A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Vermont Course Preview for Aspirant Slammers


OK, first off, be mindful of the time you start the race...4AM. This means you will need either a headlamp or some kind of a flashlight to start the race. The flashlight can easily be handed over to crew or placed into a drop bag at the first significant aid station, Pretty House, at 22.5 miles.

Also, be mindful that there is also a horse race that coresponds with the run, and the horses start at 5AM. Don't worry, the horses will not trample you over. What you do need to understand that there MUST be constant communication between you, the runner, and the riders of the horses. There will be places will the horses will pass you on the courses. There are also places, like some technically difficult single track sections of the course, where you might actually pass the horse. If you find yourself in the latter scenario, taking care not to surprise the horse is the way to go. Announce yourself to the rider and the horse so that you don't spook the horse from behind, and the rider will find an area to make the horse step aside so that you can pass. Again, communication is critical so that both you and the horses do not get surprised.

Running with the horses is a thrilling experience...just make sure you keep in constant communication with the riders and you'll do fine with them.


Other than that, it is great to run with the horses. I sometimes find myself talking to some of the riders of these magnificent animals in the early part of the race, and I find that to be a great pick-me-up during the race.

Next up, the weather. I participated in this race when it was hot and humid in 2010, and I participated in this race when it was a cooler, more pleasant day in 2012. The weather can be absolutely critical on your performance in this course. In Western States, you experienced a dry heat. Here, if hot, you will experience a more humid day. Humidity just makes the heat A LOT worse. Even if you're just standing still, a hot and humid day will make you sweat profusely. The conditions can be downright BEASTLY if we get the correct unholy alliance of heat and humidity. When I participated in the hot Vermont race in 2010, only 55% of the people finished the race. So the weather in Vermont is a huge factor. DO NOT take it lightly.

I will describe the course as best as possible. Overall, some people believe that because the course doesn't involve big hills or canyons like the other 3 races of the Grand Slam, that this is the “easiest” course of the Slam. Don't underestimate this course! The hills might not be as big as the others, but they are plentiful and keep coming at you relentlessly until the finish line.

OK, here goes...

Start line of Vermont 100.

Start line to Densmore Hill (mile 7.0) – You basically start from the farm and take Silver Hill Rd. for the first 2 miles of the race. It's basically a nice rolling hill section which is nice to get the legs going. After which you get into a bumpy dirt trail for another couple of miles. Here, the course starts to take a nice pleasant turn downhill in which you can open up a little. The trail eventually winds up back on dirt road, which I believe to be Densmore Hill Rd. Here you'll basically walk a little uphill to the first aid station, Densmore Hill at Mile 7. This is an unmanned aid station, and will basically have just water and electrolyte fluid, which you have to serve yourself.

From Densmore Hill to Dunham Hill (mile 11.5) – After the first aid station, you make a right hand turn and start down another dirt road going downhill. After what I think is another trail, you'll find yourself going uphill to Dunham Hill Rd, where there is another aid station. Again, this is an unmanned aid station with fluids.

After Dunhum Hill Rd., this is where you get the first significant downhill section going towards Woodstock. You'll find yourself going from unpaved to paved road as you approach Rt. 4. Last year, a key bridge at Taftsville was out, so the course actually went northwest through the village of Woodstock on the way north. But this year, we might revert back to the original course and skirt northeast of the village back to the Taftsville Bridge. If so, this covered bridge is one of the signiature landmarks of the beautiful Vermont countryside, so soak it in as you go through it. This is also one of the low points of the course, so be prepared for a nice climb after you leave the bridge and the aid station to follow.

Taftsville Covered Bridge. The covered bridge, one of the unique signatures of the Vermont landscape. You'll be going through two of these bridges along the course.


The Taftsville Covered Bridge Aid Station (15.4 miles) is the first manned aid station and will have the first significant variety of foods (potatoes, fruits, gummies, etc.) available, yummy goodness an ultrarunner will ever need! No crews will be here, so it will just be the runners and the volunteers; I remember it to be quite peaceful. Mike Lebowitz, this might be a good vantage point for the early part of the race to take photos since people will be walking uphill here. Since everyone is slowed down, it might be an easier time to take photos. We might all be smiling at this point!

