The Vermont City Marathon – Part 1

I really wanted to get this race post up by Monday, but life happened and the blog post didn’t happen. So I’ll jump right into it. Last weekend was amazing!

Last Friday I took the entire day off to accompany Carlos’ class on a field trip to the Heifer International Farm in Rutland, MA. What an awesome experience! The upper elementary class has been selling soup each month to raise money to donate to Heifer International.

We got home around 3:45, I finished packing and we were on the road to Vermont by 4:15. Last year when we were talking about making the return to the Vermont City Marathon, I knew I wanted to spend the entire long weekend in Burlington. I didn’t want to rush through the weekend. We took our time on the way up stopping in Montpelier for dinner.

On Saturday morning we strolled through the farmer’s market in Burlington, tasting the samples including a little wine (sips just sips) and then enjoyed coffee on Church Street. I dropped Carlos and Orlando at the hotel so they could go swimming while I explored the expo…ALONE! I really wanted to soak it up and take my time wandering through the tables and exhibits. I’m so glad I did.

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Vermont City Marathon Expo

 

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My swag bag

 

My sister and her husband arrived in the afternoon and we all met up for a stroll along the waterfront. At dinnertime Orlando and I left to attend the pre-race pasta dinner. I have always opted out of these dinners in the past, but honestly all I want to eat the night before a marathon is a simple plate of pasta. We trek around trying to find just that and this took all the guess work out it while benefitting a great cause. The proceeds for this event went to the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington. I also had the opportunity to hear Olympic bronze medalist, marathoner, Deena Kastor speak. She told a very interesting and witty story of how she became a professional runner.  Her journey is inspiring. I left the dinner feeling motivated and really excited about the marathon. Deena would be running the relay the next day with girls from a local high school track team.

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I slept horribly because I was worried my alarm wouldn’t go off. Typical pre-race fear. I was up at 5AM to engage in all my pre-race rituals. Carlos came down to the hotel breakfast area with me around 6. There were other runners down there and a very high strung spectator who was stressing me out. She kept telling her family to hurry all the while sitting down at the table eating her own breakfast. Her voice became very shrill at one point as she scolded the children and presumably the runner in her family for the 15th time. I told Carlos I had to get back up to the room because she started making me nervous about getting to the race one time.

Carlos begrudgingly posed for a pre-race photo. Remember how smiley he used to be in these photos?

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I woke up an equally grumpy husband. Actually Carlos is truly a morning person, just not a take a photo of me first thing in the morning person. Orlando is definitely not a morning person so I let him sleep as long as possible and at 6:45 I told him it was time to go. The race was to start at 8:03 and I knew there would be a bit of traffic getting me close to the starting line.

They dropped me off about a half mile from the start and as I followed the mass of people down towards the starting area I was invigorated by the collective energy and excitement along the way. Oh how I have missed this feeling!!

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I wandered around soaking up the positive vibes. I took in the gorgeous view of Lake Champlain. The air was tinged with a light chill, but there was a hint of humidity signaling imminent heat that was to come later in the day.

Soon enough I found myself lining up somewhere between the 4:45 and 4:30 pacers. My internal voice kept telling me to avoid the pacers and just enjoy the race, what will be will be, but the hopeful side of me really just wanted to beat the elusive time of Oprah’s one and only marathon. It was a serious long shot though and by long shot I mean miracle.

During the national anthem I got goosebumps and tears welled up in my eyes. Geez what is it about these marathons for me?! I’ve been so lost since I crossed the finish line in Montreal in September 2013, but as the gun sounded I knew I was right back where I was meant to be and this was only the beginning.

The first 4 miles flew by. Then we found ourselves on the out and back portion of the course along a relatively flat highway. I thought it would be boring, but since you were able to see everyone ahead of you as they looped around it was fun cheering them on. The miles ticked away surprisingly quickly and before I knew it I was heading back into the city toward mile 9. I knew I would see my family very soon.

