Hartford Marathon Race Report: All Kinds of Awesome!

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get this race report written up! But I figured I at least needed to do it before running my next race on Sunday!

The Hartford Marathon was my big goal race for early fall, and I’d trained hard for it all summer and was so excited that the weekend was finally here. I grew up in western Massachusetts, so Hartford was practically in my backyard and racing there also meant a long weekend at home with my family, which was awesome. I flew home on Thursday night, hoping that I’d remembered to pack all my race essentials (spoiler alert: I did! No drama there, thank goodness.).

On Friday afternoon, Mom and I drove down to Hartford for the expo. As a bonus, we got to have lunch with a couple of friends first! They work near the expo location, and it was great to catch up with them. The Irish pub and pints of Guinness were an awesome throwback to my Ireland trip last month (dedicated blog(s) on that are surely forthcoming!), and I think the extra carbs from the beer helped on Saturday!

loopster-lunch

After lunch, Mom and I headed over to the expo! These “Go Big!” signs were all over the sidewalk leading to the building, and plastered to all the doors. Given my goal of a big PR for this race, they seemed like a good sign indeed! (pun slightly intended)

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The expo was a pretty good size, but I was able to pick up my packet quickly and take the requisite pre-race decorated wall picture.

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That evening, I laid out my Flat Caitlin and made it an early night.

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Cute and thematic race nails are essential for marathon success!

My parents, sister, and I got up obnoxiously early on Saturday morning to make our way back down to Hartford. I was wide awake and excited! They were less so, and probably didn’t appreciate my enthusiastic pop music sing-a-long during the drive…

We got to the start area, and my family went off to stake out their first cheering location. I found a couple groups of fellow Marathon Maniacs for some pre-race pictures.

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Soon enough, it was time to line up! We listened to some pre-race announcements and the National Anthem, and then we were off!

The race started on a nice gentle downhill as it wound through downtown Hartford. I was feeling good, and trying to hold steady at my goal pace of 8:45ish/mile. We ran along a really nice park bike/walking path along the river, and then back up to downtown before crossing the river. I saw my family around Mile 5.5, and was able to toss them my gloves as the day was warming up.

We wound through the course a bit more before hitting the loooooooong out-and-back that makes up Miles 10-24. I was feeling great, and enjoying the gentle ups and downs of the small inclines. The weather was perfect for a marathon, crisp and breezy. The foliage was spectacular, making it a classic New England fall day.

I hit the halfway mark at 1:52:30, exactly on target (and a 4-ish minute half-marathon PR!). Still feeling good, although I was increasingly aware of how much longer there still was until the turnaround. However, it was fun to see the front-runners coming back our way, and the crowd support was surprisingly great along this stretch given that we were running through a quiet residential area.

Around Mile 16, things started to get a little tougher. My left foot started cramping, which has never happened to me before, and was not a fun surprise mid-race! It wasn’t excessively warm, but I started taking fluids at every aid station in case it was dehydration-related. That seemed to keep the full-on cramp at bay, though that twinging feeling just shy of a muscle cramp lingered for the rest of the race.

Around Mile 19 I bonked pretty hard. I was really struggling to keep my pace under 9:00/mile, and my quads were more shaky than usual for mid-race. I started walking through the water stops, and then taking a little bit longer each time to start running again. By this point I was really over the out-and-back section and just wanted to see downtown again and know that I was almost done!

Finally a little past Mile 24, we turned right and headed back into the city! Except that we were heading up the biggest incline on the course! In my opinion, it’s just rude to put a hill at Mile 24-25 in a marathon. To add insult to injury, there were photographers right at the top of the hill! I’m sure they captured some stellar pain faces. Another Marathon Maniac passed me going up the hill and offered some words of encouragement, which was much appreciated. Hopefully he didn’t take my grunt of a response personally.

We ran back down a slight incline through downtown and past lots of cheering spectators who really boosted my energy. There was one more turn at the very end to run through the big arch in Bushnell Park (the one on the magnet that gave me the color scheme for my toenails), and then the finish line!

Official time: 3:52:03!!! A PR by 7 minutes and 54 seconds!

