Race Report: 2009 Hartford Marathon

When it comes to races, marathons are truly a different beast than any other distance I have run, both mentally and physically. We spend months training and obsessing about marathon strategy, but unfortunately sometimes things don’t go our way on race day, which can lead to disappointment. Yesterday I ran the 2009 ING Hartford Marathon with the lofty goal of qualifying for the 2010 Boston Marathon (I needed a 3:15:59 or less), and with the preceding introduction it’s probably not hard to guess that things didn’t go the way I wanted. The purpose of this post, however, is not to wallow in sorrow about a goal unmet, but rather to make it clear that despite my disappointment, the day was a great one and only strengthened my love for this crazy sport that I’ve become obsessed with.

First a bit of background to give you an idea of where my mindset was going in. Prior to yesterday I had run a total of two marathons, both in Vermont (the Vermont City Marathon), with finishing times of 3:43:38 (2008 – report here) and 3:36:12 (2009 – report here). After a summer of more intensive training and mileage than in any previous marathon cycle, and with performances in shorter races that would support my ability to reach my goal (1:29:47 half-marathon PR last November at Manchester City, sub-19:00 5K as recently as August), I was hopeful that a 3:15 would be in play (I’d even run up to 20 miles at under BQ pace just over a month ago). On the down side, I had suffered from a respiratory issue (bronchitis/laryngitis/bad cough) for most of the previous week and a half, and my taper was far more extreme than I would have liked. However, despite the setback, I was confident that I had fully recovered heading into the race.

City of HartfordImage via Wikipedia

Running the Hartford Marathon was very much a homecoming for me. I grew up right outside of the city, my parents still live there (I’m staying with them in my childhood home for the weekend), and I still have strong personal ties to the area. It is for that reason, along with ideal timing (the race coincided with my Fall break), that I picked this particular marathon to run this Fall.

On race morning my Dad drove me downtown to Bushnell Park where the start/finish line was, and he dropped me off with plans of coming back later with the rest of my family (Wife + Kids, Mom, and Sister) to watch me as I crossed the finish line. I spent some time doing my usual pre-race routine of waiting in port-a-potty lines so that I wouldn’t need a pit-stop during the race (which I didn’t), and after heading to the starting line, managed to get a spot not too far back in the pack so that I could avoid the jostling crowd at the start.

The start of the race was fairly uneventful – I settled into a comfortable pace without going out too fast, and felt really good at the outset. One problem which popped up immediately was the fact that the buildings of downtown Hartford messed up my Garmin’s GPS signal, and my average pace recording was way off track as a result – you can see from the mile-split chart below that it recoded my first mile as sub-7:00, and my second mile as sub-6:00.  While I would love to claim that those were my actual paces, I can assure you that they were not (my Garmin recorded the full race distance as 26.66 as a result of the initial problems).

The above mile-split chart also shows that the first 16 miles were remarkably consistent and at sub-BQ pace.  This can be attributed largely to the fact that I joined in with the 3:15 pace group right around the end of mile 2.  There were probably about 20 of us in the group, and I hung on with them right through about mile 16.  My thoughts now about running with the pace group are mixed – the 3:15 pace leader was experienced and helpful, but I wound up running a slower pace than I had initially intended.  It wouldn’t have mattered with the crash that ultimately came, but I think in the future I’ll opt to run solo and stick to my own plan.  The combo of the Garmin freaking out and running a pace dictated by someone else threw me off my game a bit, but certainly had nothing to do with my ultimate and inevitable crash.  On a side note, turns out the 3:15 pace leader finished in 3:21 (probably a lot of reasons why that could have happened), and most of the people who hit the halfway point with me seem to not have made the 3:15 target either (from the newspaper stories this morning, it seems that a lot of people had a tough day out there).

What I find remarkable about the marathon is just how quickly things can go bad.  I felt great through the halfway point, recording a time of 1:37:27 – right on pace for a 3:15 – and was still cruising through mile 16.  The crash came extremely quick, and once it hit, I knew the day was over for me.  As you can see from the splits, I smacked straight into the wall at mile 17, and never again saw a split below 8:00/mile.  I had taken about 2 gels and over 20oz of gatorade by that point, but it didn’t help – I was done.  I faced a tough decision as I saw the pace group head off into the distance – struggle through and try to salvage a strong PR, or switch to run-walk mode and try to lessen the damage to my legs and hasten recovery for another attempt in Manchester, NH in November.  I swallowed my pride and opted to switch to Galloway mode, and it didn’t take long to realize I had made the right choice.  I had absolutely nothing left in my legs – they were deader than they’ve been in either of my previous marathons, and if I’d tried to struggle through I’m not sure if I could have finished.  I had some minor GI discomfort/nausea from time to time, but my legs were really the source of my demise – they just didn’t want to move.

