Hartford Marathon #9– Marathon #83

Finally! The race that we look forward to every year was back on!  I signed up early in May when HMF announced they anticipated the race would happened with limited entries and a reimbursement plan just in case it was canceled. 

We trained with our Fleet Feet Kool Kids all summer.   There was a lot of new marathoners that would experience the Hartford marathon for the first time.  Kim and I were asked to pace Hartford again and I was reluctant as Boston was moved to the following Monday.  We had a full schedule of marathons we had already signed up for which included Clarence Demar, London and Boston and NYC.  Kim’s theory was “we have 1 day to recover and we can run it together for fun”! It seemed like a great idea at the time until we got the bus schedule for Boston and we are both in different waves.  We are hoping this can change and Kim could drop back with me.  Also, we canceled London so at the time it didn’t seem too back with a 2-week recovery for Hartford.

The Thursday before the race Kim and I did our annual volunteer work in Bushnell park.  This year we were assigned fill water bottles for the finishers.  We got our assembly line down to a science and filled over 2000 water bottles.  We went to the expo after which had minimal vendors due to the pandemic.  We got our pacer shirts and said hi to so many familiar faces that we hadn’t see since B.C. (Before Covid)

Pre-Race:

Race morning was here!  I got up at 4:15 a.m. and went downstairs to make breakfast & coffee.  I started with cooking oatmeal.  When I poured it in the bowls, for some strange reason one bowl was filled with water.  I poured it out and had to make a new batch (Sign #1).

Next, Kim brought Andee downstairs to go to the bathroom.  I was getting ready and I heard Kim say “No! Andee”.  He didn’t make it outside.  Poor old dog, the world is his toilet (Sign #2).

Right before we were getting ready to leave, Kim yelled, “hey, grab the scissors, I need to cut a hair on Andee’s chin”.  I gave them to Kim and walked away.  Then I heard Andee Yelp in pain.  Kim accidently nicked him.  Blood was everywhere (Sign #3). 

We got to Bushnell park and got our corral B assignment stickers, took a group photo with the fleet feet crew and headed to meet the pacers.  I brought my ID, proof of Covid and masks as we were informed to use the indoor bathrooms at the Bushnell only to find out they were off limits.  In a panic, we ran to the long lines at the port-0-lets (Sign #4). 

We waited in line that went by pretty quickly and ran back to the Bushnell for the group pacer photo that was scheduled promptly at 7:30. We just made it but not with enough time to grab our pacing signs.  Then Delia was taking another photo and luckily, we had them. 

We talked to a bunch of runners about our pacing strategy and headed to the start.  It was very emotional for me to be back at the marathon.  When the woman sang the Star-Spangled Banner, I teared up.  It was pretty awesome.  The first wave went off, then the A corral and then it was our turn.  We started in the front row! 

The start
We started running down Capital Ave and I was checking my pace on my watch making sure we weren’t starting too fast.  A bunch of runners got in front of us and when I looked up I said to Kim “Why are all the runners going to the left?”  Being in a center of a pack of runners, we didn’t realize the course went to the right as the lead runners were following the volunteer bikes.  After a couple minutes, I remember looking up at some buildings on the left that I didn’t recognize.  Within seconds, runners were coming toward us yelling “turn around”!  I was flabbergasted, in shock like it was a dream.  Was this really happening?  When the runners realized they were off course, they started running, jumping up to cut across sidewalks and medians to take the shortest route to get back on course. I felt like it was a bad dream.  The people we were pacing were so upset and Kim and I assured them we would get them across the finish line with a sub 4 hours marathon.  I kept asking people that we caught up with “what’s your mileage?’  to see how far off we were.  Then I saw my friend Angie and she said “Jeanne, you told me you had bad signs all morning”.  Kim ran up behind Andy who was pacing 4:15 and said “Andy, what’s up, you’re going way too fast”.  It was a little humor during a bad situation. 

Each mile marker Kim and I looked at our pace bands to see how far off we were.  We wanted to make up the time gradually without killing our runners.     I felt terrible because we told our pace group we would run a consistent 9-minute pace.  It was also very stressful. This year we ran with the half marathoners until mile 11 ½.  The bikes paths at times were really congested compared to previous years and when we came up on some of the runners they would spread apart to let us though.  Everyone was in a great mood and very accommodating.  Then we saw Jola.  She had just run Berlin and London.  We told our group and they were in aww of her accomplishment.  It was great to see her running so strong.

The new route continued on past the Riverfront park in East Hartford.  This route I am familiar with because of the Hartford 5K scramble’s where we would take the stairs up to cross the Charter Oak bridge.  I was telling one of the women (Meredith) that I was running with about the scrambles and how my heart beats in my ears by the time I get to the top.  My friend Mike Rickaby yelled to me and said “Jeanne, we’re taking the stairs”.  Part of me thought “holy crap, they wouldn’t do this to the marathoners”!  Luckily, we ran past the stairs and continued on the bike path.  Kim said that this is where he ran during RIMACONN.  Finally, we got off the bike path and back on the streets in East Hartford.  Kim said “the bag piper should be coming up”.  There he was under the bridge just like previous years. 

