This is Part 2 of my Vermont City Marathon Weekend Recap. Read Part 1 here.
I was awake a few minutes before the alarm was scheduled to go off at 5:45 race morning. Looking out the window I was relieved to see that although it was cloudy and cool there didn’t seem to be any rain, maybe it would be a great race day after all. After getting dressed I forced down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and soon Dan and I were headed into Burlington. We were only in the car for a few minutes before the sky opened up to more rain. Battery Park in Burlington was full of runners preparing for their races and trying to stay dry taking shelter under trees and tents. Most of our group met at the park and we all wished each other well. Lining up, I found the 3:45 pace group quickly. It was still several minutes before the race would start and I was getting soaked. I suddenly saw a woman in a Donate Life t-shirt and introduced myself. She told me she was running for her daughter who was a transplant recipient and that certainly lifted my spirits.
When the gun went off we walked as a pack toward the starting line and I stayed close to the 3:45 pace leaders not wanting to lose them in the crowds at the start. There was a band playing Sweet Caroline in honor of Boston, I love that people associate that song with our city. Taking off onto the course I felt all the things you should when you begin something you’ve looked forward to – promise, excitement and a little anxiety. The race was here and it was time to go for it.
The rain was a little uncomfortable, but right on cue after a mile or so I warmed up and shed my throw away shirt. I was still wearing arm-warmers and gloves to keep me warm. Once I tossed the shirt I felt like I was ready to run. The first few miles loop around Burlington with a great crowd of spectators. I was settling in to a good pace just under 8:30 and was feeling comfortable. The plan was to stick to the pace and stay with the pacers for the first half of the race and then make decisions based on how I felt. I had visions of feeling awesome at the half way point and being able to push a little harder but brought myself back to the present because it was only mile 3.
The next section of the race is an out/ back on the Beltline which is basically a stretch of highway so there are no spectators out there with the exception of some people cheering on a bridge above and the Sambatucada!, an Afro-Brazilian Percussion band and some of the best marathon course entertainment I’ve ever heard – since this was an out/back section we got to hear them twice. The Beltline section of the race is pretty boring but its also flat and a good time to settle in. Coming back on this section I finally tossed my gloves and was feeling so good passing the drummers again that I actually found myself ahead of the pace group. I calmed myself down and settled pack into the pace.
Around mile 8 I felt something uncomfortable in my right knee. I haven’t been experiencing any knee pain in my training and I had a similar random knee issue in the middle of the Manchester Marathon last fall so I just started to talk myself through it. Last time the pain went away after a couple of miles so I believed there was no need to worry, the pain will go away…the pain will go away…the pain will go away. I repeated that phrase over and over in my head for the next few miles but it didn’t seem to help. Around mile 10 I took my first Gu hoping some nutrition might shift my thoughts. I think at some point during this stretch we ran down Church St. for a 2nd time and the spectators were amazing – they were so loud and excited, I remember it took my mind off of my knee for a few moments.
Approaching the half way mark I wasn’t far off my goal pace but I had fallen behind the pacers and losing a lot of momentum. This was also a point where the course splits for the 2-person team hand off. There were two men yelling directions but it was so loud with spectators and volunteers that I had a moment of confusion of which way to go. I finally just yelled MARATHON? and pointed straight ahead and they nodded me through. I looked at the girl next to me and said ‘Is it me or was that terrifying?’ and she agreed.
The next couple of miles were on a path right along Lake Champlain. I bet this path is lovely and really beautiful on a nice day but that’s not what was in store for us. It was windy and cold and any discomfort I was already experiencing just piled up. My marathon was becoming a battle and while that’s not the race I had planned I was certainly going to fight until I reached the finish. The original goals went out the window and I got ready for a whole new race.
Mile 15 begins the one major climb of the course – a 6 block incline up Battery Street they call Assault on Battery Hill. I had talked about the course with Dan the day before so I was mentally prepared for it but I was starting to really struggle and the knee pain seemed to be spreading rather than decreasing so I jogged up the hill at a conservative pace. On the way up I saw my friend Seth for the second time and Dan’s sister Trisha for at least the second time. Trisha seemed to be there every time I looked up thanks to the course coming through Battery Park several times. Since I was jogging so slowly I got to hear a lot of people cheering me up the hill. I love when the race bibs have our names on them so strangers can call me by name. I feel more encouraged that they want me to do well. I just respond better to ‘You can do it Laura. Laura, you’re looking great’ than ‘Go Runner Go’. “The spectators were really incredible heading up the hill. I’m not certain I would have made it without them.
