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!

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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??

 

 

 

The hay is in the barn

This morning I ran my third and final 20-miler in preparation for the Hartford Marathon! Three weeks until race day!!

It was long and hot and muggy, much like summer in DC. I opted for an out-and-back along Rock Creek Parkway and the Capital Crescent Trail today, which ended up being quite lovely, aside from the long, slow climb from miles 6-10 on the CCT. I also encountered not one, but two races during my run! The first was the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon, which is done in part on Rock Creek Parkway. I got to see the hand-cyclists out front, and lots of runners heading north on the Parkway as I ran south. Then when I got onto the Capital Crescent Trail, I saw that there was a marathon going on on the C&O Canal Towpath today too! Fall race season has definitely started here!

I really hope that I’m ready for a great race in Hartford on the 8th. My mind keeps dwelling on the handful of workouts that I skipped over the last 18 weeks for one reason or another. I think most were easy runs that I skipped because I was still feeling extra sore and/or fatigued from whatever harder workout had happened the day before, and figured that a day of rest might be more productive. But there were also at least a couple of speed workouts and pace runs that didn’t get done. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes other running interferes, like when I skipped a 9-mile pace run the day after the Vermont 100 on 100 Relay, because there was no way I was running at all, let alone at race pace, after battling those hills all through the day before. Sometimes I just didn’t feel like it. That’s usually what happens with track workouts. I really, really hate 800s. They’re the worst. And there was one week when I just didn’t want to do them. So I didn’t, even though I knew the only person on God’s green earth who cared whether or not I got my run done was me. So yeah, a few workouts got skipped here and there over the last several months. But I have a hard time believing that any one of those is going to make or break my race next month. So now that the taper is here, it’s time to put my faith in my training (the majority of which went really well!) and just think positively. Hopefully this all leads to a big PR in Hartford! And if not, there’s always another race. (For real: Marine Corps is only three weeks later!)

But right now, I have other things on my mind: I’M GOING TO IRELAND!! Like, tonight!! What better way to start the taper than to go on my first big solo trip, to a foreign country no less? I’m flying out tonight, and will arrive in Dublin tomorrow morning, maybe not quite as fresh as a daisy (is anyone fresh after a red-eye?), but ready for adventure! I’ll be spending the first couple of days in Dublin, and then heading out for two weeks of driving around the country and seeing all the things! I certainly hope to run some while I’m there, but 1) that’s not the main focus of this trip, and 2) a big reason I chose to travel during my taper is so that I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’m running much. The important work is done, and if I can just get in enough miles to balance out all those full Irish breakfasts, I’ll be a happy lass.

Confession time: I’m terrified. This will be only my second time traveling overseas at all, and I’m doing it alone. I’m scared that I’ll get lost and panicky, and that I’ll be incredibly lonely, and that I’ll miss having someone to share these stories with. But I am also so excited to prove to myself that I can do this. I’ve planned out the important stuff, like where I’m sleeping each night and how I’m getting around. Everything else will fall into place. Probably. I may wish that someone was there to talk to when I feel isolated, but I’m also going to relish being able to do my own thing the whole time. No one will get impatient with me if I take forever trying to capture the perfect photo. I can take whatever detours strike my fancy, and eat whatever and whenever I feel like it. And everyone and their brother keeps telling me what a fantastically friendly place Ireland is, so if I can get over my own shyness and be open to chatting with strangers, I know I’ll encounter some friendly faces. So I am scared, for sure. But I’m also confident that this trip is going to be amazing, and something that I’ll be so glad I worked up the courage to do.

 

A beautiful run

Yesterday was my second 20-miler (of three planned ones for this training cycle) and it was a great run. Not super fast (my long runs are always at an easy pace), and it hurt as much as you’d expect for 3 hours of running. But it was such an enjoyable morning! The weather in DC cut us a break this weekend: it was warm and brilliantly sunny but with a lovely cool breeze rather than the still, stifling, sticky humidity we’ve endured for weeks. I’d had a good feeling about this run all week. I was psyched up for it rather than dreading the hours on my feet, and I held on to that positivity throughout the run.

My planned route was to head south through DC, across the 14th Street Bridge, and then down the Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria, VA, to the Jones Point Lighthouse, and then back.

About 2.5 miles in, I crossed the National Mall and thankfully looked up, because THIS was the sky over the Capitol (you can see the dome way off in the distance).

