Domingo, 25 Mayo, 2014 – Woke up very early for 8am start of Vermont City Marathon. Up at about 3:15am and couldn’t fall back asleep. Out of bed around 4am and made coffee and have a whole plain bagel. Relaxing until getting picked up by Lyman around 5:50am to head down to our staging area.

Relax there for about an hour. Drinking some Gatorade and water, nibbling a bit on some galletas Maria. Head up to the start around 7am and lie on the grass until about 7:20am when I jog about 8 minutes on the road. Take off sweats and head to the start at about 7:45am. Some drills at the starting line, no strides. Get a great spot on the left side of the line and then we’re off.

First mile is surprisingly slow (~5’30), though we’re running uphill, which I guess makes sense. I’m in front with Teal and Serafini (the BC kid). Around 1km, a pack of Ethiopian dudes shows up and hangs out with us. We start going downhill around 1.5M and at that point, the Ethiopians move to the lead and take off.

We are now running quite quick ~5’05/mile for the next couple miles through town. I’m hanging off the back of this pack and beginning to let them pull away since they seemed serious about keeping this pace. Teal went with them. I passed 5km in 16’27 and they were probably already a good bit ahead.

We then begin the first big loop out and back on the highway from about 5km to 15km. It’s a fast, downhill out section, so I knew it would be easy to run way too fast. I’m running 3’10-12/km at this point and was getting dropped hard by the 6 guys in front of me (5 Ethiopians and Teal).

Around 7km, Serafini (BC kid) catches up to me. I’m a bit surprised to see him since I’m pretty sure he’s a first time marathoner, but I’m happy to have the company. The course is very quiet and rolling here and I feel very good running in a rhythm and cutting tangents – especially since the pack in front of me is sticking to the breakdown lane and running way longer.

I’m also just surprised by how fast they’re running. Probably 3’00-3’05 pace (under 5’00 per mile). Teal had talked to me about wanting to run 2h18 (an even 5’17 pace) and this is much quicker, so I am really quite surprised to see him up there. I’m still running quick, but hang back out of caution and my own insecurity in my ability to run that fast.

I pass 10km with Serafini in 32’40 (16’13 second 5km). Maybe around mile 7, we begin a longer climb back up into town. At this point, I don’t really feel like I was accelerating, but I can see I’m catching up to the pack in front of me. It seems they’re coming back to me. I keep working and focusing, but not actively trying to catch or accelerate up to them. They just seem to come back naturally.

It works out quite well as I catch them right as we come back into the noise and chaos of downtown Burlington again. I slip right into the middle of the pack and Teal gives me a little pat on the back and I give him a thumbs up. I’m feeling great and actually go into the lead with Teal briefly as we run a very fast downhill km through town (3’04 – the fastest of the race thanks to the downhill and the adrenaline of the crowds and catching the pack). This brings us to 15km in 49’03 (16’22 third 5k).

We then leave town and head out on loop #3, south of the city. I remember Matt P talking about this being a quiet section, and so I try to just tuck in behind Teal and relax and not think about anything. The Ethiopian pack has split up at this point, with two guys (one very short and one very tall) in front of us. Their agent had yelled something at them as we’d left town and they’d taken off for about a minute but their gap didn’t seem to be growing too much after that.

We run a loop through a quiet residential neighborhood, where I watch the lead runners cut the course multiple times (running on the wrong sides of the cones, which was clearly stated to us the day before as being illegal). I try to alert the race official riding along on a segway next to us, but he seems not to really care… weird.

We end up in this large park area right around the half-way (passing 20km in 65’19 – 16’15 fourth 5k) and come to the half in 1’09’05. I am feeling okay, but not great. The smaller Ethiopian has come back to us, but he and Teal start to surge again. I know I’m already running pretty fast and decide to not accelerate to try to stick with them. There are a couple times in these next 2 miles that they have 3-5 seconds on me, but they seem to come back each time without me really doing anything.

Finally, the little guy makes a more serious bid and Teal comes back alone, with the front runner (the taller one, Dejem) now about 30 seconds up, and the littler one about 10 seconds ahead.

