It Was the Worst – Best Idea Ever!
Last year was spent training every day for this year’s AT adventure. Part of my training was starting every day with a hot cup of coffee and reading The Trek. I not only read tales of the trail but at least a dozen and a half books, some twice to gleam any nugget of advice or recommendation on the trail. I attended a few classes at REI and hikes sponsored by other great outdoor stores. At one urban hike and talk, I met a Triple Crowner named Greyhound. He entertained us with his sage advice and cool trail experiences. Most of his audience were casual day hikers and a couple of section hikers. I was the only person aspiring and planning a thru-hike. I was early to his talk and he answered a barrage of questions for me and then asked me one or two in return. He was interested in my training; his question was how much running was I doing? Years ago I was a casual runner (35-40 years ago) and I did that primarily for soccer and ice hockey to keep me in shape and increase my stamina. It has literally been 14 years since I last ran and that was two miles!
In lieu of running I was aggressively mountain biking that included keeping in high gear and doing miles of intermittent wind sprints for cardio. He seemed to think that was an OK substitute. He next asked me if I ever ran a road race or had the desire to run a marathon? Oddly enough I did always want to run a marathon but never had the desire or discipline to follow through on that dream. What he said next was the best/worst idea I had ever heard! Greyhound said that I would likely never be in better physical shape than when I finish a long hike. He said you feel invincible, your legs are like stone, your cardio and mental state is better than it ever will be! Run a marathon!
That idea seemed to be great—even inspirational! Throughout raising both my daughters, whether it was athletics or academics my motto had always been “ finish strong!” Charge the wall! I’m never the guy that gives advice that I don’t live up to, so it sounded like a strong finish to me! My wonderful wife just rolled her eyes and said it sounded great! She helped me line up a race as I concluded the AT with my epic summit of Kathadin! Since we were looking at July in the Northeast, our choices were limited. There were only two scheduled marathons, one July 7 in Vermont and the other in later July in Rhode Island. I still desired to train and hike some peaks in the Catskills since I was in NY, but thought late July in Rhode Island would feel like being home in Florida with extreme temperatures! I chose the Vermont run after watching an amazing picturesque video featuring a very bucolic country landscape complete with covered bridges, meadows, cows, and chickens! The main view was of Mad River Glen ski center, which was completely awesome! It was natural to conclude the name Mad Marathon paid homage to the area.
Race day was four mornings after I summited Kathadin with my badass thru-hiker tramily and besties Mark and Kathy Duchesne! My wife and youngest daughter traveled with me to stay and visit with a dear friend Rose and Jim in Burlington, VT. It was too late to book accommodations near the race so visiting our friends that lived a half hour away couldn’t be more perfect, plus it was too long since I last saw Rose! It ended up also being a great distraction, because I slept like a baby and didn’t give the race any more than thought than I do a day before a tough hike! My pre-race strategy was the same as a hike; I had a glass of milk with three Breakfast Essentials mixed in, a multivitamin, and a glass of water with Metamucil! I borrowed a runners fanny pack and stuck in some vitamin I, Clif power gels and a Gatorade power bar. Why change up what works? I’ve been actively most my life with sports and oddly enough I never had seconds thoughts or even butterflies before the race? My buddy Larry, who has a few dozen marathons under his belt, gave me some great advice. His biggest suggestion was to pair up with someone that has a 9:30 minute pace and then follow them. So after I registered I started talking to runners that might fit that bill. I found a guy named Robbie that fit the pace and he was fine with me tailing him. It worked perfect for the first half mile and then he was gone! Just like in hiking, I have a pace and stick with it all day, so it was quite comfortable to throw this running strategy out the window.
Regressing, though I was calm and ready, the only trepidation I had was the breathing aspect with my stride. It was incredulous that it was second nature, I just ran and breathed; thanks AT! Race day was a robin egg blue, clear sky and 57 degrees only warming to the mid-70s. Perfect! The first nine miles I clocked in at 90 minutes. This included two one-mile hills. I soon learned that this race was going to be harder than I expected; many runners walked the hills and I realized this was a smart strategy that I would soon adopt. Without reliving the race mile by mile, the mental toughness the trail taught me was forefront in finishing and persevering! The miles ticked by, I ran everything but the hills and catching up to a runner hill walking he told me the hills killed him today, I tried to encourage him and inspire him to run the last two miles to finish but his tank was empty! The last hill ended as 2.2 miles remained, I ran a bit harder and the last half mile I ran as hard as I could when I realized I would be under 5:30 hours. I finished 5:24.24, 15th in my class, 190 out of 269 runners. I was thrilled. The key word was finish, and damn it, I finished strong!!
After thoughts as I rode back to NY with both feet painfully in a bucket of ice, I did it and it was the worst idea ever! Wait, I ran and finished a full-length marathon—best idea ever! Another bucket list item checked off! My buddy Larry was gracious enough not to tell me that I was going to run one of the most difficult marathons in the Northeast based on elevational gain and race rating. Larry said that’s why it’s called the Mad Marathon! Just like Kathadin’s epic summit punctuated an amazing journey, this tough race reinforced my motto of go big or go home!!
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.