December 24, 2008

Race Report: Hartford Marathon

This race report took place on October 11, 2008. I suck at posting race reports in a timely fashion.

After publishing that disaster of a post on Friday, my bus got in to Hartford at 10 PM. After a happy reunion with my mom, we jumped in the car and headed off to search for food. I was pretty cranky – it was 10 PM, I had marathon the next morning, and I was starving. After a few wrong turns (my awesome sense of direction meaning that we were never lost – just veering off the basic path for where our hotel was), we found a Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and I decreed that that was what I wanted for dinner. I got my favorite pre-race dish – pasta with marinara sauce and a mix of various shellfish – and also scarfed down a ton of bread. Carb-loading, right? (In case you couldn’t tell, I make that excuse for basically everything I eat pre-race). Finally, we headed to the hotel.

Checking in, the woman working the front desk apologized and warned us that there would be a race in the morning that would go by the hotel and make it impossible to drive anywhere. The hotel’s solution? They parking in a lot a few blocks away, and would have golf carts ferrying guests between the hotel and the parking lot all morning. Hilarious! I assured the woman that it was fine, and that I was actually one of the crazies who would be running in the race. With that, we went up to my room, I laid out my race clothes, and went to bed – at midnight. Not quite the ideal pre-race bedtime, but I was hoping that my decent amount of sleep on Thursday night would help.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early, and I woke up feeling pretty good. We got dressed and headed down to the lobby, where we saw a lot of runners milling around. It seemed like they were waiting for something, so we asked if there was a shuttle, but everyone replied no. However, we found one guy who had been planning to walk to the start (it was about a mile away) and offered him a ride. Have to keep the running community cordial and helpful!

Arriving at the civic center where packet pickup was, we pulled up to a no-parking zone in front that was perfect. Had there been legal parking, we never would have found a spot, but with illegal parking, my mom could sit in the car and be ready to move it anytime. I followed the crowds to the basement, where packet pickup was held, and found mass chaos. The organizers did not seem prepared for so many people to be picking up morning of, as there was a woefully inadequate number of volunteers at the tables, and long self-formed lines of runners everywhere. I asked around to find the right line (there were also lines for a half-marathon, relay, and 5K), and finally picked up my packet about 15 minutes later. The volunteer handed me my number and then told me I needed to get in another line to get my t-shirt, and still another line for my chip. What?! Terrible organization, ING! The lines were all weaving into one another (because ING hadn’t set them up – they were just formed impromptu as more and more people kept coming), and it was always hard to tell if you were in the right or the shortest line for what you wanted to do. Finally, around 7, I left the center and my mom and I went to go find parking and the start.

We found a great lot just a few blocks from the start – it pays to be early! I donned my Portland Marathon space blanket, because it was pretty cold, and we walked into the park to find it a bit of a mess. There were tents everywhere, but no volunteers seemed to be able to point us in the right direction. Finally we spied an information tent, and studied the map to figure out where bag drop was. In an interesting twist, the bag drop was sponsored by UPS and our bags were being loaded onto trucks – only to sit in one place because the start and the finish were in the same place! I didn’t mind, but found it a bit odd that they were taking the trouble to load things onto trucks when they didn’t need to go anywhere. After that was done, they started calling runners to the start, directing us to Elm Street.

I headed off with the masses to where I had seen Elm Street, and found that Elm Street was actually the beginning of the course – the start was at the intersection of Elm Street and another street. The problem was, by coming from Elm Street where the announcer had told us to go, we were facing the start, where all the elite runners were already lined up, and where even if they hadn’t been lined up, we couldn’t just go straight in because we’d go over the chip mats and our timing would commence. However, there were crowds already packed to the sides of the course. Volunteers were trying to funnel runners back along the start corrals single-file, but with the crowds of spectators, the lines were barely moving. I made it through a bit, but then found myself completely stuck right next to the elite corrals and an opening in the gates. There was a volunteer there insisting that no one go through this way and that everyone just keep filing through to join from the back of the pack, but with only a few minutes to go before the start, we were all getting pretty nervous. Finally, a bunch of us made a break for it, figuring the volunteer couldn’t stop all of us, and we were right. Once in the elite corral, we headed upstream and made it to the “regular people” area. The last thing I wanted was to slow other people down; I just didn’t want to be in the crowd on the sidelines when the race start. Packed in like sardines, we watched other people doing what we had just done, but the more people that did that, the less able they were to come back into the regular area, and I think a lot ended up starting with the elites. However, I kind of can’t blame them. I place the blame on ING for 1) telling us to approach the start from the wrong side and 2) not having some kind of clearance on the side for runners to actually head back to the right area. This was my first race sponsored by the “hpros” (ING does the New York City Marathon as well as a lot of other big races), so I thought they’d be good at organization, but judging from the packet pickup and the start, I guess not.

