The Connection Runners + [travel]

2011 KBVCM Race Report

It's taken me a few days to gather my thoughts - and it takes me longer to write these recaps than to run the actual marathons - but I thoroughly enjoyed this race as did the entire 12 marathon 12 month family. Burlington, VT was the perfect Memorial Day getaway, we all had incredible fun.

Here's the recap, in all of its glorious - and agonizing - detail:

During the course of my marathon research, very few races I came across had unanimous, across-the-board positive reviews. Vermont City was one of them. It was a fairly easy choice due to the distance, as Burlington is only a 3 hr drive from Kittery, and travel with the kids is a top consideration. We hauled up on Saturday morning, checked into the hotel, and after a quick bite for lunch we went to the expo which was held at the Sheraton, just a 1/4 mile away.

Very nice expo. The parking lot was loaded with cars from all over - Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, NY, Pennsylvania, NJ, and every New England state, many emblazoned with 26.2 stickers. One minivan with Ohio plates had VERMONT CITY OR BUST scrawled on the windows. I was in my element.

Picked up my bib, and in the process ran into the founder/organizer of my next marathon, which is also going to be in VT - the inaugural Mad Marathon in Waitsfield, located in the gorgeous Mad River Valley. She was ever so gracious, and we chatted about the course and this one looks to be absolutely spectacular. It already has 900 registered runners, and instead of a 1,000 person cutoff they are going to allow 1,200.

Unlike some other expos that tend to be a bit uptight about the t-shirts, they gave my son an XS instead of the large I registered for and he wore it with pride. After some Stonyfield Yogurt (I live on the stuff), I purchased a breatheable, mesh Saucony singlet in anticipation of the heat.

The race organizers were very progressive in handing out flyers about the potential for hot, humid weather and even planned for extra water stops and ice. Top-notch organization, and sharp attention to even the smallest detail - that appeals to me in a big way.

After the kids frolicked in the pool for a few hours, we had a nice meal at Pulcinella's, next to Eastern Mountain Sports. I wanted to go to Trattoria Delia, as it is supposed to be the best restaurant in Burlington, but dining out with the kids can be an unpredictable adventure - so we'll save that for another time. I was, however, pleasantly surprised with how good their Tagliatelle alla Bolognese was. I think I am officially making that my go-to pre-race meal, as the last few Spaghetti all Carbonara meals have been pretty mediocre. Any Roman will tell you that true carbonara should be 5 ingredients: spaghetti, pancetta, eggs, parmigiano reggiano, and black pepper. That's it. No cream! Besides, cream the night before a race is a recipe for GI distress.

I went back and forth about where to pin my bib - and ended up pinning it to my shorts because the forecast was calling for serious humidity (pushing 70%) and a high of 85. Far from ideal running weather, but to be completely candid I enjoy running in warm, and dare I even say *hot* weather. I like a little humidity in the air, and to get a good sweat going early on. Makes me feel like I'm working hard, but really it loosens my muscles. I run 7 months out of the year in some cold and generally lousy weather, so some heat is a welcome change of pace.

The morning of the race I was up at 5 and was at the Starbucks across the street waiting for the clock to strike 6 to have a coffee and some oatmeal. The weather was a touch cool, but I felt the humidity and the skies looked foreboding - rain was most certainly on the way.

The race had a very efficient shuttle system that did a pick-up/drop-off at all of the local hotels, and I hopped on the 6:25am bus. As we approached the start, we climbed up a very steep hill, and two collegiate track runners sitting behind me (both with very low bib numbers) said "That's Battery Hill? Six blocks of that? They can't make us run up that, can they? That is just cruel." And then the bus doors opened.

The start was at Battery Park, a very lovely spot which overlooks Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks - but the gray skies obfuscated the view. Port-a-potties were everywhere, and they even had little signs fastened to each one saying "Flip over if out of toilet paper." Never seen that before. Nice.

Many runners congregated underneath the orchestra shell so shield ourselves from the drizzle, which about thirty minutes prior to the gun going off, turned into a full-blown rain shower, and five minutes before the start, came down in sheets. We were getting pelted. My thoughts ran to my family, and some sympathy thoughts went out to my wife who would be braving the inclement weather with the kids, so I unconscously made a mental note to run this one fast. The sooner I was done, the better.

I downed a 12oz Gatorade, and decided to use the restroom one last time and though the lines were moving I was going to cut this one close. The Star-Spangled Banner just finished up and we all herded to the start just as the race began. We were off!

Since the 12 marathon 12 month challege began, my times have essentially been trending downward. Sugarloaf was a 3:39 finish, or 8:20 minute/mile. Five months later the 12 month challenge began, and I ran the Maine Marathon in 3:44. NYC was 4 minutes slower than that. Roxbury was a brutally tough course in some frigid temps that got me in 30 minutes later than my marathon average - so that was an outlier so to speak. Miami was great weather and flat, 3:52 finish. So the pattern is apparent. Hyannis was 4:02 in the sleet an overall miserable conditions, and Atlanta as 4:03 - 4 hours basically became the benchmark.

