Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Race Recap: Vermont City Marathon 2015

It is done.

On Sunday, May 24th, 2015 at 11:35 am, I crossed the finish line of the Vermont City Marathon.

With "run first marathon" officially checked off the list, a (neurotic) part of me is already wondering...what next? But that part of me needs to shut up for a few days so I can bask in the afterglow of pride and sore feet. And so, in the spirit of relishing the moment, I shall recount the tale of my first marathon in far more detail than anyone other than my mother will care to read.

The Day Before
I met Ciara (world's best marathon training partner) for an easy jog to shake out our pre-race jitters. This would be the first marathon for each of us, so we shared nervous laughs as we loped to the Charles River one last time. We piled into the car with Steph and Aileen (our fantastic marathon support crew) and embarked on a leisurely drive from Cambridge to Burlington with a stop along the way for lunch and a stretch.

Our AirBNB was a quiet guesthouse perched across the river from Winooski. I was delighted to have a full kitchen to cook our own pre-race dinner and breakfast. We dropped our bags and headed to the race expo at the Burlington Sheraton to pick up our race bibs. Thankfully, this race expo stayed open until 7pm, and we didn't feel the need to rush.

We filled ourselves with veggie pasta and bread at a makeshift dining table on our cozy porch before turning in early for a restless night.

Race Day
On race morning, I woke at 5 am and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes before tiptoeing to the kitchen to toast an english muffin with almond butter and banana. I poured myself a cup of tea and dressed in my race outfit. I re-tied my shoelaces four times. Aileen was volunteering at the start line for the day, so we left home on the early side to make sure she arrived at her post before road closures.

Drop off and parking were a breeze. In fact, all logistics of this race were a breeze. We quickly found street parking. There was still nearly an hour before the race start time, so we sat in the car and took anxious deep breaths for a little while before wandering over to Battery Park to use the port-a-potties, snap a photo, and find our starting corral. Weather conditions were lovely. Cool and calm.

The Start
And then, suddenly, it was 7:50 am. Time to line up in corrals. Ciara and I lurked near the 3:30 pace group and chatted with a few other first-timers. It was a large group of at least 20 runners, most of whom were women around my age hoping to qualify for Boston. I didn't plan on running with them, exactly, but thought it wise to keep tabs on them since my aim was to run somewhere around 3:30. The gun sounded at 8:03 and we were off.

(photo from Burlington Free Press)
First Leg: Miles 1-3
It was shoulder-to-shoulder crowded at the start, and I jogged my first mile with the pace group about 30 seconds slower than my planned pace. I wasn't terribly worried about this, because resounding advice that had been repeated to me over, and over, and over was to start out more slowly than my body wanted me to. I couldn't stop grinning at the cheering spectators in downtown Burlington and thought, Holy shit, I'm running a marathon. A lot of people around me were trying to stay right on the heels of the pacers, and I started to feel a little cramped. After about two miles I split off from the pack and ran ahead to get myself more elbow room and focus on settling in to a steady pace of my own. I'm pretty intensely solitary when running races.

Yup, I stole race photos. Sorry. I'd like to meet the folks who actually pay $65 to download 10 photos of themselves looking miserable.

In the days leading up to the race, I'd felt intimidated by the complicated looking course map. Because this race also included a 2, 3, or 5 person relay, it was broken into 5 "legs" and looped back to downtown Burlington 3 times. I worried that this would be confusing, but it turned out to be awesome. Without walking more than a couple blocks, spectators could watch the runners at 4 different points along the race. The race was incredibly well organized and I never felt confused about where to go as a marathoner.

Second Leg: Miles 4-9
Just before the 4 mile marker, we entered a highway. Only Vermont would close down a stretch of highway for a road race. It was challenging to reign myself in on those first miles. My body felt so pumped full of adrenaline, it really wanted to run fast. I did my best to run with restraint and keep my pace steady on this sunny highway stretch. We turned around at the mile 6 marker. I took small sips of water from each aid station, and was perfecting my "pour and pinch" method so as not to waterboard myself while running.