When we got to the section where the half marathon runners split off, there were volunteers yelling “Marathoners right, half-marathoners left”.  Someone in our pace group yelled “that’s not very loud, hope no one goes the wrong way”, and then I yelled in my very loud authoritative voice “MARATHONERS RIGHT – HALF MARATHONERS LEFT”.  That did the trick.  They all wished us the best as they turned left.  Kim said as we continued on “half marathoners left, hard core runners right”.

By the time we got to the half way point we crossed the matt at exactly 2 hours.  Finally, we were back on track. We could finally let up on the gas and ease into our 9-minute pace.  Next, we were directed left to some neighborhoods where a band was playing some very slow, sad music that sounded like “Johnny Cash”.  This is when I said “where did this hill come from”, as we headed up towards South Windsor.  We came back out onto route 5 and then saw the spot where we used to have water set up for our marathon group when we did the race preview runs.  We made a few turns and were finally on Old Main Street.  We could see the leaders coming back looking strong.  This is my favorite part of the race where we can see our Fleet Feet peeps that we trained with all summer.  I said to Kim, “we should see Steve first”.  He was just behind the 3:15 pacer.  We screamed “STEVE” and he gave me the biggest smile.  He was looking so strong!  Then we saw Adrian, Andrea, Marissa, Eric, Hur-shiu, Courtney and Colleen.  Everyone was running strong.  There was constant cheering!  Kaitlyn that was running with us said “where is the turnaround”, and Kim said “It should be coming up soon around mile 17”.  I couldn’t wait to be on the other side coming back!  At the next timing mat I saw Ralph!  We exchanged waves and I said to Kaitlyn, he’s the man I ran my first marathon with, and she said “oh, the run/walk marathon? and I said yes.  Finally, we turned.  Then we saw some of the people that dropped back from the 4-hour group (technically, the 3:55 group at that point).  It was disheartening to know that we outran them to get back on track with the expectation of crossing at 4 hours. As soon as we turned, we saw the famous, legend of West Hartford, Mike Rickaby.  Then, after Mike, the 4:15 pace group, Angie, Olga, and so many more that I can’t think of right now.  Ahead of us was our favorite person to photograph during marathon training; the legendary Karthikeyan.  As you can see in our pre-race photo, he has inspired all of us with his Usain Bolt pose.

We were heading into the higher miles we met up with a young girl, Celia that was running her first marathon.  Runners were starting to get quiet and I could hear their breathing change.  Kim noticed and said to one of the runners “you need to reset your breathing, take a couple deep breaths and exhale”.  I said “I have a trick that I use to coach new runners as well as when I am pacing to get you back on track.  Would you like me to sing you a silly song that will help”?  Everyone looked at me with despair and said “yes, anything”.  Of course, I asked permission first to see if they wanted the dirty version or the clean version.  Celia said “I just turned 21, I want the dirty version”.   So, I started singing the “Ant song”.  It’s pretty amazing that once I start singing, runners gates and breathing seem to get back in sync and they listen to every word.  When I belted out the naughty version, they laughed and listened even closer for the next verse.  After the song was over I said, when you sing it 2 times though, it’s a mile.  Next, to distract runners I said “let’s pick out objects in the distance and we’ll run to it”.  That’s all you have to worry about is getting to that point”.  We did that until we were close to turning back on Pitkins street.  Again, runners were getting quiet, so I said “how about the ant song again” and it was unanimous they wanted to hear it again.  We approached the bottom of the entrance to the Founders bridge and I yelled “I am going to count us up the hill”.  Thats when I saw Patty.  She was screaming “these are the best pacers EVER!” After running her half marathon, she ran us up the hill to the top of the bridge where we saw Fernanda.  I just love her and refer to her as my “4 leaf clover”.   We crested the top and there was a photographer and I yelled to the group “suck in your guts, arms above your head and whoo”.  They followed my command that I taught them earlier on in the race.  I know they will think of me when they get their race photos at mile 25 and they are looking pretty awesome. 

The Finish:

We were on our final decent to the finish.  Crowds were getting thicker and the cheering was non-stop.  We came down Pearl street through the roar of the crowds and turned to run under the famous arches.  The street was lined with mums and people screaming.  I had the biggest smile on my face!  Kim grabbed my hand and we crossed together at 3:59 with our arms above our head.  It was epic.  I can’t believe it went by so quickly.  There is something to be said when you have a purpose of getting runners across the finish line with a goal time.  They rely on you.  I am not sure where the energy comes from but when we step up to that line we become bullet proof super heroes.  Getting to hug the runners that we pulled through to the finish is priceless. 

This was by far one of the best and LONGEST marathons we’ve ever run!

Thank you, Hartford Marathon, for pulling this together and allowing us runners to be back and be apart of this iconic experience.  Oh, and by the way.  I Boston Qualified and placed 3rd in my age group. Not bad for an old lady!

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