I woke up race morning and got ready. The kids were zonked from being up late the night before, but they got going. Aidan even came and had breakfast with me. The hotel started their breakfast early on race day. So nice!
We decided to all try to get on the shuttle to race even though maybe spectators weren’t allowed yet, but they let everyone go. It was chaotic getting ready with the kids, but fun too. I went over everything in my mind a thousand times so I wouldn’t forget anything. We had also brought a small cooler and the Incredible Mervus filled it with ice to deliver to me in route. Meanwhile, at her hotel, North Shore Strider put ice in sandwich bags, and filled a backpack with these little life-saving packets.
The shuttle was great and we were the first ones in our group to the start. North Shore Strider got there pretty quickly, but Running Munchkin was trying to park and got stuck in traffic. Her husband texted that he was dropping her off and she would try to find me. We had decided to start together after discovering at dinner that our planned paces were closer than expected. I used the porta-potty and then used it again. I was trying to drink a lot! I also put ice in my water bottle, though it melted pretty quick. It was already warm, 73 at the start.
Soon enough it was time to line up and I headed to the starting line. I didn’t find Running Munchkin, but it was ok. I wasn’t too nervous, just ready to get the show on the road. It was a lot of work training for this race and I didn’t know what the day would hold. Time to find out! Bang and we’re off!
Running Munchkin did find me then after just a few minutes of running. We ran along together for a bit, chatting. She said she was really excited. I said how pretty Burlington was. We noted that it was pretty warm. I was happy for her company. We’ve run together before while at conferences, but we’ve never raced together. The Vermont City course is a sort of distorted cloverleaf so the race is naturally broken into four chunks. The first chunk is about three miles around downtown Burlington. Very pretty. We ran right past a café, right past people having breakfast. I could have grabbed pancakes from their plates! The first three miles passed pretty well. The first one was slower than planned because the course was pretty crowded, but the next couple were close to the planned race pace of 8:55 and felt ok. At three miles I saw North Shore Strider and she waved and got a great picture. My family was supposed to be there somewhere, but I couldn’t figure out the spot and didn’t see them. Turns out the course map was wrong or they changed the course or something. Onward.
With Running Munchkin
Even though I was running with a friend, I did start listening to music at mile 4. It was already getting warm and I wanted the distraction. Plus, I had been looking forward to hearing “Beautiful Day” since that night I heard it at the kids’ dance rehearsal and it was a great way to start the race.
Life is a journey,
Not a destination,
There are no mistakes,
Just chances we’ve taken
Lay down your regrets cause all we have is now
Life is a challenge not a competition
You can still smell the roses and be on a mission
Just take a moment to get in touch with your heart
Sometimes you feel like you’ve got something to prove
Remind yourself that there’s only one you
Just take a moment to give thanks of who you are
Great words for the start of a tough race.
The second section of the cloverleaf is a long out and back, miles 3 through 9 or so. It’s along a highway that the course map calls the Northern Connector a.k.a. Highway 127. Locals apparently call it the Highway to Nowhere because whatever it was supposed to connect with didn’t work out. It’s pretty bleak and there’s no shade. The first table at the water stop at mile 5 or so was already out of water. Not good. The second table had water, but I’ve heard that later in the race, they ran out. I was so happy on this part of the course that I had my handheld. They needed more water stops here and they should already have been bringing us ice.
It was a lot of miles of this.
At around 5.5 miles, I heard the 4:00 hour pace group behind me. Uh oh. I had lined up a little in front of them and had been fine so far. But they were going to pass me. I made a trial effort at staying with them to see how it went. But now my head started to feel like it was swelling up and was going to explode. That’s a feeling I’ve had before when running when it’s too hot and I knew I could not run 20 more miles like that. No way. So I made a choice that probably saved my race and slowed down. A lot. My pace drops from 9 minute miles to closer to 9:30 and then sometimes more like 9:50 or even slower. This was a surprisingly easy decision to make. That head-exploding feeling is very bad and not something to mess with so I backed way off. Running Munchkin kept going, I think, and I lost her. Ok, I said, you knew you might run this thing alone and that’s ok. You can do that.
