Hartford Marathon #11 (Marathon #102)
This was my 10th time pacing the Hartford Marathon and my 11th-year running it. I coached the Fleet Feet group this year with the highest number of participants to join, 75 people. This didn’t include the drop in people, so the number of participants was even higher. This summer’s running conditions were brutal, which included heat waves and rainy conditions. The group was so large that I didn’t get a chance to run with everyone and get to know them. I tried to get as many to share their stories featured in the newsletter. It was amazing to see the growth and confidence that each runner gained by the end of the program. I tried my hardest to share my experiences and knowledge with each newsletter that most runners read each week. (I did keep track of the behind-the-scenes metrics).
As soon as I got back from my last long run, my co-worker Emily who was supposed to run Twin Cities messaged me that they canceled the race the morning of the race. I messaged her back immediately and said, “Run Hartford”! I feverishly began looking up flights on my phone and only found super expensive flights or flights that were 3 or 4 stops from Minnesota. It wasn’t looking good. I could just hope at this point that the planets would align, and she could get here from Minnesota.
The week before the race I received many emails and text messages from runners as the weather was not looking good. The Wednesday before the race the projected forecast was 70% chance of rain. I sent out a mid-week newsletter with some rainy-day advice. Some of these were my lessons learned from Boston 2018 when we had 37 degree sleet and freezing rain for the duration of the marathon. Also, I should mention that Emily was able to find a way to Hartford! We were all hoping for the best on race day.
The next morning, we were watching the weather and it looked like the forecast was now turning in our favor. The rain wasn’t going to start until the afternoon. I sent out a screenshot on our Facebook page of the forecast to help relieve everyone’s anxiety.
The Thursday before the marathon, I volunteered in Bushnell Park with our good friend John Bornhorst. This was our 6th or 7th year helping in the park. It is my favorite volunteer opportunity. We get to see firsthand the park emerge into the magical race day experience. Emily UBERED there and we headed to the expo. We had dinner after at Salute and headed for the long ride home to the Lake. I kidded Emily that it’ll take us a few hours to get to our house. Finally, we arrived and decided to WFH the next day. It was late and it was the day before the marathon. Typically, we like to bubble wrap ourselves and not do anything stupid. Staying safe without the hour commute seemed like the best choice. We made a nice pre-race pasta meal and went to bed early.
Race morning: Our pre-race morning ritual went seamlessly. I headed out for the “3-hour drive” to Hartford (just kidding, it’s about 40 minutes with no traffic). I followed a couple of slow cars and was able to maneuver around them and arrived! We got to Bushnell Park and got some great photos of the finish line and headed over to meet our group at the carousel. I told them in our announcements to be there promptly at 7 am. At some point my mind forgot the photo time when suddenly it was 7:06 and panic set in. I did what I typically do, I did my ear-piercing whistle to get everyone’s attention to gather for our group photo. I want to apologize to Sean Burns for any permanent hearing loss you may have incurred as you were standing next to me.
Next, Kim and I had to get to the statue near the start to meet the pacers. Patty Vega was volunteering and had a mega-phone getting everyone pumped for the race. We had many of our runners meet us there and I gave them hugs letting them know they WOULD finish strong.
We headed to the start line and anxiously waited for the “horn” to start. I was a little nervous this year with the new route that led us up into West Hartford. I know these streets intimately from the summer training programs. We had a course preview for our 19-mile week, and it was HOT. From what I remember it was quite hilly and we had to account for the hills in our pacing strategy. I have to admit that this was a different experience this year than running by the river as there were so many people out cheering for us. The half marathon group was also running with us. We were seeded in the correct corral, so we didn’t have to weave our way around runners to maintain our pace. I loved seeing so many of our running peeps, Colleen, Fernanda, Andrea, Jef, and so many others on the course cheering for us. It really helps to see people for support. I must admit that my legs were tired from running Chicago 6 days ago, but there is something about the energy of carrying 20+ runners to the finish line as they are counting on you to get them there.
We headed out of West Hartford and split off with the ½ marathon group. I said goodbye to Gary and other runners that had run the first 8 miles with us. After we weaved our way by the Connecticut river and headed to South Windsor Kim said, “Where’s Emily?”, I said I think she’s behind us. I was praying she would have a great race coming here all the way from Minnesota. We got to see the leaders coming back towards Hartford. They were FLYING! We finally got to the street where we could see our runners and get an idea how they were doing. First, we saw Steve (a.k.a. Shirtless Steve) flying by with the BIGGEST smile on his face. A few minutes later we saw the 3:15 pacer. Kim said to me, “Steve must be running around a 3:05 pace”. Next up was Holden and then Hur-Shiu and Marcie that waved and gave us the biggest smiles! They looked so strong! Then, out of nowhere Emily who was already heading back to Hartford gave us the biggest smile and yelled “Jeanne! Kim!” I’m not sure where or when she passed us out, but she was looking so strong. I was so happy for her. At some point Kassie, who was running her first marathon came up behind us and said, “I took off to use the bathroom, but made sure I’d catch up with you”. Again, another proud mom running moment. My other 2 running daughters Brittany and Anna started with us but slowly pulled away ahead of us. I could see their matching pink shirts from a distance. It was GREAT!
My face was sweating more than usual this race, so I started taking salt early on around mile 6 to be safe. I made sure that I hydrated at the water stops and took Nuun. I recall a runner choking on his water and I said, “squeeze the cup like this and sip out of the corners to avoid choking to death”. He took my advice immediately. My left foot started cramping on the bottom around mile 13. I continued to take salt to try to elevate the pain. It worked for quite a few miles but started up again around mile 18. Our 4-hour group at this point had thinned out. Many of the runners ran ahead and we picked up new runners and encouraged them to finish. This is pretty typical for the 4:00 pace group.
Finally, there was the Founders bridge back to the finish. As promised Mike Rickaby and Patty were at the bottom of the bridge screaming and cheering us, then Fernanda who was doing what she does best helping a runner. She was arm-in-arm walking him up the bridge who was experiencing some pain. The runners next to me started to fade. I yelled, “We took this bridge into consideration when we were pacing and gave you extra time to get to the top, take little baby steps, pump your arms, you got this”. I sang the ant song to some young dude and made him crack up laughing with my dirty version. Then Jonathon and Richard were on the top of the bridge cheering for us. I get goosebumps as I write this. It’s hard to explain the feeling of this comradire with our group.
The finish was amazing. I high fived as many people as I could, smiling ear to ear and then as we crossed, I grabbed Kim’s hand, and we raised our 4:00 hour pace signs with pride! WE did it! 3:58:28. Mission accomplished. I looked around for our running family to see how they did. First was Brittany and Anna, who ran 3:47, then I spotted Emily. She PR’ d in Hartford with a 3:54 finish time! Outstanding! Kassie ran 3:54 too! Just WOW. I got to hug Sylvia that had just finished. She was smiling ear to ear which basically means she had a great race too. We saw Kumar (1st time marathoner) who totally crushed it with a 3:52 and Vish who ran 4:27. Lastly, after watching John Williams finish strong with a sub 5 marathon, Kim said to me “watching our people finish never gets old”. I totally agree. When I wrote this, I kept looking at Facebook to see more and more posts from our runners sharing their stories. Everyone single one that I read put a smile on my face. Getting up early every Sunday morning for 16 weeks is so worth it. See you next year at the Hartford Marathon.