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Mall sky

I continued on across the bridge, and headed south on the MVT. At one point, the asphalt trail turns to boardwalk as you cross through some wetland areas.

Boardwalk

Right at 11 miles, I reached the historic Jones Point Lighthouse. It operated from 1855-1926, and is the last river lighthouse still standing in the Chesapeake Bay area.

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There’s a little park around the lighthouse, and I noticed these bear prints cast on the sidewalk. “Lumber like a bear” definitely seemed apt during the last few miles of this run!

Bear prints

After a quick pitstop to refill my hydration pack (it was cooler than it has been lately, but still in the 80s!) I headed back north on the trail. This was the view from the bridge over Four Mile Run, which splits off from the Potomac near the airport. I love DC (obviously!) but Virginia has its moments.

River view

On my way back across the 14th Street Bridge, I crossed paths with another woman running and heard her say, “Go Maniac!” as she went by! I don’t often wear my Marathon Maniacs hat on training runs, but I’m glad I did on this run because that moment of encouragement gave me such a boost through my last two miles! Maybe I need to wear it on long runs more often…

I just so happened, completely by accident of course, to hit 20 miles a block away from Starbucks. So it seemed only natural to grab a nice big frappuccino to enjoy on my cool-down walk back home! It was frosty and delicious and the perfect way to cap off such a great summer run.

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Happy running!

 

Out and about in the District

Last weekend was the DC State Fair, or rather, the DC “State” Fair. It was brutally hot but still fun to walk around and see what passes for agriculture in the District, some musical performances, and various arts and craft vendors similar to what can often be found at Eastern Market.

The ladies of the Batalá Washington drumming group:

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DC-sized agriculture:

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Food-themed wall art:

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The venue for the State Fair:

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Yesterday I decided to talk a leisurely walk around town while getting some errands done (Fridays are my one regular day off from running, so naturally I was too restless to sit at home, especially on such a gorgeous summer day).

First I wandered south through Meridian Hill Park, and visited the Joan of Arc statue:

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Hey there little squirrel!

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For reasons I’m not aware of, there’s a Dante Alighieri statue in the park. He seems friendly (*sarcasm*)

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I headed a little ways East on T Street to see one of my favorite blocks in the city. I love these little row houses with their garden plots.

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Then I wandered south on 14th Street, and stopped by the greatest hardware store ever. I love the colorful whirligigs they hung over the door.

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Obviously I had to visit the Q Street Barbies to see what they were up to. Without an obviously-themed holiday recently passed or coming up, I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t disappointed. The Titanic vignette seems a bit random, but completely enjoyable.

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I saw this colorful place at the southern end of Adams Morgan on my way back towards home.

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By the time I was walking back up north through the park towards home, the wonderful fountain was flowing again! It’s been broken all summer, and I’ve missed seeing the iconic cascading tiers.

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People weren’t the only ones enjoying having water back in the fountains again!

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After my wanderings, I was ready for a drink and some company, so I went up to the roof with my friend and neighbor Katie for our own personal rooftop happy hour. This view just doesn’t get old. That’s the Washington National Cathedral in the background.

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We were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen here. It just kept getting better every time we looked up.

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Finally night fell on our fair city. This is the view from the roof looking south from our apartment building. It’s pretty ok.

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Yesterday was one of those idyllic summer days that makes me love this city so much. We shall see if I still love it tomorrow when I’m running 22 miles around it…

 

Welcome to the District of Running!

I’d never really planned on having a personal blog site, but sometimes things change. And I think this is going to be a really fun change! This blog was born out of my frustration with another site, where I was one of many “bloggers” within a larger community forum. I love being part of that community, but technical issues have been plaguing the site for months, and the final straw landed when I got locked out of my account and numerous exchanges with tech support have done nothing to fix the problem. Not being able to post on that site made me realize how much I value an outlet for writing about running, training, and racing. Hence, the birth of this site.

I envision using this venue to talk about how training is going for my next race (or three…), to publish race reports once that training is finished, to share fun stories about my runs around DC and the surrounding area, and to ramble about whatever else is on my mind. That might be a tasty new recipe I’ve just tried, or planning my next travel adventure, or the pitfalls and pratfalls of being a single 30-something navigating life in DC. I don’t know exactly what it’ll turn into yet, but I’m excited to find out!

Happy running!

Morning Monument Run