“Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you attain it, it is nothing special.” – Shunryu Suzuki
A year and a half ago I was running the Vermont City Marathon… AdWords campaign. I was doing a little bit of freelance work for RunVermont at the time. I recall making a remark to someone at the organization like, “Yeah, hey, who knows, maybe I’ll even run the marathon.” I meant it, I think – at least half-heartedly. It was no commitment anyway.
Back then, I was not yet a runner. There were a couple road races under my belt, but ultimately I spent most of my workout time in the gym, on the soccer field or on the basketball court. Running for running’s sake was not quite me. Gutting out a couple miles under 14 minutes, or a mile under 7 minutes was good enough. A test of fitness, really.
The first year I ran there wasn’t too much improvement or consistency. Moments of enjoyment during my runs? Sure. But it had not yet become a big habit. I’m a little ashamed to admit the Marathon was an event I never paid too much attention to in the years I lived in the city. One year I lived on South Willard Street in the apartment building right after the put the cones out for the right turn. But I don’t recall being there at all for the event.
Looking back at my Endomondo run logs for the Fall of 2012, it’s awesome to see my improvement in ability over time. Back then every run was between a high tempo and race pace, and on an average day, a 5K run would be around 7:45/mile pace. Now I’m knocking off a 5K at 6:10/mile pace.
Looking at my running back then more, I start to see the relative success I had in my very first 10K race as a bit of an outlier – high performance relative to my fitness/running level due to a combination of naivete, desire to do well and pain tolerance. I was really just gutting it out. I would actually like to remember how to gut out a uncomfortable pace like that! That was a ~7:30/min pace. Currently I run a ~6:30/mile pace and the running at race pace is also a LOT more enjoyable.
More importantly – and it is even more surprising – is how much I have grown to enjoy running. I use the saying “money begets money” but I’ve really found that “running begets running”. The more you run, the more you like it.
But that is not something I knew a couple years ago. Alicia recalls a conversation where I told her shortly after my first race that I figured I could run a marathon without training all that much. I didn’t want to train. And in that lack of want, I pretended that some level of mental fortitude would carry me through a marathon – if I ever felt like running one. Mind you, back then I had just painfully labored my way through six measly miles – thinking it was some kind of running odyssey. It was nonsense – and I’m not sure I really believed it. It took running a couple more serious races for me to figure out that I needed to train for distance races. Back then, my training was running a handful of miles before the week of a race and psyching myself up as much as I could.
Anyway, all that being said, on Memorial Day Sunday I ran the Vermont City Marathon in 3:28 – a 7:59/mile pace.
It was a perfect day and from a personal standpoint, the perfect marathon for my first marathon. A huge chunk of the enjoyment was visiting Burlington, a place I lived for almost six years. I am an also an alum of the University of Vermont.
While in Burlington, I was lucky enough to stay with amazing friends, eat great food and even see a few of the many other awesome people I know in the area. The great thing about Burlington is you get to know everyone – and it’s normal to bump into people everywhere you go. I can’t lie, it made me a bit sad to have to leave again. Burlington is one of the most beautiful, laid back and overall livable places I have ever spent any time in.
The couple days leading up to the marathon came a hard taper – 14.4 miles of training versus the previous week of 43.2 miles. No running at all on Friday.
My good friends (and “host family”) Dustin and Caitlin also provided me with some insanely delicious stuff to carb load with. After Friday night’s delicious homemade pizza and cookies, I actually had a headache. Now, I’ve had headaches from lack of carbs but never from too many. The carbs were really sucking up all the water I was drinking too. Saturday I also took it easy – just running a couple miles, eating frozen yogurt and enjoying the company of friends.
The morning of the big day I had a conservative pace in mind of 7:30/mile. A marathon at the pace I was going for was a different kind of race than I was used to. I didn’t bother to warm up my heart rate. The Preferred Corral proved to be worth a little bit (outside of a lower bib number) – as I simply wandered from my friend’s place down Pearl Street and was able to walk across the starting line to my starting position. About 10 minutes later, we were off.
The first couple of miles were spent really focusing in on my foot strikes and how my body felt. Earlier in the week, I decided to run 3 – 4 miles of repeats (pretty silly). By the end of the workout I noticed a pain in the back of my knee. I was a little freaked. While I went on several tapered long runs during the week, the knee pain was still in my mind. After about five miles, I was feeling good but still a bit tentative.
