This is my 6th year running the Hartford marathon. This year was a really special year for so many reasons.
I coached a group of new runners to run their first 5K with the goal race of Hartford Marathon 5K for charity.
We trained all summer with a run/walk program to get them ready for race day. Watching their progression of going from walking/running to running was pretty cool. The charity that I raised money for was the CMAK Sandy Hook foundation.
I also coached the Fleet Feet marathon training program for the 6th year. This year there were a lot of new marathoners with the goal race of the Hartford Marathon. Although they were different distances both groups shared the same
fears, anxiety and the unknown of the miles ahead of them. They pushed themselves to the start of the race with the courage to take themselves to a new level. The group this year seemed to bond more than other years. Our group started off
strangers but ended up more like family.
I was also pacing the 4:00 marathon group. I knew this group would be large and that they would have a solid goal to fulfill. (No pressure here!)
I volunteered in Bushnell park setting up for race day Thursday night in the pouring rain and again all day Friday in overcast and pretty chilly weather. Race day was not looking very good with weather in
the 40’s and rain.
The Expo this year was one of the best expo’s that I experienced. I’m not sure if it was because I was able to experience the expo with first time runners that have NEVER been to one. I was able
to explain everything from bibs to gear check to them. I showed them the medal they were going to get and they were beyond excited when they found out they’d get a medal!
The Expo was filled with amazing volunteers that were so willing
to make sure these runners knew exactly what to expect on race day. One of the volunteers that came all the way from Germany, Stacy Brusa was especially wonderful. She talked to these first time 5K runners and explained in detail where the start was and that
she would be there to personally to assist them with ANY questions on race day.
Beth Shluger, the race director was also so wonderful to these women who welcomed and congratulated them on their first 5K. To me, that was the coolest
moment EVER. Can you imagine running your first 5K and having the race director high five you? She is such an amazing woman. Of all the races that I’ve been to, I’ve never had encountered the race director showing such pride and enthusiasm
to runners! This was PRICELESS!
The Drive to the Start:
We left the house and did a quick once over to make sure we had everything we needed. As I drove to Hartford
I was thinking of everything and then it dawned on me; did I forget the parking pass? I pulled off the road to check. Yes, I DID forget the parking pass so I turned around and headed back home. My hands were so tight on the steering wheel
as I drove as fast as I could to get back home. We were about 15 minutes off schedule now and I knew that we had to be in the parking garage by 7 am. Talk about stressed! I ended up hitting every green light on the way back to Hartford and
got to the garage only 8 minutes off schedule. Now I could exhale. I am pretty sure that adrenaline rush helped my performance as a pacer!
We arrive and started to walk to Bushnell Park. The weather was chilly in the 40’s and
slightly raining. I was dressed with a tank top, shorts, arm sleeves, throw away sweatshirt and pajama pants. I felt comfortable. The forecast had shifted to only 40% chance of rain. We got to Bushnell Park with music blasting and crowds
of people anxiously moving around. When I arrived I immediately needed to use the port-o-let. After I finished I opened the door to find Kim taking my photo. I’m not sure why he likes to capture these moments! A woman in line
looked at me and said “did you already run?” I said “Geeze, do I look that bad?” We all laughed and headed to the Frequent Miler village. I was able to get into this area based on the amount of HMF races that I ran.
It’s pretty awesome as we all get gear check, snacks, water, massage and the best of all, personal port-o-lets!
We headed out to the Bushnell to meet the other pacers at 7:30. When we arrived we grabbed our 4:00 pacer signs and were eagerly
greeted by nervous runners. They asked us some questions about strategy, got to meet them, exchanged names and then we headed out to Corral C where were we assigned. We explained to the runners our strategy was to run even splits from start to
It had just started to rain and I was cold! I put hand warmers in my gloves before we left and I kept them until around mile 5. Finally
the horn went off and we started to run. It was pretty congested, the manholes and lines on the street were really slippery from the rain. The half marathoners stayed with us until mile 1 where we branch off to the left and head to Main Street.
I was nervous because our pace was a bit slow and I knew what we needed to get to the 4:00 goal. Kim said that it’ll all balance out which it did when we headed to Riverside park. I was pleased to see so many people cheering for us despite
the weather. It was to me a sign these new marathoners would have a good first experience.
We weaved our way through streets and were back in downtown. We turned onto Founders Bridge towards East Hartford. I remember a runners saying
to her friend “OMG, we are running on the highway”. I kidded and yelled out to Kim, “Which exit are you taking? And he said” the next exit for East Hartford”. We laughed and then spotted our first photo opportunity.
I yelled to our group “Photographer on the right! Suck in your guts, put your hands up above your head and yell whoa! Act natural like you do this all the time”! It was pretty funny, they followed my directions and as soon as
we passed the photographer I yelled “Okay, he’s gone you can relax now”!
We ran down by other side of the CT River and asked if they ever ran the Hartford Scrambles. This is when I realized that there were a lot of runners
that weren’t from CT. We even had a woman from Quebec! They loved running by the river and kept saying “This is really beautiful”. We tried to avoid puddles (which was pretty close to impossible) and headed out onto another onramp
and then were spit out into East Hartford. At this point I had to take a quick bathroom break so I gave Kim my 4:00 pace sign and sprinted to the port-o-let. When I was just finishing up I could hear Kim yell, “Jeanne, we are going by” so
I knew I had only minutes to get out and catch up. I ran out of there so quickly and looked to see the group going by. I sprinted to them and finally caught back up to Kim. That was pretty nerve-wracking!