I made small talk with the people around me, and they all seemed pretty impressed with my goal to run in each of the 50 states, as well as with the fact that I had done marathons the previous two weekends and was still planning to go all-out for Hartford. After some Star Spangled Banner action, there was no need for the usual push to the starting line – we were already packed in as close as we could get. The gun went off, and off we went. I kept my Portland space blanket wrapped tightly around me even after beginning to run, as it was still pretty chilly. However, within a few minutes, I balled it up and tossed it to the side of the road, narrowly missing some spectators as I did so. They looked shocked that I would be throwing part of my outfit away – clearly they hadn’t been at the start of a marathon before!

I forgot to mention that through all the walking to the start and standing around, my knee was a bit stiff. I didn’t tell my mom, not wanting her to worry, but I was a little afraid that I’d have to pull a Wyoming and walk most of the course. In the first few minutes, my knee was still noticeably stiff, but within 1/2 mile it loosened up, never to bother me again for the rest of the race. So bizarre!


Though it had been cold at the start, once I was running, it turned out to be a fairly nice day for a marathon. The air was brisk and clean – very typical New England fall weather. The sun did heat things up later in the afternoon, but it wasn’t really that hot for running, and I thought it just made for a nice comfortable (instead of cold) finish. We wound through the streets of downtown Hartford and up a slight incline as we crossed a bridge that led out of the downtown area. Shortly after, we came to my hotel. I kept my eyes peeled for the golf carts shuttling guests to their cars, because I thought it would be a funny sight, but the only people I saw were lots of spectators (most likely runners’ families) who had come out of the hotel to clap and cheer. I guess the hotel had underestimated how many of their guests would be there just for the marathon and therefore wouldn’t be inconvenienced by the impassibility of the roads 🙂

The course took us to some more residential areas, and while there weren’t constant spectators like in Akron (except for the Towpath section), there was still a good show of support. The race organizers had commissioned a lot of different musical acts, and several families also took it upon themselves to blast music on stereo systems from their house, which was nice. There were quite a few families having picnics on their lawns, making me very jealous of the ability to stay home and watch a marathon go by. (I wanted to live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for just this reason, but I do love my apartment on the Upper West Side and it has the advantage of being only about three blocks from the NYC marathon finish. Boyfriend lives even closer, and I think we may be able to see the finish from his roofdeck, a theory I will certainly test out.) There were the usual parties with beers being passed, and I got extremely jealous when I again saw mimosas at one family’s party. One of these days I will get up the nerve to ask for a drink during the race.

Eventually we got on a long out-and-back section. I had always professed to hate out-and-backs, because you don’t get as much change in scenery, but I actually think I’ve changed my opinion on this. At both Portland and Staten Island, it was a lot of fun to see other runners coming toward me and get to see who else was running. I didn’t know many people running Hartford, but the one person I did know was running Hartford was Brian of Crazy Bandana. When I saw him coming, I got so excited to recognize someone! He was almost three miles ahead of me (just call him Mr. Speedy Gonzales), but I gave the loudest “Go Crazy Bandana!” I could muster and got a smile out of him 🙂 I then set to the task of cheering for every Maniac who went by (even though I didn’t know them). I also made it a point to cheerlead for the frontrunners, especially the lead women. I was a little disappointed that when I yelled “come on everyone, let’s give these frontrunners a cheer for how awesome they are!”, everyone around me ignored me and averted their eyes like I was a homeless person back in Manhattan. Later in the race, I was admired by some people around me for having the energy to cheer for those around me, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I find it actually gives me more energy when I cheer for other people. Whether it’s good karma or positive endorphins or what, I don’t know, but to borrow a quote from Avenue Q, “when you help others, you can’t help helping yourself.”

