People often ask me “What’s your favorite marathon”? I usually say “NYC” because of its energy and crowd support, but then I will say, I also love Hartford Marathon
because when I run Hartford it’s with my heart, where I get to witness firsthand so many runners’ dreams come true. Many are from our Fleet Feet training program that are first-time marathon runners. They showed up every Sunday morning at
the crack of dawn for 16 weeks, training their heart out to finally crossing the finish line on race day. To me, this is priceless.
I have to admit, I was nervous pacing Hartford after our 2 back-to-back marathons in Germany and London. I was
still adjusting to the time change and jet lag. The week before Hartford, I received a few messages from runners with pre-race jitters. I messaged back and forth with them providing some words of encouragement and support. On race morning
I finally got to see them and give them hugs.
The temperature on race day was perfect. It was a beautiful brisk fall day. We met our Fleet Feet runners for a 7:00 am group photo and then, left to meet the pacers for our next
group photo. This year we were able to use the bathrooms in the Bushnell which is such a treat. Last year there were still Covid restrictions, and I had to go wait in an endless line for the port-o-lets and almost missed the group photo.
While waiting, I saw so many friends that I hadn’t seen in quite a while. My special treat was my friend Kristi Kearney who is the person that told me years ago, “You know Jeanne, you ought to start running”, and because of
her encouragement, I signed up for my first 5K. I gave her the biggest hug and set out on my 26.2-mile journey.
We waited anxiously in the corral for the race to start. I stripped off my throw-away shirt and then the wind picked up!
The sun was certainly warm, but that wind was brutal. As the woman sang the national anthem, I closed my eyes for a brief moment taking it all in. What the next 4 hours would bring is purely a mystery as marathons are completely unpredictable. You
can train your heart out and something can happen that could either make or break your day. I was praying everything would come together.
We heard the start horn and we all took off running. I heard someone yell to me “hey don’t
forget to turn right this year”, we all started laughing and I yelled “hey, that’s not nice”. The first mile went by in a blink. I was keeping an eye on my watch to make sure our projected mile was on target, and we weren’t
going out too fast. As the miles started to progress, the mile markers seemed to get farther and farther away. This is pretty typical in a marathon because if you don’t run with the tangents perfectly, the course will be longer. I looked
down at my pace band that Kim put on my wrist in the morning to check where we should be for that mile. I noticed he accidently put it on backwards so I couldn’t read the band. I was relying on Kirstin, who was running her first marathon
to provide each split. I told her “You have to stick with me now”. She stayed right by my side yelling out the time for each mile.
I did what I typically do when pace, tell stories, play games and just do anything
to keep runners distracted from what their body is experiencing. It’s such a great way to get to know someone! You can sure learn a lot about someone in 4 hours. At one point when we were around mile 17, we started to creep up to a
2-minute cushion which would help us with some wiggle room or the final hill over the bridge back into Hartford. There was a runner from Kentucky working on his 50 states in our group. He had his daughter pandora playlist of old 80 songs.
Every once in a while, I’d recognize the song and start belting out lyrics “Whoomp there it is, Whoomp there it is” which gave people a little chuckle. Distracting their minds from the pain for a few seconds.
We finally got to
mile 22. I started to hear one of our runners breathing heaving and I could tell that she was starting to struggle. I said, “look ahead and pick something out in the distance, and let’s run to that, we’ll take turns picking it
out”. This is a great way to break down those last miles into chunks. Instead of thinking “OMG, I have 4 more miles to go”, you only have to worry about getting to that next checkpoint. Finally, we got to the onramp of the
bridge. Kim and I adjusted our pace to start the incline. My hamstrings were screaming at me at this point. Then, I spotted Mike Rickaby that ran us up ¼ of the way, next was Jonathon about the halfway point and finally was Richard. They
were strategically placed there to support our runners to get them up and over that final hill.
I saw Linda start to pull away and pick up her pace along with Kristin and a few other runners. Our goal was to get them there under 4 hours
and they were going to do it! As we took our final turn, there it was, the iconic arches! The colorful mums lined the finish line! The crowd support was fantastic! I looked up as we approached the clock which was at 3:59:52 as we crossed
the finish line. Mission accomplished!
Linda spotted me first and she hugged me so tight and thanked me. She was so happy to break 4 hours which was her goal that day. I do recall her saying around mile 8, “If I don’t break 4
hours, I will blame the pacers”. I knew she was kidding but was she really kidding??!!! For me, running with Linda was like my good luck charm. She ran with me in The Iron Horse half this past year after I swore, I’d never
run it again. You see, the previous year, I took off too fast and passed her during the race, only to crash and burn at the finish. When I saw her, I was close to passing out. She stayed with me and then got Kim. As much as she
thought I pulled her through, knowing that she needed me to get her there was enough to keep me going.
After we finished, we say our Fleet Feet crew who all did amazing: Courtney had a PR, Marissa and Colleen BQ’d and Jeff broke 4 hours which
has been his goal! Amazing. We got our stuff and headed to the VIP tent to cheer on our other runners still coming in. We saw John Williams, Marcy, Patty and Omayra. We knew most were in and Colleen said, “Where is Fernanda”?
I thought, I bet she’s with Danielle who I heard was struggling with a knee issue. Finally, we looked up and there was Fernanda, hand in hand with Danielle. Sammy Vega was on the other side of her with a megaphone yelling. The 3 of
them crossed and Danielle broke down crying. She was hugging Sammy and Fernanda. Then she spotted me and gave me the biggest hug. Then, I started crying. This to me is a moment that I will never forget. Watching this woman reach
her goal was priceless. Our Fleet Feet crew is such a solid support system. We all have each other’s back. “No Kool Kid” left behind is what we stand by, and Fernanda sure proved it at this race.