Monday, May 30, 2022

Vermont City Marathon: Pacing Greg

Yesterday morning I ran the Vermont City 2-person relay, which enabled me to run the first half of Greg's marathon with him. 

Greg chose this marathon because he wanted to experience a new city/state, and he wanted a late Spring marathon, having run Rehoboth Beach in December. Even though I am not a certified coach, Greg and I agree that I am qualified enough to be his coach, so I created a training plan for him. I have been his coach for his past 4-5 marathons, and it has worked out well in the past. 

We flew to Vermont on Friday. Our flight was delayed by about 90 minutes, which wasn't too bad considering the massive thunderstorms and tornado watch that came through the area during our originally scheduled departure time. We had dinner outside at a restaurant on Church Street, which is part of the marathon route. 

On Saturday morning, we did a shakeout run along the course. We identified where the big hills would be and we scoped out the start/finish area. Then we met up with Chad and his family for brunch. We've run a few marathons with Chad including Sugarloaf, B&A Trail, and New York City. Chad's goal is to complete a marathon in all 50 states. Chad's wife and twin children (11 year-olds) would be our cheering squad for the marathon. 

The twins were very excited about cheering for us in the morning. They wanted to wake up early to make sure that they were able to see us on both the first and second loop of the course. One of the twins, Nathan, was fascinated by my Instagram following and he got really excited about the opportunity to take a photo that could be seen by thousands of people. We told him that I got free shoes because of my Instagram following, and then he saw a sign at the restaurant that said "Follow us on Instagram". He asked if the restaurant would get free plates if people followed them on Instagram. Chad explained that it didn't exactly work that way. 

The expo was surprisingly not within walking distance of our hotel. The start/finish was very close to our hotel and many other hotels, and yet the expo was held at a hotel that was two miles away-- not even in the downtown area. Chad drove us there in his rental car and we met up with my relay partner, Emily. I met Emily on Instagram when I asked if anyone who lived in Vermont wanted to run the half marathon relay with me. She was very quick to reply and within 24 hours, we had signed up for the relay together. 

Even though I have run close to 200 races, I have never run a relay. I wasn't sure how the hand-off worked. Apparently you wear the bib on a belt around your waist. But Emily and I agreed that the belt felt awkward and we'd rather have it pinned to our chest, even if it cost us a minute at the transition. So we didn't take one of the belts and the plan was for me to start unpinning the bib as I approached the exchange area. The name of our relay team was Racing Stripes!

Before the Race
The alarm woke us up at 5:00, which rare because I am usually awake well before my alarm on race morning. We ate breakfast and got ready. We had outfits that matched each other and matched the colors of the race: forest green. We had the same shoes, too: the New Balance Fuel Cell RC Elite. This would be Greg's first time racing in "super shoes" with the carbon fiber plate. I recommended these shoes to him because I find them to be the most stable of all the super shoes I have tried. Chad knocked on our hotel door at 6:30 and we walked to the start line together. 

In the starting area, the announcer was very loud. No matter where you went, the speaker was blaring in our ears so we couldn't talk to each other. And the announcer spoke continually about how to line up in the corrals. So it was was 15 minutes of the announcer repeating the EXACT same thing over and over, really loudly. The funny thing was that he was telling some groups to go to the "left" and some to go to the "right" but of course, that could be either direction, depending on where you are facing! Chad lined up in his marathon corral and Greg lined up in my relay corral.

Even though Greg had a "preferred corral" bib enabling him to start at exactly at 7:00, I was not allowed to start with him as a relay runner. All of the 2-person relay teams started in the very last corral, which was released at 7:12. We had emailed the race director asking if I could be in the preferred corral with him, but he said that all relay teams had to start in the 7:12 corral, no exceptions. So Greg started with me. That meant 12 extra minutes of running in warmer weather at the end of the race and having to weave through the slower marathon runners. 

I asked the race director about the weaving in my email but he assured me that it wouldn't be a problem because the course was wide enough to pass people until you got on the bike path at mile 4. 

So Chad started the race at around 7:01 and Greg and I started at 7:12.

