263.4 miles raced, 2900 meters swam and 77.9 miles biked in 2011
Race: Vermont City Marathon
Place: Burlington, VT
Miles from home: 2281 miles
Weather: 70 degrees; humid, rainy
I have been itching to do the Vermont City Marathon since I first started getting into marathons. I have heard nothing but good about the race, its people and the city of Burlington. It gives me great pleasure to say that everything I heard was true. I would rank this marathon in the top 5 I have ever run. And that comes from someone who is still sitting gingerly because of chafing from a hot and humid race day. If even the cut-up and grouchy have good things to say about your race, that means you did a good job.
This was the weekend of little sleep which, truth be told, is virtually every weekend for me. But that is the nature of the chosen life I have. I will still lament the lack of sleep, however. As the guest of the Vermont Beef Council, I was giving an interview on a local television station. With my “I Heart Beef” shirt on, I was questioned by the weatherperson why I ate Beef. I told him that I enjoyed it and it was good for me. He then asked me how I knew the latter of these two opinions.
As is the usual with me, when someone asks me a question I, in order to get to the actual root of their question, ask them a question in return. “How do you know it is not?” Taken aback he really did not give me an answer other than the standard ones I hear from many people (which more or less hold no water.) I think those who wish to question the beef industry are not expecting someone like me to either be an outspoken advocate for Beef or, not be a shrinking violet when it comes to the questions posed (See an exchange between myself and a facebook person HERE.)
At the expo doing a book signing, I was approached by three college boys who respectfully asked questions about why I was promoting Beef. Soon, while the respectfulness continued, the collegiate desire to challenge “the man” poked out. While the discussion was lively, it remained clear that the public perception regarding many aspects of the beef industry is often misguided at best. But it was enjoyable to set the record straight and kept my mind off of the weather forecast for the race the next day. Even more enjoyable were the multitude of wonderful runners I got to spend time meeting.
The morning of the race actually started off far better than forecasted. Heat advisory were given prior to the race as where those regarding storms. My girlfriend, Shannon, had dealt with such an atrocious traveling schedule just to get to Burlington that she was in no share to run what she had originally intended. The weather forecast was actually welcome because I knew it would keep both of us from trying to go for pre-race goals which were simply ludicrous given the adverse conditions.
Bussed down to the start from our hotel through idyllic Burlington, which wad been absolutely obliterated with lousy weather this winter and spring, we were surprised that the weather felt fairly decent. With just a tinge of chill in the air even though it was already 70 degrees, a breeze picked up right before the start of the race giving us a nice and cooling feeling. Then it began raining and immediately became muggy. Wonderful.
With people huddling on nearby porches severely testing the weight codes, the rain came down. As the announcers urged runners to enter the corrals, some of us started to trickle down. The rain abated slightly and before too long the wheelchair races were underway. Promptly on time, to the sound of an airhorn, we were sent chasing after them.
First 10K: 6:46, 6:36, 6:45, 6:38, 6:44, 6:51
In the first 6 miles we were treated to both the rain coming to a stop and a couple of quick twists and turns through downtown Burlington before heading out on a lonely-esque stretch of closed highway. However, this section only last for two miles out and back. However, while this was a highway both sides were surrounded by lush forest and trees and not in any way a pavement jungle. The fact the road was closed gave the impression that the whole city was shut down for the runners, which it more or less was.
Personally I was using this section to simply feel out what I had for the day. One of many long term goals is to run a sub-3 hour marathon in every state. One of my short term goals, however, is to do well in my upcoming 70.3 Ironman two weeks from race day. While my miles in these first 6 were giving me a sub-3 hour pace, I could tell that chances were not good that I would be running a sub-3 overall.
To the half (1:30:39): 6:56, 6:45, 7:10, 6:38, 7:04, 7:31, 7:21
There were only two real hills to worry about in this marathon and the first one was after mile 8. After the turn-around slightly after the 10k mark, runners were treated to seeing the masses coming back at them. I saw Shannon on the other side and gave her a shout. Even though the rain had stopped, we were both quite soaked. I had a feeling this was going to be a day with a lot of chafing.
I was pleased that the hill at 8 did not slow me down too much off of my desired pace and began running with a few other runners who seemed to be trying for the same goal. The course passed underneath the start banner and we traced a portion of the course we had already run on. “This looks vaguely familiar,” a runner jokingly said. Granted it was where we had all just been 10 miles prior but it was such an old historic part out town that Take Two was not a bother whatsoever. Then the course took us down the brick Church Street, replete with men dressed as outrageous caricatures of women, bringing a smile to all the runners.
Throughout this area the streets were packed with supporters who had only had to move a few hundred yards to see runners no less than four times. Spectator-friendly often means runner-friendly as the extrinsic support of loud voices is never a bad thing to experience.
