October 9, 2010

Night Before the Race: Hartford Marathon

The idea of “drunk gym” sure got me back into weight lifting, but now it’s time to focus on my cardio – I have another marathon coming up tomorrow!

I had already wanted to do the Hartford Marathon for a second year simply because of the amazing food at the finish – best post-race food I’ve ever had! (So what if it didn’t quite fit into my first motivation for doing a marathon: the weight loss). However, when I got free entry (thanks to my friend John and the good people at Pure Fit Radio), there was really no reason not to do the race. I signed up for this one back in June, shortly after finishing my final marathon, and thought it would be my one and only marathon of the season. So much for that idea!

I worked from home this morning, then had a $15 ticket on the GoTo Bus that goes from New York straight to Hartford. I had never taken the GoTo Bus before, but I assumed it would be a similar experience to a Megabus/Boltbus/etc. Ummm… definitely not. This was one of the sketchiest transportation experiences I’ve ever had!

We were told to meet in front of a deli in midtown, where the bus would pick us up on the corner (so far, just like Megabus). I was running late thanks to a conference call that went over, and ended up half-jogging the last block to the pickup point – but it turned out that I needn’t have worried. I had some trouble finding the proper corner because I was looking for a bus, but there was no bus in sight; just a motley crew of 4 other would-be passengers, bags in hand. After asking to confirm that they were indeed going to Hartford, I figured out that I was in the right place. But after waiting several minutes past the time of departure and still not seeing any bus, I pulled out my ticket and gave the bus company a call.

There were two numbers listed on the ticket, and upon reaching a woman on the first one, she asked me to call the other number instead. I assumed she was a dispatcher without jurisdiction over that particular route or something, so I tried the other number, where I got the company owner’s answering machine, which went something like this.

“Ummm… hi. You’ve reached Go To Bus. We go to many destinations… um, in the Northeast mainly. We have them all listed on our website. You can visit our, uh, website, at www.gotobus.com to find out any info you need. Um, or you can leave a message here for me and I’ll get back to you.”

I couldn’t believe how unprofessional it was – what had I gotten myself into?! I called the woman from the first number back and told her that I got an answering service at the other number, so she managed to get in touch with the driver and find out that he was supposedly five minutes away. She instructed me to look for a white van. Again, what had I gotten myself into?!

I dutifully waited for this sketchy white van, but fifteen minutes later, nothing had arrived. Well, not nothing – there were plenty of white vans – but all were delivery trucks instead of any sort of transportation service for people. I called again, but was again told that we hadn’t missed it – the driver was just stuck in traffic. At last, the van arrived.

It didn’t seem bad – a passenger van similar to those used as airport shuttles. Given that there were only four of us, I was fine with that. We had one more stop on the Upper East Side to pick up a few more passengers before we could be on our stiway, and unfortunately, there were a bunch. Fortunately, my row ended up with only two of us in it, so it was still pretty comfortable.

I spent the ride trying to get work done on my laptop, dreading the conference call I had planned for the last hour of the drive. I had thought I would be on a big bus where taking a conference call wouldn’t be a problem, but in this little van, I would disturb everyone. Fortunately, I had a few distractions.

The first was the girl behind me, who had her music on so loud that passengers in the front of the van could listen to it and were commenting. I finally was bold enough to ask her to turn it down a bit, and she gave me a withering glance, but did adjust it… at least until twenty minutes later, when she put it back up. The funny thing was that by then, I was taking a lunch break and watching some TV on my laptop using my own headphones – and I could still hear her music through my headphones while listening to my own show! Geez, she must be going deaf.

The second big distraction was the driver – this was one of the most dangerous rides I’ve ever taken. He kept weaving in and out of traffic, stopping short when the traffic jam would prevent us from going any further. There were several occasions when the other passengers and I kind of gasped a little bit when we thought we were going to hit something or be hit. Fortunately, we made it to Hartford without any real incident – but I would definitely advise against ever taking the Go To Bus.

The bus stop in Hartford was outside a Dunkin Donuts, but I spotted a small pub across the street and decided to wait for my mom there instead. Like the van ride, this bar was sketchy. When I arrived (around 3pm on a Friday), there were just some old men sitting at the bar, drinking their (crappy domestic Big Beer) beers, and watching “Everybody Loves Raymond” on the TV. Seriously?? I asked for a taste of two of the craft beers that they actually stocked (thumbs up for that at least), but my mom arrived before I could graduate to a full beer, so I threw down a few bucks as tip/gratitude for the tastes and then headed out.

After a happy reunion with my mom (we are very close and I was so happy to see her!), we decided to go straight to the packet pickup and then stop by the hotel. As with the 2008 Hartford Marathon, packet pickup was at the XL Center, a big arena in the middle of downtown, with nowhere good (i.e. free) to park. We opted to just have my mom sit in the car while I ran in to grab our packets. Going in, I was dismayed to find that there was a pretty decent expo, since my mom was missing out on it, but she’s been to plenty of expos before, so it wasn’t the end of the world that she had to miss it. I was pretty quick with getting our packets/shirts and getting through the line (yay for getting there early enough to get the correct sizes of t-shirts instead of something oversized!), and we were soon on our way to our hotel.

When we checked in, we inquired about late checkout so that I could come back and shower after my race, but were told it was unavailable. I am currently a lowly Gold status at Starwood, thanks to my limited work travel this year, and while I knew that Platinums got guaranteed late checkout until 4pm, I wasn’t sure if the benefit was there for Golds, so I didn’t press it. While dropping our stuff off at the room, I checked out the member benefits online and noted that even Golds were supposed to get guaranteed late checkout (where available), so on our way out to dinner, I stopped at the Concierge desk and politely requested a late checkout, pointing out that as a Gold member I’m supposed to receive it. I hate having to play that card, but in this case, it was worth it – the concierge said he would make an exception but not to tell any of the other runners in the hotel! Tee hee 🙂

For dinner, we decided to hit Red Lobster rather than trying to brave any of the downtown parking. We were lucky enough to have no wait for a table, as well as one of the best waitresses I have ever had at any restaurant. She was extremely attentive, and I overheard her explaining to another table that she tries to keep her ears open to her customers’ conversations to see if they might be talking about anything they needed for the table or were dissatisfied with the service. Sure enough, when mom and I polished off the basket of cheddar bay biscuits and discussed getting another basket, she was already on her way back with more. Awesome!

After eating our fill, we headed back to our hotel to get a good night’s sleep before the race. Big day tomorrow!


2 thoughts on “Night Before the Race: Hartford Marathon”

  1. oh my gosh, bus drivers are the worst! or shuttle drivers I guess in this case, but i am a teacher and every time we go on a field trip the bus drivers make me so nervous! One time I had to report one he was so bad. Good luck in the race!!!

  2. Hartford SUCKS!! I live in Connecticut so I can tell you that. And the XL center is the worst place to find parking. Can’t wait to hear how your race went. I am running the half next year.

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