“Disclaimer: I received free entry to 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 pit stop in NY to visit my grandma and hang out in NYC for a day (it was Fleet Week!), I was off to Burlington! I landed in Burlington around 12:15 and was quickly met outside by my amazing homestay host, Erika. As a BibRave Pro, the Vermont City Marathon staff was kind enough to offer home stay opportunities. I gladly took them up on the offer as I’m 1) a poor graduate student and 2) love meeting new people. Erika was kind enough to pick me up at the airport and take me straight to the expo; I was at the expo by 1pm! The Burlington airport is small, really easy to navigate, and within 10 minutes of town.
For a small town race, the expo is really impressive. It’s jam packed with several local vendors, races, a merchandise section, the bib pickup, and a meet and greet area where Meb took photos and autographs! Meb arrived at 2 so it was the perfect amount of time for me to get my bib, walk around and chat with folks, and then get in the front of the line for an awesome pre-race photo op. I also met Meb before the NYC Marathon in 2016 and had a great weekend after the fact, so I count him as my lucky marathon charm now.
Bib pickup was really easy and the volunteer explained everything I would need to know about the bib and pre-race procedures. I should mention now, Vermonters are spectacularly nice and friendly. Build in extra time everywhere you go because you’ll get in conversations with everyone lol. I also spent some time hanging at the Untapped booth to learn more about their product. Untapped is a Vermont company that creates sports gels, drink, and waffles with maple syrup. Most of their products are organic and have 3 ingredients or less, all of which you can pronounce! It’s certainly a nice change from the traditional sports nutrition products out there. Super yummy too, of course! Who wouldn’t want to run a race with maple syrup?! The owner was really nice, wanted feedback about their packaging, and was very knowledgeable. I can’t wait to use more of their products in the future. We got several gels and waffles in the swag bag but I didn’t want to use too much of a new product in a race situation. I did have some of the waffles and maple aid drink on course without any issues though. Very easy on the stomach for sure.
After the expo, Erika took me back to her place to unpack and organize all my gear for the morning. After relaxing for a couple hours, I met BibRave Pro Vanessa downtown near Church street for an awesome, early pre-race dinner at the Gryphon, an American style pub restaurant with awesome burgers. I think burgers are officially me go-to pre-race meal now. It’s so much fun meeting other BibRave Pros; we communicate so often via social media that it becomes a special treat to meet each other face-to-face. I love knowing I have an amazing network of runners all over the world. 😀 After dinner, we walked around town a bit, checked out the start/finish areas, and ran into some race veterans who gave us some tips (walk the hill at mile 15). I was back at the home stay, showered, and in bed by 9pm. I had an amazing, uninterrupted, 7 hours sleep before the race!
I thought about getting uber to the race start in the morning but, being a small town, all the Ubers were still sleeping at 5:30 apparently. I quickly messaged Vanessa and she was able to pick me up on her way into town. We were downtown by 6:15 and easily found a parking spot next to the finish area. Street parking is free on Sundays, and there’s plenty of open deck parking as well. Many hotels in town are close enough to walk, and they offered shuttles as well. My homestay was just a little further than I wanted to walk before the race so having a ride was really helpful. Another bonus? It gets light REALLY early in New England; like more than an hour earlier than Atlanta in the same time zone. It was getting light out when I woke up at 5am and was plenty bright by time we arrived at the start at 6:15. This is really nice for waking up and makes the morning feel much easier.
I brought a drop bag so that I would have dry clothes at the finish to lounge around at the after party. I easily dropped my bag at the bandstand in the middle of the start area and then we hit up the port-o-potties; we found a line of them with no lines too! After a quick BibRave Pro pick with Vanessa and Sam, I self-seeded near the 5 hour pace group about 20 minutes before start time. Everything went smoothly and very little morning stress, besides the lack of Ubers.
My goal was to stay with the 5 hour group as long as possible and break away if I felt good after the mile 15 hill. It was nice starting with a group of people and we chatted for the first few miles. All of the major hills on course are within the first 15 miles but I found the hills mostly rolling and very comfortable. As an Atlanta runner used to hills everywhere, I found the rolling hills on this course to be very fast with just the right amount of change. I started off feeling great and kicked just in front of the 5 hour group as the energy of the amazing crowds in town and the neighborhoods swept me along.
