VT 2019 – The French Farce

(Audio: link) audio:http://www.RunRunLive.com/PodcastEpisodes/Vermont2019.mp3]
Link Vermont.mp3


A farce is a comedy that aims at entertaining the audience through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, and thus improbable. Farce is also characterized by physical humor, the use of deliberate absurdity or nonsense, and broadly stylized performances.

Covered in dirt, sweat and sawdust.  There I was, laying on the table in the emergency room at my local hospital.  A nice thick maroon swell of blood blobbing out of the gash on my shin.  Waiting for the doctor-lady to come back.  You might think this would make me cranky.  But, on the contrary I was having a pretty good day.

It was, ironically, Memorial Day.  A long weekend and I had gotten a lot done, including running the marathon in Vermont.  I was relieved to have that off my agenda, be done training and back to working on other stuff.  Like cutting up the trees I had felled in the yard. 

Then the machete glanced off a branch and I whacked myself square on the shin bone with that long, heavy, sharp blade designed for slicing. Right on the shin bone.  Nothing serious just a bit of a rent on the protective covering of skin that keeps the red stuff in. 

Editor’s note: “Rent”, to divide, usually violently or abruptly from the middle English Renden and Old English Rendan.

I staunched it with a rag from my chainsaw box and hobbled inside for some awkward first aid.  I flushed it out with Bactine and taped a bunch of gauze to it, wrapping the tape around my calf, ending up with something that you might see in an old war film or maybe an even earlier mummy movie. 

That held it in place long enough for me move enough trees out of the driveway to get my truck out.  I drove to the emergency room.

I wasn’t looking forward to the emergency room.  On a major holiday it was sure to be filled with drunken yahoos, with “hold my beer” accidents.  I brought along a book and was going to start working on this report for you in the hours of waiting that I anticipated. 

But, I was positively thrilled with service.  I barely had a chance to sit down in the squeaky, vinyl, institutional seat when I was called.  I was attended to by no less than 4 or 5 charming, enthusiastic and competent medical professionals.  It turned out that the doctor-lady on duty’s favorite thing was stitches. 

We had a great chat and I was in and out in 45 minutes!  They were impressed that I could tell them exactly how much I weighed.  They were almost as impressed with me having run a marathon in Vermont the day before as I was impressed with myself for, well…just being me.  It’s a curse.  I drove home and finished chopping up my trees. 

The next night I went to the local Red Cross and tried to give blood.  I see you rolling your eyes.  Chris, what the hell?  You run a race Sunday, your put yourself in the Emergency room Monday, why are you trying to give blood on Tuesday?  In my defence they really want my blood.  They are on me serval phone calls and emails a day about how much they want my blood.  But, I’m usually in the middle of a training cycle and can’t really afford to tapped of my basic circulatory life essence. 

Consequently, I try to schedule blood donations for after my target events.  The nerve of them.  After begging me for weeks and putting me through all the preliminaries, they turned me away when I told them of my recent forestry mishap.  Apparently there is have some silly rule about ‘no open wounds’.

I mean, you’re after my blood, wouldn’t this be a positive proof point that I’ve got some to spare?

No worries.  On to my next thing.  I like to be tightly scheduled.  I’m happiest when I have a nice pile of tasks in my que.  That’s how my weekends go in the spring and summer.  A yellow sticky pad list of chores in my pocket that I try to get done to have that warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment from washing the car or folding the laundry or … maybe even running a race. 

Teresa had come home from the City to pick up some stuff Friday.  We had to do a bike swap. I had procured a new city bike for her.  A city bike is a bicycle that is perfectly functional but has a low value and low probability of being stolen.  The 40-year-old Schwin I had previously procured was broken.  She had managed to crank out the bearing, which is not something I’m going to fix on a bike where the tires are worth more than the bike. 

I procured a ‘new’ old bike, cleaned it up, got most of the gears working, and transferred the rack from the old-old bike Saturday morning.  As we are all destined to do, I have turned into my father. 

I had to drive her back into the city on Saturday.  I had to be in Vermont Saturday night as well.

I had packed up my race stuff.  Since I was driving, I didn’t need to be picky.  A little of this, a little of that.  I opted to go back to my old Brooks baggie shorts with the bike short liner, because they have enough pockets to carry all my standard race stuff. A couple gels, a baggie of Endurolytes, a small thing of lube.

I was trying to make the 7:00PM deadline to pick up my bib in Vermont.  Burlington is about 3 hours and change from my house.  After the side trip to the city it was going to be tight. 

The weather forecast called for clear skies Saturday slowly changing to rain in the evening, then into thunderstorms through the morning.  I try not to think too much about the weather when I’m approaching a race.  There really isn’t much you can do about it. No sense wasting your energy fretting.