It was sunny with no cloud cover, a very light breeze and about 40% of the course was shaded. It was 58 degrees at the start and warmed up to 69 degrees by the time Greg finished. I would guess that it was about 63 when I finished. Thankfully the humidity was low. On my race weather scale, I give my race a 6 out of 10 -- too warm to run my fastest, but not detrimental either. If I had been running the full marathon, I would give it a 3 out of 10 because running in the upper 60s at the end of a full marathon would be extremely difficult for me. However, we knew that running in late May would likely be warm, so this weather was not unexpected and it was fairly decent relative to what it could have been.

Pacing Strategy
Greg races best when he runs a negative split. He has done this at most of his marathons and that was our plan for yesterday. He wanted to beat his PR of 3:19:51 from the Two Rivers Marathon (set in March 2021). So the plan was to run the first half in 1:40:00- or slightly under, and then for him to negative split by 2-3 minutes. 

We looked at the elevation profile of the course and I wrote down mile-by-mile splits on my arm based on

the elevation. 

Miles 1-4
I made the mistake of not warming up beforehand. We didn't have a ton of time, and we needed to be in our corral so I figured I would run in place as my warm up. Usually the first mile of any run I do is a pace of around 9:30-10:00. My Achilles in particular need to be warmed up.

So Greg started out as planned at a pace in the 7:40s and I struggled to keep up with him. It seemed like he bolted out WAY too fast and I was running at an extreme effort, but then I looked down at my Garmin and realized that I was running a pace of 8:30. And it felt ridiculously hard. I knew I needed to catch him but I would have to run even faster to do so! 

I caught him about a half a mile in and I felt like I was running a 5K! But eventually we settled into a rhythm and my body remembered that running in the 7:40's was not all that taxing. 

It wasn't long before we caught up with some of the marathon runners. At first it was just some weaving here and there and then we had the entire 5:30 pace group to run around. It's hard enough to weave around a huge pace group, but twice as hard when you are trying to stick with a running partner. I tried my best to run the tangents and have Greg follow me but that wasn't always possible. 

At some point during the 4th mile we passed the 5:00 pace group. There was so much weaving involved and it was very difficult to stay on pace with all the speeding up and slowing down to get around people. I think that having the relay runners start behind all the marathon runners was a bad idea. I think it should have been done by pace. No matter what race you are running, you should be lined up according to pace. We were running in the 7:40s around masses of people running in the 10:00's and 11:00's. It makes it hard for all runners - whether they are passing or the ones being passed. 

Mile 1: 7:41 (planned 7:45)
Mile 2: 7:41 (planned 7:50)
Mile 3: 7:42 (planned 7:45)
Mile 4: 7:46 (planned 7:40)

Miles 5-8
We were happily on pace by mile 5 and enjoying ourselves. The scenery was beautiful, and we really loved the bike path. At mile 6 it was time to get off the bike path and go back to the streets. This is when the hilly section started. During mile 6, we were pleasantly surprised to hear our names being called by the twins. They had woken up early to make sure they were out in time to see us. Nathan took a bunch of photos and Chad's wife got a video. It was a huge pick-me-up.

Photo by 11-year-old Nathan
The uphill section seemed to go on and on. Mile 7 was had over 80 feet of gain and some of it was on an uneven brick surface. Greg started getting ahead of me as we reached the top of the hill because he's better on hills than I am. He was running the planned pace, but I was a little slower. I think I had underestimated how hard the hill would be in my pacing plan. 

At one point Greg turned around and asked if I was going to fall off pace and not be with him anymore. But I just needed some time to catch up to him post hill. As soon as the hill ended I was right back with him. 

Another challenge of the hill was passing the 4:00 pace group. So not only were we running uphill on an uneven surface and trying to stay together, but we were weaving through a large group of people. Did I mention that I think it was a mistake to have the relay runners start at the very back of the race? And it's not just the pace groups that we had to weave around-- it was constant weaving throughout the entire race. The pace groups were most difficult, though.

Running uphill on brick surface

Mile 5: 7:31 (planned 7:30)
Mile 6: 7:34 (planned 7:35)
Mile 7: 8:09 (planned 7:55)
Mile 8: 7:35 (planned 7:45)

Miles 9- 13.1
We were able to make up for the slowness of mile 7 during mile 8. So we were still perfectly on pace by the time we reached the 9th mile. We had planned for mile 9 to be 7:15 because it was supposed to be all downhill, but it ended up not being as fast as I had imagined, so we only ran 7:31. 

