Race Report: Vermont City Marathon

I thought I’d have to work so hard to stay awake on my 6 hour drive home from Vermont tonight, but I think I still had a lot of adrenaline coursing through me because I basically sang to music at the top of my lungs the whole way home, with some breaks to listen to the Red Sox game.   I also drank 3 cups of coffee and a cappuccino.

I am flying right now.  I am not going to sleep for hours.  Looks like I’ll write a late-night race report!

marathon outfits ready, overlooking Lake Champlain

Here are lots of details about today’s race:

The humidity was 90% and the temps were low 70s when we walked up the hill from our hotel to the starting line.  A few minutes before the start, it began to rain which felt so good. We lined up with the masses of runners and pretty soon people were moving forward.  About 5 minutes later, we crossed the starting line.

The first part of the course is 3.5 miles, all of which felt great.  There were some nice downhills on brick streets, it was still raining, and the rain was keeping the temperatures reasonable.  It was indeed very humid and the air just felt thick and stifling, but I still felt pretty good.  Christine and I were only together for the first couple miles, which is what I’d anticipated.  I knew I needed to stay at my own pace in the beginning and not overdo it, and I had completely mentally prepared to run this race alone.

Right from the start, I knew I was in a better mental place than I was last year when I ran the same marathon, where I pretty much struggled mentally the whole way.  I kept comparing notes with myself and realized right away that I was feeling lighter, happier, more open to whatever the day was going to give me, and best of all, I was so much more aware of my surroundings.  The crowds are electric in Burlington, and I was looking around at all the supporters, hearing the cowbells, and just loving it.

Part two is the dreaded out-and-back on a closed highway, miles 31/2 to 8.  I hated it last year, and this year it kind of sucked too.  As I started this part, the rain stopped, the streets started to steam, and the sun started to shine through.  I could feel it getting hotter by the minute.  This stretch is basically a gradual downhill for 2.5 miles and then back.  There is nothing enjoyable about a downhill when you know you have to run back up.   As it warmed up, I felt myself slowing down.  That part couldn’t end soon enough, but I still stayed calm and in control.

The day before at the expo, we had learned about the 4-tiered Alert system that would be in place to let the runners know how to proceed through the race.  These play a big part in my race report, so check this out:

When I ran down the highway, the water stops were holding green “Low Danger” signs and when I ran back up, they had switched to yellow “Moderate.”

Part three of the course:  I ran back up the hill and into town, ran past the spot at mile 9 where Sam was waiting for me last year (he ran 6 miles of the course with me), and I mentally ran those same 6 miles with him this year.   During this stretch of miles, it just kept getting/ feeling hotter.  When I’d stop to grab water, my face was kind of throbby hot.  I started a routine at this point that I kept up for the entire race;  at each water stop, I’d grab 3 cups of water, drink one, dump one down my back, and dump one on my head.  It felt so good every time.  I was also drinking gatorade out of my camelbak the whole day.

As hot as I was, I felt okay.  I ate a banana that I had carried under the flap of my camelbak.  Aid stations had orange slices (wow… so good) and salty pretzels to help with all of the sodium lost through sweat.  I was going slowly, but I was smiling, talking to people, thanking volunteers, and feeling very present in a really wonderful way.  I got the halfway point which swings you down onto a bike path along the edge of Lake Champlain.  Instead of the cool breeze I expected, it was even hotter down there.  At the next water stop, the signs switched to the red High Alert.  Oh boy.

I remembered that the directions for High Alert said “Slow Down” and “Consider Stopping.”  So from about mile 14 on, I went into self-preservation mode, and began to alternate between running and walking.   So here I am on this very hot and humid day, and I’m running a little, walking a little, and I’m telling you that there was nothing pathetic about how I felt.  I felt happy and strong and totally in control.  I just knew I didn’t want to overheat and end up in an ambulance, so I did what I had to do to stay in control.

Turns out, I have found the secret to a happy marathon:  High Alert signs at every water stop.
There is nothing more liberating.  I knew I had nothing to prove to anyone, and that I was just going to do what I had to do to stay up on my feet.  The difference in how I felt this year in Vermont compared to last year is astounding.  I was a different person out there.

At the bottom of the huge hill at Mile 15, I once again totally loved the Taiko Drum Group, the sound of which I could hear and feel about a quarter mile before I got there.  It was just as awesome as I’d remembered it.  And, I was happily surprised to hear my name and see Christine’s husband Keith at that point.  A familiar face is always a boost.

After mile 16 begins the last big loop of the course.  Knowing where I was going and being able to anticipate all that was ahead of me was very helpful.  Alternating between running and walking, knowing now that I officially had no time goal, was a perfect strategy to get me through the next section.  All the aid stations were still advertising High Alert.  Ambulances were passing me every couple minutes.  Each mile I’d see one or two runners collapsed on the grass.  It was disconcerting to say the least.

My friend Jeffrey and his wife Kim were visiting their family who live at mile 17.5.  I had asked Jeffrey to have some things for me and as I got closer, I was really ready to get there.   It was another great boost to find them; Jeffrey refilled my camelbak with beautifully COLD gatorade and gave me a banana.  They said sweet things like “You look great!”  (my beet-red face and crazy hair?).   I chatted for a few minutes (no time goal, remember?) and then carried on.  Their neighborhood was the best because every other house had hoses or sprinklers going and I just zig-zagged around the road to make sure I hit every possible drop of water coming my way.

Between miles 18-20,  I had some cramping in my calves and in my stomach, but it was all alleviated when I came to an aid station that had more salty pretzels and orange slices.  Seriously, these things have never tasted so divine.  I could still hear a lot of sirens from the ambulances buzzing all around, and we were still at High Alert.

At Mile 21.5 is the downhill turn onto the bike path, the point last year that I was begging for death.  This time, I was feeling hot (like temperature hot) but still in control, and was ready for redemption on the bike path, the last 5 miles of the course.  Everyone around me was walking and suffering.  I walked beside a woman who was audibly sobbing, put my arm around her, fed her pretzels, and promised her she would get to the end.  I felt so happy to offer some assistance to others and to not be needing it myself.   I started to run more consistently at this point, the temperture felt a little cooler, and the signs switched back to Moderate Alert.  I was home free.

For the next 4 miles, I mostly ran with walk breaks just through water stops. Before too long, the sun came back out strongly, the temperatures climbed into the 80s, and the signs switched back to High Alert.  It turned out to be the hottest part of the course.  But I was so close that I didn’t let it get to me.

Because hardly anyone was running on this stretch, I passed a lot of people, and just focused on that as a way to keep me occupied.  My legs were tired, yes, but again, it was a different world.  I never once wanted to die, and I never once doubted that I was going to finish.  When I got to mile 25, I could hear the music and the crowds at the end.  I saw the fences with people lined up along them, cowbells ringing, and I smiled at everyone and just brought it home.  I crossed the line in 5:28.06.  Considering the conditions of the day, I had absolutely no problem with that.

I got my beautiful medal, made my way through the maze of finishers and found Christine (who ran 2 strong marathons in 2 weeks.  Just awesome).  I felt great.  I was not dizzy or confused or in any kind of distress.  I was soaking wet, my fingers were super swollen, and I had basically turned into a walking salt-lick, but I was still standing and still smiling.

Have I mentioned that feeling this light and happy in a marathon is a miracle for me?  I’m telling you, run a hot, humid marathon with High Alert signs all along the way, and you too can experience such joy.

Marathon #3, check.  I am honored and privileged to be able to do this.  I am incredibly happy, and still rather alarmingly caffeinated.  Thank you for reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *