Getting ready for the Vermont 50

Finish line of the Vermont 50

The finish line of the Vermont 50.

Every year, leaf-peepers flock to Vermont from all over the country to get a glimpse of the state’s famous foliage. But as many trail runners and mountain bikers know, the best way to see fall colors is not signing up for a bus tour or driving Route 100—it’s competing in the Vermont 50. This race is like an exclusive tour of some of the prettiest back roads and trails in the state, and most of those trails are open only one day a year. Here’s everything you need to know to have a great weekend.


Dates: September 28-29, 2013. The races all start early in the morning on Sunday, but on Saturday there are kids races, packet pick-up, and vendors selling various biking and running gear. If the weather’s good, hanging out at the kids’ races isn’t a bad way to spend the afternoon.

Distances: 50 miles and 50 kilometers. The courses share the same roads and trails for about the first seven miles, before they split on a dirt road. They converge again later in the race, and all runners will be on the same trails for about the last 20 miles.

The course: Both courses start at the Ascutney Mountain Resort. After a short stretch on Route 44, the course turns onto a flat dirt road, and then onto a steep uphill dirt road—the first walk break for most runners. After a couple more miles that tend uphill, there are some beautiful stretches of trail that run gradually downhill. Around seven miles into the course, the 50k and 50-mile courses diverge. There’s a longer description of the course on the race website, but basically the first half is a mix of trail and dirt roads with an emphasis on dirt roads, while the second half has more trails than roads. There are a lot of uphills and a lot of downhills. If you’ve gone up for a while, you’re probably due to start going downhill. In other words, the best strategy for most runners is to relax about the details of the course and just enjoy the run. While you’re out there, it will be hilly and tough. But when you’re done, you’ll wish you were back out on those trails, and you won’t have another chance until next year.

Terrain: A mix of dirt roads and trails (plus a couple of very short sections on paved roads). For the most part, the trails are about as smooth as trails can be in the Northeast. In each of the past two years, there has been a lot of mud. In 2011, it was the result of Tropical Storm Irene. Last year, rain in the weeks before the race was made worse by steady rain during the race. Still, the trails are beautiful.

Elevation gain: For the 50-mile race, the total elevation gain is about 9,000 feet. For the 50k, it’s about 5,000 feet. Most of the hills don’t last too long, but they are constant. You’re going up or down pretty much the whole time, although some of that is on gradual dirt roads. The biggest climb comes about 18 miles into the 50-mile race when you head up Garvin Hill, which tops out at about 1,800 feet. The 50k course skips this spot, which means missing out on both a tough climb and on what is probably the most beautiful spot on the entire course (at least when the sun is shining).



Elevation profiles for the Vermont 50. Click on each profile for a larger image.
Note that distances are approximate.

Watch for bikes: While you’re running, hundreds of mountain bikers will also be making their way around the course. The least experienced bikers start only five minutes before the 50-mile runners, which means that the faster runners start catching up to those bikers pretty quickly. For 50k runners, you’ll find yourself surrounded by bikes at a number of points along the course, including along most of the last 20 miles or so. At times, it can be a hassle to have several bikes fly by you all at once on a narrow downhill. But most of the trails (and all of the dirt roads) are wide enough that this usually isn’t a problem. In fact, getting passed by a bike on a downhill may help you push the pace. And on climbs, you’ll be passing a lot of tired-looking bikers pushing their bikes.

Aid stations: The aid stations are well stocked and staffed by enthusiastic volunteers. Some of them can get a bit crowded with bikers hanging out and snacking, but there’s plenty of food.

Vermont 50 finish time stats

50 mile
record (men)3:42 (Dane Mitchell, 2010)6:17 (Michael Dixon, 2011)
record (women)4:38 (Molly Housman, 2012)7:22 (Aliza Lapierre, 2010)
2012 finishers152272
2012 fastest time (men)4:246:27
2012 fastest time (women)4:388:18
2012 75th percentile5:489:24
2012 median6:3610:16
2012 25th percentile7:2411:04
2012 best value10:4512:24
2012 oldest finisher6765
2012 youngest finisher1617

Race reports