My legs were feeling great at this point, but I was beginning to feel the effects of the sun and I was starting to get tired. We reached mile 10 and everything was still going well. Then we ran through a neighborhood that had a lot of turns and potholes. I ran gingerly over the uneven pavement and slowed down to avoid the potholes. This meant Greg was getting ahead of me. It was a combination of me slowing down due to the course and him being a little faster than what we had planned. And he needed to be going faster than planned to make up for our slow mile 9.

Photo by Nathan
At that point it seemed like it would be a huge task to catch up to him, especially since I was getting tired. In hindsight, I know I definitely could have surged to reach him and kept pacing him, but I wimped out. He was running really well and I figured he didn't need me anymore because we were almost at the halfway point. So somewhere during this 11th mile I yelled at him to go ahead and have a great race. 

I felt like a wimp, but I was also really tired and didn't have the drive to be pushing any harder. Once I was on my own, I ditched the pacing plan and just cruised in at a comfortably hard pace. I wasn't super motivated to go any faster once Greg had gotten ahead of me. I wanted a respectable relay time, but I wasn't going to kill myself over a minute or two. Somewhere around mile 12 I passed the 3:45 pace group. There were a few relay runners going my approximate pace, so I used them to help guide me through the pack.

During the last mile, someone recognized me from my Instagram and ran with me to take some selfies together. It was flattering, but given that it was the last mile of my race, it was difficult to focus on anything other than getting to the finish. I wasn't really in the selfie mood! Finally I came upon Chad's family and it was awesome to have a cheering squad.

Mile 9: 7:31 (planned 7:15)
Mile 10: 7:29 (planned 7:30)
Mile 11: 7:32 (planned 7:20)
Mile 12: 7:36 (planned 7:30)
Mile 13: 7:20 (planned 7:15)
Last 0.15: 6:56 pace

Relay Handoff
I stopped my Garmin at 13.15 and still had some more running to do after that. I knew that I would be running around 13.3 miles and my partner would be running a little less. And also there had been so much weaving that I probably ran even more than that. I stopped my Garmin because I planned to slow down significantly to unpin my bib while running. I wanted to be able to hand Emily the bib as soon as I saw her and not waste time unpinning the bib while stopped. So I ran slowly to the exchange point while unpinning the four safety pins. 

She spotted me and I handed her the bib. She quickly pinned it on, and I wished her a great race and she was off!

When I stopped my Garmin, I had 13.15 miles in 1:40:15.  Ironically, that was Greg's official half marathon split. Even though he was maybe 30-45 seconds ahead of me by that point, all of the weaving meant our Garmins wouldn't match the official time/distance, so it was good he sped up!

After the Relay
I went back to the hotel, which was close by, but I walked slowly because my SI Joint decided to act up. I wish that pain was completely gone, but sometimes I feel it on random occasions. At the hotel, I was able to freshen up a bit, change shoes, change tops, re-apply sunscreen, and grab my phone.

Greg at 25.5
The course was two loops, and I decided to go to mile 20, which was the top of the big hill we ran during mile 7. It was close to the hotel and it would be a good place to see everyone. I saw Greg come through exactly on schedule, and then Emily about 5 minutes later, followed by Chad. Apparently Greg had caught up to Chad and passed him. Once my three runners had come through the 20 mile mark, I proceeded to the finish line area and waited about half a mile before the finish line.

It was so much fun seeing all the runners come through, and Greg looked so strong! After he ran by me, I proceeded to the finish area.

I realized I hadn't had any water since finishing my half marathon, so I went to the finish line chute and asked a volunteer to hand me a bottle of water. She told me I wasn't able to have a bottle from the chute and I had to get a cup of water from a different location. I have to admit I felt like a second-class citizen at that point! When I finished the relay and passed the bib onto Emily, there had been no place to get water that was immediately visible. Otherwise, I would have grabbed a bottle then.

He ran a time of 3:18:15, which is a PR by 1:36. The pacing strategy was for 26.3 miles in 3:17:30, and he ended up getting 26.4 on his Garmin (due to all the weaving), so he probably did reach 26.3 in our projected 3:17:30. So Greg paced it exactly as planned! He is going to write a guest blog post, so I won't say any more about his race. 