By mile 16, it was getting hot, and I was getting tired. I was sucking down as much Gatorade as possible at each water station. I can see how Hartford made a great decision to have the race in October – it wasn’t too hot because of the fall weather… it was sunny and warm enough to kind of annoy us, but not enough to cause any serious problems or really make us drip with sweat. In the middle miles, I was getting to meet a lot of interesting people while I was running. There were a group of people from France, with whom I tried to speak French for a while, and a great guy named Rick who I ran with for a while – he had done the Cox Providence Marathon in May, which I had done as part of my back-to-back half marathon weekend. We chatted about various other races in the northeast, and I tried to explain how to spell my blog URL (“absolutly… without the e… like the vodka”) so he could later get in touch with me. I vowed to carry business cards with me in the future, even though I knew I’d be pretty dorky handing them out.

Around mile 19, we finally turned off the course from the out-and-back, though there was a small bit of cross-over with the old course as we headed back toward downtown Hartford. Mile 20 had a bit of uphill, but by then I was just getting myself psyched up to see my mom, who was supposed to be at mile 21. Sure enough, she appeared under a bridge screaming “go Laura!”, and I was so excited. I slowed to a walk and tried to pretend that that I was graciously doing this so she could walk with me for a bit. About a hundred feet later was a water station and an uphill, so I would have been walking for both of those anyway. I took what I thought would be my last gel, and then handed my fanny pack off to her. It’s made of neoprene and I swear I don’t keep that much stuff in it, but I felt pounds lighter when I took it off, and when she left me midway up the on ramp to the bridge, I even found the energy to jog to the top instead of walking like so many people around me.

We headed back across the bridge, which had been mile 1.5 on the way out. I knew logically that I was only at mile 21.5, but it was still a disappointment when we had to turn right to make a big loop instead of just continuing straight to finish in a mile. I took some more gels from spectators, and was glad I did – mile 22 featured a bridge over some railroad tracks that made us go up and over a bridge. It was the up that was the problem. Fortunately, there was a great DJ blasting music and cheering right at the top of the bridge, and as I went over, he was pounding out Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back. I sang along as I ran, while the DJ got on the mic and announced to everyone that “this girl IS bringing sexy back! You go girl!” Inspired, I hit the downhill after the bridge at a slightly faster clip, and decided that now was the time to put on my Power Songs playlist, starting with Britney Spears’ “Stronger.” I was stronger than yesterday, and I started getting in a great mood to hit the finish.

Turning a corner at the end of the loop, there was a guy with sort of political sign. I can’t quite remember the exact wording, but it was supporting one of the presidential candidates AND THEN saying something about how he was cheering for those runners who were also supporting that candidate (can’t remember which candidate either – I want to say Obama but I could be wrong). I was really pissed when I saw that sign. Races are not the places to make political statements, and spectators should be cheering for ALL runners, not just the ones with their same political beliefs. One of my favorite things about running is how it brings together so many different people of different backgrounds and beliefs, and this guy’s sign just really flew in the face of that. I was really tempted to spit on the sign as I ran by, but I’m not quite that juvenile 🙂 I’ve seen a lot of spectator signs in my marathons, and I have to say, my favorite political sign on a course was definitely the one that said “Obama? Bush? The only race that matters is the one you’re running right now – GO FOR IT!” I loved that one!

At mile 23, we went under an overpass and then through a pleasant park. The path was pretty narrow, but the runners were fairly spread out at this point so I didn’t mind. It was pretty to run by the water, and it almost helped me not to notice the incline back up to street level at mile 24. Almost. However, I was completely into my power songs at this point, and Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” propelled me to the top, because I knew I had not yet reached my limits. Bring it, Hartford!

