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)

go-big

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.

hartford-pop-art

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

flat-caitlin

mm-diva-race-nailsrace-toenails

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.

marathon-maniacs-1

marathon-maniacs-2

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.

finish-line-262

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!

garmin-record

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!

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.