Relay team Racing Stripes finished in a time of 3:28:17, which earned us 8th place in the women's open division. I can now officially say I have run in a relay!

Team Racing Stripes

We all reunited, and Chad's son was so excited to give me the pictures he had taken of us. His photos were excellent, and I posted one of them on Instagram. He caught us both smiling and looking at the camera, which is more than I can say for the official race photographers!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
All goals were achieved: Greg ran a PR. I ran my first relay. We experienced a new city/state. We had fun with friends. This was exactly the experience we were hoping for!

In hindsight I wish I would have pushed harder to stay with Greg during miles 12-13. I know I could have, but I just got tired and decided to be comfortable instead of uncomfortable. 

Since I wasn't yet acclimated to the warm weather, I wasn't even sure I would be able to run with Greg for as long as I did. I thought I might actually bonk at some point, but that never happened. 

My heart rate was seemingly back to normal. The mile paces lined up consistently with their corresponding average heart rates. And considering that it was warm at the end, my heart rate didn't even spike or drift higher! It was consistent throughout the whole race, which is a sign that I am fully recovered from my post-Covid heightened heart rate.  

There were many wonderful things about the race including the beauty of the course, the volunteers, and the free photos. But there were some things that I think they could improve for next year:

  • There was no runner tracking (unless the runner ran with a smart phone) and the results weren't posted in real time. Many races are now using the RaceJoy app, which doesn't provide official splits and is entirely reliant on the runner carrying a phone. Chad carried his phone so that his family would be able to know where he was, but he normally does not race marathons while holding an iPhone.
  • The expo was not within walking distance to where most of the hotels were, and Ubers aren't easy to get in this area. If it hadn't been for Chad, we would have had to take a taxi there. That's not the end of the world, but it seems like they would have bib pickup closer to the start/finish/hotels.
  • The 2-person relay teams were placed at the very back of the pack, which meant weaving through slower runners for the entire first half of the race. Passing pace groups was particularly challenging on the narrow bike path. I think this cost Greg nearly a minute in his finish time. If this had been a BQ, those precious seconds would have made a big difference in terms of having extra "cushion".
Despite the areas for improvement, I definitely recommend this race because it's a fun course and the city of Burlington is fun and beautiful. Overall it was a wonderful experience! We couldn't have asked for a better weekend. Greg even had the opportunity to see a close friend from childhood the day after the race.

Next for me: 5K training!


  1. Congrats on the triple win of Greg's PR/first relay/new state!!! Huge props to Nathan for the great photos.

    I am dumbfounded that you had to start at the back and share a bib for the relay. In the relays that I've run all of the members have their own bib with the same number on it and there are timing mats to track the hand off. The starting runner's predicted pace is used for corral you say these are really easy improvements that could be made.

  2. Your experience definitely paid off-- you did great considering having to start at the back of the pack. That just makes no sense to me. I agree that having the relay runners start at their seeded pace makes more sense. And having to exchange bibs?

    Congrats to Greg and I look forward to reading his recap!

  3. I've said it before but I'll say it again, you and Greg are two peas in a pod and I love reading the stories of how you are both there for one another when it comes to running (I'm sure it's way more than that but none of our business.) I'm looking forward to his post about the race and how he feels!!!

    I agree with a lot of your criticisms. I'll use some other races as examples. The expo in Chicago isn't close to the main hotels but the marathon provides transportation free of charge for BIB pickup (yeah that was shocking and way different from NYC or Boston.)

    Everything at the start line should be based on pace not what race you're doing unless you are leaving a huge time frame difference. I would think relay runners in general would be running faster than full marathon people (then again ppl who do relays typically aren't better runners so I get the other point but still, start together and as Wendy said above, havign the same BIB number means not exchanging BIBS. I don't know the right way to go about this bc it's not high school track where you pass on a baton but yeah could be done better.

    These are all suggestions one can make to race directors without being critical of them bc I've seen some really ass backwards ways of handling pre-race events, which I believe I have shared with you.

    As for the pace. You seem to have planned it out well from checking out the course and figuring out what the hills are and what makes sense. A PR for Greg is great and now we need to see him make Boston!!!!

    Greg my only message to you is, as hard as it is, you have a great guide and a great teammate in life!! I appreciate you both and being part of your running journeys