Wetzel Crafts Feel-Good Final 100-Miler on Familiar Turf at VT100

WEST WINDSOR, Vt. – One of the Vermont 100’s most consistent performers made her farewell run at the 100-mile distance July 15-16 at Silver Hill Meadow.

“This is number 11,” said Lori Wetzel, 44, of Danvers, Mass. “It’s my 20th hundred overall, and my last 100-miler. I was thinking I’d end where I started.”

Wetzel has taken on a variety of other 100-milers in other locations through the years – Mountain Lakes in Oregon, Wasatch Front in Utah, Leadville in Colorado, and the legendary Western States Endurance Run in California, just to name a few – but Vermont has always claimed a special place in her heart and called her back year after year.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous. I love the trails here,” she said. “It doesn’t really seem like work (to run); it’s more like fun being here. Also, being so close to home and close to so many people that I know. Our crew comes up here all the time. Now GAC (Gil’s Athletic Club in Topsfield) is running Bill’s aid station, so it’s great to have so many people out here that you know.”

Wetzel ran her first 100-miler at Vermont in 2004 and finished fourth. Her final race followed a similar storyline as she completed the 2017 race with another fourth-place finish.

Lori Wetzel 2 - VT100
Lori Wetzel of Danvers, Mass., had plenty to smile about during her fourth-place finish at the Vermont 100. Wetzel completed the Vermont 100 for the 11th time. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Wetzel wasn’t sure what to expect from her 11th running of the Vermont 100 due to less rigorous training compared to prior years.

“Training didn’t go as I planned this year,” she said. “When I was younger I’d get a number of 100-mile weeks while training, but I didn’t get that done this year so I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was thinking maybe a 22-hour finish.”

Ultimately, fewer training miles didn’t hinder the savvy veteran. Wetzel executed her final 100-miler in her typically consistent fashion. She sat back in the pack early and then went into attack mode, steadily picking off other runners and efficiently working her way toward the front. She routinely rolled into aid stations with a smile on her face, even when some hiccups happened along the way.

“Apparently I was so fast that my crew didn’t make it to Polly’s (mile 95) before I did, and the same thing for Pretty House (mile 21), so I missed my crew a few times, which was no big deal,” she said. “I was in good spirits. I had run the 100K here last year unsupported, so I was used to it.”

Wetzel’s strategy was perfect. It allowed her to capitalize on runners who started too fast, and also enabled her to remain steady and strong during the late miles.

“There are a lot of tough climbs that come later on in the race, so if you kill yourself in the beginning then you’ve got nothing left for those big climbs,” she said. “I think knowing that they were coming and knowing that they were done was a good thing.”

Wetzel wasn’t able to track down Kathleen Cusick, 42, as she captured her third victory in dominant fashion, winning in 17:39:20. Nor was Wetzel able to catch runner-up Dylan Broderick, 26, of Montpelier, Vt. (19:29:22) or 36-year-old Grace Fisher of Hancock, Md. (19:40:20), however Wetzel did have just enough left in the tank to hold off Shaheen Sattar for fourth place as she finished in 20:48:35. Seventy-nine seconds later, Sattar, 33, of Dallas, Texas, locked up fifth place.

For Wetzel, crossing the finish line capped a remarkably consistent career at the 100-mile distance at VT100. All 11 of her finishes were in less than 24 hours, she finished in the top 10 every time, and she earned eight top-five finishes. Her highest finish was second in 2007, and her fastest time was 19:43:11 in her debut performance.

“Even though I won’t come back here and run the 100-miler again, I will definitely come here and do something whether it’s working Bill’s aid station with the GAC, or crew or pace somebody else,” Wetzel said. “I can’t imagine my summer without the Vermont 100.

“This is one of the races where you try to get here early and hang out in the field beforehand because you get to see all of the people that you don’t usually see. Kathleen Cusick, the winner, we met at this race, and now her husband hangs out with my husband. It’s just great to see them this one time a year because they live in Florida now. It’s like that with a lot of different people that you don’t usually get the opportunity to see.”

Cusick agreed. The people and the beauty of the course keep calling her back. The 13-time VT100 finisher from Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., got to know Wetzel and her husband Randy through the race, as well as through work when Cusick was pursuing her Ph.D. Now, VT100 is an opportunity for the friends to gather for a few days – with a little bit of running thrown in.

Kathleen Cusick - VT100
Kathleen Cusick was all smiles for most of the day en route to the women’s victory at the Vermont 100. Cusick has finished the Vermont 100 13 times, and 2017 marked the third time she has won the race. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

“We have developed this great friendship with Lori and Randy and the GAC crew,” Cusick said. “It’s really nice. I usually do races solo, and this is the one my husband always comes and crews for me.”

While Wetzel delivered yet another masterful performance at Vermont, so did Donna Utakis. Utakis previously finished seventh at the 2004 VT100 and fourth in 2012. This time, the 49-year-old resident of Amherst, Mass., cruised through the early miles and rolled through mile 30 in eighth place. From there, she spent the rest of the day trading spots with a few other runners while always clinging to a spot in the top 10. Late in the race she wasn’t able to close on ninth-place finisher Anthea Dexter-Cooper, 32, of Hinesburg, Vt., who was more than 20 minutes ahead, but Utakis was in a neck-and-neck battle with 49-year-old Suzanna Smith-Horn of Stafford, Vt., for the final spot in the top 10. Ultimately, Utakis crossed the final mountainside meadows and weaved her way through the last of the singletrack just a bit faster than Smith-Horn to secure 10th place in 23:02:25. Smith-Horn finished 37 seconds later in 11th place.

Donna Utakis - VT100
Donna Utakis cruises along the Vermont 100 course early in the day on Saturday, July 15, 2017. Utakis raced to a top-10 finish. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Joining Wetzel and Utakis as VT100 veterans were Leanne Tierney and Michelle Roy. Tierney, 53, of Boxford, Mass., finished the race for the fourth time. After prior finishes in 2013, 2014 and 2016, Tierney finished the 2017 race in 27:10:15. Meanwhile, Roy finished her second VT100 in 27:11:08. She previously completed the race in 2009.

Two Massachusetts women, Kate Cook of Boston and Kim Vanyo of Winchester, are no strangers to running 100-milers, although 2017 marked their Vermont 100 debuts. Cook, 41, finished in 25:18:25 and added a Vermont buckle to her trophy case alongside the one she earned at Leadville in 2013. Vanyo, 54, crossed the finish line in 29:23:09, giving her four successful 100-mile pursuits. She previously ran at least 100 miles at Ghost Train, Umstead, and 3 Days at the Fair’s 48-hour event.

Vanessa Desota of Worcester was the lone Massachusetts woman who made Vermont her first-ever 100-mile finish. Desota, 39, secured her first 100-mile belt buckle by finishing in 28:20:21.

D’Souza is 100K Champion

No Massachusetts women were among the finishers of the 100K race. Neela D’souza, 39, of Pickering, Ontario, was the fourth overall finisher and the first-place female with a speedy time of 10:13:34. Rachel Long, 25, of Warren, Vt., was a distant second in 10:32:08 while placing fifth overall. Rounding out the top three ladies was 24-year-old Alyssa Amos of Hauula, Hawaii, who was also the seventh overall finisher in 11:19:42. Of the 75 total starters in the 100K race, 61 finished within 20 hours.

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