I rolled through the mile 21 aid station where my first drop bag was located. I changed to a dry shirt and hat, refilled my gel cache, and started down the hill out of the crowd. I was already clicking off a great pace and felt outstanding. The way things were trending, albeit very early, my second Vermont 100 was looking really good!
Let's Rewind for a Minute
Ok, lets back up a second before I continue. If mile 21 is the middle of the story, then we need to rewind about seven weeks to the beginning. Actually, even further than that.
More than 2.5 years prior to this moment, I signed up for the 2020 Vermont 100 Endurance Race with the plan to better my 2018 result. Due to the COVID pandemic, the 2020 race was postponed until 2 years later, July of 2022.
Now that we are all caught up to 2022… at the beginning of June (seven weeks ago), I raced the Worlds End 100K ultramarathon. This course had been my white whale, as I had DNF’ed (Did Not Finish) the prior two years. This year, I was fit and ready for the slabby rocks and steep climbs of this central Pennsylvania classic.
Nearly 19 hours later, I walked through the finish line and earned that finisher’s belt buckle I had been working toward for so long.
100K Complete, 100 Miler Next
After driving the 4+ hours home the next day (and once everything stopped hurting), I noticed my right ankle was a bit swollen and sore on the upper part. I didn’t think much about it, as the Worlds End course is a landmine for ankle rolls. Even with trekking poles, the loose rocks, off-camber, brutal terrain is unforgiving, and no one comes out of that race unscathed.
Fast forward seven weeks and I was fully recovered, got some decent training in, took the family to Disney World (not a great place for recovery), and was up in Vermont for the 100 mile race.
I was setup at the race site and checked in by a good time, so I was able to spend the afternoon relaxing with a buddy as we talked about the logistics of our race, drop bag setups, and how we wanted to attack the 100 miler with 17,000 feet of climbing the next day. I was fueled, hydrated and ready to go with my absolute favorite gear for the opening leg of the race.
The first alarm went off at 2:30am, but I was already up enjoying a couple of scones I grabbed up in Waterbury, VT and having my first of two cold brews. I took my time getting ready, with an extra focus on making sure my feet were prepared for the impending damage they’d see over the course of the day. Once my feet were taped up, lubricated, and Darn Tough Stride Micro Crew socks carefully put on, I was ready for the 4am gun time.
With the temperature hitting 88 degrees F later in the day, I knew I wanted to go out a little bit harder while the weather was agreeable. After about an hour in the dark, the headlamps turned off, and I was able to get into a nice, comfortable cruise with the focus on power hiking the uphill, taking the downhills as gently as possible to save the quadriceps, and finding a flow on the flats.
I was cognizant of my hydration and nutrition, refilling my two handheld water bottles at every aid station and eating as much as humanly possible.
Back to Mile 21
The Mile 21 aid station is where I first started this adventure. Now that we are caught up to where we began, I can talk about what happened from here. All ultrarunners are familiar with several expressions that describe a race. My favorites are:
“Any idiot can run a marathon; it takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultramarathon.”
“Keep putting one foot in front of another until you can’t.”
“It’s fun... until it’s not.”
As I hit mile 25, something started feeling a bit off. For a 100 mile race, this was way too early to be feeling discomfort, but I knew I had to put it out of my mind.
As with any long race, there will be moments of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and I kept telling myself that this was a low point and things would get better. I slowed my pace, backed off on my uphill hikes, and spent some miles with my buddy who was attempting his first 100.
Mile Marker 30, Then 35, Then 40
But things kept getting worse, and I started noticing the ankle I had hurt at Worlds End seemed to be aching and stiffening up. Fortunately, as I went past the 30 then 35 miles mark, I was able to keep moving forward and things had stabilized.
Downhills were a bit tough, but I viewed the dropping pace as a positive, as I would have more energy as I hit the overnight hours after the midday heat subsided. It was fun again!
I find few things as much fun as running through the woods! I clipped past mile 35, onto 40 then started mentally preparing for the HUGE aid station called Camp 10 Bear at mile 47.
Just a few miles out, I noticed that my ankle was becoming a bit more of an issue, but I had a plan that would hopefully ease the issue. I walked into 10 Bear with a couple of other racers and immediately grabbed my drop bag.
The plan was to change out of my trail shoes into a soft pair of road runners, put on a fresh pair of Darn Tough socks, drop the handheld bottles, put on my hydration vest, and get ready for the 23-mile loop.
No Big Deals and Big Deals
I started back off as quickly as I could, and a mile out of the 10 Bear began the big road climb. I connected with a couple of runners, and the three of us took it easy as the cloud cover rolled away and the heat truly came in.
Nearly a mile in, I noticed one of my soft flasks was leaking (no big deal) and as I went to grab a gel, found my vest completely empty (big deal). All my nutrition for this section was back at the aid station. I allowed myself a minute to be grumpy and then started devising the plan for the next bunch of hours.
I continued the road climb and slowed my pace, knowing that getting to the next aid station with as little effort as possible was important.
Mile 45, then 50 clicked by and I had settled into another comfortable pace and things were still fun, but the heat was making it less fun than earlier. By mile 55, my ankle, which had stabilized after the initial problem 30 miles ago, began to deteriorate. Every step seemed to get more and more difficult; the strain grew from only an issue on the downhills to including the flats and ups.
As the sun began to set and the temperature dropped, I found my pace was slowing considerably as well. I ran the calculations in my head; at this pace I could finish in 24 hours (not going to happen)… at this pace I can finish in 26 hours (most likely not unless things feel better)… and finally, I realized I was looking at a 28+ hour finish, which was 6+ hours more than I thought earlier in the day.
Remember this quote from earlier: “Keep putting one foot in front of another until you can’t.”
Until You Can't
As I hit the mile 65 aid station, running was out of the question for the rest of the day and walking was getting truly painful. I sat down, and the aid station captain told me that Camp 10 Bear was about 5 miles away, with the majority on a goat path.
That goat path section is so much fun to run. It is flowy, downhill, and a highlight of the entire course. However, I realized my ankle wouldn’t allow me to enjoy any of it, and most likely the additional running would cause more damage to my ankle.
I knew the choice had already been made for me. It was time to hand in my race number and get a ride back to the start.
Celebrating at the Finish
The following morning, I went down to the finish line and watched runners coming in. Although I didn’t get that belt buckle, I did get to see some of those I shared miles with. There are few things as inspiring as the finish line of a 100 mile race, seeing those who spent 17, 20, or even 30 hours out on course in a physical and mental battle succeed is an amazing thing to watch.
100 Miler — I'm Coming for You!
A few days after the race I was put in a walking boot by my doctor. My decision to stop at mile 65 prevented any major damage, and in a few weeks I’ll be good as new getting ready for a racing in the fall.
The Vermont 100 will be there in 2023, 2024, and beyond, and I will go earn that elusive buckle. I am happy with those 65 miles and proud of my decision to stop. I have lots of miles left in me, and I look forward to my next run through the woods searching for tents full of food!
About the Author
Jared Gell is the Global Marketplace Manager for Darn Tough Vermont and is based in Connecticut. Jared frequents his local trailheads in the pre-dawn hours and enjoys racing through the woods searching for tents filled with food.