Hartford, like Philly rock n roll, is one of those races I will keep coming back to year after year. It was my second full marathon in 2008, but I really enjoy that they have a 5k and half marathon as part of the event. I actually like that it’s a smaller sized race (6,560 people finished the half marathon this year vs. 18,068 finishing the rock n’ roll half), and I usually know at least a few people running one of the events. It’s kind of destination race because we have to travel, but it’s close to my parents house so we always have somewhere to stay and have a reason to go home and see my family. And because it’s close to my family it’s easy for them to come watch me race if they want, which was actually what drew me to this race in the first place. I wanted my family to be able to come watch me run another marathon but didn’t want them to have to make the trip down in Philly like they did for my first 26.2 in 2007.
The race(s) are always held on the second Saturday in October, instead of a Sunday like most races I am used to running. Since it’s a destination race (for us) it requires either having packets mailed to you (which we did last year) or take Friday off from work and drive up for the expo (which we opted to do this year). We left New Jersey around 9:30am on Friday morning and got into Hartford around 2pm. Parking was not hard to find (but I’m also some what familiar with the city) right between the XL Center and Bushnell park, where the race starts and finishes. Ralph took Wes to the park while I ran into the expo to collect my packet and my friend Lauren’s packet as well. Lines were not at all long, they happily took Lauren’s signed waiver and copy of her ID and handed over her number. The expo is fairly small, to be expected for the size of the race, with all your standard vendors and again I wasn’t looking to purchase anything so I was in and out pretty quickly. One thing that I know is trivial but for some reason bothers me is the shirt situation. Some years they have one shirt for all three events, which to me is weird if I ran the 5k and my shirt says marathon. Last year every event had it’s own shirt which was awesome, but this year they went back to one shirt for the full marathon (an orange long sleeve tech tee with large 26.2 printed on it) and one shirt for the half & 5k (a white long sleeve tech tee with a large 13.1 printed on it and a tiny little “and 5k” printed below). Either make every race a different shirt, or just stick to one shirt for all three. There was actually a lot of great race merchandise and I was tempted to buy a Hartford Marathon sweatshirt but I honestly don’t need more sweatshirts and I bought a 13.1 sticker and magnet for Lauren instead.
The Race Organization:
The only real negative thing I can say about this race is probably parking related, there are a few decent sized parking lots close to the start/finish area that offer free parking on race morning. However space is limited, you have to get there really early, and traffic getting into the city backs up really quickly and you could end up sitting in a line of traffic just waiting to make turn for up to 45 minutes. My best BEST advice, is GET. THERE. EARLY. Ralph and I left my parents house at 5:55am and got into downtown Hartford at about 6:25am. The race doesn’t start until 8am, so that may sound a little crazy but we got to a parking spot in a record breaking 10 minutes, were right next to a bank of port-a-potties that had no line, and were two blocks from the start.
Another thing I noticed, although was not really affected by was long lines for gear check. There seemed to be a super long wait (which is understandable given the increase in security after Boston) to check your gear bag, but again I would say this is super avoidable by getting there early. So basically be smart do things early.
The race is small enough that there are no corrals or waves at the start, but there are a decent amount of pace groups for both the half and full marathons to give you an idea of where to line up. This of course didn’t stop people who were walking to start with people planning to run a sub 2 hour half. The start was a little congested, making me wish I had started closer to the front, but not a big deal and something I’ll remember for next year. Most of the mile markers were right on point, volunteers were out in full force, and the water stops seemed well staffed although I carried my own water so I ran through every one.
Post race I really love what Hartford does for the runners, it always seems really well organized and I look forward to the after part of the race just as much as the race itself. For the past few years they have been giving away reusable water bottles (filled with water) to every participant which I love. They then hand you a little reusable bag w/ handles filled with a few snacks from their sponsors which is great if you need a little something immediately post race, but then included on your bib is also a ticket for the food tent not far away. The bag is great for stashing the water bottle, and some of the things from the food tent instead of having to cary a bunch of stuff in just two hands as you navigate the finish area. Food tent goodies included bagels, bananas, pears, apple crisp, grilled cheese, hot tomato soup, and chocolate milk. Not bad. Another highlight is the beer garden that Ralph and I usually look forward to but had to miss out on this year because of Wesley, it’s not exactly a dog friendly place. One beer ticket is included with your registration but I’m pretty sure tickets are available for purchase for non-runners too. Harpoon Brewery is one of the sponsors and the beer selection is pretty good, you can’t really beat free beer after a race.
