Race Recap: Vermont City Marathon 2016

Disclaimer: I received an entry into the Vermont City Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

This is gonna be a long one, folks, so bear with me. TL/DR: The race was cancelled at the four hour mark and I didn’t finish. You can also read my “just the facts” BibRave review minus all of my emotional baggage by clicking here.

I hit up the Sports and Fitness Expo on Friday around 4pm, and it was quite busy Still, though, getting my packet and t-shirt was very easy. Lots of local vendors and anything you could possibly need to purchase last minute–Body Glide, Gu’s, Shot Blocs, socks etc. Volunteers were encouraging runners to hydrate well, because conditions were expected to be very hot and humid. RunVermont had actually been very communicative all week regarding race day conditions, and had added extra aid stations, ice stations, misting stations, and encouraged residents of Burlington to pitch in and spray runners with hoses and sprinklers. I wandered around the expo for a while, but the only purchase I made was a #FueledbyDonuts tank top from the Montclair Bread Company.

Photo May 27, 4 28 52 PM (1)

After that I had a ladies’ night at Outback with some girlfriends for a much-needed drinks and chat session, and then I went home and chilled out for a while before an early bedtime. Saturday morning I had my shakeout run and yoga session with Athleta, then spent the day getting all of my gear together, and sitting on my butt. I was in bed, lights out by 9:45.

I woke up on my own at 5:10 am, then proceeded to just lay in bed until my alarm went off at 5:30. I had my bagel with cream cheese, plus 16 oz of watered down Gatorade. I proceeded to sip more water while I got ready, then got in the car at 7 am to find parking downtown. I parked at the corner of King Street and St. Paul, because that lot is my personal favorite lot, and because parking is free on Sundays, I didn’t have to worry about feeding the meters.

I walked slowly over to the start area in Battery Park, checked my bag, and used a porta-potty. I met up with my dad about 15 minutes before the start, chatted, took some pictures, and then got into the corral with the 5 hour pace group. Temps were already in the 70’s at 8 am, and we already had yellow flag (moderate health risk) conditions. We had been told that if conditions reached black flag (extreme health risk), the race would be cancelled.

Photo May 29, 7 52 24 AM

I spent the first 3 miles grinning like an idiot. I was taking my time, focusing on not going out too fast, and just trying to enjoy my first marathon. The crowd support through the downtown area is insane. Thousands of spectators cheering, ringing cowbells, waving signs, and just being so encouraging. After the first loop through downtown, we headed out onto the Beltline.

I had been warned in advance that this stretch is the toughest part of the marathon, and it’s absolutely true. It’s a long out and back on a closed highway, totally exposed to the sun. It was on the Beltline, at around mile 5.5, that I had to start using run/walk intervals, and where I started to realize that this was going to be a hell of a lot harder than I thought. There was an aid station at mile 5.5ish that was already struggling to keep up with the demand for water and Gatorade. There weren’t any cups ready to go, so runners were having to stop and wait. There was also a sign indicating red flag (high health risk) conditions. I plugged along, trying not to push too hard, and finally made it to the turnaround and headed back. By the time I reached the aid station again (mile 6.5ish), they were completely out of water and Gatorade. Completely. Out. Thankfully, I had my OrangeMud VP with Nuun in the bottle, but not everyone had brought their own hydration, and people were NOT happy.

Photo May 31, 2 28 46 PMFinally, the Beltline ended and we ran back through downtown. My dad was waiting to take pictures and cheer me on, and I thought that surely I must be out of the woods now that the Beltline was over. WRONG! My strugglebus was just starting to rev its engine. The heat was already getting to me, and I felt awful. I couldn’t keep up with my 10:1 intervals, and just started walking whenever I felt like it. I had a huge group of my Lyric Theatre friends cheering on Pine Street (mile 9ish), which was a great boost, but I was already doubting my ability to finish. It was so damn hot and I felt sick. Ben was waiting for me at the end of Pine Street, and I told him how shitty I was feeling. He encouraged me to keep going, but not to do anything that was going to end up with me hurt or sick.

A half mile or so later, I ran into my friend Erik on his motorcycle. He was ferrying around a course photographer, so I stopped for a hug and a little encouragement. I was barely running, and seriously considering quitting at the halfway point. We were running through a nice residential area, and people were spraying us with hoses, which was SO NICE. I got an orange slice and some pretzels, which really helped me feel a bit better, and I don’t even like oranges. I made it through the halfway point at Oakledge Park, and decided that come hell or high water, I was finishing this damn marathon.

I was walking at least as much as I was running, but I was still moving, and that was all I cared about. I made it back to Pine Street, passed my friends again, and just focused on moving as much as I could. Mile 15 is the “Assault on Battery,” Vermont’s own Heartbreak Hill. Some friends were there, plus my dad and sister, who brought water for me to refill my OM bottle, and Ben was there too. I power-walked up the hill, and then continued alternating running and walking as much as I could out North Ave.

