Doing anything for an extended period of time can be difficult, whether it’s homework, driving, sitting through meetings, or just staying awake for the whole day.
But how about running for a long time, like for over 100 miles?
Well, a member of the Castleton University community has done it, and will likely do it again. Andrew Vermilyea, an environmental science and chemistry professor at Castleton is an avid outdoorsman and exercise enthusiast who has taken his love for fitness past the extreme and into the mountains.
“I usually do at least one 100-mile race a year and then I do a couple other 50-mile races, they’re all on trails and in the mountains,” Vermilyea said.
The 103-mile race that Vermilyea did last year in France took him about 26 hours to complete. It was called Ultra Trail Mont-Blanc, or UTMB for short. Within the 103-mile race, there was a 33,000-foot gain of elevation.
“This was a huge race, it’s kind of like the world championships for this kind of stuff,” Vermilyea said. “I was 47th out of 2,400.”
Training for a race like this is crucial, and obviously the people who train religiously are going to be the ones who do well, or even just finish the race, he said.
“I concentrate mostly on how much elevation I’m putting in and how much time I can put in, more so than how many miles or how fast I can do it, that doesn’t matter as much. It’s more about time on feet and getting your body used to getting beat down basically and being able to keep moving,” Vermilyea said.
If this was his job, he could train all the time and have no issues, but that isn’t the case for Vermilyea.
He is a full-time professor.
“Because I’m working full-time, I tend to do some big weekends, so Saturday and Sunday will be back-to-back training days, pretty long runs, anywhere from three to seven hours each day. Then during the week, it’s rarely more than 10 to 12 miles, not as much elevation, and maybe three days during the week, so a couple days off, and really the week is to maintain and kind of recuperate from the weekend,” he said.
Many people who do these kinds of races devote their whole life to them, but not Vermilyea. Not only is he a full-time professor, he has a family too.
“It’s a commitment for me and the whole family,” he said.
He is a married man with an 1-year-old child and he has learned how to be a good family man at the same time as being a high-level competitor.
“We’ll go somewhere for the weekend and start on a hike together and then I’ll run the rest of the day and meet up with them and we can make a big day out of it,” he said.
Although many people think teachers take the summers off, this isn’t the case for him.
“At school, I have students working with me all summer so I’m still at school, but it’s way more flexible than during the academic year when you have classes all the time. Summer is when the bulk of the training is, and around here that’s when the trails are better anyway.”
Every athlete knows however, that once the cold weather blows in, you can’t stop training.
“I’ve gotten into a lot of wearing micro spikes, snowshoeing, or running the snowmobile trails when they freeze over in the winter to keep up with the fitness,” he said.
Other Castleton professors have gone out for runs with him, and they say it isn’t an easy task.
“I’ve ran, road biked, mountain biked, skied, and skinned up Pico with Andy. Most of the time I’m sucking wind and Andy is barely breaking a sweat. I can only really keep up with him if he is just putting in miles and building his base fitness. I could never keep up if he is pushing for speed or huge distance,” said fellow Castleton science professor, Timothy Grover.
Another aspect of training every athlete knows is how dependent your performance is on the foods you eat and when you eat.
“I’ve trained myself to eat while I’m training,” said Vermilyea.
This makes complete sense for someone who is going to be running for 26 hours straight with few to no stops along the way.
“If I’m going to each lunch, I’ll pack my lunch in my pocket and kind of eat on the way rather than eating beforehand and scheduling my workouts around when I’m going to eat,” he said.
Many high-caliber athletes have a specific diet they are nearly religious about, but for Vermilyea, his diet is pretty much just to eat a lot.
“I don’t eat any special diet, but I eat a lot of calories in general and that definitely becomes really important as you approach race day,” he said. “I eat a lot of carbs. A lot of people who do ultra marathons are more into fats because you can burn them over a longer time period whereas carbs your burn more quickly,” said Vermilyea. “I eat a lot of meat, which is protein, but I also eat a lot of pasta. During a race, I do a lot of gels, which are mostly carbs. There’s aid stations along the way, so at UTMB in France I did a ton of soup with pasta in it because I could get electrolytes, fats, and carbs in a one-stop shop.”
When running for such a long time, even the most well trained athletes will be feeling the physical effects of the exercise. An even tougher aspect can be telling your body to keep going once your mind catches up.
“I was about 30 miles into this race, in the middle of the night, and just started heaving and vomiting and it was because I wasn’t sticking to my nutrition plan as closely as I should have and I was just like ‘I’m done I’m not going to finish’ and you just have to readjust so you’re like, ‘Okay now I need to eat 200 calories in the next 20 minutes and at the next aid station I need to slow down, drink lots of fluids, get electrolytes and reset myself.’ You do that, your mental state comes back and all of the sudden you feel like a million bucks again,” he said.
Not only is Vermilyea a talented athlete, he is a great member of the Castleton faculty that other members are pleased to have working with them.
“Andy is incredibly energetic, efficient, and focused at work,” said Grover. “He is also a fantastic colleague and does a lot of service work for our department. To do all those things well takes time. He often ends up running at night with a headlamp in order to get in the training to do well in his races.”