Friday, March 23, 2018

Race Report: Mad Half Marathon

Summer Fridays for my office begin in July, and in that first month I get to leave at 2pm (an hour earlier in August.)  My coworker provided me a ride to Harlem, and I caught the Metro North train up to North White Plains to pick up my rental car from there (for some reason, it was MUCH cheaper to rent here than in the city).  I had an approximately 5 hour drive in front of me, so I let my friends Erika and John (who I met at the Vermont City Marathon in May) know I would be arriving at their cabin by about 9:30pm or so, providing a stop en route for food.

The drive up was LONG, and it took me along the Taconic State Parkway all the way up to where it meets I-90, then took county roads near the New York/Massachusetts border to the town of Hoosick (due northeast of Albany.)  From here, we transitioned into Vermont, taking US-7 north from Bennington to Rutland (with an unsuccessful food detour through the towns of Arlington, Sunderland, and Manchester), a short segment along US-4 to Killington, and then quiet state routes through the forest up to Moretown and the Mad River Valley.  The weather was great all the way up, until the last fifteen minutes of the drive, when the skies opened up, and it was a mad downpour.  Along with the rain was thick fog, so I drove whiteknuckled from Middlesex to Erika and John's cabin in Moretown.

Bringing home all of the food from VT.
The next morning, I had a lot planned.  First, I had to pick up my bib at the Waitsfield Inn, as well as visit with Marathon Maniac friends who had a tent there.  I also went across the street to the Waitsfield Farmers' Market, and got some things at the Taste Place, a brand new store specializing in Vermont-made cheeses, chocolate, beers, ciders, and the like.  I then headed up Route 100 to Waterbury to get some cider doughnuts at Cold Hollow Cider Mill (they were absolutely delicious when I tried them back in May), and then up to Stowe to try and buy some of the much-lauded "Heady Topper" beer from The Alchemist Brewery.  This beer is a uniquely balanced 8-percent alcohol IPA and is considered to be one of the most coveted beers in America.  While it is available year-round, it's scarcity is due to the fact that they brew only 180 barrels (360 kegs worth) per week in twelve 15-barrel batches at their closed-to-the-public facility.  Additionally, only certain stores and bars within the facility's 25-mile distribution area receive shipments, and they are a specific amount only on certain days.  Lines at The Alchemist Brewery can stretch for over an hour, and I happened to get there on a slow day, as there was virtually no line.  I purchased a four-pack of the beer, as well as the "Pappy's Porter."

The views from our Airbnb
As soon as I left The Alchemist, the rains started again, and I made my way back through Waterbury, making a stop at the Cabot Cheese Annex for some bricks of delicious cheddar cheese - horseradish, everything bagel, and bacon!  I then headed to Burlington to pick up a bakers' dozen of some delicious Montreal Spice bagels from Myer's Bagels to bring back home.  All of these food items I had sampled in some way or form during my May trip to Vermont.  I headed back toward Waitsfield and to the town of Warren, where I'd meet my friend Seth, who I would room with at an Airbnb on Saturday night before the race.  We then joined other Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics at the Tucker Hill Inn for a great pre-race dinner, organized by the inimitable Angie Pace.

Maniacs and Fanatics group photo at the start!

The start...
The following morning, we woke up at 5:30am to get dressed and were out the door by 6.  It was a 15 minute drive to Waitsfield and we found parking easily in the parking lot of the Mad River Shoppes, before meeting up with the many Maniacs and Fanatics who had assembled for this race, the third of the brand new "Signature Series."  Maniacs and Fanatics who signed up on the website calendar would get a commemorative pin and a special additional medal after the race that joined up to four other medals for other "Signature Series" races held within the calendar year.  After running into several friends headed to the picture at the finish line at 6:30 (including Black Sheepers Sherry, Zack, Leny, Lynne, and Juan), I headed up to the microphone stand at 6:45, and treated everyone to a rendition of "God Bless America."  We then went up the street to the start line, and after the national anthem, we were off.. and a little early!

Singing a little God Bless America...

Our first covered bridge.
We took off down Main Street, headed north, and immediately hit our first downhill section, as we proceeded to the corner of Bridge Street and Main Street. We turned right and encountered our first of two covered bridges that we would run through on the route.  I hit my first mile in roughly 9:18.  And then the first tough hill came.  And boy, was it a doozy...  as we turned onto Joslin Hill Road, we began to climb from roughly 726 feet to 1,083 feet, an elevation change of 357 feet, at the 2.2 mile mark. Needless to say, my second mile split was much worse - a 14:54 mile!

