Disclaimer: I received a free entry to Vermont City Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to find and write race reviews!
TWENTY WEEKS of sweat and tears and complaining about the weather brought me to Burlington, Vermont to take on my second full marathon on Memorial Day weekend. After getting over the last few weeks of my training slump — alongside that confidence-building 22-miler — I was ready to do this race. I had no anxiety going into race week and wasn’t wishing for the moment to be over (not until mile 25 at least). And what I learned on race day was that I could push myself… and still have a blast. By no means is marathon training all fun. But if you’ve already seen my finish chute spoiler from Instagram, you could see the joy all over my face on a race well run.
Registration and Cost: I was comped a race entry through BibRave, though prices for the marathon range from $99 when registration first opens to $135 on race weekend. There is a relay option, too. It’s unclear if the half marathon was part of one of the relays — there are 2- to 5-person relay options, so probably the 2-person? There were 13.1 medals — but I don’t see the half as an option for registration.
Expo and Bib Pick-Up: I opted to book a hotel close to the start/finish lines, but the expo was held outside the downtown area about 2 miles away at the Sheraton Hotel & Convention Center. It’s probably walkable — but I didn’t want to do that the day before a marathon (we ended up renting a car for the weekend to explore some things outside of town anyways).
There were footprint stickers leading runners from the entry to the correct bib pick-up line — you then needed to take your bib over to the t-shirt tables to have activated. A clear plastic bag and matching bib number sticker was given for checking any items on race day — but no usual race branded cinch bag.
I liked the selection of vendors at this expo, which seemed to be more focused on local Vermont brands (including Cabot cheese samples and beer tastings from a local brewery). I got a ton of free things from Kinney Drug booth — several packs of K-tape and face wipes and lotion — holy moly! I discovered the Darn Tough sock brand at the Expo, too; and I am already obsessed with these merino wool socks. I bought a pair of their short Coolmax running socks too.
Swag: To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed with the race swag, given what some other races do for runners completing a full marathon (there was also a virtual “swag bag”). Though I have to keep perspective on how small this race is. The race shirt was a performance short sleeve with gender-specific colors; the women’s shirt was maroon, which was a nice change of (color) pace. I searched the expo to buy some kind of marathoner finisher jacket, and I found a nearly empty rack. There were no women’s size small in the race branded zip jacket. Only 3 mediums left. And I was at the expo an hour and a half after opening on Saturday. That’s NUTS that there wasn’t enough. The race sweatshirt was one of the thinner and cuter fit ones (no zip front), but I really wanted a jacket. Bummer about that. I also loved the Run the 802 branding for the local race series, but maybe I was so blinded by the other issue that I somehow missed those items? I also missed buying a 26.2 sticker for my car, and I have all the sads. ?
Course: Think of this course like a clover – it starts near Battery Park and takes four loops out of downtown Burlington and back, and then loops around another side of town (and repeat. and repeat). The first few miles were inside town and included our first pass down Church Street; the next few miles were out-and-back on open highway and it was BORING. I was happy to loop back into town again and end that portion.
I looked at the course elevation earlier in training and wasn’t dreading any real hills except for one. And that was Mile 15: The Assault on Battery. Somehow, when that hill happened, I had enough energy to keep running. Majority of VCM was flat, though there were some elevation changes. My quads are certainly telling the story of continuous rolling hills, however. Even a massage didn’t help. Woof.
The best parts of the course BY FAR were in the neighborhoods between Miles 18-21. More on that later. At Mile 22, the race hits the Burlington Bike Trail and continues to the finish at Waterfront Park. The trail portion was not as shaded as I had hoped and only had a glimpse of the lake view every so often. This was where the crowd support seriously dwindled and shit gets hard. I finally turned on my music.
Weather: The forecast 15 days out from the race called for rain, so I was delighted that awfulness had passed through early. However, the temps were expected to get pretty warm by the time I finished. Given that the race was “black-flagged” last year, this made me nervous (some runners I chatted with throughout the race had already finished 22-24 miles by the time the race was cancelled at 4 hours in, and no results were recorded beyond 4:30). We had a nice cool (but humid feeling) 54 degrees to start. The sun started to get very warm near the end and reached around 75 degrees. Naturally, the back part of the course is full sun. When I noticed that the red flags were up around mile 21, those thoughts kept creeping in and I was getting pissed (and nervous).
Note: This was partly why the Race Directors moved the start time to 7am this year.
Start line: I was a little overwhelmed and confused by the start area — despite the beautiful backdrop of Lake Champlain. I only found the starting corrals by stroke of luck (and walking around). I didn’t see any directional signage and thought the start was actually in the park (it was on the street next to). No corral assignments, so runners lined up by their expected pace — there was pace signage and pacers holding finish time signs. The course felt really crowded for the first few miles, and there was brick-paved roads, so it was a constant look down-look up to make sure that I wouldn’t trip over anything (like, a giant pedestrian walk sign in the middle of the road; why wouldn’t they remove that?) or run into another participant. The actual start line was around the corner from the corrals.
