I woke up on race morning feeling slightly tired, despite my early bedtime the night before. Yikes, what was I going to do without caffeine? But once as I had been up for ten minutes or so, the feeling of tiredness dissipated, and I was instead raring to go. Now this was how to start a marathon Sunday!
In good news, the race day weather was absolutely perfect – low 50s at the start, mid 60s at the finish, with no chance whatsoever of rain. While some runners like to run in cloudy weather (and I agree that the sun can make you feel hotter than it really is), I love to run on days when the sky is blue and filled with just a few fluffy white clouds. I think attitude is as much a part of race day performance as anything else, and running on a beautiful day just makes so much happier than when the sky is gray. Objectively, you might run faster when it’s cloudy, but knowing me and my head games, I knew I was more likely to push myself and run fast when it’s enjoyable.
I got ready in about my usual amount of time, but then I had to add the finishing touch – a wig. This was part of what had me so excited the night before the race! I would be running it to raise awareness for the Fierce Fund, a corporate advised fund that supports various nonprofit initiatives that celebrate, encourage, and elevate women and girls. The fund was started when founder Sheila Bernus Dowd was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and underwent chemotherapy. Rather than being ashamed when she lost her hair, she chose to embrace and celebrate it with fun hats and a signature blue wig. Sheila did this to inspire other women/girls to have the courage to “be fierce” and do their thing without being afraid to stand out. This year, she started the Fierce Fund to give an annual $20,000 grant to a charity that embodies the Fierce Fund mission of ensuring women/girls are always empowered to be fierce.
Since my own mom is a breast cancer survivor, Sheila’s story really resonated with me. Furthermore, I loved the three charities that are in the final round to be recipients of this year’s $20,000 grant: Coachart (which improves the quality of life for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and their siblings by providing free lessons in the arts and athletics), Dress for Success (promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life), and Girls Who Code (works to educate, inspire, and equip young women with the skills and resources to pursue academic and career opportunities in computing fields). Before you read the rest of my race report, I’d encourage you to click over to the Fierce Fund page and vote for which of those charities should receive this year’s grant (voting closes Monday October 21).
Anyway, when I was invited to take photos wearing a blue wig and write about it on my blog as a pro bono campaign to raise awareness for the Fierce Fund, I jumped at the chance. I’m very proud of my marathon accomplishments, and I thought that wearing a wig while running a marathon would be a great way to ensure that hundreds of people saw the wig (rather than just those reading my blog). Even if they didn’t read the sign on my back or go to the website to learn about the Fierce Fund, the wig itself while running a marathon kind of furthers the mission of teaching people to follow their goals without caring what other people think! And so I present to you, my race day outfit:
We headed for the start, and luckily didn’t get caught up in too much traffic. Even better, we found a parking lot that was only about a quarter mile walk from the park where the start, finish, and race festivities were. Thanks to Ashley, my mom and I had entrance to the VIP tent, which made finding Ashley and her friend Amy a lot easier, and also gave me a much shorter line in which to wait for the bathroom. After swallowing a whole handful of Energy Bits chased with water (I normally chew them because I like the taste of seaweed but today I didn’t want seaweed-breath grossing me out while running!), I then bumped into Bill Rodgers, whom I had met several times in the past including when we spoke on a panel together at the Boilermaker race. But he didn’t recognize me in my blue wig! This became only the first of many times that people I knew didn’t know me during the race, and I thought it was hilarious how much the blue wig changed my appearance.
Ashley and Amy had gone ahead to the race start while I was in the porta potty line, but when we got to the very crowded start, we bumped right into them! And with them was our other friend, Melissa, who planned to run the full with Ashley. I was amazed – while not well known, Hartford is a pretty big race (12,000 runners across the full, half, and 5K), and the start just had people everywhere. We posed for some group pics while we waited, and danced around a bit to the fun music at the start.
One thing rather scary – up on a crane above us were two snipers in full uniform wielding huge machine guns. While I certainly understand the need for such things after this year’s Boston Marathon tragedy, it makes me sad that such a joyous occasion of a marathon could be marred by people looking to hurt others. I had seen evidence of it before in the “clear bags only!” bag drops at many races, and now, in these snipers at an otherwise happy start line.
