On Saturday, July 15, 2017, Gorham’s Chad Allen joined a group of runners and milled about the starting area for a trail race in West Windsor, Vermont.
It was 4 a.m. and the start time wasn’t the only unusual aspect of the race. These runners would be attempting to cover 100 miles. No typo. This was the Vermont 100 Endurance Race, covering 17,000 feet of total ascent over rolling dirt roads, horse trails, and just two miles of pavement. Nothing like an average road race.
At about 1:30 the next morning, having witnessed a sunrise, a sunset, and into the distinct heart, sights and sounds of another rural night, Allen crossed the finish line in his first attempt at the distance. He finished 52nd overall, in 21 hours, 33 minutes, and was among 270 finishers in a race with 349 entrants. His support team included his wife, Kelly Pease, and his father, Chuck, as well as Ian Parlin, his pacer (a runner who may accompany the entrant through the final 30 miles).
Less than 90 days later, in early October, Allen and his father headed to Virginia to challenge the distance again at the Grindstone 100. It is a race with variables that make it more difficult than the Vermont race. With 23,000 feet of elevation on more rugged rocky and stumpy terrain, and a 6:00 p.m. start time that puts most finishers through two sunsets, Chad was once again able to finish, coming in 43rd (24:45) among the 182 finishers in an original field of 237 entrants.
While slower ultrarunners may string together races without physical or psychological breakdown, it is rare for a runner to have so little time between races and finish in the top-20 percent, especially a novice.
The former hockey and football player from Brewer says he “hated running” during his former athletic life, from which he took a hiatus when he became a chemical engineering student at the University of Maine at Orono. In 2011, nearly a decade after he was prescribed medication for high blood pressure at 29 years old, Allen had an awakening.
“I was thirty pounds more than I am now and was miserable. I was working a lot of hundred-hour weeks. I knew I had to make a change,” he said. He credits his wife with catalyzing the shift as she was planning to join the Gorham gym, MyFit24, and she “signed Chad up” with a family membership.
They attended boot camp classes and Allen mostly did gym work, but incorporated running as well. He decided to enter some Spartan and Tough Mudder races, which blend running with strength-and-technique obstacles. He quickly discovered at these events that, “The running, especially climbing and descending, brought a smile to my face.”
Research led him to race events held by Trail Monsters, a Southern Maine trail running club, and in 2013 he entered his first race in the Bradbury Mountain Series. The club hosts running and snowshoe races and has regular group runs. He became part of this community, and met Parlin, a club founder. Training and racing on weekends with these runners, by 2015 Allen was racing 50k (31 miles) and built up to a couple of 50 milers in 2016.
A pivotal moment came in January 2017, when he decided to register for the Vermont 100 on his 40th birthday. The decision to train for such an event has an impact on family life. Allen’s Saturdays would be filled with training and racing-as-training. He would typically leave the house at 5 or 6 a.m. and return at 1 or 2 p.m., after logging long miles.
This sport can present logistical and lifestyle changes for families. Allen was quick to say, “I know it can be a selfish, self-indulgent activity.” Pease counterbalanced the thought with, “It’s his stress release; his outlet; and he’s good at it. He’s smiling as he’s coming into the aid stations at races.”
What keeps him studying and participating? He describes his experience as, “A moving meditation. In a race, chances of failure are extremely high and I’m ok with that. It’s a process and a journey that’s not about time, or even so much about finishing on any given day.” He continued, “So much of life we’re mitigating risk, especially with a family. Things can get really ugly out there on the course, and in a culture that avoids discomfort it’s a place where I can take an uncomfortable risk and where I can spend time with myself.”
Allen peppered reiterations of the marriage between solitude and the necessity and joy of community among the Trail Monsters. Parlin said of Chad’s relationship with the club, “Chad just got it right away. He’s a generous and hardworking guy, he was volunteering. Our members have a passion to participate and to acknowledge that no one is alone in this sport.”
If the entrance lotteries go well, Allen’s next 100 will be out west, using the time to combine a family vacation with altitude acclimation.