For me, marathons are a very emotional experience – I cry when I watch them on TV, I cry when I’m on the sidewalk cheering, hell I cry when I’m running the freaking things. The Hartford Marathon was no different. The gun hadn’t gone off yet and already I had teared up three times. The first was when we were walking to the start line in the pre-dawn mist (sniff, it’s a beautiful morning for a race and I’m so happy I just went to the bathroom), again when I saw the Team Hoyt members rolling through the Start Village (sniff, so incredibly inspiring), and a third time when the race announcer reminded us that we did all the hard stuff and today was about having fun (sniff, alright alright alright. I’ve got 26.2 miles of racing ahead of me). The starting gun brought me back to reality. Okay, I guess I’m about to have “fun” for the next 3+ hours….
A few thousand of my fellow runners and I took off into the streets of Hartford. After 1 mile, the speedy half marathoners turned off, giving us full marathoners some peace and quiet so we could lament that fact that we didn’t sign up for the much less agonizing 13.1 mile option (…or maybe that was just me?). After a few miles of fantasizing about my post race meal — including but not limited to: a chocolate milk shake, a donut, sweet potato fries, and pizza — I caught up to the 3:05 pace group. I’ve never run with a pace group before — I run marathons by myself, completely in my own head, oftentimes oblivious to my surroundings. Since these middle miles were on narrow bike paths, I didn’t really have a choice except to run with the group. I spent a few miles getting frustrated with the giant blob of 20 other runners who were closely following the group leader and his yellow shorts with the red chili peppers. I tried to avoid the group by purposely falling back, only to realize that lagging behind would work to my detriment. Duh. Then, I surged ahead, only to hear the thunderous footsteps of two dozen well-paced runners catch up a mere 1/2 mile later. And then I realized I was “that girl” that couldn’t keep a steady pace. Pace group, you win. We’ve got a whole bunch more miles to go, so let’s have fun together.
Once I accepted that I wouldn’t be running this one alone, I took full advantage of drafting and this camaraderie thing I hear so much about. Miles 12-23 went by SO fast. Thanks to an amazing group leader, our pace never deviated more than 3 seconds per mile. I kept telling myself that if I stayed with the man with the chili peppers on his shorts, I’d finish in precisely 3:05.
Then, mile 23 came around. As our pacer Morgan had done every mile, he announced the mile marker, our split, and our overall average pace. “We just passed our 23rd mile. We did it in 7 minutes and 3 seconds, for an overall average pace of 7:02. Great work everyone.” Something about that 23rd mile announcement made my head and body simultaneously freak the heck out. “Hold up. You mean to tell me I just ran 23 miles IN A ROW and my last mile was in 7:03? NUH UH.” I didn’t quite recover from that freak out, as I watched Morgan and his dwindling crew of 4 runners leave me in their dust at the next water stop. I told myself I only had less than 5km to go. 3 miles. I got this.
And so I thought about Sam for the next mile, about how I would make him buy me all of the ice cream and donuts on the way home (note: I did. And he did.). Then the next mile I thought about my sister and brother-in-law and how I hoped they were getting the athlete alerts and didn’t think I was crying on the side of the road (ahem, not that I’ve ever done that before). Then the last mile I thought of my 2 year old nephew, and how he loved to toast “cheers”, watch mickey mouse, and pretend he was a firefighter/gas station attendant. Before I knew it, I made the final turn and waved to Sam as I crossed the finish line. (Okay, okay. Maybe a tear or two happened somewhere in there, too.)
I finished my 28th marathon in 3:06:26, good for 20th female overall and 3rd in my age group, in a highly competitive Hartford Marathon field. Not my best, but certainly not my worst. But no matter, there’s plenty of time to make changes to the training regimen. The day was about celebrating: I put on my purple compression socks, collected my age-group award and we went straight to Dunkin Donuts.