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Race Recap #9 - Mad Marathon, Waitsfield, VT

My race calendar was blank for several months while I looked to find a suitable replacement for the Lake Placid Marathon, which was going to be my June race. That date conflicted with the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Canada, so I needed to find two July races to get back on track.

While there are a number of races which are held out West over the summer (just couldn't make The San Francisco Marathon 7/30 happen) marathons are tough to find here on the East Coast. Then I made the most wonderful discovery. Marathon Guide listed a brand new race which was to be held in July in Vermont called Mad Marathon, and its tag line was "The World's Most Beautiful Marathon."

Sounded perfect. Rolling hills, bucolic pastures, covered bridges - so back to the Green Mountain state it was. I did Vermont City in Burlington Memorial Day weekend for marathon #8 which I truly enjoyed, and a three hour drive was the ideal distance. Anything longer than that and the little ones get really restless.

I met the founder/race director at the expo for VCM, and she was absolutely terrific - what a great ambassador for this inaugural event. Had a very positive vibe about it.

We stayed at the Sugarbush mountainside condos, a five minute drive to 'downtown' Waitsfield where the start/finish was. My father even drove up from Connecticut for the race, and it was great having him there.

The expo was held outside the Waitfsfield Inn under a series of tents, picked up my bib #197 and I was ready. After lunch we decided to drive the course - something I like doing to get a feel for what the terrain/elevation is like.

So glad I did.

The race started out on Route 100 and we headed north, took a right onto Bridge Street and passed through a lovely covered bridge that crossed over the Mad River. Then just past the Mile 1 mark, we began winding up a hill. A rather steep one, and it just kept on going. And going.

Silence. We all looked at each other and laughed. Just laughed. This wasn't going to be easy.

The (sort of) good news was, that hill had a *very* sharp drop, which then leveled off onto a gravel road for the next few miles, through another covered bridge. Bad news? The course did an about face, and I'd have to run right back up it again at around the Mile 8 mark. A bit daunting, especially so early in the race.

Now I don't mind hills. Some runners loathe them, but I chalk it up to experience. I honestly appreciate the grind up, the feeling of accomplishment once I've made it to the top, and the simple fact that I'm getting a great workout and putting my body through its paces. Running downhill can be tricky, and don't mind that either. But I've never encountered anything quite like what was yet to come.

The next 4-5 miles were absolutely gorgeous, sweeping views everywhere you turned. Sugarbush and its series of trails was always peeking somewhere in the distance, beyond cornfields and lush, verdant pastures. But shortly after a straight, shaded stretch just past the halfway mark, we approached what is affectionately called 'The Dip'.

It looked like a roller coaster drop. Our Volvo barreled down a precipitous drop, more than 45 degrees, only to hit the bottom and then climb right back up again. Seriously, we're talking log flume amusement park stuff here.

A few "Holy shits!" and an "Are you kidding me?" later, I knew for a fact this would be a 4+ hour finish for me, and guessed the male winner of the race wouldn't be any faster than a 2:45.

The course continued on for another ten miles before we made a brief square, retraced our steps and headed right for the dip... ... ... ... .AGAIN. This time, Mile 23. All I remember saying when we were driving was "This at Mile 23? I might have to walk this."

I avoid walking at all costs. I even run through the water stops. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, and I perfer to keep my stride going, even if it is a two or three minutes off my average pace. I walked portions of the Roxbury Marathon back in December in the last few miles of that race out of pure necessity as my quads were absolutely shot. I had already sized this course up and factoring in low 80 degree weather, determined that this was going to be even harder.

Once you scream down 'the dip' and make the charge up again, the final three miles was net downhill - a few modest rolling hills, but overall a pleasant way to finish a grueling race.

As we drove back through the covered bridge and onto Rt. 100, we were still in a state of disbelief. My father, who was wedged in the backseat of the Cross Country in between two booster seats asked me, "Son, are you sure you are up for it?"

"Absolutely," I said. I love this shit, I thought to myself.

That afternoon we took the kids to the Sugarbush racquet club where they frolicked in the pool while Mrs. 12 months got in a workout. After a nice dinner together at Timbers, I pinned my bib to my shirt, got my gear and GU's ready, and rested up for my ninth marathon in as many months.

Up at 5:30, had a banana, PB & honey sandwich on Me & Ollie's 'Healthiest Bread Ever' and Mrs. 12 months drove me to the start. Felt good.

The race began at 7:30 sharp, and under clear skies and temps in the low 60's we were off. 1,200 runners, maybe 450 doing the full 26.2, so I tried to keep my pace in check and not get swept up in the half marathon stampede. I breezed down Rt. 100 and over the covered bridge in 7:29 for Mile 1, but well aware that a very steep hill awaited me shortly. We banked left and up I churned - and churned - posting a 9:51 for Mile 2. I have never worked so hard so early in a race, ever.