Third Leg: Miles 10-15 
We ran up a small hill from the highway ramp and re-entered downtown Burlington and passed mile 9. The energy of the crowd as we crossed back over Church Street gave me a lift after those highway miles. We headed south on a straight two lane road and made a loop through a residential neighborhood. A man played drums for us using a rubber mallet and an upside down recycling bin. We hung a left onto a bike path and crossed the 13.1 mile timing mat. 1:43:42. Halfway. At this point, a slew of half marathon relay runners were entering the course. I reminded myself not to get unnerved by their fresh legs and fast paces. Stick with the plan. This part of the course was my favorite. The bike path was smooth and had open views of Lake Champlain to the left. I felt great, and was looking forward to Battery Hill (the race's one big hill) just ahead at mile 15. I managed a smile and a thumbs up for the camera guy.

We turned off the bike path on to Battery Street and were immediately staring up at the hill. You might think I'm gross, but I absolutely loved this part of the race. A hill is a challenge I can tackle. This one was nothing compared to Heartbreak Hill in Boston. Plus, there were Taiko drummers thumping us forward.

(photo from Burlington Free Press)
(photo from Burlington Free Press)
I searched for Steph amid the throngs of spectators, knowing she was waiting somewhere on the hill. I couldn't find her, but she spotted each of us and snapped a photo. Ciara looks pumped!

Fourth Leg: Miles 16-21
At the top of the hill, we veered into Battery Park and crossed another relay changeover point before continuing north over some rolling hills. Just before mile 18 we turned left into a lively neighborhood filled with makeshift aid stations and children frolicking through sprinklers. The orange Fla-Vor-Ice pop handed to me by an 8-year-old was pretty much the best thing I'd ever tasted in my life. I was still holding steady, but it felt like I had such a long way to go. I knew once I hit the bike path and turned south, I'd be home free. Maybe?

Fifth Leg: Miles 22-26.2
The evening before the race, Ciara's brother, a seasoned marathoner, sent her some last minute well wishes and advice. "The real running starts at mile 20," he'd written.

After the race, Ciara's husband, who had watched our progress remotely via tracking app, joked, "Bean was like a robot until mile 20." So far, I had maintained splits dead on or just below 8 minutes per mile. I could feel that my pace had dropped by a few seconds over the 21st mile without looking at my watch. Just before the mile 22 marker, the 3:30 pace group caught up with me on the bike path. I decided I would hang in with them as long as I could manage it. I ran one last fast mile with them before letting them slowly drift by. There were no feelings of panic, and there was no "wall". There was just a feeling that my legs were no longer taking direct commands from my brain and that was that. Ciara and I had watched a YouTube video of the marathon course, and all I could think about was the narrator's voice describing the last few miles as "a marathoner's dream". That guy was a butthead. It felt like eternity on that flat wooded path, before, suddenly...People! Voices! Crowd! I heard spectators hollering, "Go Bean!" (my name was printed on my bib) and "You look great!" Their kind, urging words assured me that I most definitely looked like hell.

I kept willing my feet forward on the concrete. I locked eyes with Steph, who was grinning at me from mile 26. So close. I stretched my arms wide as I crossed the finish line. 3:32:33.

The moments after crossing the finish line were a blur. I accepted my medal, foil blanket, bottle of water, banana, and chocolate milk. My arms were full, so I bent to settle things down at my feet. Nope. Bending not happening. I walked aimless circles for a few minutes before feeling a tap on my shoulder. I spun around to see Ciara and thought her slightly dazed facial expression must be a mirror of my own. She had crossed the finish line in 3:37:55. No words were exchanged between us, just a knowing look. We both laid down in the grass.

Eventually, we gathered ourselves and found Steph and Aileen, who greeted us with open arms.

Technically, my time meets the qualifying standard for entry into the 2016 Boston Marathon. Remember when I said I'd never run another marathon? Well, check back with me in September. Meeting the standard means I am eligible to submit for registration, but the fastest qualifiers are accepted first, so it doesn't guarantee my entry. Stay tuned...

The recovery process began immediately, and included a whole lot of this:

Last of all: some gratitude. Thank you to those who cheered me on, those who gave me confidence when it wavered, those who helped me find running routes, and those waited for brunch while I finished my long runs. Thank you to those who feigned interest when I wouldn't shut up about the damn marathon, those who didn't make fun of my early Friday night bed times, and those who merely tolerated my crazy. Thank you to the race volunteers, who made this a seamless and wonderful race on an absolutely beautiful course. Thank you to Duncan the dog for not holding it against me when I skipped your long Saturday walk. Thank you to Chris for waiting with bagels and listening patiently to my worries. Thank you to Steph and Aileen for going above and beyond the pit crew call of duty. Thank you to Ciara for commiserating at the track and laughing on river runs. Couldn't have done it without you all.

So. What's next?

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