The course continues its grind uphill along a dirt road from Taftsville to the South Pomfret Aid Station (18.9 miles). This is another unmanned aid station with just basic needs only. Again, it's a self-serve aid station.

The course continues its uphill jaunt until it tops out just before the Pretty House Aid Station at 22.5 miles.

A couple of things you need to know about Pretty House that is very important. To start, it is the first aid station where crews can access their runners. Because of this, and because it still is the early part of the race, the scene here can be VERY chaotic. As a matter of fact, a lot of the runners who have done this course tell their crews to skip this aid station and go first to either Stage Rd. or Camp 10 Bear because of the limited parking and the chaos here. I would advise the same thing here. Leave a drop bag here so that you can allow your crew to save the headache here and move ahead to Stage Rd. or Camp 10 Bear. Also, Mike L., I'm not sure you can get good photos here because of the chaos. I would skip this location.


 Pretty House Aid Station. Save your crew the headache and place a drop bag here.

OK, from Pretty House to Stage Rd. is the first real test of a climb. Going from dirt road to trail, you'll be climbing, and topping over the Sound of Music Hill. The U-Turn Aid Station at Mile 26.4 is also unmanned, at probably at the only switchback of the course (remember the millions of switchbacks at Western States? Not so here). You're going to want to have a camera here with you when you top this hill, the scenery when arriving at the top of this hill is AWESOME!!! Please pause at the top and soak it in, it's a great sight to behold!

This picture does the scenery no justice. It will pretty much overwhelm you when you reach to top of this mountain!


Watch your quads here! The descent from the hill is rather sharp. Please pay extra attention to the course markings here as the trail might not make itself known in several sections. At the bottom of this hill you will arrive at the Stage Rd. Aid Station at mile 31.4.

Stage Rd. is the second aid station where crews can access their runner but is not as chaotic as Pretty House (Mike L., this “might” be an OK place to take photos of runners with their crew, but I would suggest Camp 10 Bear being the much better location for photos). Stage Rd. is also an optional medical check. You can gauge how you're going with weight at this aid station before getting weighed for real at Camp 10 Bear.

From Stage Rd. you start down a paved road, then turn right into a single track trail and one of many small steep climbs on the way to the Camp 10 Bear Aid Station. Make sure to save a bit of energy here and get a good powerhile in so that you can get to the top of this particular hill with some energy left. Once you start descending this local hill you'll end up back on paved road at the Route 12 Aid Station (mile 34.3). This is a small manned aid station but has basically every food that you typically see in an ultra.

If I remember correctly, you'll be on Route 12 (paved road) for a little bit after the aid station, and maybe exposed to the sun also, which could be a factor if the day is hot. Once off the road you'll turn to yet another trail and a small yet steep hill. Again powerhike up that hill. During the course of the hill you'll encounter the Vondell Reservoir Aid Station (mile 36.2), which says it is unmanned but, in the both times I've raced Vermont, has actually had a guy there pouring liquids there for you. Don't expect much food at this aid station though Get your bottles topped off and continue on.

The course from Vondell Reservoir is pretty much on trail and downhill. It's a nice little place to cruise before hitting the next aid station at the Lincoln Covered Bridge (mile 39.6). And yes, it's another covered bridge that you'll go through. I think the aid station is after crossing the bridge. This will be a manned aid station with all the foods and liquids you need. No crew access though, so it's pretty calm there.

Now you're set for the final push to Camp 10 Bear! The course has a few major climbs and descents on single track trails just like the ones after Stage Rd. Don't kill yourself on these, just take them as they come. You'll pass Barr House (unmanned, 41.8 miles), Lillians (manned with food, 43.9 miles), and finally Jenny Farm (unmanned, 46 miles).

When approaching Camp 10 Bear for the very first time you'll notice a lot of activity before you get there. Cars will be parked on the sides of the road and crews are out waiting for their runners at this point. As you continue on, the crowds will be thicker as you actually approach the station.

Camp 10 Bear (mile 47.6) is THE major aid station on the course. It has everything, food, drink, heck, even a barbecue for when you hit Camp 10 Bear the second time.

Mandatory Weigh-In at Camp 10 Bear.


