State #25, Marathon #32, halfway there!
I started running in 2005, and it has taken me ten years to get to the halfway point. This year I've sped it up some. I've done three marathons already this year, and am registered for three more, and am planning to register for two more on top of that if I can bring myself to sign up for another back-to-back in October. Anyway, this one, Vermont, was not a planned marathon even two weeks ago. But I thought that maybe I could squeeze in another one between Nashville and Deadwood next month. My thinking was that 1) if I didn't do a marathon, I should probably do a longish run of 15-18 miles this weekend anyway, so might as well do the drive and add a few more miles and get credit for another state rather than doing another double Kensington or something else boring, 2) if I did Vermont, I could then have almost all of New England done, all but Connecticut and Rhode Island, which, coincidentally, have back-to-back marathons in October! If I do the back-to-backs, New England could be the first region of the U.S. that I finish. We all know it was inevitable that once I thought "Maybe I should add another marathon", I was going to. So I did.
Vermont is beautiful; everyone knows that. But I kind of don't get the whole existence of Vermont. I don't get how it can have so many perfectly adorable little towns whose economies appear to be based entirely on antique shops, artisan soap companies, and rustic furniture makers. I don't get how every single view in every direction looks like a postcard. I don't get how residents seem to automatically understand exactly how to make sure that their yards have natural-looking wildflowers but also perfect mowing jobs with diagonal stripes and everything. Vermont is almost too precious. (I like New Hampshire better. Same natural beauty but doesn't look like it's trying too hard to look like peoples' mental picture of perfect small New England towns.) Anyway, just because Vermont looks almost contrived sometimes doesn't mean I don't love it. It would almost be un-American not to love it!
The Shires of Vermont Marathon is a point-to-point course starting in North Bennington at Bennington College, and meandering through the back roads of North Bennington, Shaftsbury, Arlington, and Sunderland before finishing in Manchester Center. This is a very well-run race. Every single thing about it was perfectly organized. I stayed in Bennington. There was no expo, but there was packet pickup the night before, at the 13.5-mile aid station on the course, which happened to be a church (naturally, a white church with a steeple). At packet pickup, the church was hosting a $10 all-you-can-eat pancake dinner with locally made maple syrup. I should have stayed but I didn't feel like being social. Marathon road trips to me are like my perfect time to just closet myself in my hotel room and read, read, read for hours, what I always want to do at home but never seem to have time for. So I just picked up my number and T-shirt and went straight back to my hotel.
On race morning you can park at either the start or the finish. If you park at the finish, there is a morning shuttle back to the start. This is what I did. This race has an 8:00 a.m. start time, which to me seems late and is really my only complaint about this race. A 7:00 a.m. race start seems like it would be so much better, considering the high temps usually experienced here. I drove to the finish at 5:00 a.m. through green mountains and a beautiful misty sunrise. I knew it was going to be hot because I was already warm even at 5:00 a.m. I didn't really mind because I like heat, but I definitely have not run in the heat at all this year. The marathon in Nashville had the highest temps I've experienced so far, but even that was only about 70, and had cloud cover the whole way. This one was supposed to be 80 with a mix of clouds and sun that turned out to be 100% sun.
On the shuttle to the start line was the famous Marathon Maniac Larry. His shirt said "1400 marathons" (though I am pretty sure he has more than that now). He's done the 50 States nine times and has or maybe at one time had the Guinness Record for most lifetime marathons. I am a Maniac too but as usual was incognito. I decided this is the last marathon I'm doing without Maniac gear. I like the Maniacs more and more the more marathons I do. (And trust me, 32 marathons may sound like a lot to readers of this blog but it is NOTHING in Maniac World, where hundreds of marathons is not uncommon.)
The start line at Bennington College was very laid-back. We were able to wait inside the VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts) building, which had not only bathrooms but also couches. I am getting spoiled by being able to wait inside for marathon starts since my last four marathons have all had this feature. Some day I will have to wait outside again and will not enjoy it. My Michigan Realtor, Andrea, was also doing this marathon, and, oh, wait, she was also doing three more marathons in a five-day stretch. The Shires of Vermont was the first marathon in a stretch of five New England races designed for 50 Staters. Not me, no, never, no thank you. Anyway, I met up with Andrea and we discussed the heat. I really wanted to take my sleeveless shirt off and just run in a sports bra, but it was see-through so I decided against it. I know science says you stay cooler if you cover up with more clothing, but I simply do not agree. I feel better with LESS clothing no matter what science says.
