Saturday, October 11, 2014

2014 Hartford Marathon

How Hartford came to be.

Like the good runner than I am, I started looking at and planning my races for the fall around April. I wanted at a minimum 3 races. I assumed I would be running in the Putnam County Fall Classic again in mid-September. I wanted to sign up for the Westchester Running Festival since it was on the Bronx River Parkway Trail; taking place in October, the foliage should be gorgeous! My cousins were suppose to sign up for this one last year, but they accidentally signed up for Yonkers. No harm done. I wanted to correct last years error, if you will. 

That left me with the task of finding a full marathon. This presented a challenge. I was wishing and hoping and dreaming and praying that I would be one of the lucky ones who were selected to run in the NYC Marathon via their sweepstakes raffle. The drawing took place on my birthday, but NOPE! 
My most recent marathon/NYCRuns experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I did not want to travel into the city for a race because figuring out bib pickup (if there is no mailing option available) and getting to the race is both exhausting and time consuming. There really are not many options less than an hour away from me. Yonkers was an option, and while I did enjoy the job that NYCRuns did putting on that race, I really really did not want to run a looping course. That was one thing about Yonkers I did not enjoy. And those 5 loops around Central Park in February solidified that I DO NOT want any more looping course races!

I browsed all my running websites in search of something else and nothing. That is except Hartford. 
The Hartford Marathon is one that I've had my eye on and have wanted to run since my first season of racing in 2012. When I was interning in the city, I would grab an issue of Competitor every month and read it cover to cover. In each issue, there are pages of upcoming races all over the country, and the Hartford Marathon and Half Marathon always stuck out to me.

Per Google maps, Hartford, Connecticut is about 90 minutes away from me. I tried to convince mom to take/accompany me to Hartford...but that did not go over so well. Ugh! 

Registration for Putnam wouldn't open until later in the summer (the date was not even announced yet) so in the meantime I registered for the Westchester Running Festival, slightly hesitate because when I looked at the date it was the day after Hartford. I was going to wait to register for Yonkers until the last day before the first price increase. I was hoping maybe a twist of fate would work in my favor. Back to the original plan of 2 half marathons and Yonkers

That is until one night one of my friends asked me if I was running in the Hartford Marathon. 
No, don't remind me. Turns out, a few of his family members would be running and he was kind enough to offer me a ride. Say what?! Obviously I took him up on his offer! (on a night that turned out to have some deeper significance after this too, but that's another story)

I registered for the Hartford Marathon within the next couple of weeks, with the very handy "Mail my Bib" option and we were in business!!!

The road to Hartford.

My ultimate goal and focus for the spring and summer was Hartford.
Hartford, Hartford, Hartford. This is what I was training for. 
The September half marathon would be warm up, and the now "LOL @ me" race the day after was just that, a joke. It had no significance, even though I had every intention of running in it because that's just what I do. I already completed a back-to-back half and full during Walt Disney World's Marathon Weekend in the form of Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge. So I figured a back-to-back full and half would be...easier...?

The road to Hartford...wasn't exactly a smooth one. Almost the entire spring and summer I was battling an injury in the form of a trigger point (a muscle knot) in my left calf. It never truly went away, no matter how much or how little I ran. I also felt like I was not running as much as I did the previous year, but when I looked at my weekly and monthly mileage, the miles were there. 

That is until we arrived at July. 

I took a small stretch of days off to try to rehab my calf. That didn't work. It was no better the next time I went out. I tried rehabbing by going to the track and running on a flat, rubberized surface. My calf seemed to feel better when I was running on the track, but the pain returned as soon as I hit the road again. Now that we were halfway through the summer, I started to freak out every time I thought about October and the marathon. One Saturday in particular, I headed out for my run with every intention of getting some double digit miles. I had to cut it short at 2.5 miles. My calf was killing me, both knees were hurting and my gait was atrocious. This calf pain and injury was now starting to become a more serious concern to me, something more long term with respect to my overall running. On top of that, I felt like I had completed none of my intended marathon training thus far. 

Since running is, for the most part, a solo thing for me, and since no one in my inner circle is a runner, I usually handle every aspect of it by myself. 

But for this...I had to, I needed to talk to someone about this. So I reached out to my friend. I was distraught over this, and he advised me that it may be a good idea to see a sports medicine specialist, because serious marathoners do this :P After getting someone's else perspective on the problem, some solid advice, and having a breakdown and panic attack over the situation, I did feel better. I knew what I had to do now and it was definitely something I wanted and needed to do. I located a doctor, but getting there would be difficult with my work situation.... In the mean time, I came up with another solution to the injury.

