• Vermont 100 the 'ultra' race
    By Tom Haley Staff Writer | July 22,2007
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    Daniel Larson is not kidding when he says he and his wife Jenny Hoffman are a running family. He finished first and she finished second in a 100-mile endurance race in Arizona. A week after the race, Hoffman found out she was pregnant.

    "We say that we finished one, two and three," Hoffman said Saturday while she and their 10-month old son cheered on Larson at the Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Race.

    They greeted Larson at Camp 10 Bear, an aid station 47 miles into the race. He looked fresh, but that's no guarantee how he will look before completing his 100-mile run/walk through southern Vermont's hilly terrain.

    About 200 ultra marathoners set off Saturday morning at 4 a.m. in West Windsor in an attempt to complete the 100-mile course in the 30-hour time limit. The race, organized by Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, is in its 19th year.

    So many miles. One little word: Why?

    Vermont native Nikki Kimball, who has won the 50-mile national championship all three times she has competed in it, said there are "hundreds of reasons" why people put themselves through the rigors of ultra race. He looked fresh, but that's no guarantee how he will look before completing his 100-mile run/walk through southern Vermont's hilly terrain.

    About 200 ultra marathoners set off Saturday morning at 4 a.m. in West Windsor in an attempt to complete the 100-mile course in the 30-hour time limit. The race, organized by Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, is in its 19th year.

    So many miles. One little word: Why?

    Vermont native Nikki Kimball, who has won the 50-mile national championship all three times she has competed in it, said there are "hundreds of reasons" why people put themselves through the rigors of ultra running, but she believes there are three of them that are pretty common to everyone.

    "One of the reasons is a sense of accomplishment in finishing," Kimball said.

    "It feels great when you're done," is the way Larson put it.

    Kimball said the second enticement is the scenery.

    "Ultra marathons are run on trails and they are really, really beautiful," she said. "It's an all-day and night hike but at a different pace."

    Her third reason is the camaraderie. And the support was certainly visible along the 100-mile itinerary Saturday through little towns such as South Woodstock, Reading, South Reading and Weathersfield.

    "There's a whole lot of support out there," Kimball said. "It's a community. You meet old friends and you meet other people who know people that you know."

    Kimball, a physical therapist in Montana, did not come East for the weekend event because she will go for her fourth national championship in the 50-mile run next weekend in Crystal Mountain, Wash.

    But she has run ultra events across the country and abroad, and she said Vermont is one of the prettiest venues of all.

    "Aesthetically, it's right up there with the best ones in the country," Kimball said. "The Western states have more vivid, sharper vistas. Vermont's beauty is rolling hills, softer mountains, beautiful trees and woodlands and forests.

    "The thing about the Vermont race that is a little bit different is that there are a lot of dirt roads as well as trails. Some like to run on dirt roads because you can go much faster than on trails. It's a nice mixture of woods and trails."

    Kimball sees those as the top reasons why athletes tackle ultra races, but certainly there are others; possibly as varied as the runners themselves.

    How about as a prescription for a midlife crisis of a former Olympic athlete?

    Norwich's Joe Holland was a ski jumper for the United States in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. He was a support member for a runner in the 100-mile race in a previous year and, after seeing the agony the athletes can go through, vowed he would never run a 100-miler himself.

    But there he was, making his 100-mile debut Saturday.

    "I said there was no way I would ever try this," Holland said at an aid station. "Call it a midlife crisis. It costs a hundred dollars an hour to see a shrink. This costs less and it clears your mind up."

    Holland said it felt special running this race in Vermont where so many of the athletes were from outside the state.

    Morrisville's Mary Churchill was another Vermonter relishing the home turf.

    "I live in Vermont so I am used to all these roads," she said.

    She is seeing plenty of them. She was recently in a 50-miler in the central Vermont town of Pittsfield.

    The fastest runners were expected to be back at the finish line in West Windsor at around 6 p.m. Saturday. The men's record is just under 15 hours, the female's is just under 17 hours.

    Kevin Shelton Smith, originally from Bedford, England, retains the accent and displayed his heritage with his running shorts, the design of the British flag. He works at the United Nations in New York. He was challenging himself with his second 100-mile race. The other was in Virginia.

    "The one in Virginia crossed a mountain four times. This is hills all the time. This is quite hard," Smith said. "There are streams and lovely woods and so much shade, which I really like. I hate heat."

    "It's lot hillier here, but a lot more runnable," said Larson, who is from Cambridge, Mass., where he taught physics until taking time off to "watch the little guy."

    He was comparing the Vermont venue to the ones he experienced in Arizona and Minnesota.

    That seems to be a favorite pastime at these races, sharing notes on different ultra runs across the country.

    The ones that have stood up to the monster called the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run in Colorado have plenty of war stories to swap.

    Japan's Hiroki Ishikawa has competed in 10 ultra runs and made sure to mention Hardrock when he was asked about his ultra history at an aid station, 62.1 miles into the race.

    It is a demanding course and when it made its debut in 1992, only 18 of the 42 entrants completed it. Cramping and collapsing are staples of the Hardrock that has gained in stature since that first race. Finishing is a badge of honor.

    It's little wonder Hirocki mentioned it while grabbing some food and quickly fleeing the aid station called Margaritaville.

    Margaritaville is likely the most famous of the aid stations along the course. It was renamed several years ago by the members of Frozen Fins, the Vermont division of the Jimmy Buffett Fan Club.

    Those staffing Margaritaville take great pride in the array of homemade goodies being offered and the music that greets the runners. And, yes, you can even get a margarita.

    "They turn it into a real celebration," said Erin Fernandez, who is Director of Vermont Adaptive Sports, the organizers of the race.

    Sharon Quackenbush used to live in Reading, but moved to Connecticut when she could no longer find employment in Vermont.

    She returns each year to help staff Margaritaville.

    She noted with pride that Margaritaville was included on this year's commemorative T-shirt for the Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Race. The shirt lists a few of the more notable aid stations.

    "We're famous now. We're on a T-shirt," Quackenbush said.

    Margaritaville was to be open till 10:45 p.m. Saturday. It offers some runners the incentive to keep going so they can hear the music and sample some of the baked goods before the place goes dark.

    "Some of the runners are on their last legs then," Quackenbush said.

    "The runners like to hear the music because they know they are getting close to the station," said Nancy Nutile-McMenemy, founder of the station and the Buffet fan club.

    By that time, the condition of the runners can vary greatly. There are all types of precautions, including the taking of blood pressure and recording weight to make certain runners have not lost too many pounds.

    But it is the mental and spiritual component of the experience, not the physical, that moves many runners.

    Art Hutchinson of Newton, Mass., will never forget the sight that compelled him to run in the event. It was in 2002 when he was watching a woman runner struggle on a hill near the finish. She had tried to push herself up the hill previous years and had never made it.

    This time, she conquered the hill and the emotion poured from her.

    "I can't even talk about it today without emotion," Hutchinson said. "She was laughing and crying, all at the same time. It was beautiful."

    The next year, Hutchinson was in the race.

    Contact Tom Haley at tom.haley@rutlandherald.com

    Results: http://www.vermont100.com/race
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