Saturday, October 10, 2015

Hartford Half Marathon race report


Up early this morning for the drive to Hartford... A million small highways and one tall toll bridge, but we arrived without a hitch, found one of the designated parking garages (sorta) and even had a little time to kill before making our way to the start village. 

The village was large, with vendors and charity tents and a not-yet-open beer garden. And, of course, banks of porta-potties. I thought this setup was interesting: by grouping them into little sets of four, there were obvious points for people to line up, and none of the awkward "is that mine or yours?" shuffle. Very clever. 


Other great things about this race: we had the option to have our packets mailed. Sure, they dinged us $15 each for the privilege, but it saved us a trip waaaaay out of our way. Also, the shirts were nice and the branding was consistent and handsome throughout. 

We eventually made our way to the starting line and got our race faces on: 


Loved these banners scattered around downtown -- nice to see a city get behind their big event!


The start was pretty crowded; with some 14,000 marathoners and half marathoners all going out together, without corrals, it was easy to see why. 


The national anthem, handsomely sung by a local gentleman (and apparent regular); some nice shout outs to a couple of 50-staters completing their quest, and to the three people who had run all of the event's running a over the years; and then the wheelers were off. 

We started a few minutes after that, but it actually took us nearly 6 minutes to cross the timing mats. 

We found ourselves running in a sea of people, and it didn't really feel like it thinned out much the whole race. We split from the marathoners pretty early, which I liked, because it meant we had our own support system and fan base, rather than feeling second best. 

We ran well, at first, smoothly passing the 2:20 pace group and making our way through the crowds. But the nagging pain in my leg, which I can only think was from my less-than-graceful slip and fall on the Cliff Walk the day before, really woke up and let me know it was there. 

I'll be honest, I don't remember much from the course, other than the fact that a lot of folks along the route were sitting in their front yards, cheering. Nice. 

I do remember winding in and out of a pretty little park with a gorgeous dahlia garden and a cute little "candy stop" with candy and club soda. So fancy! (Also, adorable little boys handing out the cups of club soda!)

By this point I had had to start walking quite a bit, which may have been why a medic on a bike rode over and asked if we were all right or needed some gels. (Maybe I had my "so strong, and so brave" face on...)

More winding, more hills. I focused on high fiving any kids we passed, imagining I got some energy from each one. We passed Mark Twain's house, which was amusing, because I had seen his grave last week. Then, happily, we neared the finish, running through the big arch hand in hand. I can almost always summon up a little trot at the end, even when I am in pain. We finished in 2:36:48. 

this medal is absurdly heavy.

(This pain was weird, because it wasn't in my running muscles... In fact, my quads weren't even tired... Just a weird strain of some sort. Boo.)

Good organization at the finish area: we got medals, space blankets (not necessary, but we knew they would be useful the next day!), and -- and this is genius -- a branded "finisher" reusable bottle full of water. I LOVE this. 


We were then handed a nice reusable bag of snacks, AND pointed toward a runner-only food area, where we had very tasty vegan, gluten-free chili. Thoughtful!

We then attempted to go to the "mile 27" beer garden, which featured a local beer. But the crowds were too big, possibly because non-runners were also allowed in to buy beer. But we didn't really need or even want a beer -- it was more for the idea of it, as usual. So we found a quiet spot in the sun to eat our breakfast, and then made our way back to the car to drive back to Newport. 

This race gets so many things right that I'm going to start with the two tiny things that could have been better. 

1. The pre-race announcer was very marathon-centric,  forgetting, perhaps, that probably half the field was running the half. He also referred to people running their first marathon as "bucket-listers". Umm, maybe they wanted to start running marathons and not just check it off a list?

2. This is super minor, but... The organizers had sent out a very handy parking map, highlighting the different garages that runners arriving from different areas should park in, and showing their prices. We (and lots of other runners) parked in the Constitution Plaza garage... And (after finally finding a staffed exit), were charged $9. (See, I told you it was minor!!!) It was a weird perfection in an otherwise exceptionally run race. 

Now to the awesome:

- the branding was top-notch (and you know how I feel about branding!)

- great pre-race communication

- fun offer: arrive before 6am at the garage, get free gloves. Such a clever idea to encourage early arrivals! 

- did I mention the porta-potty setup? Genius!

- a band was standing outside a bar playing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison" when I ran by; and there was lots of good music along the course.

- all but one water stop was super well organized and well staffed... And there were TONS of them.

- two words: CANDY STOP

- great support from the locals!

- handsome medals, distinctly different depending upon your distance

- well organized post-race food. I wish more races did "bags" or boxes to speed things up

- loved having a hot vegetarian food option

- and I can't stop raving about that water bottle at the finish


It is unlikely that I will find myself in Connecticut again around the time of this race, but it was fun, and if I lived closer, I can imagine it becoming my standard fall race. And that's saying something!



Oh, and ... STATE #32!!!!


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