Ice baths!

Followed by a lot of quality time with The Stick.
I slowly started adding more weekly mileage, followed by a date with the tub and the stick after every run and things started to get better. Soon...the injury started to subside so I started focusing on marathon training again. I made some changes to the original plan since I was now running (no pun intended) out of time, but I felt good.

Race Week.

I start scoping out the weather situation (for any occasion) at about 10 days out. Initially, race day weather was looking fabulous with 70 degrees and sunshine! That changed quickly. The closer we got to race day, the more it looked like it was going to be in the high 50's and rain. I didn't know what I was wearing so I laid out all the possible running clothes I would ultimately choose to race in. I laid out multiple options for both days. I made the final decisions on Thursday night. I packed up my race bag with everything I needed for the race, back up clothing options, and clothes to change into after the race.

By the middle of the week, I ceased my weight training. The entire week I was focusing on stretching...along with some breathing, relaxing and visualizing. For what I believe was a combination of factors, I felt really nervous about this race, a type of nervous I've never experienced in my running career. Friday arrived and my lower back was bothering me as soon as I woke up. This happened from time to time over the summer and it was never anything that affected my running, but this time it was a concern to me because my lower back tends to be a problem during marathons.

After a good stretch session, I went to bed early Friday night, in my races clothes, ready to see what the next day would bring.

Race Day.

I rolled out of bed at 4:45am ready to go. I met up with my friend-driver-race companion near the border of Connecticut, and we were off! Since my friend came super prepared, we parked in the area that was less than a half mile away from the start. We chilled (aka kept warm) in the car for a bit until it was time for me to get ready and head to the starting line.

The wheelchair division headed off 5 minutes prior to the start of the half and full. They started playing music at this time, and in this moment a sudden rush of adrenaline and excitement came over. That atmosphere gave me a similar feeling I got during WDW Marathon Weekend. For the next five minutes, I was just in a total state of focus. 

Finally it was time to start. Despite the rain and weather conditions, I started off very well! The first couple of miles took us through downtown (?) Hartford; since it is city-esque, I imagine that's what some of the NYC Marathon feels like. A majority of the race continued well for me. Mentally, emotionally, and physically I felt fantastic, and was keeping a 10 minute mile pace up until mile 19/20 or so. It wasn't until then that my pace started to slow slightly. My legs and muscles started to hurt and tighten, but not so much that I had to stop for walk breaks unlike previous marathons. This started to have an impact on me mentally and emotionally around mile 21/22, which only got tougher the closer I got to mile 25. 
I knew I would finish. 
And I knew I was going to keep running. 
Nothing was stopping me from finishing.
I just tried to get my mind off of the pain and exhaustion and focused on.....running! And finishing!

I really felt like I was going to cross the finish line and just burst into tears from the pain, cramping, exhaustion, cold, wetness, and also out of pure joy for how well I was doing compared to Yonkers and Central Park. 

My pace was well over 10 minutes by mile 22/23. My earbuds crapped out on me around mile 23. At around miles 24.5, I caught up to a pair of men running together holding onto a lanyard. I could finally make out what their shirts said - one of them was the guide, and the other was a blind runner. If seeing a blind man at mile 24.5 of 26.2 isn't inspiring to you in many different aspects of life...then I don't know what is.

Mile 25 came, and something that I can not even explain came over me. I started picking up speed. The more I ran, the faster I was running. Suddenly, my legs no longer hurt or ached. I made it to the top of the hill and started the descend, continuing to run faster and faster. I was probably running at my usual pace of 7:50 or so once I hit 300 meters left of race. Then 200 meters left. Then the finish line.
And no, I didn't cry. They had space blankets ready for us, and I swear for the first time ever, I felt it working. It was much needed after running in the rain for almost 4 and a half hours. You had to walk a little bit until you were handed your medal and a cool water bottle.
I met up with my friend at the 'exit', where I got a hug and my first opportunity to show off my medal!

I really enjoyed this event, and it is without a doubt one of my favorite races thus far in my race career. It will forever hold a very special place in my heart. I would relive every moment of this race in a heartbeat, rain included. All the highs and lows...the pain, anxiety, and excitement. Everything. I would not change a single thing.

The feelings and range of emotions, both good and bad, that I experienced before, during and after the race....for me, that what this is all about. And I can't wait to run a marathon again because I will draw on the emotions and memories from this race as a reminder to what I am capable of.

FINALLY earned that race tee!

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