Regardless of being on the tentative side, I otherwise felt solid – and was hanging around with the 7:15/mile pacers. There were a large pack of runners surrounding the two pacers who wore yellow Skirack singlets. Around mile 7 or 8 was the turnaround on the Parkway where I caught a glimpse of the leaders. If I recall correctly, I remember the eventual winner running in about 3rd or 4th at that point.
One thing that you have to get used to psychologically in the Vermont City Marathon is relay runners whipping by you. At the start of the race, you must resist going out too fast. It took me a few miles to ignore it completely.
Around mile 9 I started to feel great going up a long steady hill leaving the Parkway. I was passing people left and right. The hill work was paying off. Mile 9 – 11 were amazing. The rush back into town is an awesome point in the race as you get to fly downtown and down Church Street. I flew down Church Street – seeing Alicia holding a “GO ERIK GO” sign. Mile 10 was a 6:58! After that fast mile, I was back with the 7:15/mile pacers for a while heading downhill toward the beach.
The awesome GO ERIK GO sign.
Around mile 16, the wall began. The wall, in some ways, is Battery Hill. It is the Heartbreak Hill of the Vermont City Marathon. I’d guess it’s probably a steeper grade – though not nearly as drawn out. Again though, I enjoyed the hill a bit more than I should – passing runners left and right. A couple people were even walking.
Battery Hill (Courtesy: Burlington Free Press)
I cleared Battery Hill feeling pretty good – and hit a quick bathroom break. The next two to three miles would hover around the 8 minute/mile mark. The wall was by no means crushing me but things were slowing down.
Daniels says, “the first two-thirds of the marathon, you run with your head. The last third you run with your heart.” So, here we were.
I knew I had the heart (and legs) to finish – but I worried about pushing it too hard. By mile 20, I was beginning to move into uncharted territory as we moved down into the New North End. As we ran through neighborhoods, there were all kinds of emotional ups and downs. I’d say the biggest thing became the lack of focus on running. I reverted to focusing on breathing. Every few hundred meters you would encounter someone on the side of the road who went out too fast. A lot of younger guys especially – teenagers and early 20s.
Hitting the bike trail for the last 5 or so miles felt symbolic. It’s a quiet, peaceful and beautiful homestretch – a lot like Vermont, in general. At times the bike trail also provides views of gorgeous Lake Champlain. If you are unaware of what that looks like – it’s looks like an ocean with mountains behind it. One of the many natural gems offered by the city! It’s also quite a bit cooler than the road.
The kind of views you get at the Burlington Waterfront.
At mile 25, my phone died. And it could not have been a better time! The last full mile was dead quiet outside of the encouraging words of a few onlookers. Up until that point I had listened to Nirvana’s “Live From Reading” live album about 2.5 times through. I once listened to a single song on repeat for a 8 mile race, but that’s an embarrassing story for a different time. As time goes on, I think I’ll move away from the headphones for races.
With less than a half mile to go, a spectator reminded us that the finish was just up ahead. Within a couple hundred meters, you could hear the roar of the crowd in the park for the finish. The finish is wicked mint – and while I had ran something like an 8:30/minute mile in mile 25, the last quarter mile was total reinvigoration. As I picked up the pace going through the amazing crowd gauntlet they had set up in the park I heard my name over the yelling. There it was again! The “GO ERIK GO” sign. Alicia was cheering along with my host family. My aunt Andrea and my cousin Matt were down from Canada and also there to see my finish.
I ran across the finish giving the number one with my finger – first marathon in the books. I looked up to see 3:28, just under 8 minutes a mile. Not the 3:15 – 3:20 I aspired to but a very proud moment nonetheless. The medical people took a quick check and said I looked good. After running 26 miles, that’s the thing you want to hear.
Special thanks to my aunt Andrea for some great photography!
After the run… was fun. Nice rhyme, eh? We hiked up to Ri Ra for some food – and then off to drinking some beer with “host family” and old friends.
All in all, an amazing marathon experience I’m very proud of. Looking forward to next year’s. Lots of runs and races planned first though. On my way out of town I bought an old beat-up Lake Monsters hat for a $1. It’s my new training hat – catch me out in Brighton, Allston, Cambridge or Blue Hills with it on.