Last month I did Flying Pig in Cincy at a much slower pace, and approached it as a training run as I ran alongside Silverado. I had a feeling that would do me good, because one drawback of running so many races is that the body needs time to recover. I hit my races pretty hard, much harder than any tempo training run, so the wear and tear on the body is undeniable. But with basically a month off from racing, I went into Vermont City with a desire to not only get back under 4:00, but push for a personal best. Could I do it? Could I even come close? I wanted to find out.

I did my first mile in some serious traffic and found myself dodging both puddles and people. There wasn't any corral system, so if there was any flaw to this race it was that, because 8,000 runners is still a decent size race.

Mile 1 buzzed 8:04 on my Garmin and it felt more like 9:04 because of all the people. The weather was also ideal - the rain eased up a bit to more of a light sprinkle, but the temps were perfect, perhaps 60? I was a bit chilly just waiting around for the start, but now that I was on the move it felt terrific. Maybe they completely swung and missed on the forecast? Maybe this was a day to go for it?

So I opened the throttle. Mile 2, 7:08. Yes, you read that right. That's a typical 5k race split for me. My legs felt amazing. Loose. Fast. I went with how my body felt, and it felt great.

Mile 3: 7:21, Mile 4 : 7:31. The course was a bit downhill, and coupled with the energy that I felt running through the brick-paved pedestrian marketplace, I just ran wild. Would I come to regret my early speed? Maybe. But you know what? I was smiling. A big, silly 40 year old grin. I was having a blast! Tearing up the streets of Burlington as if I was in Pamplona and the bulls of San Fermin were stampeding behind me.

Then again, I felt like I was a bull at times, too, charging like mad along the left side of the course right along the edge, passing dozens of runners, occassionally calling out a courteous but firm "On your left". I hadn't done that since NYC, and this race - and my pace - was reminiscent of that one.

I had caught up to the 3:30 pace leaders, so I eased up and ran with them. There were a good 30-40 runners keeping pace with them, and I fell into lock step with them, going stride for stride in a comfortable manner. We were on the Burlington Beltway out-and-back, and got to see the race leaders zip past on the other side of the highway.

Mile 5: 7:46 Mile 6 7:56 Mile 7: 7:49 Mile 8: 7:47 All steady miles, very little struggle, temperature still ideal.

At Mile 9 we encountered a brief hill and must admit that after hanging with the 3:30 folks for 4 miles I felt a little bit like the Ethan Hawke character in that movie Gattaca, where he pretends to be the Jude Law 'perfectly engineered' character and records his metronome-like heartbeat, playing it while they train on the treadmills when in reality his hearbeat is going beserk.

Of course my heart rate was fine, and in fact I was still feeling quite good, but I faded back a bit and found a very comfortable 8:25 for Mile 9, but did a 7:31 for Mile 10 and soon caught back up to the 3:30 pack as we passed through the pedestrian marketplace once again.

Mile 10 mark so far: 1:18:28.

Mile 11 8:04 was the first time I began to notice the heat. The rain had completely stopped by this point, the sun was filtering through the haze, and my singlet was absolutely soaked from both my sweat and the rain. I peeled it off my body, balled it up tight, and threw it to the side. Felt so much better.

I ran an 8:13 for Mile 12 and began to realize that I was on a killer pace. My best time in a half marathon was 1:44 at Niantic last September, and after cruising through a beautiful lakeside neighborhood, I finished up Mile 13 in 7:47 and at the 13.1 split was 1:43:55, or 7:59 pace. Fast, but still feeling great.

I knew that I had a big hill in a few miles, but still kept attacking the back half in an aggressive manner. 14-15-16 were 8:25-8:31-8:36, a quiet stretch that ran along the lake, which was incredibly high. The sun was beating down hard and hot at this point, but there were a few shaded areas that kept us cool. We swerved through an industrial section that had loose pavement and was littered with pothole puddles so proper footing was paramount, but with the race more than half over I found myself developing a blister for the first time since the Around the Lake Ultra last July. I suppose when you run a wet course in the pouring rain it is impossible to keep your shoes dry, and though I dodged every big puddle successfully, I could feel the wetness of my compression socks and the hot spot was getting bigger by the mile. No point in worrying about something I can't control, I reminded myself. Just keep at it.

We were running parallel to some train tracks and then took a turn and WHAM! Battery Hill. There it was, in all of its glory. I used the same approach I did for the steep incline at Sugarloaf, and that was to keep my head down and just watch the pavement speed by as if I were on a treadmill. If I allowed myself to get too caught up in the grade, and kept seeing how far the top was, I would psychologically let the climb get the better of me. So I put on a track on my iPod that was upbeat, and attacked that bad boy with everything I had.

So that is what got me up that hill - Sweetness by Jimmy Eat World. Great, great song. I had it cranked and was belting out the song, so didn't really even notice the famed Koto drummers banging away, but when I made it past Battery Park I was elated. I gave a high five to the runner next to me, who looked like he was in college, as we both ran it at about the same pace. I checked my Garmin and I did Mile 16 and 17, which included the assault up Battery Hill, in 8:36 and 9:17. Felt really good about the way I hit that hill.

