Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hartford Marathon (Connecticut)

October 11, 2014
Marathon 48, State #42 (Age 46)
Hartford, Conneticut

Oh, yeah, back to the real reason for this long weekend road trip…2 Days, 2 States, 2 marathons (52.4 miles).    Getting to Hartford, CT from Los Angeles was already long enough a coast to coast flight to Boston then a 100 mile drive, however, instead in the last 24 hours I now had driven 286 miles and found my way to the highpoint of both the state of Massachusetts (Mount Greylock) and the high point of Connecticut (South slope of Mt Frissell).   

So now coming from Salisbury, CT on the west edge of the state couldn’t have asked for a more pleasant drive, mostly single lane country like roads through little towns on route 44.   Well everything was going great until we entered the city limits of Hartford.  I hadn’t done any research of the city but knew the race was downtown, the expo was downtown, and our hotel was downtown.   What I didn’t realize is that from the direction we would enter the city and drive through what seems to be one of the country’s worst ghettos.    Fortunately it was day light, fortunately we didn’t need stop for gas, and fortunately, we didn’t need any directions, and lastly fortunately I think we were only briefly stopped by a red light at a single intersection.   Finally through this section of town and onward toward the expo downtown. 

We found parking nearby the expo in a parking structure ($$) and made our way to the XL Center which is Connecticut’s premier destination for sports and entertainment seating 16,000+.   As far as the size of a marathon, at least combination of the half marathon and full marathon, this would be considered a very large race which had 2,419 finishers.    Apparently in more and more cities the half marathon is the largest draw so the combination of the two races brings a lot of people into town.    As soon as we got to street level there were runners all around with their bags they had picked so was easy to follow the trail of athletes filing in and out of the XL Center.    There was signage for the marathon all over town.   The expo was in a large room in the lower level of the XL Center and was well organized and easy to get in and out in no time.   

After our first two adventures of the day by the time we had arrived to the expo it was already 5pm on a Friday night so there was normal rush hour plus the extra 1,000’s of additional participants all struggling for space on the streets and parking.  Fortunately, according to our GPS our hotel was hardly more than a mile away, just over the river, but with all the craziness of people and traffic combined with not exactly knowing where we were going or the best way to get there we finally make it to the official race hotel a Hampton Inn & Suites.    So after unloading the car and checking into the room there was already a feeling of exhaustion.    After all, we had already driven 286 miles, climbed two mountains, woke up 3 hours earlier than normal because of the time difference and were supposed to have enough energy to run a marathon the next morning?   

Normally the routine after check-in would be to begin laying out clothes for the next day however I had one major dilemma.   Last summer in Montana when I had spent the week in Glacier with my friend Greg and met his friend George I never guessed I would have planned a marathon weekend together.   Now that I would see George after a year I remembered every day after a long hike he would love to throw back a beer or two and the favorite choice of the three of us was from a microbrewery out of Missoula called “Trout Slayer”.   I happened to see one afternoon in Bev-Mo in Los Angeles that they actually had this on the shelf.   I made a special trip just to pick up a six pack and surprise George, well the adventure only begins here.   It ends up the local Bev-Mo was sold out so I had to drive an extra 20 miles to the next closest Bev-Mo that had Trout Slayer in stock.   As far as packing this meant I could not bring my carryon only like usual and would actually have to check my bag.  Not realizing this would entail a $25 baggage fee this was quickly becoming the most expensive six pack of all times.   I tried to secure the bottles the best that I could but as luck would have it one of the bottles was broken inside my bag and all clothes and running attire were all wet and smelled like beer.   Of course George was thrilled like I knew he would and had the remaining five bottles on ice in no time, but this left me scrambling to clean out my suitcase as well as visit the laundry mat in the hotel for 1.5 hours to wash and dry all my clothes.    

Now checking weather, we knew from all the clouds blowing overhead Saturday that we were going to be hit by a storm Sunday.   Not just a passing by shower, but basically it was supposed to start raining about 3 a.m. and rain all day Saturday.   Great, what else could go wrong, right?    Well when we checked with hotel and they were adamant that there would be no late checkouts Saturday morning and because the marathon didn’t start till 8 a.m. I couldn’t finish my race and be out of the hotel without passing the checkout time which means I would have to checkout in the morning before the race, no problem, a nice pool in the lobby would make for where I could clean up after the marathon.

