Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Vermont City Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
After a few days of digestion of this weekend’s Vermont City Marathon, it’s fair to say that I learned a lot this weekend. With 40+ half marathons and 7 marathons in the book, I’ve been able to say I’ve finished all of them until now, no matter how ugly the weather, circumstances, etc were. This weekend, the deck of cards dealt a different hand!
I ran marathon 1 of the year in March and towards the end of that race, started to feel some heat in VA. Between know and then, I’d been able to do a few half marathons, but due to work, I wasn’t getting runs in until 730 or 8 PM at night. I was looking forward to Vermont City as a chance to visit Burlington and just have some fun during a long run!
Vermont City has a Marathon, 2 person marathon (read 13.1 miles each) and a 3-5 person relay. Registration varied from $99-$135, depending on when you registered and you could register at the expo if there was space available, as there were caps.
I flew out to Burlington the day prior to the race. I had 2 regional planes (read, I had a soft bag that I could stuff in the overhead bin. When I arrived in Burlington, it was in the 70s-80s. Even before I left the airport, I was hearing how this was the hottest year ever for the race and that the days leading up to the race, organizers were thinking of moving/canceling the race. I picked up my rental car and headed to the Sheraton for the expo. It was a small race expo, but there were plenty of merchandise, vendors, etc there, including a bunch of local places, which I appreciate. It was easy to pick up your bib, shirt, etc. They even had a shirt exchange site if you could find your size you wanted and a message board for relay teams that were looking for last minute runners. I also had a chance to meet Jess Cover (the communications person for VCM), who was awesome. She told me about the adjustments that they’d made for the race and their plans for the heat (extra ice, adjustments on course, etc).
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Burlington and headed to check in after the expo and relax. I had my stuff all laid out, filled out the medical info on the back of my bib and got organized. I spent the evening in downtown Burlington. I hit the sack early in anticipation for an earlier wake up call.
I woke up around 6 and got ready in the hotel. Since I was at one of the race hotels, they had water and light breakfast stuff out for runners. They also had shuttles bussing people to the start, which I took full advantage of. I got to Battery Park and checked my bag (extra shirt and plenty of fluids for after the race) before utilizing the porta potties. The race started at 803 for runners (800 for hand cyclists) and it was already in the mid 70s and at a yellow health level for the EAS. As we headed off, I lost one of my 8 0z water bottles on my spibelt (bummer). Plenty of spectators sending us off. We weaved through town and dealt with the weather. It was sunny, no clouds and as we continued on, you could feel it getting warmer and the heat from the pavement. I could feel it getting warmer. The first water stop was 2 miles in or so. We continued to mile 3, where we hit some of the communities. As we got to mile 4, we headed out onto highway that’s closed down once a year for the race. This is where I started struggling. No shade at all and it was getting hotter. By mile 5 (and I was way behind on pacing), we were at a level red for the emergency system. I had already seen 2 runners being pulled off course by EMS and the bike medics were asking people if they were doing ok. We hit some more water stations and the turn around just after mile 6 which had ice and gatorade. By the time I was heading back, I could see the rear of the race coming the other direction, which was disheartening. I hit mile 7-8 off the highway and worked my way through some of the neighborhoods. The residents were awesome and had sprinklers out for runners and their own water stops for runners, which was much appreciated. By mile 10, I was walking more than I was running. I was also feeling like I was starting to not sweat and my calf was nagging me. It took about 40 minutes for me to do 3 miles and the heat was getting worse with the humidity.
I made it to Oakwood Park (mile 13.5) and the halfway point of the race, just past the 2 person relay exchange. At that point, I thought the best decision for me was to stop and pull out of the race. It wasn’t something I personally took lightly, but I was worried that aid stations would run out of fluids, as I had seen the last few prior to stopping starting to not have a lot left by the time I got there. I took the relay buses to the finish line to get my bag and found massage therapists for runners. I had them work on my legs, and as I was there, a family member of a runner checked his phone to find out the race had been cancelled at noon (4 hours into the race) and that anyone beyond a certain time frame wouldn’t get an official time. I wondered a little bit, found some food, bought some ice cream and headed back to the hotel for a shower.
As I reflected on everything, I did a twitter blast to try and find the other bib rave pros running the race. None of us officially finished, but we found out the timer had been left running for people to find family members on the course. Here’s where I thought some things could use a little bit of fine tuning. No one can control the weather. This is up there as one of the top 2 hottest marathons I’ve done (the Chicago 2010 Marathon being the other). I wish that there would have been a direct text alert system to runners so they knew what was going on, in addition to the Race Joy app. I think it would have helped with some of the confusion and so we knew what was going on. I don’t always set up push notifications because it kills my batteries. I’d also do colored flags to correlate with the signs so it’s easier for runners to see on course.
I personally agree with the decision to call the race, as I saw at least 5 squads take people off course. At this point, it’s a matter of me figuring my next step. I’m getting ready to move out west and I have some halves set up. I’ll also have more time to adequately train, so hopefully I’ll be able to get out and train better in heat. I have a December marathon set up for Hawaii, so hopefully I can get some redemption there. All in all, I think there’s a lot to learn here. DNFs happen and I’m lucky it took this long to get. Remember, safety always first, even if there’s disappointment around it. Regardless of what you thought about the outcome of VCM, I really think Vermont City is a race worth signing up for. The staff is wonderful, communicated well and really tried to make adjustments to the race given their circumstances. The only thing I would add is they need to consider a one person half marathon (I would have been all over that!!). I thought their communication post race was spot on. They took the time to explain their rationale, debunk any online rumors and answer any questions about local New England Double and Vermont City Grand Prix. Curious? Read it here in their Letter from the Race Director
Thank you Vermont City, for showing us how classy race organizers can be, how awesome your city and community are in their love for runners and how one can still have a good time even when the weather isn’t kind to us