Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Keybank Vermont City Race Report

I am now officially humbled by the marathon.

I ran the Keybank Vermont City Marathon in a bit over 3 hours and 48 minutes, a huge disappointment in terms of what I had trained to run. I was not disappointed in my performance on that particular day, given the twists and turns my training took over the past couple of months, but the time was far from what I had hoped for.

Here is a (long) recap of the weekend. Read at your own risk, and don't blame me if you fall asleep in your chair as you do.


It was a long drive up on Friday, made longer by my oldest daughter's being car sick for most of the ride. We stopped a few times, and got into Burlington around 7:00 p.m. At that point, going out to eat seemed like a big mistake, so we got take out from the restaurant closest to the hotel. It was a delicious meal, probably the best food I've ever eaten out of a Styrofoam container. The little ones only picked at their grilled cheese and french fries, unable to appreciate the hand-cut fries and homemade sourdough bread. They all ended up watching TV until 10:00 p.m., and then slept three-across on the king size bed on the bottom of our lofted hotel suite. My wife and I followed soon after, and got a decent night's sleep.


Up at 7:00 a.m. (hooray for sleeping in) for the hotel's not-so-bad continental-plus breakfast. My 7-year old son was registered for the Y.A.M. Scram 1-mile run, and he was fired up. It was a beautifully bright, cool morning, and I wistfully wished that Sunday's weather would be the same (it was forecast to be warmer). We made our way to Waterfront Park, where we waited around for the pre-Scram festivities. I saw Bill Rodgers from afar, and Bart Yasso from a-near.

My son was unbelievably psyched to get his race bib and t-shirt, and he stretched and "warmed-up" like a pro. I told him to run the first half-mile loop nice and easy, and to pick up the pace if he felt good during the second loop. He started in middle-rear of the huge pack, and seemed to listen to the pre-race advice. I crossed the field so I could see him come by on the other side of the loop, and he looked good. He went through the half-way point looking strong, and was still chugging along when I saw him at about the ¾-mile mark. His ever-helpful big sister watched the finish line like a hawk, and calculated that he finished 165th (out of about 350-400 kids) in a gun time of 10:35, which would probably have been a net time of closer to 10:05. I was very proud of him, and he beamed as he got his medal, which I think he's still wearing days later.

We worked our way out of the crowds, the kids played on some rocks on the edge of Lake Champlain, and we decided that my wife would take then to the aquarium while I went to the Expo to pick up my number, chip, etc.

At the Expo, I chatted with Bart Yasso, bought his book (which he signed) and thanked him for sharing his running adventures with us mere mortals. He was gracious, friendly and humble, and he even gave me his card. I now have Bart Yasso's cell phone number! I did keep quiet about how the prevailing opinion in the marathoning community is that his "Yasso 800's" do not accurately predict marathon race time. The idea and its symmetry is nice, but it simply doesn't take endurance into account in terms of forecasting what will happen in the final miles of a full marathon.

We ended up having a nice lunch on Church Street, Burlington's lovely pedestrian boulevard. I delivered on the promise to buy the kids waffle cones at Ben & Jerry's, since my son had run his best that morning. We did a lot of eating throughout the weekend.

After lunch, it was getting late, and I needed to get off my feet. I'd wanted to run 2-3 miles, hopefully up the much-ballyhooed Battery Street hill, but I decided it'd be best to get back to the hotel and take it easy. For the first hour there, my kids loudly tried to be quiet, and my wife finally took them out for a tour of the spectacular Shelburne Farm (see below) from about 4-5:30. I couldn't really sleep, so I laid out my race clothes, checking and re-checking to make sure I had everything in order.

We had a reservation to meet a co-worker and her marathon support crew for dinner at Buono's Italian Restaurant just over the line in Shelburne, where we ate basic Italian fare. When my co-worker ordered Chicken Fettucine Alfredo, I couldn't believe it (I'm no fan of cream sauce in general, but before a marathon, blech!). I ate bread, salad and spaghetti with plain tomato sauce and grilled chicken, plus a purported Reese's peanut butter pie for dessert (disappointing). We drank lots and lots of water, and the waitress figured out to leave the carafes on the table for us.
We took a short sightseeing drive after dinner, and had the kids asleep by 9:00. My wife and started watching a movie, but we both got sleepy at about 10:00 p.m. Lights out, with a 5:30 alarm setting for a 6:45 shuttle bus from the hotel to the start.


It was a beautiful, sunny, cool morning on Sunday in Burlington. The hotel adjusted the breakfast schedule and put the spread out at 6:00 instead of 6:30 (as one of the desk clerks said, "We wouldn't you all to get hungry while you're jogging.") After consuming my bagel and cream cheese, two small cups of terribly weak coffee, a banana and lots of water, I got dressed and made my way down to the hotel entrance to catch the shuttle.

Mist rose gently off of Lake Champlain, and I wondered whether to wear something more substantial than the triathlon singlet which zips ¾ of the way down (same thing I wore in Chicago). I had my gels ready to go in my RaceReady shorts' pockets. I was feeling good and very hopeful about just getting moving, putting all of the training to the test. Yes, I harbored some apprehension, but I figured I was going to enjoy myself no matter what.

