Sunday, October 12, 2008

RACE REPORT: The 2008 Hartford Half-Marathon

Welcome To Connecticut!

After visiting my girlfriend for lunch on Friday, I made my way up to Connecticut, the 5th state of the union, where the fall foliage is just about peaking and showing its beautiful colors all alongside route 15 and 91.

Map of CT & Closeup....

Hartford, capital of Connecticut, has a mere 125000 citizens living there. It would explain why the city, modeled after something like New York, but on a much much smaller level, is sparse and definitely cleaner.

My first stop was to meet Scott at XL Center, formerly known as the Civic Center. I’ve only been to hartford in my life once before and that was to take my then girlfriend, and former wife Bernadette to our first ever hockey game. It was between the New York Rangers and the Hartford Whalers. The Rangers won that game, and eventually won our hearts, beating the Canucks later on in ’94 for the Stanley Cup.

However, that first trip to the capital was at night, and all we did was go to the game, so I really didn’t see anything else of the city. Too bad. While there are areas (like East Hartford) that I should probably be mindful about, it was overall a quaintly compact place. In the center of it all is Bushnell Park, location of the start and finish of the Hartford Marathon.

The expo at the XL was like an example of the city as well. Sized accordingly, there were your typical energy fluid kiosks, sneaker and apparel stations, and the occasional guest. One of those featured guests was none other than Bill Rodgers, a native of Hartford.

RELENTLESS - "To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month, or even one year - but for a lifetime."

To some of us, Bill Rodgers does not need an introduction. His 4 wins at both the New York and Boston Marathons has made him a legend of the sport. He twice held the American record for the fastest marathon time ever (2:09:55 in 1975 and then again in 1979 with 2:09:27), and holds numerous accolades.
Whereas most people were happy to get autographs, I actually opted instead for a picture and a question. The picture as you see is above, and the question, “For you, what was the hardest part of the New York City Marathon” was answered by something that made me feel pretty good. For his answer was the same as mine, and that answer was, the Bronx.

He actually said that there were not too many people cheering out in the Bronx, and that the sudden quietness was a bit disquieting (paraphrasing what he said). Now that I look up his stats, it’s pretty interesting to see that he ran the New York City Marathon in 1985, when I had posted my best ever time for a marathon at 4:09:47. His time? 2:15:37 and good enough for 7th place overall !!!!

After the expo, I saw his room and said hello to Scott’s dad. Then we headed over to my hotel about 10 minutes away by foot. The promenades surrounding my hotel (Marriott) and the area reminded me of the sets that were used when the Apes revolted in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The hotel was gorgeous (albeit a bit pricey for Hartford).

I dropped my running packet off , and walked back into town to see the finish line of the race at the park, where the organizers were actually painting the finish line on the road. These organizers did a great job in this race, like the ones in Philadelphia. I am beginning to think that the New York Road Runners Club is going to need to take some added measures to ensure that our Marathon in New York is improved upon this year (especially after the runners cross the finish line – which was a DISASTER on ALL LEVELS at last year’s NYC Marathon).

After we finished, we (Scott, his dad and I) all headed over to Mayor Mike’s Restaurant for some fun and carboloading. I was admiring Scott’s ”coolness” since this was the night before his first marathon ever. Just thinking of the undertaking that he was about to encompass, gave me butterflies myself. I remember every time I do a Marathon, it is such an immense undertaking. It might be twice the distance of a Half Marathon, which is what I would do today, but the mental preparation, intensity, and the brutality of the last 10K, makes it more like 14 times harder than a half-marathon.

There's just is no other way to describe it. You don’t run in a Marathon to see how many people you can finish ahead of. You run a Marathon to see if you can even finish. And you probably will, of course....But it is overwhelming all the same.

When we wrapped up, I wished Scott all the best, including that he top my record (it’s a competition thing) and I headed back to the Marriott. I changed and headed up to the 22nd floor, where the pool and jacuzzi where located. With some minor knee discomfort earlier in the week, and since my last 20 miler, I let those jacuzzi water jets home in on that and other areas, doing two 15 minutes sessions. It was well worth it.

After laying out my clothes and getting everything prepared, I was ready to go to sleep. Hotel Wake Up Call? Check. Hotel Alarm Clock? Check. iPhone Alarm Clock? Check. Hey, you can never be too sure. All I have to do is reflect back to the Seinfeld episode where the marathon runner overslept and *shudder*….well, you get the point.

Brrng!!! 5:45am

Within minutes I was ready. I left the hotel in total darkness. It was comforting to see many people mulling around and leaving from the hotel lobby. They were either runners or race volunteers.



LOL..I thought that sign actually had said "Hartford Guidos" instead of Guides...

Brrrr…..It was chilly outside! I would say about 48-50 degrees at best. Good!

