Saturday, July 12, 2008

VT100 Interview: Dot Helling

Dot Helling is a Vermont resident who is also on the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Committee. She's agreed to talk with us a little about the race as we continue to get ready for the events 20th Anniversary.

SJ: Thanks for talking with us Dot.

SJ: How long have you been a member of the race committee?
DH: I think I've been on and off the committee for over 15 years, and always a runner consultant. I have been "on the scene" virtually every year as a runner, pacer, crew, aid station captain and/or volunteer.

SJ: Now you actually won the VT100 in 1997 with a time of 19:33:35; tell us what that was like.
DH: I was age 47 and it was a highlight of my running career, especially since I was running my own race with a goal of breaking 20 hours and ignoring the competition. It wasn't until I came into Bill's at 88 miles that I found out I was a top contender. (I kept telling my crew all day that I did not want to know what was happening in the race but they were keeping track.) My friend Julie Arter was sitting on the sideline not feeling well. She had been in 2nd place to Ellen McCurtin who was now the only woman still in front of me. I could not believe it and got all pumped up and started racing down the road. I was with my best friend and often pacer Diane McNamara. Her husband at the time Fred Pilon was crew and he came storming after us to say, slow down, there are still 12 miles, stick to your race plan, don't blow up now. So I settled down and Diane and I moved on into the night feeling pretty confident we would break the 20 hour barrier. I ended up passing Ellen at about 96 miles, then she passed me, then I passed her again on an uphill at about 98.6, broke my 20 hour mark and won. Most special of all is that I was the first Vermonter to take an overall win. Two other Vermont women (Sue Johnston and Mary Churchill) have won but we are still waiting for a first place from a Vermont man. I want that to happen this year in celebration of our 20th!!!!

SJ: What does the 20th Anniversary of this race mean to you?
DH: The Vermont 100 is one of the original 100's and is now the only 100 that still features a simultaneous endurance ride. What VASS does to support disabled athletes and what the VT100 has done to give New England and the East Coast a premier ultra event is huge. I believe that VT100 opened the ultra doors for Easterners and particularly since VT100 is part of the Grand Slam. Also, VT100 offers an incredible slice of Vermont. It has been 20 years of getting better and better and "bringing it home" - from what was only a small handful of Vermonters who participated in ultras, the VT100 has been important to the growth in Vermont of ultras and the creation of many, many Vermont ultrarunners who have gone on to become nationally and internationally competitive. It is cause for celebration!

SJ: To your knowledge, will Jeff Washburn be starting in the event?
DH: Yes, Jeff is starting. We gave him a complimentary entry.
(Jeff had the most starts in VT100 history as of 2007. Last year, he suffered a stroke while running with friends in Massachusetts. We look forward to seeing him at the starting line and going a few miles.)

SJ: Over the years, what have you found to be what works that keeps the race going?
DH: The people, our volunteers. The volunteers will do anything in their power for the runners. One year my friend Errol Jones was in need of some real food and he could find nothing to satisfy his palate in the aid station. He's a vegetarian and quite particular about his diet. A volunteer asked what he wanted. He said pasta with a bit of marinara. At the next aid station, she delivered. He went on to a great race.

SJ: In your opinion, what future improvements are needed to ensure the races success?
DH: That's a loaded question I really can't answer. We are constantly working on whatever feedback we get from the runners and to keep the community support behind us. Key to this event is working cooperatively with the private property owners, respecting their rights, and keeping the trails available for the run. The committee also keeps working on restoring more single track. With development and other factors, many of the original trails have been improved into roadways, lost to our use etc. The trail committee tries to restore trail and minimize dirt roads as much as possible. The committee has been very successful minimizing any need to go onto pavement, and the little bit there now is can be avoided by running the shoulders.

SJ: How difficult is it to get the hundreds of land owner permissions for the race?
DH: Race volunteers work on this year round. It is all about relationships. The horse folks are key players in this as are the veteran race founders and organizers like Laura Farrell, Bill Stillson and Sue Greenall.

SJ: It was rumored that last years course was 102, 104 miles long... how long was it?
DH: I don't really know. I'm told by our GPS guy that it is now 100 miles "or so." You'll have to ask Zeke Zucker that question. When I ran the new course two years ago it felt really long to me, but what do I know? I'm older and not as well trained as I used to be when I ran these things in the 80's and 90's.

SJ: How beneficial has the service requirement been to the race and other races in the area?
DH: I think it's great. I think it gets runners who don't think about volunteering cause to realize that giving back to the sport can be satisfying as well as a huge help to events. I know for a fact that VT100 runners are volunteering for local events that have desperately needed volunteers in the past, so we are providing a pool. I just wish those runners who seek out alternatives to doing the service work we intend for them to do would stop trying to beat the system and just "give back" from their hearts.

SJ: Tell us more about the 100K; where will these folks run?
DH: Well, it's a great course. It's basically the VT100 without the Ten Bear Loop. Talk about an incentive to do the 100K. It's the best of the best of the course with a two mile add on at the end. No hammering your way through that endless Ten Bear loop.

SJ: Is the 100K likely to stay for future events or is this a one year only kind of thing?
DH: We'll see. Depends on how much the runners like it. We intend for it to stay on if all works out.

SJ: Can you tell us about anything else unique we'll see this year to celebrate the 20th Anniversary?
DH: We're hoping to bring back the fireworks of the early days for the start line. Jim Hutchinson (RD) is still working on some permit and property owner issues, particularly since they would be set off between 3:30-4am. We have an amazing long sleeve Patagonia technical shirt for the runners with an anniversary graphic front and back. For the first time, the equestrian riders are getting their own shirt. We also have a written program with historical information on the event for the first time, and some great retail items.

SJ: Where will you be on race day?
DH: In the field, running. Hoping to buckle and not whine too much.

SJ: Dot, we appreciate all you have done for us over the years as a member of the VT100 Staff. We wish you the very bes tof luck in this years race and look forward to seeing you at the finish line.

DH: Thanks so much Sherpa, and particularly for letting this old body tag along on some of your training runs. I love that so many of you younger folks are so enthusiastic and doing so much for ultras in Vermont and New England. Keep up the great running!