I do not apologize in advance for this rather lengthy post.
I had heard great things about the Vermont City Marathon, held each Memorial Day weekend in Burlington, Vermont, since I started getting serious about my quest for the 50 states. I knew the race would be my Vermont marathon, but I wasn’t sure exactly when until my friend Maricar told me that she would be running her 100th marathon there this May. That sealed the deal for me. Maricar and I met during the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut Marathon last year (yes, also the same race where I met Halbert…big day for me) and we had one of those races that bonds people for life. We spent the entire race talking, laughing, and telling each other our life stories, and when we left, I knew we were friends forever. There was no way I would be missing her 100th marathon!
Amanda and I arrived in Burlington on Saturday afternoon to a cold, windy, and rainy day. We were lucky enough to have Halbert pick us up from the airport, and we went quickly to the expo to pick up our packets. The expo was pretty impressive, and they had lots of free food samples, which is always positive. Did you know that cheddar cheese is naturally lactose-intolerant friendly? I did not, and now I do, thanks to the expo. This is useful information because, in my ongoing stomach nightmare, I found out last week that I am lactose-intolerant. I have now had sugar and dairy ruthlessly snatched from my life in the past couple of months, so if you run into me and I’m crankier than you expect, blame God.
After the expo, we headed over to the hotel to check in quickly and then get ready for Maricar’s pre-race dinner celebration. We had a little bit of time to kill, and while I was in the airport, I saw that the Magic Hat Brewing Company seemed to be in Burlington. Turns out that it was not only in Burlington, it was less than half a mile from our hotel! Of course, I dragged Halbert and Amanda there, despite the fact that neither of them drinks beer, and it was just as cool and just as weird as you would expect a brewery named “Magic Hat” to be. For starters, they can’t serve pints there except for certain days and times and random holidays, but they can give you free samples always. Great! The place was absolutely packed, so I got my samples, grabbed a growler for AJ, and we headed over to the pre-race dinner.
At the pre-race dinner, it was quickly apparent how many people absolutely adore Maricar. We had a huge group at the restaurant and basically commandeered an entire room. Charlotte, a fellow Maniac/generally awesome person, had made little foam visors for everyone to wear, so that was phenomenal. Charlotte had also made costumes for her, Maricar, and Peggy to wear – Ben and Jerry’s ice cream pints, of course! I seriously cannot even fathom running in a costume. I barely survived running with a cheese crown on my head for 26.2 miles, let alone an entire pint of ice cream. They are seriously tough! Dinner was so much fun, and in addition to getting to catch up with Maricar and many of the other Maniacs I hadn’t seen in awhile, I also got to meet some new people. One of them, Lisa, had me convinced I need to do a 100 miler before I die. AJ has never met Lisa, but he already hates her.
As we talked with everyone at dinner, Amanda and I felt growing apprehension about what the next day would bring. We knew it was supposed to be cold (41 at the start) and rainy, but as we were in the air on the way to Vermont, the forecast changed to include a whole lot of wind. They were estimating that the wind would be blowing at a consistent 17 mph, in fact. Not exactly ideal for racing. You see, ever since Amanda and I began training with our coach back in April, one of our “goal” races has been the Vermont City Marathon. When we originally told Justin (coach) our goals, he put into our schedule that we would try and run a 4:35 – 4:40 marathon in Vermont. At the time, it seemed like it was tentatively possible, even though neither of us had seen times like that since October, and even then, it wasn’t consistent. As we started training and our times got faster, he gradually kept changing our goal time for the race. It went from 4:35-4:40 to 4:27 (PR) to 4:20 after we unexpectedly ran 4:28:40 in Wisconsin without thinking too much about it. Now I was starting to get freaked out. Running under 4:22, which is exactly 10 minutes per mile pace for a marathon, has been a dream of mine for as long as I started training for my first marathon.
If we were going to try and run at that speed, everything needed to be perfect, so we decided to head to a sporting goods store and see if we could find a light wind/rain jacket, since neither of us had the foresight to bring one. Turns out we also have zero self control, because a trip to the store to buy a $60 jacket turned into about $140 worth of purchases for each of us. I got a jacket. I also got 3 yoga tank tops.
It’s important to note that Amanda and I got matching jackets, but hers is teal – a happy, bubbly, pleasant color – and mine is grey, the color of ambivalence and melancholy. They suit us perfectly.