Miles 3 and 4 (7:50 and 7:21) allowed me to regain my composure and pace, as they were downhill descents and it is a 'cheap' way to pick up time but for the most part resisted the temptation and tried not to hit them too hard - I needed to save my quads. No better way to trash your legs than pounding down hills with reckless abandon, and I kept remembering the fact that I had to make it back up those hills in four more miles. Run smart.

This stretch of the course was North Rd., and it broke off into a 'Y' or wishbone pattern, turning around at an orange cone twice before reversing back again. It was a loose gravel road, the sun was rising in the sky and felt warm. I found a good rhythm. I chose to wear my Montrail trail shoes, as a decent portion of the course wasn't paved. They are comfortable yet light. Miles 5-8:

Mile 5 8:10; Mile 6 8:31; Mile 7 8:06; Mile 8 8:49

I saw the family at the Mile 8 mark, which made me smile. I yelled out to them "It's flat as a pancake!" and lil' 12 months thought that was hilarious.

But now the fun really started. Going back up this bad boy was rough, and I would say 4 out of every 5 walked it. It curved upward, and I kept churning, grinding, churning, grinding, and thought of the treadmill stress test scene from the '80s cycling flick 'American Flyers' - skip to about 2:00 into it to get my point:

(Love the Kevin Costner 'stache, btw.)

Mile 9 time? A hellacious, but hard earned 10:26. But as the saying goes, Res firma mitacre nescit!

That sharp 400 ft climb took a lot out of me, but another Pineapple GU and some gatorade at the next water stop and I felt like I was back in business, but a good minute per mile slower than I had on the North Rd straightaway.

Next was onto Common Rd, where the surface was more 'loose granular' to use a skiing term, and the vistas really opened up. Cornfields to my left, Sugarbush in the distance to my right. Absolutely beautiful. Loving the views.

Mile 10 was 9:28, and by now my wind was fully restored, but at Mile 11 I had another hill to contend with, roughly 250 ft or so, and I registered a 10:02. Had forgotten about that one, so it sort of snuck up on me, and lasted longer than I remembered from yesterday's drive. Common Rd ended and merged into East Warren Rd, and once again back on pavement.

'The Dip'

Steep is not even the appropriate word. I felt like an Alpine skiier at the starting gate of the Super G.

I had to remind myself to run 'back', or in other words, not rip down it. I ran reserved, let gravity do its thing, and then charged right back up. It's a 150 ft drop in 2/10ths of a mile, then a 200ft gain in about 3/10ths. Yeah, that's right.

But like anything, when it's over, it's over. Except for the little fact I'd hit it again on the flip side ten miles later!

I ran the mile that included the dip in 9:24 in large part due to the precipitous initial decent. I'm realizing as I'm writing this I'm using adjectives that I'd use to describe black diamond trails. In fact, Mad River Glen, the famed ski mountain a stone's throw away, has a famed slogan 'Mad River Glen - Ski it if you can.' They should change this to 'Mad Marathon - Run it if you can.'

Once that was in my rearview mirror, I felt soreness in my knees - not from one event, just a cumulative ache from the relentless ups and downs.

We made a left onto Roxbury Mtn Rd, onto Senor Rd, banked right onto Fuller Hill Rd, then right again on Plunkton Rd to complete the roughly 4 mile rectangular loop that put us back toward East Warren again.

Most of my miles in the teens had times in the tens, but Mile 19 broke the trend and put up a 9:37 as I caught a breather on a gradual downhill portion. Saw the family again, and my Dad trotted alongside me and he asked how I was doing.

I smiled and responded "Sono una bestia!" the famed quote by Italian gold medalist skiier Alberto Tomba, who dominated the World Cup circuit and the '88 Calgary winter games, winning gold in both Slalom and Giant Slalom.

Once I hit the 20 mile mark (and beyond) my average times were now in the high 10's, pushing 11:00. My focus became getting to the dip, taking the hill, and knowing that I only had a 5k to go. Breaking it down into manageable parts is how I handle difficult situations, be it running or otherwise.

Mile 23 and I stormed down the dip once again, felt a little discomfort in my left big toe pressing against my shoe - the same toenail that turned black during last year's ultra. Whatever, just get up the hill. My Pop was about 1/2 up the hill, he gave me some encouragement, and I continued to chug - I only had one working gear at that point. Up.

A nice crowd gathered as I surmounted the dip, lots of enthusiastic applause, and two cold cups of Gatorade and I felt like a new man. Not much left in my legs, but I carried on the last three miles as best I could, as Miles 24 and 25 were 9:46 and 9:57 respectively, taking advantage of the gradual decline.

I was delighted to see the covered bridge at Mile 25, 1.2 to go. As I approached the finish, I saw the kids, and they crossed the finish line with me, lil' 12 months losing his left Croc not once but twice, but the announcer gave us a warm welcome and the crowd was amazing.

4:13:57 for my most challenging marathon, ever. I'd say the course was indeed harder than Roxbury, but I prefer running in warm weather versus cold, icy conditions. Time wasn't a huge concern - getting to the finish was. Complete Garmin data right here.

Three more to go!

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Race Recap #9 - Mad Marathon, Waitsfield, VT + workout