n Sunday, May 20th, I ran . It's a small race (227 finishers this year) which runs from Bennington to Manchester in southern Vermont.
Well, how did it go?
The winner of my age group was over an hour faster then me, so he's just plain fast. And ironically, the #3 man in my age group finished right behind me, 11 seconds back (a fact neither of us knew — or cared about — at the time).
couple of years ago I got the idea of getting back to running marathons after a hiatus of nearly 8 years. I had run out of steam and enthusiasm in the early 2000s and decided to retire from marathons and concentrate on shorter races and to move to trails and other assorted venues beyond Central Park (hence the name for this web site). But since I was approaching 70, the itch returned and I decided to un-retire from marathons. My inaugural "post-retirement" race was the St. George Marathon last October in which I actually qualified for the 2013 Boston Marathon.
So, you might wonder why I would run ANOTHER marathon this year. The answer is simple, I needed to keep myself in the marathon training mode — it was hard enough to get back into that mode last year after a long hiatus.
I looked for a late spring marathon which was not too far away, not too crowded, and not too expensive. On the recommendation of Susan, my running partner (who had run the Shires last year in its inaugural race), I chose the Shires. Another advantage was that Susan owned a house about a half hour's drive from the race and we could stay there.
Since January of this year I undertook a marathon training program to get ready for the Shires. But not just to do a strong marathon — after all, I had already qualified for Boston — but to get my mind and body attuned to a higher level of training and fitness. The training went fairly well although there were a few gaps that I will need to address for the next time around. My training was chronicled in my miniBlog "", and there you can find all the details.
e drove up from New York City to Susan's place on Saturday morning and, after Susan did a few errands, we drove up to Bennington to pick up our race packets and explore the countryside a little bit.
The name "" refers to the South Shire (Bennington) and the North Shire (Manchester) — the two historic "Shire Towns" (county seats) of Bennigton County — and to the old byway connecting them. It lies in an idyllic valley in the southwest corner of the state nestled between the Green Mountains to the east and the Taconic Mountains to the west.
Everything about the race and the area was very low key and perfectly suited for a small town in southern Vermont. But unfortunately the weather forecast had called for sun with temperatures rising to the mid 80°s on Sunday, so everyone was pretty concerned about that. The packet pickup was at , a small fine arts museum on a hill overlooking Bennington. We picked up our stuff in a room next to a gallery of western themed paintings and sculptures. While there, Susan bumped into a few old friends she knew from the group she runs with in the area.
The first thing we noticed when we started looking around were statues of moose. Everywhere. They have moose like we had cows! (Remember the New York City cows? That was in 2000.) They were each painted with a local scene. The one in the photo shows the "Covered Bridge Moose" And actually shows the bridge we ran through. These were originally built and painted by local artists for "".
Next we visited the "". This is a very tall obelisk (over 300' tall) that you can see from many places in town. It's actually quite near the Center for the Arts. The battle — fought a few miles west in New York State — was in August of 1777. The victory of the Colonials prevented the British from capturing a large cache of supplies located where the monument now stands.
We then drove down along the race route and through the , a covered bridge depicted on the Moose and which we would run through the next day. There were two more covered bridges downstream from this one which we also checked out.
Lastly, we visited a historic railroad station in North Bennington which the course would also pass by. The old Shire towns of Bennington and Manchester were connected by a precursor to this railroad as well as by an old dirt by-way. Much of the race course followed the same path and in fact the following day during the marathon, a tourist train actually interrupted the race for a few moments, no doubt evoking memories of the . As cool as that would be, I'm just as glad it was some other runners who were interrupted. Then it was back to Susan's place for some shopping and a scrumptious spaghetti supper with all the trimmings.
t would be no exaggeration to say this is one of the loveliest places in New England. A combination of small towns, country stores owned by locals, beautiful farmland, the Green and Taconic Mountains and of course the Green Mountain National Forest running along the spine of the state. The marathon course samples some of the best of each of these qualities — although thankfully the course went over some hills but no real mountains.
The people volunteering and spectating were also the best. Always helpful and always cheerful. And the large proportion of children helping, some quite young, was impressive. And a special thanks to the which put on the race and the which provided their usual superb technical services.
e got to the race start (at the Center for the Arts) about 8:30. Susan's husband planned to do some biking while the race was going on, so he left us and drove up to Manchester so the car would be there when we finished. I had time for a pit stop and an easy warm-up jog and found a spot in the crowd. As with everything else about this race, it was totally low key. My attention was distracted by a group of volunteers who were attempting to erect a banner over the starting line. They had a problem fastening the banner to the rope between two poles and were having no luck fixing it. But when the count-down finally got to 1 minute before the start, they just gave it up and carried the assorted pieces off to the side. Whatever! The temperature was already 67° with bright sunshine and 66% humidity. This would be a hot one.
One could divide the race up into two parts: first "The Hills" and then "The Heat". Below there is a chart of the first 14 miles where all the hills were. The top shows the elevation profile (from the course map) and below that is a chart showing my pace (from my watch). The profile might be a little confusing at first. The line along the x-axis is at the elevation of the start. Initially the course drops down about 300 feet and then rises. So the first section of hills starts at about mile 2½ and rises to mile 10 where you finally get back those 300 feet. The blue coloring is above the hills, so pretend the blue is the sky and the white area below represents the hills. For the second group of hills, from mile 10 to around mile 14, the hills are the blue. In either case when the profile line trends up, it's an up-hill, when it trends down it's a down-hill.
