Over Memorial Day weekend I ran the People’s United Bank Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vermont. It was a very hot day for marathon running (around 86 for the majority of the race), but the support of the community made the run a successful and wonderful experience for me.
Robert and I headed up to Burlington on Friday morning because I had a long weekend from school. It was about a six and a half hour drive, but since we are used to taking long road trips that really was not an issue for us. We got into Vermont around five. I had decided to stay at the Sheraton Burlington hotel because it was one of the recommended hotels by the marathon. It was also the hotel that the Marathon Expo was being held in which was the biggest motivating factor in me wanting to stay there. We checked in around five and then walked to the Expo which was on the other end of the hotel complex. After picking up my race bib and t-shirt (and receiving A LOT of advice from the volunteer giving me my number) we walked through the rest of the expo to see what was there to offer. The expo was somewhat small, there were only about two and a half rows of vendors, but since the last one we had been to was in Walt Disney World I was coming off quite the unfair comparison. For the most part the expo was quite typical: running apparel, sneakers, nutrition, physical therapists with KT tape, and booths for other races in the area. Unlike the other expos I have been to though this one had craft beer and locally distilled spirits for sampling. As we all know Robert and I are all about freebies and alcohol freebies are probably our favorite kind. After having a few samples (including cucumber vodka which was extremely tasty) we moved on to the marathon specific merchandise. I had been hoping to find a zip up sweatshirt jacket. They only had one style, but two different color choices. Obviously since I was in the Green Mountain State I had to go with the green over the gray option. As we were wrapping up we saw a table with all the pacer times listed out for Sunday’s race. They also had a sign for a shake out run the next morning at 9:00 AM in the park that the race started and ended in, which I was really happy to see because I did not know much about the course since we were not form the area. This was something I wish would have been advertised on the race website, because I had almost waited to go to the Expo until Saturday and then would have not known about the opportunity.
After the Expo we headed into downtown Burlington which was a very pedestrian friendly city. The main area downtown was about four blocks long and filled with restaurants, bars, and little shops. This main street was inaccessible to automobiles running north to south which allowed for the restaurants to use the street outside their shops for outside seating. It was a beautiful night so we landed up at three different places for dinner and drinks which was a perfect way to spend the evening.
The next morning we woke up and headed down to Battery Park on the waterfront with the intention to meet up with the pacers and run part of the course for the following day. However when we got there I realized that I really just wanted to check out the area for myself at my own pace. The largest hill of the course was right there and I did not want to stress my legs out too much the morning before the marathon so I convinced Robert to run with me for a little bit so I could explore the area but not go too fast. It was already 93 degrees at 8:45 so I did not want to work my body too hard. We ran for about a mile and a half right by the waterfront and around Battery Park until I was comfortable with the surrounding area for the next day. With the heat I was ready to get back to the hotel and relax so we drove the two miles back and I went inside to rehydrate while Robert ran around the nearby University for a few more miles.
When he got back we both got ready for a day full of exploring what Burlington had to offer- in sneakers of course. We headed back downtown for lunch and explored the local farmer market which was HUGE for the size of the city. After getting some food in our systems we travelled about a half hour out of the city to the Ben and Jerry’s Factory where we went on a tour, learned a lot about the company, had some awesome ice cream, and visited the flavor graveyard to pay our respects to the many previous flavors that Ben and Jerry’s had to get rid of over the years. It was a great tour and definitely was worth the four dollars we paid for it. After cooling off with some ice cream we headed over to the Vermont Teddy Bear Company where we learned about the lifelong guarantee and recycled materials they used for the stuffing inside the bears. I refrained from buying a teddy bear although the outfits they had for the bears were absolutely fantastic including an election collection of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton. After seeing some amazing teddy bears with posable body parts, although we will both admit that they were not that soft to cuddle, we headed out to Magic Hat Brewery. Robert was really happy about this part of the day and I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy this portion of our tourist day either. At the brewery we each got four free samples of their beer and a free factory tour. The bartenders were awesome and actually just let us split a sample of each of the ten beers they had on tap. We both agreed it was the best tasting Number Nine we have ever had. Robert saw an amazing growler that was shaped like a magic lamp so we got a fill of their IPA. By this point in the day I was pretty tired. We ordered take out from a nearby Olive Garden and went back to the hotel for the night.
