Nearly 10,000 runners and volunteers will participate in the annual Vermont City Marathon & Relay this Sunday. The 28th Peoples United Bank race along the streets and waterfront of Burlington will bring a mass of humanity with a diverse collection of goals and motivations.
Runners joining the fray on Sunday all come with their own unique story, but here are three Vermont runners who find the running community around the marathon an essential part of their lives.
Ellie Brady: "Running saved my life"
A decade ago, the 50-year-old South Burlington resident ended her first race by throwing up behind the bleachers at the finish line. She’s come a long way since those early days when she picked up running after her only child left for college.
“I had a bunch of friends in the same boat and we realized we had to get off our kid's beds, stop crying and get going,” Brady said. “And once I ran my first race, I fell in love with it. It was a challenge for me.”
Brady gradually worked her way up to a 5-kilometer race, then a 10-kilometer event and then a half-marathon. Her first full marathon was on Cape Cod in 2011. She became a regular at the Vermont City Marathon, running both the 2-person and 5-person relays.
Then Brady encountered a serious setback: In February, Brady ended a nine-mile training run feeling uncharacteristically fatigued and short of breath. She began having back and chest pains but over the course of a week of consultations, medical personnel could not find an explanation.
Brady eventually drove herself to the emergency room where doctors determined she had suffered a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot had traveled from her leg through her heart and lodged in one of her lungs.
Brady spent three days in the hospital and was instructed to do nothing more strenuous than walking for the next three to six months. Her plans for running the two-person Vermont City Marathon relay were crushed.
“Believe me, I’m happy to still be alive, but I was really down after that,” Brady said. “All I could think of when I was in the hospital was when could I run again.”
Jess Cover, the marathon’s director of marketing and communication, heard of Brady’s situation and came up with a Plan B. Perhaps Brady could be part of a 5-person relay and walk her leg of the race.
Brady’s co-workers at The Animal Hospital in Hinesburg stepped up to become her teammates. She has worked her way from long walks to being able to run five miles with only intermittent breaks.
“Someone suggested I should run the last leg, not to prove anything but to show that I’ve got this,” Brady said. “This VCM is going to be really special to me. The doctors said that if it wasn’t for my good health, I could have had a much grimmer outcome."
"Running basically saved my life.”
Forrest Lemoine: A lifelong runner overcomes a stroke
The former Vermont state trooper from Ferrisburgh has been a runner all his life. He ran cross country and distance races at Lake Region Union High School and then in college at Champlain and the University of Maine. He has run both the full race and relays at the VCM and has been a long-time volunteer.
But on Valentine’s Day in 2015, LeMoine awoke feeling completely numb down one side. He was admitted to the UVM Medical Center where doctors determined he had suffered multiple strokes.
For three months, LeMoine was essentially an invalid. He couldn’t drive and went through exhausting physical and speech therapy sessions.
“I couldn’t really do anything,” said LeMoine, who was 60 when he suffered the strokes. “It was like crawling out of a hole.”
LeMoine is a member of the Green Mountain Athletic Association, where one of his closest friends is realtor Russ Cook. He encouraged LeMoine to train with him and work his way back, a little at a time.
“Russ kind of inspired me,” LeMoine said. “I’m tired all the time and I still have some numbness and some nerve pain. But I did some short races and even did a half marathon in the fall. I was very slow and walked some of it, but I got through it.”
LeMoine will be part of a five-runner relay team Sunday. He is nervous, but happy to be running with Cook and back in the VCM mix.
“I love running, and my doctors and neurologist have encouraged me to use those muscles,” LeMoine said. “You can’t just give up and sit on the couch. Running is the best thing for me.”
Rachel Drew: "Hooked" on running
The 30-year old Burlington resident and Hickok and Boardman worker came to running later rather than sooner, and this will be her first marathon. She was a member of the South Burlington High School track team her senior year but competed in the shot put, discus and javelin, not the running events.
Drew didn’t become a serious runner until 2013 and it began then more as a weight loss tool than anything else.
“It was pretty casual at first,” Drew said. “I ran a couple of 5K races and then I tried the Catamount half-marathon in Brattleboro in 2014. By then I was hooked. I really loved having the consistency of exercise in my life. I was sleeping much better and more at peace mentally.”
Drew also began blogging about her running experiences and connected with a wide range of compatriots.
“I found a really supportive and diverse group of runners to talk with and share with,” she said. “I normally post twice a week – Monday and Friday – and sometimes sprinkle one in between.”
Drew hired an online coach to help her devise a training regimen to prepare her for the Vermont City Marathon. There has been speed training, hills, intervals and usually four runs a week, the longest coming on the weekend.
“For me it was more about getting the distance in, and it has been a bear,” Drew said. “More than once I’ve wondered what in the world have I gotten myself into.”
Drew ran a 20-mile event the first of the month and has been tapering off since then (“I love the taper phase!” she said.)
“It’s hard to imagine right now – I’m excited but also very, very nervous,” Drew said of Sunday. “I was always that person who never intended to run a marathon. Then it became, well, maybe some day.
“I knew if I ever did, it would be the VCM.”