So, for the final 9 miles of the Hartford Marathon, I alternated about 2-3 minutes of running with 30 seconds to 1 minute of walking.  I was actually surprised by the number of others I saw doing the same – way more than I had seen in my two marathons in Vermont.  I leapfrogged a couple of other runners repeatedly, several of whom were also casualties of the 3:15 pace group.  I had some nice conversations with a few of my fellow strugglers, including a younger guy who was in the same boat as me.  We talked for awhile about how hard and unpredictable marathons are, and how shorter race performances don’t say a whole lot about where you’ll finish in the marathon (he was a recent 1:26 half marathoner).  We commiserated about the fact that we wouldn’t be meeting our pre-set goals for the day, but reassured each other that finishing was the most important result, and that simply running race was the true challenge.  I think talking to him pulled me out of my hole a bit and I had my longest stretch of continuous running after the crash while we talked.  Meeting like-minded people is one of the great things about running a marathon, and the support we can provide to one another is truly amazing.  He eventually slowed down for another walk break while I trudged on, and I never wound up seeing him again – I hope he still got his PR.

Print celebrating completion of the Soldiers a...Image via Wikipedia

Most of the final few miles are still a blur to me – I’ve never struggled like that on a run to the same extent.  The positive part of the run-walk method was that my running spurts were still in the 8:00 range, which allowed me to keep most of my splits around 9:00 (give or take).  As I approached the final 2 miles, I quickly realized that even sub-1:30 was out, but knew that a PR was still a possibility if I could keep my splits below 9:00.  I buckled down, chose landmark targets in the distance to keep me running as long as possible between walk breaks, and managed to keep moving forward.  As I approached Bushnell Park and the finish-line, the highlight of the marathon occurred.  I knew roughly where my family would be, and as I approached the final turn that would take me under the Soldiers and Sailors Arch and the finish-line, I saw them all standing on the side of the road (see video below).  Their cheers gave me the final burst I needed to finish strong, and I crossed the line at 3:32:35, for a new PR by about four minutes.

After walking down the finishing chute and picking up my medal, I staggered out into the park and began feeling dizzy and lightheaded.  With my family nowhere in sight and the baggage pickup on the other side of the park (where my cellphone was), I slumped against a tree hoping that I wouldn’t faint.  Having been in the situation before (not running related), I knew what to do and eventually regained my bearings.  I eventually found my sister, and she directed me to where everyone else was, and I laid down on my back to get the blood flowing back to my head.  It didn’t take long before I felt better, and getting some food in the system improved the situation dramatically.  I avoided serious cramping, and after about 30 minutes I was able to walk just fine and I headed over to the playground and carousel where my kids had headed off to play (dad lying on the ground is apparently not a very exciting thing to watch!).

I ended the day as I have at each of my previous marathons – by cheering in the runners who finished after me.  Simply being there to watch the 4:00-5:00 finishers was enough inspiration to get me to lift my head back up.  I had just finished a marathon, and regardless of whether or not I’d met my initial goal, that was something to be proud of.  Now, a day later, I have no regrets from the experience.  My disappointment in not coming close to a BQ is tempered by the fact that I manged a 4-minute PR despite run-walking for 9 miles.  My love of running still stands strong, and despite the pain, I know that I will be back at the starting line of another 26.2 in the not too distant future – possibly as early as 4 weeks from now.  This habit of mine is truly a bit crazy, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world!

Me about 1 hour after finishing the Hartford Marathon.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



Comments

  1. KevinPatrickCoyle says:

    Lots to say Peter.. First, great job on a PR and completing another marathon. I believe you can PR at Manchester. You are very similar to me. I ran Boston this year 3:38.43, NJ two weeks later 3:26.13 and Wineglass the week before your Hartford 3:08.47. I knew I had the ability to BQ because of the Jack Daniels Running Formula Guide which predicts many popular race distances to other distance finishing times. My 1:32.50 Half Marathon 9/26/09 Preidcted i would run a 3:10 marathon, and I ran a 3:08! Also, by looking at your DM posts, you have the ability. Be confident in that. The rest of it is all mental… I ran Wineglass knowing I had the ability but it was up to me to Focus from Start to Finish.

