Vermont to be my first 100 miler. The night was surreal – a thunderstorm, owl noises and such a cool vibe at the aid stations. The race supports Vermont Adaptive which is an awesome organization that benefits individuals with disabilities.

  20. Uli Steidl

    So you can mention the men’s winner by name, but not the women’s winner, Christine Mosley. Who won by 1:45h in only her second 100 miler ever.

  21. Jim McIntosh

    I remember the 1999 VT 100 well. It was definitely a race of attrition. I managed to finish in 26:51 (63rd overall), but it wasn’t pretty. I felt lucky to see the finish line that year, even though I had finished 4 hours faster (22:59) just a few years earlier. The heat in 1999 was brutal, so I extend my heartfelt congratulations to any of the strong women and men who finished in 2019. You should be proud, amigos.

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