Vermont City Marathon 2016 Recap – The Black Flag Affair

Well, I am not a three-time marathoner. Turns out that 22 mile long run I ran in the pouring rain on Mother’s Day morning was the closest I would get to running a marathon. I have been conspicuously absent from Instagram or my Facebook page since Marathon Sunday, because I had nothing to share. No finish line, no post-race celebrations, no shiny medal. 

Vermont City Marathon Recap - The Black Flag Affair

The forecast for the race was hot. It was looking that way for at least a week in advance and RunVermont, the organization that puts on the Vermont City Marathon, had sent out a heat advisory with advice on running in the heat. On Friday I headed to the expo and it was stiflingly hot and humid that afternoon. There was a lot of mention of hydration and conservative running, but no change from the 8am start time. 

Originally I’d hoped I would run somewhere around 4:30 (which would have been my A goal) and 4:45. A couple of days before the race, Angela reached out to me to see if I would meet up with her coaching client, Cindy, who was running it as well and was also concerned about the heat. Cindy and I got in touch and it seemed like we might be paced perfectly to run together. Sadly, we missed each other at the start, but honestly, running alone or running with someone, there was very little that could have been made good about this race.

The morning of the race, I ate some salt as well as my usual pre-race breakfast, knowing I would be sweating like crazy. I was actually more concerned about drinking too much water – hyponatremia – than becoming dehydrated. I took my handheld water bottle I’d trained with, to use in addition to the rest stops and I decided to throw caution to the wind on the whole not-doing-anything-new rule of racing and planned to take a sip of sports drink at every stop as well as water. I deliberately didn’t even check the forecast the morning of the race. I already knew it was hot out and I didn’t want to psych myself out by knowing the temperature. 

Vermont City Marathon Recap - The Black Flag Affair

The first mile was tough right off the bat, since we were running toward the sun. At 8am it was already beating down and when finally we made a turn south, there were audible groans of relief from runners. We hadn’t even hit mile one. The first five miles I thought I paced very well. I ran by feel, wearing my watch but deliberately not looking at it and looking away from the clocks at the mile markers. Now I look back at my splits and those first 5 miles were almost dead-on for a 4:30 finish. Then it all went to hell. And it literally felt like hell.

By this stage, we were running on the Burlington Beltline, which is an out and back section of the course on a wide stretch of road with no shade and no respite. Watching runners come back up the other side of the road towards us, still in direct sunlight, knowing that’s what I had to look forward to, was a mental killer. Another mental and physical blow was dealt when the aid station between mile 6 and 7 had run out of water. I am so thankful I had my handheld water bottle, because I’m not sure I would have made it without it.  Shortly after that aid station debacle, I realized half the runners were walking. There are two bridges over this stretch of road and in the tiny piece of shade under each, small groups of runners were standing, obviously trying to get some shade before attempting the next stretch. I overheard one relay runner on his phone as he walked, telling his second leg runner he wasn’t going to make it to the hand off. At mile 8 I saw the first of many ambulances coming to someone’s aid. 

At mile 9, we were back in the city and this is where the spectators made the race somewhat bearable again. So many people had set up sprinklers to shower the course, or were standing on their curbs hosing us down; offering ice and oranges and ice pops. I was walking short stretches whenever there was no shade by this point and took anything the thoughtful spectators were offering. By mile 11 I had totally given up on any chance of a decent time for me and just wanted to finish. Watching the half marathon relay runners peel off at 13.1 and the fresh group of second leg runners join us was awful. Just before mile 15 and the Battery Street hill I had trained so hard for, I began chatting with a woman named Marcy and we ran together for a while. We ended up walking that hill, the hill that I ran so many times during training, the one part of the course I thought would be the toughest, but one I’d trained to overcome. It wasn’t my day. I saw only three people actually running the hill. It was clear it was not anyone’s day.

The next few miles are a blur to me. It was walk-run intervals, feeling thankful for every spray of water, for every spectator, volunteer and the other runners for making it bearable. At mile 19, we were stopped at an aid station and were told by the volunteers that there was a hold on the course. The volunteers didn’t really know what was happening and it was obvious they weren’t sure if they were meant to stop us for good, so we all just kept going. At mile 20, we heard they weren’t timing the race anymore. I didn’t care, by this stage. I was just determined to finish it, knowing I had run conservatively and smartly and that I could finish. During a walk break, I wrote this on Facebook:

Vermont City Marathon Recap - The Black Flag Affair

About half a mile later, news trickled down that it was over. The bike path was blocked off. No one was being allowed through. We would all be shuttled to the finish on buses. Mile 20.5. Less than a 10K run from the finish. I cried and cried as I went on, still sticking to my walk-run method. I rounded a corner with a group of runners and we were all corralled into a parking lot. Onto buses we piled and the stories started. “This was my first marathon and I didn’t make it.” “I’m running 50 marathons in 50 states and I need to find a marathon in Vermont this week to make it happen.” “This was my bucket list goal after kicking cancer.” Everyone understood – we had just run through 20 miles of the worst conditions I think most of us had experienced in a race. The right decision was made by the organizers. It didn’t make it any easier to accept in the moment, though.

