May 30, 2010

Night Before the Race: Vermont City Marathon

After being out till 4am on Friday night, I had to be at Penn Station for the 7am bus to Albany on Saturday morning. Oops! That probably wasn’t the way to get rested up for the race. While I had to work for a while on the bus, I did manage to get about an hour of sleep on the quick trip up to Albany – not great, but better than nothing.

My mom met me at the bus station (timed it almost perfectly, too!), and we headed back to her house so she could finish packing and we’d be on our way. I had had just a small cheddar-chive biscuit in the morning (not a very substantial breakfast), and we planned to stop at Bruegger’s for a bagel sandwich before we left, but in the end, decided to hold off and then get lunch along the way at Panera. I used to work at Panera when I was in high school, and they don’t have any stores in the city, so it’s always a welcome treat when I go upstate.

After lunch at Panera, we decided to make it a real treat and stop at Martha’s for ice cream. Martha’s is this little ice cream stand that specializes in soft serve, and I’m not kidding when I say they have some of the best ice cream in the country. Apparently, others agree: when we stopped, I saw signs indicating that Martha’s had been featured on the Today Show and Good Morning America. We had always stopped at Martha’s for a treat on the way home from our lake property in the Adirondacks, but I hadn’t had it for years, and I wondered if it was one of those cases where the memory was better than the ice cream itself? Not so. In fact, the ice cream was even better than I remembered it being – smooth and creamy and just wonderful. Perfect way to treat ourselves!

Now just one more stop before we continued on to Burlington: the outlets in Glens Falls. I wanted to stop at Banana Republic and stock up on some new work clothes for summer, and was not disappointed: for Memorial Day Weekend, they were giving 40% off everything in the store! I ended up leaving with a ton of fabulous clothes I loved, all at great prices. I think the outlets are going to have to become part of this Memorial Day Weekend tradition 🙂

After a two hour or so drive through the beautiful countryside (reminded me of driving to Ithaca, where I went to school), we arrived in Burlington. We headed straight to the expo, which had expanded this year to fill two floors. I picked up my packet on the 2nd floor, then headed down to the main room to get my t-shirt. I was really bummed to find that they were out of size small t-shirts… I just don’t understand how that happens when they’re being strict about giving you the size that you ordered on your form. In good news, they had forms printed so you could have a small shirt mailed to your home – I think that’s a better solution than just insisting you take XXL or whatever leftovers there are.

At the pacer booth, I thought it was neat that they had a sheet posted on the wall with bios and pictures of each of the pacers. I can’t believe how much the pace organization had grown since the year before! Last year, I was one of three pacers; this year, they had two pacers for every Boston qualifying time. I was definitely looking forward to the race!

A few other stops before we left the expo: the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream booth, to sample their latest flavor (milk and cookies: a mix of oreo and chocolate chip cookie dough – tasty!), and what I call the “celebrity” booth. In past years, it’s always been manned by Bill Rodgers, and I’ve enjoyed telling him about my progress from my first marathon till now. This year, Bill had already left for the day but still at the booth was Greg Meyer, the last American to win the Boston Marathon. We chatted for a while and he turned out to be really nice. Then, to my surprise, he grabbed his cell phone and told me I should give Bill a call to say hi! I stammered and said that I didn’t think Bill would even know who I was; I just enjoyed seeing him at the various expos. However, he reassured me that Bill would love to hear from me… so I did it! How cool is it that I got to leave a personal message on Bill Rodgers’ cell phone? You know me… compatriot of all the Olympic runners 🙂

We headed back to the Holiday Inn, where we were staying in a group with the Albany Running Exchange. Our roommate this year was Sara, whom I had met back at trail running camp in 2008, but she was getting in later that night after having to work during the day. We introduced around to other club members, but it seemed like everyone had their own dinner plans, so we were on our own.

In past years, the race has always thrown a pasta dinner that we thought was exceptional. It’s not that the food is that great (it’s the standard, catered-by-the-hotel buffet: basic salad, choice of dressing, pasta, choice of marinara or meat sauce, a dish of parmesan to sprinkle on top, and some brownies for dessert); it’s that the dinner program is excellent. The announcer is always really funny, and goes out of his way to engage the audience (there’s usually a game of “who’s come the furthest?” “Who’s the oldest?” “Who’s run the most marathons?” etc). Meanwhile, there’s usually a well-chosen speaker who manages to be inspiring while still tying it in to the next day’s race. And of course, the race director is always dynamic and a pleasure to hear from.

Unfortunately, this year there was no pasta dinner, and we were encouraged to go to one of the “community pasta dinners” in town. Now, let me just say that I hate the concept of “community pasta dinner.” I have no problem with there being no pasta dinner put on by the race organization itself, but I hate when they try to pretend there’s some kind of organized pasta dinner. Just call it what it is: you’re on your own for dinner, but here are a few restaurants that are making it a point to put pasta on the menu.

My mom had read about some Burlington restaurants, and we decided to try American Flatbread: known for their flatbread pizza and craft beers. Count me in! Unfortunately, when we got there we found that the wait to get in was over two hours. No, thank you! Though when we went to the hostess stand, we were surprised to see that there were plenty of tables that were open… but they apparently weren’t seating those. Odd!

Fortunately, when we tried our luck across the street at the Vermont Pub and Brewing Company, they told us 15 minutes. Sold! We headed inside to wait at the bar – and again, were surprised to see plenty of open tables. What is it with Burlington and making you wait even if there are tables open? I’m assuming maybe they just didn’t have the waitstaff available to serve them, but on the Saturday night of a holiday weekend, you would think they would be fully staffed.

No matter – we got seated pretty quickly, and the food/drink ended up being delicious. I got a flight of 6 beers (only 2 oz each, don’t worry!) – which was $6. What a deal! For the entrees, I wasn’t too thrilled with their only pasta option (cheese or beef ravioli), so I opted for fish and chips, with some fried oysters as well. I hate raw oysters but had never tried fried – I figured they might be kind of like fried clams? Meh, not so much. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the oysters (I think I just don’t like oysters in any form), but was perfectly content with the rest of the meal. And the beers were great! I think craft beer is the way to go before a race – delicious 🙂

We headed back to the hotel, and watched an episode of “Private Practice”, since both of us were behind. Our roommate Sara arrived just as we finished, which worked out perfectly. I was beat! I pretty much went right to bed even before my mom was done getting ready or Sara had unpacked. Big race the next day!


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