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Running hot: 100-mile race meets 100-degree heat index in Vermont

  • Eric Lipuma of Stowe, Vt., cools down while crossing the Ottaquechee River in West Woodstock, Vt., on July 20, 2019. Despite hot weather and a total of 17,000 feet of hill climbing, runners from around world took to the trail at 4 a.m. Saturday morning to compete in the Vermont 100 Endurance Race, which benefits Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, starting in Hartland, Vt., on Saturday, July 20, 2019. The course includes 68 miles of dirt roads, 30 miles of horse trails, and two miles of pavement. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • John Hord of Washington D.C. gets a water refill from a volunteer during the Vermont 100 Endurance Race at an aid stop in Taftsville, Vt., on July 20, 2019. Despite hot weather and a total of 17,000 feet of hill climbing, runners from around world took to the trail at 4 a.m. Saturday morning to compete in the Vermont 100 Endurance Race, which benefits Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, starting in Hartland, Vt., on Saturday, July 20, 2019. The course includes 68 miles of dirt roads, 30 miles of horse trails, and two miles of pavement. (Rick Russell photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, July 20, 2019

A little more than 30 miles and six hours into his run on Saturday, Ohio ultramarathoner Johnathan Lee felt frisky enough during a rest stop to ask Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Race volunteer Andrew Novis to pose with him for a selfie.

“I want to be able to remember this,” Lee said at the click of the shutter.

Then the midmorning clouds parted, and the sun amped up temperatures already in the low 80s at aid station 7 in Pomfret.

“Good run while it lasted with the shade,” Lee said with a wave, before disappearing into the woods between Stage Road and Vermont Route 12.

Novis, a Medford, Mass., resident who had run in 12 of the previous 30 annual odysseys through the heart of Windsor County, recalled that the only two times he failed to finish the course — along back roads and trails through Hartland, Pomfret, Woodstock, Reading and West Windsor — were on days much like this one.

“People are mostly still looking pretty good right now, but it’s still pretty early in the day,” Novis said, “I picked a good year to volunteer.”

Good thing for the more than 450 runners — nearly 360 in the 100-mile contest and almost 100 runners in the simultaneous Vermont 100K (62 miles) — that an equal number of people annually volunteer to support a caravan that starts at 4 on Saturday morning and ends at 10 on Sunday morning. There’s also a simultaneous 100-Mile Endurance Ride on horses.

Ranging from off-duty runners to boosters of the Vermont Adaptive Sports programs for athletes with disabilities, the race volunteers serve drinks and food — watermelon was big on Saturday — direct traffic around crossings at major roads and stand ready to provide medical care.

On her way Saturday morning to open and manage aid station 14 — known to generations of Vermont 100 runners as Margaritaville — on Saturday morning, veteran volunteer Nancy McMenamy-Nutile, of Weathersfield, worried about heat indexes forecast to approach 100 degrees, for the volunteers and runners’ support crews as much as for the runners.

“I’ve done all 31 of them,” McMenamy-Nutile, a professional photographer, said by cellphone around 10:30 a.m. “It’s insane. I’ve never seen it like this. I’m sweating and I’m just in my car driving over. This is brutal.”

With enough warning of the brutality, organizers arranged to stock “extra water, extra ice and extra water stops along the way,” race organizer Amy Rusiecki, of Killington, Vt., said during a brief noontime inspection stop at Camp 10 Bear in Reading, Vt., where runners can stop for assistance — from their own mobile support teams as well as from volunteers — at 48.6 miles and again at 70.6 miles. At press time, Rusiecki had not reported many more dropouts than usual for a hot July day.

While most ultramarathoners are good monitors of their own bodies, having raced in comparable or worse heat in races such as the Western States 100 in California, Rusiecki said she’d leaned harder than usual on her pre-race words-to-the-wise for this weekend’s entrants and their crews on Friday night.

“I told them, ‘Don’t be a hero. Be a finisher,’ ” Rusiecki said. “So far, people are being great. They’re mostly going a little slower, spending more time in the shade at the aid stations. No need to go after a personal best today.”

Taking that hint on a detour past the closed Lincoln Covered Bridge in West Woodstock, many of the runners forced to cross the Ottauquechee River on foot did more than ford it and keep going.

During a particularly high-traffic period around 1 p.m., with a sky shy of clouds and with 62.5 miles to run, some were shedding their hydration packs and other gear and leaving them on the south bank, and kneeling or lying back to let the river wash over them.

“I found a little hollow,” Massachusetts runner Christopher Bustard sighed while reclining fully clothed except for his feet.

One competitor even assumed a yoga-style plank pose, facing upstream.

“That should bring the core body temperature down,” South Carolinian Micheal Coggins said before rising from the riverbed and completing the crossing. “I came to Vermont to run a cool 100. I brought the heat with me somehow. There’s a lot of people dropping out already.”

Stephen McCaffrey, a Charlestown, Mass., ultrarunner, seemed to be praying for an answer on whether to continue through a hot afternoon and a muggy night, while he knelt at midstream and fellow pilgrims — several on horseback — continued their crossings.

“I can stay here all day, right?” McCaffrey asked, before rising, dipping his cap in the river for one more self-baptism and moving on with the words, “Back to work.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.