As we entered the 10th mile there was a long stretch of road that appeared to be a little desolate. I wondered if the marathon’s course would be like so many where once the first 13 miles are done, marathoners can be left to their own devices. However, any such fears were quickly wiped from my mind for as soon as we left this one mile stretch and began to weave in and out of parks and neighborhoods, the crowd presence again showed its wonderful vocal face.
Pushing toward mile 20: 7:16, 7:19, 7:45, 7:36, 7:34, 7:54, 7:44
If the constant crowd support was not enough, the fact that there was also a relay option for runners available meant runners were rarely running alone, no matter how fast they were running. The crowds were also not letting the recent deluge of rain in the Green Mountain State dampen their spirits. As we finished the first half of the marathon and moved on near the shores of Lake Champlain, the flooding that had rocked many parts of the state was quite evident. Also evident was the care and effort that went into making sure that this race would go on unimpeded as the organizers had quickly changed the course to avoid any of the flooding that had occurred.
The second and biggest hill of this course was around mile 15. By now, the rain had completely stopped and the sun would break through the crowds here and there. Usually the metaphor used for a day becoming one people can enjoy, this often means for marathon runners that their day is about to get a lot more difficult. Fortunately, the sun would stay hidden for most of the remainder of the race but is threat to peek out and boil runners was ever-present.
Beating of drums from about half of a mile away reached runners ears as they approached the big hill. Beating out a tempo to urge runners up the Battery Hill, Taiko style drummers lined the course. Boston has its screaming girls at Wellesley and Vermont City has its drummers. As I ran the slowest mile of the entire race, I know it would have been even slower if not for this wonderful touch.
Hitting the top of the hill I fell into step with one runner who I would later spent the better part of three miles running with. Alex was his name and we shared the normal things that runners do some 20 miles into a hot and humid marathon: moaning and complaining. When I mentioned I had rarely seen crowd support like this he said, “I wouldn’t know. This is my first.” I told him he was doing awesome and wished him the absolute best.
Battling on toward the Finish: 7:46, 7:51, 7:46, 7:49, 7:35, 7:19, 1:35
The next three miles were tough for me. I was feeling very uncomfortable from a case of chafing that I knew was going to be bad news bears and my energy was far from pouring out of me. What was pouring out of me was sweat and at mile 22 I took off, and wrung my wicking Team Beef singlet for the fifth and final time. It was as if I had dunked it in water each time it was so saturated. But as quickly as I was sweating it out, the fantastic aid stations were pouring it back into me. In fact, I counted no less than 7 unofficial aid stations on the course set up by people who were simply out to show the runners what a fantastic running city Burlington apparently is. And these aid stations were not just a card table with six Dixie cups. No, full length tables were set out with water, popsicles, bananas, oranges and everything else one could possible want. The popsicle handed to me by a kid at mile 22 probably saved my marathon.
When I decided right before the halfway point that a sub-3 wasn’t going to happen and today was a training run only (especially since I had an additional 9 miles post-race planned to get 35 miles on my 35th birthday) I didn’t expect to be bleeding time like I was here at the end. Suddenly, with two miles to go I realized that I was going to have to hustle if I wanted to get a Boston Qualifying time here in Vermont. Hustling, mind you, was about the last thing I wanted to do.
But hustle I did, with raw skin being rubbed more raw and tight muscles on the verge of cramping. On the flattest portion of the whole course, along a bicycle path we ran. I would pick one runner ahead of me and pass him looking ahead to the next runner to make roadkill. Nothing against them and honestly whether I passed them or not meant little. I did not care about my standing in the race; I only cared about my time. However, pass many I did and soon the end was in sight. To throngs of crowds cheering us on, and both Tim Bomba and Bart Yasso announcing, I was able to hold myself together just long enough to eke out my last 3:10 marathon as a 34 year old runner.
In 101st place, my 3:10:34 in my 130th marathon was hardly my fastest (it was, in fact, only my 63rd fastest) but as I said to Alex 6 miles earlier, the only marathon that really matters is the one you are currently running.
My 9 miles post-race did not happen. Exhaustion, humidity and the fact that Shannon and I completely lost each other post-race, requiring us to spend the better part of two hours looking for each other, guaranteed I would have no time to add any additional miles prior to catching my flight home. Instead, on my actual 35th birthday, I decided to go for a 35 mile bike ride instead. Hardly any great distance but for me, it was the furthest I had ever ridden at one point.
And that is really what life is about – pushing yourself to go further than you have ever gone. Not anyone else but yourself. The competition within is greater than what any other person or group can ever hope to compete with. For the people of Burlington, I say thank you for such a wonderful race.
To myself, I say “Let’s go find out what else you can do.”