Last year I traveled to Vermont for Memorial Day Weekend to run the Vermont City Marathon and visit with my friend Katie and her family. It was so much fun but the stress of preparing for the marathon (in a hurricane) was definitely distracting so I vowed to return again this year and take some of the pressure off by running the relay instead. This way I could focus on spending time with my friends on beautiful Coates Island in Colchester, VT.
The past couple of years I have visited Coates Island the weather had been bad so this was the first time I actually had the opportunity to stay on the island. It was a beautiful weekend and we took full advantage of that by spending most of our time outside. After I arrived on Saturday we drove into Burlington and had lunch on Church Street. It was busy with tons of people celebrating the long weekend and in town for the race but we were still able to find somewhere to grab a bite and enjoy Burlington.
Katie and her family have been participating in VCM in some capacity for many years. There is always a group of family, extended family and friends running the marathon or one of the relays. This year we had one 2-man relay team and two 5-man relay teams. A bunch of us gathered the night before for a traditional pasta dinner. There was a lot of talk which relay team would finish first and what everyone had been doing to prepare. Meanwhile the kids where keeping busy with the water balloons we had filled up earlier that day. The sun doesn’t set until almost 8:30 there so we were outside fighting off mosquitoes until late and I suddenly realized how tired I was and we were getting up pretty early for the race. I fell asleep immediately and was ready to roll when the alarm went off early Sunday morning.
Our relay teams were both sponsored by Key Bank, the primary sponsor of the marathon. We were the KEY Advisers and the MonKEY Milers. I was assigned the second leg of the course for the MonKEY Milers which would take me 5.8 miles (+/-) from the top of Battery Park, out the belt line and back. I hear that a lot of people don’t like this leg because it’s boring, but I was excited. I distinctly remember this section of the course from last year and feeling great at that point of the marathon. It was also the perfect distance for me to try and run with some speed. I’ve been trying to pick up my pace with shorter distances and it’s been slowly coming back so I was going to test myself in the relay.
Our first runner, Dave, was coming back from a running hiatus after a car accident shattered his ankle and did some other crazy damage. He just started running again recently so he took a shorter leg (3.3 miles) and wasn’t planning to run very fast even though prior to his accident he was training to qualify for Boston. As I waited for Dave at the exchange I had a feeling he might finish much sooner than we originally anticipated. I started to weave my way through the crowd to make sure I was in the road and ready when Dave got to the exchange and sure enough, seconds later he came running through the shoot waving our team bracelet and yelling my name. I took off for my leg feeling strong and hoping to run around an 8:15 minute mile. I knew that this part of the course was relatively flat so I wasn’t too afraid of stepping on the gas right away.
I took off fast and clocked a 7:29 at the end of the first mile. I felt pretty good but didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. Backing off I was able to stay below an 8 minute mile for the next few miles and still felt great. The last couple of miles I was starting to get tired and there was a bit of an incline but my slowest mile was 8:10 and I was going to finish much stronger than anticipated.
Around mile 5 I started to get prepared to hand the bracelet off to Joe. Sooner than expected I saw an exchange area and started to move toward the left and look for him but strangely there was barely anyone there. Admittedly it took me several moments to realize that I was passing the 2nd exchange where I began and I still had about a third of a mile to go. Finally I rounded the corner on to Pearl Street and heard someone yell my name. I turned my head to see Stephanie and while I was excited to see her – she is on the other relay team so I had to keep looking for Joe. I continued running and starting to yell his name and finally he jumped out of the crowd to grab the bracelet and begin his run. I looked down to stop my watch and was thrilled that I had averaged a 7:52 minute mile. It’s been a while since I have been able to hold that pace and I was excited that it had come so naturally to me.
I found Stephanie again and waited with her until their next runner, Andrew, sprinted in. It was somewhat stressful waiting for your runner and making sure you didn’t miss them. They had volunteers yelling the numbers for runners coming in and when I heard Stephanie’s bib number I think I pushed her onto the course to grab the bracelet from Andrew.
The night before I was a bit anxious about how I would find everyone after my run and our friend Tricia said that it usually just works out and we all run into each other. Still, I was nervous so I ended up running with my phone in my pocket. It wasn’t until after I finished and instantly found Dave (our runner #1) that I realized she was right. The exchange areas and finish line are so centrally located that I was able to find our group right away. We hung out in the park and cheered for the runners that were now climbing up the hill at Battery Park. They call this the ‘assault on Battery Hill’ since it’s a pretty steep climb at mile 15 of the marathon course.
I had a really hard time with this section when running the marathon last year and felt that the people cheering were super helpful so this time I tried to be a encouraging spectator. We saw some friends head up the hill and then headed to the finish line. As a Key Bank sponsored team we all had bracelets to the VIP area which included a couple of bathrooms with no line, breakfast and lunch and some bleachers set up just before the finish. Since they give out a limited number of these bracelets it’s not crowded at all and a great place to finish watching the race. Last year, I was so exhausted, wet and miserable after my marathon that I didn’t have an opportunity to appreciate how great this luxury is but I really got to enjoy it this year.
The MonKEY Milers finished the VCM Relay in 3:49:57 successfully defeating the Key Advisors who finished in 3:58:28 and Dan’s 2-man relay team finished in 2:53:32. The weather was perfect, everyone had fun and it was an all-around awesome day. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite annual traditions and I am certain I’ll be back again soon.
Thank you to the Vermont City Marathon organizers and volunteers for another great event. I saw the race from a new point of view as a relay runner this year and it made me love it even more! Thank you to Kate and Dan Connors for their hospitality and everyone who helped make my latest trip to Coates Island such a great experience. I can’t wait to come back next year!
Sadly, missing from the day was Kate’s mom, Margaret Coates, who was always a central part of the Memorial Day/ VCM festivities. Mrs. Coates passed away suddenly just two weeks before the race and although her family was still struggling with their loss, it was important to them to carry on the tradition of the holiday event. It was clear that her spirit was with us throughout the weekend and it was felt in all the laughter and joy we enjoyed together.