We run along another very quiet section through a bike path back into town. I can already see the big battery hill coming up and am actively conserving energy to prepare myself mentally and physically for what people have said is the toughest part of the course.

As we turn back onto the main drag and the hill is right in front of us, Teal suddenly pulls off the road and stops. I shout back to see if he’s okay, but I don’t hear a response. I figure he is out of the race and feel bad but try to just focus on those in front of me.

Now, I get to the hill alone, just the little runner in yellow in front of me is visible, with Dejem way ahead of him. Just like at mile 8 when they came back to me on the hill, I’m closing the gap without even trying. As Jon had told me with Heartbreak Hill in Boston, I actively don’t try to push on the hill, but just maintain effort and don’t look at my watch at all. I pass the little runner in yellow about halfway up and don’t look back. He looks tired.

It’s decently steep and a bit long, but not killer. My splits were 3’21/3’26 for the kms around the hill. I reach the top of the hill and pass 25km in 1’21’56 (16’37 fifth 5km). As I crest the hill and run through battery, I see my parents for the first time.

“ONE IN FRONT!” My father shouts. I had asked for them to tell me what place I was in if they saw me. Now, it’s just Dejem, the taller Ethiopian, out in front. As the ground levels out, my legs suddenly feel light and quick. I know there was a lot left of the race, but I feel like I suddenly have a lot of pep in my legs and I decide to try to hunt leader down.

At this point, I am thinking that Teal is done, Berdan had never been in the race, and all of the Ethiopians but one seem to be cooked from the fast start. As I begin that last long loop, I start thinking realistically about winning the race for the first time. I time the gap on the longer straight sections of road, and he has at least a minute on me and the gap is growing, not shrinking, despite my perceived increase in effort.

This section still ends up as my fastest 5km of the day (16’12 sixth 5k) to bring me to 30km in 1’38’08. But the gap is still growing and I’m starting to feel tired. I’d been running on an unshaded section of highway for a while and the heat and general late race fatigue are beginning to affect me.

We enter a residential area right around 20 miles and I’m feeling quite bad. The turns made it impossible to see Dejem up ahead and I’m now thinking less about catching him, but about not being caught and not imploding too hard. I know if I get to the bike path, it’s a fast, straight shot all the way home, but it just seems like the bike path will never come.

There is one moment I remember specifically in this stretch. I come down a steep, steep hill and my stride feels choppy and awkward. The road turns to the left and suddenly there’s literally no one there. I’m totally isolated. No one in front, no one behind, no spectators anywhere.

Did I take a wrong turn? Did I run off the course? I start thinking about how embarrassing it’ll be to explain how I ran a half mile off course before realizing I had to turn around and head back.

But after this quick and total isolation, a few cheerful Vermonters appear again in front of me and I’m back in the moment.

I finally see it. The bike path. This is manageable. It’ll be over soon. I’m slowing a bit, passing 35km in 1’55’09 (17’01 7th 5km, the slowest of the day so far), but I figure maybe all these weird little hills and all the turns had chopped up my stride a bit. Though, just as in Boston, a little piece of me is just waiting for the wheels to really fall off.

I had been hearing people over the last few miles comment about my position in the race, but for the most part, it had sounded like “Yay, you’re doing great! But that guy is WAY ahead of you.” But, suddenly, the tone of peoples’ comments changes.

Now, people are saying things like “You’re gonna catch him! You got it!”

And at first, I don’t believe it. I don’t think these people are correct. They CAN’T be, right? I can barely see the dude – though, he does seem to get getting closer, doesn’t he? And it’s not just one person who doesn’t have a good sense of distance. Now everyone is shouting the same thing. “You got him! He’s coming back to you!”

And he is. For the first time, I can see him clearly and he looks closer than he has in a while. And also for the first time in recent memory, he’s close enough that I can time the gap. I watch him run by an orange cone and look down at my watch. Some surprisingly difficult arithmetic tells me he’s about a minute ahead of me. His lead has already shrunk by half.