As I milled about in the starting area, I drank water, took a last CarbBoom gel, used the port-a-potties (a couple of times). I chatted with people whose prior race shirts and jackets piqued my interest, including a woman who may end up being one of my daughter's teachers when she starts junior high next fall. I went to the bag check area and asked one of the volunteers if she'd mind writing my name on my upper arms in Sharpie. She gladly did so, I checked my pack, kept my running gloves with me just in case (never needed them, though) and worked my way towards the starting area. I lined up a couple of rows behind the 8:00/mile pacer, sang the Star Spangled Banner (hat off), saluted servicemen and women in light of it being Memorial Day Weekend and chatted with the guys to my left and right as we waited for the wheelchair participants to take off. Then came the countdown to the runners' start and off we went. It took me less than a minute to cross the starting line. I pressed the start button on my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch and I tried to settle into a mellow pace.


I took the first, mostly uphill mile in 8:30-ish, and noted that the Garmin was registering about 0.02 long, meaning that the watch measured 1.02 at the first mile marker. I saw my family at around Mile 3, and I tried to flash them a huge smile. I had picked up the pace as the terrain leveled off and then settled into a rhythm, ticking off mile after mile in the 8:05 to 8:10 range. I felt good, strong, smooth. My feet, calves, thighs, shoulders, arms, head and breathing all felt great. I could feel the slightest nag in my left hip, but it was so minor that I paid it no heed. The temperatures felt really nice, and the course was mostly lovely. The highway out & back wasn't great, leading to the first significant hill in mile 8, and the industrial area around mile 11 wasn't the most attractive, but there was constant crowd support, and well-placed aid stations. Each station had - bless them - clearly marked water versus Gatorade, along with Vaseline on cardboard slabs. I drank at each early aid station, knowing it would warm up and not wanting cramps to get the best of me. At least I learned something from the Chicago experience.

Things continued along nicely, and I crossed the half-way mark (bypassing one of the relay exchange zones) in almost exactly 1:48. I figured that if I continued to feel this good, I'd have a shot at low 3:30's, with which I'd have been thrilled.


Everything still seemed fine after the half-way mark, but - looking back - I did start to slow down incrementally. I still felt good going into the next couple of miles, and was psyched for the "Assault on Battery" in the 16th mile. I was waving my arms to get the crowd into it and I took the hill with a nice, smooth effort. I saw my family again near the top, cheering, ringing a cow bell and holding up a great sign. I pointed and smiled at them, and I felt like I was on top of the world. I'd slowed down only a bit on that hill, my HR climbed (but not too much) and I saw some friends cheering along the course just a moment later. Everything felt good. Then, somewhat suddenly, I noticed my pace start to drift. I tried to focus on staying on pace, but seemed to be having a harder time doing so.

One course highlight was the African immigrants cheering, with their beautifully lilting accents and brightly colored traditional garb, "You can do it! You can do it!". There were stretches with little or no crowd support, and I was still enjoying myself, despite noticeably slowing down 10-15 seconds per mile. I continued hydrating and taking gels according to my pre-race plan. I was still in the ball park for a mid-3:30's finish. As I reached the 20-mile mark, though, I started to feel my hips tighten. They didn't hurt exactly, but I felt restricted in terms of my stride. I also started to feel the balls of my feet striking the ground uncomfortably hard. I questioned the wisdom of wearing the lighter weight shoes, but I think I would have felt something similar no matter which shoes I'd chosen. I was hurting, psychologically as much as anything, and I turned down the frozen ice pops that some folks were offering in one of the course's residential sections. Maye I should have taken one.

I tried desperately to stay focused, to think about training, some of my inspirational songs (I might have put my iPod in here if I'd brought it), my family, my running friends, all the motivational stories I've heard and read. But, alas, the tightening hips prevailed, and the miles grew longer, the effort greater. I had to stop to stretch; I had to walk. Dozens upon dozens of people passed me, and I just started looking at my watch to figure out how fast I needed to go to get in under 3:50. I ran until my hips wouldn't let me run anymore, then I'd stretch and/or walk. Others were cramping and walking, too, and we'd say something encouraging or pat one another on the shoulder as we passed each other. I had my slowest, tough mile at 24, and then I just forced myself to find a rhythm - however slow - to the finish. I also noticed that my heart rate was dropping as my pace slowed. That was frustrating because I knew I had more fitness than I could seem to access. As I wrote to my RW forum-mates, my healing hips just couldn't sustain the workload for an 8:10-ish pace past 20 miles.

