26.2 miles. A fly-away race. A chance to qualify to register for next year’s Boston Marathon, on a new course, in a first-year event. The race began in Marlboro, Vermont at a small college, and finished in Massachusetts at another small community college.
The day before, Maureen and I drove to the beginning point of the race. There were no hints or obvious signs that a marathon was happening there in less than 24 hours. We saw a small real estate sign next to a handful of flour on the side of the road. We checked photos posted on the event’s Facebook page to see that, best we could surmise, this was the start line of the race! Pre-race reports were that the course had been washed out somewhere in the early miles, so taking a drive on the whole route wouldn’t be possible. We went down the first 2 miles of unpaved and steep downhill in the car. It was steep like the website said. With the first water aid stop at mile 3.3, I knew bringing some fluid with me would be important. I had a hand carry bottle and/or a belt setup to choose from. I’d wear the belt and use that fluid first, so when the race got tough, it would be empty and near weightless.
After the brief visit to the start area, we went back towards Brattleboro, the largest town near the race route. We saw and stopped at a garage sale and at a Farmer’s Market. In the buildup for the race, I ran some training runs with Kaitlyn Kelly. She was training for a small, 350 person race in Washington DC a month after mine. We would joke about who was attending the smaller event. We came up with alternate names for our events, I said I was attending the “New England Green River Farmer’s Market and 26 Miler,” whereas her race would be known as the “Potomac River Potato Sack Race and Long Run.”
Finding a real Farmer’s Market to pose next to as if it were packet pickup made for a good photo to send back home…
We also visited the finish line area, which also had little evidence that a race would be here in the next few hours. A couple from Mexico were doing sprint runs on a grassy field, we spoke with them. They had flown in to do this event in hopes of getting a BQ. Why the sprinting? Who knows!
Race morning started with our arrival at the finish line area. Yellow school buses were commissioned to take the runners to the start line. Just like in Boston. The ride was uneventful, I drank Pedialyte and held in the expected desire to pee on the ride. The start area had a few porta-potties, so that was my first stop. We had about an hour before the race’s start, which was unique and unlike any race I’ve ever attended. I met Tom, the race director, he briefly gave a nod of thanks to the colleges and Connecticut River Conservatory Group that helped make the use of this route possible.
He garnered a round of applause for the young musicians that played folk songs near the start line. Then, before most of the runners looked ready, he blew into a red vuvuzela to signal the start of the race. I knew to position myself right near the start line, which was only set up moments before the 7:00 am start. There was no wild sprint down the road, just a handful of runners coming next to me on a dirt road. Moments before reaching the downhill section, the lead biker called out, “Car ahead!” The roads would not be closed for the race and this was our proof. 300+ runners were starting and now scampering to the side of the road to
allow this car to pass. Then we ran down a steep downhill that I wanted to take under control. I did not let my legs flail to the speed gravity would automatically provide. The weather was nice, around 57 degrees and no breeze, here I was running downhill at faster than goal pace on a dirt road. The surface was flat but not rut or pothole free, so I had to always pay attention to foot placement. In the first and steepest two-mile section, a few guys and girls passed me while whirling down the hill. I didn’t want to run like that! My first mile was done at 6:57 pace, I was happy and felt as if I did that in a controlled manner. Some of the people that passed me had full large Camelbak packs, dual hand water bottles, and trail shoes. I saw one guy running with an awkward uneven gait, I couldn’t imagine he would finish ahead of me. He paired up with a tall dark runner that looked to be someone pacing him that morning.
I came to the first water station but didn’t need to use it since I carried a water bottle with a half potent mixture of the Jordan Hasay’s Sword drink. There was one man attending to a table, with what I thought was a Brita water filtration container. He said that he hadn’t yet been given cups, but he could pour the water into my mouth if I needed some. I saw him doing this with another guy, I waved, smiled and ran by. Two girls running together passed me, then we came to the bridge that was damaged by the river. A running lane only 4 feet wide was open and clear to cross on the bridge, which wasn’t a problem since there weren’t many runners near me. The marathon’s path through the forest was very nice in the early miles.
I saw my pace times slightly below the 7:15 goal pace average. I ran very relaxed in the cool temps – I did think ahead of what it would feel like if it stayed this cool all morning, I could get a better time than expected! (Does this happen to every marathoner in every race?)
