Sunday, September 10, 2017

You've Got This! Redemption and a BQ at the 2017 VT City Marathon

“Follow me”, the race official says as he leads me to the entrance of the preferred starting corral at the 2017 People’s United Bank Vermont City Marathon. Because I had run a half marathon time that fell within the parameters of qualifying for a preferred coral spot, I was receiving a dose of what felt like VIP treatment. The start of the race was only 5 minutes away and I needed to get to the starting line-pronto!

I usually don’t like to cut it so close, but my arrival had been delayed by a much needed detour to the port-o-potty. Hustling through the crowd to get to the line and unclear of the quickest way to get there caused me to utter in frustration-“how the hell do you get up there!” The race official (God bless him) sensed my need for assistance and quickly responded. Now, here I am at the line, moments away from what I am hoping will be a redemption run. Redemption from 2 years ago when at this very race I experienced my first ever DNF (see my blog post Exposed to Kryptonite).


As I stand at the line in anticipation of the starting horn I feel optimistic (because my training had gone well), excited (it’s race day, how can I not be?), anxious (it’s race day, how can I not be?) and even though it might seem contradictory- at peace. The sense of being at peace was because I was placing no pressure on myself to run a specific time. Sure, I had goals--the primary one being to improve upon my Boston qualifying time of 3:20 from the 2016 Clarence Demar Marathon-but achieving that goal wasn’t going to be my sole measuring stick of a good day. I also wanted to enjoy the journey and have fun. I get to run today after all. Run in the beautiful city of Burlington with a stunning view of Lake Champlain and enthusiastic spectators. Positive energy is all around me.

At last, the horn sounds and we are off and running. The glorious sound of ringing church bells mixed with the energizing cheers from spectators make goose bumps appear. As we loop through the city for 3 miles I feel pleased with myself. Pleased because I feel I have been running smart. My pace is not too fast yet not too slow, putting me in a good position to better negotiate the challenges of the upcoming 24.2(can’t forget the .2) miles.

For miles 4-8 the course exits the streets of downtown and enters the wide open and rolling stretches of the Burlington Beltline (route 127). This part would be tough mentally if it weren’t for the fact that it’s out and back, allowing runners to encourage each other as they pass. Runners are also treated to the much needed energizing rhythms from a band playing Brazilian music at around miles 5 and 7. My effort is consistent throughout this section although my pace does waver some due to the rolling terrain. As I climb the hill that exits the beltline at mile 8, I am happy with both how I handled it and the fact that it is behind me. Upon re-entering downtown the energy from the spectators pushes me along like a strong tailwind.    

In the 2015 race mile 9 is where I felt the unraveling begin, with the wheels finally coming off at mile 10 as I slowed to what felt like a walk. Even though I’m very well prepared and my spring allergies haven’t reached threat level red like in 2015, I can’t help but have some flashbacks and feel slight anxiety. The voice of reason in my brain immediately kicks into damage control mode, making the proclamation; “You’ve got this! You trained. You’re prepared. Remember, you’re here to have fun.”

Suddenly, while descending spectator rich Church Street, a loud voice (not in my head this time) shouts-“Go Moe!” I don’t recognize the voice but it gives me a burst of energy and happiness. Further driving home the point the importance of enjoying today’s journey.

Turning from Church onto Main Street the cheers dampen momentarily as spectator numbers decrease briefly, only to return again as Main turns onto Pine Street, bringing spectators in abundance.  Energetic tunes blasted from a band on the corner add excitement to the moment. All this and the decline at the beginning of Pine Street provide momentum, pushing runners down this straight 1 ½ mile open stretch of the course.

As the course winds its way through partying spectator abundant neighborhoods, then through picturesque Oakledge Park, there is no shortage of positive vibes in the air. I soak it all in while staying alert to my pace. At Oakledge I cross the half marathon checkpoint in 1:33:57. I’m feeling good, running smart and having fun, right on par with my mission.  Spectators and athletes mingle in the vicinity of the half marathon checkpoint, which is also an exchange zone for the 2 person relay.  Once again, an unknown voice shouts from the group-“Yeah, Go Moe"! This bit of encouragement gives me just the extra boost I need to carry me through the miles leading up the biggest challenge on the course, that being Battery Street Hill.

It’s starting to get a little toasty as the temperature and the humidity start to creep higher. Not a crazy amount but it is taking a slight toll. I’m noticing my perceived exertion level is climbing a bit even though my pace is holding steady. With minimal shady spots until mile 21 it will be essential to take precautionary measures to stay cool. This will involve the periodic self-induced dousing with water when passing through an aid station (oh yeah, and drinking it too) and running through the water sprayer stations scattered about the course. I will also consume my power pills I have stashed in my shorts pocket.*

*Actually they are electrolyte capsules. Calling them power pills is more fun.

After a loop that includes Oakledge Park and some surrounding neighborhoods, the course reconnects with Pine Street, this time ascending it before turning on to King Street. About half way up Pine is a water spraying station, I leap through like a kid running through a sprinkler on a hot summer day. Gotta stay cool!

King Street is a downhill stretch which is nice change, but I know what is lurking around the bend-the infamous BATTERY ST HILL. Each foot strike brings me closer to this impending climb. From the corner of King and Battery to the top of Battery is ½ mile. It’s a straight ½ mile and looking into the distance towards the top can be a bit intimidating. It looks like you are running to infinity, never making any progress towards your goal.