As a side note, the course map is color coded for different sections on the relay and this section is red. I guess this is hell leg???
The rest of the out and back was just a slog. I hadn’t studied the course the way I usually do because I had been so focused on the heat so I had no idea how long we had to run before the turnaround. It felt like forever. At mile 6.5, I crossed the first timing mat and thought, well, that is going to look a whole lot better than things actually are. It’s funny – I have wondered if I would feel pressure knowing that people are tracking me. Thanks to the Sub 30 group, perhaps quite a few people. But it turns out I usually don’t. Instead, the timing mats give me a huge jolt of energy. I know my friends and family and Coach Cowboy are getting the information and it’s like a momentary connection with them that feels really good and empowering. But I was chuckling a bit at this one because I knew I had 3-4 good miles on there but I wasn’t going to see anymore sub 9 miles that day.
The next spot for family and friends was mile 9 and I just wanted that damn out-and-back to end already and to get the hell off that highway. It felt like Lawrence of Arabia out there. Finally, we were back in town and we had something to look at and a little shade. I found the Incredible Mervus and the kids easily this time and I was so happy to see them. They gave me some much needed ice, down my front, down my back, in the water bottle. This was a really quick stop and on my way. Just a block or so later and I saw North Shore Strider, who also had ice. I took a couple of bags and held them in my hands. As the ice melted, I bit a tiny hole in the bag and got a few cubes in my mouth and put cold water down my back. Ahhhh.
The next loop was miles 9 through 15 and honestly, I’m not sure what it looked like. I suspect this was running through neighborhoods. The map says this loop goes south so I suppose it did. It says we ran briefly along the lake and I think I kind of remember that. I tend to zone out a bit for this section of the race and after miles 5-9 going so so slowly, I am happy to report that almost all I can remember from 9 to 15 is that I had my Gu at 12, as planned. I’m starting to be comfortable with marathon fueling, which feels good. I fuel half marathons almost exactly the same way every time: Gu at miles 4, 7 and 10 or 11. Marathons have felt trickier, especially after mile 15, and I’ve sometimes cajoled family into bringing me a banana. But I ran with only Gu in Philadelphia and that was fine. I’ve also spaced the Gu out to every 4 miles and that seems fine. I took a couple of salt pills at the start of Vermont and had a couple in my little waist belt as well. One melted all over my phone, but I had the other one, probably around mile 17. It’s not necessarily simple to figure out how to fuel a marathon, but I start to think I’ve got a system that is working.
So miles 9 to 15 didn’t exactly whiz by, but they passed. I thought of Tiny Dynamo’s advice to make the first half of the marathon the happiest half you’ve ever run. Well, that wasn’t happening. This race was already more about survival and just finishing. I crossed a 10 mile timing mat and one at the halfway mark. My watch said 2:07 exactly at halfway but Coach Cowboy said the tracker had me at 2:08. They apparently lost power for the tracking at one point? Anyway, the 2:07 at the half told me everything I needed to know. Definitely no sub 4 today and also no PR because I sure wasn’t going to negative split this race. Furthermore, even 4:15 was probably out of reach. I decided to do my best to run faster than 4:30, another good decision that kept me going and had consequences later.
Vermont City has a famous hill on the course at mile 15. As I approached the hill, I saw Running Munchkin. She was off the course with her bib in her hands. Oh no! I called out to her as I ran past and she assured me she was fine, it wasn’t her day, and I should keep going. I saw her husband with the spectators so I knew she would be ok. I thought how incredibly kind and generous she is to be cheering me on and encouraging me even as her own race was ending. It did feel a bit like that Agatha Christie book Ten Little Indians, a.k.a., And Then There Were None. In that story a bunch of people are brought to an island and they get killed off, one by one. First North Shore Strider. Then Teacher Runner. Now Running Munchkin. Down to me to finish the race. Dramatic much?