It was starting to drizzle when I pulled into the race expo hotel in South Burlington with 8 minutes to spare.  I was able to get my bib and pick up a couple Expresso Love Gu’s – old-school nutrition.  In a change of pace, I got a medium shirt, instead of a large due to my current waifish deportment. 

Then I wandered off in the strengthening showers to find my campground.  My comfy rustic home to pitch my lonely tent for the evening. 

To get to my camp I was routed right by the race start/finish area. Which was nice.  The college town of Burlington sits on the edge of Lake Champlain.  The race course for the marathon is a sort of figure 8 that goes out north of the city, turns around and runs back through the city, turns again and comes back by the park again to go north, again, then comes back south along a bike trail at the edge of the lake to the finish. 

Eyeballing it on the map I thought I might be able to walk to the race start in the morning from my camp.  The bike trail that the race finishes on runs right by the edge of the campground.  I measured it to be over a mile by the road. I figured I probably wouldn’t want to hike that, especially in a storm, in the morning, and definitely wouldn’t want to hike back after the race. 

I called Brian to see what his plans were. He told me he wasn’t racing. He was running with his son Chris.  Good for him.  That completes something special for him.  Running a marathon with every one of his kids.  But, for me, I wouldn’t be able to pace with him.

Did I mention I was racing?  Yeah, I had a goal.  I was trying to spin that fitness from my Boston training cycle into a qualifying race.  I thought it would be a no-brainer.  I was in good shape.  This was supposed to be a more reasonable course.  I’d just hang on to the back of the nearest pace group to 3:30 and be done with that.  Piece of cake. 

Checking in to my camp site it was raining fairly hard now, and of course, as I unrolled my tent it started pouring.  I was trying to hurry but that just made things slower.  The way these tents work is that there isn’t a real roof.  The roof part is a screen, a mesh, to I suppose, let your foul camping breath and farts out.  But that let the rain come right through.  The way you make it watertight is to string another bit, called a fly, over the open part, which was giving me trouble in the wind. 

Picture ma trying to do all this in the pouring rain and wind.  I must’ve looked incredibly pitiful.  Hold that picture in your head next time you think hiking the Appalachian trail is a good idea.  Some guy even ran over from a neighboring camp site to help me.  At least it wasn’t dark out yet.

The good news was that I was right next to the shower & bathroom facilities buulding. The bad news was that I was right next to the shower & bathroom facilities building.  Lots of traffic. Lots of lights.  People wandering around.  I took a few minutes to pump up my mattress.

This all seemed like a great idea when I set it up last month.  Not so much now.  Soaking wet.  Pumping away in my little tent with the rain beating on the sides.

Now I’m thinking I should have some sort of meal before I crash out in my soggy hidey hole.  I did what any sentient 21st century droid would do and asked Siri for a grocery store nearby.  I was thinking maybe a Wholefoods or something similar.  But, Burlington, being an old New England Town, is filled with corner grocery stores. Basically, one room affairs with beer, chips and lottery tickets.

I was getting tired at this point, so I gave up and bought a turkey sandwich and a beer. I returned to my campground and sat in my truck, thinking how sad a spectacle I was soggy, in my truck with the rain pouring down, chewing on a gas-station sandwich.  Having paddled my canoe through these types of adventures before and thought to myself, smiling a bit, ‘this will make a great story’. 

I was worrying a bit about logistics for the morning.  I didn’t want to hike the mile plus to the start in a rainstorm.  I decided I would drive in early and find a place to park. They said there was municipal parking, but after my ‘grocery store’ adventure I wondered what that would be like, or if it even existed. 

Ce’st la vie.  Time for beddy-by. 

In normal conditions my tent, mattress and sleeping bag are pretty darn comfy.  These weren’t exactly ‘normal’. It was storming hard, with blowing wind and driving rain. I could hear the waves crashing down on the lake shore with a steady roar. The spotlights on the facilities lit up my tent like an operating theatre.

I crawled into my tent, dragging mud and water with me.  Crawled into my sleeping bag and wrapped my throw away shirt around my head like a bandage to block the light, put my phone on airplane mode and set the alarm for 5 AM. That should give me plenty of time to get ready and find a parking spot.

Now, on a normal night, in the campground, hard up against the communal bathroom, I probably would have been kept awake by the noise of the park denizens coming and going and recreating.

This was not a normal night. I considered my good fortune. The roar of the waves and the wind and the steady drum of a hard rain was like a meditation track, right?  White noise.  The song “The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was running slyly through my head.

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down

Of the big lake they called 'gitche gumee'

The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead

When the skies of November turn gloomy”

That’s when I realize that I had to pee.  At the same time I realized I would rather have my bladder explode and die of sepsis than go out int o this storm.  Then I fell asleep. 