At around mile 17, I turned into a neighborhood called Lakewood Estates, and can I just tell you that this neighborhood is magical? Almost every house had some kind of unofficial support–hoses, sprinklers, music, ice, water, even a few live bands. There were all kinds of people giving out high fives and shouting encouragement. It was amazing, and I started to feel better. The sun had gone behind some clouds, and I was sure that I was going to finish.

I got back out onto North Ave for a bit, then turned down Leddy Ave, walking and running as much as I could. There were volunteers handing out potato chips, pretzels, and orange slices, so I grabbed some chips and an orange slice for some salt and natural sugar, and then all of a sudden there was a guy on a bullhorn. “I just received word that the race has been cancelled due to extreme conditions. Please proceed to the next official aid station for instructions.” I was in shock. Surely this was a mistake. A bad joke. Not reality.

I ran down the hill into the Leddy Park parking lot and there was a volunteer at the aid station confirming what I’d heard. Extreme conditions. Race cancelled. No more timing. No more water stations. We won’t stop you from finishing, but we highly discourage it. Busses are coming to take you to the finish. Everyone gets a medal. I just stood there dumbly. I texted my dad and sister–yeah, they’d heard. I texted Ben, my mom, Coach Suz, Team Can-Am… I was in a daze. Coach Suz asked if I was going to continue, and I honestly thought about it, but knew there was no way I could finish without more water stations. And suddenly, I was mad. The volunteer who was announcing that the race was over was kind of a dick, to be honest. No apologies. No sympathy. Just trying to get people to stop. I know it was for everyone’s good, but I think that particular volunteer handled it poorly. He was yelling that water was “shut off,” even though there was a table full of water right behind him. Another volunteer saw me standing there, and asked if I wanted some ice. He gave me a full cup of ice and I stood there chewing on it and just trying to process what was happening.


We had to walk about a 1/2 mile back up to North Ave to catch the shuttle buses, and then the final indignity was that the bus I was on dropped us off at least a half mile from the finish area, and we didn’t receive any instructions about where to go to get our medals. Meanwhile race volunteers had told my family that I would be dropped off over at the Echo Center, almost a mile away from where I was actually dropped off. Apparently, because I was on the first bus, they hadn’t figured things out yet. I hobbled to the waterfront, and the finish line was still open, right there. People were still cheering and runners were still crossing the finish line and I just felt so numb.

I found my family and got my medal and left the area as soon as I could. I was pretty much in shock until I started to write this recap on Monday. And then I just burst into tears while typing this up because I can’t fucking believe this happened. I have also heard from numerous people that what I was told was misinformation–there were still water stations, chip times were still being recorded (even though “official” results would not be honored), and the finish line stayed open. So it seems that I could have continued, but I just gave up. Apparently lots of runners finished after the race was “cancelled.” They finished in spite of the course being “closed” and in spite of the conditions. And I feel like a failure.

So now I don’t really know what’s next. On the one hand, I feel sort of like I’m “supposed” to run out and find a redemption race because otherwise all of this training was just a waste of time. But on the other hand, I don’t know if I can put myself through this again. I had to fight for every single step on Sunday, and who’s to say that the next marathon will have better conditions? It’s summer. Any race day between now and October could end up with high temps and misery. And there’s also the financial aspect. Signing up for another marathon is gonna cost probably at least $100, plus travel and accommodations, and I really can’t afford that right now. I’ve talked about it with Coach Suz some, but I still don’t know.

Needless to say, this is not the recap I had hoped to write, and this race was not the experience I’d hoped for. I still kind of feel like I’m in shock.. I feel like I’m some stupid, overly emotional crybaby because I’m letting this get to me so much. I’m tired of thinking about it. Tired of trying to analyze it. Tired of talking about it.

How do you pick yourself up after a terrible, horrible, no good very bad race?

38 thoughts on “Race Recap: Vermont City Marathon 2016

  1. prairieprincessrunners says:

    Dude. Feel your feels. Truth be told, I’m in awe of you for training and for how well you are handling this whole thing. You are my hero.

    You are not a failure. Failure is not trying. Not showing up when you know it’s probably going to be uncomfortable and miserable. Remember…you showed up. You trained. You ran. You dripped all the sweat. Rode that struggle bus. You didn’t quit. That is the most important part.

    Take some time to recover. Enjoy some date nights with Ben and some girls nights, too. Maybe grab your mom for a spa day. When you feel like running again, you will. And if you want to run another marathon, you will. You won’t lose that mental toughness, and arguably, after this experience, you will be more fierce and ready to take on whatever races lie ahead of you, be it a mile or a marathon.