Scott was already waiting for me downstairs, and with his Dad, who was freezing himself, made our way over to the park. Mr. Siegel took a spot in the grandstand which was great (unlike NYC where I think you have to pay to squat).

The park was pleasantly LOADED with tents from every vendor imaginable. In fact, it far outdid the expo, and that was fairly impressive. Unfortunately, so were the lines at the Port-O-Sans. And unlike Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, where the desolation of the area easily lends itself to many runners who just relieve themselves upon mother nature, rather than waiting in line for a port-o-potty, Bushnell Park is smack dab in the middle of the populus. Definitely, not a grand idea to unload streams especially with all the police around!

The race line up began on Elm Street alongside the park, and wrapped around the Clinton Street Intersection. It was tightly spaced, without any corrals, and the pace setters (people who hold signs over there head telling everyone what pace group they were in) where hard to find. Among the many speakers prior to the start of the race was ING’s President of Wealth Management. Jokingly, Scott scoffed at that notion that there was any wealth left given the current condition of the economy.

The race began. It was chaos. Too many people packed in too small a street and then having to turn right away. The race almost ended for me right at the starting line too. Someone had left a sweater on the ground and I had to leap over it to prevent from tripping on it, and being trampled by the mass of half and full marathoners behind me.

The first few miles were a lot of fun. As we marched through the city, many locals were out, in force, cheering us on. I even gave someone a high five along the way. However, this did not make up for the fact that despite all of my zig-zagging that the first mile was 8:32. It was a good thing that I wasn’t trying to accomplish a PR either. It would have meant having to shave off 4 seconds per mile off my record pace (or 7:46 per mile) just to have a shot at another Half-Marathon PR (Personal Record).

There were other factors however, that basically told me “Uh Uh, No Way” as well before the start of the race.
1) My personal best was in Philadelphia on an extremely flat course.
2) My knee was bothering me for nearly 2 weeks, and I hardly trained for the last entire week.
3) I weigh 166 pounds.
That’s right. I am 6 pounds over my normal weight. Guess that’s what happens when one carbo loads for a race…..and doesn’t burn anything off… Well, like….DUH!

Mile 2 though was a storming by this stormtrooper. 7 minutes and 26 seconds. Best of all I didn’t feel tired. Worst of all?

Did I forget to mention point 4?

4) Disregard what the map says about Highest Elevation:112 feet and Lowest Elevation: 12 feet. There were lots and lots of shitty little hills in this Hartford half.

Yeah, so unlike the Full Marathon, where you do nothing but go uphill slowly from mile 3 until mile 8, the half course, has nothing but little shitty hills all along the trail. Some of the hills even curved, and at one point I nearly ran over a dead and thoroughly squished animal. Squirrel or racoon. Honestly, it was that badly unrecognizable.

Mile 3 – 7 minutes 25 seconds
Mile 4 – 7 minutes 50 seconds
Mile 5 – 8 minutes 06 seconds.

Hmmm…I am beginning to notice a trend here……

In Miles 6 (7 minutes 59 seconds), which was all downhill, and Miles 7 (7 minutes 56 seconds), which was flat, I was fighting hard to stay on top of my game. But it was getting hard. The several factors above were beginning to wage war with my head, and my body. I felt ripe for the taking, almost like when Tony Montana is standing on his baclony at the end of Scarface. It would only be a matter of time, before I would be toppled into the abyss of bad splits ahead. Worth mentioning was the abandonement of sound during mile 7, and the crossing of train tracks!

Not helping matters any was the desolation of Mile 8 ( 8 minutes, 15 seconds), Mile 9 (8 minutes, 33 seconds), Mile 10 (8 minutes, 38 seconds) and Mile 11, which at 9 minutes and 15 seconds for that split, all but crushed my hopes for some Rocky-style miracle.
Mile 11 was the last of a three mile climb, and was by far the steepest – about 70 feet up.

At this point, like I always do whenever I am not happy with my output, I start to search for reasons for my abject failure (lol). I was kinda beating myself up mentally for not having studied the course map in advance. The last two miles….uphill? downhill?

I was reciting in my head that I would bust out once I got to Mile 11, and I did….sorta…but it was not sustainable.

Then, and on Capitol Avenue, I finally got the last-kick thrusters going. It felt good to know I still had a little in the tank (Mile 12 – 8 minutes 45 seconds). And then....that’s when the bottom fell out….

Despite the fact that I was doing my GU gels (15 minutes before start of race, 34 minutes into the race, then again at 1:10 and 1:30), and my gatorade at most stops, and that I had already popped 4 Endurolyte pills, and ate half a banana before the start of the run……..

I developed muscle cramps.

