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Interview: C&O Canal 100 Race Director

April 1, 2013 Comments (2) Interviews

Interview: Vermont 100 Race Director

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run and Ride, held Annually in July since 1988 in the Green Mountain hills surrounding Woodstock, VT. Vermont is the second race in the Grand Slam of Ultra-Running falling just 3 weeks after the Western States 100 and for many who have been there, they can attest to it being a long-time classic.

I am honored to have the opportunity to talk about this years race with Race Director Julia Hutchinson O’Brien and we thank her for her time.

Sherpa John: First Julia, I want to commend you for the job you have done since assuming the role of race director in 2009, following the unexpected passing of your father Jim. Would you mind telling us how challenging it’s been for you taking over the legacy that your father left behind?
Julia Hutchinson O’Brien:
Thanks John. It’s certainly been a labor of love and I couldn’t have done it without the support of the Race Committee every step of the way. Those folks are really the unsung hero’s of the VT 100.  Taking over, as the Directorship from my Dad was a logical choice, I had been his assistant RD for 7 years. I was handling registration, e-mail communication and some of the behind the scenes stuff. The real challenge for me was putting together things like the permits and contacts. My Dad was awesome and super organized, but he did most of it in his head so very little was written down! Again, The Race Committee saved my butt and helped get me on track. After my first 2 years, I feel like I’ve gotten fairly good at most of that stuff and the races are running smoothly. It been really wonderful to see the VT 100 growing so popular over that last few years!

SJ: What do you feel you’ve done or tried to do to either carry on some of your father’s traditions/ideas while trying to create your own?
The number one thing that was always important to both Dad and I is the commitment that the VT 100 is a fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports. We were both ski instructors first and came to be volunteers at the VT 100 through the program. It’s just an amazing program!  Race organization wise, one of the big things that we’ve tried to keep up, was our feeling of “family”. It’s great to feel like you’re getting to go to a big family reunion every summer, and everyone in your family just happens to be an ultra runner or work at an aid station!

SJ: Now, your brother is sort of a rock-star/hero out there on race weekend. It’s hard not to notice him given the amount of work he does to insure the success of the event. I’ve always appreciated the work he’s done as well. What is his continuing role with the Vermont 100?
JHO: Richard is kind of a rock star! He’s determined to make things run as smoothly as possible on site and keep me unstressed. I’m really lucky to have him! He’s been working at the VT 100 for about 15 years, (maybe more?) in various tasks leading up to his being the Site Manager. Probably most amazing has been that his birthday falls during race week just about every year, so he hasn’t had a proper birthday party since his childhood AND for the last 4 years he was living in Utah so he flew home for 2 weeks for the event!!  I’m not sure what his continuing roll will be, it’s up to him and where he decides to go in life! I’ll be lost without him, but I wouldn’t want to hold him back!

SJ: The Vermont 100 was started as a charity event benefiting Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sport. Can you tell us a little more about the charity and what the Vermont 100 has meant to Vermont Adaptive over the years?
JHO: The VT 100 has always been and will always be a fundraiser for VT Adaptive. The funds raised by the VT 100 allow Vermont Adaptive to run year round programs for people who have disabilities AND allow them to provide these services on a sliding scale for those who would otherwise be unable to participate. Because of the money raised at the VT 100 hundreds of people who otherwise probably wouldn’t, get to run, ski, swim, sail, rock-climb, bike, hike, camp, horse back ride and compete!! The access to instruction in recreational and competitive sports for folks with disabilities can be the “ah ha” moment in a life that helps them to realize “If I can do this, I can do ANYTHING!”

SJ: One of the unique things about Vermont is that, it’s one of the few hundred-milers in the country where a horse race still coincides with the run. Horses and runners on the same day, typically a topic of much conversation and apprehension by runners, what came first Julia, the horse ride or the run?
JHO: Horse Race! Long before people were daring to try to run so far, horses and their riders were doing “century rides”. The area around Woodstock, VT has long been thick with horses and their owners. I think the VT 100 was a horse race for 3 years before people started running with them!

SJ: In the past, how do you feel the runners and horse’s (and their riders) have managed to coexist on the course on race day?
JHO: Horses and their riders are actually pretty easy to get along with!  While they might seem large and you’re probably thinking that you wouldn’t want to be too close to the rear end of one, horses are by nature very gentle and curious!  Even if riders can’t, horses can hear a runner approaching from behind them and want to know who you are. The best way to run with horses it to ready to speak to each rider. As soon as the horse hears your human voice and it’s riders response to you, it decides that you’re not a threat or very scary at all, now it’s more than willing to scoot over and let you past with no problem. The riders are very cautious on trials and won’t be racing full boar in the woods. There is no chance that you can be run over if you’re paying attention to your surrounding. THIS is one reason why, must to the disappointment of many, we still do not allow headphones or personal music players. Anytime you’re on a dark, wooded trail with anything other than humans on foot, complete awareness to your surroundings is super important.