As we circled back toward the finish, I passed a turn around 25.5 that I recognized from the night before when I was coming into town – the bus had turned a corner and I saw the signs indicating that this road was part of the marathon course. I felt a sense of familiarity bringing me home, and I tried to pick up the pace, knowing my mom was just a little over a mile away at the finish. The crowds of spectators lining the course grew larger and larger, until almost before I knew it, I saw the small park in front of me where we had started, and I knew I just had to circle that to get to the opposite side and I’d be done. My all-time favorite running song, Rascal Flatts’ “Where You Are,” came on, and I got a huge smile on my face as I picked up the pace just a bit. The crowds were cheering loudly, and when I saw the 26 mile mark, I started to really push it. We turned a corner and had to go over a small bridge (just a teeny incline, but of course, we really felt it!) to see the finish straight ahead. There was a huge video screen showing runners coming up to the finish, and almost right when I passed it, I heard my mom’s familiar “GO LAURA!” somewhere off to my left. I was trying so hard to smile, but I could also tell that my face was contorting into some twisting deformed state. I gritted my teeth and sprinted for all I was worth, knowing that I was ruining any race pictures that might be taken of me but not caring – I had energy to spend and I was going to use it to shave off every possible second!

I crossed the finish line under a glorious stone arch, stopped my Garmin, and felt – nothing. I wasn’t dying. I wasn’t in pain. In fact, I wanted to keep running! I knew I wouldn’t be able to find my mom in the massive crowd, so I made a beeline for the bag check where I could get my phone and call her. Around me, I saw thousands of people doing the post-marathon shuffle, but I felt super, with nary a limp in my step. I swapped my sneakers for flip flops and dialed my mom, meeting up with her right after the food tent.

Most of my race reports typically end at the finish, but one of the best parts about Hartford was the finish food – I could write an entire race report just about that! It was catered by Whole Foods, and everything was delicious. There were piles of the best cookies I’ve ever had (oatmeal cranberry), cups of delicious four-cheese-and-truffle macaroni and cheese (TRUFFLED, I tell you!), cups of cinnamon raisin and walnut quinoa, cups of apple crisp, and of course the more usual foods like bagels and fruit. But the gourmet stuff was just incredible – it was all very harvest-y and autumnal, and I just can’t say enough about how good it was. My mouth is watering as I write this and I would consider running it again just for the chance to eat more of that delicious food!

After getting a fully loaded plate, we headed over for the bandshell, where I spent some time dancing around to “Sweet Home Alabama” while people stared at me, wondering if I had done the 5K or maybe the half-marathon instead of the full. Nope – I ran 26.2 miles and I’m running another 13.1 tomorrow and I’m going to dance if I want to! I felt gloriously happy and successful – this was by far one of the best marathons I’ve done. What a beautiful, fantastic race 🙂

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:23:23
Pace: 10:03
Overall place: 12203/1894
Gender place: 370/687
Age group place: 37/63


9 thoughts on “Race Report: Hartford Marathon”

  1. That sounds like a wonderful race! I am amazed that you felt like you could keep going in the end! I hope I can say that someday. After I do my 13.1, maybe… ha!

  2. it might be late, but it was a great race report. Ing does sponsor this and NYC,Miami and Georgia, but I doubt they organize it. They just give the money.

    The food sounds great, we don’t have spreads like that in AZ.

    Congrats on finishing great in a race that didn’t start so well.

  3. I’m impressed at how detailed your report is after so long – there’s no way I’d remember all of that. Great report.

    I’m pretty sure that reading your pre-race experience here contributed to my race nightmare last night though – everything at a different booth is just horrible!

  4. great race report! I ran hartford, was a bit behind you…but i was less of a fan of the course, I felt that mile 24-25 was a bit…shady? I didn’t think it was spectator friendly (of course the only one i can compare it to is Marine Corps in 2007) but all in all I can’t complain since I PR’ed there (easy to PR when you only had one race before it 😉 hehe)

    thanks for posting this though! I love your blog and started reading you just before i ran hartford 🙂

    Like Pat said – ING doesn’t organize it. The Hartford Marathon Foundation (sponsored by ING) is the organization that runs it and i agree they were a bit unorganized…i had similar problems at the start line which was incredibly frustrating.

  5. You my lady are an animal!!

    An amazing animal, but an animal none-the-less.

    Congrats on another one and another wonderful report. I so feel like I’m there running with you every time I read your reports.


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