Story and photos by American Trail Running Association contributor Peter Maksimow.
The 29th annual Vermont 50 Mountain Bike and Ultra Run set off during a dreary and damp Sunday morning on September 26, in the small village of Brownsville, Vermont. Both runner and cyclist competed side-by-side in the misty darkness, as waves began at 6:00 a.m. It didn’t stay that way for long, however, as the clouds and fog cleared up to reveal a sunny, picturesque day in the Green Mountain state highlighted by the changing fall foliage around Mt. Ascutney.
The deceivingly demanding course, which accumulated approximately 8,900 feet of elevation gain, challenged the runners, especially in the second half. Approximately 67% of the 50 Mile course takes place on trail or jeep roads, while 30% is on smooth, rolling gravel roads and 3% is on pavement.
“It felt like the first signs of fall out there,” stated Britta Clark of Brandon, VT, who had just crossed the 50 Mile finish line in 7 hours 33 minutes and 3 seconds. “Nothing very steep,” Clark said of the 50 Mile course, “just a lot of up and down…just a grind.” Not only did Clark finish almost 80 minutes ahead of the second place women in the race, she finished ahead of all but three men overall at the distance. Rounding out the top three in the women’s race were Katherine Cross-Powers of Concord, NH in 8:50:44, and Emily Speck of Syracuse, NY in 8:58:33.
Clark and fellow Craftsbury Green Racing Project (GRP) teammate, Eric LiPuma of Richmond, VT, both dominated in the 50 Mile competition. LiPuma lead early in the race, only to extend his lead to over 45 minutes at the finish, crossing the timing mat at 6:24:03, over 24 minutes ahead of second place Keith Lundquist (7:10:06) of Contoocook, NH and third place Wouter Hoogkamer (7:21:52) of Amherst, MA.
“The course was tougher than I expected from mile 32 to the finish,” said LiPuma after being on course record pace halfway through the 50 Mile race. “The switchbacks on Blood Hill take a toll and don’t leave you with much for the less technical finishing miles.” There was an additional challenge to the course, with which runners rarely have to contend. “The hardest part of the race is sharing it with over 400 mountain bikers. You end up playing leapfrog with them for 50 miles, passing them on all the ups and they come whipping by you on all the descents.” LiPuma added, who joined the GRP team this year.
GRP is a high-level developmental team based in Craftsbury, VT, which supports and cultivates post-collegiate athletes in the endurance sports of biathlon, nordic skiing, rowing and running. Their mission is to cultivate athletes to reach peak athletic performance while also being connected to their local community and advocating for the environment in which they live and train.
Caroline Day of Northvale, NJ was the female winner of the 50K, also in a dominant fashion, completed in a time of 5:12:00. Megan Kelly of Atlanta, GA placed second in 5:26:16 while Tricia Groff of Hanover, NH rounded out the podium in a time of 5:30:39.
Justin Neuman of New Haven, CT was the male winner of the 50K run in a time of 4:37:03. Neuman, who races for New Hampshire-based team SIX03 Endurance, is a newcomer to the sport of running. “This is my first year of trail racing,” Neuman said, “I’m mainly a ski racer and mountain biker…I just love being in the mountains.” Keith Schmitt of Durham, NH placed second in 5:08:58 and Nathan Currie of Beverly, MA crossed the line in third with a 5:16:40.
The Vermont 50 started almost three decades ago as a running race, the mountain bike race and 50K run were added later in event history. “We have tried to create a community where everyone can participate when they come to the Vermont 50,” said race director, Mike Silverman. The race has grown by adding the 50K ultra running race, a mountain bike race, the ultra relay and varying distances of bike ride and fun run events for kids.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all the ancillary events and activities were suspended for 2021, including the awards ceremony and pasta dinner. The state of Vermont has seen a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks, as have most states in the U.S., however, Vermont ranks the highest in vaccination rate and lowest in death rate for COVID-19.
Not only were the pandemic restrictions, along with the course itself, a huge challenge, the fact that the race organizers must procure permission from an astounding 66 private landowners to string together the course, is no small feat. All it would take is one landowner to deny access to their property and it would disrupt the connectivity of the route. Race director Mike Silverman said, “We work very closely with the landowners and they support the running and cycling community.” Course maps are not made available and no one is able to view the course until the actual race, which could make for some surprising terrain and shocking climbs on race day.
Race proceeds go to support Vermont Adaptive, which provides more than 3,000 outings each year to people with disabilities. Vermont Adaptive offers programming for people of all abilities and anyone with a disability is welcome to participate: physical, cognitive, emotional/behavioral, and developmental disabilities.
We are living in unprecedented times, but we are very lucky that races are back up and running again, albeit with safety precautions, rules and regulations.
Even more race images by Peter Maksimow can be found on Google Photos.
Men’s 50K Podium
- Justin Neuman – 4:37:03
- Keith Schmitt – 5:08:58
- Nathan Currie – 5:16:40
Women’s 50K Podium
- Caroline Day – 5:12:00
- Megan Kelly – 5:26:16
- Tricia Groff – 5:30:39
Men’s 50 Mile Podium
- Eric LiPuma – 6:24:03
- Keith Lundquist – 7:10:06
- Wouter Hoogkamer – 7:21:52
Women’s 50 Mile Podium
- Britta Clark – 7:33:03
- Katherine Cross-Powers – 8:50:44
- Emily Speck – 8:58:33
The 2022 Vermont 50 Ultra Run takes place on September 25. Registration opens on May 25, 2022.