Mile 18 was 8:42, and I was hotter than hell. The sun was baking us now, and we were entering a residential neighborhood that fortunately had some race support in the way of orange wedges, watermelon chunks, and best of all, hoses with sprinklers attatched to them.

I had been keeping with my Honey Stinger gel strategy every 4 miles, but took took another one at 18 because I was starting to slow down. Didn't smash into the wall like I did crossing the Willis Ave bridge at the NYC Marathon, but I knew I was weakening. Knew I couldn't keep it under 9:00, and when my Garmin buzzed Mile 19 was 9:33. Inevitable I suppose, but I kept telling myself get to 20 and it's a 10K to the finish. Get out of the teens and it's a new race at 20.

20 was 9:34, so that was my new reality. Sweating bullets - in fact the course raised the safety index from low to moderate to high in a very short span - and putting down nine and a half minute miles. Keep it under 10 became my mantra. Under 10.

Mile 20 mark: 2:46:23. Six miles to go - can I do that under an hour?

21 was 9:47, but Mile 22 came in at 9:10. 9:10! The elevation dropped slightly and I went with it, but was elated with that. Four more to go.

We slogged through some very muddy paths that were lined with plywood but I did my best to stay out of the deep muck. The course was changed due to the high wather level, so I believe this is where we were re-routed, and then we were on a bike path.

The heat was clearly a factor, and though I hydrated well, shade was becoming scarce, and I passed several runners who were receiving medical attention. One guy, younger than me, was splayed out on the pavement and did not look good at all - but had four medical volunteers attending to him. The race officials, to their credit, were aware of the situation and doing what they could.
Mile 23 I was 10:23, the first time I was over 10:00 all day, and the 3:45 pacer passed me. Also my iPod ran out of juice, so I took out the earphones and tucked them in my pocket. I was chugging along, legs didn't feel that bad but I was fatigued. 5k to go, and doing the math I knew that 10:00 miles would get in around 3:48, so my focus became to beat my NYC time. I was encouraged that I still was making good time, but was starting to get passed regularly now - frustrating, but not much I could do about it. Pretty much out of steam, but still moving along the path at the best clip I could muster.

Mile 24 10:17. In NYC this is exactly what I felt like, just clamoring for the finish, but I also smiled to myself because I remember saying "I love this feeling," as ridiculous as that sounds. I also, for the first time since my 12 month challenge began last October, began to see that in a few more miles marathon #8 would be complete - and I'm getting close to double digits, and finishing this whole crazy thing.

Mile 25 was 10:11, and I remembered that in NYC I did Mile 26 in 8:39 along Central Park South - so I wanted to give the final full mile my best effort. Of course, it was 40 degrees hotter, but when 26 buzzed with a 9:39 I was pleased that I got it under 10:00.

Now I was told, in fact warned, that the finish is deceptive. As you approach Waterfront Park the footing becomes grass, the chute begins, the crowds intensify, and the finish seems close. But it's not - there is nearly a half mile of this - and I was thrown off because my Garmin buzzed 26 and I expected another 2/10ths but often the route my Garmin tracks is a few tenths off of the actual course distance markers. In this case, I was a good 3/10ths off, so here I am sprinting, trying to finish strong, passing runners, the crowd is cheering for me because I am running full tilt, and the finish is still nowhere in sight.

Uuuuuughhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I stumble a bit, staggering like a prizefighter hit with a bodyshot, just trying to make it through the end of the round. I thought I was done, shifted gears, and as I dug for whatever was left I let out a serious grunt and start charging again.

The chute had several twists and turns, I can hear the announcer, the crowds are enthusiastic as I sprint again, take a left... ... ... ... .. and no finish. Are you kidding me????????? So I shuffle along, keeping my forward momentum, grunt and snort a bit more, and take a right turn, and there it is... ... .about 70 or 80 yards away. The announcer calls my name, from Kittery, ME, give a fist pump, I pour it on, and blast toward the finish, leaving it all out there like I imagine Pre would do.

Eight marathons in eight months!

3:47:31 net time; 8:39 pace
Finished 555/2403
M40-44 65/233

This was my third fastest marathon, and only the Maine Marthon back in October was faster during this 12 month challenge. So I am pleased with the result, but even more gratifying - I am pleased with the effort. I ran it hard, never got down on myself when the going got tough, and I had incredible fun.

I never saw the family during the run, which was too bad because seeing them is always something to look forward to - but they saw me 4 times! I scanned the crowd regularly for them, but was so focused on speed in retrospect I think I had blinders on for a good portion of the race. They had arrived at the start at 7:10, saw me early in the rain, again at 3, half way up Battery Hill, and when I was grunting like a bull during my interminable finish in the chute labyrinth.

We had our traditional steak recovery dinner along with some Greg Norman Cabernet Merlot blend (terrific wine at a very reasonable price, incidentally) and talked about Marathon #9 which will be in six weeks.

I don't have a scheduled race for June - I was going to do the Lake Placid Marathon but already had tickets for the Montreal Grand Prix, so going to do two in July.

Our drive home included a stop at the Ben & Jerry's factory, which the kids loved. We'll be back there again soon, as we'll drive right past it on our way to Sugarbush and the Mad Marathon!

Can't wait!