SJ: Typically the race doesn’t fill it’s registration until late March early April. This year, as registration opened on December 1st, the race filled in some 30 hours. What to you thing attribute to this Julia? Is it because of the race holding it’s 25th anniversary or do you attribute it to the growth of the sport?
I think it’s a little of both! In the past we have opened in registration October to give plenty of time for the race to fill up before July. Last year when we opened in October, we filled before the December drawing of the Western States lottery, causing trouble for those runners trying to compete in the Grand Slam.  This year we pushed back to December 1st, thinking that there was no way we would fill before the WS drawing on the 8th(??). We were all shocked to have filled so quickly! A little bit of me hopes that the buzz this year was connected to the big anniversary because I’d hate to have to go to a lottery ourselves in the next few years!  We’ll test it again next summer, but we definitely won’t be opening until later in December, possibly early January!

SJ: So how many 100 Milers will be out there and how many in the still young 100K?
We expect to start 300 runners in the 100-MILE and 60 in the 100 K.

SJ: The Vermont 100 has traditionally been one of those races that doesn’t raise its entry fee in exponential increments. Is this something the committee is mindful of when setting the price each year, especially given that it’s a fundraiser?
Yes, we are always wary of raising the entry fee. Many of our Committee members are athletes themselves. We realize that this sport isn’t as inexpensive as one would assume. (I mean they’re just running, right? What costs money?) We know that our participants all have families and lives out side of this sport and so many of our runners travel such a great distance to join us! While we need to keep in mind that we ARE a fundraiser, we try to do our best to keep the costs passed on to our participants as low as possible. One thing that we still do is offer free camping at Silver Hill Meadow (where we start and finish) to anyone who wants it. For anyone who’s willing, it can help cut down on some of the costs of staying in town while you’re here!

SJ: Do you folks have any special plans for the 25th anniversary celebration in Silver Hill Meadow? Pre-race or post-race festivities? Special awards or take-a-ways for runners? Anything you can share with us?
 You wouldn’t want me to spoil any surprises, would you? 😉 One thing you can look forward to is a new logo this year designed by one of our participants in a contest! We’ve had the same logo for the past 4 years for our 21-24th years and we wanted something new to commemorate our 25th anniversary!

SJ: Last year, the race was still dealing with the long lasting effects of Hurricane Irene and the ever-present fragile relationship with the many landowners who allow the race to take place on their lands. What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing this year?
  The one effect of Irene that this years runners will still feel is that the Taftsville covered bridge is still out of commission.  The long, historic covered bridge was due for repairs anyways but the floodwaters worsened the damage. We’re hoping to have it back for 2014’s race. This year we will be running through the town of Woodstock, as we did last year, for a detour. It makes a nice place where spectators can do a little more cheering for their runner!

SJ: I’m sure a race of this size is in need of some help Julia, before we go, can you tell us all what the best ways folks can help the event be a success and how we might help Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports a little further; even if we’re not running in the event.
YES! Since the event is organized year round by a volunteer committee of about 15 people and staffed during race week by over 200 local-ish volunteers, we could ALWAYS use more help!

We need folks for a few days before hand to do things like setting up fencing, posts, tents, etc at Silver Hill. We need people for Friday’s registration for many, many tasks from selling t-shirts to filling water jugs, to serving pasta dinner, to cleaning up!

We need people for the entire 30 hours that the race is happening to man aid stations (in shifts of course, very few of us work the whole 30 hours…) This can be a blast if you bring a friend or two or more!! Even if you’re coming to the VT 100 with a runner, if they have a full crew and you’re feeling like you might get bored, drop us a line, we’d love to assign you to an aid station for a few hours!

We also need volunteer pacers to run with participants starting at around Mile 70. If you can do 10, 20 or 30 miles while looking out for a runner, we need you! It’s a great way to see the last part of the course if you’re planning to run VT some day!

If you’re not able to make it to the VT 100 this year, we would LOVE for you to sponsor a runner! Each participant has the ability to set up their own pledge page through (connected to our registration site, Encourage someone you know that’s running to set up their page, OR sponsor someone random!

If you’re interested in sponsoring a volunteer for the event, $25 will offset the cost of getting a volunteer their shirt and a meal for the weekend! $50 will offset the cost of replacement drink at an unmanned drink stop and $100-$200 will offset the cost of runner food at a manned aid station.

Anyone can go to our registration page and use a credit or debit card to sponsor a volunteer or aid station, or make a donation.

If you own a company, or know of one that would be interested in sponsoring the VT 100, we have many options available!

Vermont Adaptive is always accepting donations directly to their programs, especially now as they are trying to build their “forever home”. A new base of operations that will be accessible to all is being built at Pico Mountain, VT. We’re really looking forward to working out of that location in the future!

SJ: Julia, I’m excited to be coming to Vermont for my 5th Vermont 100. It’s a home coming for me and I greatly look forward to seeing you at Silver Hill Meadow. Thank you so much for giving us this time and we wish you and the rest of the race committee luck with your preparations for another successful Vermont 100.
Thanks John! For taking the time to chat with me and for being a continuing patron of the VT 100!! I look forward to handing you your 5th award this summer! That special 500 MILE belt buckle will be a great addition to your collection! J

I’d love to answer questions that folks have about the race, how to get involved or anything else, my e-mail is

2 Responses to Interview: Vermont 100 Race Director

  1. Neil says:

    We love you Julia!

  2. […] avant de prendre sa retraite et de passer le flambeau à Jim Hutchinson, le père de Julia, l’actuel directrice de la […]

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