I think I scared a volunteer with my gasping/ugly crying, but I pulled it together enough to get a foil blanket and my medal, pick up a water bottle (they gave out nice sport bottles instead of disposable ones!) and my food bag, and make my way through the chute towards the family reunion area. On the staggering, stumbling walk towards where my family was waiting (my quads were all kinds of not cooperating by this point), I really couldn’t hold back the ugly crying! I don’t know what it is, but all of the emotion from the last 26.2 miles always comes out my eyeballs at the finish line. I was so excited about my PR and so happy that my whole family was there to celebrate with me that the tears seemed completely silly, but such is life. After doing a mini rehash of the race with my family, we walked over to where Mazda (one of the race sponsors) had set up this really cool photo booth where half and full finishers could pose with their finish time.

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Obligatory selfie with the super-cool medal:medal-selfie

I really like the medals from this race! The half marathon medal has a blue ribbon and background, and both medals feature different famous buildings in Hartford. Mine shows (I think) the State House, the Bushnell, and Founders Bridge (which we crossed during the race). And it’s one of my very few gold race medals, so that’s pretty cool.

We hung out in the finish line festival area for a while so I could regroup a bit and enjoy my free beer, and then we headed to lunch so that everyone else could eat and enjoy a well-deserved beer themselves!

Garmin record!

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The end of the race was tough for me both mentally and physically, but I’m so happy with the final results! I don’t know that there’s anything I could have done differently earlier in the race that might have preventing the cramping or the bonking. I figure now I should just turn my attention toward getting ready for the half-marathon in Philly (my first in two years!) and the full marathon in Rehoboth Beach, which is far enough away that I think I might be able to improve my time at least a little bit.

But first up: Marine Corps Marathon this Sunday! This’ll be my TENTH marathon (and second MCM), which I’m finding a little bit hard to believe. I still vividly remember working my way through Couch 2 5K for the first time 5 years ago and thinking that running for more than 30 minutes straight would be impossible!

Since it’s only been a few weeks since Hartford, I have exactly zero time goals for MCM. I’m focused only on having ALL THE FUN! I want to soak up the electric atmosphere of this amazing event and enjoy the crap out of running through my city and partake in every unofficial beer, donut hole, and candy station and take as many selfies with hot Marines as I can. It’ll be my own personal tenth marathon-i-versary runparty!

Race Report: International Edition! Killarney 10 Mile Road Race

Let me preface this by saying that I am generally not an impulsive person. I’m a planner through and through. I planned this trip to Ireland over the course of about 6 months. I usually only buy something unexpected if I couldn’t stop thinking about it over the course of a few days. I have always had my race schedule mapped out months in advance. Signing up for a race the night before was a new experience for me, and I’m so glad I went for it!

I drove into Killarney on Friday night, my 5th day in Ireland. It had been a long (but wonderful!) day of wandering all over the southern coast of the country:southern-coast-driving-route

I started in Baltimore, drove to Mizen Head, then all around the Beara Peninsula, and finally up to Killarney. Lots more on the trip later!

So far, I’d run in Dublin and in Kilkenny, but not more than 5 miles. For this weekend, I was supposed to do my last long-ish run of marathon training (12 miles), and I was more than a little apprehensive about finding a safe route for that distance in a place that was so unfamiliar. Outside of the main part of town, it seemed like the sidewalks quickly disappeared, and the very narrow Irish roads didn’t feel very pedestrian-friendly.

As I was driving into the center of town on the way to my B&B, I saw a little sign on the side of the road advertising the Kilkenny Road Race the next day! What were the chances that I could participate in that?? After I got checked into my B&B and onto the wifi, I quickly Googled the race and learned that not only was it a 10-miler (close enough to 12 for me!), but that registration was still open for another hour that night, AND registration and the start/finish were less than half a mile away from the B&B! Talk about luck of the Irish!

So I hurried over to the school where registration was still happening (the purpose of the race was to raise money to build a track at the school), found the room with the volunteers and asked if I could still sign up. A guy who turned out to be big in the Killarney running club pointed to the table and told me that “Team USA signups are right over here!” I filled out the registration form, paid my 20 euro (total bargain!), and got my tshirt and bib. Less than an hour after seeing the sign by the road, I was in the race!