I had feared the worst, and the worst had finally arrived. It started with my right toes. They started to feel like they wanted to curl inward.. Before long this sustained annoyance began to blossom into a full-blown cramp that shot all the way up my right calf. Ever wonder why I have yet to finish a marathon in under 4 hours, yet I can do a half in less than 1 and ¾ hours? This is why.

I finished Mile 13 in 8 minutes 23 seconds, and that might have been faster had the last 2/10ths of it been limpless. I felt like some kind of freak show as I approached Bushnell Park for the finish line. Bonnie, had mentioned about someone in our club who had some horrible physical condition affect him with like 1/10th of a mile to go. Did that somehow slip into my sub-conscious? No. The root cause today was my never-ending and misbehavin’ muscular system. UGH! If any doctor is in the house, PLEASE what do I do to prevent this from happening again? Okay whine time over….To continue….

The last 1/10th of a mile – 1 minute 21 seconds (hobbling like a wildman)

….And, as I hobbled towards the famous Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch that was built in 1886 in Bushnell Park, I began to look around to see if my girlfriend was cheering me on with the rest of the spectators. She mentioned about leaving her home earlier that day to meet me. I was so nervous about having her find parking, that I only text messaged her 16 times giving her detailed directions, etc. LOL.

Much to my pleasure, I saw her, and suddenly that pain went away *somewhat*. Geez, I have got to figure out the root to this cramping nonsense. Could it be the cool weather perhaps? We met up, and it felt great to be watched at the finish line and cheered upon too. For me, this race definitely had a silver lining at the end.

The one thing I was totally impressed at the finish line, besides the medal you see above (great ribbon by the way!), was the 40-person water bubbler after the finish line. They weren’t kidding when they said that the Hartford race was the “greenest” race in the US. No wonder why those handout cups felt strange too. I learned that they were made out of corn! Salt and Butter, Yo!

I did not want to miss Scott finish his marathon, but I was in no condition to just hang out for 2 and half hours, either. We went back to my room (good workout ---- post-race walk) where I showered and changed into something comfortable and headed back out to the park.

In the park, we met up with Mr. Siegel to watch Scott finish his race. I had drawn up signs that we held up to cheer him on. The dude had come a long way in 10 months, and despite the very realistic possibility that he might have broken my PR today, I was really rooting hard for him to do so.

The course, however, proved to be as unforgiving to him, as it was to me. Thus, he did finish just a little bit slower than what he might have wanted to finish at before the start of the race. Then again, when asked afterwards, he seemed thrilled to have done as well as he did. He finally now knows what it takes to go that last 10K. Congratulations, Scott. You are now a marathoner.

There is one thing that he got a lot of raves for across his run, and that was the shirt that he got at Jack Rabbit Sports. He mentioned about all of the wonderful comments he got as he ran with the Obama-thoner technical T that he wore. Cool. I feel like wearing one of those myself…LIKE IN TEXAS….. WHERE IT REALLY COUNTS!!!!

After the run, my girlfriend and I hung out at the park for some post race festivities. We had some free beer and just walked around and enjoyed the fun and the beautiful brilliant sunshine. We had a great time.

Later on, we met up with the Siegel’s to have a late lunch at Mayor Mike’s. This time I had a Porterhouse Steak. I figured, damn the weight, I needed quality protein here! Afterwards, my girlfriend and I made it to the Athenenum Museum, enjoyed ourselves there for a little while, and the day was complete.

All in all it was a perfect day in Hartford in every way (well almost - No PR). Who knew that Hartford would be such a nice little city?

The photos should be available online by october 17th.
Here is the website for it:

Also, the website for the Hartford Race is here:
And my final results are here:

Overall, here are the stats:

This was my 88th race, my 18th this year, and my 20th Half Marathon. Of those 20 Half Marathons, the result today was my 7th best with a total time of 1 hour 48 minutes and 48 seconds. My pace was 8 minutes and 18 seconds per mile.

I finished 648th of the 3120 Half-Marathoners (though at least 6500 runners on the course, since more than half were Marathoners). In my gender, I came in 458th out of 1436 male runners, and 66th out of 210 male runners in my age (40-44) group. This was not a flat course, and while the crowded start was a huge negative, the weather definitely cooperated today for the half-marathoners (full marathoners, like Scott had to bear part of the midday sun).

There are only 20 days separating me from "Godzilla" now.....


DebbieJRT said...

Great race report. Too bad about the cramping. See ya at the big one - I'll be at mile 14, handing out water!

DGA said...

Very nice picture with Bill Rodgers. I did not know you had time to goto the Museum! Good!

Carboman said...

Hi Alex, in case you don't know, the NYCM bib numbers have been released. Just login to get it. From there you'll know which corral you're allocated. I'm in A Corral, Blue Start, Wave 3.

17 more days. Happy training!