The real race in the marathon begins at that mark, and it took me an hour-plus to cover that last 10K. As we approached Battery Park, the adrenaline kicked in. When I saw the 26-mile sign, I dug deep, and ran that final 0.2 at about a 6:35/mile pace, passing a dozen or more people along the way. I saw my family somewhere before the finish line, smiled and gave them the thumbs up, and crossed the finish line with the clock reading under 3:50. My net time was closer to 3:48, but still a disappointment in that it did not reflect my training effort. In other words, I did not get out of this race what I think I put into it. I got my medal (nice and heavy!) and worked my way to the food tent, which was fine except that everything was sweet (bananas, yogurt, cookies, ice cream, etc.). I wanted SALT, and lots of it. I got my bag from the gear check and called my wife's cell phone. She was at the other end of the park, which seemed an eternity away, but I had to get to her, since navigating the crowds with the 3 kids would prove too tough for her.

I reached my family, hugged my wife and started to cry, mostly a release of all the emotions built up since last fall and the disappointment in Chicago. There is plenty of good to take from this training cycle and race, but my ego is clearly bruised (and I, consequently, am humbled) by the fact that I'm 0-2 in terms of reaching my marathon goals.


I missed the massage tent, and my kids and I hung out as my wife trekked up to get the van. We went back to the hotel, where I showered and packed, before stopping for bagels on our way to the highway. Wearing my medal (family agreed it was a bit goofy, but within the bounds of acceptable behavior), I ordered lunch and the guy at the counter said, "Did you really finish second in the marathon?" I was befuddled, then realized he must have keyed onto the 2 in "20th Anniversary", along with the fact that the medal is silver. I laughed and said, "Not quite", as visions of what might have been still danced in my head.

The drive home was less uncomfortable than I expected, but we stopped about half-way because my wife was getting sleepy. I was glad to drive the rest of the home. At least I was able to keep the pace while behind the wheel.

The late-afternoon and evening were mellow, and my first cocktail (a Dark-n-Stormy) in weeks tasted really, really good. I basically ate myself to sleep that night, reliving the good, bad and ugly parts of the race in my mind.


As I conclude this race report, the soreness in my legs is subsiding, as is the sense that I let myself and some of my more supportive friends (real-life and virtual) down in terms of delivering a decent performance when it counted.

Yet, I know have actually run a marathon in decent conditions. I held myself back in the early going. I ran a consistent pace for as long as my body would allow. I've logged numerous 50+ mile weeks. I survived a terrible winter without letting the weather interfere with my running schedule. I got a 5K PR in the midst of my first 60-mile week.

Most importantly, I don't feel so much defeated as I do motivated to "get it right" this next time around. I'm still debating what training plan to adopt, whether to stick with Pfitzinger, use another plan or write my own. I don't know whether to increase my mileage or focus on more faster running. But I do know that my love of running remains, despite the fact that it is proving to be a fickle mistress. While I may or may not get to Boston in 2009, I do expect to remain in a relationship with running for a long time to come.


Nat said...

I'm sorry that your race did not pan out as you trained for, hoped for . . . Your report made miss the marathon and it hasn't even been quite a month since I ran my most disappointing marathon to date.

The marathon.
All that. What you said.
It is why I love it.
So much can happen during the course of it. It amazing the internal changes that can happen over just a few hours of running.
For me it is a rollercoaster comparable to childbirth: optimisim, fear, elation,pain, frustration, disappointment, joy, sadness-- just overwhelming emotions.
And no, to be clear, you don't get the grand prize of another human being but you do get a sense of accomplishment in finishing. Shrug.
I guess I appreciate the struggle.
Congrats on your race. Keep at it. You will have your race.

Billy said...


Man...I'm sorry to hear that the race did not go as planned. If it's any consolation to you whatsoever, a 3:48 would be a dream time for a mid-packer like myself.

That being said, there are plenty more races to run with learning experiences to be gained from each one.

Best of luck in your quest to BQ...and enjoy some time off!!

Ron Abramson said...

Thanks, guys. Nat, you are right, and the comparisons to childbirth are valid, if imperfect.

I'm not giving up on this long distance running thing. It's such a powerful metaphor for life, that giving in to self-doubt and pride would be close to tragic.

Cheers, ESG

Greg said...

Congrats on your PR... I know its not what you wanted, but it only makes you hungrier to do better. BTW, shoot me an email if you want a second opinion on your hip issue... that's kinda my trade, so I would love to offer up a suggestion or two. Like you, I am looking forward to running Chicago...good luck with everything.

Willis said...

ESG - hold the head up - you're on a good path, and a 3:48 given your recent injuries and hip strains is quite an accomplishment, and I'm not saying that just to be nice. (Compare to my 3:45 in otherwise uninjured condition!) I'm 100% sure that you'll blow right past this one, likely by 20 minutes or so in your next one. I'd still recommend going "Pfitz", mainly because of its tried and testedness as well as good peaking timing, but I'll leave it to you for that decision.

Keep striving for those big goals - I think shooting for a Boston 2009 is very reasonable for you.

Good luck - keep on running and blogging.

Unknown said...


Thanks for the race report and congrats on running a strong second marathon. I know your race result fell short of your expectations and training, but this really is only your second marathon. Patience, u have good raw speed and I think it'll all click together for you soon in a fall/winter marathon. Spring marathons are always a risky proposition anyways.

Pick a good fall/winter marathon (and also a backup, just in case of bad weather), train well, and I really think that BQ can be yours in 2009.