    Love you lady and please know I’m so, so, so proud of you. xo

  2. charissarunning says:

    Aw Rae – I’m so sorry this didn’t turn out the way you expected. You are most definitely NOT a failure though. You listened to the information you were given at the time and were forced to make a decision without all the right information. I’ve heard from numerous people that this race was the toughest race of their lives and I’m very proud of you for being a part of it 😀 I do think you should take some time to rest, relax, and recover before even thinking about a redemption race. Marathon training is hard and you were ready to run it this past weekend (in fact given the awful conditions, I feel like you ran the equivalent of MORE than a marathon). Give yourself a break now from the rigidity of training, have fun with some easy running, and when you feel ready to do a marathon again (if ever you want to), pick one that’s more likely to be cooler – Nov/Dec are great times for that with Philly or Rehoboth Beach (my personal fave) in Delaware.

    P.S. Now we have matching green Fueled by Doughnuts tanks! 😀

  3. Run Colby Run says:

    Oh Rae. I am so, so very sorry. I want you to know that what you accomplished- 19 miles in those conditions, is more than a marathon. It is a testament to YOU- your endurance, your tenacity, your work. I can only imagine how devastated you are about this. But, try not to let it diminish all you accomplished on Sunday. You Rock, Lady. 🙂 I was waiting for you at the finish and was so devastated when we had caught word they had cancelled. I ran the 2 person relay and my partner had finished prior to the announcement. I can’t imagine how you felt out there. I had wondered about the Beltline. Water was getting scarce when I had run through. I can’t imagine even making it through there without extra. It was an inferno. The people of Vermont were so lovely. It was unprecedented. And a total suckfest all around. I am proud of you Rae. xoxoxo

  4. Anna @ Piper's Run says:

    So sorry to hear this was your experience. Don’t beat yourself up about not finishing the distance when others did. You make the right choice for you at that time. Be proud of your training, be proud of getting to the start line and be proud for accomplishing the distance you did – all of which I’m sure is hard to do.
    As for what’s next? What about some local 5k’s or 10ks? No, it’s not a full marathon but it would be another race to potentially shake off the stress of not finishing one.

  5. Rebecca Royy says:

    I heard about the race cancellation on Sunday and immediately thought of you. I’m sorry it was such awful conditions, but congratulations on your really awesome effort!

  6. Jenn @ Fairest Run of All says:

    😦 😦 😦

    This BLOWS. You definitely made the right call with the information you had, but it sucks that the aid stations and finish line stayed open and they didn’t tell you that. You don’t ever have to do it again if you don’t want to – but maybe BibRave Pro will offer you something new? That would help with the financial bit. 🙂

    Regardless, you coped amazingly well in a sucky situation. I probably would’ve cried the whole time ’cause I’m a baby.

  7. SuzLyfe says:

    First off, and I want to say this loud and clear, you absolutely made the right decision. The conditions were unsafe, and I am glad that you said for yourself that you weren’t continuing (versus me telling you not to, because that was what was coming next). I wish I knew the right solution or right thing to say; as your Coach, I want so badly to be able to say something to fill the void that you are feeling right now. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this happening for you, and as your coach, I wish I had been able to prepare you for it.

    Whatever you decide, I will be there for you. But right now I think that you need to grieve a little bit. I am so sorry.

  8. EB (@EBWMass) says:

    Keep your head up Rachel and please don’t give up on the marathon after this one experience. This was my 12th marathon and by far, the most mentally taxing. My wife and I eventually finished in 4:42 and the finish line was definitely still open, as were all the water stops on the bike trail. I completely agree with you that RunVermont dropped the ball in terms of communication with runners on the course and you’re right to be mad. While I think they made the correct decision for the safety of runners, the manner in which they communicated it was terrible. It’s like they’d never practiced or rehearsed it. Sadly, I believe they will see a dip in interest/attendance for next years race because of this.

    The tough race you ran through Mile 19 when you were basically ordered to stop will only make you a stronger runner, physically but more so mentally. Take some time off for your body to heal now but I’d strongly encourage you to explore the possibility of a redemption marathon in the fall. There’s next to no chance the weather will be as hot as it was at VCM. You deserve to feel the full sense of accomplishment at finishing 26.2. If not for these conditions/poor race communication, you would have made it.

    • Rae says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m very glad you and your wife were able to finish, it was awful out there! I definitely just need more time to process and decide what I want to do.

  9. dgobs says:

    Huge hugs, Rae! I’m so sorry your race happened like this. When I heard from people in my run club that the race had been called, I thought of you and wondered how you were doing. I can understand why you’re feeling like a failure, but please know that you’re not!! It’s completely unfair that you got incorrect information (and that the volunteer making the announcement was such a dick), and your not finishing the race doesn’t reflect on you at all. You made it 19 miles in ridiculous conditions – that’s no small feat. You are awesome.