I never recovered from the incline. My legs were cramping up and I was really uncomfortable. I took another Gu not long after the hill hoping to find some new energy and prepared to press on. The next several miles took us through some neighborhoods with lots of spectators cheering for the runners and handing out water and oranges. Sometime around mile 20 I had to pull over for the first time and stretch. I really didn’t want to stop but just those few moments were a huge relief to my legs. At this point my pace average had dropped to 8:57. Feeling defeated I realized that it might take me four hours to finish this race. I haven’t had a 4+ hour marathon since 2008 so the goal was changing. Stay around a 9:30 pace and finish under four. We had a nice downhill helping me to gain some momentum and I began walking through all of the water stops. Those breaks felt great and the few times I stopped to stretch someone would always run over to make sure I was okay and to encourage me to keep going. The last few miles were a blur, nothing but a countdown to the finish. When I finally made it to mile 25 I felt relief that I was so close and my legs started to move again. The crowds and volume grew as we headed toward Waterfront Park and I dug deep to finish strong. Heading toward the finish I kept my eyes on the clock within the 3:59 minute and raced my way to beat it to 4:00. It was over, I had made it. I felt very unsteady on my feet and locked eyes with a volunteer. She came right over and took my arms to help me steady. She congratulated me and asked very clearly if I needed medical. I shook my head ‘no’ but she stayed with me to make sure I was okay. She put my medal around me and cautiously walked me to the blankets placing it around my shoulders. She asked me again if I was okay and I told her I was but she continued to walk with me a little longer. Then someone handed me a little carton of Chocolate Milk which was one of the most exciting thing that had happened to me in a long time.
Marathon volunteers are among my most favorite group of people on the planet. They do tons of work leading up to the race and then all day on race day. They stood out in the rain all day of VCM just to help us. Do they get a medal? I love them so much, especially that awesome girl who took my arm and slowly walked me through the finish. I would love to hug that girl if I knew who she was. Thank you, volunteers.
Katie’s dad had given us all bracelets for the KeyBank VIP tent near the finish so I wandered around a little bit trying to find where it might be and trying harder not to fall over. I caught site of another awesome volunteer wearing an information t-shirt and she pointed me in the right direction. I think she may have literally turned my body and just told me to walk straight. I didn’t get very far before Katie appeared (possibly out of thin air – I don’t really remember) and took me to the tent. She gave me the great news that Dan had not only hit his goal of qualifying for Boston but finished with several minutes to spare giving him a much better shot with the registration process. Dan trained so hard for this race and really wanted to run a 3:10 (he needs a 3:15 to BQ). He had a great race crossing in 3:08:11 and most definitely securing him a place in Boston 2014. Thanks to race timing text messages on my phone, I learned that my net time was 3:58:11…I’ll gladly take it.
Back at home we relaxed for a few hours before friends came over for some dinner to celebrate the race. It was fun talking about the race with everyone and what an experience it was with the weather. Then, the sun came out. Finally after days of rain and difficult race the sun showed up. I wanted to say too little too late but I was really happy for some sunshine.
I slept well Sunday night and in the morning took my time relaxing with Katie and her family before hitting the road back to Boston. It was a gorgeous morning and although it would have probably been too warm to run a marathon I think I would have traded if I had a choice. On the way home I stopped at the Alchemist Brewery by request of a friend to pick up a case of their famous Heady Topper IPA. I pulled in to the parking lot surprised to see so many cars even though the brewery didn’t open for several more minutes. I headed in to see that they were open early and there was already a line inside. I learned in line that Mondays were the best days to come to the brewery because they often sell out during the week, plus it was a holiday weekend and so many people were in town for VCM that it was sure to be a very busy day there. I finally made my way to the counter to request my one case of Heady Topper for the bargain price of $72 and headed outside. The line wrapped around the building made me very happy I got there when I did and I made a mental note for next year.
The drive home was beautiful. Gorgeous views of the mountains on a perfect sunny day. I have already committed to going back next Memorial Day to run on a relay team and I’ll be making deals with Mother Nature to provide us with a better weekend so I can really enjoy the weekend and finally experience Coates Island at its best.
What a great weekend! I’m so thankful to Katie and Dan Connors for being amazing hosts and taking such great care of me. The race was so well organized and the course was perfect. I hear that there was about a third the amount of spectators due to the weather and I’m sure the views are amazing on a clear day. I’m looking forward to being a part of VCM again with less challenging conditions.
The truth is if I’ve learned one thing so far this year, it’s that sometimes things don’t end up the way you planned no matter how hard you want them to. Wishing for a perfect day and great race won’t make it happen. You do your best with everything you’re given on the day, move forward and then smile when you get to the finish line. I’m pleased with my performance and proud that I worked as hard as I did to finish under four hours. And to add to that, I am happy to see that marathon number thirteen is in the books.