Friday, July 19, 2013

Vermont City Marathon Race Recap

It has been almost two months since I ran my first marathon and it was starting to seem like I might never blog about it. But this was too great a thing not to put into (written) words. I started this post (through about mile 4) the week after the race and wrote the remainder yesterday. Luckily, I still remember it like it just happened...

VCM: Sunday, May 26, 2013

Josh and I left DC at 5 PM Friday and drove about 5 hours in the rain to Middletown, NY. The next day we drove the remaining 5 hours to Burlington and I was constantly refreshing the hourly weather forecast on my phone. It was cold and raining and it wasn't supposed to get any warmer or dryer until after the race the next day. We arrived at my aunt and uncle's house for lunch, went to the expo and hung out the rest of the day. After my classic vace's pasta with ground turkey and red sauce, we played a game and then went to bed.

It was a cold and rainy day in Burlington, VT.

I slept well through the night and woke up before my alarm at 5:37. I ate oatmeal and changed my clothes several times. Nikki had made me this awesome marathon shirt with my name on it but it was a white tank top so, sadly, I decided not to wear it in the cold rain. We left the house a little after 7AM, an hour before the race was scheduled to start, and I was strangely not nervous. I couldn't really believe that we were driving to the race and that I was only minutes away from running my first marathon. Because we were late, parking was hard to find so Tony dropped us a few blocks from the start. We had just enough time to use the porta-potties once and get into our corral. I kissed Josh goodbye and we were off.

With Katy and Simon just before starting the race!

Katy, Simon and I started together, singing Sweet Caroline, by the 4:30 pace group. I didn't even realize we'd crossed the start line and started my garmin a little late. We ran together for the first mile or so and it was fun running together after talking about and training for this for so long. A mile or two in, I went to catch up with the 4:15 pacers. My goal was to finish the marathon in 4:15 but I wasn't sure whether to pace myself or to stay with this crowd. I ran down Church Street and loved all the spectators. There were girls on one corner, in pajama pants, singing Frosty the Snowman which made me laugh. We ran by Josh and Joann around mile 4 which was fun.

 Before Joann started her half

Those first few miles flew by easily and are a blur to look back on. I was feeling kind of clautrophobic with all the people running with the 4:15 group but the pace felt good so I stuck with them. Just before mile 5, we arrived at the belt line. This began a 4ish mile out and back which I expected to be challenging. It started with a long and steady downhill so I mentally prepared myself for what that meant on the return part. I kept entertained by listening to the conversations of other runners.

About halfway out, we started to see runners coming back the other way. Watching the fastest runners speed by you in the other direction keeps this stretch of the marathon really exciting at a time when it could feel monotonous. It occurred to me that I could see Nikki, who I knew would be running ahead of me, during this part of the race. I slowly moved away from the 4:15 pacers to the inside of the highway. In the process, I sped up and left the 4:15 group behind. This may have been stupid so early in the race but I was focused on looking for Nikki and it just happened. There was just a small stretch of grass between me and the runners coming the other direction. I constantly scanned the crowd of speedier runners but started to get dizzy. I saw the 3:30 pace group run by and knew that I probably still had a little time before I saw Nikki who I predicted would be between 3:45 and 4:00. Eventually, we saw each other and shared a quick high five as we passed. I got teared up in this moment, feeling sentimental about the marathon and about the fact that I was running the same course with one of my best running buddies who I had yet to ever see in the state of Vermont. I love that this was our first interaction on a trip that meant a lot to both of us.

Soon after I reached the turn around point, I passed Katy and Simon only a little ways behind me. Then I kept my eyes on the road and kept putting one foot in front of the other. Around mile 7 the tendon in the back of my left knee started to feel really tight. I had never had this feeling before and it made me nervous but there was nothing to do but keep running.

I got to the end of the beltline and ran another jaunt through the cool downtown Burlington. At mile 10, after a steep downhill away from downtown, my left quad started to feel really sore and I freaked out a little bit. I was only 10 miles in and had a long way to go. I worried that I'd made the classic mistake of going out too hard and that I'd slow down a ton over the next 16 miles. My pace for mile 10 was just under 9 minutes because of the downhill but I had been maintaining a steady 9:00 to 9:30 pace for the first 10 miles. I had run ten miles much faster than this so I was annoyed that I was already sore.

The next few miles were tough and I just told myself to run to mile 13 and I'd have some cheerleaders. At mile 12, we turned into a hilly neighborhood and I overheard a conversation between two people who either lived in Burlington or grew up in Burlington and hadn't seen each other in a while. They just ran into each other during the race and caught up for a little while before going their own ways (really the same way but at their own paces...). This happened many times along the course which I thought was so cool. The race had such a hometown feel while also feeling large, supported and organized.

At the half way point. 

At mile 12.5ish, we merged onto a bike path that would bring us to the half/relay transfer point. Josh was waiting nearby with his camera and I gave him a thumbs down. I have never done that in a race but I was worried about my legs and I told him I was feeling pretty tight and sore as I ran by. He said "you got this, just keep running" and that's what I did. Then I saw my uncle Tony, standing on a rock snapping pictures. Soon after, my name was screamed from the crowd of relayers. I didn't see her but I knew it was my aunt Joann waiting to start running.