  10. Darlene says:

    So sad for you. You’re not a failure. Not your fault that they were A-holes. I wish I could have found you. I would have walked you to the finish line!!

    This confirms why I may never run a full marathon. You are right to be devastated.

    You are still a runner if you never do another!!

  11. Fallon @ Slacker Runner says:

    I am so sad that you weren’t able to finish the race. You trained through such a crazy busy time and then it have it end like it did, I am so sorry. I get how you would be unsure of which way to go now plus the whole experience probably just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Take some more time this week to decide what to do… maybe a longer race will jump out at you, may shorter and faster is the way to go. Either way, you accomplished training for a marathon and that is freakin’ awesome. You rock!

  12. Nora says:

    How disappointing! I cannot imagine how frustrating this must feel. I’ve never run a marathon, but when I do, if something beyond my control happens to cancel it…I feel like I would just cry all day.
    The only good thing about terrible race experiences is they make the great ones that much sweeter. I’ve learned that bad races are a necessarily evil for perpetual long distance runners. I try to harness those feelings to use during training for the next one. But there’s a mourning period for sure.

  13. txa1265 says:

    That is just major league suckage. 😦

    At least my initial understanding made more sense, allowed for some sort of closure and so on. Now you are stuck not just dealing with how you felt through the race – you also need to deal with a sea of self-doubt and ‘what if’s?!?! Ugh – thanks for nothing, race!

    I have mixed feelings about the volunteer … because runners are insane. We run hurt, dehydrated, we fall down from exhaustion and others come over not to get us help and stop us from running more – but instead to help us get up to continue across the finish line. Sometimes we NEED an a$$hat to shake us up.

    Personally I think you should free yourself from the ‘need’ to run a marathon, and remove any sense that it is ‘required’ for ANYTHING. I did that for myself and Ultras – sure I want to run one and will probably do so in the next few years. But a couple of years ago it felt like part of a progression, I was signed up for one, got an entry from wait-list from another, had to decline both due to scheduling (kids, of course!) … and then felt like I HAD to do one. Um, no. Letting that go as a requirement has meant taking away that power from a silly race, and just sticking with my love of running.

    To me the most important thing is the love of running and the feeling of health and fitness it brings me. I will chase that until I cannot run another step.

    • Rae says:

      Thanks, Mike. I definitely have not been feeling the love of running lately, so I’m just trying to take the pressure off and do what I love to do–short runs, and speed work. I have a 10k race in July to train for and I think that will be just the ticket.

      • txa1265 says:

        Exactly! Another run-blogger friend (trexrunner) has had injuries and surgeries and simply cannot run like she used to, so marathons are out … but she has become a barre instructor and learned to love many other fitness things apart from just running.

        It is hard in this social media driven online world to remember that everything we see is curated, and that ultimately chasing someone else’s supposed ideal will never lead to our own happiness.

  14. Caitlin B says:

    I’m so sorry, Rachel. I was thinking about you on Sunday! You did more than what you thought was possible, and that is something to be really proud of. I feel like I always learn more about myself during and after a bad race, and I guarantee this will make you a stronger runner in the future.

    I think in some ways this could be seen as a blessing in disguise. You want to finish your first marathon feeling strong, proud, and above all else, happy. The last time I ran VCM was in 2011 and the conditions were fairly similar to Sunday – incredibly hot and incredibly humid. The second I crossed the finish line, I burst into tears because I was in so much pain. I was sweaty, I felt sick, my heels were bleeding and I didn’t even know it. I was missing the joy that usually comes from finishing a race, and for the longest time I didn’t even consider it a real “finish” because of the toll the heat had taken on my time. (Now I sure do, though!)

    After a disappointing race, my first reaction has always been to sign up for another one. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to rethink that approach. The races I’ve ended up doing because I thought I “should” do them always end up being a struggle. I’ve been trying to only sign up for races that I am really excited to train for, and for right now, I think that means taking a little break from marathons.

    – Caitlin

    • Rae says:

      Thanks so much, Caitlin. It was definitely a huge disappointment, and has me questioning what I really want to do. I’m causally researching fall marathons, but not ready to commit to anything yet. I just want to feel good about running for a while, and I wasn’t getting that these last few weeks of marathon training.

  15. hellyontherun says:

    I wanted to wait to read this as life has been a little crazy post-canyon. First, it’s completely okay to feel emotional. I mean, a good chunk of your life was spent preparing for this! Think of it as prepping for a show for months only to have it be cancelled. It would absolutely be devastating, just like this was. So feel all the emotions, grieve, be angry, let it out in whatever way you know how and then slowly come back. If a marathon is in your future, you’ll go out more determined than ever. If this was the end of your marathon road, then so be it, and you know you won’t have to endure long training sessions anymore, lol!

    I know you’ll decide the right thing to do for *you*.


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