    I have the Forerunner 305 and have the same issue but have seen the avg pace/pace react and can conclude that the distance you ran 26.6 is accurate. (I ran 26.42 in my first two and their were no buildings).

    My plan for Manchester will me similar to Wineglass. Hold a 7:00avg through the half, and then keep it down, trying to not rise above a 7:20. The goal will be to PR but we’ll see with the hills. Lets run together!

    • Pete Larson says:

      We’ll have to meet up in Manchester before the race – lets stay in touch as it gets closer and maybe we can find a time/place in Veterans Park near the start to meet. There are a few others on Dailymile and Twitter who I know are running Manchester (Matt is one – link to dailymile.com…. Are you on Twitter?
      There are a bunch of runners from MA + NH on there who I stay in touch with regularly – it’s a great forum.

      My plan for Manchester is to try a few 40 second walk breaks early on and more regularly throughout, while running at a faster pace in between (around 7:10) than I did in Hartford. If things work out, it might still out me in range for the BQ, just trying to get there in a different way. My legs seem to die around 17 miles and I wind up walking way too much – my problem is that I have the speed to do it, but maybe not the training mileage since I maxed out at 45 in a week (tough to get the miles in with little kids!).

      Maybe we can start together and see how things go from there. I can’t
      remember what Matt is shooting for, but he might be up for it as well.

      Pete

      • KevinPatrickCoyle says:

        Hey Pete, Yea we’ll def stay in touch… When are you planning on going to pick up your race packet? I am not sure if I will come up friday or saturday yet but if you’d like we could do 3 together.. thats what I am going to run the day before and probably 2 days before as well.. I’m not on twitter.. Not really my thing yet.. I’m good with facebook.. Yea, i think the mileage is what really gave me the endurance.. I had a 100+ mile week and most of my weeks were around 65… ttys

  2. Nice analysis of the race, and smart choices, I think, after the bonk – still got a PR despite it all! Congrats! And I’m hoping to see an even better result for you in Manchester! (I’ll be there cheering on my wife and sister in the half, and many friends running the whole). I’ll look for you around the 3:15 mark!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Ernesto – Thanks, I’m in the midst of strategizing for Manchester right
      now. It’s such a tough and hilly course that the realist in me doesn’t see
      it as BQable with only a few weeks to go, so I’m toying with a radical
      change in strategy by running a faster pace and incorporating some of
      Galloway’s run-walk method earlier on to delay or prevent the bonk. -Pete

      • ultrastevep says:

        Peter….best of luck at Manchester. I ran it the past two years and you’re right, it is not an easy one. Some good hills (although easier last year than the first) and it can get cold and windy. The toughest part is when the half marathoners peel off to the finish and you are left almost alone.
        Stay tough mentally and you can have a good race there. Nice finish from around mile 23 on, almost all downhill.

        Steve

        • Pete Larson says:

          Steve- I ran the Manchester Half each of the last 2 years (did a 1:29 there last year – my proudest running moment so far!), and I teach at St. Anselm College so I run on the second half almost every day during the school year. I know the course really well, and am hoping that will help. I’ve heard that the second half can get lonely, but I look forward to it due to
          the familiarity factor (home-field advantage maybe?), and am hoping I can get a few of the St. A’s XC runners to join me for a bit when I pass through campus around mile 20! -Pete

  3. Way to go, Peter. Still the fastest you’ve run a marathon, and strange as it may seem to think about it, it’s good to still have your BQ goal to motivate you. It’s there for the taking next time.

  4. Steve Poling says:

    Great post – thanks for sharing. This helps me in prep for my first marathon. Sounds like you gave it all you got in this race – that is all you can ask for. Kudos!

  5. Oh man !!! I was so glued to your post-race report that my coffee turned cold. I was so absorbed with the report. One thing in my mind – it is difficult to find the right time, the right mood, the right chemistry, the right element and the right mindset to do well on one day of the year – that is doing the marathon. Just one minor glitch in the system and things can go very weird. From reading your report, it sounds like you finished a 4:15 time but its so amazing that you did finish in 3:32 is mind-boggling despites the number of glitches you had in your system. I have been following your progress all year long and like you – I had a great deal of confidence that you would do a BQ this time. I have to say this – I have to commend you for getting the job done and you got the new PR. Now, you have a pretty good idea what you can do for your next marathon – the Magical Kingdom marathon! Who knows? It may be a magical experience for you. Congrats!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks everyone for the kind words!