Getting off the bus at the finish meant listening and watching as the runners who were further along the course actually crossed the finish line. The announcer was calling their names, saying, “Congratulations, marathoners! You made it 26.2 miles and you should be proud!” The crowd in the park by the lake was a mix of happy finishers with medals around their necks, trading war stories of the course and the dejected non-finishers, those of us who got off yellow buses and walked around looking for our loved ones. It sucked. I felt like a failure. I saw the woman I ran with for a couple of miles and she had the medal around her neck. I immediately started thinking, ‘Could I have gone on? Could I have slipped past that bus stop and made it to the bike path? Am I a failure? If I had trained harder, would I have been one of those finishers?’

Did I fail? Not from my effort. But it’s hard to swallow months of training, of negotiating baby naps and feeding schedules and have it all come down to riding on a yellow school bus to watch others cross the line.

And just to rub salt in the wound, this is the opening page for the VCM website right now, congratulating the finishers of the Vermont City Marathon 2016:

Vermont City Marathon Recap - The Black Flag Affair

Why was the race shut down?

The organizers issued a black flag after readings from Wet Bulb Globe Temperature devices at three locations on the course came back with a score of over 92, a number which means outside activity is too dangerous. 

What’s next?

I have actually failed to mention this, since I’ve been so caught up in my training for the marathon, but I am running the Covered Bridges Half Marathon this Sunday, raising money for the charity David’s House. I have no idea how I will run, since I didn’t specifically train for a half, but I am hoping for cooler temperatures and a little bit of redemption crossing a finish line.

Thanks to all of you who texted, messaged, called and commented with your kind words! You made sharing what seemed like a failure at the time a more bearable experience.



  1. Carly I am really sorry for your marathon šŸ™ I was looking out for your post to see what happened since I couldn’t believe it! I hope you ‘ll feel better soon and won’t take it too hard… Till next time šŸ˜€
    Ellen @ Tale of Two Runs recently posted…RUNNING AROUND THE WORLD #3 ā€“ GreeceMy Profile

  2. Oh Carly! I’m so sorry! That must have been hugely disappointing to you. I can’t even begin to put myself in your shoes. At least you know you did the best you could and it wasn’t your fault by any means.
    Britt@MyOwnBalance recently posted…Summer Fitness Bucket ListMy Profile

  3. WOW, Carly, I awakened this morning with you on my mind. I thought I haven’t heard from Carly and wondered why. I was excited to give my son, also a runner, your report & still am! YOU should be proud! You did GREAT & You did finish until the race was called! Perhaps your message is meant to be shared as an alert. You have now shared a lot of insight & life-saving wisdom with your post which could be valuable to others! And, perhaps the next time it will begin in the early hours of the day. A big Congratulations for a job well done!!šŸ’āœØāš”ļøšŸ…šŸŒ…

  4. Oooooh, how I feel you. I got stopped at Leddy, and I am having ALL THE FEELINGS after not completing what was to be my first marathon. Take care of yourself this week, and have fun at your half.
    Rae recently posted…Race Recap: Vermont City Marathon 2016My Profile

  5. I have been off social media for awhile. I heard that the Vermont marathon was canceled, but I had no idea you actually started and made it that far before the Race Directors(or whoever) decided to call it quits. I can’t imagine how frustrated that must be. Putting in all that hard work with no outcome. recently posted…It’s 5K Month!My Profile

  6. I’m so sad for you…. and the people who were running their first or running for a cause that they had raised money for, etc, etc…. It really can be devastating…. And it also makes me think of Boston… think about running and then having some horrific terrorist attack stop you… Just the fact you did all that training with a toddler and a baby is absolutely amazing and beyond what I imagine 99% of marathoners have to schedule around to train, so congrats to you on that! Take time off…. enjoy the upcoming half…. recently posted…Marriage the Marathon ā€“ One Marathon and One Year Later.My Profile

  7. Carly, I am so sorry doesn’t seem like enough to say. I had a DNF in my second marathon (Philly 2014 due to hyponatremia but not bad weather) and I know too well all the emotions that are whirling around. I really enjoyed “following” your training and journey for the marathon and I am so disappointed for you but I’m glad you are ok. You are one tough chick to have made it that far in those hot conditions.