It also has a mandatory medical check. Unlike in Western States where it's only advised, if you're found below a certain percentage, they will either hold you there until you get back into acceptable weight. Or they have the descretion to pull you out of the race if your weight is way too low. Make sure you eat and drink at the aid stations leading up to Camp 10 Bear so that you can be cleared to continue on by the medical staff there.

If you can, take an extra minute or two to fuel up because the next part of the course is pretty significant. Once through the aid station you'll be on paved road going up, then down a big hill. You'll hit an intersection at this road and then go to your left, continuing on a paved road for close to a mile I think.

The course, after a while, takes a turn off the road and onto a trail. At this point, prepare for a major climb up a tough rocky trail. Dubbed “Agony Hill”, the steepness of this hill will sorely test your legs for a bit. Once up top, you'll finally get yourself onto another road on the way to the next aid station, Pinky's (51.4 miles). This is a manned aid station that (I think) has sandwiches along with the usual food and drink. It was nice to stop here after the climb and replenish what I lost.

The course after Pinky's is mostly dirt road and some trail, with rolling hills. If I recall, there is a nice running section here that was quite comfortable. After a bit of downhill you get to the next aid station, Birmingham's (54.5 miles) which is manned and has everything you need.

Looking at this year's aid station list, looks like there is a major change here. It used to be that Tracer Brook was the big aid station at the bottom of Prospect Hill that crews can access. Apparently, that's been reduced to an unmanned aid station and that the crews can access a new aid station called the Seven Sees. I'm not sure if this involves the climb up Prospect Hill that was part of the old course or involves a new route entirely. It also seems that there is an optional medical check here also in preparation for the mandatory weigh-in at Camp 10 Bear.

Since I don't know the new route, I'll leave it out. I'm sure the race director will explain fully the new route or aid station at the pre-race meeting.

With the old route, we used to go up and over Prospect Hill, which is a dirt road. Once going downhill, we found ourselves at the Margaritaville Aid Station (62.5), one of my favorites!

Themed after Jimmy Buffet's famed songs, the aid station plays Jimmy Buffet music, of course, and the volunteers are dressed as Parrotheads. There are also Margaritas here available to intrepid runners (I've never even dared to take one after 60 miles of running, lol). Crews can also access their runners here as well.

Me approaching Margaritaville in 2010.

Gotta love the signs!


This aid station is a good time to prepare yourself for the second time you get into Camp 10 Bear. After a small climb (mostly dirt road) to the unmanned aid station at Brown School House, you're going to have to contend with a MAJOR DESCENT that might make your quads sing a sour note. If your quads are OK, then this can actually be the best part of the course; I was feeling great going down this hill into Camp 10 Bear! On this downhill section, the dirt road goes into a narrow broken trail section for a time, then emerges back onto a huge dirt road. Again, if your quads are good here, you can easily FLY down this hill!

Once down the hill, the course finally takes a left turn onto another road; you're faced with a short uphill section that will lead you back to Camp 10 Bear (70.5). Again, you'll see crews parked along the road as you approach the aid station. At this point, it can still be daylight or can be dark, so plan your headlamps accordingly.

Last year, when I hit this aid station, they had some pretty good grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches that hit the spot. I think they also served chicken broth and other hot foods here.

The second arrival at this aid station also means another mandatory check-in, and you'll be asked to get on a scale. Hopefully, you'll be cleared to run immediately.

This also means you get your pacer here! That is good, because the next section of the course, I feel, is the most difficult section of the course.

Once out of Camp 10 Bear, you'll be immediately thrown onto a gate and un upward trail. I think someone dubbed this nasty climb “Heartbreak Hill”. No, not that puny hill in Boston that road runners cry over every year.. This one is quite the beast!

After what seems like forever going up this hill on single track, the course finally emerges out onto a dirt road. Your climb still isn't over yet though! You'll still find yourself powerhiking on the road until it finally levels off. The scenery here is pretty beautiful; soak it in before you continue!

The course then turns off the road into a very tough single track trail. The trail here has lots of little cruel ups and downs that will make your quads sing again. You will not be comfortable in this section at all. Luckily, you'll have your pacer with you.

