Hi all! Writing here from the comfort of my sweet, sweet air-conditioned home. This Memorial Day weekend I ventured up to Burlington, Vermont and ran the Vermont City Marathon, marathon number 17 for me and state number 12. But it almost didn’t happen! Suspense!
Race: Vermont City Marathon
Location: Burlington, Vermont
Time of Year: Sunday of Memorial Day weekend (end of May)
Size: Medium. Registration is capped at 3600 participants. In addition to the marathon, there are popular 2-person and 3-5 person relay options that run the same course at the same time.
Weather: So. Average temperatures for the race in the past have hovered between 50 and 70 degrees. Sometimes, it’s even been quite chilly. But this weekend, IT WAS 87 DEGREES. FAHRENHEIT. And humid. And I thought it was supposed to be a little overcast. Nope, sunny. Wet Bulb Globe Temp is a composite temperature used to estimate the effect of temperature, humidity, wind speed (wind chill), and visible and infrared radiation (usually sunlight) on humans, and it’s what is used under the ACSM Guidelines for races. Under the Guidelines, here are the “Flags” established for evaluating risk:
- WBGT >82° F (>28° C) Black Flag: Cancel or recommend voluntary withdrawal. (Races that are always held in these conditions should acknowledge the extreme heat risk to the poorly acclimated and non-resident competitors in the pre-race literature and the pre-race announcements)
- WBGT 73° F – 82° F (23° C – 28° C) Red Flag: Recommend participants at increased risk for heat collapse withdraw from race and others slow pace to match conditions.
- WBGT 65° F – 72° F (18° C – 22° C) Yellow Flag: Recommend participants at increased risk for heat collapse slow pace. Warn entrants of increased risk of heat collapse.
- WBGT <65° F (<18° C) Green Flag: Collapse can still occur. Decreased risk of hyperthermic and hypothermic collapse.
- WBGT <50° F (<10° C) White Flag: Increased risk of hypothermic collapse.
When the race started, we were under Yellow Flag conditions, but an hour later, they turned to Red Flag, and ultimately, Black Flag, as I discuss below.
Logistics: Logistics were relatively easy. We flew up to Burlington direct from DC on Saturday afternoon. Our flight was delayed an hour or so, which was annoying but not super disruptive. We stayed at the Sheraton, the host hotel. It was fine. We later discovered that a few other hotels (Courtyard Marriott, Hilton Garden Inn, Hotel Vermont, etc.) were more centrally located, but the Sheraton was about a 15-20 minute walk into town and provided shuttles to the airport, downtown, and the race starting line. On race morning, we grabbed the last shuttle at around 7:30 (it did not wait until 7:40 as provided in the race materials, so I’m glad we were a little early) and took the 8-minute ride to the start line. Lines at the bathrooms looked pretty long, so I just winged (wung?) it and headed to the corrals. It was a pretty low-stress morning.
Swag and Expo: Race shirt was a nice light blue tech tee — a different color than what you normally see. I like it. Women’s fit available. The medal was also pretty cool. Other than that, not much swag. The much-loathed virtual goodie bag was basically a bust — just a few coupons. The expo was a medium-sized event at the Sheraton host hotel. We just picked up the bib and did a quick lap. The LLBean bootmobile was there, along with some coupons for use at LLBean. There were also some free samples of meat sticks and hard liquor — neither of which I tried (obvi no meat sticks for Athlettuce). After the race, it looked like there were some nice snacks (pizza and Moe’s Mexican food) but I really didn’t want to eat any of it when I finished so I didn’t investigate further.
Terrain: Rolling hills with some flat stretches. Hillier than I had expected. Two significant hills. Almost all pavement — just a few steps on dirt path in a park.
Course: The race starts in Battery Park, goes for about 3 miles through downtown Burlington, then there’s an out-and-back on the Burlington Beltline, a highway that is closed to traffic. (This was the more desolate, sunniest, death-march part of the run.) The rest of the course is a mix of residential neighborhood streets, a few short commercial strips, bike paths through parks and along the river, and a little bit more through downtown. The finish is at Waterfront Park along Lake Champlain. The most notable thing about the race is that nearly the entire course was lined with spectators. And not just cheering (which is great in itself). But also spectators spraying us with hoses (SO MANY — apparently there is no drought in VT — THANK YOU), and with maple syrup shots (I passed), and with water and gatorade and ice and popsicles (I had three ice pops), and with beer (passed on that too). Honestly, given the heat, I seriously question whether I would have been able to finish if those spectators hadn’t been out there spraying us with water. There was race-provided support on course, I just don’t know that it would have been enough in the heat. (I am sure under normal conditions, the race support would have been more than sufficient.)