They have a lot of Taiko drummers at the base of that famous hill. I saw North Shore Strider partway up the hill with her blessed ice backpack. And I said, hey, meet me at the top of the hill! Ha ha! I should have given her a break and not made her run up it! Then I found the Incredible Mervus and the kids partway up and I did stop because they were obviously not running up the hill. Rose had the remains of some kind of blue drink from Dunkin Donuts. Unlike lots of New Englanders, we don’t frequent Dunkin Donuts and we don’t consume a lot of blue food. But that icy blue sugar drink sure hit the spot! She didn’t even protest as I sucked down most of what was left. I told them I was incredibly happy to see them and thank you so much for coming to the race. I loaded up with ice again and ran up the hill. It’s a decent sized hill for the middle of a marathon, but with the drummers and the crowds and Coach Cowboy’s famous hill run, it was no big deal. At the top of the hill, I touched base with North Shore Strider again and got more ice bags to carry. She was going to run on ahead and meet me at mile 20. Thank goodness. By this point in the race, I knew the ice was keeping me on the course.
The last loop is mile 15 through 26.2. Long. Other than the out-and-back from hell, miles 15 to 18 were the hardest of the race for me. The back of my legs really started to hurt. I remembered Hartford, where the cramping started at mile 9. I was still coherent enough to subtract 26-9=17 miles run with terrible cramps at Hartford. 26-17=9 miles to go at Vermont. I was not coherent enough to recognize that that’s a “fact family” or whatever they call it so I struggled through the arithmetic twice. I had a Gu at 16 miles and realized one Gu had fallen out of my belt. By then I was at 17 miles. So 26-17 is still 9. 9 miles left. Divided by 2=4.5 so I should have remaining Gu at about 21-22 miles. I think I was really hoping the math would just keep my mind busy. At around 17 miles things got very dark. I just hurt and there was still a long way to go and even North Shore Strider was still three miles off. During this whole stretch of the race, I was pretty ok as long as I was packed in ice. Whenever the ice melted, I started to feel the dark thoughts coming and my pace slipping. With ice, I could run along at 9:45-9:50. Without ice, it was more like 10:15 or even quite a bit slower. The tiny hill at mile 18 felt more like a mountain, but at the top I rallied and said, ok, c’mon, let’s go [yes, out loud] and ran again. “Telling the World” came on my iPod and that’s Rose’s song and I said [yes, out loud], this is for you baby girl, and just ran some more. I really wanted to walk. But I knew that would just make the whole thing last longer so I kept running.
Started out on track. Then slowed down and slowed down some more. Struggled the most at mile 18. Picked it up at the very end though!
Then, as sometimes happens in marathons, things got better instead of worse. North Shore Strider popped up again around mile 19 with that wonderful ice backpack. More ice down the bra, down my back, down the shorts. Bags for my hands. Wonderful. I was a little confused because it wasn’t mile 20 but whatever she said made sense and I just kept going. Someone ran by and said “That’s a good friend.” I just said “The very best.” I am not sure I could have finished without that ice. I think not.
I had been dreading this section of the course because it weaves back and forth on some residential street so you are not making any headway in a sense. Just zigging and zagging. But this ended up being one of my favorite parts. The course goes through a neighborhood and they turn the race into a huge block party. Every house had people in front of it. Kids had made signs. They had watermelon, pretzels, even maple syrup shots at one house! And ice pops! Yeah! I have tried maple syrup for running and don’t like it but that ice pop was great. And my fueling-obsessed mind thought, well, Rose’s blue drink plus ice pop – that might make up for the missing Gu calories. They also had golf carts with ice in this neighborhood. Wonderful! Plus, now it was mile 21. At mile 22 the course turns from north to south and heads back to the finish. On a bike path with shade. Hallelujah. On a better day, this would be a great course – except for that anvil of the sun bit along miles 3-9. I never want to see that stretch of road again. Ever.
But now I was running in the right direction and in the shade and I was well packed with ice. I kept trying to pick up the pace a little bit. I could see that I was between a 4:20 and 4:30 finish time and really wanted to be under 4:30. The last part of Coach Cowboy’s famous hill repeat workout is to run back to the start as fast as you can after the hill repeats. Yes, we do the hill repeats and then race back to the car. It’s 3.3 miles and we did this nearly every week of training. So at 23 miles I thought, it’s the end of the hill run. You’ve done this so many times. Yes, your legs are really tired and they really hurt but that is how this always feels so get a move on. And I sort of did. I wish I could say the last three miles I picked up the pace, but I didn’t.
