Yesterday morning Amy and I woke up bright and early ready to run our hearts out in each of our respective races, the half marathon and marathon. We both slept wonderfully the night prior and literally jumped out of bed when our alarms went off. We enjoyed a cup of coffee, toast with peanut butter and banana, and some water before leaving for the race. We drove Amy’s rental car downtown and were elated to find easy parking within 5 minutes of the start. There were a number of parking decks in downtown Hartford, open yesterday morning, within walking distance of the race start. We were especially surprised to find that parking was only $5, even on race day! By 7:10 we were in the VIP area, thanks to Danielle and the race’s generosity. They allowed me, Amy, and a few of my runner friends access to the area to make our experience as smooth as possible as part of my partnership with the ING Hartford Marathon. The VIP area was amazing with a dedicated area for elite runners, plenty of tables, bathrooms, food, and water for everyone before the race. We had a perfect view of the finish line, as you can see above! We were able to easily meet up with Laura and Melissa Z who were also running the marathon before heading over to the starting line together which was right near Bushnell Park. The start was truly a party with fun music pumping. The 4 of us were dancing in the starting corral in between stretching!
I am not sure how long it took us to cross the start as I didn’t look at the clock but I’d say we crossed the start within 10 minutes of the gun going off. Later in the race I would regret this choice.
Lesson #1 of the day: In any race, always look at the clock time when you cross the start so you know your time difference versus the race clocks along the course.
The first mile of the race flew by and before we knew it we said goodbye to Amy who veered right for the half marathon course. Melissa Z and I made plans earlier in the week to run together for at least the first 13 miles. This plan worked flawlessly as we reminded each other to fuel, sip water and keep our pace as close to 10:18 as possible. The first few miles of the course were through downtown Hartford and an overpass before we headed down into Riverside Park. Miles 3-8 were along the river in Riverside Park and absolutely beautiful. There was a decent amount of shade and due to the narrow course along these miles, many runners started talking with each other. The two of us primarily listened as we were trying to save energy, but it still helped the time pass.
Around Mile 8, as we exited the park’s lovely shade, I realized just how warm the last 18 miles would be. Unlike my previous 3 marathons where I barely sweat the entire race, due to cold temperatures, sweat was dripping into my eyes beginning at mile 8. I mentioned to Melissa that this was going to be very different than expected due to full sun, warm temperatures and humidity but she just said to focus and forget about it.
Lesson #2 of the day: If there is any sunshine or heat predicted, especially more than you are accustomed to, wear a visor to help block sun and sweat from face.
Lesson #3 of the day: When you realize temperatures or conditions may affect your run, think about altering your time goals early on in the race so you adjust and don’t burn out early. (Runner’s Connect has a great tool which adjusts your goal paces for you based on temperature. This shows I should have adjusted to a 10:27 versus 10:18 since it felt like 70 while we were running yesterday.)
After the scenic beauty of the park, we exited onto a street for miles 9-12 which weren’t very memorable. In fact, I recall a business park, some industrial park and an awesome volunteer who was out there with her oxygen tank. The sun was growing very warm at this point but we kept on our pace goal and even saw Kristin and her husband cheering around this point! (Thanks for the picture Kristin!)
It was also around these miles where Melissa and I decided to take advantage of the multiple water stations. Hartford Marathon was had a water and Gatorade station at EVERY mile which was incredible especially considering yesterday’s weather. I wanted to ensure that I didn’t run out of NUUN in my CamelBak so I took a sip of water or Gatorade every other mile at this point. At mile 10 we both took salt shots, minus the tequila, to help us since we were both sweating profusely.
Lesson #4: Always carry salt packs with you as you never know when you’ll need them. You can grab them at any fast food restaurant and they are perfect to use on a hot day!
Mile 14 we hit the out and back part of the race, which would last for 6 miles. I enjoy out and backs courses as I love watching for friends or running outfits on the other side. In smaller races, such as Hartford, it provides a good change of scenery. We hit a gradual 2 mile incline as we started heading up Main Street. Main Street was dotted with homes and fall foliage, not quite as nice as I was expecting, but still very quaint and very “New England.” Unfortunately mile 14 is also where things started to go south. Melissa felt we were going fast and her Garmin had us running closer to a 10 minute pace while my watch showed we were around 10:20. We asked people next to us and they said they were running a sub 10. But, at this same time the 4:30 and 4:45 pace groups past us. I was wary of going too fast so decided to slow to Melissa’s watch. A few minute later, just as we passed the Mile 14 marker Melissa needed to stretch so I promised to stay on the right side of the road and slow my pace, in order for her to catch up. Unfortunately, I slowed my pace down to around an 11 minute pace at this point which really messed things up with my body. Suddenly I felt everything from my hips to my quads.
