by Jim Flint
WILLISTON –Ultramarathons are unique, typically with a laidback vibe. Community tends to be valued over competition. Participants conserve their energy to achieve incredible feats of distance. Athletes encourage one another, especially when the going becomes tough.
The second annual RUTFest (Richmond Ultra Trail Festival) was held from 6 a.m. on November 5 to 6 p.m. on November 6. The 36-hour event at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center attracted 102 entries. Some came for a few hours, while others stayed overnight. Participants brought food to share. Each volunteered for an hour at an aid station.
Two different three-to four-mile trail loops were used, with views of Camel’s Hump and Mansfield. The loops were run and/or walked on repeat, whenever participants wanted to. The race website set the challenge for the event: “This is the weekend to run (or walk) further than you ever have before.”
Curiosity motivated Kaitlynn Miller, of Craftsbury Common, to sign up for RUTFest. While working at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, she coordinated the Tuesday Night Trail Races for five years. In June, the 2018 Winter Olympian retired from competitive Nordic skiing.
“The Richmond Trail Running Club created and organized a festive community event that was welcoming of runners and hikers of all experience levels,” said Miller. “It was fun to meet new folks and spend time with friends both out on the loop and back at the aid station. Witnessing other people pushing their limits and working towards their respective goals was inspiring.”
Miller, 31, completed 102 miles in 36 hours at RUTFest. While this was not a race per se, Miller walked and ran further than any other woman at the event. The distance was a leap up from the 50km ultramarathons that Miller had previously participated in.
“The most challenging part was achy feet and sore quads, which made descending rather painful towards the end,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised with how my body and my stomach held up, and I did take a six-hour break halfway through and slept for a couple of hours. I would say the people and the support of the community at the event are what kept me going. I went into the Festival interested to see how far I could go, and while I’m not currently entered in any other ultras at the moment, I am pondering what to tackle next.”
Colton Francis, 31, is a 2016 Sterling College grad. He works in the mentoring program at Crow’s Path, a Burlington-based nonprofit organization that provides hands-on opportunities for people of all ages to connect to the natural world. This was his second year participating in RUTFest. He completed 63 miles at the 2021 event.
“My work allows time for training,” said Francis. “I did the Infinitus 88k ultra in May. I also like to combine biking and camping adventures that seek community.”
Francis completed 101 miles in 32 hours at the 2022 RUTFest. He slept for 2-1/2 hours. He placed sixth of 102 participants.
“The weather was humid with temperatures in the 70s,” Francis said. “I ran slow and walked a lot, including two laps with my mom. I kept moving the entire time. I wasn’t sure that I would get to 100 miles. Curiosity and gentle encouragement kept me going.”
Finishing the last mile wasn’t as monumental as Francis anticipated, but the race was an emotional experience. The momentum of the ultramarathon community kept him going.
“The experience changed parts of me, brought up different parts of myself that I could grow with,” he reflected. “The idea now is to integrate this into everyday life and my mentoring with kids. I help them to share empathy for the Earth and for others — how to communicate needs in a way that people can hear them.”
Ira Wheeler, 44, from Danville, and April Farnham, 55, from Plainfield, did RUTFest together. They each completed 100 miles. The Catamount event was Farnham’s sixth ultra of 2022 and Wheeler’s fourth long-distance event of the year. In July, they ran the Notchview 72-hour Ultramarathon, with Farnham completing 100.7 miles and Wheeler covering 152 miles.
“You have 36 hours to complete whatever your goal wants to be, as little or as much as you want to run,” Farnham posted on Facebook after the RUTFest event. “No expectations, no pressure. I was fortunate enough to run with old friends and make some new ones along the way, which made the miles fly by! Still tired and sore but it’s the good kind of sore, the earned kind.”
“It was absolutely perfect weather, the course was beautiful, and my running partners were fabulous,” said Farnham. “I had no intention of running a hundred miles, but everything just fell into place, it was the best I’d felt on any run, ever. I just kept running and BAM! 100 miles!”