Around mile 23, things got complicated. First I heard two guys talking to each other. One asked the other “What did that guy say about timing?” “I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound good”. Then at the next aid station, the volunteers announced that they had called the race off. They were shutting the course down and we should please walk. I did walk a little. But then I thought, fuck this, I am less than three miles from the finish line and I am completely fine. All that ice meant that I felt really totally fine. Sure, I was running much slower than I wanted, but I was nowhere near heat stroke or heat exhaustion or anything other than just being too damn hot. It was really confusing. Some people were running. Some were walking. Some volunteers were asking us to walk it in. Other volunteers were cheering us on. They still had water stops open and yeah, more ice! This part of the course is just straight on the bike path pretty much to the finish line and I thought, well, I don’t think I will get lost. If they’ve turned off the timing mats, I can use my Garmin time and at least know how I did. They are going to have buckets of medals leftover and it’s unlikely that they will refuse to give us medals that we want and that are otherwise useless. So probably I can at least get a watch time and I probably won’t get lost and probably someone will give me a medal – I decided to go for it. I’m pretty sure if a police officer had told me to stop, I would have, but otherwise, I was going to finish the damn race.
Looking very happy at mile 25! North Shore Strider had run back along the course to find me and there she is in the background with her pink Sub 30 shirt. Be Epic And Strong Together! She ran 9 miles that day to get ice to me all over the course. What a hero! Also, feet off the ground, again!
I knew I had a few new songs left at the back end of this play list and “Gonna Shine” finally came on, suggested by Coach Principal:
Gonna shine and make the moment mine
Now my time has arrived
Gonna shine so bright
The sun will run and hide
And I’ll be the only star that lights the sky
I’m gonna shine
Then one of my other new favorites “Work That Body” that I like so much I had it at spot two, but also here at the back end and there it was, finally. After that came “Uptown Funk” and perfect, ‘cause:
I’m too hot (hot damn)
Call the po-lice and the fireman
I’m too hot (hot damn)
Make a dragon wanna retire, man
I just alternated “Work that Body and “Uptown Funk” on my iPod from there on out. I didn’t let myself count until mile 24, but then I counted pretty much of the rest of the race. At mile 25 I started counting up to 145 because I could see my watch would read something like 26:45 at the end. Over and over, up to 145, until it’s done.
Then I came to race officials telling us, keep going, the finish line is just around the corner, so I thought, who knows what is happening, but I am not lost and there’s the finish at last, at last! Is the clock is still running? Who knows? My watch said 4:27:40. Hooray!
I got my medal. I got some water. They had lots and lots of medical personnel at the finish line and they were checking every person. Are you ok? What do you need? I was actually fine and just wanted water and to find my family and to get a massage because my legs were a wreck. I got my picture taken and then I found North Shore Strider’s husband and had him take it again. Ha ha! Always remember the pictures!
North Shore Strider’s husband walked me to the family reunion area and my gang was there and I was so glad to see them. They looked pretty wilted from a long day in the heat, but we had hugs and pictures all around.
Then North Shore Strider showed up for more hugs and pictures and I was so so so happy to be done. Cell reception was nearly completely absent so I was able to text Coach Cowboy my time and one text from him went through so I knew he had gotten it. I tried to post to Facebook so everyone would know I was fine, but it wouldn’t post.
My family was super patient while I got my massage and got some food.
It turns out they called off the race right around noon, four hours into it. Anyone who finished in under 4:30 counts as official. They have my gun time (chip time is AWOL for some reason) as 4:29:12. 48 seconds to spare. Only 11 people after me got counted as official finishers. They pulled Spencer Mom from the course and she had to wait for an hour for a bus back to the start. Awful. I feel so sad for the people who didn’t finish and I overheard lots of conversations between runners who just weren’t quite sure what to make of a race that ended that way. At the same time, I’m thrilled that I did finish. I saw a lot of signs during the race with one of Coach Cowboy’s favorite sayings, “Never Give Up” and I never did. I’m damn proud of that. And sub 4 hour marathon and BQ – I’m still coming for you.