Sunday, June 5, 2016

Vermont City Marathon: Where Heat and Humidity are abundant.

At this point, a week after race day I imagine that everyone (in the running world) knows that VCM was cancelled mid race due to some pretty extreme heat and humidity.
Spoiler: I managed to finish.
I have participated in some very warm, even hot races before but can honestly say that other than Boston '12 (which I spectated and it was too hot to even live) I have never experienced such relentless heat.
Anyway. More on this as my story unfolds.

Eric and I had VCM on the calendar for a few reasons. We were running the 2-person relay, I was using it as a back up plan marathon on the chance that Boston was a complete shit show and we had heard nothing but good things about this race. So off we went, in 90 degree weather knowing that we would just have to be smart and make good race day choices.

It was an unusually pleasant drive in the scenery department and we arrived at the expo late-ish in the day on Saturday (and it was still 90, we basically stopped looking at this point!)

The expo was straightforward and we collected our various numbers with ease, had some samples of beer and bourbon because VT race expos are cool like that and off we went.
I also caught a glimpse of the New England double medal, which (If I can actually complete both races) will be MINE later this fall. Bwa-hahaha. MINE!

The things we do for a finishers medal.....
I've never been to Burlington before and we were able to do some exploring before our dinner reservation. Lake Champlain was far, far bigger than I imagined it would be and I spend a number of minutes exclaiming over my delight in this. I'm a weird kid.

So big. So hazy.
Since half the reason I was excited about this trip was to sample some VT beers I was delighted to snag a Heady Topper right off. (I was worried that I wouldn't be able to buy cans to take home. Heady Topper is  big deal. Like, you need to be there when the truck rolls in and, needless to say that seemed unlikely what with the running and all...) The beer was great and when 90 degree running is staring you in the FACE you have to just man up and drink beers. Works every time.

Beer is fun
Saturday morning dawned cool and crisp.
It was like, 379 at 6AM and we planned our 0.0 MPH pace to the finish line in great detail.

ALL DAY bitches
I'm going to be honest for a sec. I really wasn't too worried about the heat because I did not care how I did. I hoped to finish the 13.1 so that we could complete the relay but I wasn't gonna hustle and I wasn't gonna die on my way there. I had already made the decision to go slow af, drink all the water and take 400,000 walk breaks. Maybe I would quit at 13.1. Maybe I'd continue to 16 which was basically back at the start. Who knew. The weather was batshit and there was nothing that anyone could do about it!

So with all that in mind I slow jogged away for, no shit, the hottest first mile of a race that I have ever run EVER in the history of ever. It was quite remarkable.
Obviously, it was all people were talking about. "It is SO HOT this is HORRIBLE" was the outcry.
I had to agree at that point, the sun was beating down relentlessly, there wasn't even a puff of wind and it was hot as balls.

Hot. Hot. Hot as balls. Balls. Balls. Balls are hot.
I have good news. After the first hellish mile there wasn't another long stretch where there wasn't a tiny bit of shade, a teeny puff of breeze or a waterstation to break it up a bit. Right away at mile 2 there was a nice stretch of shady road and during this time I was able to get it together and get my head right. I began to feel good and knew I would keep trudging along happily as long as the good feeling continued. *and good was the feeling of sweat literally pouring into my EYES!!*

There was a most unpleasant bit of road (mile 4-8ish) that was on a stretch of highway. I was pleased to be feeling quite well because if I had not, this would have been rather awful. Also, during this time the "warning" flags went from yellow to red. I was taking 2 or 3 cups at each water stop and walking leisurely through each one. Basically, leisurely was my pace throughout.

Starting early, around mile 4 there were runners down on the course. It seemed (to me) that medical staff was plentiful on course and that people in trouble were getting help quickly. Seeing that many people on the ground that early certainly made me take stock on how I was feeling, and I was fine.

Up to mile 13.1 things continued in very much the same manner, run cautiously, take a lengthy water break every mile, take oranges from strangers and, through the sweat try to look around and see the sights.

I came to the 13.1 mark in 2:03 which, while certainly not at my normal race pace was very good for the weather conditions. Eric and I had a chat and he gave me my relay medal which was lucky not to get lost during the later part of the race! I said something helpful about how it was "hot but totally do-able! just be smart not a douche! be safe have fun!" and, clearly inspired by this Eric ran off.

I sat down on a rock and drank a beer.
Well, not quite. If anyone saw my snap, at this point I said "It's hot! But I feel good! I'm going to keep running because this is kind of fun!"
Logic. The logic is strong.

Basically, to mile 18 my life continued on much as it had to this point. I was very very sweaty, like pretty inappropriately sweaty. I felt fine. Running was not feeling like a problem, which is always good. I needed sunscreen (despite a very thorough pre race application I must have sweated most of it off) So I found a mom spectator and she hooked me up. Mom's are always good like that.
There were quite a few spectators braving the heat, hosing us down, running DIY aid stations and playing dubious rock and roll.

More cowbell people, MORE

Also around this time I found Eric!!! This was very exciting and we had a nice chat as well as some ice pops. He was even sweatier than I was and his shoes were making "slop-slop" noises as he ran which was quite impressive.

YAY! We are lovely.
We saw some interesting things like a twerking T-Rex which is somewhat unexpected, at mile 19. The T-Rex actually chased me which caused me to squeal and scamper away, as I found his actions to be untrustworthy.
Eric considered taking a beer from a beer aid station. He did not... He still mourns this choice.

This little fucker chased me!
As much as we love each other, sticking together wasn't meant to be, mostly because I am a big jerk who really just wants to get done quick once mile 20 goes by.
So, we tearfully parted ways and off I went.