The whole race was pretty much hills, hills, hills from start to finish. I like hills, a lot, but not so much with the blazing sun in my face. I was really hot and sweaty just a couple miles in, and right in the beginning were some long sections with no shade at all. Luckily they didn't last long, and within a few miles we were on hard-packed gravel roads with a lush canopy of trees and plenty of shade. I did not like the gravel roads, not at all. I know I have said before that I am like the princess and the pea when it comes to running on rocks. The tiniest rock that I land on while running feels like a torture device stabbing my foot. Seriously, these eight or so miles of gravel roads made me wish for my Hokas. I was glad to see pavement again.
Earlier I said my only complaint about this race was the 8:00 a.m. start time, but I just realized that is not strictly true. My other complaint is that the course was open to traffic. I mean totally open. At a few points there were cones separating us from the cars, but most of the time there was nothing, even when we were running with traffic. Even though this is small town New England where all drivers are conscientious and pay attention, it still made me a little nervous. As the race goes on longer, my brain gets stupider and I stop thinking about stuff like cars. All it would take is one driver not paying attention and BOOM! runner down! That did not happen and has not ever happened, but still, it made me nervous.
I got to the half feeling basically okay aside from the heat, and even that wasn't bothering me too much. There was a really big hill between Mile 14 and Mile 15 that took me down a notch, even though there was a sweet covered bridge right in the middle of that hill (red with white trim). I walked a lot of that, the first time I walked in the whole race (but not the last!). Then there was a really nice downhill to make up for it. Then the course became totally exposed to the sun, and suddenly I was really, really hot.
I slowed to a walk, fanned myself with my shirt to try to get some air, wiped the salt crust off my face, and touched the bandanna on my head to find that it was, like, sizzling hot. I felt like I was on fire. Screw it! Shirt was coming off, see-through sports bra or not. I took it off and immediately felt better but still in danger of spontaneous combustion. The sun pounded down on me like I was back in Arizona, only with 95% humidity instead of single digits. It seemed like around every single bend in the road was another cheerful little brook running over a perfect gravel bed with perfect wildflowers all along the edges (did I also mention the course smelled like lilacs the whole way?). I wanted nothing more than to go lie down in every bit of running water we passed. It was like torture.
I had not looked at my watch the whole time, as usual. I always try to just run moderately hard no matter what pace I'm actually going. But just before I got to Mile 20, a volunteer at an aid station told me, "You're the third place woman! Second place is tired! Run, you can catch her!" Then I did look at my watch and saw that my time at almost 20 miles was 2:45, which was a crazy good time considering the difficulty of the course. Unfortunately for me, my race was pretty much done. My stomach was really bothering me even though I had stuck to my tried and true fueling plan (gel at 7, 13, 19, no Gatorade, just water). I'd even popped a salt tab at Mile 15 because of how much I was sweating. My legs felt pretty much okay but between my stomach, the sun, the fact that I knew the last 6 miles consisted of a long, gradual uphill, and my absolute lack of desire to try any harder, I decided I was going to take it easy. So I did. (You do the math: 2:45 just before 20 miles, finish time of 4:07. That is all.)
Pretty soon I wasn't the third place woman anymore as a few women passed me. I didn't care about that either. Most everyone was walking now, and bitching about the heat and the hills. I was actually tired of the scenery, no matter how beautiful it was, and just wanted this experience to be done. The temps were fine when I was walking. I managed a slow jog sometimes, but not often. The aid stations started handing out ice, so every time I passed one -- and there was one every mile after 20 -- I stuffed handfuls of ice down my bra at every station and it usually lasted almost till the next one, which was nice and kept the suffering to a minimum.
The finish line was inside some kind of community building in Hunter Park in Manchester Center. Naturally, this being Vermont, the medal was handmade by a local ceramics company. Of course it was! Finish line food was nothing short of spectacular. They had absolutely everything, from soup and chili and sandwiches to pizza, fruit, chips, bagels, chocolate milk, yogurt and granola, and every kind of beverage you can imagine. I wish my stomach hadn't been in such turmoil so I could've eaten more. Andrea finished shortly after me and we watched age group awards. Astonishingly, even with all that walking I still won my age group, something that has never happened at any marathon ever. I got a cool slate serving plate with the name and date of the race engraved on it. (Second and third place age group winners got local maple syrup, which I would have preferred to my plate but I figured it would be awkward to ask to do an exchange.)
I really thought this would be one of my favorite races, but I can't quite say that it was. The hills were okay, but along with the heat were a little much. I just can't figure out why the late start. I would say 7:00 is the normal start time for marathons, especially warm-weather marathons. The lack of separation from traffic was a little disturbing. And finally, when I read in the course description that the course went through five towns, I thought it meant, like, the center of all of those towns, but that really didn't happen. The great majority of the course was rural residential, and mostly looked the same. Even beautiful views can get boring after that many miles. So it was a good marathon and well-organized but I don't think I would do it again.
(This blog was written during a bout of post-marathon insomnia and fueled by mint Oreos and Diet Coke.)