But before I could dwell too much on the sad world we live in, the race started! It took a few minutes for us to cross the start line, but as soon as we all got started running, I realized that perhaps it hadn’t been enough time – because I was still wearing the massive VIP credentials around my neck and they were bobbing all over the place. I basically spent the entire first mile of the race first trying to get my credentials off without getting them tangled in my headphones, and then when that failed, trying to get the whole mess of headphones and lanyard untangled without either tripping or dropping my phone. Amazingly, I succeeded!
Now that I could just relax and enjoy the race, I settled in with a playlist of good old fashioned Rascal Flatts songs. They’re one of my favorite country artists, and when I first started running marathons, I listened to them nonstop. While I’ve lately chosen podcasts a lot more often lately than music, I’ve discovered that I just don’t push myself very hard to run fast when I’m listening to podcasts – whereas something about the music encourages me to keep the pace up and run strong. Today, wearing my Fierce Fund wig, I definitely wanted to run strong!
We ran back past the finish chute (usually I hate this, but it was early enough in the race that I didn’t mind at all), and I spotted my friend Diane on the sidelines. Diane is a 50 stater who has run over 200 marathons, so I was really surprised to see her spectating instead of running – I hoped she wasn’t hurt? I called out “hi, Diane!”, but though she responded with “awesome job!” I saw from the confused look on her face that she had no idea who I was. “It’s Laura!” I yelled, and then the recognition dawned. Too funny! I had thought the blue wig would make me stick out like a sore thumb, but I didn’t realize that it would also keep friends from figuring out who I was. (Guess my mousy dark blond/light brown hair defines me more than I thought?)
Mile 2 took us up the slightest bit of a hill as we crested an overpass, and I saw lots of Marathon Maniac and 50 State Club buddies in this mile – most of them taking it easy because they were doing the race as a double with the Newport Marathon the next day. As for the course, there was a slight incline to get up and over, but it was made infinitely easier by the awesome DJ at the top (whom I remembered from years past, though of course it may have been a different guy). Always fun to have some music blasting on the course!
We also hit our first water stops in this area, and I was really happy to see that they both had water and Gatorade (vs an every other strategy like some races do). We turned two corners until we were facing back in the direction from which we had come, but now we were entering beautiful Riverside Park – and in addition to some very enthusiastic spectators (one woman who loved my wig shouted, “go, mama, go!”), we got pretty views of the Connecticut River on our left. We got to run along the river for two miles, and I was thrilled.
The end of the river brought another incline to get back up to city-level, but since it was gradual and also not too long, it wasn’t bad at all. After crossing some railroad tracks (on which the organizers had thoughtfully laid a bridge of low-pile carpet so there was no risk of tripping!), we soon came to mile 5 – and I noted with glee that I had managed to run dead even 8:43 splits for every single mile so far. It’s amazing how much faster you can run when you actually rest up and fuel appropriately 🙂
Shortly after passing mile 5, I was pleasantly surprised to see my mom on the sidewalk, holding a sign for me but not seeing me coming. As it turns out, she had headed back to her car only to find that the course ran right by there, so she went to see if she could spot me. I didn’t think I was hard to miss with my bright blue hair, but apparently I surprised her with my “Mom, here I am!” as much as she surprised me by being out there cheering! I had been expecting her to either be hanging out at the finish or in a coffee shop, and it was really nice to instead get a little boost of support.
We turned onto Founders’ Bridge, getting a lot of cheering as we went up and over the bridge (not a very steep ascent by any means). Circling down and around, we then found ourselves back at the river, but this time on the exact opposite side. Meanwhile, my pace was still a totally steady 8:43/mile! I am usually not that consistent, and I started getting eagerly optimistic that I could keep it up the rest of the way. My feet seemed to be going like clockwork, it was a beautiful day, and I wasn’t feeling fatigued at all!
But I was also only at mile 8… and when I hit the water station around 8.5, I definitely lost some time. I was trying to juggle the Gu in my pocket with my cell phone/music and the water that the aid station was handing out, and it just got hard to do it all. (Okay, and perhaps I also slowed down a bit when I tweeted… but I loved how perfect the lyrics to Rascal Flatts’ “Long, Slow, Beautiful Dance” were, and how glorious I felt running while listening to it. I didn’t want to forget that feeling!)