Hartford (at least for the half marathon) is significantly hiller than Philly rock n roll, but it’s not a bad course if you have trained on a few hills and know what to expect. There are some tough spots but also some really nice downhills to coast down including one at mile 12.5 when you really need the extra boost. The full and half marathoners follow the same course for roughly the first mile and then split up after that. I was really worried I would miss the signage and end up on the wrong course but not only was it well marked they had a lot of volunteers yelling “half marathon stay left”, as well as volunteers after the split calling out, “you are now on the HALF marathon course, this is the HALF marathon course”, just in case you had gone the wrong way. The first few miles were a lot of up and down, mile 4-5 is a constant but gradual uphill but goes through a pretty residential area so there are lots of great spectators, the worst part was the stretch between just past mile 6 to mile 8 but that could have been because I was really starting to feel it at that point. The home stretch of the last 2 miles is mostly down hill which was awesome for my tired legs.
The Race Itself:
Let’s just say I have run smarter races before, although this wasn’t anywhere near my worst or slowest but I definitely learned some lessons. I’ve been really lucky this summer, had some great races and it felt like every race I ran would be a PR. I had really high expectations going into this, but I’ve been saying to Ralph for a while now, eventually I am going to have to have a bad race it’s just kind of inevitable. It wasn’t all bad, there was a little bit of a rough patch in the middle and it was not a PR, but I still came in under two hours, I felt great for a good portion of the race and I did not throw up at any point so I call that a win on so many levels. My main mistake was I just started out too fast. I underestimated how much energy those hills would take out of me (even though I’ve been training on hills every single long run) and even though I knew 8:35 pace was too fast for me I couldn’t seem to slow down. My goal was to run consistent paces and start off around 8:45 pace. That would have been great but I honestly am not good at running hills in the sense that I tend to run up them too fast. Slowly running hills = not my strength and by mile 5 or so I was not feeling as good as I should have been for that early on in the race. I pretty much held onto a 8:35 pace for the first half and then I kind of fell apart, at least mentally for a little while.
The too fast pace was catching up to me quickly and I felt like I was loosing steam. I actually thought about quitting on more than one occasion, I thought about walking, and finally I just called Ralph and said “hey, this is really starting to suck I need a pep talk”. Except when he gave me a pep talk, and it was the most wonderful and encouraging pep talk a husband can give to a wife who is not being very nice, I didn’t want it. I learned something new about myself, not only do I need negative encouragement from myself, but I also need it from other people. Tell me “you’re looking great don’t worry just say positive and keep going”, and I’ll probably say something like, “I hate you be quiet”. I am not a nice runner sometimes. But tell me, “Do you really want to quit? Do you want to disappoint everyone that is here to cheer you on because that’s what you’re going to do if you stop. You’re going to let everyone down so suck it up and keep going.” and I’ll probably dig deep somewhere inside of me and pull out every once of energy I have and keep going. I was slowing down but I hadn’t stopped yet, but I kept looking at my watch and seeing 8.5 miles just seemed like I had forever to go in front of me. I knew Lauren was somewhere behind me and for a minute I considered sitting down, waiting for her to catch up to me and running in the rest of the race with her. Funny enough I was actually afraid that if I did that I might be running too slow and I would hold her back. I stopped and walked for a minute but started to run again, ran for about a mile or so, took another quick walk break and before I knew it my watch beeped and I was into mile 10. 3 miles to go, ok I can do this. I can at least finish the damn race. I pulled out my headphones because I knew I needed something to motivate me to keep moving forward and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I had no idea how much I had slowed down, how slow my finish time was going to be and really I didn’t care anymore. Everything hurt I just wanted to be done.
At some point around mile 11 I realized I was still on pace to at least finish under 2 hours. Not a bad race for how I was feeling at the time, and I even managed to hit some sub 9 minute miles at the end. I did not push myself to a sprint through the finish, mostly because I didn’t want to end yet another race by loosing my breakfast all over the pavement, but I was also really enjoying soaking up every ounce of running through that finishers chute. I spotted my parents waiting on the sidelines and that pretty much made up for all the pain, there is no better feeling than seeing family as you approach the finish of a race. Except of course crossing the finish line. I can’t remember a race where I have had a bigger smile on my face while crossing a finish line.
My splits according to my Garmin:
Mile 1 8:37
Mile 2 8:34
Mile 3 8:36
Mile 4 8:35
Mile 5 8:49
Mile 6 8:35
Mile 7 8:40
Mile 8 8:56
Mile 9 8:59
Mile 10 9:41 (ouch)
Mile 11 9:19
Mile 12 8:52
Mile 13 8:52
My stats according to the official results:
Would I do it again? Probably. I haven’t planned my race calendar for next fall, but I have a feeling this race might make the cut for a 2nd year in a row.