Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guest Race Report: The ING Hartford Marathon

Name: Szymon
Hometown: Port Washington, NY
Runner since: 2008 

Favorite Recovery Food: Pizza 
Favorite Recovery Drink: Water. Lots of it.

Here is my race report of the 2011 Hartford Marathon.

All in all, I think I was a bit too cocky going into the race. I thought I trained well; I did about 7 runs of 18 miles or longer, with a maximum of 21 miles. I knew I could run at a solid 7:12 pace for 10 miles with no problem, because I have done such a session. But I did not know how the wall would feel, especially after going for miles at a 7:20 pace.

I was very nervous for the race. I always get a bit nervous before races but this was the marathon. I spent the night before up at my wife’s uncle’s house in MA, 30 minutes from Hartford. I was able to sleep for about 6 hours the night before. Woke up at 5:45am. I was nervous as hell so I hit up a coffee and two pop tarts, the breakfast of champions. At 6:15am we left for Hartford. The plan was to arrive at 6:45am, get the bib, use the restroom and hook up with the 3:15 pace group at 7:40am.

We got in at 6:45am, but the XL Center was packed. The line to get bibs was crazy, if only because there was also a 5k and a half marathon happening at the same time as the marathon. We got to the park at 7:30am. It was time to use the bathroom. The lines were so ridiculous that we stood in line for over 25 minutes. At 7:55am I knew I wouldn’t be able to find the pace group in the throng of runners. I dressed down to my running clothes and joined the group. I knew I was going to have to pass a bunch of people so I squeezed through as much as I could. I started the marathon about 4 minutes after the gun went off.

The first few miles were great. Loud music, people cheering. In fact, the start was actually all of the marathon and half marathon runners. I spent the first mile weaving through the crowds. I ran through sidewalks, grass and everything in between to avoid the people on the road. At the 1 mile mark someone yelled “Only 25 miles to go!”. Lots of good energy. At about mile 2 the full and half courses split so there was much less congestion.

2 miles in I felt incredibly good. This is only expected after a solid 3 week taper. I ran the 2 miles at about a 7:10 pace. Fast, but I felt good and slowed it down a bit. The next few miles were ran out of the downtown area, along the CT River and back to downtown. During this time I passed quite a lot of runners including the 3:30 pace group. I felt strong and at about mile 5 I took my first GU. By this time I had noticed that hydration might not be great. Either I felt that the cups were not big enough or did not have enough liquid. I felt I had to take 2 cups at every station at the bare minimum. As an aside, the Gatorade was also watered down. This only presented a minor challenge, but would be a factor when exhaustion set in. I did notice I was running a bit too fast; still at about 7:15-7:20 pace, but somehow I found it too difficult to slow down.

At about mile 6 when we ran over the CT River, I passed the 3:25 pace group. I stayed with them for a few minutes, but soon passed them. The next 6 miles were pretty uneventful. I stayed on about a 7:15-7:20 pace during this time. I ran with a few people during this time exchanging a few words here and there. I first felt the beginnings of being tired at about mile 11-12. I did not think much of it; running 12 miles at this pace is not exactly easy. I passed the half at around 1:35 and change. That puts me somewhere around 7:17 pace. Wow, I thought. I was doing great. If I keep this pace up I may be able to finish in 3:10!

That, was not to happen. At mile 16 I started feeling the miles and I definitely started slowing down. Mile 17 marked a U-turn in the course. This was a point I was looking forward to. From there on, it is just 9 miles straight back to the finish, which happened to be in the same park as the start. The next 3 miles were a bit tough. Slowly I felt my body getting weaker and I felt the pace begin to be more and more difficult to keep up. I had been texting my wife a bit here and there but I send her one word: “Walling”.

I passed the 20 mile marker in about 2:29 and change. This meant a ~7:27 pace. I definitely slowed down a lot from the half marathon mark. At the mile 20 hydration station I grabbed two cups of Gatorade and decided to walk while I drank. I was shocked when my legs almost immediately gave out. I considered myself lucky that I did not fall. After 15 seconds of walking, I turned it into a slow run. Basically, I figured if walking was this difficult there is no point in walking.

The next 2 miles were incredibly tough. Runners passed me. The spectators that were around this point of the course tried to tell me words of encouragement. I high-fived anyone who would, trying to get some motivation but the wall kept on beating me down. My wife kept on sending me encouraging texts, which helped but only so much.

At mile 22 I had to take a walk break again. This time, the walk was about 4 to 5 minutes. It was really tough now because in my mind I knew I wasn’t going to finish in 3:15, not to even mention 3:10. But every minute I walked I doubted my ability to finish in 3:20 or even 3:30. At some point I decided to start running again. Ever since the U-turn at mile 17 I thought my next most encouraging checkpoint would be mile 24. I remembered the exact location in the course and remembered how close it seemed to the end. I continued my slow run trying my best to finish strong. I tried to zone out; to ignore everything and everyone around me. About a quarter mile before the 24 mile marker when I could see it, the 3:30 pace group passed me. This was extremely tough mentally. How could I even think of 3:10 and now the 3:30 pace group passed me?

I kept on running. At the 25th mile, I got some drinks and walked up the bridge. I texted my wife that I passed 25 and walking up. Right after I sent this message I looked at my watch. It said ~3:21:30. I still had a chance to finish in under 3:30. I texted my wife again saying “Coming home baby” and I ran my ass out. I covered about 1.1 miles in about 8.25 minutes, a 7:30 pace until the finish line. I felt fast. I passed some other runners. I had this intense motivation out of nowhere. I saw a few people cramping up and having difficulty and offered some words of encouragement as I passed by.

I passed the 26th mile to loud cheers. Someone sprinted past me. F them. I was just trying to finish under 3:30 at this point. I turned at 26.1 miles and was able to see the finish line. I upped my pace and looked for my wife. I saw her, waved and smiled. She took a photo of me. I kept on running towards the finish. I heard the announcer announce my name as I was steps from the finish and I raised my hand. I finished in 3:29:49, average 8:01 pace.

All in all, the last 10k lasted about an hour or so. Outside the solid effort in the last 1.2 miles, the 5 miles before took me an average of 10:12min/mile, just slightly above my 7:27 pace at 20 miles. When people now ask me what the wall feels like my answer will be: your first 20 miles are at a 7:20 pace and you feel ok, and the last 10k is 2:30 slower and it feels doubly as hard.

After the race I cramped up bad. After my long runs my hamstrings and calves always cramp up, but after this race it was even worse. Initially I was fine. I walked, drank water. But before soon, the pain came and I grimaced in pain kind of rolling in some mud. Luckily there was a free massage available and I immediately asked for one. That, plus a bagel, yogurt and salty chips and finally a beer, are what really helped me feel better.

The first thing I told my wife when I saw her was “who the fuck does this???”, but I honestly can’t wait to do this again.

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