As the Vermont 50 race weekend approached, emotions of the runners and race community were at an all-time high. Sadness hung in the air, as the void of the race was evident.
When Laura Farrell, founder of the Vermont 100 & 50-mile races and Vermont Adaptive, texted us four days earlier, asking us if we’d like to join her and her family for an impromptu 50k to keep the Vermont 50 spirit alive, we were immediately on board. As we pulled into the parking lot early Saturday morning, we saw the smiling faces of the three runners who would be joining us on our adventure. Emily had run the 50k distance only once before, Zoe had not run a marathon yet and finally, there was Laura, who, over 30 years earlier, had started it all—trailblazing a path for future runners and disabled athletes. No matter what the course, or the weather, we knew the company would be fantastic.
The day was picturesque with brightly colored leaves dotting the landscape. The sun tried desperately to peek through the dense fog. It was chilly as we lined up at the start—five humans and three dogs ready to tackle the day. We started along the same route as the traditional course, but vowed to make go-arounds, where we knew the trails were private. The Vermont 50 is extremely special because it combines both mountain bikers and ultrarunners together on the same course. The event is also a fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports and has raised over two million dollars for this incredible charity.
As we trotted along the backcountry roads, the miles ticked by. There was laughter in the air, dogs zoomed back and forth, and we relished getting to do something we all loved. We set up our first aid station at a friend’s barn about 12 miles in. Vermont folks are so nice that they even offered us the use of their fridge in the barn to keep our treats cold. As we ran down the steep meadow into what should have been “Greenalls” aid station, we all got goosebumps. The wind also picked up, so we huddled in the warm barn munching on chips and sandwiches, and sipping Coke and ginger ale.
Emily pointed out that the words “fun and run” don’t typically go together for her, but her enthusiasm summed up the day. She admits that she hasn’t trained, but that didn’t stop her from joining in on this wild adventure. Zoe tells us she hasn’t run a marathon yet, but we laugh and say that’s not a prerequisite to becoming an ultrarunner. Laura’s son’s Brad (Emily’s boyfriend) and Bobby (Zoe’s fiancé) started an hour before us. Bobby tackled his own 50-mile race, a first for him, and Brad ran nearly a 50k, pacing his brother to the finish. They are both elite mountain bikers and ski racers.
Emily expressed, “I’m beginning to understand the joy and camaraderie that can make this sport as addictive and enjoyable as I’ve watched others make it out to be.” The miles were symbolic, filling the void of the cancellation of the race. Zoe admired the beauty around us: “The day was perfect, from the foliage and views to the cows and horses that greeted us along the way. I was so psyched to run my first 50k in such a beautiful place surrounded by amazing people.”
The Vermont 50 is more than a race, it’s like family. Race Director, Mike Silverman, has a huge heart, and pours so much of his soul into the race. He shared his sentiments in an email that he sent out to all of the race participants days before what would have been race weekend. “It has been a tough year, and this is a good weekend for all of you to get out and do whatever you can to make it FEEL GOOD.”
While we didn’t have the hustle and bustle of hundreds of runners and bikers along the trails, the sounds of our footfalls and breath kept us motivated. As did the company. No fanfare or big aid stations, just a cooler stashed in the woods offering us snickers, cheese sandwiches and gummy bears. We sat along a fallen tree and filled our bottles with water and our bellies with food. With less than eight miles to go, we had to rely on some mathematics and navigation to figure the best route back to the finish. We knew we couldn’t use the traditional route back to the mountain, so we improvised by utilizing several back roads.
As we climbed towards Ascutney Mountain, we were joined by mountain bikers who asked, “You doing the virtual?” We smiled and said, “Keeping the spirit alive!” The single-track trail named “Last Mile” is a series of switchbacks, at roughly 1,100 feet of elevation. The trail zigzags back and forth across the mountain, slowly dropping in elevation with every pass. Bikers zoomed past us, a woman sat on the ski slope taking it all in and families walked together. At that moment, I was so proud to be part of this incredible community.
The Vermont 50 is like family and our town of West Windsor is a giant family. It is the home of several ultra events, including one of the Grand Slam races on the ultrarunning circuit, and it all began with the vision of Laura Farrell—her heart and passion to always put others first, and a belief that everyone should be able to enjoy sports and the outdoors. I think her message summed up our adventure perfectly: “It was a beautiful and wonderful day. Thank you all for your support, help, inspiration and love in helping this old lady finish the 50k.” Actually, thank you Laura.