I was expecting to finish the day in pain. I looked at the elevation chart for the Mad Half Marathon and saw two giant hills. Not only that, but less than 24 hours earlier, I ran the Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, ME. The prospect of all the hills and running combined with a 3 1/2 hour drive between the two cities led to visions of searing quads and throbbing calf muscles dancing in my head.
But somehow, I felt fine on race morning. Maybe it was the break between the two races. It could have also been that the beautiful Vermont scenery was so motivational that I didn’t think about anything else. Or maybe I just trained really well and was better prepared than I thought. Maybe it was a combination of all of those things. In any case, I ended up leaving the Mad Half Marathon feeling better than I have in a long time.
The Mad Marathon (and half marathon) is in Vermont’s mad river valley (hence the name of the race). A lot of 50 states marathoners and half marathoners travel from all over the US to do this course. Many of them are attracted to the natural beauty of the area. Runners of both the half and full marathon courses get to see:
- Covered Bridges
- Old barns
- Weather vanes
- Wheat fields
- Parts of the Appalachian Mountains
This course is a bit challenging for someone who is used to running in a nice flat city like Chicago but I wouldn’t want that to discourage anyone from running it. It’s a stunningly beautiful course.
The first mile is mostly downhill, but the entire second mile is a steep uphill climb. I found myself chatting with some other runners and making the best of it during this point. Nobody seemed to mind the climb very much.
For as steep as the climb was at mile 2, mile 3 was almost straight downhill. Running it made me feel like superman with the wind at my back. I also made back most of the time I had lost during the previous mile. Mile 4 was fairly flat. It went through a covered bridge and then to a turnaround point for half marathoners about a half mile down the road. Full marathoners kept going straight at this point.
Even though the course turned around and went back towards the start line at this point, I was happy to not have to climb all the way back up to the top of the big hill. About halfway up, there’s a turnoff with another small out and back, followed by another turnoff that brings half marathoners into mile 7 and marathoners into mile 10. There’s a nice decline at this point followed by another incline which is a lot more gradual than the first one.
At mile 10 of the half marathon and 12 of the full, the runners split off again. Marathoners head to the left to do a bigger loop while half marathoners head to the right and towards the finish line. This part of the course is nothing short of amazing. Not only is the scenery stunning (mountains, round barns, horses and more), but from about mile 9.8 to mile 12.2, the course is almost entirely downhill.
I found myself in a bit of a dilemma at this point. Downhill running is nice and fast… but isn’t necessarily better than uphill running. Especially at steep angles. Running steep uphills pushes your cardiovascular system to its limits. Running steep downhills pounds your quads, calves and knees.
I debated holding back to save my legs but then something occurred to me: I had just over three miles left to go in the second of back to back half marathons. And not only was I not worn out but I was actually feeling great. I still had plenty of energy to spare and even if the steep downhill destroyed my legs, I knew I would have enough gas left in the tank to power through the rest of the course. I decided to go for it. I flew down the hill like a lightning bolt.
The second half of mile 12 is slightly uphill but this hill is nowhere near as rough as the ones on some other parts of the course. Knowing at the finish line is waiting for you at the top is a nice motivation to push hard to the end. The finisher’s corral is designed to look like a miniature covered bridge and race director Dori Ingalls waits at the other side and gives each runner a hug after they get their covered bridge themed medals.
I felt great when I crossed the finish line and I couldn’t have been happier with my finishing time. I loved having the opportunity to run on such a beautiful course. I also loved doing back to back half marathons and not feeling like I was going to die at the end of the second one.
The post race party was nice too. Runners get treated to locally made apple cider, donuts, fruit, beer and a variety of other snacks. I had to get back to Boston to catch my flight so I didn’t stick around as long as I could have but I enjoyed the time I got to spend there. As a note, if you’re planning to travel to Vermont for this race there are a few options. You can fly into one of the regional airports in the area but your best bet will probably be to fly into Manchester, NH (a little more than an hour away) or Boston (about 2 1/2 hours away but probably more flight options).
Overall, this was an excellent race. I’d love to go back to Vermont and run it again. In fact, I’d love to go back to Vermont and do some more exploring in general. Thanks to Dori and her crew for putting together such a great event.