The Vermont City Marathon: a change of pace


by Pete Cannon, Wednesday Night run leader and badass finisher of the 2016 Vermont City Marathon

It was pretty easy to tell we were out of the Boston area by the sunset mountain vista at the I-89 rest area just before the Vermont border. If the views weren’t enough to signal the distance, the rest stop guide’s cheery greeting at 8PM on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend confirmed that we weren’t in Massachusetts anymore. Memorial Day weekend I took the trip — along with lots of other FHR’ers — to the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington.

Spring races come with hopes of pleasant racing weather, but also carry the promise of preceding training miles in the chilly, dark days of winter. Training through January & February requires a few teaspoons of grit, but a few weeks in you learn to adapt and running in those conditions becomes routine. By April the weather begins to turn the page, albeit unpredictably. As anyone who ran or spectated the Boston Marathon this year can attest, sometimes that means summer comes on fast and unpredictably. It was only fitting that after getting to watch runners in the heat in Boston, my own race was looking to be in the same unseasonably warm weather.

By the time everyone entered the starting corrals downtown at 7:45AM, the sun was out, temperature was hovering in the 70’s, and while not quite sticky, the air was moist just a block away from Lake Champlain; we were expecting mid-high 80’s later in the day, with thunderstorms rolling in for the afternoon. New England runners dream of race days overcast & some thirty degrees cooler. Coming into this weather after running for months in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s & 50’s meant making some changes. After all, if a much slower than expected time is bad, DNF’ing (Did Not Finish) your first marathon is worse.

Those first miles always feel easy, but on the first out-and-back loop of miles 4-9, I was already watching the first runners of the day drop out on the side of the road from some combination of an overly-eager start, heat, humidity, and a punishing stretch of road completely exposed in the morning sun. Seeing the first drops of the day was a solid reminder on my race day mantra: don’t be concerned about where somebody else is at, pay attention to you & your own race plan.

Ten miles in everything was moving steady, but it was easy to tell that it was warming into the mid-80’s. Rather than gutting out the same pace until my own mental “middle of the race” (the long, steep climb north on Battery Street at Mile 16) and inevitably blowing up in the heat, it was time to change plans again. If it was uncomfortably warm now, I knew there’d be a toll to pay in another ten miles. I pulled the pace back a little bit, and hit the official halfway point in a park, with a solid crowd from the two person relay exchange. I knew some friends on the same pace had slowed a few miles prior, and saw some other FHR friends at the exchange. I never expected to take a stop to chat mid-race, but on a day like this, why not?

Some days it’s okay to call race effort a wash — after all, 95% of running a race is putting in the training work, and if everything goes right, race day is ceremonial. After a few minutes stop, I was rejoined by friends, and gutted through the rest of the day together at an easy run pace. Sometimes it was running at pace, sometimes an easy run, sometimes we walked; but even if the day isn’t agreeable, you can always put one foot ahead and keep moving forward. At the end of the day, I’m okay with the heat, so long as it always ends with Heady Topper on a patio!

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