THANK THE LAWD at this point the damn sun had gone away and once I turned onto the bike path by the lake it was *almost* comfortable and I was able to run faster than I had all day. Cranking along. Like at a sub 9 pace which felt pretty darn quick after all the jogging.
Things were good. I was happy to almost be done and I was rejoicing in my hydrating skills and in how much nicer my legs feel at mile 24+  when I'm being cautious than when I'm not..!
And then.......
Just before the final aid station we were told that the race was cancelled. People continued to run, so I did as well. Follow the sheep? Perhaps.


At the aid station I stopped and asked a volunteer what I should be doing. She asked if I felt capable of walking to the finish, and I said I felt capable of RUNNING to the finish. She advised me to continue with caution. During the last mile I had a little time to think about what was happening. I assumed that they had turned off the clock and that my time would not count, which I found disappointing but I was ok with that. I wondered if I was going to be arrested because I had not stopped (this really did occur to me, I have never experienced anything like this before!) Eric texted me to see if I was still running and he was not impressed that I was. However, he was still on course too. From what I could observe, nobody else seemed to stop and since I was still feeling in excellent health I concluded that getting to the finish and cooling off was my best bet.

Was this a good choice? Since I finished healthy and did not require the attention of med staff then yes, I think (as an adult who knows her body) that I made a fine choice. I understand that not everyone might agree with this. In my defense, I had always assumed that in the case of a cancelled race we would actually be "forced" to halt and removed from the course. I know now that is not true.
(from what I understand, people who had to go through several aid stations were told that the race clock was off, that medical was unable to take more patients (the race directors say this is untrue) and, eventually from what I gather people were more strongly encouraged to stop and take shuttles back. I did not witness any of this. At the time that the race was cancelled, while I was still on course things seemed no more dramatic than they had a mile earlier. )
I finished (running thru very enthusiastic crowds, even in the heat) in 4:09:20 (so I was not lying about taking it EASY!)

1.1 was my race pace
 I was hot. I snagged some ice and evaluated the scene unfolding at the finish.

Phew. Hot.
The med tent did seem full and there were many runners being carried off the course. There were, what I assume to be EMT's doing triage on the grass outside of medical. There was a mild buzz of confusion as it seemed that many people were not able to tell med staff who they were, and had not filled out their bibs.. Mostly though, the med staff seemed to have it under control.

At this point there was a level of frustration/anger coming from runners who were upset thinking about how their time would not count. I actually chose to walk away from a conversation with a woman who was so upset and intense that I couldn't really handle it.  I had finished feeling well but I was quite hot, concerned about what was happening and there was a stress level coming from the ever increasing crowd that was undeniable. I didn't feel up to heated debate about decisions that the race management had made that I wasn't even clear on.

Eric was able to finish as well and he was concerned. There is no doubt that the on course tension had increased 10 fold as time rolled on and he was worried about my safety. When you have local law enforcement yelling that "there is no room in the med tent!!!" that certainly inspires a feeling of worry.

Someone was grumpy
In the post race emails that we have received it seems like concern for the well being of the runners was the number one goal of the day. In an emotionally charged situation there is always room for things to go wrong and on this day, it mostly went right. Nobody died. Was it the "right" choice to cancel the race? Well, there were guidelines and they followed them so no discussion is needed.
Would I be singing a different tune if I had not finished? Who knows. All I can speak to is my own experience. What I experienced were the words of one aid station's worth of volunteers saying to "consider walking." I know this, quickly, became more intense. And yes, I was motivated to finish. With just over one mile to go, and feeling good it was a no brainer.
(I also know that this was an amazingly well supported race. Abundant aid stations. Ample fluids. Tons of ice, including roving vehicles carrying ice, lots of med staff on course and PLENTY of cups!)

Despite the challenges of the day I give VCM respect for hosting a really great race. I wouldn't hesitate to return and I can't say that about every race (as you all know.)
We learned, after the fact that everyone who finished prior to 4:30 would have an official time. Thank heavens that my 4:09 is valid ;-) Looking at the results it appears that 932 people have a finishing time, which appears to be less than half of the starters. A tough day. 
Eric and I also enjoyed our time in Burlington very much, it was a beautiful town with lovely people are great beer!
To top off a fun weekend we were able to catch a Heady Topper truck and come home with an abundance of beer. WIN.  (Eric requests a whole blog post to cover this topic, which is valid.)

It was a unique situation to be part of and has, in the aftermath sparked some lively discussion about the responsibility of the runner, and the race on a day such as we saw.
I'm curious to get your thoughts. What would you have done if you were me? Would you have stopped or continued on? Would you have been concerned that you might get arrested!?



  1. You were right to keep running because you are an experienced marathoner who listens to her body. Many others in the race did not fit this description so they had to tell everyone to stop.
    I would have kept going assuming I was feeling as good as you were. However if a cop blocked the road, I would have stopped albeit reluctantly.

  2. Great race recap. I live in Burlington and ran the 2 person relay. We finished in 3:50 so we were not affected by the race stoppage. But the heat OMG. I support the RD decision to stop the race. They are all runners and this was not something they wanted to do. The safety of the runners is the #1 goal. I volunteered at the finish area after my leg was done and there were a lot of angry people that I tried to calm down. Wasn't happening for some people. Yes there was some stuff that was done wrong but we learn from mistakes. Everyone went home that is what matters in my mind.

  3. I wish race directors would make the decision BEFORE the race instead of into the race. I don't think it's fair to the runners who are on the course. But I'm not a race director so what do I know.

    Good job. Congrats. And whatnot.

  4. In your situation, with just over a mile to go, I would have finished the race as well! Getting arrested would not have occurred to me. But it sounds like there were many people who needed to be forced to stop, so it was probably a good decision by the race management! I have also heard many great things about VCM and look forward to running it someday.