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I dropped by stuff off at my room, and headed back out to find some dinner. I was in such a state of euphoric excitement! Not only would I get a solid long run in on the trip, but I’d get to be part of the running community here! And have an awesome unexpected souvenir running shirt!

The next morning dawned gray and wet, but that didn’t dampen my excitement in the least! And I felt so well-rested with the luxurious 9am start time and short walk to the race area. It was pretty warm (high 50s/low 60s), so the rain and medium wind made for a nice crisp racing temperature. I spent about half a second telling myself that this was a LONG RUN and not a race, and I should just keep to a nice comfortable pace. And then I said whatever, just run the way you feel.

I got to the start line about 20 minutes before 9:00, and it was quite a different experience than I’m used to! I knew that this was going to be a much smaller race (only a few hundred people, compared to the smallest one I’ve done in DC which is about 2,000), but I was still surprised by the bare-bones start. No port-a-potties, no start line arch, no music playing, no corrals, nothing. Just a bunch of runners huddling under trees trying to stay dry!

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(I’m in the blue tshirt and white hat on the right side)

There were a couple photographers there taking pictures for the race’s Facebook page, so this is just a random group of us who were near each other, trying to look happy to be there (I didn’t have to try very hard, but some of the other runners were grumpy about the weather).

It was fun to chat with some of the other runners while we waited for the gun, and several of them were pretty amused by my spontaneous race entry. It was also fun to check out the shirts from other races that people were wearing, since most of them weren’t races I’d heard of (though I did see one Boston tshirt and one NYC Marathon jacket). I learned that there’s a Dingle Marathon on the gorgeous Dingle Peninsula, which totally went to the top of my bucket list since I didn’t have time to drive around Dingle like I’d hoped on this trip.

Once it was time to start, everyone moved out of the trees and into the road, the pacers took their places (I was a little surprised that there were pacers at all in this small a race!), and without much pomp or circumstance, we were off! The beginning of the race wound back through town, and right past my B&B. Then we turned out towards the more rural areas, and things just kept getting prettier (not to say that Killarney isn’t a pretty town, because it definitely is). Mile 3 was mostly uphill, but the view from the top was just amazing! Lush green pastures with sheep and cows in the foreground, and the hills and lakes of Killarney National Park in the background. I didn’t even give a thought to muscle fatigue while taking in that landscape.

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(I don’t carry my phone in races, so this is not that exact view, but it was pretty close. Taken while hiking in the park later in the day.)

We ran along that high rural road for a while, and then turned downhill for a long stretch. Wheeeeeee!! And then we ran right into the national park! Sometimes not looking at the course ahead of time can have its advantages, because this was an awesome surprise! Nearly the entire rest of the course was run on bike/walking paths through the park. At one point I saw a sign saying that it was the red deer’s rutting season, so visitors should stay on the path and not disturb them. Then just around the next turn I saw a huge group of those red deer! Probably about 20 of them hanging out along the pathway.

There was another big uphill later in the race, but again, the view from the top was completely spectacular. The path carried us through wide meadows with deer and cattle, and then through thickly wooded areas smelling wonderfully of pine and cedar.

In the last mile of the race, the path ran parallel to a stream, which had flooded badly due to all the rain. So we ended up with two surprise water crossings! The water was about 6-8” deep, and thoroughly soaked me from the knees down when I splashed through, but I thought it was great fun! Especially since we only had about ¾ of a mile left to endure with sodden shoes.

Finally, I came around the final turn and back onto the ground of the school where we’d started. Around the field and under the arch (there was at least an arch for the finish line!). Final time: 1:24:49. A 38-second PR from my George Washington Parkway Classic 10-miler in April! I was very pleasantly surprised by my time, as I hadn’t really been aiming for a particular pace throughout the race in my enjoyment of the experience, and the hills had been no joke. But it was just an added bonus on what was already a fantastic race morning.

I enjoyed a sausage breakfast roll in the cafeteria where there was a post-race gathering (way better than a stale bagel and banana!), and then headed home.

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Here’s the elevation chart from Garmin:

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And my splits:

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I was shocked to see that sub-8:00 mile split flash by, but it was definitely a fun downhill!

I’m so, so happy that I stumbled upon this race. It was a fantastic addition to an already-wonderful trip, and so much fun to experience a race in a very new place!

2018 Dingle Marathon anyone??