Most notable for its hills, the Mad Marathon was definitely a seriously challenging race course. Given it’s held in ski country, I’ll assign it a “Black Diamond”, for most difficult due to hills and heat. Right from the start with the super steep hill (30% grade? I don’t know, but it felt that) from miles 2 to 3, the Mad organizer didn’t waste time in making sure runners knew straight away to beg for mercy as you run uphill.
Only the hills made me wonder why I didn’t think twice about signing up for the second year in a row. Out of 33 marathons to date, this is only the second one I have repeated. Soon as I got up that first monster of a hill that kicked my butt first thing, I looked around, and then remembered why I wanted to run it again and why I’ll probably run again next year: the scenery is stunning. It really might be the world’s most beautiful marathon (or it’s a close second to the Shires of Vermont from Bennington to Manchester, Mad has some neighborly competition). As a skier, I felt a little like I was running in a shrine. Hail to the Gods of Skiing! Reminiscing about ski season and thinking snowy thoughts actually helped me feel cool. Running along wide ridge lines on this hot day (low 80s maybe), I stared in awe at the rolling landscape green mountain farms, wide open valleys, and majestic views of Sugarbush Ski Resort.
How lucky I am to run here. How lucky I am to live here. The race was in Waitsfield, Vermont, only 2 ½ hours from home, a reasonable day trip ride that is gorgeous and scenic. This morning I watched the sunrise on the way up. It was certainly an advantage to sleep at home, even though it meant waking up at 3:00, and hitting the road within a half hour.
There was a crowd at the start of a thousand or so, I think, at least 4 times as many half-marathoners as there were full marathoners; the field shrank to a few hundred where the full parted from the half. I never lost sight of a runner in front or behind me, but I was somewhat alone while running until the half course rejoined the full in the last 3 miles. I passed many walking half-marathoners. It was quite the jolt to pass a lot of people in miles 23, 24, 25, each pass propelled me a little more to finish strong.
Mad has a great course design with a few out and backs, a loop, and eventually returning to finish near the start. It was easy to follow and roads were closed to traffic, plus it’s rural so basically I had the road to myself and I could run right down the middle. Last year it wasn’t completely closed to traffic, so this year it was much nicer.
Once again, I ran unplugged, no music, no phone, no GPS. I’m starting to like running races without headphones. I think this has something to do with ending my races strong and with remaining energy. Listening to music drains calories by keeping the brain active, I don’t enjoy the company of other runners as much when listening to music, I don’t pace myself evenly when listening to music, and my breathing is inconsistent. I feel I’m doing better in my last couple of races in part because I’m tuning into the sounds around me instead of music. Amazing how up until very recently I wouldn’t even consider running alone without music and now I’m doing full marathons without music and I prefer it. Weird.
Probably the most memorable part of this race was that my boyfriend Chris was there. We have run 4 marathons together, but this was the first time he came to support, in fact, it was the first time he watched a marathon at all. He drove me up there and back, which in itself, being chauffeured was a treat, especially on the way home. He took pictures and cheered me off at the start. I anticipated and looked for him at every spectator zone and even though I didn’t see him, it still gave me energy and motivation to run harder to the next. Later on I found out that he had trouble finding the course through all the road closures. Vermont is good for not having easy to find or navigate alternate routes. I didn’t finally see him until the 23rd mile. I saw him at the top of a very steep hill. I saw him just in time because I was about to walk for the first time in the second half of the race (which is sabotage to a great race time, walking once gives permission to walk twice and so on, PR out the window).
Seeing Chris when I was about to give in to walking gave me a second wind. I charged up the hill. “How’s it going, honey?” he asked while pointing his video camera right on me. “I want it to be over!” I huffed. “You’re doing great! Want some watermelon?” he passes me a baggie of the fruit he diced the night before. “There are so many hills!” was my reply. I couldn’t stomach much food. It was quite the boost the entire race to anticipate seeing Chris somewhere along the course and again at the finish. There aren’t many races that I can say I ran the last 10K like it was the first 10K, and Mad Marathon is one of those for me! Considering the hills, finishing strong is a big deal and I owe a lot of that to Chris’s support. After seeing him at mile 23 when I was already done in my head, it made me run that much faster to the finish so that I can be finished and to hang with Chris.
Mad Marathon is a few minutes from Mad River Glen, a ski resort with a >2,000 foot vertical drop, narrow trails, and average of 150 inches of snow fall annually and most of it is left ungroomed and natural. Mad River Glen is one of the most challenging ski resorts in the northeast. Compared to other resorts, the entirety of Mad River Glen could be considered a black diamond. Its slogan is “Ski it if you can.” Considering the hills at Mad Marathon, and the audacity of the race to be held in July’s sweltering heat, it is a black diamond compared to other marathon courses and I will say the same thing about Mad Marathon, run it if you can. I can and did, for the second time, and with the support of my amazing boyfriend, Chris, I shaved 24 minutes off of last year’s time (of 4:34:37) to finish this year with my 3rd best time ever of 4:10:33 and placing second in my age group. Now that was a great day!