Runners make friends during 550-mile race

GOSHEN — “It’s day two, and I’ve got stomach pains and hives,” Rachel Dunai said while resting on an inflated pool lounger on the floor of the Blueberry Hill Ski Center in Goshen this past Friday afternoon. Then she rose and headed back out onto the trail to run her second marathon of the day. 
“I’m a little allergic to exercise, so I’m doubling up my allergy pills,” she added.
The Fredericksburg, Va., resident had run pretty much nonstop for two days, through the night, as part of the Endurance Society’s 888 km Infinitus Challenge, the longest in a series of trail races at Blueberry Hill that began this past Thursday, May 24. Dunai is one of 15 ultra runners participating in the Endurance Society’s 2018 Infinitus 888K race — more than 550 miles that must be completed within 240 hours (that’s 10 days). It is one of seven endurance events in the week-long Infinitus series. 
Those running the Infinitus “Deca-Marathon” (10 marathons in 10 days), started with the 888K racers on May 24; the 250-mile race started this past Tuesday. A 100-mile race will start at 8:08 a.m. on Friday, June 1. An 8-mile race, marathon and 88K race will start at 8:08 a.m. on Saturday, June 2. All races finish on Saturday. 
GREG SALVESON TAKES a popsicle to go while maintaining his lead in the 2018 Endurance Society Infinitus 888K race in Goshen earlier this week.  Photo by Jennifer Paquette
Participants run the entire race around two trail loops — one seven miles long and one 20 miles long. More than 100 runners, among them several Addison County residents, will join the course to compete against the others and, particularly in the vey long races, against themselves.
One of these competitors is Brian Ladeau, a Bristol resident who owns Otter Creek Custom Framing in Middlebury. Ladeau has competed in three Obstacle Course World Championships. This will be his fourth year competing in the Infinitus event. He will run the 100-mile race, which starts on Friday. His goal is to finish in 35 hours. He said he trains by going for 16-mile trail runs in the middle of the night with a headlamp. He said he loves the people who come to the events, and the challenge of doing something he’s not sure his body can do. 
Most of the competitors in the Infinitus series are not professional athletes. Most are between the ages of 30 and 50. 
“The average person who does it around here (Addison County) just does it for fun,” Ladeau said, adding that he doesn’t really consider himself a runner. 
Bill and Karen Root of Charlotte also love the Endurance Society community of racers. They will be competing in the 88K event this year. 
“There’s a great community around this race,” said Bill, who is a mechanical consulting engineer. The Roots spend at least 12 hours a week training for ultra runs. They are in their early 60s, and say they see a lot of people their age competing in ultra trail running events like those hosted by the Endurance Society. Bill said it helps to have a flexible work schedule. 
“I can outrun people half my age on a good downhill, especially if it’s a soft surface, like grass on a ski trail,” Bill said this week. 
NEARLY TWO DOZEN ultra runners pose for a photo at the Blueberry Hill Inn and Ski Center on May 24 before they start the Infinitus Deca-Marathon and 888K races — 262- and 551-mile races, respectively. Photo by Jennifer Paquette
Endurance Society founder and race organizer Andy Weinberg said ultra-running and trail running seem to be growing in Vermont. 
“A lot of our people come on their vacation,” Weinberg said. “It’s different from a road race. Here, people stop to help you out. People look out for each other.” 
Dave Jesse is a competitor in the 888K race. He came from Milwaukee, and when asked why he does events like this, he said, “I’ve been active in a range of sports and until ultra, handball had the best camaraderie.” 
Jesse said he got bored with ultra Ironman triathlons and other road races. 
“The friends you make on the trail are real,” he added, saying he came to the 888K to “find himself out on the trail.” 
Francis Twomey of Oneonta, N.Y., is also competing in the 888K. 
“I’m the worst one here. I just came to see what I could do and have a good time,” said the self-professed non-trail runner during a similar rest. 
“A lot of people come to race knowing they’re not going to finish,” Weinberg said of the 888K event. “That’s really impressive, because people want to succeed.” 
Jordan Wirfs-Brock is a Science Information PhD student from Colorado. She is competing in her fourth 888K. Last year she ran 515 miles before dropping out. She hopes to finish this year. 
“Here, people compete against the course, not each other,” she said. “You go through this ordeal together. This event attracts the craziest of the crazy, the fringes of an already fringe group (of ultra runners). It’s exciting to be around other people who are intrigued by the unknown.” 
Helene Dumais was back for her third race this year. The running coach from Montreal hopes to finish, and called the 888K “the black hole of ultra marathons.” 
When asked why she keeps coming back to the same race, Dumais said simply, “to finish.” 
“We’re just ordinary people who want to accomplish extraordinary things. Honestly, it’s more mental than physical,” Dumais said. 
“You get to leave your bills, your kids behind,” Ladeau said. “For me it’s about peace of mind. People get addicted to that.” 

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