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Orlando, Carlos, my sister and her husband were waiting for me just before I turned onto Church Street. I was so excited to see them. They had a Vega gel and a Perfect Fuel waiting for me. I stopped for a minute and then kept on going right down through the enthusiastic spectators along Church Street. This was without a doubt the best spot along the course.

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Once we left Church Street there was a bit of a lull in spectators. We wound through some nice neighborhoods and eventually reached the halfway point. I knew I ran a strong first half, not fast, but consistent. I felt terrific and I went with it.

However, shortly after the halfway point we entered onto a bike trail. It was narrow and suddenly I felt like I was in the midst of a herd of cattle on the verge of being trampled. I was stumbling to hold my pace and became claustrophobic. I had nowhere to go so I tried to just hold steady. Prior to this I was ahead of the 4:30 pacer and I thought maybe, just maybe I could hold onto it, but as we inched along this congested trail the 4:30 pacer passed me. I didn’t care. I just wanted off the trail. The scenery to my left was stunning and I tried really hard to focus on the lake instead of the 20 people at my heels.

The tightness of the trail and the heat started to get to me. I felt a bit nauseous. I longed to catch a glimpse of the road again, but all I could see were the runners at less than an arm’s length in front of me. I needed to take a gel or eat some pretzels, but the thought of what I had in my spy belt made me even more nauseous. I just wanted to drink. The water bottle in my hand was warm and uninviting. My insides were crawling and screaming “MOVE! Get out of my way people and get me the hell off this trail.”

Vermont City Marathon Weekend Update

Saturday, May 24, 2014

We are en route to Burlington, VT. It is down pouring as we stop for lunch in the quaint state capitol of Montpelier. The sky looks clear in the distance though and race day weather looks optimal. Vermont is one of my favorite places. Life moves at a slower pace. The air is clean, the people are friendly and the scenery is spectacular any time of the year.

I really hadn’t considered running a late spring marathon, but when I discovered the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington over Memorial Day weekend it was an easy decision. Despite the miserable winter training conditions as the weather cleared and spring emerged I grew more excited for the race.

When my training came to a screeching halt on April 23rd because of an injury to my Achilles I honestly never imagined I would be on my way to Burlington to spectate the marathon rather than run it. The definitive decision was made yesterday although I knew on Tuesday that barring a miracle it would not be possible to run.

Thursday, May 8th – Saturday, May 24th

My recovery efforts have been time consuming and costly. An acquaintance who happens to be a runner referred me to her sports medicine chiropractor. She claimed he was incredible and would have me running again in no time. The chiropractor, himself, is quite an accomplished athlete. In his early 60s he continues to participate in triathlons including Iron Man competitions. In his younger years he was a member of the U.S. Olympic pentathlon team in the XXI Olympics in Montreal in 1976. I saw him on 5/8. He sent me for an X-ray, worked on my calf and heel and put some standard (not custom made) orthotics in my shoes. He was very encouraging and seemed to believe that I would be ok in time for the marathon. Per his recommendation I made an appointment the following week for a follow up.

In the meantime hard core running friends of mine suggested I go to see their physical therapist, Sophia, calling her a miracle worker. I was able to get an appointment on 5/14. By the time I arrived in the office my heel was visibly swollen and I was still noticeably limping. After a number of stretching exercises Sophia performed active release therapy (ART) on my heel. With my eyes squeezed shut I gripped the sides of the table as I forced yogic breathing in and out to fight back the tears. ART is incredibly painful, but very effective. I left the office feeling sore, but walking with a steadier gait. I went to PT on 5/15 and 5/16 as well.

