From the very first steps it took 27 years ago, what is now called the People’s United Bank Vermont City Marathon has been known for its commitment to the relay element of the race. VCM organizers made the relay a signature piece of the event when almost no other marathon offered that option.
From an initial number of 125 teams in 1989, the relay has grown to 1775 teams for this Sunday’s race through the streets of Burlington. There will be 975 two-person teams and 800 that will include from three to five runners.
The relay has become so popular that a lottery was instituted in 2004 to select the teams. This year 666 teams that entered the lottery were left on the outside looking in (although many have subsequently found a spot through cancelations and drop-outs).
“This event is the brainchild of grass roots runners who wanted to get as many people involved as possible,” says Jess Cover, who has run the full marathon eight times and is now in her second year as the race’s director of marketing and communication. “We were among the first, if not the first, to include a relay.”
There are six divisions for senior runners and three for juniors, age 17 and under. Teams are free to use three, four or five runners to complete the five-leg, 26.2-mile course.
A major evolution came in 2004 when race organizers responded to a growing demand for a two-person division. Many marathons offer a half-marathon along with the full race but VCM never has.
“It would be very hard for us to offer a straight-up half-marathon. Our course just isn’t conducive for that,” Cover says. “So we set up a handoff at the halfway point in Oakledge Park that has worked very well. A good many more marathons now have relays but not too many have the two-person.”
With the relay field pushing 5,000 runners, there is a diversity to the competition that is hard to match. Here are profiles of three runners for whom the VCM is a treasured time.
Jeannie Quintin was not an athlete in high school or college and began running in 2002 initially to lose weight. She ran the full marathon in 2003 and 2004 and in subsequent years has run both the two-person and five-person relays with four friends from her Mansfield Village neighborhood in Essex. There is always a post-marathon party to share stories and experiences.
“This is one of the most amazing days of the year in not just Burlington, but Vermont in general,” Quintin says. “People come out of the woodwork.”
“The whole community is so supportive and I feel the spectators respect the relay runners as much as the marathoners. I would be lost now without this weekend.”
Quintin will be running with Francesca Durant of Glastonbury, Conn. They have been friends since kindergarten. They will hand off to veteran two-person runners Deanna Papaseraphim and Aimee Koch.
Quintin’s two daughters and husband will be on Church Street to see the race at Mile 3 and Mile 9.
“They love to hang out there but my love is running the first half of the two-person team,” Quintin says. “There is nothing like the excitement in Battery Park at the start of the race.”
While Russ Cook has run the full marathon four times, he will be leading off a five-man team Sunday. Then he will change clothes and assume his myriad duties as a member of the race committee.
“I get the easy leg, but all five members of our team are over 60, so training is a challenge,” says Cook, who is central member of the Green Mountain Athletic Association’s Sunday Morning runners. “But the relay is more fun, more of a social event.”
Cook is a real estate agent from Williston who ran cross-country in high school and has been running regularly for 45 years. This perspective enables him to evaluate the VCM candidly.
“I’ve run Boston, Disney and Chicago and Vermont is right there,” he says. “It’s just a great community event. People come up and realize what a great city Burlington is.”
Count Cook among those who consider the relay teams as the marathon’s heart and soul.
“Some people have run the relay and then become inspired to train for the full marathon,” he says. “What I like is it gives a runner who is never going to run a full marathon a sense of being involved. The crowds don’t care – you’re out there running and they’re giving you their energy and support.”
Meg Lout, a 36-year old wildlife biologist, came to running in a roundabout way. She was a soccer goalie in high school whose favorite part of the sport was running warm-up laps before a game. Her coach thought she might be a natural for cross-country.
“I went to UMass-Amherst and just started running,” Lout says. “I didn’t have any coaching and I didn’t really know what I was doing. “There was just something about running long distances that appealed to me. I wanted kept increasing my mileage.”
Lout achieved her goal of running the New York City marathon in 1999 and was “hooked for good.” The next goal was to qualify for the Olympic Trials, something that eluded her in 2012. She was the first Vermont woman across the finish line last year in a time of two hours, 59.44 seconds and has run a handful of marathons in under three hours. But something was missing.
“I wasn’t physically fast enough,” she says. “So when I came to Vermont four years ago, I got a coach and began to cut down on my volume and concentrated on speed work to build a stronger foundation.”
That’s why Lout will be running the second leg of the two-person relay. Her partner is accomplished triathlete Kim Loeffler, whose twin sister, Kelly, is Lout’s training coach. Their goal is to break the current women’s two-person open record of 2:51.54 seconds set by Jackie Jackman and Michaela Driscoll in 2010.
“It’s obviously going to be over a lot quicker but I will be pushing myself at a pace I have never tried before,” Lout says. “I think it’s going to be painful.”
Helping make that challenge bearable will be all the relay runners around her.
“I love the relay aspect of this event,” Lout says. “There is so much diversity and different components and energy. Seeing so many people involved is my favorite part of the race.”
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