There’s a common thread here at UnTapped and that’s a desire to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. We’re lucky to have some very speedy colleagues in our midst and Aliza Lapierre isn’t just an UnTapped Maple Fanatic, she’s also one of our longest serving employees. This Vermonter has been at the sport of ultrarunning for some time now and it was time for a debrief from her incredible win at the Vermont 100, which even includes an encounter with a bear! Read on…
For one, congratulations! Next up, please give us the play by play as the race unfolded?
Thank you! I went into the very general goal of “Go out and have fun and see what happens!” Typically I have a very specific finish time in mind, but this time around I wanted to approach things differently and just focus on having fun.
On the start line I caught myself as I glanced around to see where other females had lined up. With a downhill start and a lot of pent up energy it is easy to go out at a good clip. I fell into pace with some familiar faces and it within a few miles was passed by two females, moving me in third position. My inclination when they passed was to keep pace with them, but I fought my instinct and held my pace as they ran off down the single track into the darkness.
With 21 miles behind me I saw my husband George who was crewing for me for the first time since the start. We swapped out hydration vests and I was told I was behind the first place female by 8 minutes. It was good to know, but I still wasn’t going to allow myself to be overly concerned by the gap.
At mile 29 I saw George again and knew it was time to make sure I was doing everything to set myself up for a good day. From hydration and calorie intake to making sure I wasn’t overheating, I wanted to keep everything in check. When I was going through my mental checklist, I knew my quads were already feeling the downhills so I made a note and tried to find a downhill pace where I was minimally stressing them.
Shortly before mile 37 I took a wrong turn, by following the horse trail instead of the runner’s course and ended up adding in an extra 1.5 miles. By the time I made I turned around and corrected my mistake I tried to control the frustration floodgate, but for a few miles I was just running angry.
After working regain my composure I encountered another hiccup. As I came around a blind downhill corner I startled and was startled by a mother bear that was standing in the middle of the road. Without thought I screamed very loudly while simultaneously a cub walked out of the woods and towards me. Not knowing what to do I headed backwards on the course and the cub followed me. I turned around fully, waved my arms in the air and yelled at the cub and this was enough for it to climb a tree next to the road. Now it was me and mama bear, who was clearly not happy. I ran back on the course and looked for the next runner as I wasn’t certain how to proceed, but with no one in sight I decided I would try to pass again. In a loud and stern voice I apologized to the mama and promised I would do no harm. I ran past as she monitored her cub in the tree while voicing her concern to me. In passing I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body.
At mile 48 I saw George and filled him in on all wrong turn and the bear. I was eager to get the next 22 miles done so I could be joined by a pacer. When I left the aid station I was told that I had closed the gap to the first place female and she was just several minutes in front of me. I was happy to hear I was pulling in some time. I tried to stay focused and keep moving with a purpose. I hiked the long ups and tried to be in the shade when I could. On the downhills I tried to not let myself run any faster than an 8 minute mile. I kept telling myself “Save the legs for the last 20 miles.”
Before I knew it I was at mile 70 and my first pacer Kirsten was ready to join me. I knew the climb out of the aid station was a long uphill section of unkept single track, it was a section I have struggled with before in racing and when I paced years prior. As we glanced up the hill we could see the first place female. I could tell from Kirsten’s pace that she was eager for us to catch her. I let Kirsten know that I wanted to stay composed, remain at the same effort and that I wasn’t going to chase yet. About a mile later we moved into first position, but I reminded myself I needed to remain smart if I wanted to stay in the lead.
At mile 77.5 Kirsten became the crew and George became the pacer. George was all fueled up on Coffee UnTapped so was very chatty and ready to tell stories from his day. He always does a great job at helping me stay positive so this was a great time to have him by my side as I was starting to feel the effects of the miles behind me. He continued to remind me to stay on top of fueling and hydration and I obliged.
With daylight starting to fade we pulled into the last major aid station at Bill’s. There, my friend Josh would take over pacing duties. We hadn’t seen each other in months so we had a lot to chat about, which made the miles pass more quickly. We were also treated to a nice Vermont sunset and finally the temperature began to fall. I was relieved when Josh told me we were on the last large climb, but then somehow another one came and then another. At this point all I could do was laugh and take each hill one step at a time.
At mile 94-ish I had my last pacer swap and Kirsten was back in the game. Each step I knew that I was that much closer to the finish line. I focused on staying upright through the downhill single track sections, which meant taking it as a very casual pace since my legs were feeling like jello. With fewer than three miles to go we heard female voices behind us and they sounded extremely fresh and chipper. I glanced back only to see two headlamps gaining on us. Internally there was some panic and I questioned how ready I was to battle all out for the final three miles. What was I will to give and what was I willing to risk?
