The goal: to qualify for the Boston Marathon. To do that I needed to cross the finish line before the clock reached 3:05:00. After months of training and years of dreaming, the only thing between me and my goal was 26.2 miles in the form of the Vermont Marathon.
With my alarm set for 6am, I awoke promptly at 5:15am to the nervous chatter of fellow runners in the kitchen of our B & B. I joined them to distract myself from the butterflies fluttering in my stomach. We talked about the usual “where are you from?”, is this your first marathon?”, and “we’re getting married after the race!”. Yep, two runners were tying the knot in the park after they finished their first marathon. That definitely eased my worries when I considered everything they had on their minds.
After the pre race routine, Ev and I made our short walk up to the starting area to meet Colin fifteen minutes before the horn. Ev wished us luck and we were on our own. The plan was to run together as close to a steady 7:00 min/mi pace as possible. We agreed if one faltered, the other would go on. Lined up in the preferred corral Colin and I exchanged the customary fist bump just before crossing the starting line.
Start – 10k
Even lined up towards the front there was congestion as everyone found their pace. We were focused, ignoring the chaos around us, and settled into a rhythm. The first three miles snake through downtown Burlington along spectator-lined streets. Relief set in when my watch beeped 7:01 at the first mile marker. Taking advantage of early downhills we banked some time that we would surely need later on. Just after mile 3 we crossed back over the starting line and saw Ev cheering us along. I gave her a wave and thumbs up to assure her (and myself) that everything was good so far.
Heading away from downtown the crowd support dropped off dramatically as we began a four mile long out-and-back along a forest-lined connector highway. It started with a bittersweet descent, picking up precious seconds on the way down but knowing we’d have to climb back up. As we approached mile 5 we saw the leaders flying back past us. We followed the winding road to the turn-around and reached the 10K checkpoint in 43:29, averaging a perfect 7:00 min/mi pace.
10K – 13.1
The good news: 6.2 miles down and we were right where we wanted to be time-wise. The bad news: there were still 20 miles to go. Heading back towards downtown we saw the rest of the 2400 runners chasing us. Though it was Colin’s least favorite part of the course, I liked the out-and-back section along the connector highway. Maybe it was the contrast of huge, green trees instead of the usual dusty, brown landscape I’m used to. We hit the dreaded hill without so much as a second thought and cruised back into town. For the third time in nine miles we ran back through downtown flying by brunching spectators on Church Street.
As planned, my number one superfan was waiting with a fresh water bottle and a huge smile. I felt like an elite runner grabbing a special Mike-only bottle. The course swings down to South Burlington showing off some secluded neighborhoods and lots of shade. We hit the halfway point ahead of schedule at 1:31:15, averaging 6:58 minutes per mile. Hot damn!
13.1 – Mile 20
Halfway done and feeling good. But the worst still lay ahead. While running along Lake Champlain and passing mansion after mansion, you start to hear cannon fire. Before long, with the course’s biggest hill at mile 15 in the distance, Taiko drummers pound out unbelievably energizing beats that almost make you forget about the hill. Almost. Leading up to the hill I told Colin I was ready to crush it, which was more of a mental trick I was playing on myself than anything. Once we hit the hill I focused on breathing and blocked out the burning in my legs. “Just get over this hill and the rest is easy” is all that went through my head.
The course shifts into Battery and into the “new” North end of the city. It took a solid mile to regain my composure after the hill, and I’m pretty sure I looked like hell when we passed Colin’s support crew around mile 16. The next four miles were a bit of a blur, likely caused by dehydration and general been-running-for-over-two-hours-syndrome. We hit mile 20 in 2:19:48, which meant we slowed down to an overall 7:00 min/mi pace. Exactly where we wanted to be, but the slowing trend was a little concerning. The heat was starting to take its toll.
Mile 20 – Finish
With just 6.2 miles to go, the mantra shifted from “pace yourself” to “hang in there”. We were on pace and, although we passed the halfway point long ago, these last six miles were going to be as tough as the first twenty. Finally, after running away from the city for what seemed like forever, we turned back so that three miles along a tree-lined bike path was all that lay between us and Boston. I guess Colin was feeling stronger and slowly built up a 20 yard gap between us. I shouted ahead “if you have it, go for it” and let him go. The goal was to qualify, not to beat him*. Now was not the time to crash and burn. However, remembering his insurmountable lead in Chicago three years earlier, I did what I could to keep his lead from growing.
*who am I kidding, of course the goal was to beat him.
At mile 25 Colin was still 20 yards ahead and I felt like I needed to gain back some of the time that I had given to the course since entering the park. My splits were slowing down and I didn’t like it. Within half a mile I had caught up to Colin and saw he was struggling more than I expected. We ran side by side for a minute and I yelled at him not to leave anything on the course. With that, I started to pull away fully expecting him to make a final surge. Seeing the sign for mile 26, knowing there are only two-tenths to go, realizing running the last stretch to the finish line is just a formality to reach your goal… few things can give such a boost. With the finish in sight, there was nothing left to hold back. I hammered it as hard as I could while staring at the clock over the finish line.
It took a moment to catch my breath and I’m pretty sure I scared the volunteers that I might pass out. Colin reach my side and we had one of those totally cliche man-hugs.
We did what we set out to do. All the planning, training, and sacrificing paid off. Thank you to everyone who supported me leading up to and during the race. The number of tweets, texts, and Facebook comments were overwhelming. I did my best to respond to each and every one, but if I didn’t, thank you so much! Now I just need to register for the Boston Marathon on September 17th and run it on April 15th, 2013. Stick around, because a lot’s going to happen between now and then!
|2012 Vermont Marathon
|90 / 2418 (3.72%)
|83 / 1333 (6.23%)
|Age Group Place
|23 / 171 (13.45%)