  8. Carly, I am so sorry to hear that this happened to you! I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been after how hard you trained for months – especially when not finishing wasn’t a deliberate decision to DNF, but a decision made completely out of your control. I’m glad you finished without any health issues from heat, dehydration, or hyponatremia! Best of luck at your half this weekend – and fingers crossed for you that you experience better weather!
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…Why Do You Run? {Global Running Day 2016}My Profile

  9. VCM and I have an intense history but now…I just can’t even imagine. From what I’ve heard from Cindy and others who were out there that day, it was bad. Really bad. Not just the conditions but the rate at which water was disappearing and how sirens were everywhere. I completely understand the director’s decision to cancel but damn, that just sucks so much for all who didn’t finish. You worked your ass off. I would have been crying too. Hugs to you. And thank you for even considering meeting up with Cindy. xoxo
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted…6 Workouts for Global Running DayMy Profile

    • I really wish Cindy and I had met up! We hit it off by text. šŸ™‚ Yes, the conditions were terrible, I have never experienced anything like that. Hearing the slight panic in the voices of the volunteers when they admitted they were out of water, surrounded by runners in the scorching heat was a very surreal experience. And yup, it does, it just plain sucks.
      Carly Pizzani recently posted…Vermont City Marathon 2016 Recap – The Black Flag AffairMy Profile

  10. You know my sentiments on this already! I know also know you are a strong woman and this just means you will be ready to crush the next marathon. I wish you an awesome, enjoyable, happy and fun run this weekend!!! Hugs! xo
    Crystal Renaud recently posted…VCM 2016 & Half Marathon #8 RecapMy Profile

  11. Oh man! I can’t imagine how annoying that must be- to put all the training in and not get to finish. On the other hand, I can’t imagine my body cooperating in 90 degree heat! That’s so intense. I hope you slowly begin to feel better, Carly, and know that it was completely out of your hands. All that training isn’t for nothing… you’ll maintain a higher level of running fitness going into this half and whatever future races you decide to do. But still, I hear you. Booooo.

    • I am already feeling okay about it, Laura. It stings a bit to think of the hours I sacrificed to training, not knowing it was going to be for nothing. But the training is such a big part of the achievement of running a marathon, that I am also able to look back on how I willed myself through a few terrible runs in training, and of how amazing it felt to really crush some of my workouts. That makes me feel happy and proud.
      Carly Pizzani recently posted…Vermont City Marathon 2016 Recap – The Black Flag AffairMy Profile

  12. Sry to hear about this past Sunday, Carly. That must be so disappointing. I am surprised that they did not change the time & allow you guys to run @ an earlier time. They did that last year @ the LB race due to temps rising to 92 by 7:30 am. Good luck on your 1/2. How is training for the 1/2 different from the full other than it’s a longer distance? I would think that since you already trained for a full, you will be ready for the 1/2 this weekend. Good luck!

    • I find it so weird they didn’t change the time either, Joanne! I heard so many runners asking if the start time had changed when I was at the expo. It wasn’t freak weather out of nowhere, it had been hot for a few days and the forecast for Sunday was always hot and humid.

      So in terms of the difference in training, you would be doing more focused speedwork for a half marathon; your goal pace for tempo runs and runs at race pace would be different; as well as just a lower mileage overall for half marathon training. Running a half when you’re trained for a full is no problem, because it’s not a stretch when your long runs have been miles longer than a half marathon, but it means you likely won’t be as fast and specifically trained to nail that 13.1 distance. Does that make more sense?
      Carly Pizzani recently posted…Vermont City Marathon 2016 Recap – The Black Flag AffairMy Profile

      • Yeah, that makes sense. For my first half, I am not going to worry about time. I just want to finish it. Lol!