Lesson #5: Try to keep your pace within a few seconds of your goal pace for as long as possible as slowing or changing pace dramatically can affect your gait and muscles.
After stopping to stretch again at Mile 15 Melissa said I needed to proceed on my own as she didn’t know how long she could progress. We were both exceedingly hot at this point but Melissa was feeling ill. I took a 30 second too long stretch break and continued running. I put my headphones on at this point, thankful for my marathon playlist on Spotify. Around mile 16 I saw Laura running towards me and we exchanged quick smiles and waves. As expected, these miles were very quiet as there were only a few local families out spectating, many of which were just sitting outside watching versus cheering. I took my 3rd and last fuel pack around mile 16, wishing I had brought more. Luckily, there were multiple cyclists volunteers along the course passing out Gu packets. I grabbed 2 (tri-berry and vanilla) to save for later miles.
At Mile 18 I felt like complete crap. I was disgruntled that the pace groups had passed me. My Garmin which was 100% charged at the beginning of the race went dead. The moisturizer I put on was dripping in my eyes, which along with the salty sweat, burned and caused me to wince constantly. This was my lowest mile mentally as I just had no desire to continue running. I also knew that there was no one I knew cheering along any of these miles so I had very little to keep me motivated. Due to slowing my pace so early my hips and quads were tight in a way I had never felt before. At mile 19 I was forced to stop and stretch out a charlie horse in my calf. From this point on I told myself that I needed to be stronger. I had to get out of my head and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other whether walking, jogging, slogging, or running.
I had no idea what my pace through these miles was but did my best to jog for about 8 minutes and walk for 1-2 minutes. As I started this I also started keeping my eye on people, trying to pass them one by one. This worked wonderfully until mile 23.5 where I just hit the wall completely. I stopped to stretch and burst into tears. I’d trained so hard for this marathon and wanted a PR so badly. Without knowing my pace or the time, I had no idea how close or far from last years time I was. I felt like I had let Gia down as my coach. I felt like I’d let so many readers and friends down who had cheered and supported me and BELIEVED in my 4:30 goal. I probably stood there crying for about 2-3 minutes. Truly pathetic, I know. Now looking back it annoys me even more as if I’d been walking during these minutes or better yet jogging, I would have run a PR.
Then, this lovely woman who I’ll call Angel, since I didn’t get her name, came up and slapped me on the back. She said her goal had been to run sub 4:20, which she ran on the Hartford course last year, and had been following me all day. My pink tutu was the “rabbit” she was trying to keep up with after starting to feel fatigue early in the race. She said there was no way she was letting me hang out on the road. She motivated me to start jogging again and from that mile on we jogged to each water station. She warned me that the Founder’s Bridge, which we’d hit at 25.5, would feel like hell as it’s so late in the race. We kept moving over that bridge and then at mile 25.75 I saw a smiling face, Amy jumping up and down screaming at me. I was crying in both pain and excitement at this point. Amy hugged me and jumped in with me, as promised, to run the last half mile. She said that I’d crushed the first half, perfectly on pace. I laughed and told her that yes, I had crushed the first half and the second half had crushed me. I told her I was in pain and could only move at a slog until the last tenth a mile where I promised to give it my all. We passed Kristin and her husband at mile 26 who were cheering loudly and chanting. They were so incredible. The finish shoot was exactly what I expected, magically lined with gorgeous Fall mums and tons of spectators screaming their heads off, including Laura and her mom. The announcer called out everyone’s name as we crossed and at that point I was the happiest person in the world. Sure, I didn’t set a PR but not every race can be a PR. Yesterday’s marathon was about learning a lot, helping Melissa Z push through the first half, experiencing a new town and course, and finishing. After finishing I immediately followed Amy back towards the VIP area where we were able to celebrate with Laura, her mom, Kristin and her husband. There was delicious Harpoon beer, cold chocolate milk, candy corn, and a Mexican burrito bar waiting for me! We had a blast cheering on other runners until the course closed at the 6 hour mark. It was truly the perfect way to end a great day! Thank you again to Danielle and the rest of the Hartford Marathon Foundation staff who made yesterday possible. It was a wonderful weekend filled with friends, good food, great memories, and 26.2 miles which taught me more than I ever expected!
*I received a complimentary marathon bib and entry to the VIP area in exchange for my blogging about the race.