Aid Stations: All the aid stations were manned by WONDERFUL volunteers and it seemed all of the stations had water-Gatorade-water (perfect trifecta!). There was also a bonus candy aid station near the mid-point of the course, where I grabbed a cup of Skittles (YASSS!), and an ice pop station at the back portion of the course (I think I had 3 different ice pops throughout the back half of the race — thank you, Vermonters!). Clif shots and gels were provided at two different points, and there looked to be plenty of Kybos along the course, too.
Fans and entertainment: The race had some designated spots for course entertainment, but most of the fun came from the neighborhoods getting together to cheer and party. On our Church Street pass-throughs, there were drag queens giving high fives and many of the bars and restaurants seemed to be supporting the race by having their patios open earlier to spectators. The best section of the race, as I mentioned above, was after leaving the city and that awful hill on Battery Street. Starting with the 16.fun party on North Ave.
I was regularly dumping water on myself to keep cool as the temperatures were going up — and SO MANY neighbors set up sprinklers and spray hoses for us to run through (one kid even had a super soaker). THANK YOU! This was so appreciated. I wasn’t sure if my phone would be alive afterward, but I didn’t care.
Also in this neighborhood (I think I might have seen a sign that it was Lakewood? Not certain.): watermelon slices, oranges, bananas, candy, ice pops, neighborhood kids passing out drinks from their lemonade stands (adorable!)… a Tyrannosaurs running through sprinklers (I nearly had to stop from laughing so hard). And then by far one of the best things I’ve ever seen on a race course — shots of maple syrup. SHOTS OF MAPLE SYRUP. My race mantra was “Eat the Popsicle!” and I sure as hell was having a maple syrup shot. Isn’t that just so quintessentially Vermont?
Around mile 23, I started to feel tired and stiff. At 24, I was on the brink of having an emotional breakdown, feeling tears well up in my eyes and cursing myself for signing up for another marathon in the fall. Don’t know what that was all about; it wasn’t a wall — I knew that I could run more. I felt like I was on the brink of hyperventilating from choking back a big ugly cry. I pulled myself together.
Like I said earlier, this is where the crowd support thinned out, and it got hard; mile 25 was my wall. That’s when I felt done and ready to finish. Though as Forrest Gump says: I just kept running.
Best sign: You could have played chess
Or maybe the Vaseline signs? ? (you had to be there)
Finish line: The chute seemed to last forever, and I kept going back to memories of my first marathon. That extra .2 feels like a lifetime!
And then came the tears and hyperventilating. The outburst of emotion actually made me a little nervous. But I walked around for a bit and calmed down by the time I found the chocolate milk (and I guess I looked messed up enough that the volunteer gave me an extra one).
The finish area was just as confusing as the start. The volunteers handed us a bottled water and a bag (awesome!) to carry athlete food (fruit and chocolate milk… and I think there was free pizza). I didn’t automatically get a foil blanket, maybe Because of the heat, though I did see a few runners with them. I also didn’t see the results tent or a beer tent (was there one?). There were no chips left at Moe’s. All these things kind of fueled whatever emotional exhaustion I was feeling. And I had no idea where to go.
At that moment, my finish time notification from RaceJoy popped up on my Garmin. The reminder of all that hard training showed in a new marathon PR and my expected finish time based on my training.
The Medal: I love that the face of the medal has the infamous scene (and part of the VCM race logo) of the runners on Church Street and the sparkle is fun… but mine has a defect on it. Whomp, whomp..
After party: After a shower (and carefully looking for chafing and blisters), we walked down a few blocks to Citizen Cider for our own post-race celebration. They had gluten-free poutine and corn dogs and my day was complete.
Splits: Something wonky happened to my recorded watch splits after Mile 10 (it’s possible that I hit the lap button on my watch when removing my arm sleeves? At least it restarted!); I have the 10th lap at a .41 mile. Seems like I ran some long tangents too, with my Garmin clocking me at a total of 26.4 miles.
These are the official race splits:
Half: 2:15:24 (average pace 10:20)
20m: 3:30:11 (average pace 10:30)
The Great: Burlington is such an amazing place to go for a destination race. Also great if you love smaller races.
The Good: Vermont City Marathon has FREE race photos, which is AWESOME. I saw several photogs out on the course.
The Bad: Running in red flag conditions is scary. Find ways to stay cool!
The Ugly: I got some new chafing spots (ahem, butt crack) that I never experienced before. Must be from purposely getting wet throughout the race?
Average 10:39 pace
1327 overall place (out of 1985)
536 overall Female (out of 918)
My first entry in the 40-44 age group — 62 in that division (out of 110).