Between miles 4-8 we ran on a highway section called the Beltline. Unlike most highway sections I’ve experienced in other courses, this section, while quiet from less crowds, was very pretty . It was an out-and-back which made for some good cheering of runner in the opposite direction. I even got to high-five Meb as he was making his way back along the course! The continued energy on course had me quickly breaking my rule to stay with the 5 hour group, and I had pulled ahead of them by time we reached the end of the highway stretch. Everything just felt really good and I kept running comfortably by feel. Part of my brain wondered when the wheels would fall off, especially since I hadn’t run more than 10 miles since March…but I plugged on.
The course does have a lot of turns in order to keep it sequestered as close to the downtown area as possible. This was really nice since we passed through the center of town several times and enjoyed the crowds there. Other sections of the course were in neighborhoods and it was awesome to see how excited everyone in town was for the race. Everyone was out on their lawns having a great time supporting the race. There were bands, people dressed as T-Rex, kids handing out popsicles, shots of maple syrup, cute dogs, and much more for the entire course. I felt like I had a smile on my face the whole time. Another aspect of the race that provides energy throughout is the relay option. There’s 5 relay points along the course so there’s new runners always joining the course. This means there’s no lonely section of the course. While it is weird to have fresh runners pass you in the later miles (when they’ve just joined the race), it’s totally worth it to have constant companions.
At mile 15 is what I consider the only major hill of the course; about a 4 block climb to the highest point on the course. As recommended by race veterans, I walked this part to save my legs. By that point I was already 8 minutes ahead of 5 hour pace so saving my legs with a nice brisk climb seemed like a great idea. It certainly paid off because the course is net downhill from there and I cruised for the remaining 11 miles, walking for a few seconds at each aid station only. I kept waiting for the wheels to fall off but they just never did. The last 4 miles ran on a pedestrian/bike path next to Lake Champlain. It was a bit quieter, but the aid stations at each mile provided a great cheer section. I passed a lot of people in the second half of the course. Vermont City Marathon uses a cool service called RunPix that shows a graphical representation of your race; from this I found out that I passed 237 runners in the second half, and only 3 people passed me. Very cool! At this point in the race I was for sure going to make my sub-5 hour goal, and realized I could even get pretty close to sub 4:50. I pushed through the last aid station (my stomach was a bit sloshy so I knew I was done hydrating anyway), and was ecstatic when I crossed the finish line at 4:48:14! That’s a nearly 20 minute PR! Considering I had a shit training cycle since March, I think there’s something really wrong with me, lol. My previous PR was also in a race I signed up for with 3 days notice. Oops.
After crossing the finish line (btw, the finish chute was amazing with a ton of people!), I grabbed a medal, heat sheet, chugged a bottle of water and a chocolate milk, and then grabbed some food. They had typical post race snacks of bananas and granola bars, followed by pizza, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (of course!). I stretched for a bit while waiting for Vanessa and BibRave Pro Sam to finish. I then picked up my drop bag, and Vanessa and I went to the Ben & Jerry’s truck to buy MORE ice cream because, duh. I then changed into dry clothes, grabbed a local craft beer (first one free with your bib), and listened to some live music while watching more runners finish. We then walked 5 minutes back to Vanessa’s car and she dropped me off back at home.
To finish off an already great day, my host Erika was kind enough to invite me and Vanessa to a post-race party at the home of one of the Run Vermont directors. We had a great time meeting more awesome people, learning more about Run Vermont, and eating incredible homemade pizza and paella. I think I have most of the Run Vermont crew committed to visit Atlanta for the 2020 U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials.
Overall, it was an incredible weekend, I wish I could have stayed longer. I loved every minute of it, and even though Vermont City Marathon has officially checked Vermont off my 50 states list, I’d still go back to this race in a heartbeat. I especially want to thank Jess Cover, RunVermont’s director of marketing and communications, and my home stay host Erika, for their incredible hospitality.