A few minutes later, I time the gap again and it’s down to 40 seconds. I may be a rookie in the marathon, but I know that when you start to slow down, it’s almost always a terminal event. There is no recovery.

I begin to think not about IF I’m going to catch him, but when – and what I’m going to do at that point. He seems to be running backwards towards me and within a matter of a few minutes, I’m pulling up behind him, just a few strides away from taking the lead.

I guess the distraction of having a real race on my hands has been distracting me for a little while. But I’m still 22 miles deep into a Marathon and I am fairly tired. I decide that the only danger at this point would be running out to the front and not running fast enough to drop Dejem. So, I decide to sit behind him and catch my breath for a few minutes before I make a decisive move.

After the slowest km of the race, I decide it’s time to go. I’ve waited long enough behind him that I feel comfortable that I can make a very strong surge and hold onto the lead.

And so, I accelerate and quickly pass Dejem and do not look back. The police bike that’s been leading the race seems excited and radios something back to his cronies. I’m still running very hard but don’t look back. I look at my watch and see I’m running under 3’20 pace again and feel pretty good.

After a few minutes, I shout to the bike next to me, “How far back is he?” But my cycling friend doesn’t seem to hear. I decide not to press the issue and instead shout again at a few spectators I’m passing on the side of the road. “How far back is he??”

But, again, I’m ignored. I can’t figure it out. Am I speaking Spanish or something? In retrospect, I figured that the bicyclist probably isn’t allowed to talk to me and the spectators may not have seen anyone behind me because I already had a substantial lead.

I must know. So (ignoring the often spoken running truism), I turn around and see that he is, in fact, out of sight. I wonder if he’ll finish. I’ve passed 40km now and I’m less than 10 minutes away from winning this race. I still take nothing for granted, though. I’ve seen marathons won and lost in the last mile and it’s never too late for the wheels to fall off. I can’t let up.

I’m on the familiar part of the bike path now – the part I’d run the morning before. It’s surprisingly quiet given how close I am to the finish, but I just keep pushing. I’m not thinking about pace or time. I know I’m still running pretty quick, even with a couple of 3’30+ kilometers, but I just want to win. I want it more than I’ve ever wanted anything.

And there it is. The end of the bike path. I actually don’t really know where I’m going at this point nor how much exactly is left. I make my way around the waterfront park where it seems all of Vermont has gathered to watch the conclusion of the race. The energy is incredible and I hear every individual voice separated and then quickly blended back together into a chaotic fugue.

I can see the turn onto the grass up ahead which means I only have about 200m left. My eyes are flooding – the emotion is too overwhelming. I’m on the grass and I know it’s over. I’m going to finish. I’m going to win the race. I can see the finish line. The tape. I point to the sky and thank G-d for giving me the strength to come this far. I close my eyes and let it wash over me.

And then I break the tape and fall down.

As much as the newspapers (and even Jon’s blog) seem to make a big deal of the fact that I collapse and am carried to the medical tent – it really isn’t such a big deal. Honestly, I’m just tired and really want to sit/lie down for a minute. Is that so much to ask? I probably could get up and walk if you give me a few seconds, but I guess you guys really want to clear out the finish line area. That’s cool.

About six guys carry me (they probably don’t need that many) over to the medical tent where I’m wrapped in a mylar blanket and talked to by a very calm-sounding young nurse. I want a gatorade. And I’d like to call my parents. The calm woman gives me her cell phone and I dial my father’s phone number – with only minor difficulty.

Before it starts ringing, I see my mother coming towards me. She’s crying and seems happy to see me not on a stretcher.

The next 30 minutes go by in a daze. I’m assaulted by the local media, which gives me a newfound sense of empathy and respect for the seemingly inarticulate and out-of-breath athletes forced to speak into the camera just seconds after crossing the line in the 100m or Boston Marathon.

Finally, we make our way away from the finish line and back to the elite hospitality area where I can change out of my soaking singlet – I’m freezing and can’t stop shaking. I walk, slowly. That’s all I have for now.