A few minutes later we realized it was the lead horses. We watched in awe as they flew by us with ease and grace. PHEW! With one mile to go I was excited, but wasn’t ready by any means to declare victory. Kirsten and I both watched the quarter miles tick off our watches and were ecstatic to see the finish line beaming ahead. As we approached I asked her to cross the line with me, because WE had done it. As I crossed the line in 18:35 I know immediately I wanted a photo with my crew and pacers. They all give me so much on a day-to-day basis along with so many others that I appreciate and respect that it is a team effort.
Incredible! What were some of the highs and lows you experienced on course?
Some of the highs were getting to be back racing on home turf at an event that benefits Vermont Adaptive Sports, seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones and running in remembrance of my good friend Chad Denning (#explore4chad) who had strong ties to this race.
With highs comes lows and I had a few. There were a couple instances where I just didn’t plan appropriately for my caloric needs so needed more UnTapped’s than I had anticipated. This meant I had a few good bonks were I just had to run conservatively until I saw my crew where I could then regroup and refuel.
Has this been on your 2022 schedule all year long or did it just fit the calendar well for you?
In late 2021 I wrote out my intended race schedule for the upcoming year and it included steppingstone races, goal races/FKT’s and races that would just be for fun with friends. I missed my first steppingstone race and my first goal race because I got covid, which really knocked me down and out for a while. Once I thought I had regained my health and fitness I tried an FKT attempt and my health went sideways after one day.
At this point my entire intended schedule was in flux, I gave my body some additional TLC and then felt like it was time to put my fitness to use. I registered for the VT 100 just ten days out from the event which is very different from my usual very calculated self.
Vermont swimming holes and creemee stands were busy as it was steamy hot over race weekend. I imagine piping hot temperatures had to be a challenge. When you’re out on course, what’s the biggest thing you’re competing against? Is it yourself, the elements, hydration, the course, a particular competitor?
When I am competing, I try to remind myself that I can only control myself. My competitors certainly motivate me to push and challenge myself and I hope to do the same for them, but ultimately I am just trying to perform to my capabilities and this means constantly checking in with myself on how I am doing mentally and physically.
I knew going into this race that it is easy to go out too hard early on so I relied on my watch to keep my pace in check. I have learned over the years that you typically don’t win a hundred-mile race in the first 70 miles, but you certainly can lose it there so I tried to remain patient. I also knew that the conditions were very dry and the heat and humidity were going to creep up all day so before I even felt hot I started wearing my ice cap and ice bandana to help keep my body temperature down.
Mentally and emotionally I knew I had to keep myself in check so to stay focused. There were parts of the course that were difficult emotionally because of vivid memories of Chad, but I tried to let them be moments of celebration of him rather than sadness.
Like all ultrarunners, you’ve had some successes and some challenges in long distance racing. Where are you able to attribute success given the outcome of this race?
Yes I have had many successes and many hiccups throughout my career. I would say that this race was by far the smartest and most relaxed race I have ever executed. I was patient and let the race unfold while putting a lot of faith that in the end it would all come together so needless to say I was happy that everything came together and worked out.
Tell us about your nutrition strategy. Do you stay tried and true, start to finish or do you find you need to adapt during the race? What do you crave? Do your cravings go wacky in such a long distance?!
Prior to each race I make a spreadsheet that outlines the distance between each crew stop and an estimated amount of time it should take me. From this information I figure out how much hydration and fuel I need to carry on each section, and for this race the distance between seeing my crew ranged from 7 miles to 21 miles.
My caloric goal for a race this distance is 200-260 calories an hour as that is what seems to be the range that my stomach can handle. I largely rely on UnTappeds because they go down easy and are absorbed into my bloodstream quickly and then for hydration I was constantly taking small sips of Mapleaid. When all was said and done, I consumed just about an entire bag of drink mix, 29 Salted Cocoa UnTappeds, 3 Maple UnTappeds, 2 Salted Raspberry UnTappeds and a few handfuls of gluten free pretzels.
During the race I only had one craving and that was when I saw a fresh quart of blueberries on an aid station table! In my mind I wanted the entire quart and pictured myself shoveling them into my mouth like Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster would with cookies. I resisted them, but boy did they look good! After the race cravings are a different story and the hot items this time around were scrambled eggs, pizza, potato salad, cheese, creemees and chips!
You’ve had some success in this race in the past. I think you were the podium in 2010. What changes have you seen in ultrarunning over this time period?
In 2010 I came in second place to a very speedy Kami Semick who set a new course record that still stands to this day. It was hard to believe that it has been 12 years since my first one hundred miler. Over the years ultra-running certainly has grown in participation, number of races and competitiveness. Boundaries keep getting pushed and new records are getting set in paces, times and distances that were once inconceivable. I hope the sport continues to encourage all abilities to participate while working on inclusion and gender equity.
Here’s what Aliza consumed to stay fueled for 100 rugged miles.