Inside the Vermont 100: A Hot Weekend for Ultrarunners and Horses

The 30th Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run took place July 19-21, which happened to be the hottest days of an extreme heat wave hitting New England and other regions of the country. On Saturday, the 4:00 am start for the 100 mile race saw the mildest temperatures of the day, however, the dank humidity in the air was just a precursor of what was to come as the day developed. Temperatures reached 96 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest part of the day with the heat index topping out at 103 degrees.

The 100 mile horse race, held in conjunction with the running races, started at 5:00 am while the 100K running race got underway at 9:00 am, when the heat and humidity were already at oppressive levels. Vermont 100 stands as the last remaining 100-mile race where humans and horses simultaneously compete.

Vibram and Altra athlete, Gediminas Grinius, of Lithuania was the first runner through the Pretty House aid station at mile 20, he was being chased by a pack of four runners, who came into the aid station 6 min later. Eric LiPuma of Stowe, VT–who was part of that chase pack consisting of Joseph McConaughy, Adam Kimble and Alexander Jinks–had trouble later in the race and withdrew at 60 miles.

Of his early race tactics, LiPuma said, “The lead pack of guys all seemed to have the same idea of trying to get as much of the course done as possible before the temperature got too hot. The early morning temps were not that bad but it was so humid that by mile five I was already completely soaked.”

The women’s 100 mile race witnessed a lot of leap-frogging amongst the top five participants throughout the day. Kiriakos Theofanides, Kathleen Cusick, Maureen Gillespie, Dylan Broderick and Christine Mosley exchanged the top spots early on, but it was Mosley who took the lead a quarter of the race in and held on to finish to run a very impressive 20:08:57 for first women and seventh overall amongst all competitors in the 100 mile race. No easy task for a race that relentlessly rolls while accumulating 17,000 feet of climbing through forested trails and over country roads, with scenic views of the southern Green Mountains of Vermont. The second place spot was captured by Kathleen Cusick in 21:52:30 with Dylan Broderick taking third in a time of 21:56:32.

On the men’s side, after setting a blistering pace from the beginning, below course record for more than half of the race, Grinius held his early lead the entire distance and was first to cross the finish line in a time of 16:01:49 on his way to a Grand Slam of Ultrarunning* record attempt. Columbia-Montrail athlete, Joseph McConaughy, in his 100 mile debut, placed second in 17:47:07 and Adam Kimble finished in third in 18:48:22.

In the 100K, the heat was also taxing on the runners. Tuesday Night Turtles club athlete, Jackie Gorski Jackman of Warwick, Rhode Island was third women in the 100K coming into the Camp 10 Bear #1 aid station at mile 11 in 1 hour and 41 minutes, stating, “I was concerned about the heat going into the race. I don’t do to well in the heat but told myself to keep hydrated and get ice at the aid stations for my bandana.” Ice was a huge asset to the races and all the local shops stocked up on ice at race director Amy Rusiecki’s request.

Gorski Jackman continued, “Unfortunately climbing in the heat was the toughest part for me. It felt hard to breathe. I got to a point where I was feeling lightheaded and knew it wasn’t going to be smart to continue. I am hoping to try again next year!”

Both LiPuma and Gorski Jackman dropped out of their respective races. In fact, there was a 52% attrition rate in the 100 mile race and a 39% attrition rate in the 100K race, according to race director, Amy Rusiecki. As for the horses, a decent number did not start due to the heat.

One runner who managed the heat and prevailed in the 100K was Rabbit athlete Wes Judd of Santa Barbara, CA. Judd prepared for the conditions saying, “I knew in the two weeks before the race that the heat would be the biggest factor—or at least a big one—so I integrated a bit of sauna time into my routine. Then for race day I just made sure I had arm sleeves and an ice bandana. During the race I tried to keep as much ice on me as possible, whether in my bandana, arm sleeves, or bottles. I even started the race with a full ice bandana—maybe a bit overkill but I didn’t want to take any chances.” Not only did Judd finish, he won the 100K race in a time of 10:30:04.

Judd continued, “The humidity really made things tricky because sweat and water wasn’t evaporating easily, so instead the moisture just clung to you and made your clothes heavy and swampy. I’d say the biggest factor for me though was just taking on ice at every aid station and dialing the pace back in the heat of the day.”

Second and third overall amongst all competitors in the 100K were two women, Christin Doneski (11:13:53), who came flying into the finish paced by her husband and Meghan Bongartz (11:25:23), who had never raced beyond a marathon distance. Upon crossing the line, Bongartz burst into tears prompting Rusiecki to ask whether they were tears of pain or tears of joy. “Tears of joy,” Bongartz replied, perhaps discovering her new niche in ultrarunning.

As an on-going tradition, all proceeds from the weekend will benefit Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports. The first race director of Vermont 100, Laura Farrell, founded Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports and for over 30 years the race has been one of the largest annual fundraisers for the organization. Vermont Adaptive empowers people of all abilities through year-round inclusive sports and recreational programming regardless of their ability to pay.

Visually impaired athlete, Eric Strong, who finished the 100K in 2018, completed his first 100 miler in 29:06:33. Strong was crewed by another visually impaired runner, founder of United in Stride and past 100-mile finisher, Kyle Robidoux. In 2017, Vermont 100 made a commitment to adaptive sports by becoming the first trail ultra ever to recognize mobility and visually impaired athletes with a division of their own: Athletes With Disabilities (AWD).

Vermont 100 has the feel of a true grassroots race, where participants set up tents, camp out in a field the whole weekend and follow plastic plates as course markers rather than glossy corporate banners, where you have to talk to your fellow human because there is no cell service and where it may be very hot and extremely buggy, but it’s worth it when you get to finish alongside a horse.

*The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning™ award is recognition for those who complete four of the oldest 100 mile trail runs in the U.S. The “Slam” consists of officially finishing three of these four: the Old Dominion 100 Mile Run, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run, plus the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run all in the same year.

Complete Vermont 100 results can be found here.

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