State #15: Vermont
The Shires of Vermont Marathon
Sunday, May 19
The expo was open on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning before the start of the race. It was held at the Bennington Center of the Arts, which is used to showcase local and nationally recognized artists. The race officials and volunteers working at the expo were helpful, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic . I overheard one of the runners ask if it were possible to drive the course, and the race director stopped what he was doing and gave detailed directions. The race shirts were handed out at the finish, so we were just given our bib and a goodie bag upon arrival. The bag was full of lots of great food and discounts to local businesses. I’ve only run a few marathons that handed out the shirts at the finish, one being Utah Valley. It’s funny, because literally everything about this race reminded me of my experience in Utah Valley: from the small field size, to the look and feel of the course, and even the circumstances surrounding me running the race with an injury.
It’s a small town race, and the expo reflected the size of the event. There was one vendor, and the option to purchase shirts from previous years that the race was run. The race directors offered free entry for runners who participated in the Boston Marathon but were unable to cross the finish line. There were about 40 Boston runners that attended, and they had a banner for us to sign (regardless of whether you finished or not). Their compassion for the group of Boston runners was heartfelt and touching.
The day certainly had an interesting start. Since we have a family lake house 16 miles from Bennington, the race had somewhat of a local feel for me. I got up at a reasonable time, casually prepared and left the house with no anxiety because I’m familiar with the area. Two of my friends drove up in the middle of the night and met me at the Bennington Center of the Arts, but not before we had to tend to a flat tire they acquired en route to packet pick-up. Bennington is a quaint town so it was relatively easy to find a place to drop their car off and get back to the starting line with time to spare.
The Bennington Center of the Arts was open in the morning for all runners and was the site for packet pickup if you couldn’t make it to the expo the day before. The parking lot had a few porta-johns available, but there were indoor restrooms open for the runners in the art center. There was coffee, water, and Gatorade for the runners as we waited for the race to begin. There was a large SUV with a table set up to check the bags of gear that runners wished to have at the finish line. Bags were tagged with the runner’s bib number and put in the SUV for transport.
I arrived at the start relatively early, and the parking situation was well-managed. The only individuals permitted to park in the art center’s parking lot were the race officials, but there were two parking lots across the street that were ready to accommodate the runners and spectators. There was a shuttle in the morning for runners staying in Manchester that transported them to Bennington. It seemed to run smoothly, I didn’t hear any complaints from the runners that utilized the morning shuttle option and . It was nice because runners could opt to stay in Bennington or Manchester and there was transportation regardless of what you chose.
The start of the race was right outside the building. The race officials held a moment of silence for the victims in Boston before sending us on our way. The course winds through North Bennington, Shaftsbury, Arlington, and Manchester. It’s almost entirely on back roads so you don’t see many of the big tourist attractions in close proximity, like the Bennington Monument or the Old First Church (where Robert Frost is buried) but I would recommend checking the sights out if you have some extra time before or after the race. Bennington is a charming little town and is worth spending a few hours. I haven’t spent much time in Manchester, but I hear that it is also a lovely town to spend an afternoon.
In southern Vermont, many of the roads are unpaved, dirt roads. The majority of the race – over 13 miles – was on gravel. Since I’m fresh off of an injury, this was a plus for me. However, though the course was soft, it was also extremely hilly with long uphill and downhill stretches. Had I not been sidelined for a few weeks prior, this would be a great course to try racing because it is extremely challenging. If you are looking for a flat, easy, PR course this is not it. However, don’t pass this race up. Though the hills present a challenge, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges, rustic farms, historic properties, and quaint locally-owned stores.
The volunteers add to making this race a top-notch event. From the expo to the aid stations straight through to the finish line, everyone is helpful, kind and supportive. There are medical volunteers (some were actually doctors!) that bike along the course and provide aid to the runners. At a water stop, I heard there was a runner that was unable to complete the race and they were sending a vehicle to get them right away. The volunteers informed us that there would be a vehicle on the course in the next few minutes. They were very accommodating to everyone and ready to help and support the runners in any possible way they could.
For being such a small race, the finish line was pretty exciting. The announcer announced as many names as possible as people came running through the finish line. Runners were greeted with their medal and tech shirt, which was really cute. The medals are beautiful – handmade, ceramic and unique with a thick green ribbon.The food spread was amazing, with ice cold chocolate milk, ice cream, yogurt, deli meats to make sandwiches, cookies, granola bars, bagels, donuts, fruit, and so much more. The bags we checked at the start were in an area where you helped yourself and found your stuff. At any larger event, this might be a poor way to handle it but honestly, everyone was so kind and lovely that I had no problem with this.
After loading up on goodies, there was a constant flow of shuttles ready to take runners back to Manchester. They didn’t even have to wait for the shuttles to be full. I had my seat all to myself as I relaxed and stretched out on the bus ride back to Bennington. The driver was so sweet, and offered to take each of us to whatever lot we parked our cars in, even though they were told to take us to the art center.
My only complaint about the whole day was that I was coming off of an injury so I had to take it slower, and I wasn’t even really upset about that. The course is stunning, the volunteers and race directors are amazing, and the race swag is really nice for such a small event. This is a race I would sign up for again next year without thinking twice. As someone attempting the whole 50 state goal, I chose the right race to knock Vermont off of my list.