Saturday, October 12, 2013

ING Hartford Half-Marathon Recap

~2 mile w/u
Target: 13.1 miles @1:17:30 or faster; first place New England's Finest division
Actual: 1:17:37 (chip), 1:17;40 (gun), first place NEF, fifth place overall
Official results; Race day results 
Total: 15 miles

On paper, this race looks like a success for me, and I suppose it was. My time and place were both respectable, and I can tuck away the fitness gains as a step in the right direction toward a successful marathon in two months' time. But reality, as per usual, was much less rosy. Simply put, this was hard. Not just in the final minutes or during the last 5k, but almost the entire time. In fact, I can distinctly remember first wanting to drop out around mile four--and then repeating that same thought/wish/plea about 10 more times before the finish. Thanks to Jordan's encouragement I stuck it out, but it wasn't pretty.

Before all that, however, I had a lovely few days in Hartford--thanks in no small part to the New England's Finest program, which provided the hotel room, travel reimbursement, a hospitality suite and a pre-race dinner. Jordan was working the expo with Marathon Sports, so we actually headed out of town on Wednesday afternoon so he could be in place for the following morning. I was fortunate to be able to work remotely from our hotel on Thursday and Friday, which meant I was able to avoid any last-minute stressful travel or hassle. By Friday afternoon, several of our other friends had arrived from the city, and while Jordan finished up at the expo I was able to enjoy the surprisingly tasty pre-race pasta dinner with BAA friends Stef, Brian, Hilary (defending Hartford Marathon champ) and her boyfriend. For some reason Stef and I were the only ones drinking wine, but I felt good about it. After dinner we met up with Sarah and attended the pre-race technical meeting where we were able to scope out who else would be toeing the line and listen to the standard race morning instructions.

Oh, just a LIFE SIZE poster of me on display at the expo. Can't wait to frame this bad boy and hang it in our living room!

After an early lights out and an uneventful pre-race routine, it was game time--or so we thought. I scrunched my way to the front of the starting line behind Jordan (racing for free courtesy of the "companion's entry" provided by NEF), Sarah and Hilary, preparing for the gun to fire, but instead our ears were treated to what had to be the longest, slowest, most elaborate version of the National Athem ever to precede a race start. Not to be outdone, the race chaplain (that's a thing?!) then graced us with a prayer that rambled through a litany of bodily considerations and woes. He left no stone unturned when asking the Holy Father to protect and guide us as we made our way through the city streets, bringing back to light the worst-case-scenario horrors that most nervous racers had only just managed to successfully suppress from their consciousness. "May their muscles and sinews not fail, may their feet not be ravaged with blisters, may their vital organs not systematically shut down one by one, may their pre-race oatmeal not plunder their bowels like vengeful intestinal pirates..." Okay, so I may have exaggerated on that last bit, but only slightly. Sarah, Hilary and I were trying our hardest to avoid eye contact and suppress giggles, lest we be smote with the very afflictions he was so graphically trying to ward off. Finally, three minutes later, his supplication ceased. (Don't think three minutes is a long time? Start your watch now. Sweet baby Jesus himself would've grown weary.) Surely now it was finally time to--"AND NOW, PLEASE DIRECT YOUR ATTENTION TO THE DANCERS!"

Sometime approximately 38 minutes after I'd squeezed into a spot at the starting line, now most assuredly already needing a quick bathroom break, we were finally off. I tried not to get swept away with the eager frontrunners and instead allowed Jordan to settle us into an easy rhythm. The first 5k threaded its way through downtown Hartford, then began a two-mile climb that was probably gentle but unfortunately found me already laboring. I regained some momentum after passing another woman somewhere in the sixth mile, but by halfway I was seriously hurting. Now, don't get me wrong; I'm no stranger to pain. Heck, in the last few miles I welcome it. But to already feel this bad, this early in the race, running what was not at all a pace I shouldn't be able to maintain? I was on the precipice of disaster. It was so bad that somewhere around mile eight I actually gasped out loud to Jordan, "Something is wrong with me!" I simply shouldn't have been feeling this way.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was when Jordan decided to snap me back into the race the only way he knew how--by dropping the hammer. Our next mile split--albeit downhill--was close to 5:40, and somehow I managed to hang on. In the subsequent minutes my energy level and morale ebbed and flowed--if nothing else, I'd finally banished all thoughts of dropping out--and despite there being no women anywhere near me in either direction I began to feel a resurgence of my competitive juices. With a few miles to go, I had visions of really picking up the pace and finally settling into the groove I'd been struggling to find the entire time. This adorable notion came to a screeching (or, more realistically, shuffling) halt right at the 12-mile marker, when I came face to face with a long, gradual, unrelenting uphill for almost the entire final mile. These are the times when I'm glad I don't personally wear a Garmin, because I'm embarrassed to see what that split must've been. Kudos to the full marathoners who finish in the same fashion, because it was soul-crushing enough at the end of the half. I haven't been this relieved or disappointed in myself when crossing a finish line in quite some time, equal parts thrilled to be done and perplexed by why my best effort today was so, well, underwhelming. I've got a long, long way to go before I'm ready to race 26.2; that much is clear.

But who has time to pout when there's so much action going on? I spent the next few hours enjoying the refreshments in the elite tent and waiting for my marathoning friends to finish. Local standout Erica Jesseman crushed her personal best and the NEF record with a blistering 2:38:13, followed closely by Hilary just a few seconds off her Boston PR in 2:39:40. My newest training buddy Sarah Bard destroyed her previous best by a whopping two-and-a-half minutes to finish third overall in 2:43:16, just a quarter of a minute shy of the 2016 Olympic Trials standard. On a faster course I have no doubt she'll hit it, and I'm already sending her some not-so-subliminal messages about joining me at CIM in December. It was also cool to see Karhu devotee Alicia Eno, whom I met the previous day, break the 3:20 mark in her 88th lifetime marathon. I'll be happy to finish my fourth later this year!

Stef, me and Sarah in the elite tent post-race. Why does the one of us who just ran a full marathon look the freshest?!

Speaking of finishing, for the rest of the day my final placing seemed to be a little bit up in the air. The "unofficial" race day results (which were, incidentally, emailed out to each participant in what seemed like a relatively definitive fashion) listed me as fourth (and still do, for some reason), yet I was almost positive there were four women who'd crossed the line in front of me. Did one person somehow drop out without me realizing? Was she disqualified? Registered for the wrong race? Or were the race day results simply incorrect? I wasn't invested in the outcome for reasons of personal pride or satisfaction, but simply because there would be a somewhat significant difference in prize money if I were to be ultimately listed as fourth instead of fifth. After a few emails back and forth with the timing company, it was confirmed the following day that I had indeed finished fifth as I'd originally thought. I guess these winnings will only buy me one Anthropologie dress instead of two!

In all seriousness, I had an amazing experience at the race this weekend and I'm incredibly grateful to the Hartford Marathon Foundation and the New England's Finest program for supporting local and regional elite/sub-elite athletes. This is truer than ever now, on the heels of several large organizations (cough Competitor Group cough) cutting funding and support for runners like us. Thank you, Hartford, for realizing that it matters, and that we matter. For as long as you plan to continue the NEF program, I hope to participate!