No one ever said a marathon was easy. I’m also pretty sure no one ever said a HILLY marathon was easy.
Such was the case this past Saturday, May 19th at the 3rd annual Shires of Vermont Marathon.
To give you some perspective, this is a point to point course in southern VT (from Bennington to Manchester) that weaves its way through idyllic countryside – some of the most beautiful you will ever see with quaint little communities nestled along the 26.2 mile course. If you have never visited this part of New England it’s a must see. Approximately an hour from where I live, it was the perfect setting.
Training for this wasn’t the smooth sailing I was predicting it to be. Coming off my Philly Marathon high last November left me with little steam to charge ahead mid-winter when temps were brutally frigid here in upstate New York. I was tired, I was cold, work was busy, and there was no hibernation season in the near future. Nevertheless, I had committed in late November/early December to run this one (before prices increased and after a previous marathon when I was weak and would’ve signed up for anything). I knew it would be tough but I live in a hilly area as it is and figured it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch from what I was familiar with.
I renegotiated my goals numerous times.
Course elevation, weather, and how you feel on race morning are always variables. I knew my 4:15 finish in Philly would not translate to a hilly course in warmer weather. In the weeks leading up to Shires, I attempted to take the pressure off myself and to focus on running this race for the challenge, in a decent time, and without injury. Goal met.
Most of the course was on unpaved, mildly rocky roads. While there was an overall net elevation loss, it took a lot of elevation gain to get there. Within the first several miles runners wound their way through the Bennington College campus, a slow and steady incline. Once on the back roads the gain felt greater than the descent and although I had to stop a few times to walk the hills out (a lot faster than attempting to run them and lose steam in the process), drink, eat, etc., I enjoyed these parts of the course because they were scenic and you could easily let your mind wander in the woods. With only 430 participants, the herd was quite thin. This was fine by me, and preferable. While I like the pomp and circumstance of a big race, those events have their place and sometimes it’s fulfilling (and important) to get lost in your head – no one else, no music, just running.
The water stations were frequent (every mile after mile 5, I think) and the volunteers were incredible. I walked through a water stop on one of the back roads, not having taken any this time, and one of the volunteers was overly concerned about my well-being. I was doing well, just slowing down a bit, and she walked with me to give me the lowdown on the road – what to watch for, how many hills, when it would even out. I felt so comforted and am so appreciative of many like her who stood out there for hours (for a while in the rain) with their kids offering as much support as possible. It’s always the volunteers who are truly the winners of any race.
I could go on and on about my experience at Shires but in an effort to keep things short, I finished in 4:41:36 with a grimace on my face, followed soon enough by a smile. This race was the most challenging I have ever run and probably the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done. I had the opportunity to chat with other runners which isn’t always possible during bigger events. So, aside from it being a challenging experience it was also humbling and afforded me the opportunity to meet a lot of different people along the way which I am so grateful for. I might even go as far to say that I am more proud of conquering this course that I am of any PR I have ever set for myself.
What was your most challenging race experience? Do you like running hills? What’s your secret for running them succesfully?