Marathons, Mountains and Microbrews - Vermont

6 September 2003.  Stowe, Vermont, home to several of my passions, may be the perfect place to spend the weekend,.  Mt. Mansfield, the highest point in Vermont at 4395 feet, overlooks this beautiful New England resort town.  The Stowe Marathon, a small affair expected to attract 100 runners, starts in the shadow of the mountain.  Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream factory is on the way back to the freeway, and The Shed Brewery is conveniently located along the road that connects them all. 

I only had two days, so I had to work fast.  After arriving Saturday noon in Burlington, I pointed my car toward Stowe and the trailhead for Mansfield.  The 40-minute drive to Stowe takes one past many quaint shops selling chocolate, maple syrup, and various New England crafts.  With a few extra hours of leisure time I could have found lots of places to blow some money, but I was on a mission.  I drove into Stowe, took a left on 108, to see the face of Mt. Mansfield, just lying there in the distance, nose sticking up in the air. 

The local shops are located all along the curvy road as I approached the mountain, and suddenly, on the left, a sign that said BREWERY popped out of nowhere.  Hmmm.  I haven't had lunch yet.  A burger and a pint of Smugglers Stout filled the tank to the proper levels as I enjoyed the rustic, log-cabin like decor.  Bonus time--as I paid my bill, my daughter Katie called my cell phone to tell me she's pregnant.  Cool!

  I took the road most travelled going up the mountain, via the toll road up to the Visitor's Center right under the nose.  From there, the Long Trail, Vermont's section of the Applachian trail, runs north toward the summit.  White blazes are painted along the trail, kind of a follow-the-dotted-line thing taking me the 1.3 miles to the summit.  The trail is rocky, but well marked.  The day was perfect for a climb, with a view of the Presidential Range to the east, and of Lake Champlain to the west.  After only 32 minutes, I was standing on the chin, the highest point in Vermont.

Nose, chin?  Mt. Mansfield, if you have a little imagination, resembles the face of a man.  Maybe even the face of a Mansfield?  OK, maybe you need a lot of imagination.

About 20 people were hanging out at the summit, so, for a change, there was someone there to take my picture.  A couple of South Africans, Marius and Andy, came hiking up, and we took each other's pictures.  After hearing me discussing the next day's marathon with a ranger, Marius called me over.  "There's a marathon tomorrow?"  he asked.  After a bit of discussion, we started down the mountain together until he and Andy turned off to descend via the Cliff Trail. 

I next saw them about an hour later, at the Stowe Marathon sign up table. 

After checking in to the Golden Eagle and negotiating a late check-out so I could shower after the marathon, it was time for the pre-race pasta dinner.  There I met Bill Santoro, a doctor from Pennsylvania and a member of the Chicago Marathon pace crew.  He promised to introduce me to the pace-crew coordinator when I go to work the Chicago Marathon next month.  Race Director Russ Halpern-Reiss sat down at our table and shared some stories of a multi-day adventure race he ran with a team in New Zealand.  We discussed the course and looked forward to the next morning.

Perfect race conditions greeted us as we arrived at the starting line--cool but not cold, partly sunny.  Marius was there.  An old friend, Nanda Gowda from California came up on me after a quarter mile.  He and I first met in 1998 in Columbia, Missouri.  Nanda, Marius, and I ran the first few miles together until I realized that the miles were going by too fast for me to sustain the pace, so I backed off, pausing for a pit-stop as we came to the main intersection downtown. 

The course is a beautiful tour of Stowe and the surrounding area.  Why there weren't more than 100 people running, I couldn't figure out.  Then we got to mile 9.  We soon started up hill, and in the next 1.4 miles, would gain 560 feet.  My recent moutain excursions must have had a good influence on my legs, for as other runners resorted to walking up the hill, I was able to maintain a run all the way up.  Carlee Moldenhauer, a 20 year old running her first marathon muscled past me as we neared the top, and I stopped talking to the guys around me and chased her up the hill.  The Trapp Family Lodge (you remember The Sound of Music) awaited us at the top of the hill--apparently they came here after they left Austria.  I gave Marius my camera so he could get a shot of me.

The downhill was tougher on the legs than the uphill, as we pounded down a mile and a half in record time.  I caught up with Marius going up, and we ran all the way to the bottom together until we turned onto flat road and I went on ahead.  The stretch from 12.5 to 15 is an out-and-back section, so in the next couple miles I got some snapshots of Nanda and Bill. 

I had passed Carlee on the way down the hill, but she wasn't far behind me at the turn.  She also had her own cheering section--three college girlfriends meeting her at every corner to cheer her on.  She passed and ran ahead of me for one meeting, and I caught up and told her friends that I had to keep up with her because I was guaranteed the cheering section along the way.  As we approached 20, then 21 miles she pulled away a little bit.  I kept her in sight, and still managed to get to the cheering section before they moved on down the road.

As we went into Stowe for our last loop, I passed Bill at about 21.5, then finally caught up with Carlee again.  The too-fast start and the big downhill were taking the toll on my legs, and between 17 and 26 miles, we gained about 30 feet per mile.  The last miles felt slow, but the finish line was out there, drawing us in.  We followed a bike path along a stream, over little bridges, through the Vermont woods.  This is the way life is supposed to be.  I finished in 4:34, with Carlee & Bill behind me just a few minutes.  I waited around for Marius, but he isn't listed among the finishers. 

Again, I met Russ, this time at the post-race barbeque, complete with live music, beer, Ben & Jerry's.  A Thai massage therapy session was waiting there as well, and after a 20 minute omigod-did-that-feel-good massage it was time to head toward the airport.

Oh yeah--Ben and Jerry's ice cream.  I just couldn't drive past it twice in one weekend, and I was still early for my flight.  An ice cream cone and a tour of the gift shop were a fitting way to end my Vermont excursion.

and the adventure continues.... 

Don Kern 
47 states marathons 
5 states high points