What the hill.
Covered bridge #2
Thankfully, we were treated to a nice downhill as we reached the smalltown intersection in Waitsfield Common, following North Road.  We would end up dropping us over 400 feet by the time along this stretch of course, all the way until we hit the 4 mile mark.  Along the way, we'd see faster runners heading back in our direction (including a couple early starters, like my friend JC), as they climbed upward.  I enjoyed those downhills though, finishing a 9:47 and 9:35 third and fourth mile, and running alongside my Maniac friend Carol, before the course flattened out a bit.  But as the course flattened out, a repugnant smell began to fill the air, which followed us for the next ten minutes.  Alongside the course was a beautiful Holstein cow, and many of us took selfies with the beautiful, but nauseatingly smelly creature.  And in the distance, the half marathoners got to do a quick turnaround; alas, we got to smell the nasty-ass cow again.

Pretty Carol and the nasty-ass cow.

An out-and-back on the course!
The turnaround point, though, was great, as we were able to see a few friends along the course on the out-and-back.  I was able to see my Black Sheep friends, as well as my hosts from the night before, John and Erika, who opted to do the half.  I took advantage of the flatness of this section of the course, but knew that just after the 5 mile mark, we'd be ascending again.  The course began to go uphill, and I slowed to a walk, as we climbed past the high elevation point we had hit earlier after the second mile.  After the 6.5 mile mark, we were directed to turn left, and took a short .15 mile out-and-back on East Road, which gave us a short 20 foot loss, but we gained it right back, and then climbed even more.

Deceiving downhill...
We came off of East Road, and then turned onto Common Road, where we were treated to an absolutely beautiful view.  The course was a straight shot, but in the distance, you could see that this was a deceiving dip, and what comes down, comes right straight up.  We dropped 80 feet, but then climbed right back up again.  My mile splits were consistent... consistently slow... as I labored along the uphills.  The road curved but still continued on an uphill trend, and finally reached its highest point when we were about 9 miles into the race.  It wasn't until about 9.75 miles in that the half marathoners made a turn while the marathoners continued on.

A quintessential red barn

Surrounded by so much beautiful nature. And hills. So many hills.

Almost to the finish!
Finally, the course began a nice descent, as we took East Warren Road all the way back to Bridge Street, and over the first covered bridge we had initially run through.  Save for a couple very slight rises, I coasted back, posting 9:56 and 9:04 miles at miles 11 and 12.   That included a stop at the Round Barn Farm at around the 10.6 mile mark, where we were treated to some tasty 14th Star Brewery beers... and I even stopped to play flip cup!

I continued to make good time as I traced my steps back up Bridge Street over the covered bridge, and back to Main Street, where we had less than a mile to go.  Cones had been set up along the south side of the road to keep us on the shoulder as well as on the sidewalk, as needed.  We had a little bit of a climb, roughly 90 feet of elevation change, as we ascended Main Street to the finish line.  We passed where the start line was, and also the town's cemetery.  Finally, the turn right into the Mad River Green awaited us, and there was the finish line, with race director Dori Ingalls waiting to hand us our medal and give every finisher a hug.

BLING! (Photo by Juan Aguilar)

Despite the hills, I managed a sub 2:30 - I had expected something closer to 2:40 for this race... and I finished in 2:28:25!  The downhill of the last 5K was definitely a help in gaining back some time.  I gorged on the cider and cider doughnuts available at the finish, retrieved my Maniacs Signature Series medal, and then hung out with friends as they came in!  We took lots of photos, and I got a chance to have a full can of the delicious 14th Star Brewery beer in the beer garden across the street, before Seth came in to finish his marathon.  With not too much time to spare before he had to head back out to fly out of Boston, we headed back toward the covered bridge and got my headstand shot, grabbed some much needed fro-yo/soft serve (in Vermont, they call it a creamee!) and then headed back to Warren to freshen up.  I headed out myself for the long drive back to NYC, stopping in Rutland to rest for a little bit (a 5.5 hour drive can get tiring!) and got back to drop off my car around 8pm, taking the train back down to the city and getting home before 10pm, with all of my Vermont food and drink in tow!

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