Monday, May 27, 2013


I ran 2:56:06 at the Vermont City Marathon yesterday, roughly 31 months after having declared myself retired from marathons.

My goal going in was 2:55:00, which would have been the magical BQ-20, a.k.a. you get to register the first day Boston registration opens in September. But under the circumstances, I will take it. BQ-20 was just a nice round number to shoot for but almost 19 minutes under my qualifying time should more than suffice.

I only decided to run this race 6 weeks ago, and even convinced my buddy Dan Princic to do it as well. We both went back and forth with our wives on whether to try and make it a family weekend, but in the end decided to try and do it on the cheap. Get in, get our BQs, and get out.

So we drove up to Burlington on Saturday afternoon in a heavy rainstorm that mixed with snow at times. We got our bibs, checked into our dorm room (literally) at Champlain College, and then walked down the hill in search of food and the Bruins game.

Dan in the dorm room, pinning his number before making his bunk.

We found both at Manhattan Pizza Pub. After a good plate of chicken parm with ziti and a couple of very responsible beers, the Bruins were good enough to wrap up their game (and series) in regulation so that we were walking back up the hill to Lakeview Hall by a little after 8pm.

These are responsible beers.
In the morning it was still raining hard and the forecast had not improved. 42 degrees, rain and wind. We got up and shoved down some easy-to-consume calories before walking down to the gas station and back for coffee.

We got into our race gear, donned our ghetto ponchos made of black trash bags, and headed on out into the shizzle.

The start area was a cluster and a muddy bog but we found the gear check, dropped our bags and headed for the start. Just before the gun I ripped off my trash bag, and since the sleeves of my throwaway long sleeve t-shirt were already soaked, I tossed that as well. I was down to shorts, singlet, arm warmers, gloves, and the good old winter-hat-over-ballcap look. I was pretty styling. And cold.

There was bicycle parking, apparently.
And then the race got started.

The course is basically 4 out-and-back sections of varying length, through different parts of town, returning through downtown after each one.

The first 3-mile loop goes through some nicer neighborhoods near UVM and Champlain College. These were nice warm-up miles just to get the blood pumping. On the way back we headed through Church Street which had good crowd support in spots.

The second loop is an out-and-back on Route 127 for miles 4 through 9. This was boring, and cold with a headwind on the way out. It was nice to see the leaders go by before we made the turn. And it was nice to see the pack after we made the turn, but mostly I was just glad to get this section over with. We ran back through the start for mile 9 then got another trip down Church Street to get a little shot of adrenaline for the next loop.
Church Street
The third loop is through some neighborhoods in the southern end of Burlington for miles 10-15. The return section of this loop was all along bike path right against the lake shore and featured waves crashing onto the path. Good times.

Just after mile 15 we hit the biggest hill on the course which couldn't have come at a better time. Normally I would not want a big hill in the 16th mile of a marathon, but this one was what I needed to get my body temperature back up after cold blast along the lake. There was great energy from the crowds here too.

The final loop takes up the last 10 miles of the race. There were long stretches of running northwest on North Ave (straight into the wind) broken up by a few detours through neighborhoods that each gave a short respite from the cold headwind. On the final North Ave section, miles 20 and 21, the wear and tear of the cold, wind and general fatigue was taking its toll and I had the strong urge to curl up in a ball on the side of the road. I talked myself to mile 22 where we would turn back toward downtown and have shelter and/or the wind at our backs. But when I reached that point there was not much left in the tank and the surge I had been planning never really came. It was everything I could just to stay under 7 minute miles from 22 on. There was nothing left to do but keep pushing until it was over.

Mile 26. No longer avoiding puddles.

Eventually the hoopla of Waterfront Park came into earshot and I was able to let myself believe it was almost over. I must hand it to the crowds--as miserable as the weather was, they were out in force and they were boisterous and festive. There was an "S" turn at around 26 miles and then a straight shot on a grass field that was under 3 inches of standing water and mud into the finish. With 100 yards to go I took off my hat(s) and hammed it up for the crowd--flapping my arms, and pumping my fists and basically acting like a total idiot. Why not, I figured? I gave it a big exaggerated fist pump at the finish line and I was done.

I shuffled through the mud and crowd to find my dry clothes in the baggage tent and found Dan sitting in a chair changing shoes. "Crushed it," he said, "2:45." Fist pumps.
Dan. Crushing it.
Then there was the usual slogging through mud to the massage tent, going into shivering fits at times, getting wrapped in blankets to stop the shivering, scarfing down two slices of pizza, getting our one free beer each, etc. etc. The typical post-marathon stuff.

Life is good when you're dry(ish) and in the beer tent.
After the climb back up the hill to our dorm (with a stop at our favorite gas station for a 6-pack of Long Trail), I took the hottest shower in history. It was glorious.

Later Dan and I walked back down to Church Street and got a couple of great burgers, a bunch of good beers and had some lively conversations with a few of the locals. At about 8:20pm on Sunday night, the sun came out.

The sun!