How It Went For Me: My pre-race thoughts/goals are here. As soon as I got myself into the start corral, I knew that the heat was going to be a factor in my performance. I told myself that I should just take things slow and see how my body handles it. I scoped out the 3:45 pace group and set myself up a little bit behind them in the corral. I figured I would keep them nearby to the extent I could. At the turnaround on the Beltline, maybe 6 miles in, I was already feeling the effects of the heat, and I saw the 3:45 group ahead. As the sun bore down on me and I looked around for the promised on-course ice, I had no intentions of pushing the pace to catch up. I decided to just try to keep a steady pace where I felt comfortable. And I took a Gu early on, just to be safe. I knew that there was a chance that the heat would hit me, and I wouldn’t even be able to finish. And finishing is always the ultimate goal! When we entered the residential portions of the course, I was so so happy to see the neighbors out with their hoses. Sweet relief! I felt my skin literally reaching for the cool droplets as I ran under the showers and splashed through the puddles. (If the Asheville Marathon was a mud run, the Vermont City Marathon was a water park.) I took water and Gatorade at every stop and took an extra water cup to pour over my head. I ran the first 12 miles between 8:25 and 9:25, averaging around 9 minute miles (est 3:55 finish time). Around the halfway point, the course got a little more shaded and I finally had access to ice, which was great. I stuffed it in my bra. But my body was already so hot and drained. At mile 15, the course has its biggest hill, called the “Assault on Battery.” It was daunting and completely unshaded, but it was lined with cheering crowds and I was able to shuffle up it. The toughest spot for me was around mile 18, where I started to feel a little light-headed. There was no water or aid station between 17.3 and 19 — a big stretch for that far along the race and under the conditions — and I really felt like I needed some fluids. I slowed to a walk until I reached a downhill portion and felt OK jogging again. I felt much better after slugging back some water and Gatorade at the next stop, and from then on I walked the few little hills and most of the aid stations. I kept grabbing ice at each opportunity, and the ice pops were heaven. I was chugging along the bike path at mile 23.5 when they tried to stop us. I saw the black “extreme risk” sign from several yards away and made a little mental note that we’d jumped from the red “high risk” signs I’d been seeing most of the morning. I didn’t think much of it otherwise. But then a red-shirted medical team member told me I needed to walk, that the race was over, that buses would be coming to pick us up. I slowed to a walk and frustratedly texted my husband to tell him what was going on. But we weren’t diverted, and once we all passed the aid station, there were still spectators cheering us on, and racers around me were still jogging. I said aloud, “So we’re still going to run?” A woman jogged up next to me and said something to the effect of “I am not stopping.” So I texted my husband to say that I was going to keep running, and I picked back up a jog. My mind swirled with thoughts — would I be able to finish? would it be an official finish for the 50 States Marathon Club? if I hurried to the finish, would my chances be better? I increased the pace a little. My motivation was renewed. I had to finish this thing. At the next aid station, at mile 24, they again asked us to slow to walk and told us the race was over. I again walked but I asked a volunteer if we could at least walk to the finish. He said we could but that our times wouldn’t count. I knew I wanted to cross the finish line, even if it wouldn’t be official. Once I passed that aid station, I jogged again. A woman who had been running near me asked if I had seen the medal in person, and she assured me that they’d give it to us as long as we finished. I really didn’t care about the medal, but for some reason this woman’s encouragement felt good. I was running slowly, about 10:20 pace, but I kept moving. Spectators kept cheering us on. Around mile 25, a racer who had already finished was standing on the side of the course, yelling that the finish line was still set up, that the race hadn’t ended. I kept running. I passed another aid station at 25.1 but I think I looked so fresh at that point the volunteer didn’t even bother telling me to walk. I leaned forward and lengthened my stride coming into the finish line — which was, in fact, still set up — with my last 0.7 mile at 8:30 pace. At the end, I really wanted to jump into Lake Champlain but it was so crowded in the finish area that I decided to forgo the swim and the post-race food. My official finish time was 4:20:03. Definitely not what I went in to the race hoping for, but I am 100% fine with it given the conditions. My husband got an automated text with my finish time, so we hoped that would be enough for it to be “official.” Later that afternoon, the RD sent an email saying that anyone who finished in under 4:30 would have an official finish. I am so glad I kept running!
Overall Assessment: Like it! Despite the weather, this race had the best crowd support I’ve ever experienced. A really fun event. I’m sure the RD and team will have learned a lot from the unexpectedly hot day, so I’ll cut them some slack.
Best Things to Do and See in Burlington: OK, first thing. My husband and I don’t really drink beer, but if you like beer, you’ll love Burlington. Lots of breweries and tavern-type places. If you don’t like beer, there is still some good stuff going on. Here were our highlights:
- Church Street shops/downtown Burlington – Take some time to walk around and explore shops — clothes, outdoor gear, coffee, snacks, art, etc.
- Hen in the Wood – EAT HERE. Yelp had it as #1 in Burlington, for good reason. Would be among the better restaurants in the city if in DC, IMO. Get the Parker House rolls. Extensive wine list, cocktails, seasonal menu, great service. We walked in without a reservation and only had to wait about 30 minutes for a spot to open up at the bar looking into the kitchen.
- Pizzeria Verita – Nicer than your standard pizza joint. Pies being made in the brick oven in front of the “pizza bar.” We went on Saturday night, and there was a 1.5 hour wait. We expected that, so we walked around town until our seats were available.
- Ben & Jerry’s – We skipped the factory tour because the factory is quite a hike outside of Burlington (30 minute drive) and the factory doesn’t run on the weekends or Memorial Day. Instead, we hit up the Ben & Jerry’s store in downtown Burlington. Twice. Of course it was good. We sort of hoped it had ALL the flavors, but it didn’t.
- Shelburne Museum – This was our big Monday activity, and we chose it because it seemed uniquely Vermontish. Some interesting stuff — my husband especially liked the Ticonderoga steam ship. Entry was $24 per person, which ain’t cheap, and it required some walking that was tough on my tired legs. But I’m still glad we went. Note that it may be difficult to get an Uber to pick you up down in Shelburne. We walked a little up the street and were able to get one, but it was a 20 minute wait. We stepped into a couple of shops to pass the time. No biggie.
- Lake Champlain Chocolates (photo above) – We walked here after lunch the day of the race. Free chocolate tasting.
- Mad River Distillers – Hip spot in downtown Burlington. Free tastings with race bib.
- Also suggested by others, but we didn’t have time to visit: The Farmhouse Tap & Grill, Leunig’s, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, The Skinny Pancake, Shelburne Farm