Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Race Report: Hartford Marathon

Marathons in Connecticut are slim picking, especially if you're a "self professed course snob" like me.  While Running in the USA shows as many as nine marathons in the state, all except one, the Hartford Marathon, are courses that feature more than one loop or out-and-back.  So ultimately, Hartford was my only choice for a marathon in the state of Connecticut. And being that it was an October race, including it into my schedule was tough, due to the many desirable races on the calendar for that month.  2018 became the year to do it, especially with my planned 50th state in Oklahoma coming up the following month.

I met Sally Orange through a mutual friend, Frank, at the Malta Marathon in February 2018, and in August, Sally messaged me through Facebook with the idea of coming to the US to do a marathon, as she had realized that she had run a marathon on six of the seven continents within the previous eleven months - all except for North America. Having a couple weekends open in her calendar, she coordinated with me when I had races scheduled in the US, and ultimately, Hartford Marathon weekend worked out for both of us.  And not only that, the Staten Island Half Marathon was the next day, so why not add another 13.1 miles on top of the 26.2 we'd do on Saturday?  Mind you, Sally had an Ironman Triathlon in Barcelona the week prior, so with this goal in mind, she said... why not?!

It was already going to be a crazy weekend, because I had a very busy schedule even leading up to the races.  On Friday evening, a friend of mine was getting married in Brooklyn, so I planned to attend the ceremony then rush up to Penn Station to catch one of the last possible trains to head up to Hartford, a nearly 3 hour trip, before catching a few hours of sleep and then running in the morning. With Sally coming in on Thursday, she was going to head up to Hartford earlier on Friday, retrieve our bibs, and check into the Airbnb I had originally booked, which was OK with me adding another person onto the reservation.  Everything was planned out to a T, perfectly.

The wedding was beautiful (albeit, chilly, as fall in New York can be), and I made it to my train with more than enough time.  All the while, I kept in touch with Sally to let her know where I was.  I arrived at Hartford Union Station and got an Uber to take me to the Airbnb, met up with Sally, and we were knocked out, since the race would start early the next morning.

We woke up to a rather rainy morning, with temps in the low 50s.  Rain was in the forecast, so it wasn't a surprise - but it would put a damper on one of the unique aspects of the race we were going to partake in.  Sally runs all of her marathons dressed as a piece of fruit, a play on her last name "Orange," and within the last year, she has managed to run as a kiwi, bunch of grapes, pear, orange, jackfruit, avocado, and apple, and for this race she was going to run as a lemon.  She brought a second fruit costume, an orange, for me to wear.  But the weather put a damper on that for me, so I decided to not don the costume for the race, as it could prove to unwieldy in the wet weather. We headed out in the rain to the start, in front of the Connecticut State Capitol, barely a half mile walk out the door of our Airbnb, and just minutes before the start of the race.  Since we were doing 39.3 miles that weekend, Sally and I decided to run together, keeping our pace nice and even and not pushing it too hard.  At 8am, we were off and running, heading west on Capitol Street.

Soon, we turned right onto Broad Street, then right onto Farmington Avenue.  We were now just north of Bushnell Park, an area we would be returning to at the end of the race.  Now on Asylum Street, as we passed underneath I-84, we turned onto Ford Street, then onto Pearl Street, passing by the Soldier and Sailors Memorial Arch, which would mark the finish line of our race. On Pearl Street, we continued on through Downtown Hartford amongst the tallest buildings in the city, many of which are headquarters for insurance companies, which makes Hartford earn its nickname as the "Insurance Capital of the World."  Naturally, my Garmin did not enjoy the tall buildings messing with its location signal, coming as no surprise as I run through areas with many skyscrapers. Just as we passed by the Old State House, a 222 year old Federal style building by noted American architect Charles Bulfinch, the course split with half marathoners turning right on Main Street and marathoners continuing along Pearl for one block before turning left onto Market Street, to make our way out of downtown into North Hartford.

Running through Riverside Park
It was considerably less dense after we passed underneath the I-84 overpass, eventually making our way over the Reverend Moody Overpass, the only real "hill" of the course.  Almost immediately, it felt like we were not in a city anymore.  Out of sight (as it was below the grade we were running on) and to the left was the Xfinity Theatre, a 30,000 seat amphitheatre, one of the largest in the country.  Before long, we were turning right onto Weston Street, passing underneath the I-91 overpass and heading south into Riverside Park. After passing through the park's parking lot, we began to run alongside the paved riverfront trail, known as the Riverwalk.  While in better weather, the views of the Connecticut River would be nice, we kept our head down and just kept going.
Riverside Park
Sheldon Street and Travelers Tower
From here, we made our way past Mortensen Riverfront Plaza (a landscaped park area considered the centerpiece of the Hartford's Riverfront park system) and the Convention Center, eventually exiting the trail through a pathway underneath the overpass, and onto Van Dyke Avenue, where we began to run through a largely industrial area south of the downtown. Turning right onto Sheldon Street, we passed the mile 5 marker, with the iconic Travelers Tower (the second tallest building in Hartford) dominating the view ahead of us.  After a slight left continuing along Sheldon Street, we ran westward until turning right onto Prospect Street, to head north back into the Downtown. At Pearl Street (right near the intersection where the half split off from us), we turned right, heading over the Founders Bridge and over the river into East Hartford, where we would be running for the next 19 miles.

