Bennington: It all started here

I’ll never forget my first day as a runner. Sure, I’d run before, but it was to get in shape for baseball season in high school; it was required running.

This run was different: I did it on my own.

It was on a weekend during the spring of 1999, when we were renting an apartment on Gage Street in Bennington, Vermont. I had covered a race for the Bennington Banner and it looked like people really enjoyed the experience. There was some sweat and hard work put into it, but it appeared that everyone involved was in some type of celebration mode. I remember John Reilly shooting off the starting gun and the masses of runners coming at me after I snapped a picture.

My run down and then back up Gage Street a couple of weeks later covered maybe two miles. Gage isn’t that steep, but it took me forever to get back up it and back home. I was sore for days. After running TWO miles.

This past Sunday, I returned to Bennington for the first time since leaving for Montana in 2004. I ran the Shires of Vermont Marathon, a race that debuted last year. And I ran into so many memories. Memories that I had completely forgotten about – if that makes sense.

The race began at the Bennington Center for the Arts, a place I only visited once, for its Covered Bridge Museum. The course took us near the Benninton Battle Monument and through Bennington College. Not long into the race, at one of the first water stops, someone called out my name. It was Jim Dulin.

I trained for and ran my first marathon with Jim, not long after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. We put in all the required miles, then traveled south to race in the Philadelphia Marathon. It was the same weekend that the movie “Rocky” – based in Philly – was celebrating its 25th anniversary.

It was great to see Dulin – that’s what everybody calls him – again. I had just passed him when he called out my name, so I backtracked to shake his hand and give him a quick hug.

Soon the course took us to North Bennington, and just past Powers Market. Then it was off to Shaftsbury and past a cemetery along a dirt road. It was part of the three-mile course (luckily, the flat and downhill portion) that I used to run every day during my early running career. (Three miles was about all I could handle; I used to run them all out – I had no idea what I was doing).

After a long stretch on a fairly busy road, I came upon the house we used to live in near the bottom of Twitchell Hill Road. I saw our former neighbor, Sue Harrington, and looked up to see our former house, still mint green but with a few trees missing. And an above-ground pool in the spacious backyard. When we bought the house, it had a pool that we requested be taken down. It took us years to fill in the round space it had been in with grass; now it had another pool standing on it.

I saw my wife and daughter a bit down the road, just after Mile 7. It was great to give them a quick hug before my Nina yelled, “get running, daddy.” Yes, Neen.

We ran on the main road (Route 7A) for a bit before passing the convenient store/gas station we used to go to all the time: Paulin’s. I had totally forgotten about that place. Before long, it was back on quiet roads. Airport Road (there’s no airport there, as far as I know) turned into Cider Mill Road, which was a dirt road, a welcome sight since the heat was beginning to set in for the day.

I remember “discovering” Cider Mill one day. It was my favorite road to run on. It was quiet and peaceful – if not hilly. Dring the race, I ran past Bob Vargo’s house; I remember Bob as a state policeman whose son, Steven, was a really good Nordic skier. When I passed his house on Sunday, he (I think it was him) had a hose out to douse runners with. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

I also ran past the spot where my truck got stuck in the mud. Good old AAA came through that day.

One of the roads that I ran past on Cider Mill was Simeon Dean Road. Another place I had totally forgotten about. I never ran that road, but the name always struck me as a cool sounding street name. I wonder who/what Simeon Dean was/is.

Once Cider Mill ends, the Shires course takes you to Maple Hill Road. A nice sounding road, except for the “Hill” part. Yes, this is indeed Vermont. The folks at the water stops here – and all along the course, actually – were so enthusiastic. They not only gave away water, Gatorade and pretzels, but candy and ice and Hammergels, etc.

Eventually, I made my way to Warm Brook Road. I’m not sure about the Brook part, but it was quite Warm at this point. I then ran through East Arlington and wondered how the stores that were there could survive in what looked like such a small, barely inhabited village.

I then ran past Arlington Memorial High School. Goodness, how many winter nights I spent there covering basketball games. … Then it was back to Route 7A and past the athletic fields for soccer and softball. Goodness, how many fall nights/spring afternoons I spent …

Along 7A, there were belly dancers and, at the Cheese House, a bunch of enthusiastic young ladies handing out gels while loud dance music played.

The heat was beginning to get to me by this point, but I remember crossing into Sunderland and going over railroad tracks. There was a volunteer stationed there in case the scenic train – which passes by our old house on Twitchell Hill during the spring, summer and fall – halted you in your tracks. There was no sign of a train. The volunteer simply said, “you made it.” Indeed, but there was still 4 long miles to go.

Soon, the finish line loomed. I was alternating between walking and running by now. At this point I realized where the finish line was. I had read that it was at the Hildene Meadows, which sounded familiar. Upon seeing an open field and a large canopy in the distance, I figured out it was where the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure started and ended. I did that race probably three times. It was a 5K, and you ran all out.

On Sunday, I wasn’t anywhere near that pace. Eventually, I trudged in. I saw Jim Sullivan, who I remember writing for the Batten Kill Valley Runner newsletter, at Mile 26, then heard my name announced and was relieved to stop running and get under the canopy, while a band called Permanent Recess played Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

As I guzzled water and ate bagels, pizza and ice cream – just a little at a time – I saw Becky Kotler. I had wondered if I would see the Kotlers at this race. I knew they lived nearby. Becky is a very affectionate woman and I remember that in 2004 her husband, Len, was having trouble getting enough oxygen in his blood; he had to shelve his running because of it.

On Sunday, Becky told me that Len had had open heart surgery and was doing well, though running was still out of the question. I also spoke with Jack Quinn on the phone, another BKVR legend. He was part of the sweep crew and Len put him on the phone with me. I was quite a trip hearing his voice again.

After the race, we made sure to swing by the Apple Barn in Bennington for some apple cider doughnuts. I wasn’t feeling all that hungry by then, but I had a quick bite of one. Oh, it was so good.

Just one of the many things I missed about southern Vermont. That’s a taste I’ll never forget.


3 Responses to “Bennington: It all started here”

  1. June 20, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Great blog Tim. We both enjoyed reading it. We would love to get you back to the area for the Sept. 8 running of the Maple Leaf Half Marathon. I can work on getting some free lodging for you and your family. You can get back to me by contacting the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce at 800-362-4144.

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