With one last downhill, you finally emerge onto a road a short distance from the Seabrook aid station (mile 75.1). Once at Seabrook, this long taxing section will be behind you!

This will be the night time section for most runners. It is from here on that you'll mostly find yourself on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere with just blackness around you. It can feel pretty isolated, even in the company of a pacer. It is also here that you will be battling a bit of sleep because of the quite and the isolation of the roads.

The Spirit of 76 Aid Station (mile 77.1) is another major aid station with crew access. At night, it is impressively lit; it looks like a beacon in the middle of all this blackness. You'll probably get the urge to sit down; don't do it. Get your stuff you need and keep moving!

Spirit of 76 Aid Station


The course from the Spirit of 76 starts off on trail, then quickly gets back onto a dirt road again. Again, all I remember from my 2 races is the road and the blackness of night. It can get quite monotonous, so, if it works for you, maybe carry on a conversation with your pacer at this time.

From what I remember of the next aid station, Goodman's (81.4 miles), you can easily go right past it if you're not aware of it. It is unmanned.

After Goodman's please be very aware of the course markers (glow sticks at this point). Right before Cow Shed, the course does a major u-turn onto another dirt road. The first time I raced, I almost went off-course. The second time I was aware of the turn, but found it can still be very tricky.

Cow Shed (mile 84) is a nicely lit aid station to your left on the dirt road. It has just about everything, including some hot food. Please take an extra minute and load up of your food and drink here because there is a pretty tough 5 mile section between Cow Shed and Bills that you need to negotiate.

The 5 mile course is totally on dirt roads. You might find the first half of the course very, very easy, since it does go downhill for the first 2.5 to 3 miles. At the low point of this stretch, you'll be crossing a paved road and bear right onto another dirt road. You'll know it when you see it. Because at this point, you'll have a rather hard 2 mile slog up this nasty hill before you get to Bills. Both times I did it, it felt like forever before I was finally able to take the right turn toward Bill's.

Bills Barn - Great Aid Station at Mile 89.

Bills has chock full of everything a runner needs. Don't get too comfortable though!

Bill's is a barn and is a major aid station with medical staff and all the supplies you can think of at the aid station. It can also be labeled as a “trap”, because the barn is nice and warm, there are cots there you can easily lie down and fall asleep in, and the people there are warm and friendly. I guess it's like the “roach motel” because you can check-in, but will never check-out if you don't play your cards right here! Some people suggest that you get in, get weighed, then get out as soon as possible before you get too comfortable.

The final mandatory weigh-in also occurs here and your crew can help you out here as well. It was also a nice place to switch pacers; I had one pacer do the first 19 miles, then switch to another pacer who finished the final 11 with me. Once you're cleared with the medical staff, you can actually start to think about finishing the race!
Careful here though! The hills in the last 10 miles tend to just keep coming at you. As tired as you might be, you'll feel that you'll always have a hill in your face these last miles.

The final part of the course is a mix of dirt roads and some pretty involved single track trails that can occasionally trip up the tired runner. Watch your footing on some of the single-track sections and you'll be OK.

Keating's (92.4 miles) is a nice, small manned aid station that is nicely placed between Bills and the last aid station with crew access. Take a small break there, top off your bottles, and quickly get towards Polly's (95.9 miles), in which your crew gives you that final Pep Talk right before the finish line. The course still goes up and down some hills until you get to the last unmanned aid station, Sargent's (98.1 miles, which I've easily skipped twice).

After Sargent's you will be on single track trail for the remainder of the course. You'll go uphill after Sargent's, then level off to get some running in. At this point, you'll reach a sign saying “1 More Mile to Go!!!”. Another half-mile later, you'll reach some eerily lit bottles with candles lit inside them, you know the finish line is near! At this point you can easily pick up that pace and start to smile, one more right turn and the finish line is right there! Once across you are done...

...and already starting your Leadville preparations, but that will not be covered here! I hope this report helps.

Showing off my belt buckle at the finish line.


See you at Vermont on July 20!





4 comments:

  1. Fantastic write up! Love the detail - I'm printing this out and studying it :)

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  2. Ah, Great stuff Pete... the excitement builds!!

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  3. Thanks guys. Looking forward to seeing you all there on July 20. :-)

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