  13. Carly this just sucks. Plain and simple. I totally get how devastating a day like this can be. The heat and carnage in Chicago when I ran my first marathon were the same. They stopped us at mile 22 and turned off the timing clocks but somehow I went on and was pissed to see the finish line fully functioning when I got there when we were led to believe the race was over. Mother Nature is so cruel sometimes and it’s such a tough call for the race director. A race like that is a billion times harder than one in good conditions. I know you feel like all your hard work and training was for nothing now but I also know that redemption will be sweet. Be kind to yourself. Those conditions are a huge stress on the system. But man you are a fighter and I know you’ll be back! xoxo

    • Thank you Marcia! xoxo I remember that horrendous year in Chicago and just feeling horrible for everyone involved. I feel like now I know how to fix my training and my motivation for the next marathon I attempt and now I also know that if I could run in those conditions, I can push myself harder in a race in good conditions, if you know what I mean? It’s maybe the first time that adage, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ has really made sense to me.
      Carly Pizzani recently posted…Vermont City Marathon 2016 Recap – The Black Flag AffairMy Profile

  14. I am so sorry about your race!! It’s such a hard pill to swallow knowing how much time and effort you put into your training and not be able to finish. I do have to wonder though – why in the world would they schedule this marathon for 8 am??? They had plenty of time to know about the hot weather. Even 90 minutes earlier may have allowed so many more runners to finish. 8 am is super late for any marathon (esp spring/summer)… I hope the RD gives this some thought for next year. Hope you are recovering well and good luck tomorrow!!! šŸ™‚

    • Nat, I wish they had changed the time! I have no idea why they didn’t and they totally glossed over it when they communicated with the press and with runners after the race. I know a lot of people were very vocal that the start time should have been changed and I’m not sure of the logistics of making that happen. Maybe it was not a viable option for some reason.
      Carly Pizzani recently posted…Vermont City Marathon 2016 Recap – The Black Flag AffairMy Profile

  15. I’m a runner and I race and I love it. But, seriously, these type of posts are becoming so frequent – this all-consuming “heartbreak”, crying and sadness over not finishing the marathon. It’s only a race! You still got out and did 20 miles. It could have been a lot worse – there could have been a bomb at the end, you might not have started at all, you might have got injured, you may not have been able to run the half next. PERSPECTIVE. People put so much emphasis on the wrong things, please have GRATITUDE for what is. Roll with the tide and recognize we can’t change what we can’t control. Smile and move on.

    • Jen, I admit when I read your comment I had to re-read my post to see if it came across that I was having all-consuming heartbreak. Yes, I definitely cried on the course. I had just run over 4 hours in some of the worst physical conditions I’ve experienced and since you’re a runner, you know how mental and emotional running can be. And yes, I was sad and still am sad that I didn’t finish. I would never dream of comparing this black flag to the Boston tragedy.

      My perspective is that I put in a lot of training and made a lot of sacrifices that came to naught due to circumstances out of my control.

      My emphasis is that putting a lot of hard work and heart and soul into any goal and having it be denied for a reason out of your control is disappointing.

      My gratitude is that I know a little bit more about what I’m capable of physically and mentally as a runner and a person.

      And my empathy means I can read posts about unfinished races, DNF’s, injuries and missed goals and appreciate what a fellow runner is feeling and sharing without judgement.
      Carly Pizzani recently posted…Vermont City Marathon 2016 Recap – The Black Flag AffairMy Profile

    • Shame on you Jen. Next time, take your own advice and read a post you don’t agree with, smile and move on.
      Allie recently posted…The Rundown Goes on the Road: Rome, ItalyMy Profile

  16. First of all, this just plain sucks. After running several marathons I cannot even imagine this happening, especially when you have been juggling so much this winter to get in your runs and to tough it out though cold and snow and freezing rain…the list goes on. As anyone who has ever trained for a big event knows, you do it all with the motivation of crossing that finish line and to have it stolen away from you because of the weather is just wrong on so many levels. I truly feel for you my friend but you must know that you toughed it out until the end and I just don’t see how there could have been any other outcome. I can only hope that nothing like this ever happens again to ANY runner! Congratulations for STARTING this one and coming out alive 20 miles later!!! xoxo
    Allie recently posted…The Rundown Goes on the Road: Rome, ItalyMy Profile

  17. Lets just think positively that it all happens for good. Just continue doing what you love, we’re just here to support you. Your trainings will not be put into waste, just continue pursuing your passion.

  18. I saw your post on Facebook during that weekend but I had so much going on imply just now catching up! Having race be canceled in the home stretch must be so hard – it seems like you’re handling it well now that it’s been a week or so… Im not sure I would have been able to suck it up and run a different race.

    It’s too bad they couldn’t figure out a way to start it earlier but logistically I’m sure it’s hard to move a huge event and coordinate volunteers, etc. there will always be next year, right?! šŸ™‚


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