The weekend started off a little rough, but once we made it up to Burlington, Vermont on Friday evening I started to relax a little bit. The hotel we were staying at was brand new and really beautiful (despite a few bugs they were still trying to work out) and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on Friday evening despite the wet weather. I even made a new friend!
We went to bed relatively early Friday evening (after I checked the weather forecast for Sunday and the race start time for the one billionth time, as per my typical pre-race nuttiness) and I awoke Saturday morning refreshed and ready for a day of eating well and marathon-sanctioned laziness. Yes! But after eating breakfast and heading outside to go to the expo for number pick-up, I started to panic a little bit about the seriously wintery weather. Even though I had trained in worse, and it would have been quite a bit more miserable to run in unseasonably hot weather than unseasonably wet and cold weather, logic and confidence did not take over until later in the day after a frantic email to my coach for a quick pep-talk.
The expo was fairly decent and number pickup was a breeze. There were a lot of local running and sporting goods companies which is always great to see and the volunteers were all super friendly. I also won a t-shirt from City Sports and got my name called out over the loud speaker (seriously, I might as well have broken the finish line tape for how excited I was — I never win anything!). A made me a cute sign to cheer me on, even though we both knew it wouldn’t survive past dropping me off at the start line, and I got to eat some Cabot cheese! Anyone who’s seen my car knows that I love at least two things: running long distances and eating Cabot cheese!
In any case, the rest of the day was spent eating lunch at American Flatbread, lounging in the hotel room, and eating a light dinner at a little Italian restaurant before heading to bed for a solid night’s sleep.
Sunday, I got up at 5:30 to give myself plenty of time to drink coffee, eat some breakfast, and get into a good head space for the race. My legs were feeling fresh and light, my digestive system was cooperative, and, armed with my heavy duty trash bag to keep me warm and dry before the start of the race, A and I made the 5 minute trek to the starting area so I could check my bag and line up with the 4:00 pace group a few minutes before the gun went off at 8:03am. I had the usual pre-race jitters back in the hotel room and initially upon arriving to the start area, but once I was lined up with the other runners, I surprised myself with how calm and confident I felt. I was ready and I knew I could both finish and finish around the time I was shooting for while still feeling alright at the end. The gun went off, I ripped my trash bag off, and crossed the start line.
Once I got going, I hardly even noticed the rain, which, despite my Saturday weather-induced panic attack, I had know would be the case. I was happy to have picked up a last minute pair of gloves and ear covering headband at the expo the day before, but otherwise, my light capris and two light layers of Team Wicked Bonkproof long sleeves proved to be the perfect combo for the temperature and weather. I hovered in the 8:50-9:10 pace range for the first 10 miles and felt relaxed and easy. The course was beautiful, with it’s spring green rolling hills and epic views of a choppy, angry Lake Champlain. I didn’t mind the mud or the puddles or the few ill-placed water stops that made all of us stop short because the other runners and volunteers were so friendly. At each mile marker, I’d reflect on something that I had really enjoyed about the last mile and that helped keep me staying positive and moving forward when things got a little harder when we started hitting some of the harder hills in the 13-17 mile range. Those zapped me a bit, energy-wise, and my pace slowed down, but I was still on target and knew that if I had a few conservative miles where I needed to take it a little slower, I’d have more energy in the tank for the last 10k and I could push again, when it was going to be flat/downhill, the crowd support would increase again, and I’d have the wind at my back.
And, just as I had wanted to, I started to speed up again after the 20 mile mark. I was certainly feeling tired, but knew with only 6 miles to go, that I’d make it. But then my left glute started feeling a little tighter than I appreciated. I stopped to walk through a couple water stops to give it a break, and that helped for a mile or two and didn’t slow me down much. Around mile 23, the outside of my left knee started talking to me, too, but pretty quietly at first. At mile 23 in a marathon, though, everything is sort of talking to you a little bit, so I made a mental note about it, but kept going, stopping at the water stops to stretch my glute, which seemed to be getting tighter as I went on. I started getting discouraged since my pace had dropped pretty rapidly, but thought as long as I kept stopping to walk and stretch a little at the water stops and as needed, I’d still make it. I wouldn’t come in sub-4, but I might still PR by a couple minutes.
Around mile 24, I had to stop and stretch out my glute and then when I got going again about 20 seconds later, my knee started talking again, but even louder. I run-limped past another woman who had stopped on the side, complaining of the same issue and a medic on a bike who was passing by gave us a stretch to do. I tried it and it made it feel better, so I started going again. I made it about 1/10th of a mile before I had to stop again. I stretched and then walked until it felt like it loosened up and then tried running again. I only made it a few strides before it hurt so much I had to stop again. I pulled off to the side of the bike path we were running along and stretched again. When I started to walk after stretching, I only managed to hobble forward two steps before my knee hurt so bad I crumpled and started to cry. I don’t think any pain has made me cry since I was a little girl, but this did it. Several other runners stopped to try to help me, but I told them to keep going. I kept trying to hobble forward, determined to make it to the finish line, only 1/2 mile away at this point. The pain kept intensifying.
A very nice runner or spectator (I’m not sure what he was) came to my rescue and said he’d help me hobble to the finish and this time I agreed to the help. We made it a few minutes, stopping every couple feet when I couldn’t move, before medical volunteers saw us and made me stop. They hobbled with me for a little bit, but then told me that they had to call a golf cart to take me to the medical tent, and that they didn’t want me to finish. I called and left a voicemail for A from one of their cell phones. Stubborn, I made them keep walking with me while we waited about 15 minutes or so for the golf cart to arrive. I thought, maybe I could get to the finish before they’d come to get me, but with having to stop every couple steps, this didn’t work, and I was shoved into the golf cart and transported off the course.
This was certainly not the race nor the weekend I had imagined for myself, and I am so incredibly frustrated and upset that I ended up injured after several months of solid training, of really listening to my body when it needed an extra rest day or some easy miles, after struggling with my ankle injury that still likes to flare up every once in awhile and is a constant effort to mediate, after missing my fall marathon. As stupid as it sounds, I’ve cried a couple times over it. But now I’ve got to work to channel this setback into some positive move-forward energy.
Other than the injury, I can truly say that I feel pretty darn good for having run a fast (for me) almost-marathon yesterday. That is a huge indication of my fitness level, and, if I’m smart about rehabbing, I will come back bigger, faster and stronger. I will kick some smaller race distance ass this summer, I will do some much-needed track work, I will strength train, I will train through the heat and then through the beautiful fall, and the harsh winter months again, I will run Boston, and then, I will be back next year, Vermont City Marathon, because you haven’t seen the last of this runner yet.