My story begins in 8th grade. I had been playing on the field hockey team, and my coach/P.E. teacher told me that I should really try out for the Cross Country team in High School the next year, since I was a really great runner. Reading between the lines, I realized that meant I was not good enough to make the Field Hockey team in High School! In any case, my 9th grade year I did, in fact, join the X-C team…….and LOVED it. I ran all four years, and was Captain my senior year. My coach, who was new the year I was a freshman, was a great runner himself. He competed in marathons, and I decided then that some day I, too, would run a marathon. Fast forward 25 years…….A few things happened. 1. My husband became an ultra-marathon runner, and indeed is quite an inspiration. 2. I read a book written by Dean Karnazes who ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. Again, indeed quite an inspiration. 3. It was the week between Christmas and New Years 2008. My friend, Amy, convinced me that we should run the Hartford Marathon in Oct. 2009. Realizing that I could follow the 26 week beginner marathon training plan in the book I read (see #2), I agreed with Amy that we should run. I counted back 26 weeks from Oct. 10, 2009 and that brought me to the first week of April. I had three months (Jan.-Mar.) to work on getting in some sort regular exercise routine (3-4 days per week, no excuses). I had a tough time, but did fairly well and by the time April arrived, I was ready to hit the pavement. That training began slowly with a walk/run routine 4 days per week. It quickly progressed and after 5 weeks, I was no longer walking……just running. My long runs were increasing by about 1 mile per week, and by the end of June my long run was 9 miles (with Bruce) after which I developed shin splints. Those shin splints rendered me unable to run more than 4-5 miles (mostly on the rubberized track at Tolland High School) for about four weeks. By this time, to stick to my training plan I should have been reaching 13 miles for my long runs, and we were going on a 16 day vacation to all 5 Great Lakes. The shin splints were healing pretty well (with the help of a massage therapist and my chiropractor, a new pair of running shoes and LOTS of ice). I did run faithfully during our vacation, including another 9 mile run. However, at this point I really had to make a decision. If I really stepped up my already aggressive training plan, I could potentially get back on track to run the marathon. Or, I could not risk further injury (by now I was also faced with an aggravated IT band) and decide to proceed to train for the Hartford HALF marathon. I was disappointed, but realized that if I pushed it, I may not be able to run AT ALL in Hartford. I chose the half.
Well, today was the day. Bruce had made arrangements for our children to spend the night elsewhere since they had early morning soccer games. This way, I could focus on getting (or trying to get) a good night’s sleep and having the morning to just focus on race-prep and not kid-prep to boot. I had been so nervous in the weeks leading up to the event, that I was so relieved the day had arrived! Bruce had prepared a delicious pasta meal for me the night before, and I got to bed early. I had gotten everything ready, so I just had to eat my banana, get dressed and head out the door. We drove into East Hartford, parked there and walked over the bridge to Bushnell Park.
Heading into Hartford
The park was unbelievably crowded and we had a somewhat difficult time getting to the starting area, as there were huge barriers set up where the finish tunnel would be. I wanted to use the porta-potty, but the lines were impossibly long. We found my friend, Heather (who was running the first two legs of the marathon relay), in front of the capital building and I started stretching out. Bruce took some photos (funny how he quickly took on my typical role!), and we met a woman from Florida who, at age 47, was 4 states short of being a “50 stater”. Her goal was to finish all by the time she turns 50. Pretty cool. We soon saw my friend, Lisa, who would also be running the half.