We weaved around some
of the side streets and then headed towards South Windsor. We kept checking our pace and comparing them to the mile markers to make sure we were on target. We were right on target! We were right on pace at 13.1!
Funny that I’ve
run this race so many times and I forgotten there is a slight incline until you get to the turnaround at mile 17. I love running on this part of the course. There are a lot of neighborhoods with people cheering and a couple relay exchanges that
are congested with people cheering as you pass by. You could smell the fires (and the cheeseburgers cooking) that were lit to stay warm. These folks are pretty awesome to be outside cheering for runners braving the cold weather conditions.
They offered bananas, water and beer! We are also able to pick out our marathoners and see how they are doing. The first one we saw was one of our new marathoners that was close to the 3:15 pacer. We yelled to him but the look he gave us
meant he was not having a good race. Next we saw 2 of our faster women runners that were running effortlessly smiling at us. I knew those 2 were going to PR! They ended up with Boston Qualifying times! We continued to see more runners,
all smiling back at us and the majority of them were exactly where we expected them to be based on their training. It was awesome to see their faces light us when we called their names.
After we turned and started to head back to Hartford
I noticed the runners in our group were beginning to struggle. I started talking to Diane who was running her first marathon. I started asking her questions to try to distract her. We ended up sharing some of our most embarrassing moments.
I looked ahead and heard Kim saying to another new marathoner “take a deep breath and exhale and relax. Close your eyes a second to reset your breathing and it will come back”. She was really struggling. I ran up next to her and
told her when I struggle with breathing I find certain songs that have the same rhythm as our cadence. I started to sing “It’s all about the base” (which I change to pace) which didn’t seem to work. Next, I did what I do to help
my “Learn to Run” group. Yep, I did it, I pulled the ant song out of my hat. It’s also something that they can use as a “take-a-way” for future races. This is because, if you sing it 2x’s through it’s one
mile. I have to admit that I changed the words to make the song silly so it keeps them waiting for the punch line. This helped Marsha for another couple of miles.
We finally headed out of South Windsor and turned to go back towards the Founders
Bridge. I knew that the finish was close! I was running next to Mike who was trying to break 4 hours as his goal. He was doing fantastic until he started to get a nasty calf cramp. I gave him some salt and tried to encourage him with
all I had to get him to make it up the Bridge. We got to the top and the photographers where there. We smiled and threw our hands up in the air!
Finally we were on the decent of the bridge. I looked ahead and saw Fernanda, one of our
amazing marathon coaches. She had been there all day running in each of our Fleet Feet marathon peeps for the last mile into the finish. This is one of the hardest parts of the marathon. This woman is so awesome! She helped so
many of our runners to keep going when they were ready to quit. I yelled “Fernanda! This is Diane – she’s running her first marathon”! Fernanda cheered for her! She yelled “you got this, you have one more
turn and then it’s downhill to the finish!” It was an amazing moment!
We were finally back out onto Pearl Street heading for the arches. Kim was saying to Diane “This is the when the hair is going to stand up on your arms.
You will start to hear the finish line and you’ll have one more turn to the arches. She just kept going moving along, giving all she had left. Kim said “Diane, up ahead is the last turn, you can see the arches through the trees.
We got you here now it’s your time to shine, finish strong! As bad as you feel, put on that happy face that way you’ll have the most amazing finish line photos! You earned this” and we let her run ahead! I felt like the
mother bear letting her babies run into the wild! It was so cool. We approached the finish line and Kim grabbed my hand and we ran through the finish line! We did it! After we crossed and got our medals we also got so many hugs from
other runners that thanked us. Mission accomplished. 3:59!
The park was
so muddy that I was afraid I was going to slip! It was like ice. We got some food and a beer and headed over to cheer on the rest of the runners. We knew that one of our runners was about a mile out and we wanted to be there when she crossed.
We saw her running towards the finish line. She started to sprint! It was amazing. She crossed the finish line with the biggest smile. Next we saw 2 of our favorite new marathoners come in. First Maria! We were screaming
for her! MARIA!!! Then Sonia came running in with both shoes off with one in each hand and the best part came next. Maria had waited for Sonia to finish. She didn’t leave until her friend finished too. They hugged! This to me
is what this running is all about; camaraderie, love, compassion, sweat, tears and making friends forever!
We even were able to see Pete Hawley cross – this man has ran EVERY Hartford Marathon – 25 times! We were there for the ceremonies
for the 50 state runners that chose Hartford as their 50th state because they heard how Hartford recognizes these runners. We even got to see the 50 state runners that completed this not 2 time but also 4 times! Just incredible.
One of the last runners that came in was Kim Opperman. I met him at the Boston Marathon where he was a finish line announcer. He joked with us at the expo saying “I am going to be the sweeper” and told us he was expecting to finish
in 6 hours. We saw him at the start where the pacers were meeting. To our surprise he was carrying a broom and his bright orange pacer shirt had sweeper written across it. It was so cool to be there when he finished.
He lost his broom somewhere along the way, but completed what he set out to do! 6:00!
What an amazing experience.
I love the Hartford Marathon. The HMF staff, the volunteers, the energy, the fine-tuned detailed race that
has been running smoothly for 25 years. I wouldn’t change anything about this race, well, maybe the only thing I’d change about that day was the weather!
See you next year!