Call me Ishmael. Why? Because the Vermont City Marathon is my version of Moby Dick. It’s the great White Whale that has eluded me for years, but now I’m out to sea again ready to harpoon it. Wait… I think that would make me Ahab. You know what? It’s just easier if you stick to calling me Eric.
Anyway, Kev Balance emailed me somewhat recently and said “‘How I Got Back into Shape’ by EJN. Seriously, I want to read this story.” Well it just so happens that this story seems to be unintentionally intertwined with my quest to (finally) successfully run the Vermont City Marathon. Being a part of the elite/invited field while I’m coordinating the athlete previews left me with a bit of a challenge: should I ‘preview’ myself AND how do I do it without looking like a total…Narcissist? To tackle it from the comeback/VCM quest angle kills two birds with one stone. And maybe…just maybe…it can be done without coming across as too self-centered. Well, without further ado, let me get back to the telling of my story.
To understand the underlying history a bit better, here’s a quick recap:
2009 - PR’s!
2010 - injury plagued; 1st VCM attempt (DNF)
2011 - Different PR’s!…ended year with Catastrophic Injury #1 (torn hip labrum)
2012 - PT etc for most of year, hip labrum surgery in the fall, recovery
2013 - recovery in spring, aimlessly running after that
2014 - more aimless running
2015 - Catastrophic Injury #2 (pelvic stress fracture); 2nd VCM attempt (DNS)
2016 - wins, PR; 3rd VCM attempt (?)
A pelvic stress fracture suffered in early May of 2015 kept me from even getting on the line in Vermont, but that wasn’t my first taste of Pain by Champlain. We’d have to go all the way back to 2010 for that. You see, my first VCM attempt predates my injury woes of the last couple of years. Coming off my PR effort in Berlin (Sept 2009) I was looking to step it up even more in Burlington that following spring. Reading all the great things Matty P had said about his experiences there made me want to run it (and run well there) so bad. But 4-6 weeks before the race I jacked up my calf and it ended up being my undoing. I lined up and raced anyway, but by halfway I was landing funny and by 15 I had to swallow my pride and drop out. I did recover and PR’s were attained after that, but then things turned sour by the end of 2011 and it took a looooong time to get back.
So how did I get back into shape? Eric Lonergan made the cover of Level Renner for the Nov/Dec 2015 issue. That was it. On Jan 3rd I found myself in a trail 5k in RI and all of a sudden I was 2nd place and reeling the leader (Lonergan) in. I didn’t expect to be there, but reached deep down because I had to get the scalp of the Level cover guy!
Okay, so that obviously wasn’t it, but being able to close strong (on a beach in January into a 6,000mph headwind) and get my first win in about 5 years gave me the first inclination that I was finally back. But in all honesty, I actually found my fitness in the mountains in the summer/fall and in the snow covered trails over the winter.
When you’re running nowhere near where you used to it can be pretty hard to race on the roads and not only like it but also feel good about it. Why? Because not only are you getting your arse handed to you, but you’re also painfully aware of just how far off your old paces you currently are. But once you get off the roads, chasing times just isn’t really a thing. I sort of put all of that out of mind and just enjoyed throwing myself to the wolves. Basically, it’s a lot easier to stomach getting your ass beat when the scenery is pretty and the times don’t really mean much to you.
All of that mountain and snowshoe running helped build up stabilizing muscles and made me more of a well rounded runner. It improved mental toughness. It put things in perspective. After all, how tough can any hill seem after going 4 miles up the Mt Washington Auto Road on snowshoes in March?
The terrain and the competition beat on me relentlessly, until I finally picked myself up off the mat and said ‘enough’. The switch was flipped back into the ‘on’ position and I was ready to rededicate myself and get back at it. So I got serious again and trained smarter than I had ever before. Things felt good and VCM 2015 was looking to be a triumphant comeback story…until my brittle pelvic bones shattered and I couldn’t run again until September.
But that only gave me time to take another step back and analyze what I might’ve been doing wrong still. Adjustments were made and now I was confident that I could move forward in an intelligent manner. There was more of a focus on core work (yoga and pilates were added to the mix), I got ‘the wheezies’ (what turned out to be fairly severe asthma) under control, and finally my diet got the attention it deserved. After a cautious build up, I took the training wheels off once the calendar turned to 2016 and decided it was finally time to get back at it.
Which brings us back to present day, where I feel like I’ve finally found some momentum…just as the heat seems to be bearing down on us. Isn’t if funny how when Boston has extreme weather, we get fun names:
Run for the Hoses (1976)
Duel in the Sun (1982)
That Time There Was a Tailwind and We All Ran PR’s (2011, still workshopping that one)
Duel for the Hoses in the Sun (2012, and yeah, workshopping that one too)
What the Hell Happened? (2016, pretty sure that’ll stick)
Will this edition of VCM get a fun name too? How about Run for the Headytopper? Or Poutine Bath? Sip of Sunshine seems to be quite appropriate, no? Clearly my mind is fixated on post-race treats, so perhaps we should move on. Hot, cold, wind, rain, shine or snow the weather is a huge part of the marathon, something we all have to deal with. Cooler heads will prevail, and those who make the smarter adjustments on race day will probably run the better races. I just hope I’m one of those who make the proper adjustments.
The one thing the heat has done is force me to reexamine my priorities. Before I settled into this groove I wasn’t worried about chasing times and there wasn’t any pressure. Now that some early 2016 results have shown that I’m ahead of where I thought I’d be it’s added some pressure (self-applied) for a good one in Vermont, and in turn that focus on just having fun seems to have diminished. Now that it looks like time might be a foolish thing to chase on Sunday I’m more worried about enjoying it and chasing whoever is around me.
Originally this race was supposed to be a statement race, and not necessarily a public one. I wanted this for me, to prove to myself that I was all the way back and could handle a long competitive race. This would lay to rest all of the fears still lingering in the back of my mind whenever a little soreness popped up in training. Well, that statement time most likely won’t be coming on Sunday, and I’m okay with that. The weather is something we all have to face on race day. The day will be measured not in how fast I run it, but how I deal with the challenges I face as the race unfolds. It makes success (or failure) less obvious to an outside observer, but that’s okay too. I’ll know how I truly did, and knowing that I gave it my best shot is enough to give me confidence to attack the next training cycle when it starts up.
On the bright side, I think I read somewhere that heat brings whales up to the surface. My harpoon is at the ready, and vengeance is in the air. Isn’t this fun? Can’t wait for Sunday!
There are people running on Sunday that are far more ‘elite’ than I. Check them out here: VCM Invited Runners