Spending Memorial Day weekend in the beautiful, albeit quite water-logged, city of Burlington, Vermont, gave me a little insight into what horsemen competing in the Kentucky Derby this year probably felt like.
Rewind to Friday. Spent way to much time that afternoon checking, re-checking, and checking the weather again every 10 minutes or so. All we could see was that massive green blob covering just about all of New England. You know the blob, the kind that says, “Ha, so much for your weekend.” We said, “it’s going to be wet. Very wet.”
Got out of Saratoga Friday, trekked about 60 miles north into the Adirondacks to the family homestead in Ticonderoga on Lake George. Still wet. Very wet.
Drove another 50 miles or so Saturday afternoon to Burlington. Still wet. Very wet.
Picked up race packets, numbers, free dry-fit (that’s a good one!) t-shirts, and other goodies Saturday afternoon for Sunday’s Vermont City Marathon. The race was celebrating its silver anniversary running this year-no this isn’t where I’m going with the whole Derby horsemen theme. I’ll get to that, trust me-this year and for me it would be marathon No. 4. Chicago 2006, New York City 2007, Vermont City 2010. Back for some unfinished business.
For fiancée Elizabeth, her first. Numero uno. Maiden voyage. All that good stuff. She got a lot of advice, and pre-race congrats for taking on the challenge. My advice to her, “it’s a long race. A really long race. Be prepared.”
We were prepared. Spent all our time (back) in Saratoga training for this 26.2-mile jaunt through Burlington. Spent time training for it before we even left Lexington.
Then the rains came.
Everything was wet.
Oh wait, I’ve covered that.
Sacked out in futon on the recently and spectacularly renovated sun room/back porch at friends Nick and Antonia’s house right near the race route’s halfway point, and after enjoying a great meal with other friends (thanks again guys), I soaking in the peace and relative quiet of the night. Relative, of course, because it was raining. Hard. So hard there were times I thought, “Lake Champlain is going to overflow. The bike path on the course is going to be underwater.”
That wouldn’t matter of course, because the folks who put on the race know what to do in situations like that because they’ve done it before. They would just re-route the course.
My thoughts wandered to all the marathoners-first timers, seasoned age-groupers, invited runners and everyone in between-who put in months and months of training in preparation for the significant challenge that awaited them the next morning. Not unlike the horsemen assembled in Louisville for the first Saturday in May. Months and months of build up, months and months of worrying, fine tuning, adjusting, tinkering, planning.
Usually the planning doesn’t involve the weather. If it does, hat’s off to you.
Waking up Sunday morning brought no relief. The rain was still coming down, the wind still blowing. The race was on, however and it was time to make it to the starting line with some 3,000 other hearty/crazy/brave/silly souls. Take your pick.
Unlike a big horse race, thankfully there wasn’t a lot of hurry up, get there and wait around time. More like, hurry up, try to get as close to everyone else to warm up, and eventually, bang, there’s the start!
There was no call to the post-like there is before the great Boilermaker 15k in Utica, I guess the difference between a pari-mutuel state like New York versus Vermont-but there was a moment of silence. At least I read in the newspaper the next day there was a moment of silence, in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings a month earlier. Boston was on a lot of folks’ mind Sunday, so much so that plenty were decked out in gear that either said “Boston Strong” or “Vermont Strong” or sometimes both.
The Derby was on my mind Sunday, a few times during the race.
Late in the proceedings-late for us I should say, already past the conclusion for some and still a ways to go for others-the sun came out. It reminded me of when the sun came out just before the 2009 Derby, when Mine That Bird came up the fence and blasted the field with Calvin Borel. It seemed like all was right with the world at that moment.
The field was headed to the starting gate.
Everyone outside was soaked from a day in the rain and mist.
Then the sun came out.
Everyone’s mood changed.
The race was run.
Somebody said something about how greater powers than those on earth had something to do with the sun coming out for the Derby. I’m not so sure about that, whether such powers care about a horse race, but it sounds good to those of us whose lives often revolve around such events.
The same thing happened Sunday.
Running toward the final turn, and before getting on the bike path mentioned earlier for about the four-mile stretch to the finish, the sun came out.
I heard someone say, “The sun, the sun!”
And just like that, all was suddenly right with the world.
Except of course for that last four-mile stretch.