After a good dinner and a few beers it was time to get everything ready for the next morning that was going to start with a 5:45 wake up call. Robert stayed up to watch the whole Buffalo Bandits playoff game, but I fell asleep during halftime. Although I definitely had some nerves I was able to sleep pretty well until around 5:30.
When the alarm went off I jumped out of bed, made some coffee, and had half a bagel with some Once Again almond butter on top. I got on my racing gear with my race bib on my shorts which I have never done before. I was unsure of whether I was going to run in my tank top or just a sports bra because of the heat so I did not want to commit to my number pinned in its usual place. My hydra quiver was packed to the brim with four Booms in each of my pouches, a bottle of Gatorade, ibuprofen, a pack of Run Gum, and my cell phone just in case. I also had a salt stick dispenser because I wanted to prevent myself from cramping in the heat. We headed out towards the race and did not hit a lot of traffic when getting to few miles to the waterfront. We parked in a nearby parking garage and headed out to Battery Park where the race was starting from. There were lots of port-o-potties so the lines moved fast and I was able to get to a bench to relax a few minutes and chew a piece of mint Run Gum before the race started. The race directors began announcing that people should head to the start line. Robert and I prayed together for a safe and successful race then headed over to the start line right as the national anthem was winding down. We were both kind of disappointed because we had not realized they started it. He kissed me goodbye and headed to the sidewalk to try and find a spot where he would be able to spot me.
I had originally planned on trying to PR at this race and my goal time was around 3:50:00, but due to the setbacks in my training throughout the month of April and the heat I decided to just be content with finishing and hope to be under 4:00:00. I lined up between the 3:45:00 and 4:00:00 pace groups thinking that as long as I could stay in the middle of these two groups I would be okay. Once the gun went off it took about two minutes for me to get started running. The race directors had announced that they added an additional half hour onto the time limit due to the heat as well as adding additional ice along the course because they were very concerned about the heat. The first few miles of the course were great with a three mile loop that brought you right through the heart of downtown Burlington and right back to the start line where I was able to get a reassuring cheer from Robert. I continued on to an out and back section of the course that lasted for another six miles. This part of the course was on a back highway and did not have a lot of crowd support, but there was a band around mile five. We headed back to the start line around mile nine where I was able to get a full water bottle worth of Gatorade from my amazing husband. Mile nine had a short uphill that I enjoyed climbing followed by a half mile or so of a downhill making it a pretty fast mile. We ran out down a main road and then into some suburban areas until mile 14. I had made it to the half marathon mark feeling pretty strong, but once I saw so many of the relay runners ending I really wanted to be right there with them. The heat was very trying on me, but thankfully there were many hoses and sprinklers set up for us to run through by this point which was very helpful with cooling off. After running through the first few I realized that my pack was pretty wet and that my phone might not make it through another 13 miles, but I decided if it was getting through the race or losing my phone in the process I would have to buy a new phone. Mile 15 was a long climb up the big hill I had seen before, but I was met at the bottom by the best crewer I could ever have in life who had managed to refill my empty water bottle with more Gatorade so I could have a fresh one for the next part of my run. He ran up the hill to meet me at the top and gave me extra motivation to keep going.