A couple hours later I woke up to an eerie, (no pun intended), silence.  I was woken up by pause in storms.  It was a bit before 11:00 and I thought, now would be an excellent time to make a run for the facilities next door.  As I started moving around I realized that there was a fair amount of water inside my tent.  Whether it was from me bumping the sides or the rain coming sideways under the fly, I don’t know. My sleeping bag was wet. 

As I extracted myself and went to the rest room I thought that this might be a problem if the storms returned and temperature dropped a bit more.  Woke by quiet after 10.  Goodtime to pee.  Sleeping bag wet.  So, we held an executive meeting in my head and decided to sleep in the truck for the rest of the night.  It was surprisingly comfortable with my sleeping bag and the seat all the way back.  I slept great. 

My 5 AM alarm woke me to a humid, cool morning with scattered, pudgy clouds.  I was still worried about parking so I got my stuff on and drove into town.  Not only was the parking garage available and deserted, I’m pretty sure it was free.  The gate was open and the display had some sort of non-descriptive announcement. 

I didn’t have too many options for breakfast so I ate one of the SpringEnergy gels I had brought.  They’re more like baby food than race gels.  My next mission would be to find a cup of coffee somewhere. 

I took $5 with me and went out to walk around the start area. 

After a few laps I found a gas station with some coffee and checked that box.  That left me with another problem.  Now I had $3 left over that I didn’t know what to do with.  I could just drop it on the ground.  I could try to carry it.  In the end I just handed to some guy in a Bruins shirt.  He was confused.  He was pretty sure I was up to something nefarious. 

Then I just hung out in the park and stretched and relaxed.  It was partially sunny, very humid with a bit of wind and lots of puddles.  The race starts at 7:00 now, ever since the heat incident of 2 years ago.  Looking out over the lake there were towers of blackish clouds. 

As I wandered about someone called my name and it was Brian and his son.  I was glad to see them.  Glad to have someone to chat with.  We hung out and listened to the race announcements.  Bart Yasso was saying something to the assembled throng. 

There were maybe 3,000 people in the race.  Lots of 50 staters.  A nice size for a race. 

About 15 minutes before the start the announcers came on and told everyone to leave the park and take shelter in the parking garages.  Apparently one of those black clouds out over the race had us in its sites.  

The crowd filed out of the park across the street and down the road.  Brian, his son and I went into the Courtyard Hotel lobby.  We chatted with some of the folks in there, but basically stood around for 45 minutes while another small storm cell passed over. 

That’s a first for me. 

They let us go back to the race start after the danger had passed.  Speaking of passing, I got passed by Bart Yasso leaving the hotel.  I said hi but he was in a hurry to get back to the announcing. 

We found our corrals.  I hunted down the 3:30 pace leaders.  And we were off and running about 7:45.  It was a bit humid but nothing terrible.  I hung close to the pace leader and we were quickly up to pace. 

There were two pacers for 3:30.  They did a good job. They kept us within 5 seconds of the pace even with the rolling hills, the hard lefts and rights, and the slight wind.  They did something really useful.  Instead of running together one guy ran about 50 to 100 feet behind the other guy.  I started out with the lead guy but then filtered back to the second pack.  

The effort was steady but not hard.  I felt fine. 

It was hillier than I had surmised from Brian’s description.  There was one long hill back into the city that wasn’t steep but was a nice long pull.  There was a pretty good head wind in one direction.  It was useful to be in the pack and I was able to draft the pacer. 

There were some good crowds in the city but not much as you got out of town.  When the sun came through the clouds it was a little hot. 

I was staying on my nutrition, taking enough water and sipping from my bottle of F2C.  The gels they had on course were maple syrup gels.  Which is fitting for Vermont, but basically, you’re drinking pancake syrup. 

I knew the “big hill” was coming up at mile 15ish.  As we turned back towards that hill I put a little extra fuel in the fire and dropped the pace a bit.  I knew, from my training I had some faster miles in me.  I figured I’d put a little buffer between me and the pace group in case I struggled on the hill.  I thought that once I got over the hill, I could relax into the rocking chair and just glide home. 

Up to this point I was pacing well.  Not easy but not hard either.  Race pace.

The hill was a monster.  For some reason it really knocked me back on my heels.  I had to grind it out.  I lost some time but stayed ahead of the pace group.  I was suffering badly as I neared the top, but I got over it. 

On the back side of the hill I was trashed and focused on finding a recovery pace. 

My hips were tight.  My stride was painful.  That high hamstring tendonitis was biting me in the ass. 