Amie and Lisa
I met a friend of Lisa’s whose group had T-shirts that read “Suffer now, Strut later”. I loved that! I felt like that pretty much summed it up! Although, I realize that much of the suffering took place during the preceding six months of training. It was now after 10am and the race was not starting. A few minutes later, a woman with a beautiful operatic voice sang The National Anthem. I am always moved by such a performance! It was now time to make our way past the many spectators who were between us and the start, and the race began! It was cool to see another friend, Tracy, as the race started. We moved slowly at first…really just a walk and eventually a jog. It was still really crowded all the way around Bushnell Park, and we were being carried by the crowd. Soon Heather plugged in her ear buds and was off to “be anti-social”. Lisa and I stuck together all the way over the Founder’s Bridge into E. Hartford when I made my first stop for a Porta-Potty. I quickly realized that there were 3 available, and with a line of 6 women in front of me….I was not willing to make that long of a stop. Before long, I caught back up with Lisa. I mentioned my need aloud, and another runner pointed out that up ahead there would be another set of Porta-Pottys down in the boat launch area that should still be set up…..though off the race course and down a hill, it seemed like my best option. I knew I would not be comfortable over the next 10 ½ miles without such a stop, so I went for it. Just as I did, I noticed several other people dashing down for the same purpose! UGH, I was too late and had to wait, but I was the first in line, so it was a relatively quick stop. I was back on track! Just around this time, though having taken care of my most pressing discomfort, I started to notice that a toe on my left foot was bothering me. I had also forgotten to start Bruce’s watch that I was borrowing, and already missed the one mile mark, tried to re-set it at the 2 mile mark, but messed up again! Already, I was making rookie mistakes that I had been warned about, but did anyway!! I decided to just watch for the next mile marker and totally re-set the watch. My big concern, and therefore my need for the watch, was to be sure that I was not being “carried” by the crowd to the point that I was running at too fast of a pace that I may not be able to maintain for the duration of the race. Before we headed back onto the Founder’s Bridge back into Hartford, I ran by my friend Mark. He was doing pretty well except that his knees were bothering him a bit. I told him of my frustration with the watch, and he told me we were at a 9:50 pace at that time, so that was good news, as I wanted to be between 9:40 and 10:00 pace. I decided at that point that I would just run, and not worry about the watch any more. I saw Bruce and our friend Carol for a third time in this loop just before I went on the on-ramp to go back over the bridge. With all of my problems and concerns “in check”, I felt like this was the time when I really entered the race. I was thrilled by all of the wonderful spectators out to support the runners. There were cowbells, signs, cheers and more! It truly was the best part of the race, along with the various music all along the race course. There were bands, DJs, bag-pipers, and drummers. I caught up with and ran with Lisa again for a short time as we headed down toward the Meadows, so that was great.
One of the most touching moments was when I was cheered on by a woman on a corner, by herself in a wheelchair, clapping and shouting words of encouragement to the runners. How cool is that?!! Around another corner, and down toward the river I saw a woman with a sign that said “Run One with God”. I told her it was the best sign I’d seen all day. Running along the river in the “Riverfront Recapture” park area was really calming. It reminded me of all of the places I ran on vacation this summer near water……Niagra Falls, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Superior…….it was cool. I got to see Bruce and Carol again after going under the bridge. I was feeling pretty good and strong, except that by this time I realized that there was something more wrong with my toe than just a nail cutting a toe, and it really hurt a lot. Luckily, though, the endorphins were dulling the pain, and I was actually enjoying the run. The turn away from the river brought more cool signs, one pointing out “U R truly blessed”. Yes, indeed. Many other professionally printed signs had famous inspirational quotes and it was a needed boost, as I was starting to feel a bit tired (now just under 10 miles). We head out and around to the Park St. neighborhood. Boy, were there a lot of people hanging out on the streets looking out in amazement at the crazy people running down their street! There was another DJ there with a bunch of guys grooving to the music, one of whom was running enthusiastically in place. I shouted to him that he aught to be in the race! What a big smile I got in return! Soon I was joined by Bruce and Carol, who actually ran with me for several blocks. Bruce had our camera with him in a black case, and another runner asked him if he was carrying his lunch box! Funny! That was a great boost as they were checking in with me to make sure I was feeling good and strong and able to finish out the last 3+ miles. Once they left me, I realized it would be the hardest part of the race, as it was nearly impossible to ignore my throbbing toe and it was now the longest distance I had run in my life! I ran up behind a group of three men who were chanting out some military cadence, and it was just what I needed to pick me up again. I soon realized that I was heading in the direction of Bushnell Park, and the end was in sight. I asked some volunteers handing out water what mile we were at, and they said 11 ½! I thought, “this is the homestretch….I am so close!!”. There were so many more people once we came around to circle the last part of Bushnell Park, I saw Bruce and Carol again, and knew it was even closer! Once I ran by them, I would loop toward the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch and it never looked so beautiful! The crowds were thick and things went into slow motion. I had a little bit of kick left in me, so I went for it and finished strongly. My official time was 2:10:45.
What a great feeling of accomplishment. After I got through the shoot having received a really cool medal and an ING “Finisher” water bottle, I connected with Bruce and Carol. It was so neat to feel what it is like on what has (up until today) been the flip side of the coin for Bruce. We made our way through the crowds and I had the opportunity to take off my shoe to see just what was up with me toe. My 2nd toenail (next to the big toe) was separated off of my toe and it was bleeding pretty nicely! Well, that explains the pain. The good news: sandal season is over! I had really hoped to finish the half before the first marathon runner came across the finish line, and having reached that goal, we went over to see the top finishers approaching. How amazing! We wound up seeing a few friends and enjoyed the end of race atmosphere. I was so thirsty, and couldn't wait to have some cold water. Once that task was accomplished, I got in line to get some food. My friend Mark found me, and we waited in the LONG line together. The food tent was awesome, and though I didn’t feel very hungry……I managed to eat just fine. What a great way to spend a Saturday morning. Six more months until a full marathon?!