In the Paddock

Everything – except horse racing, thankfully and a shout out to our advertisers and readers – remains on hold. 

Even a little personal redemption remains in neutral. 

Editor's Note: This was from the May 23 edition of our online newspaper The 2020 Special. If you missed it, you can read it here.

The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend always packs a punch and 2020 set up to be one to remember. The Vermont City Marathon always goes down that day and this year would have been its 31st edition on the streets of beautiful Burlington. I’ve been around the full 26.2-mile loop twice – in 2010 (bombed) and 2013 (some improvement) – and have run the two- and five-person relays every year since 2014. 

In 2018 our Saratoga Stryders team – super sisters Cc Larner and Ginny Lupo, 50-plus speedsters Tony Lupo and Eric Kennedy and myself – took home the title in the co-ed masters division. We returned in 2019 with eyes on another crown, or better put a set of five VCM pint glasses awarded to the divisional relay winners. 

Everything went smoothly for the first two runners, Tony ripping through his 3.4-mile leadoff leg through downtown and Ginny crushing her 5.7 out and back on the city’s undulating Route 127 Beltline. Ginny handed me the timing chip ankle band at the Pearl Street Exchange and off I went. Right on Pine, left on Cherry, right on Church. OK, it’s not exactly right on Hereford, left on Boylston but it’s still pretty cool to run down the middle of spectator-lined streets. 

A half-mile into the 6.3-mile my watch showed a pace just under 8 minutes per mile. Not great, not bad. Over the course of a 10K that would be about 48 minutes. I’d take it. Turning another corner onto Pine Street and cruising downhill the pace usually quickens and my first mile went in 7:45. Perfect. Cruising, the second mile flew by and past Citizen Cider, Arts Riot, Speeder and Earls, Calahan Park, Feldman’s Bagels, Zero Gravity Brewery, Great Northern and Champlain Chocolates (all must-stops, except this day). Mile 2, 7:57, a little slower but there was an incline that last quarter-mile before the turn on Flynn Avenue and then Foster Street. 

Still cruising up Foster, where for several years I bunked up with friends Nick and Antonia Hinge at their house nearing the halfway point of the full marathon, all couldn’t be going better. Foolishly that thought came to mind. 

After one more right onto Home Avenue, which bends into Austin Drive, and still managing that 7:45 or so pace things went south. 

Pop.

That’s the only way to describe what happened next, to a couple other Stryders who ran past while I walked, to aid-station personnel on Austin and later to an athletic trainer in the medical tent. 

The pop was followed by a sharp pain in my left foot, the same foot attached to the ankle that turned hard in a 10-mile trail race in Kentucky a month before but hadn’t given any trouble. Until that moment. The worst possible moment, almost halfway through your responsibility in a five-person relay.

There’s no way a DNF was in the cards, one hadn’t even come close in five years running in high school and college and now into year 16 of my second career. But any weight on that left foot felt like a few nails were being hammered straight through. 

“What do you think?” an EMT asked. 

“Let me walk on it a bit and see. Maybe I can walk it off.”

Five steps into that walk, she knew it and I knew it. 

“Ready to call it a day?”

“I think so.”

What followed next was pretty dark and there’s no sense going there since there are far greater periods of gloom amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Having to DNF from a running race really is a first-world problem. Two bright spots were turning down a ride in an ambulance – that just seemed like overkill, and what if somebody else really needed it? – and thinking fast enough to pass the timing chip anklet to fellow Stryder Paul Houlihan and telling him to “give it to Cc at the end.”

Paul, approaching mile 12 of his first full marathon, kindly stuffed it in his pocket and continued on. He later admitted that “the end” meant the finish line and couldn’t quite piece it all together. Thankfully the other two Stryders left to run, Cc and Eric, and the two who started off, met him near the next relay exchange so they were able to complete their legs.

The next hour remains a bit of a blur. There was a painful walk, a ride on a shuttle bus and that trip to the medical tent, all the while with the albatross of the DNF hanging around my neck. After initially declining the team finisher medal – there might have even been a threat to “throw it in Lake Champlain” – it found its way around my neck for post-race photos with teammates and other Stryders. 

The knowledge of the DNF didn’t abate in the days, weeks and months that followed and it didn’t subside after finishing a half dozen other races through the end of 2019. 

The day to rid the burden was May 24, but like everything these days it will just have to wait. 

See you in 2021 Vermont City.