Running along the Connecticut River
Founders Bridge is one of three bridges that span the Connecticut River between Hartford and East Hartford. Built in 1957 to ease traffic from the congested Bulkeley Bridge, it was rebuilt in the mid 90s to accompany the riverfront plaza we had passed earlier as we ran alongside the river. We passed the 10K mats along the offramp of the bridge in 1:02:13, a nice and easy 10:01 mile pace, as we began some of the flattest stretches of the course. We ran along Pitkin Street for a few blocks before turning right onto Meadow Street and right again onto Hartland Street, essentially making our way around a complex of office buildings surrounded by acres of blacktop parking lot.  We turned right onto East River Drive, heading north until we detoured onto a sidewalk pathway encircling a fairly nondescript office tower, eventually running on pathways alongside the river and a grassy berm built to combat potential flooding.  This section, as well as the Founders Bridge, is actually an area designated part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000 mile biking and walking route connecting the major cities of the Atlantic coast from Maine all the way down to Florida.

We then left the trail, running back along East River Drive, then made a detour along a long, somewhat circuitous road that led up to a school - it almost felt as if we were detoured to this area to just add the necessary miles.  Once we came back out onto East River Drive, we continued east running through a forested area with nothing but the road taking us anywhere. Eventually, we turned left onto Route 5, East Hartford's Main Street, beginning our journey north.

Sally and I on Main Street!
After more of the same, we eventually turned left onto Carroll Road, finally running through a largely residential area of East Hartford, turning right onto Prospect Street. We crossed Connecticut Boulevard, a largely commercial corridor through the city, but continued northward past the mile 10 mark, as we ran up the two lane road with homes to our right and a jumble of endless forest to our left.  The route gave way to a sad looking industrial area, but returned to residential, and then we turned left to continue northward back on Route 5/Main Street.

Eventually, the route became King Street, and the road became very suburban, with the terrain on small rolling hills.  Here, we encountered the elite runners running towards us, making a beeline to the finish, only two miles away for them.  As they came down another street to our left, we continued on along King Street, past our mile 12 marker.  Now we were in the town of South Windsor, and up ahead we would eventually hit the halfway point, passing the mat in 2:16:22, a 10:25 mile pace.  Eventually, we turned right, and we were now running along South Windsor's Main Street.
South Windsor
Only a couple miles left
We would be on Main Street for roughly four miles heading out to a turnaround point before coming right back.  South Windsor, a former farming community turned suburban town with industrial and commercial districts, has a burgeoning Main Street, and despite the rainy weather, several members of the community were out to cheer us on.  In fact, with Sally in her lemon costume, we got a lot of love from the residents of South Windsor!  While not as densely packed residentially as East Hartford was, the views running up Main Street consisted of lots of green farm land, old trees, and older homes, all on a very slight incline.  After Oxbow Lane was our turnaround point, and shortly thereafter, the 17 mile mark of the race, where a timing mat recorded us crossing in 3:06:44, slowing down to just under 11 minutes a mile.

Main Street
Over the next couple miles, the rain finally started to subside, and the rain was practically over by the time we hit the 20 mile mark.  We crossed that timing mat in 3:45:46, with a sub 5 hour marathon time still in our sights.  This time, we continued along Main Street southward rather than take on the rollings hills of King Street, eventually coming to the point where I saw the elite runners run toward us a couple hours earlier.  We retraced our steps down Prospect Street, eventually weaving our way to Pitkin Street for the last two miles to the finish.

Only 1.2 miles left...
Heading back over the bridge
The Old State House to the right
We pushed our way back up the ramp to the bridge, crossing the 10K timing mat, now doubling as the 25.1 mile timing mat in 4:55:17.  Our speed had slowed enough in those last five miles, so a sub-5 wasn't going to happen, but we weren't disappointed - we still had a half marathon to run the next day!  We crossed over the Founders Bridge with a beautiful view of Downtown Hartford in front of us, as we continued on along Pearl Street, past the Old State House and the final mile marker with the finish line just past the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, the entrance to Bushnell Park which was completed in 1886, and honors the 4,000 Hartford citizens who served in the Civil War, including 400 who died for the Union cause. We crossed the finish line in the park in 5:09:01.

After the finish!
The Connecticut State Capitol
Victory Headstand at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch
Reuniting with friends post-race!
We passed through the muddy park (the rain left tons of puddles all throughout the area where finishers had to pass through), and after getting my headstand photo and some photos of Sally and me with me wearing the dry orange costume (which we retrieved from gear check), we headed back to our Airbnb to shower up and then get ourselves via Uber over to our post-race lunch at First and Last Bakery, a pizza party celebrating my friends Andrew Ruffino and Terri Pignone, both 50 states finishers after completion of the Hartford Half Marathon.  At 6pm, we had a train to head back down to New York, via New Haven; we were tired - I'm pretty sure we both fell asleep at some point in the trip down!  After all, we still had another race to run the next day!
About to head back down to New York!  Bye, Hartford!

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