From a running point of view, this section (almost) makes sense. When the hills went up, my pace per mile went up, and vice versa, But for the second section of hills my pace was pretty flat. This is probably because of the shade. The first section was primarily through Bennington and was mostly unshaded. The second group of hills (past mile 10) were on country roads in the Green Mountain National Forest and were mostly (but not entirely) shaded. But as "reasonable" as the pace might seem for this section (and actually on out to mile 16) some real damage was being done. The temperature was rising to 72° at 10:00, to 76° at 11:00 and to 80° at noon — when I was around mile 17½. And unfortunately there was less shade after that point. The second section is what I call "The Heat". The elevation trend line (the blue area below the x-axis) is pretty flat or down-hill with the usual many bumps found on country roads, but my pace was far from flat. In fact it went off the chart!
Starting around mile 17, the cumulative effect of the heat and the hills started to slow me down. Maybe I got a bit of a lift in mile 20 where there is a larger that average down-hill section and my pace picked up a bit. But otherwise it turned into a rout. First it was a slower running speed, and then there were repeated walking sections. A few steps at the water stops, then at the mile markers, and finally, by the end, I was walking more than I was running. Meanwhile the temperature had risen to 82° by 1:00 (I was a little past mile 22) and to 84° around the time I finished. At mile 25 I started walking and said to some of my fellow sufferers "I'm trying to figure how far I can run, and I'll start when I think I can make it to the finish". They laughed and said they were doing more or less the same thing.
It was not all bad: the water stops were great and I want to commend the volunteers. In the later miles the stream of runners was rather sparse so the volunteer would generally sit under a tree and wait. When they spotted a runner, they would jump up and cheer and offer water, Gatorade and ice and really, really hope you would take their water. Some of them looked barely 8 or 10 years old but they were all great. Thank you, thank you! You helped a poor run-down runner greatly!
The other truly uplifting moment was when I passed a group of belly dancers in Arlington. They were on the porch of a store on the left side of the road. There was some kind of middle-eastern music playing and someone singing in Arabic or maybe Greek. And the dancers were of all ages and sizes. I'm told they are "". It was so unexpected and delightful that I was simply blown away. All you could do was smile.
I ran the last bit and tried to look good for the photos. My friends have said "Gosh, you look so strong in those photos." If they only knew.
When finally I turned the corner into the finish area and got to where I could see the clock, I saw it was within a minute of turning over to the next hour. I'm sure there's many a runner out there who can recall being in that situation. So naturally I tried to pick it up to beat the clock, but my increase in speed was pathetic. Fortunately I had enough leaway to make it and managed to break, not 4 hours as I hoped, but 5 hours! At 4:59:45, I was done at last.
I got water and Gatorade and food and then found Susan's husband. He had been out on the course after his own bike ride, and spotted me around mile 24 where we chatted briefly. Next I asked the announcer when the awards would be announced and he said they already had been announced (probably an hour before). But he was good enough to look me up and found I had placed second in my age group. This seemed hard to believe given my finish, but I guess everyone was in the same boat today. He found Dave, the race director, who gave me my prize of Vermont Maple Syrup. Then I got a mini-massage on my legs, and as I was finishing up with that I heard Susan's name announced. So I stumbled over and congratulated her. It had been a very long day for all of us.
After we got back to Susan's house, I took a shower and had some time to relax. Guess what? Everything seemed good again! Later, we would all go out for a celebratory dinner at a very good Spanish restaurant.
The next day I was back in New York City with a few sore muscles but many good memories — and a half pint of Maple Syrup!
o, am I disappointed? No, not really. I knew I could crash and burn, but I never thought I would actually burn (as in sun burn) and crash (due to heat) rather than due to a risky strategy. And I think even a bad race can be a "teaching moment". Lessons learned: 1) don't stop near the end, the guy behind you might take your award. 2) make sure to tell the race director to order cool weather next year .
I've thought about it over the last few days and wondered if I had concentrated more of my training on hill workouts, would it have helped under these conditions? I'll never know, but since my next marathon is the 2013 Boston, it certainly won't hurt to do lots of hill workouts. I've learned the best way to run well on down-hills (which Boston has lots of) is to train on up-hills. Strong quads help you both going up and down.
The further I get away from the race (it's a week now), the better I appreciate that my marathon was — comparatively speaking — a strong one. As my daughter said 'You can't possibly think of this as your "personal worst" when you got a marathon "podium finish!"'. Ah, love you Payslee! And although a small race like this doesn't even HAVE a podium (and the winner in my age group had gone home by the time I finished), the sentiment is well taken and much appreciated.
Now it's time to get into my off-season. My mantra will be "Summertime, and the Runnin' is Easy". First up, a 5K cross country race in Van Cortlandt Park on Thursday. No awards there, that's for sure!
ould I do this race again? Would I recommend it to others? In a minute! Just make sure it's not a hot day