Katy and Simon about to finish their half!

Passing the half gave me a mental boost and I believed I could finish the race. But it also took us to a bitterly cold and windy run right alongside lake Camplain which I knew would be perfect in the warm sun but, at that moment, was not. I mosied along the bike path, maintaining my 9:30ish pace and then emerged onto a street just before mile 15.

I'd heard more about this part of the race than any other- it was the beginning of the Battery Street Hill and it would be brutal. It turned out to be my absolute favorite part of the 26.2 mile course.

A few days after the race, taking a picture of my favorite part of the marathon.

I trained on a lot of hills and I enjoy running on hills in general. I don't like what they do for my speed but they seem to keep things interesting and almost always make me feel strong. I don't know if I've ever felt stronger running than I did while running up the Battery Street hill. The crowd support was insane and Eric, my friend and Nikki's fiancé, was right beside the course screaming my name which was hugely motivating.

In the top right corner, you can see the beginning of the Battery Street Hill.

I wanted to cry happy tears when I got to the top. And then things got ugly. Miles 16-20 were hard. My legs were really tired and I knew that ten miles was a long way left to run. I spent those 4 miles telling myself (over and over) that I just had to get to mile 20. I had run 20 before so I knew I could get there and, when I did, I'd have only 6 miles left. From there, I'd have my mile dedications to push me along. Just three miles to twenty, two miles to twenty, one mile to twenty... I could do it.

Miraculously, this strategy worked. I got to mile 20 and had a new burst of energy. There was a spring in my step and I felt myself speed up just slightly. And then the sun peeked it's pretty little head out of the clouds.

At the 21 mile sign, when I thought things couldn't get any better, a girl next to me said to the guy she was running with, "we just passed mile 21 in a marathon. I can't believe this moment is really here." Again, I felt like crying. What a surreal thing- to have worked so hard and so long for something and to be so in the midst of it. I felt this profound connection with these people who I had ever spoken to and will probably never see again in my life.

I had a little longer to ride out my high and then things were going to get tough again.

At mile 21.5, we began our final stretch toward the finish line back on the Burlington bike path. The problem is that a "final stretch" that lasts 4 miles, when you've already run 21.5, feels like a reeeeally long one. And, at a time when my mental toughness seemed more crucial than my physical toughness, the monotony of that bike path was brutal. Honestly, I might as well have been running on a treadmill. I felt ok for the first mile, and then just kind of bad. But from mile 24 to mile 26, it was all I could do not to stop and walk (or collapse). I felt like every fiber of my being was telling me to stop and I had to fight that urge so hard. I checked my watch constantly and couldn't believe I'd only gone .25 or .11 miles since my last watch check. You can see by my splits that I slowed down a lot in those final miles. My "dedication" thing didn't motivate me in the slightest and all I could think about was how far I had left. I kept comparing the distance remaining to runs I do at home. I'd think, just do your three mile loop up macomb street and you'll be done, then just run to work and back (.9 miles from my apt) and you'll be done, and then just run to work and you'll be done.

And then, eventually, I almost was. The bike path ended and my watch approached the 26 mile mark. Out of some very deep place within me, I found an ability to pick up my pace and I "sprinted"for the last .4ish (according to my garmin) miles. It turns out my sprint was really an 8:05 minute mile but I'm still quite proud I could even pull that out. I rounded a corner onto some grass and Josh and Tony cheered at me soon after. One more corner to round, a short straight away, and I was crossing the finish line.

Rounding the final corner of the race.

"Sprinting" to the finish.

I finished in 4:12:51 and I felt happy and exhausted. My legs had not stopped running in over 4 hours and it was strange to stop and walk. I grabbed a heat blanket, more than my fair share of chocolate milk and water and headed out to find my family. I saw Tony first, as he rushed to get the car. We hugged quickly, he said congrats and headed off. And then I started to cry. There is no explaining the tears that come at the end of such a great physical accomplishment. But they come for me every time and they always make me feel good. I found Josh quickly and cried some more as I hugged him. What a happy place to be.

We met Katy and Simon who were doing what they could to stay warm on the grass and ate some food they'd grabbed. They'd both finished the first half but then sat freezing in their sweat for the next two hours. Joann appeared and she had apparently finished only 30 seconds after me, completing her half with a PR just under two hours. She'd been trying to catch me for 13.1 miles and I think if she'd known she was under a minute away, she would have. What an even better ending that would have been!

We sat for a little while then went to stock up on the best post-race food I've ever seen: hot pizza, moe's chips and queso, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and all your typical fruit, bagels and granola bars. Then we walked up what Katy coined the "stupid ass hill" and piled in the car to head home.

It's hard for me to look back two months later and remember what it felt like to be in the act of running that marathon. I think your body and your mind are in such a different place when you're running for that long that you're kind of on a high the whole time- even when you feel like total crap. And it's impossible to describe why it feels so good even though it feels so bad at the same time. Before I even crossed the finish line, I knew that I'd want to run another marathon. And that I'd want to run another Vermont City Marathon. If they could just do something about that 4 miles on the bike path at the end, it would be perfect!

Until the next 26.2...