I returned to the chiropractor about an hour after my first PT appointment on 5/14. The chiropractor merely watched me ambulate, checked the calf, did a brief massage and sent me off with his expert advice that I would probably be able to run the marathon if I was feeling better by then. I paid my co-pay, thanked him (for nothing) and limped back to my car. I immediately removed the painful orthotics he insisted would help my injury and cried. I had worked the night before, went to the YMCA for water jogging and swimming, tended to house work, went to PT and then drove about 45 minutes to the chiropractor for a 10 minute appointment. I returned home exhausted and feeling defeated. I had even less hours than normal to sleep before going to work again.

My injury became a part time job. I was icing, stretching and foam rolling it at home. I swam and water jogged for an hour in the morning after work before zipping off to PT. From PT it was off to run errands or home for more attention to the the injured foot. By last weekend I finally began to feel some real relief. My discomfort was down to a 1 by Sunday and virtually nothing by Monday. I was excited to share this with the physical therapist. I felt a surge of energy and a spark of hope. I thought maybe, just maybe, if I could comfortably accomplish a few runs by the weekend then perhaps I could attempt the marathon.

I worked Monday night and by Tuesday I was limping again. My pain was up to a 4, bearable, but I couldn’t even contemplate running. I spent much of Tuesday tending to my foot at home and returned to PT on Wednesday feeling a bit better, but more frustrated. I have a high tolerance to pain. I don’t hang onto pain nor do I exaggerate pain. I don’t complain. My life doesn’t accommodate slowing down very easily. I have to work. I have a child who needs me. I was doing everything in my power to heal this damn injury and though diminished it wasn’t going away.

So Wednesday, 5/21 was more PT and Thursday I rested again. Friday, 5/23 I returned to PT feeling great with the most minute awareness that something was wrong in my left foot. Even the ART didn’t make tears well up in my eyes this time. Sophia gave me the green light to start running over the weekend, slow and short. “So not a marathon?” I replied. “No definitely not!” Sophia answered seriously.

Of course I knew I wouldn’t run the marathon. It’s one race, one day. Even if I felt physically capable of running the race I would be risking re-injury and a longer recovery process which would inhibit my running plans for the rest of the summer.

Although I had the ok to begin running I chose not to bring any running clothes with me to Vermont for fear that I might get caught up in the moment and try to run the marathon. Unfortunately even if had wanted to run I couldn’t because of increased discomfort in my heel. I worked Friday night and then spent a great deal of time in the car on Saturday driving to Burlington. I was unable to exercise my calf and foot or ice it, but regardless I was really hoping that wouldn’t be necessary anymore.  The good news right now is that I have an appointment with a Sports Medicine doctor on Tuesday morning. I made it the day after the injury and wisely decided not to cancel it just in case. Was it foresight, a jinx or a coincidence? I’m superstitious so I’m going with jinx!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

On race day we went out bright and early to cheer on the runners. Our first stop was mile 9 on Church Street where we had fun hollering people’s names as we quickly read them off their bibs. This delighted some and confused others who either forgot or weren’t aware their names were visible. Calling out the names of the runners lifted my spirit. I was so glad we came out to spectate the race.

If I can't join them I'll cheer for them
If I can’t join them I’ll cheer for them

 

Spectating on Church Street
Spectating on Church Street

Then we walked down the hill just before mile 15 on Battery Street to cheer some more and to listen to the Taiko drummers. The infectious rhythm would have definitely pushed me up the hill towards mile 15.

Taiko Drummers as runners undertake the "assault on Battery Hill"
Taiko Drummers as runners undertake the “assault on Battery Hill”

After that it was on to Waterfront Park to see the first female cyclist and the lead runner cross the finish line. It was a gorgeous location for a finish line and the day could not have been more perfect for a marathon.

Breathtaking views at the finish line
Breathtaking views at the finish line
Not the picture I envisioned of me at the finish line of the Vermont City Marathon
Not the picture I envisioned of me at the finish line of the Vermont City Marathon

The excitement rising from the crowd was intense as the lead runner rounded the corner toward the finish chute. My heart swelled with a longing to be out there running. I turned to my husband with tears in my eyes and he said, “next year.”