Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Covered Bridges Half Marathon, State #15, VT

Having lived in New England all my life, I've been to Vermont many times, but never to the area where this half marathon took place. The CBHM took place in the Woodstock/Pomfret/Quechee area which was just quintessentially quaint Vermont. I drove up on Saturday afternoon to the Woodstock library, where race officials were handing out race route maps. The Woodstock Town center was adorably cute with beautiful homes on a small town green within walking distance to shops and eateries. The library was also right opposite the green and next to the Woodstock Inn & Resort which looked like a gorgeous place to stay.

I walked over to the library and chatted with one of the race directors about the logistics of the race and morning parking, shuttles, etc. The race is a point to point race beginning in South Pomfret at the Suicide Six ski area and ending in Quechee at the polo grounds there. The morning of the race, we would need to park at the Quechee Gorge shopping area and catch buses to the start. Ok, easy enough.

I didn't stay long in Woodstock, as I needed to get to the hotel to meet my cousin, Andrew. The hotel was about 30 minutes from Woodstock, so it was back in the car and back on the road for me. Luckily, I arrived at the hotel, pulled in to a parking space and looked next to me to find Andrew sitting in his car. He had just arrived, too! Perfect timing. We checked in and relaxed for a bit before dinner. We signed up for the pre-race pasta dinner but had about an hour before we had to be there. Perfect for catching up since we last saw one another in Arizona.

The pasta dinner was held at the Suicide Six ski lodge, and it was amazing! It was so well organized with all the food donated by local restaurants and farmers market. The food was terrific. There were a variety of pastas to choose from, a super fresh and wonderful salad bar, bread, drinks and a nice big room for everyone. Andrew and I sat with two women, one who was running and one who was supposed to run but suffered a stress fracture and now could not. They were very nice, and as we got to talking, I found out that one of the women was from Easton, MA where I went to college. Small world! Anyway, we had a terrific meal and good company, and as we finished, we wandered outside to the back porch of the ski lodge where a bluegrass band was playing and coffee and cookies were available for the crowd. It was a warm, sunny, exquisite spring evening. Runners and their families were all hanging out on the grass, sipping water and other beverages, watching their kids run around, listening to music. It was both festive and bucolic.

We decided to head out and take a quick drive back to Woodstock so Andrew could see how cute and quaint it was. We were hoping to find a souvenir shop there where I could get some magnets for my kids. They like to collect them from places we travel either together or when my husband and I travel for business and races. Unfortunately, we got there around 7 pm and all the shops were closed except for restaurants and one little shop called the Lucky Elephant. We went in to the shop and bought a couple of trinkets. It was filled with artisan type gifts that are Thai inspired. I ended up getting the girls some little change purses with elephants on them. After the quick shop stop, we drove back to the hotel to bunk down for the night and get ready for the morning.

5:15 am on Sunday arrive very quickly, and we gathered our race necessities and were off. The morning was very foggy, but it was pretty warm, in the 50's. We parked at the Quechee Gorge area and got on the school bus to head back to Suicide Six. We sat near an older man who was in his 70's. He was an interesting fellow who told me about his running history which included two different 100 mile races. Wow! Andrew and I ended up chatting with him after we got off the bus at Suicide Six, too, where he gave us some helpful tips for training and racing.

Before we knew it, it was time to get in to the line up, and we were off. The first couple of miles took us along the road leading out of the Suicide Six ski area and offered lovely country views of Vermont forests and homes along the way. The crowds along the way for the entire race were wonderful. People cheered and waved and smiled at us the entire way. The largest crowds were around the Woodstock center area where we actually ran across a covered bridge. It was exciting to turn the corner and see the covered bridge ahead and realize we were going to run across it. What a thrill! We ran through the bridge and looped back out of Woodstock and past the Billings Farm & Museum which we also passed on the way in to Woodstock. The scenery all around us was just lovely.

At this point in the race, the roads became more rural and eventually turned to a packed clay/gravel road that ran along a river. It was so beautiful in the early morning sun to run this route. There were gorgeous barns along the way, a field with horses hanging out, local folks playing music, and of course,  beautiful covered bridges along the way. We actually only ran across one covered bridge throughout the duration of the race, but we passed by a few others along the way making it very picturesque. The most difficult part of the race was the steep hill between mile 8 and 9. It was not a super long hill, but it was very steep and a bit slow. Once at the top it was over and a nice downhill reprieve awaited.

I was feeling pretty good at this point in the race, and I knew my pace was pretty speedy for me. The miles were ticking off rather quickly it seemed. I try not to look at my watch too many times, as I think it slows me down when I start to think about the time too much. But at the 10 mile mark my time was 1:10 which I knew was on target with my PR of 1:45. If I could keep a strong pace, I could possibly beat it. But I tried not to think too much about it.

The last few miles were peppered with gently rolling hills, and I'm pretty sure they slowed me down a little. I swear the organizers of half marathons are giddy with putting hills in late in the race. Anyway, I held in there taking advantage of the downhill slopes as much as possible to get my speed up. The last mile felt like an eternity, and I passed the finish line with a time of 1:46 on the clock. My net time would be very close to my PR, but I was pretty sure I missed it.

Andrew met me right away as I stopped at the water station to get a drink. He looked amazingly well-rested, and I knew he must have finished way before me. He finished at 1:40, a new PR for him! So great! I collected my finisher's medal and t-shirt, both of which featured the cute covered bridge logo. We walked along and made our way to the food area for some refreshments. The atmosphere in the finish area was lively and happy. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and people were milling about everywhere with friends and family. The food tent had some of the best finish line food to date, including fresh slices of watermelon and the most ingenious post-race food: peanut butter filled pretzels! Carb, protein & salt all rolled in to one perfect little bite. Mmmmmmm.

Finish line area and crowd
Andrew and I recapped our races and both agreed that this was a first-rate race. It was so well organized, and all the offerings to runners were fabulous. Everything from the pre-race pasta dinner to the peanut butter pretzels at the finish was perfect. We were both so glad we got the opportunity to run this one.

We walked back to the parking area which was about a half mile from the finishing area and hit a quick souvenir shop to grab some goodies for the family. Vermont magnets for the girls and some fresh Vermont cheese for the hubs. After that, it was back to the hotel for quick showers before Andrew and I parted ways for home. The drive home was uneventful, and back at home my family was enjoying the gorgeous day outside playing, gardening and relaxing. I was happy to be back with them. A nice sushi dinner rounded out a most perfect day. When the net times were finally available, I finished with a 1:45:58, a mere :38 over my PR. If only I could have pushed it 3 seconds faster per mile!!! So close, but I'll take it. The Covered Bridges Half Marathon is one that should not be missed.

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