Remember when I said I “had some good training runs and some not so good since Boston”?  Remember how I said I had somehow managed to give myself tendonitis in the ass?  Well, one of those workouts was a 20+ mile tempo run.  And what happened on that run was I got to about 16 miles and this tendonitis flared up.  It hurts.  Like some monster biting your ass.  It makes it hard to lift your legs and makes running up hills really hard.  It makes it hard to keep your stride length.  I ended up doing a fair amount of walking at the end of that workout. 

This showed up again at Vermont after the big hill about 16-17 mile in.  It wasn’t the ‘wall’ I had plenty of calories.  It wasn’t cramps, I had plenty of salt.  It was this pain in my ass that kept me from holing my pace. 

And that’s where I stopped racing and started limping in. 

In a few minutes the 3:30 pacers went by me. I said “That hill was a bitch.” 

He said, “Yeah, but it’s done now.”

I said, “Yeah, but so are my legs.”

At this point I still had about a 2-1/2 minute cushion but I could race anymore and had 8-9 miles to go.

There were still some rolling hills and each of those little rises hurt like hell. 

I threw in the towel and started walking and jogging, just to get it done. 

I ran by my camp ground a couple more times and thought about just leaving, but my truck wasn’t there, it was downtown. 

I was depressed and having dark thoughts.  I thought to myself “Now I know why those people cheat.  You can put in the work and do all the right things and what do you get?  Nothin.  That’s why they cheat.:”

I might even have had a thought or two about how I’m just getting slower and what’s the point of staying in a world that’s just a constant loss of ability? 

Such is the death march. 

When you get into the death march late in a race you notice there are people there doing the same death march pace you are.  You see them walking, stumbling, summoning the strength to run a bit, walking some more.  The comradery of zombies. 

It wasn’t awful physically.  I was fit enough to not be physically suffering.  Not like a calorie crash.  Not physical exhaustion.  My HR was fine.  I just couldn’t get my legs to turn.  And my mind had left the building.  I was done.  Done with training.  Don’t with chasing unicorns.  Done with it all.

At one point the course cuts through a wooded section in the high miles.  Just a short bit of trail to connect to road sections.  With the rain and the runners it had turned into a mud hole.  I felt bad for the runners who were still racing. 

Also, late in the race, in one of the neighborhood sections, there was a bunch of people, a couple neighborhood families handing our Budweiser pony cans.  I had no desire for a can of beer but one of the guys in front of me took one, took a sip and immediately dropped it in a big splash of foam.  The guys handing out the beers yelled at him for dropping it.  It was a bit surreal. 

Finally we found our way onto the bike path for the last couple miles back to the finish.  I came upon a guy clutch his calf, hopping around and screaming with a cramp.  I dug out the rest of my Endurolytes, gave him two and said “chew these, to get the salt into your system.”  Hope he had some water with him. 

With the late start it was pretty hot and really humid.  It didn’t impact me.  I was out of the fight before any of that would have hit me. 

As I was pulling into the finish, I was trading places with an older, grey haired woman wearing a singlet from one of the regional running clubs I know.  I thought to myself, ‘great, my finishing photo is me being out kicked by this lady!”  I wasn’t in a good place mentally. 

I managed to find a pretty fast last mile heading into the finish.  It didn’t matter.  I had turned a 2-1/2 minute buffer into a 12 minute hole with a 3:47 finish.  I got my medal and a bottle of water.  I stood around waiting to see if maybe Brian and his son weren’t close behind me since I lost so much ground.  I had passed his daughter out on the bike path and she hadn’t seen them yet. 

I saw the club singlet and congratulated her.  She turned around and said “Chris?” Turns out it was Linda one of the Goon Squad runners.  We had a long talk catching up.  She was coming off AFib surgery and starting her recovery.  The doctors had told her to quit running and it took her a long time to find a doctor who could give her a correct diagnosis and fix it. Now she’s on her way back. 

I got my truck and made my way back to the campground.  I didn’t see any reason to sleep over another night, so I broke it down and loaded up.  I stopped to tell the kid I was leaving early and he insisted on giving me my $36 back. Good Karma. 

I drove the sunny, warm day home to get back onto my list of chores. 

I must tell you I was relieved to get this race over with.  But, now I’m out of qualification and I don’t have the time or the energy for another campaign this summer.  Maybe I can’t make the standard? I don’t know.  I kills me to give up, but I’m not having fun anymore and my body is talking to me. 

I need some time off. 

It took me a few days to come to grips with not running Boston.  I’m not making any proclamations.  But, I’m ok with letting it go after 21 years.  I’m not saying I am.  I’m saying I’m ok with it. 

That’s the best I can give you coming out the back of this farce of a long weekend. 

I’m ok with it. 

“To be alive: not just the carcass / But the spark. / That’s crudely put, but … / If we’re not supposed to dance, / Why all this music?” – Gregory Orr

Direct download: Vermont2019.mp3
Category:Running -- posted at: 2:50pm EDT





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