I hadn’t even run a mile in the 2012 Middlebury Maple Run when I felt like crying. It wasn’t the half-marathon’s hills—yes, there are a few rollers—or the nervousness. (After a disappointing time in the race’s inaugural year, 2009, I was aiming for better this time.) It was the bagpiper, playing so pure and sweet in the spring air, that had me choking up. And over the next 13 miles, I’d get emotional again: at the bucolic sights of horses and cows; at the jumping-up-and-down girls handing out water around mile six; and at the finish line. That’s where I broke the tape as the first female, but more important, broke my PR and finally had a chance to digest the perfectly organized race and fully fill my lungs again before receiving my maple-syrup prize. Really, though, it was those bagpipes that actually took my breath away.
The 2013 Middlebury Maple Run is May 5, at 9 a.m.; for more info, visit middleburymaplerun.com. Can’t make it? Mark these on your race calendar—though some halfs are, ahem, full this year, you can always cheer, volunteer, or get in gear to run 13.1 next year.
Half-Marathon Unplugged, Burlington
“No frills, no hills” is how the folks behind the Key Bank Vermont City Marathon (VCM) bill this much more low-key race from Colchester to Burlington for 1,200 runners (split into two waves), mostly along the bike path. It’s not exactly true: there are a couple of very small hills, and running alongside Lake Champlain sure is a nice bonus.
Full for 2103; runvermont.org
Rolling Irish, Essex
If a dirt-road roller coaster is your idea of a good time, you’re in luck. This popular VCM tune-up, around since ’79, lives up to its name, winding among Essex woods and farms near the town’s Memorial Hall. It’s pretty and peaceful, with particularly nice volunteers; expect about 130 runners, and consider another stroke of luck—it used to be held in the heat of July.
One of three half-marathons organized by racevermont.com, the spring effort treats runners to trails on the Ti Path and in Shelburne Farms, along with a turnaround at Shelburne Shipyard, but be prepared for hills on Harbor Road. There will be medals and tasty post-race food for all and nice swag (including Vermont Teddy Bears and Shelburne Vineyard wine) for top finishers.
Dandelion Run, Derby
Ready to feel like a kid again? This Northeast Kingdom beauty sends participants through open fields filled with seemingly endless dandelions in the height of the flower’s season. The Dandelion Festival of Bluegrass, Old Country, and Fiddle Music posts pickers and fiddlers at water station, and runners can opt to split the distance as a relay or try the 10K instead.
Covered Bridges Half-Marathon, Pomfret
There’s a reason this race sold out in 14 minutes: It’s a gorgeous tour of, you guessed it, covered bridges. Even some port-o-lets are decked out as covered bridges as the course winds its way from Suicide Six and along the Ottauquechee River to the Quechee Polo Field. Plenty of pasta at the pre-race dinner fuels fast times; the fastest get Simon Pearce trophies.
Crowley Brothers, Rutland
While the Crowley 10K has the past—Frank Crowley whooped Clarence Del Mar one year—the new addition of the half-marathon, part of an effort to promote cardiovascular fitness, may be the future. Runners dash through Proctor, considered the marble capital of Vermont, and get a post-race party with live music and a raffle. As if the Green Mountain views weren’t enough of a prize.
Mad Half-Marathon, Waitsfield
For runners who think tackling all the hills of the Mad Marathon is crazy, the 13.1 version of this race offers a slightly saner approach to enjoying the summer scenery. Views of Sugarbush, along with dirt roads, an early start time of 7 a.m., and free beer at the Waitsfield Inn are among the highlights.
Maple Leaf Half-Marathon, Manchester Center
There’s a better way to see Manchester in September than by sitting in a line of outlet-bound cars. Namely, running this course that starts and finishes at the Manchester Recreation Center, with backcountry roads in between. The Saturday race day means runners can fuel up at the Perfect Wife on Friday night and relax over brunch at the Spiral Press Café, at the Northshire Bookstore, on Sunday morning.
Leaf Peepers, Waterbury
Perhaps the most beloved of all Vermont’s half-marathons, Leaf Peepers is a rolling out-and-back on 70 percent dirt roads from Waterbury that’s timed for runners to hit their peak just as the leaves are hitting their peak. The late start of 11 a.m. allows churchgoers to pray for positive weather and negative splits.
Kingdom Challenge, Lyndonville
Organizers admit this one is “challenging,” but it comes with rewards too: four covered bridges, back roads, and long-sleeve technical T-shirts included in the registration cost. Proceeds from the race go to the Good Shepherd Catholic School, and with Booth Bros. as a title sponsor, you can count on calcium-filled refueling options.
Green Mountain Half-Marathon, South Hero
Hardly upstaged by its full-distance sister planned for the same day, this 13.1’er begins and ends near Clarence Del Mar’s home and has a super-friendly, well-organized vibe that, along with the sublime experience of the Champlain Islands in the fall (apple orchards, farms, lake views), inspires hundreds to hit the half-dirt, half-road course.