      @Ted I was confident going in, but as you said, anything can happen on
      marathon day. Despite the fact that things didn’t go how I wanted, it was still a great experience. There’s something so magical about the whole marathon experience that I can’t fathom the idea of not doing another. I’m also very excited to see how yours goes – you’ve been throwing down some great times lately and I hope you smash your 4:15 goal time! – Pete

  6. luckychan says:

    I too do that, every morning before the race starts I go to porta-potties, and lessen my fluid intake. But, running is so tiring so I can’t help but drink water and then go inside a porta-potty, that’s one factor to slow you. But I’m glad that you prevented stopping from time to time for porta-potties.

  7. Pete, I struggle to work the time in too (we have three little kids in the house) but managed to do 55 mile or so weeks this time around by putting two longer runs in midweek (9-10 miles with tempo work, and 10-14 miles at medium long run pace) – at night after the kids hit the hay. Was odd at first, but I eventually really came to look forward to those long, headlamp illuminated jaunts. And add it to your weekend long run and a couple of shorter ones and you’ve got 50+ miles in 5 runs a week. I found the additional long runs really seemed to help my stamina, and my perception of what a long run was!

    But then again, my marathon’s not until tomorrow, so I’ll have to let you know whether it really *worked* or not sometime after I get my post race beer and cheeseburger!

    BTW – I live near St. A’s, have dozens of routes around here – we should try and catch a run sometime. Didn’t realize you worked there.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Ernesto – With your BQ at Lowell today, it sure sounds like things worked out for you! All the more impressive considering the weather -
      congratulations! I ran at night yesterday for the first time in years, and
      could easily see myself doing it more often. Watching the snow flurries
      come down in the headlamp beam was really nice, and the whole experience was relaxing in a strange sort of way. I teach Biology at St. A’s – now in my seventh year, and run around there regularly during the school year. One problem with being a hilltop campus is there’s no way to go without having to do a significant hill on the way back! Are you running in Manchester on Nov. 1? If so, we should try to meet up. A few others on Twitter/Dailymile have suggested this, and we’re going to try to set a spot to meet sometime before the race.

      Pete

      • I’m not running Manchester – but my wife is running the half. I’ll have kid duty ahead of the race, and am bringing them down to watch her finish, so I won’t be able to meet up, but my house is on the marathon course, near the end, so I hope to be out there cheering you all on! I’ll be the one blasting U2 as folks go by.

  8. Nice blog Peter, has made for some very interesting reading, have enjoyed it. I’m 35 year old half-decent runner, with a marathon PB 2:55.
    I started running about 4 years ago and my first half marathon was 1:30:10. I then went on to run my first marathon and clocked 3:29:05 which i was overjoyed at, in running a sub 3:30 for a first attempt. Since then I ran a few marathons and could never seem to better 3:30-3:20. I trained hard, clocked the miles, nice and long on weekends, went to the gym, did yoga, love runnning trails (still my preference) and found a love for ultra trail marathons. I enjoy the just having to complete them as that for me is a test enough without too much focus on the time. then one day I bought a bike and cycled to and from work (26km’s ) most days. Not only did i get there quicker than public transport, but it is a lovely ride with a few hills to keep me honest. this was a massive boost to overall fitness. I then decided to set my sights on a focused training effort for the marathon and for the first time ever started trying to recruit the fast twitch muscles in my legs and did speed work at the local track and tempo/fartlek runs. I cannot emphasize the wonders this does for endurance. There is a definite pattern in your marathons of losing the pace around mile 15. Track work will help loads. Steve’s advice of adding a second run in the day, where you run on ‘used legs’ will also add a lot of endurance. My only other worry for you is that you are doing too much. Finishing a marathon which has physically pushed you past your capabilities, due to hitting the wall, and then picking yourself up for another one a mere month later will not help you get to the BQ time you so desire. Your attitude is excellent and sheer willpower is that of a champion. Mix that with sensible training and you’ll smash 3:15. the greatest of luck to you for Manchester. i hope you get there buddy. If not you will undoubtedly bounce back, because that is in your character, but i’d say, relax for a couple of months – stay fit and healthy and then pick up a ten week intermediate to advanced marathon training plan, incorporating tempo, speed and hill work. maybe cycle more and do a split day or two and it’s all yours. GOOD LUCK!!!! Just to add – there’s a lot of people in the running community who feel walk breaks to be overall detrimental. Psychologically you can fall out of ‘the zone’ and find it hard to get revved up again. I always walk a fast pace through the drinks stops as i would rather make sure i’m getting it in me rather than all over my face -especially the sticky sports drinks. this gives you 15 seconds for some big breaths and a drink and in the long run, excuse the pun won’t affect your time at this level hardly at all.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful and supportive comments! There’s a lot
      of truth to what you have said here – I have been doing speed work in the
      form of intervals and tempo runs, and they have made a huge difference for
      me in getting me to the next level. I owe my 5K and half-marathon PR’s to
      incorporating speedwork into my training. I think one of my problems is
      taking the endurance I have developed and pushing it beyond the 17-18 mile
      mark. There were some extenuating circumstances that came into play in
      Hartford (I’d been sick with a respiratory issue for much of the 2 weeks
      prior to the marathon), but one of the major issues is that my overall
      mileage is still relatively low for marathon training (maxed out above 40
      miles in a week only a few times). I need to really commit to either
      running in the early AM or evening if I want to push beyond that, and maybe
      trying two-a-days is one possibility. You idea of doing some biking for
      cross training is also a good one.

