Run a race? Don’t mind if a do.
A few days after I finished my third Flying Pig Half Marathon, I saw a Facebook post from a good friend who would be unable to use his bib for the Vermont City Marathon. I looked at the calendar. The race was just weeks away over Memorial Day weekend. Twenty minutes, two excited Facebook posts and a flurry of texts and emails later, I was booked and ready for my fifth half marathon and first destination race.
Journey to the start line.
Race weekend arrived, and I flew into Burlington to sunny skies and a solid plan. I visited the running expo (which was small but stocked with goodies), picked up my gear — and some advice from the experts.
Because I was running the second leg of the two-person marathon relay, I would arrive at the start at 8 a.m., but I wouldn’t begin running my half until my relay partner finished (around 9:50 a.m.). I talked with some of the pros about how to dress and eat for the gap time. They urged me to dress for heat and humidity (despite the frost warning) and to bring something extra to snack on while waiting at the rely meet-up.
The morning of the race, I awoke after a fitful night’s sleep to a sour stomach. I grabbed two bottles of water, my Shot Bloks and bag of energy chunks, vowing to try and choke them down even though I had no appetite.
A wise person would have conserved energy before the race start while hydrating and fueling, so naturally, I walked around bathed in adrenaline, trying to take pictures and meeting friends. Oops.
And, they’re off!
The soloist launched into “The Star Spangled Banner,” and I got a little misty. I had lived in Burlington through my roaring 20s, but I hadn’t been back for a proper visit in years. I was thrilled to run in my old home away from home. My pulse quickened as the air horn blasted the start.
After the runners turned the corner, I headed to the relay point with plenty of time to stand around, try and eat (not happening) and drink more water. The relay meet-up was a huge open field with a live band playing the most mellow race set I’ve heard. Seriously, I think they played three Van Morrison songs.
As the time for my partner’s arrival drew closer, I took off the sleeves of my light jacket but left the rest zipped around me, creating a tight extra layer over my torso (more on this later).
And, I’m off!
Suddenly, I heard my number called and I was off! Loudly cheering as my relay partner finished his very first half marathon (Go Greg!), I quickly grabbed our relay bracelet, turned down the bike path onto the first lakefront mile and cranked up my music. Waiting three hours to run felt odd, and I tried to find my rhythm. I could quickly tell I was worn out. Bouncing around for three hours pre-race and not getting enough sleep was not a good combination.
At that same time, the storm clouds rolled in and we were treated to slight showers for the first 5K, which included the steep “Assault on Battery” climb. My long-time nickname (Ninja) was emblazed on my shirt in pink tape and several people yelled “Go Ninja!” to which I always replied, “How can you see me???” The joke killed. The kids loved it. I was in my element.
Rockin’ the suburbs.
After four miles, we were officially in the suburbs and the pack wound through two adorable sub-divisions. Residents were in the marathon spirit with small groups every few hundred feet handing out orange slices, watermelon chunks and Fla-Vor-Ice. Other neighbors stood in their driveways with garden hoses poised, offering to spray runners as we passed.
Race with a view.
By mile six, the course was fairly flat as we headed onto the “lake” stretch and, frankly, the best reason to run the second leg. For several glorious miles we ran in and around the Burlington lakefront, passing beaches and running (sometimes solo) through wooded trails. I got to see parts of town I had never seen before, and I was distracted enough by the beauty to forget how hard I was pushing. Spectators were few and far between, but more than once I raced past someone I hadn’t seen in a decade. I was so glad I had personalized my running gear so I could have a few moments to see these old friends again.
Water stops also were becoming farther between (or perhaps I was just getting slower). I had long ago ditched my own bottle, and the overcast morning became a sunny, humid afternoon. Temps topped 80 degrees, with the sun out and almost directly overhead. Red-vest-wearing EMTs held signs reading “Moderate Health Risk! Take Water!” I took a few steps through water stops and tried to drink a full cup. It wasn’t easy, and I could barely swallow anything.
The wheels fall off the wagon.
By mile 10, I was in trouble. I was distracted and my head was fuzzy. My tongue felt thick, and I was running slooooowly; my gait barely above shuffle. I couldn’t focus on much. I slowed to a walk for about a mile as I sorted myself out. I calculated my remaining distance, found a few favorite songs and turned into the home stretch. I felt a lot of things but mostly low. I was having my worst race in my favorite place. Major bummer.
The last mile booted us from the lonely woods to the packed waterfront and a crowd of thousands to cheer us home. I flashed smiles and horns as I tried not to trip over my own feet. I heard folks call my name as I pushed onward and weakly waved.
Crash and burn.
I crossed the finish line and fell into the arms of two medical coordinators (they were only offering me a bottle of water). I mumbled that I wasn’t feeling great and I felt myself picked up off my feet, brought into the tent and placed on a stretcher. I hazily spoke with a nurse, EMT and doctor, who kept asking about my “corset.” I realized they were talking about my jacket. I tried to make jokes as I heaved into a paper bucket and attempted to choke down Gatorade. My BP was low, and my eyes were glassy. Two smiling faces plugged me into an IV and wrapped me in a blanked as I closed my eyes and endeavored not to be super embarrassed.
I wasn’t alone in the tent, not by a long shot. The weird weekend weather faked out a lot of people and some runners were brought in wearing full-length leggings or jackets. The medical staff members were all amazing and upbeat, joking that the Med Tent was an often-forgotten perk of the entry fee. All runners receive a T-shirt, medal and IV!
I emerged from the tent 90 minutes later, feeling better and hungry. As I packed my things, I asked if I needed to show my insurance card to anyone. My nurse laughed and said, “No, this is free healthcare. Thanks, Obama!” (Because this is Vermont, she actually meant it!)
What I learned.
For this weekend, the balance of wanting to run a good race versus wanting to visit with friends and enjoy my weekend away were too much for me to handle. Next time I travel to run, I need to make sure I stick to my race plan, and if I happen to run while traveling, I need to give myself a break and “run for fun.” I expected to be able to hang out with friends late into the evening, skip meals in favor of sugar-filled smoothies, get a good night’s sleep and miraculously PR. It wasn’t gonna happen and that hurt me mentally.
That was awful. Let’s do it again!
The Vermont City Marathon is not easy to get into, but the course is beautiful. There are a ton of spectators and they make their presence count. There is entertainment at nearly every mile, and I counted at least five drum circles (because Vermont). Unlike other race starts, this one had multiple food vendors with everything from coffee and bagels to full-on breakfast sandwiches and fresh lemonade for sale. I should have taken them up on this offer! I was unable to get out of the Medical Tent before the post race-party was over. Sad face!
Overall, I would absolutely do this race again, and next time, I’ll eat well so I can finish strong and crack open a Fiddlehead IPA in celebration.
Kelly “Ninja” Horan is a long-time, first-time recapper. She discovered running in 2012, and she has been an insufferable bore about it ever since. You can find her on the streets of Cincinnati’s Hyde Park and Oakley neighborhoods or on her comfy couch watching Netflix marathons to recover.