As the three of us got ready to go to sleep, I joked with Halbert about not snoring or talking in his sleep this time, since we had a big race goal for the next day. Turns out that I am basically a psychic. I tried to drift off to sleep, and just as I was about to fall asleep, I heard faint snoring coming from the other bed. It really wasn’t that loud, but I am used to sleeping in complete silence. This is my nightmare. What to do? Try to ignore it? Hope it stops? Put a pillow over my head? Well, I did all of those things, and then I went to plan D: violent beatings. I got out of bed, grabbed my pillow, and gently hit Halbert with it. No movement. I hit him a couple more times a little bit harder to no avail, so I got back into bed to reassess. I tried to go to sleep and ignore it, but it got louder. Now it was game on. I grabbed the pillow again and violently, and I mean violently, started hitting him. He seriously did not even flinch! I couldn’t believe it. You could literally rob the man of the watch off of his wrist while he was sleeping and he would have no idea. I finally resorted to a combination of harsh whispering and shaking until he barely woke up, apologized, and turned over. Finally, peace! For five minutes. Until it started again. This time, I knew the situation was hopeless, so I went downstairs and begged the hotel staff for ear plugs. Luckily, they had some, and my sleep was saved! I will never travel without them again.
We woke up to pouring rain, and I could immediately tell that I wasn’t feeling my best. My legs felt heavy and achy, my stomach was kind of ish, and I was obviously tired. No matter, we had a PR attempt on the horizon. Getting out of the car and walking to the starting line, we all just looked at each other like “this is horrible” and Halbert said he might not run the race with Maricar if the weather kept up like this because he would want to get done ASAP. Amanda and I found the 4:15 pace group in the starting area, and I felt absolutely ridiculous standing with them. Me, run a 4:15 marathon? That’s crazy talk. I decided to ask the pacers what their strategy was and specially asked if they walk or run through water stops. I figured they walked, since most pace groups I’ve seen over 4 hours do, but I wanted to be sure. He replied, “Oh no, we run through the water stops” with just a hint of disdain in his voice. I immediately started panicking, because my plan was now shot to hell. Amanda and I both have to eat real food during races (we can’t do gels) and we have yet to successfully master the art of running and drinking at the same time. I told Amanda we would try and keep our pace at what we would need to finish under 4:15 (9:44 min/mile) for as long as possible while walking through the water stops, but I was pretty terrified about bearing that responsibility on my own. Apparently, I had no other option.
I’ve become a fan of setting “ABC” goals for each race, with the “A” goal being best case scenario with all starts aligning, “B” being a challenge but more realistic, and “C” being the most attainable, so here are the goals I set for Vermont: A) Finish under 4:15. Spontaneously die of happiness. B) Finish under 4:22 – that would make our pace faster than a 10 minute mile, which has been my goal since I started running marathons. C) Finish under 4:28:02, my previous PR. This would mean PRs for both me and Amanda since hers was 4:28:40.
As the race began, we headed through downtown Burlington and I was so impressed by how many spectators were out cheering for us. It would have been impressive for any type of weather, but given the horrible conditions (41 at race start, raining, and 17 mph winds), it was unreal. Amanda and I started out running with our friend Barco, and as we ran over some speed bumps, he held his fist out for us to fist bump him because of the “bump.” I’m normally not really easily amused, and I don’t think I would normally find something like that funny, but for some reason I thought it was the most hilarious thing ever, and it really lifted my spirits. This will become symbolic later. For now, I was focused on taking it one mile at a time. I calculated the necessary splits for each mile marker to get us in under 4:15, while keeping in mind the more realistic goal of under 4:22. On a long out and back from miles 3 ish to maybe 8 (I’m not terribly observant if I’m not taking pictures), we managed to see a ton of Maniacs. Most surprisingly of all, I met several members of Team T-Rex when Heather recognized me near a water station. She was running with a bunch of her friends, who are all readers, and I was super impressed that she recognized me despite the fact that I was incognito in my grey jacket and a braid in my hair, as luxurious hair does not mesh well with rain and wind.
Amanda and I crossed the halfway point in something like 2:06:45, right on schedule. My legs weren’t feeling great, so I cheerfully announced that we could add a whole minute per mile to our pace for the rest of the race if we wanted and still PR, because I was excited about that! Amanda replied ” I don’t think my legs could handle running a whole minute per mile slower” because it’s harder for her legs to run at a slower pace even though it’s easier on her cardio-wise and mentally. When she said that, I thought “Shit! I guess we have to actually hold this pace now.” I really wasn’t sure I could do it, but I just kept saying to myself over and over “One mile at a time.” Our goal had initially been to stay with the 4:15 group until mile 15, where there is a long and steep hill. Since we weren’t running with the group anymore, I decided that our goal would be to try and maintain 4:15 pace until we reached the hill. When we got to the famous hill, we heard the booming coming from the Japanese drumming group at the base of the hill.
Amanda and I had decided that we would run up the entire thing, no matter what, but looking up from the bottom was pretty daunting. I kept my eyes on the traffic light at the very top of the hill the entire time. We reached the top of the hill with big smiles on our faces and celebrated with a fist bump that made us both flush with pride. And you know what? We hit mile 16 right on time. I couldn’t believe it.