      My goal in running Manchester is not so much as a BQ attempt, but because
      it’s a hometown race that runs through the college I work at, and on roads
      that I frequent. The water stops at miles 17 and 19 are staffed by students
      that I know, and I’ve been looking forward to running the full distance
      after doing the half in each of the past 2 years. I run on the course all
      the time, and know it very well. I’m planning to be smart about the race
      given the quick turnaround since Hartford, hence the idea of walk breaks to
      hold back a bit, and then I have a solid 2+ months before I do Disney in
      January. Should be interesting – we’ll see how things go!

      Thanks again for the comments!
      Pete

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful and supportive comments! There’s a lot of truth to what you have said here – I have been doing speed work in the form of intervals and tempo runs, and they have made a huge difference for me in getting me to the next level. I owe my 5K and half-marathon PR’s to incorporating speedwork into my training. I think one of my problems is taking the endurance I have developed and pushing it beyond the 17-18 mile mark. There were some extenuating circumstances that came into play in Hartford (I’d been sick with a respiratory issue for much of the 2 weeks prior to the marathon), but one of the major issues is that my overall mileage is still relatively low for marathon training (maxed out above 40 miles in a week only a few times). I need to really commit to either running in the early AM or evening if I want to push beyond that, and maybe trying two-a-days is one possibility. You idea of doing some biking for cross training is also a good one.

      My goal in running Manchester is not so much as a BQ attempt, but because it’s a hometown race that runs through the college I work at, and on roads that I frequent. The water stops at miles 17 and 19 are staffed by students that I know, and I’ve been looking forward to running the full distance after doing the half in each of the past 2 years. I run on the course all the time, and know it very well. I’m planning to be smart about the race given the quick turnaround since Hartford, hence the idea of walk breaks to hold back a bit, and then I have a solid 2+ months before I do Disney in January. Should be interesting – we’ll see how things go!

      Thanks again for the comments!
      Pete

  9. Dan Cummings ( TNT ) says:

    Nice wrap up Peter…. The warm humid start and running into the cool wind at the finish made for a tough day in Hartford.

  10. I came across your blog while surfing for reviews of the Burlington Marathon. Congratulations on a PR and I enjoyed reading all of your gripping race reports!

  11. Steve Pero says:

    Peter….congrats on your PR.

    Back in the 70′s I was able to finally get under 3 hours and eventually 2:50 by just adding a 2nd run to the day. It was as simple as that. I began running to and from work and instead of running my usual 7 miles at lunchtime, I would run 5 miles to and from work. That 2nd run made a huge difference in my fitness and running speed.

    My 1978 NYC run was at 3:45….one year later after adding the 2nd run, it was 2:59. 6 weeks later at Cape Cod I ran a 2:49:06! Mileage is “the” most important part of your training, do it over any speedwork, but add a race every couple of weeks for your speed.

    Best of luck in your running,
    Steve (who can barely run a 3:45 now at 58) ;-)

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