BaseCamp alumnus Mark Ouellette shared his second experience at the Vermont 200-on-100.
For most once is enough; a bucket list ride to be experienced only once. A second trip down the well-traveled Rt. 100 is unfathomable to some. Then there is me, who lives in a world of maybe and let's see. I was exuberant with my last year's finish of 12h20sec. This luster did not last long internally, and shortly something changed as my wife drove me home and my achievement soon turned into falling a little short. I was not disappointed, but I wanted to break the 12-hour ride time. Over the next few months, that 20 minutes ate at me, always lurking in my thoughts: you could have pushed harder somewhere to get back 20 minutes. I had not fully decided to ride again in 2022, but I was already back on the bike putting in the hours as if it was set in stone. It was as if I had to trick the body back into this discomfort it has learned to enjoy. Before I knew it, I had accumulated 7000 miles and 400+ hours, and I was at the start again, 5:00 a.m. on the Canadian-USA border in Troy, Vermont.
Something was very much different this year. I had a lot more confidence, more experience, more weight off, and quality individual coaching. My goal was the same: break 12 hours of ride time. I already knew I can finish, and now it was all about strategy and consistency. Last year I was way too slow to keep up with the leaders and found myself in that no-man's-land of being solo for the entirety of the ride. Oh boy, all that changed this year. I could put out more power and less of it to keep up with the lead group, conserving needed energy for the climbs. Amazing what a little weight makes and the ability to put out a bigger w/kg.
We had the usual start spread across the width of the road, with some brief instructions and then the word go. Everyone slowly rolled out, making some last-second adjustments. It was just starting to get light out, and as I traveled south, I noticed a small group with their headlights and blinkers already way ahead and then two others chasing down this front pack. Over the next 20 minutes, I chased down the front group, who must have started ahead of the mass send-off. I soon caught them and found I was able to keep up with them with ease. I was smiling inside, thinking all the work is paying off and this is a lot more fun now. But is this a premature feeling?
The group soon splintered from around 12 riders to 5 riders and then 3 of us. We were cruising at a very comfortable pace, averaging around 20.5 mph. I had to dig deep several times to keep up with them climbing, but they were no match for me on the descents and flats, as I would catch back on quickly. The extra weight does have some advantages.
As we approached Killington Mountain, a little over 100 miles in, I was doing my pull, keeping a steady pace, when we noticed one dropped off. We decided to soft-pedal to see if he would catch back on. These guys were strong, in their 20s, and my guess 25 lbs lighter than me, so I was sure I did not put any hurt into him over the rolling terrain. We soft-pedaled for about 10-15 min, and the other guy I was with decided to circle back. At the time I thought they were riding together and their sag vehicle was just ahead. I found out after that was not the case. I decided to continue on to their sag vehicle to let him know what was happening. At the top of Killington, I found their sag and told him I would continue on but I thought for sure they would eventually catch me on the two big climbs coming up. That was the last I saw anyone else and was once again solo, but not trailing from behind.
I was keeping a good pace on my own, but the temps were really on the rise as the elevation ticked up, too. I was consuming about 1.5 bottles per hour, plus more water with electrolytes with short pit stops. I ate the most I have ever eaten on a ride, and I am shocked to say I was getting tired of eating.
Then deja vu hit me, as I started to get some twinges of leg cramps in my adductors. I started to remember how last year this same thing happened to me. I was at mile 140 going over Terrible Mountain, and I had about 70 more of the toughest miles. I tried to conserve and not push too hard to be able to just stay consistent with power output and not allow it to drop too much. I remember in 2021 my power dropped off for the second half. Trying to stand on the 12+% grades and muscle my way over became increasingly difficult. I was teetering between pedaling just hard enough for forward momentum but not too hard to cause cramping.
Terrible Mountain was behind me but the next climb was Mt Snow, and my legs were really getting bad. I think of this ride as death by a thousand cuts. As the elevation adds up, it slowly cuts into those reserves and matches to burn on each hard gradient. Mt Snow comes at the endpoint starting around mile 170. It gradually increases 2-3% over the next 10 miles, where it conveniently gives you 4-10% grade sections until you reach the top. This by far is the toughest stretch, and on any given day with fresh legs, this climb would be a second thought. As I climbed this last monument I wondered how deep of a cut this was going to make. I could physically feel things changing, as there was no recovery; it was just climbing. This climb did my adductors in and my ability to push hard was gone. I managed to get over the top without too much misery but not as hard as I know I could have gone. Over the next 30 miles, the real challenge would begin.
This is where the mental challenge starts and the real ride starts for me, when my body wants to stop now but my brain and willpower say otherwise. My adductors were now seizing up, and I would get softball cramps, which I could grab while pedaling and squeeze till it released. When the cramping happened on both sides, I had no option other than stop and stretch out. What a sight for those cars passing seeing a 52-year-old guy in spandex stretching on the side of the road. Good thing I had new bibs that are not see-through. For the next 30 miles, it was touch and go with stretching and biking as hard as I would be allowed. Shut UP legs. I am happy to say there was no walking this year. I rode every foot of elevation!
Luckily for me, the last 6 miles are mostly a descent with a 650ft of lost elevation. This allowed me to keep on the gas at a good effort to the finish. I could not believe it as I rolled over the VT/MA state line; I had completed the 200-on-100 in 10:58:46, about 1hr22min faster than 2021. Ya, I had my eye on the clock thinking if I push through the temporary discomfort I can break 11 hours. Just an incredible improvement. Despite the cramping, I felt great, a markedly big difference from 2021. The coaching helped take me to that next level, thanks, Namrita! Then there is Team ROAG keeping me motivated. Thanks, guys!
Biggest thanks to my wife for her support and love through this insane addiction I have.
Will there be 2023? Maybe? I am sure if I can lose another 10+lbs and introduce weight lifting back into the routine, there could be another go in my future. How close to 10 hours could I get?
Distance: 210 miles with 12400 ft elevation
2021 NP 208, Avg Pw 179, Avg HR 133, TSS 612, IF .70 and Avg Speed 18.1, First Half (0-100) avg power 190W, Second Half (100-209) power 175W
2022 NP 232, Avg Pw 198, Avg HR 129, TSS 560, IF .71 and Avg Speed 19.1, First Half (0-100) avg power 195W, Second half (100-209) power 200W