That was the last big climb of the course, which was a welcome thought for me at that point. We headed out for four more miles through the suburbs of Burlington. We entered into one neighborhood that was absolutely insane with support from the community. It seemed as though every house either had a sprinkler or hose going for runners, freeze pops, ice, watermelon, orange slices, bananas, water, or even maple syrup shots (which I distinctly remember were at mile 18). There was even a house with wet sponges for runners to grab. The support was absolutely amazing- those four miles went by quite quickly for me simply because of all the fan support. Robert always drills into my head that you never try anything new on race day, but at the same time his ultra runner mentality has taught him that when something looks good to eat you just grab it because that is obviously what your body wants at that point. Although I have never had watermelon while running, it was like manna from heaven when a nice woman had it out on a tray at the end of her driveway. I grabbed another piece a few streets up and had a sweet refreshing treat. I had stopped drinking from my water bottle at this point and had switched to just letting ice cubes dissolve in my mouth to rehydrate and cool me off at the same time. The whole day my mentality was simply to get to the next hose or sprinkler. After mile 20 we left the suburbs and headed to the last stretch of the race which was a bike path portion that would lead us to the finish line. This part of the race was obviously not as well populated by fans which made it a little more mentally challenging, especially when dealing with the heat and fatigue at this point. I got through the last few miles saying more Our Father’s than in nine years of Catholic grammar school. I had seen a bright green freeze pop around mile 24 and although I had refrained from eating them previously because I was concerned about the sugar on my stomach I grabbed one and it was exactly what I needed to push through the last two miles. At mile 25 Robert was standing on the side of the bike path and asked me if I wanted him to run the last mile with me. I looked at him and he knew the answer right away- he told me he would meet me there and took off running to get there before me. He understood that although I was tired I still had enough left in my tank to get me through, and that after 25 miles on my own I had earned the last 1.2 by myself to truly have run a marathon on my own. The last mile was flat just as the previous five were, and I came into the waterfront area to a huge crowd of support. As I crossed the finish line I looked at the gun time clock and saw it was around 3:50:00. Exhausted at this point and swarmed by volunteers I did not remember to stop my watch for a few minutes afterward, so although I knew that I had PR’d and achieved my goal I would have to wait for my actual time until the official results were posted.
I grabbed my medal and some food from the tent and wolfed down the bag of Moe’s tortilla chips they had- such a wonderful post run snack with all that salt. Robert and I quickly headed to the hotel because I was sopping wet form all the water I ran through and I just wanted to shower and get out of the heat. After a shower and a nap we headed out for dinner and drinks. Later on that night we went to the hotel bar and were talking to some other runners from that day where we learned some shocking info: the marathon directors had called the race after the 4:30:00 mark because of the heat. People were being stopped by police and aid station volunteers. Now apparently some people continued on and received their medals, but official times stopped being recorded after 4:30:00. This was so crazy to me because no part of the day seemed any hotter than the rest, so I was not sure what motivated them to call it at this point. I felt truly terrible for the people who had slowed down their pace because the race directors encouraged everyone to at the start that day only to be ten minutes short of an official time. I understand the need to keep everyone safe, but there seemed to a be a lot of confusion and miscommunication even after the race was called. Thankfully I was already done and did not have to worry about that. Our conversation also resulted in Robert and I learning that we were sitting next to one of the invited runners for the race. I learned about decorating an elite water bottle- there is apparently rules they send elite runners about how to designate their “secret stuff.” I also learned that you do not have to have ever run a marathon to qualify as an elite runner which I found extremely interesting. The woman we were talking with ran a 1:22:00 half marathon which qualified her as an elite runner, although she had never completed a marathon in the past. Although she was right at the front of the pack of women in the race she landed up dropping out at mile 15 because she said she was too hot and knew she would not be able to mentally sustain another 11 miles. I felt really bad for her because obviously she had high expectations for herself and worked hard to get to be that fast. My opinion is that running a marathon is COMPLETELY different then running a half, just as running an ultra is completely different than running a marathon. The mental battle is so much more than the physical and that is a tough thing to train for. I can only imagine the extra pressure of being expected to be one of the best runners the first time I ran a marathon. I would love to hear other people’s opinions on this one…