Marathon preparation wouldn’t be complete without finding a place for dinner.   Earlier while we were downtown next to the XL Center we scoped out a couple streets that looked like would have some good restaurants so we laced up our shoes and were going to see exactly how easy it would be to walk to the start in the morning since the race started a few blocks from the XL Center.   Already dark and having some second thoughts about walking in the dark after driving through the ghetto earlier that day, however the hotel staff suggested downtown where we were was relatively safe so we took off on foot.    Only about a 10-15 minute beautiful walk over the river and looking at the downtown lights, in about a mile we found ourselves back in the bustling part of the downtown and because now it was so late, there surprisingly wasn’t a line at a little Italian restaurant.      It felt good to sit down, really for the first time since landing in Boston 24 hours ago.  

Lights were out as soon as we returned from the mile walk back to the hotel.   As soon as the alarm sounded, the first order of business was to look out the window and check the weather, sure enough it was already raining, everything soaked, and still coming down.  Ugh.   The Hampton Inn had a fantastic continental breakfast buffet and plenty of seating for all the guests.    This morning would mark my 42nd state and 48th full marathon.    I remember all the nervous gitters I would get race morning, but after this many races it’s more business as usual instead of butterflies.  

Of course I’m a bit of geek when it comes to running and endurance activities, but I looked around the room and tried to imagine what we must all look like to the non-runner.   We were all strangely dressed, everyone had shirts on from the various previous races as trophies of earlier battlefields, and I’m wondering to myself if I really fit it with all these crazies or not.   The husband and wife across the table was from Albuquerque, as I’m planning on my 2 base layers to stay warm and a 3rd shell to stay dry, he was minimalistic and was going to run in shorts and a singlet.   To each their own I guess!    

Next back up to the room for last bathroom stop, grab race gear, and to cart luggage downstairs to toss in the trunk of the car before beginning the march back over the river to the start of the marathon.   I hadn’t checked GPS, but realized last second that the battery was about drained, so the GPS watch and heart rate strap chucked into bag and went old school with just my trusty Timex that would at least allow me to record my mile splits.  Now to face the elements, this time not nearly as pleasant as the bright lights of the city at night the prior evening and not to happy about the grey skies and pounding rain as we make our way to the start line.   We planned our walk so that we had just enough time to get to the start without getting rained on for two long, just one stop to toss bag of warm dry clothes at bag drop for the finish line.   (This is where experience comes in….this would be key later in staying warm post race!)

As planned, not a second to spare, after bag drop and heading to the start line I heard a few announcements before the gun would go off.   One interesting story, a guy that had already completed his 50 state quest and ran all marathons either under 3 hours or under 4 hours, I can’t remember was to start dead last, and as a charity for every runner he passed by the finish he would raise $1 per number of spots he moved up.   I thought that was pretty cool!   Usually races starts everyone lines up according to race pace, so fastest runners are in front of the slower runners.  I usually try to get close to the front to avoid being stuck behind a bunch of slow runners and spending the first couple miles passing 100’s of runners, but this morning was different.    Today’s game plan was just to finish, no real time goal, no trying to break 4 hours like normal, just stay aerobic (hard to judge without heart rate monitor), and stay hydrated, after all I would have to do this all over tomorrow!   

What was I thinking?   Two marathons in two days (52.4 miles), can this be done and how would I train?    Maybe if you are not a runner this seems crazy however even to some of my hard core running friends they also thought I was nuts.    There are many things to consider in planning and training for such the weekend.   First, why…time and money.  The goal 50 states by 50, so I’m running out of time.   Also most of the states I have remaining are all in the NE of the United States and coming from Los Angeles there are lots of expenses with travel, so if you can do two races in a single weekend the costs per race are dramatically reduced.    Second, can I do it?    If you are going to do something like this you can’t doubt yourself, you need to always think that “I can do it”.