The course had wobbles of hills, most of them downhill with a few heading up. The locals wouldn’t notice the uphills, but for us from flat Florida, they felt different. I kept looking at the river and remembering that as long as I was running with the current, I was always heading net downhill. At mile 7-8 there was a small paved section that each runner had to complete as an “out and back.” This would be an opportunity to see who was ahead of me and then come back and see others in the race that were following. The run to the turnaround was a slight hill up and then around a traffic cone to glide down into the larger group of runners heading up towards me. Going up, everyone saw the guy race leader. A man slightly ahead of me cheered for him and then told me he was a local competing in his first marathon! I saw a few other guys, then two girls following in the top ten runners. I enjoy seeing the leaders and their pace in the races that allow for that.
Most of my running was solo, occasionally I’d pass someone or a pair of runners. There were a few water stops that I took plain water from, each staffed by enthusiastic and friendly locals. While running by the long dirt driveway of one home, a few fans held up a sign that read, “We live here, we have banjos, run faster!”
The next notable segment of the course was the covered bridge near mile 10.
There were a few more spectators and a water aid stop here, and a photographer catching each runner coming out of the tunnel bridge. I had a brief few moments of smiling and chatting with fans on this section. I
was on my goal time according to the pace band I had made. I didn’t want to
arrive at the halfway point earlier than 1:35:00, half of my goal time.
Back to solo running, there were a few notable climbs mixed in the middle miles before I reached that middle point. Mile 13 was marked, so some few moments after that I checked and saw my time was at 1:35, maybe shy a few seconds. That was a good execution of NOT going faster on the downhills! Another stretch of water stops which were more frequent, followed by an important turn to the left on the course. This spot had the most spectators in the race. I saw cars parked on the roadside, aid volunteers, and a photographer. Most of the running felt flat now with some climbs, but again, I was still along the river so I was heading down to the suburbs section – and the town of Greenfield, Mass.
I passed one of the girls I saw leading earlier at the switchback, (I remembered her shirt design.) She was suffering at mile 17. This is where the significant hill climbs were – from 17-21, just like the Newton Hills in Boston. There weren’t many people in sight, in front or behind me. Water stops usually had 2-3 people to see and say “Hi” to, then back to running alone. I did finally pass the guy with the odd running stride, then shortly up the road, his tall pacer friend too.
The biggest hill left on the course runs almost a mile up to what the race site said was 80 feet in elevation. I made sure I kept my concentration and did this mile well, so as not to hit the neighborhood area with a large time deficit to recapture. I did it in just under a 7 min mile pace, once at the top, I stopped at the aid station to gulp two or three cups of water. A guy passed me right as I stopped, he must have marked me and chased me up the long climb. Now we were out and running on regular roads with active traffic. I knew the route because we had driven it yesterday. I followed him and looked to pass and saw that my pace and legs were starting to pucker. Both of my calf muscles began the pre-cramp quivering. I knew why – I had kept from taking all of the nutrition I would normally use, making sure I wouldn’t stop with an upset stomach. This was my problem the last two marathons I completed, Miami and A1-A. The lack of gels (I took 1 of 4) and salt pills (I took 2 of 6) yielded this. Now I was working hard to keep the pace near 8-minute miles. At each water stop, miles 23, 24, 25, I made sure I took all the fluid in the cups. I went back and forth with the guy dressed in green, we were the only two running that I could see. There’s one spot on the course where you cross over to a parallel road through a neighborhood. One home had a sprinkler spraying onto the street, I realized the temperature was warm now, we had only sunlight without any cloud cover. I went to the lead after the final aid station in front of an ice cream shop. I knew unless this guy behind me had saved a surge for the end, that my pace was quicker than his. I went at a pace I thought I could keep but not force cramping around the final roundabout and into the Greenfield Community College parking grounds. I ran about 800m up a slight rise in the road, then onto the grass, then to the finish arch. I saw the clock ticking through 3:14:30 something, I kept going and finished on the clock at 3:14:52 which agreed with my watch.
The official race time had me finishing at 3:15:00 – my chip time was oddly even more than the gun time by fractions of a second. I started at the very front of the race, I cannot figure how this would be true.
I stopped and sat near the finish line, had a water, and threw up a mouthful of the last gel I ate. Race officials asked if I was ok, yes, this was probably trying to work it’s way up and out of me for a few miles. I waited near the finish for Maureen to run in. I was answering messages and massaging my feet in the grass behind the finish line. A few girls came in together at 3:45 – I was ready with the camera but it wasn’t time for Maureen yet. I sat back down and Maureen did come running in, nearly three minutes earlier than her goal! We asked a spectator to take a photo, he took many, telling us he was a photographer. I now have 7 or 8 copies of this same picture on my phone…
This was a good event, putting me back in a place where I can do good times because I backed it up with the right amount of preparation. I wanted a 3:10 or better, but I leave Massachusetts with a new PR by seconds and a qualifying time for Boston. More ahead…