As I turn onto Battery I hear the motivating beats of the Taiko drummers coming from their standard location just prior to the steepest section of Battery (the last ¼ mile). Despite their presence I know that looking towards the top of the climb could still be psychologically detrimental. When we have a goal sometimes achieving it can seem like such a lengthy process, making it appear overwhelming. However, if we break our ultimate goal up into multiple smaller goals the process becomes far more achievable. I take this approach with climbing Battery. My smaller goals are ascending the hill 10-15 feet at a time, which is where I keep my eyes focused. 

Before I know it I’m at the top. At the top of the hill I have a momentary flashback to 2 years ago. This is the point where I finally pulled the plug and dropped out of the race. “Not this year”, I think to myself, “I got this!”

Shortly beyond Battery Street is the 16 mile marker. I cruise past if feeling good but cautiously optimistic. A lot can happen in 10.2 miles after all.  As a precautionary measurement I repeat the affirmation in my mind- “You have strength! You got this!” There is some fluctuation in my pace but overall it’s pretty consistent.  My journey continues.

Just beyond mile 17 the course loops through Lakewood Parkway. Always a festive loop this community regularly wins the runner's vote for most spirit. Music fills the air, cowbells ring, cheers are screamed, and someone even took it upon themselves to make a kissing booth. On the final section of the loop the group Sciatica (the Burlington Marathon band) rocks out for some extra motivation. Or, as their description says on their Facebook page: Sciatica gives runners at mile 18 a sonic baptism of pure rawk. All these sights and sounds are great distractions from the unavoidable fatigue associated with having run 18 miles. Plus it's kind of cool to know I've been sonically baptized. 

The course meanders through various streets and neighborhoods until at last I cross the mile 20 checkpoint in 2 hours 27 minutes and 2 seconds. My average pace is 7:21 per mile. The increased temperature has definitely taken a toll as my pace has slowed from the first half in which I averaged 7:10 per mile. But, I’m still on track to achieve my primary goal. I give myself a mental high 5.

When getting close to achieving a goal the process usually becomes more challenging. It’s as if we are being tested by the Universe to see how bad we really want success. The marathon is no different. Miles 20-26.2 are the most challenging both mentally and physically. The finish line is near, but even when keeping the same pace every mile can feel like 2. It’s when this struggle occurs that our abilty to persevere is tested.  Perseverance is essential for success in any venture. This is one of the many ways marathon running is a metaphor for life.

To get through these final miles I typically use some mental trickery. When I have 6 miles to go, I don’t think to myself, “only 6 miles to go.” Instead, I think of it as six one mile runs. For example, since today I am averaging slightly over 7 minutes per mile I tell myself, “only six 7’s to go.” I focus on 7 minutes and then the next 7 minutes and so on. Running 6 miles at my current pace will take over 42 minutes, which in a fatigued state can seem like an eternity when thinking about it. But, surely I can run another 7 minutes. Time still seems to go by slower but at least mentally it is easier to deal with 7 minutes at a time.

My pace starts to waver as my energy ebbs and flows. 7:30 pace one mile, 7:45 pace the next, and then back to 7:30.  I don’t feel like I’m in danger of hitting “the wall” but my legs are feeling heavier, so I need to run smart.  Go too fast and I risk hitting the wall. Go too slow and I risk falling short of my goal. These final miles are dance on the line between these two paces.

At mile 24 I look at my watch and see that I am still very much on pace to be sub 3:20. How far below will depend upon how my legs respond during the final 2.2 miles. I estimate that at my current pace I should be able to finish with a time of around 3 hours and 15 minutes. As if on cue, the 3:15 pace group cruises by me on my left. “Keep them in your sights Moe and you’ve got this”, I tell myself.

My brain sends a command to my legs; “C’mon, cooperate for 15 minutes, then you can rest all you want.” My legs reply like Scotty in the engine room of the USS Enterprise; “We’re giving it all we got Captain!”  

The presence of a pace group in my sights acts like a slipstream. I am by no means running in this group, but knowing that they are in front of me helps me find another gear. I run strong and steady, my pace never wavering. Before I know it I am passing North Beach at mile 25, then I’m on the new stretch of bike path at 25.5.  Excitement builds with every step. My inner voice shouts out- “You’ve got this Moe. It’s yours! It’s yours!” I dig deeper into my energy reserves to knock off every additional second I can. Turning onto the chute to the finish I hear the race announcer call out my name. Giving whatever I have left in my kick to the finish to cross the line in a time of 3 hours 15 minutes and 18 seconds. 

Happily reflecting upon my race, I feel as though I ran one of my smartest marathons. First of all, I accomplished my primary goal, besting my previous Boston qualifying time by 5 minutes. Woohoo!! In the process I paced myself well, staying fairly consistent throughout the race; I made adjustments along the way to correspond with the conditions; and perhaps most importantly, I enjoyed the journey. I soaked up all the energy and excitement on the course and as a result I had fun. As obvious as fun’s importance may seem, it is often forgotten when we pursue our goals. It’s easy to become so fixated on the process that we overlook the value and importance of it. Without it we cannot become our best selves. It helps us relax, stay positive, and transmit that much needed positivity into our environment. 

Another important part of life is to celebrate successes. With that in mind, I thank my legs for getting me through and tell them now they just have to take me to the beer tent.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this Moe.
    Jess Cover

    1. Thanks Jess! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It was fun to relive the day as I wrote it.