I Can Do It.  Way back in June I remember I wrote an email to a friend of mine John explaining how I would justify trying to actually pull this off.   With any large goal you need to break it down into manageable parts.   What is the goal and what is your experience to get to your goal?   I tend to over simplify everything as well as I’m a believer of not over training to the point of having injuries or always being exhausted.   As far as justification, I know I can run 26.2, that’s exercising about 4 hours, I also know that I’ve also completed Ironman triathlons which are about 12 hours of exercising in a single day, so running 8-9 hours over two days shouldn’t really be that hard, right?  Besides last November I met a guy 68 years old that did this exact same double marathon, so if he could do it, over 20 years the younger I could probably as well.   Training wasn’t any different than any other marathon of recent years.   I stuck to my cross training plan of biking 2-4 hours every weekend and trying to run about 5 nights a week or about 20-30 miles per week.  

Back to the start line, after bag drop all the runners that I could see had to file in from the rear.   There were so many people at the start, that there was no chance of getting any closer to the front, so keeping with the game plan it didn’t matter and was time to see what the day would bring.   While I usually start out and all the faster pace groups one by one pass me, by starting so far back I found that I had actually started behind the pace I would run so I started passing the slower groups.  While sometime starting too far up front is demoralizing seeing the faster groups pass, I was liking the new feeling to passing others!  

The course itself, other than the non stop rain, was lovely.   About mile 3 we entered a riverside trail that followed the Connecticut River for 2 miles.    I usually start out running 8:00-8:30 min/mile pace and try to hold on as long as possible.   The half and full had two completely different routes, I ended up running right past our hotel at about mile 7 and with the rain had actually thought about calling it quits right then, but I relied on my “Seattle” years of running nearly half of the year in the rain, so it wasn’t really as bad as it seemed.   Today I was consistently running a 9:00 min/mile pace and by the 13.1 mile mark had already finished half the race with a time of 2:01:55 which is a 9:18 pace.  I was pleased so far but knew that this was only ¼ of my race weekend, so backed off a little in the 2nd.   Usually I get to about mile 20 and know I have to push myself the last 6 miles to get under 4 hours.  Knowing that 4 hours or less wasn’t my goal for this race and that I would have been pleased with anything under 4:30 and was thrilled with how effortlessly I crossed the finish line at 4:09:19.   I saw George, who had run only the half marathon, and he was pleased to see me smiling as I stroll past him about mile 25.

The finish line was at Bushnell Park, a historic park in downtown Hartford, that has the famous 130 year old Memorial Arch which also was on the finishing medal.     I crossed the finishing line and made my way through the finishing chutes, grabbed my medal, silver blanket and walked out down to the park to see what was waiting there.   So happy for a bottle of chocolate milk, a variety of snacks and even a grilled cheese sandwich hot off the grill which at first I didn’t want but then later after gobbling down just thinking how great it tasted!   I had a beer coupon on my bib and when George found me he was delighted when I willed my coupon to him and sat down for a moment to take in my nourishment.   

Next mission was to find baggage drop and get into some warm dry clothes.   There’s a new company that is providing lockers at the start line and then relocating to the finish line so you can easily retrieve your belongings.   I was a little disoriented after the race when I saw the lockers because I thought they were in the same place and I knew where bag drop was in relationship to the lockers.   When I followed all the signs for bag drop I realized I had to walk back to the start line which was directly behind Bushnell Park.   No worries, found my clothes, just dropped stripped right there and felt so good to have dry clothes once again.   There were a few others less fortunate that didn’t pack anything and were walking around shivering out of control.  Chalk that up to experience of now 48 marathons to have the right supplies packed and easily accessible after the race!

Again the mile walk back across the river to the hotel.  This walk seemed a little longer this time around, but I would have to say that without that extra push I would normally do the last 6 miles of a marathon, I wasn’t in any pain, legs and knees felt good, and was soon back to the hotel to figure out how I was going to get cleaned up.   As expected, a family was playing in the pool so when my key didn’t unlock the door to the pool, they greeted me with a smile an allowed me come in.   There was a shower in the pool area so I was 2nd in line and a hot shower never felt so wonderful.    Wet clothes stuffed in a bag and we were soon on our way to Rhode Island to do it again Sunday.


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