At some point in the race (my memory eludes me) we ran around Lake Champlain. It was stunningly beautiful, but also incredibly windy and cold. The rain and cold weren’t so unbearable on their own, especially thanks to our jackets, but the wind was nuts at some points! We were fortunate that it didn’t seem like it affected us as much as we were expecting it to. We also couldn’t feel too sorry for ourselves because there was a guy running the entire race in a full horse costume. He was pretty amazing – he would run fairly fast, then pull over to the side, adjust his costume, walk, and go back to running. You couldn’t pay me to run in a costume pretty much ever, but definitely not a furry costume on a rainy and windy day. Props to that guy.
We kept going, but I was having a lot of pain from my sciatic nerve. At mile 19, I told Amanda that I might lose control of my left leg like I did at the Flying Pig Marathon last year. I was really scared. My back has been doing much better, but sometimes it acts up, and I really didn’t want this chance to PR blown. I told her to go on without me if I lost control of my leg, and she said she would, but I heard doubt in her voice. As we reached mile 20, I found out why – the race was starting to really affect her mentally, and she was tired. Fortunately, I started feeling better and kept telling myself “one mile at a time.” We were still right on pace, amazingly enough. As I thought about how best to keep both myself and Amanda moving, I realized that training and racing with someone regularly is a huge advantage at times like these, because you know exactly how to motivate each other. We’re very different people, but I know her pretty well, and I knew that if I could just keep up the pace, she would stay with me even if she didn’t want to. She wouldn’t stop running and drop back like I would. So I stayed in front and she stayed a few feet behind me, and I checked over my shoulder and yelled inspirational things like “less than an hour to go!” that made her want to kill me.
The spectators were great for almost the entire race (some parts weren’t really accessible) but one neighborhood took the cake. I think it was around miles 18-20, and they were out of control. There were homemade water stops every few houses, oranges, food, everything you could think of! There was even a group of people making drinks for runners, which I know because we saw my friend Paul standing off to the side around mile 20. He’s been struggling with injuries, so I yelled out to make sure he was ok. He just smiled and raised his can of beer. At this point in the race, I really could have used a beer. See the picture below for evidence.
Mile 23 felt like a big milestone for some reason. At that point, we were still on pace, but we were both tired and very ready to be done. I think marathons should only be 22 miles long. Anyway, Amanda said that she didn’t know if she could keep the pace up, and I said “We only have a 5k left. We can run a 5k at 9:44 pace in our sleep.” Hey, I had to make myself believe it too! As we approached mile 25, her will to keep running was waning. I said “We did not run 25 miles at 4:15 pace so that we could walk the last 1.2 and finish over 4:15. All we have to do is maintain what we are doing now. Let’s do it.” And so, we did. One step at a time, me looking over my shoulder every so often. Up ahead, we saw the 4:15 group, who had mostly been in our sights the entire race but were now very close. The bike path we were running on was getting crowded, and Amanda said “let’s go around them.” And holy shit, sure enough, we passed the 4:15 pace group at mile 25.5. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you it was one of the best moments of my life so far. Take that, water stop non-walkers!
In what seemed like the longest 0.2 mile stretch in the history of the world, we had to run through grass and mud to the finish line! It was slippery and I was terrified I was going to fall. You do not even want to know what the size of my hate spiral would have been if I had fallen and missed 4:15 because of it. But of course, that didn’t happen, and Amanda and I held hands as we crossed the finish line in 4:14:21, crushing our PRs by a full 14 minutes! We just looked at each other in shock. Did that just happen?
Of course, we basically needed to sit down as soon as possible, so we grabbed a spot near a trash can (hey, the ground looked relatively dry). This turned out to be an inopportune location due to the chocolate milk that was constantly being splattered on us, but we were too tired, cold, and wet to care. Oh, and happy. Very happy! Jenn, a fellow Maniac and reader, recognized me and came over to introduce herself and she saw the time on the finisher’s clock and said “Wow, this is pretty fast for you, right?” RIGHT! So she got the honor of being the first person we bragged to about the most epic of PR victories. We got ready to get on the shuttle back to the hotel and all of a sudden I realized that we were standing in line with some very fast Maniacs – guys like Kino and Brian who are trying to run a sub-4 marathon in all 50 states and have PRs I can’t even dream about. It was then that I realized we were on the fast bus. An amazing day just kept getting better! I don’t think Kino understood why we were so excited, but seriously, this was such a big deal.
We went back to the hotel and showered and lo and behold, received a text from Halbert around 1:45 telling us he was almost back to the hotel. That seemed suspiciously fast to me, and sure enough, guess who else PRed at the race? Halbert, but like 20 minutes, finishing in 4:56 for his first ever sub-5 hour marathon! Quite a big day for Team T-Rex. And Maricar? She finished her 100th marathon in style with some of her best friends.
Afterwards, we had time to head over to Maricar’s post-marathon party, where we had some amazing beer and bison burgers and got to rehash the race with all of our friends. It was such a perfect ending to a wonderfully joyous day. There were so many huge milestones at this race, and best of all, we got to share them with some of our favorite people in a beautiful city. It’s weekends like this where you just can’t really ask for much more out of life. I’ve been having a lot of those lately.