Mile 9 took us through a bit of an icky industrial area (shades of Yonkers, but luckily only for a very short period). But what brightened it totally was spotting Kristin and her husband Brian out to cheer – and Kristin had made an awesome sign for me!
It was so amazing to have friends out there on the course, and Kristin had made an incredibly beautiful sign for me that said Marathon #98. And when I ran by, she yelled out to all the other runners around me that it was my 98th marathon! (Which totally made me blush.) I’m really proud of the marathons that I’ve done, but I don’t usually like to shout it from the rooftops. When a guy next to me said it was his first marathon, I tried to turn the focus of our little pack of runners to that – which is certainly much more of an accomplishment to try something new than keep doing the same thing over and over. But, I was definitely proud too 🙂
By mile 10, my pace had slowed a bit, but I was still doing pretty well. While there were few minor ups and downs (nothing significant; just enough where you would start to breathe hard on the very slight incline before it would flatten out completely), the next few miles flew by pretty quickly, and I I hit the halfway point in 1:59. Not bad at all! I was definitely not on track for a PR, but I was on track to have fun and get a pretty decent time, and I was excited about that. Plus, the blue wig was definitely keeping things fun. I was still getting lots of attention from spectators, who laughed when they saw me, and thinking about “being fierce” kept me pushing harder than I probably otherwise would have if I was just running in a normal outfit.
Just after the slight downhill that accompanied the halfway chip mat, we came to what I think is the most fun part of the race – the big long out and back that enables you to see just about every runner on the course. When I turned onto Main Street, it seemed like the male winners had already passed (approaching mile 21 for them), but I did get to see the lead female, which was pretty darn cool. As for me (still at mile 14), I slowed down to grab some gel, but then was able to get right back on pace afterward. Sometimes when I slow to a walk (for a water station or food), it can be hard to get myself going again, but here I got back into it right away.
This section from mile 14 to 20 was just plain fun. The out-and-back started out with a relay exchange, which meant tons of other runners (who knew what we were going through) cheering us on as they waited for their buddies to come in (or cooled down after their own relay leg). Besides the runners, there were also tons of regular spectators everywhere – most having little mini house-parties on their lawns, since this was a residential area, but also some who had established themselves at intersections, having clearly come from elsewhere to cheer. So nice!! I really appreciated the boost, as these miles can be a little bit tough mentally – you’ve done enough that you’re getting tired, but you’re not quite in the final miles of the race where the end seems like its in sight.
I spent my time running on the left side of the road (right next to the yellow line) so that I could get a good look at all the runners coming back and see who I knew. Just as before with Bill Rodgers and Diane, I saw several runners that I knew well but who didn’t recognize me with my blue wig! I thought that was hilarious, and I cheered for them nonetheless, knowing I’d have a good story to tell them later about how they missed me even though my wig made me unmissable 🙂
The turnaround to the out-and-back was at mile 17, and I hit it still feeling strong. The sun was now coming out to shine, and while the road was fairly sunny, it wasn’t hot at all. I had been really worried about wearing a wig on my head for the whole 26.2 miles, but outside of having to tug at it to make sure it stayed on (oops, should have used bobby pins to stick it on securely), it wasn’t a problem.
Other things that came as a surprise to me: I never did see the Psyching Team (see my night before the race report) anywhere, though I was keeping my eyes peeled. The race had also advertised “mile barkers,” described as “players from Sea Tea Improv of Hartford that will amuse runners while informing them of the mile they are passing along the course” – but I didn’t see them either. Each mile did have a group of people at it that were dressed in matching light blue t-shirts, but every time I passed one, they just seemed to be standing around or sometimes cheering. Not a huge deal, since most races don’t have either of those things, but I thought it was odd that they were so prominently advertised and then weren’t there.
No matter, though – my mood was great, and made even better when I caught a glimpse of Ashley heading the other direction in her pink glitter skirt. She was looking good, and I was really hopeful that she’d get the PR she had trained so hard for. Meanwhile, a mile or so later I crossed the 20 mile mark, which meant that I had only 10K left to go in my own race. I felt good about that final 10K, particularly when I got to cheer on the back-of-the-packers that were just now turning onto the “out” section. I was headed back home to Bushnell Park now, and I knew it was going to be a pretty strong finish.
