Sole sisters

VERMONT — Running 200 miles alone is a feat that only a select number of ultra-endurance athletes can accomplish. As a group of Addison County women found out on June 18, tackling the distance as a team still offers a significant challenge, but also leads to a fun, exciting and rewarding weekend — especially when the course runs right through the heart of Vermont.
The Sole Sisters, a team of ten women from Addison County and two from New Hampshire, recently completed the 6th Annual Green Mountain Relay, a 200-mile race that begins in Jefferson, Vt. and ends in Bennington, Vt., on a course that weaves its way through Vermont’s Green Mountains and crosses seven covered bridges.
“It was so much fun,” said Nicole Wilkerson, of Middlebury. “Everyone had different strengths that came through.”
The team members were Addison County residents Wilkerson, Andrea Solomon, Amey Ryan, Diane Munroe, Molly Costanza Robinson, Laura Turner, Shauna Lee, Kera Hurlburt, Jenny Carter-Nixon, and team captain Amy Roberts, in addition to New Hampshire residents Lori Richer and Leigh Bears.
“It was an absolutely amazing time,” said Lee, a Brandon resident and teacher at Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury.
Her comment could be taken in several ways — the Sisters finished just seven seconds out of first place for the all-female team category, crossing the finish line after 28 hours 49 minutes and 55 seconds. They had the 16th best time overall.
The race was divided into 36 legs, ranging in length from 2.2 miles to 9.1 miles. Each woman ran three legs throughout the course of the race, totaling between 15 and 20 miles each. It was taxing physically and mentally, but much of the fatigue and exhaustion did not set in until the race was over.
Wilkerson, the head cross country coach at Middlebury College, started one of her legs at 11:15 p.m. along the side of Route 100.
“There’s so much excitement going on around you (that) you don’t really feel the impact of it being that late,” she said. “You don’t feel tired until the next day. I felt exhausted on Monday. And I couldn’t walk.”
Anytime morale was waning, witnessing the efforts of their teammates was enough to raise spirits.
“(Wilkerson) was just was so positive and upbeat the whole time,” said Lee. “She had some pretty intense legs to run, so she was really inspiring in that sense, too. To watch her run uphill for five miles … was pretty incredible.”
Wilkerson also mentioned that Ryan, the youngest member of the team, brought lots of energy when the others were losing steam.
“She had the most energy of anybody at five in the morning,” Wilkerson said.
Though traversing the Green Mountains on foot was the most physically taxing aspect of the race, the time between legs could not exactly be described as “down time.”
“You follow your runner … and you cheer for them,” said Wilkerson. “I think we honked more than a New York cabby does on a double shift.”
The team had two vans, each holding six women and all their clothing and supplies. The quarters were more than a little cramped, but there wasn’t much complaining. The course route presented numerous opportunities to appreciate the beauty of Vermont’s landscape.
“Vermont is just a breathtaking state,” said Lee. “It’s absolutely beautiful … that was one of the things I think I learned when we were out there — that this adventure is right in our backyard. Right out our backdoor.”
Though the women did not all know each other before entering this race, they formed an instant camaraderie both during the race and the night before, when they stayed at a condo at Smuggler’s Notch.
They were brought together by Roberts, the team captain and organizer, who found that corralling 11 women with families and careers into training for a 200-mile relay was no small task.
“Finding people and getting (them) to commit was the most difficult part,” said Roberts, who was intent on fielding an all-female team. “It’s a big commitment between training and taking a full weekend off.”
Roberts got the final team member to commit on December 31, 2010 at 11 p.m. — just an hour before the deadline. 
 “This had to (have been) a full-time job (for her),” said Wilkerson, “with the organization that she did, getting us together and motivated and everything. She’s a pretty amazing person.”
It turned out to be worth the effort, however, as the race was a success and some are even starting to think about next year.
“I’m planning on next year,” said Lee. “I think this is a very competitive, yet fun group, that would love to do it again, and do better.”
Roberts is on the same page.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can get the original team together for next year’s race,” she said. “We have some unfinished business.”
Whether or not that plan materializes, they are excited to have made new friends and connections through such an intense and unique shared experience.
“Great friendships were created, (it was) a very special bonding experience,” said Roberts. “No doubt if I collapsed on my run, they would (have) dragged me to the finish line.”
Lee also enjoyed the bonds created by hours in the van.
“I appreciate the opportunity to have gone on this adventure with such an amazing group of women,” said Lee. “There’s something to be said for sisterhood (and) being stuck in a van listening to some great old music from the ’80s and ’90s, getting all fired up.”
Reporter Ian Trombulak can be reached at [email protected].

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