Vermont City Marathon Specifics:
- Pace Groups: I never put much faith in pacers at races because in my experience they are never actually true to the time they are supposed to be at. The pacers at the race were in fifteen minute intervals from the 3 hour mark on. Although I was able to stay between the 4:00:00 pacer and 3:45:00 pacer they were both way under pace. At one point around mile 5 I was running with the 3:45:00 pacer and looked at my watch- our pace was an 8:20, that is fifteen seconds under pace per mile. I quickly realized that I needed to stay behind them because otherwise I would not make the whole race. Robert was at the finish line and watched the first two pace groups come in MINUTES before they were supposed to. The 3:45:00 pacer came in about 8 minutes early and I am not sure when the 4:00:00 pacer did. All in all I understand that these people are volunteers and are trying their best to help people, but I think it is really important that you reach out to your pacers ahead of time if you are planning on sticking with them the whole time. The marathon website had provided their information a few weeks out so I could have asked what their plan was for the race. I am a fan of consistent splits, but some people like to go out fast and then rely on will power at the end to get them through. Everyone runs their own race including pacers, so I recommend reaching out to them and finding out their plan ahead of time to decide whether you will run with them or on your own to achieve your goal.
- Aid Stations: The aid stations at this event were pretty well stocked. They had water and Gatorade at almost every station and towards the end the majority of them had ice as well. There were bananas, pretzels, and skittles offered around the halfway mark of the course, and a few of the back aid stations had gel nutrition. It was either Gu or the Cliff version. I do not remember because I carry my own so I did not use it. With all the support throughout the race from the community it was hard to distinguish what was the nutrition from the race and what was from the local community.
- Race Day Tracking: This was probably the most disappointing part of the race in my opinion because it made it difficult for my millions of fans (HAH) to track my progress on race day. Instead of having the typical format where you could just put a cell phone number in and receive texts at certain mile markers you had to download this app called Race Joy onto your phone. After that I was required to have my phone on and allow the GPS tracking to record where I was throughout the race. As someone who rarely runs with my phone I really did not like this. I also was not about having my data going for four hours straight so Robert had to track me the old fashioned way and then update my mom and his after he saw me run by. I know this is not a huge issue, but we were running over timing mats throughout the race so I did not understand why they could not have the regular type of tracking available.
- New England Double: After running the Goofy Challenge I am all about marathon challenges. Vermont City participates in what is known as the New England Double. Marathon runners have the opportunity to participate in the Eversource Hartford Marathon and earn a specific New England Double medal (in addition to the original two medals) and a finishers hat. They also get $10 off both registrations for signing up to do both. The cool thing about this in my opinion was that you could either have run the Hartford in the fall of 2015 and then finish with the Vermont City in May or start with Vermont City in the spring and complete the double in the fall of 2016. I like that they were flexible with the way you could run the races, as long as they are within a year of each other I think they definitely should both count. Although I am not participating in the New England Double, I wanted to let people know that this option is available if you love a good challenge and the New England area.
- Medal: The medal is a decent size, they had them right at the end the finish chute, and I liked the ribbon around it as well. I really liked the design of it- I have not seen one with the 26.2 as the main design and I am really pleased that I have earned the right to add it to my collection.
All in all I recommend this race. I am happy that I was able to participate in it and the course was fairly easy. It definitely was a much smaller production so keep that in mind if you are all about a big production. After coming off of Disney this was definitely the cute hometown version of a marathon put on very well and supported immensely by the people in the community. I really enjoyed the whole weekend and am proud to say that I now have run four marathons in three different states. For those of you who have actually read this entire post and are thinking so what was her actual finish time… 3:48:04. I PR’d and was able to crush the goal I had originally set for myself at the beginning of my race training even though it was hilly and hot. The analysis of the results was really cool and gave a lot of information which was a nice treat to see how I finished compared to others. Now onto deciding what and where my next marathon will be!