In these miles, I was rather surprised by how many people I was passing. I had calculated that I was on track to finish in about 4:05 (as long as I “stayed fierce” and didn’t give up on my pace), which is usually a finish time that has very few people stopping for walk breaks. But it seemed like a lot of people were slowing down and taking extended walk breaks, and I wasn’t sure why. The sun was definitely making things a bit warmer, but it was by no means hot – whenever as I went through a shady patch, the conditions were absolutely perfect.
We had a slight hill at mile 22, but it was made infinitely better by an awesome “candy stand” at the top of it, offering various sugary treats along with flat soda. (Hmm, I know marathoners are picky about what they eat, but honestly I’d rather drink a carbonated soda… or better yet, a beer! Where were the tailgaters on the course who had given me beer on the out-and-back in my previous runnings? Sadly, the spectators this year seemed to be very dry.) I was still listening to Rascal Flatts on my phone at this point, and I particularly enjoyed the lyrics from “Love Who You Love” that went, “Give all you got like it’s your last day.” I had only 4 miles left, and I really did want to give it all I had to get to the finish!
We turned at mile 23 onto Prospect Street, the same stretch of road we had done at mile 11 before, and I tried to pick up the pace even a little bit more. I called my mom to let her know that I’d be finishing around 4:05, and I wanted to stick to that! There were only a few spectators out on this section of the course (I assume most of the rest had, like Kristin and Brian, headed to the finish for some more excitement), but we were so close to the end that I was motivated to keep going anyway. We were now headed on almost a straight shot back to downtown Hartford, and I swore I could see the city in the distance.
I had considered stopping to take a pic at mile 26, like I had done in Wineglass, but when I saw mile 25 looming in front of me, I decided that would do just fine too. Plus, then I could focus on sprinting at mile 26! This was also the final aid station of the race, though I declined drinks since I figured it wouldn’t be too long now till I could relax and drink all that I wanted.
After mile 25, we turned onto the on-ramp of the highway that would take us back over Founders Bridge and then down through town to the finish. It was hard to believe we only had one mile left – it still seemed so far away! Unfortunately, this kind of thinking screwed me up a little bit – and I took a walk break near the bottom of the on-ramp before I finally kicked my butt into gear and started charging up it like the fierce blue-wig-wearing runner I should have been. At the top of the bridge, the DJ was still playing, and I gave him some dancing and fist pumping to celebrate how far I had come. 19 miles later, I was still going strong!
And now I got the glorious downhill of the other side of the bridge – and the beginnings of the crowds that would continue to the finish. Yippee! I got a huge smile on my face (well, I guess it’s more that my smile broadened, because I had honestly been smiling for so much of the race already) as I came off the bridge and charged up the final hill of the race. We were now on the streets of downtown, with so many people cheering for all the runners. And then, I heard a cheer I knew – it was Kristin and Brian, and this time around, Brian even managed to get an awesome video of me running!
Turns out I had gotten my picture at mile 26 anyway! But I didn’t have time to think about that; it was finish time, and I was determined to pick up the pace and finish just under 4:05. It was going to be close, but I thought I could do it if I sprinted, and my legs definitely had it in me.
One thing I forgot, though – while downtown Hartford is known for their gorgeous stone arch (the medals are shaped like replicas of it), you actually go through the arch and then still have another tenth of a mile before actual finish. Boo! I suppose it’s nice to run through two arches (the stone one and the race-constructed one) instead of one, but it definitely made the finish seem a lot further away. After going through the stone arch, though, I could see the race-constructed finish line arch right in front of me – and that motivated me to kick it a little bit more too.
So did I do it? Did I go sub 4:05?
Indeed 🙂 And I had the best post-race celebration ever – getting to hang out in the VIP tent (which meant literally front row access to the finish line), hanging over the barrier and cheering on other runners for the next hour. If you ever need to get inspired by how amazing people are, go to the finish line of a marathon and do the same – you won’t regret it.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 1002/2706
Gender place: 308/1161
Age group place: 55/185
Personal marathon rank: 25th fastest out of 98 run