I ran my first ever full marathon this past Saturday, October 11th in Hartford, Connecticut. The Hartford Marathon took place in the state capital and provided scenic views of many city landmarks.
My parents and I rented a car for the weekend and set out to Hartford late Friday afternoon. I was indifferent about attending the race expo but still hoped to attend at least some of it before it ended at 7PM that evening. My hopes where shattered when our drive, which should’ve taken 2.5 hours max, ended up taking 4.5 hours! The traffic was insane and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen bad traffic, trust me… I kept my cool for most of the drive but panic set in when we all started having legit concerns about making it to packet pickup before it closed at 9PM. We definitely cut it close! I ran in at 8:30PM, snagged my bib and long-sleeved race shirt, and we drove to our hotel for the night (Fairfield Marriott in Manchester).
All the anxiety made me lose my appetite for the evening and my “dinner” ended up being a bunch of grapes with a scoop of peanut butter. At least I managed to force-feed myself some food instead of going to sleep on an empty stomach!
Speaking of food, my fueling approach was as follows:
Monday – Wednesday: I ate as I normally would but added in a few extra carbs in the form of pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, and my Recovering Runner’s Rice Crispy Treats
Thursday: This was my carbo-loading day where I ate plenty of bread, pasta, cake/candy, and fruits, and supplemented my meals with chicken and eggs. I avoided dairy completely but still ate greens.
Friday: I ate my normal breakfast of a fried egg over avocado toast. Lunch was a simple bowl of chicken, sweet potatoes, avocado chunks, and a fried egg. Dinner was…non-existent (see notes above). I avoided all veggies/greens.
I felt oddly calm in the days leading up to the marathon, but anxiety hit as soon as my head hit the pillow on Friday night. I tossed and turned for almost 1.5 hours until my mom finally gave me Valerian around 1AM. 4.5 hours of sleep was good enough for me! I woke up at 5:30AM and started my morning routine with a simple breakfast of peanut butter + banana slices + honey over toast (I used Ezekiel sprouted whole wheat) with a side of coffee.
(pardon the hideous chipped nails)
Nerves started getting the best of me and my stomach made this known. Hey, at least I didn’t have to worry about having to do a pitstop during the marathon! (TMI)
The weather report was exactly as I expected – rain rain rain and more rain! I eventually settled on wearing shorts, a long-sleeved top representing Fred’s Team (the organization I was fundraising with), my Brooks waterproof jacket, a hat, my FuelBelt, and Brooks PureFlows. I lubed up, said a little silent prayer, and it was time to go! We arrived on scene to Bushnell Park, parked the car, made a quick Port-a-Potty pitstop, and walked towards the start line.
It was already drizzling outside and I felt slightly cold, but the rain didn’t really bother me. I hugged my parents goodbye and lined up with the other runners at 7:50AM. At this point I made a sudden decision to start fueling and ate half of a Shot Blok while waiting to start.
For those wondering, my fueling strategy was simple: I would take half of a Shot Blok (already pre-cut) every 2 miles with water and consume 1 salt pill every hour. This totaled to ~6 full Shot Bloks (6.5 to be exact) and 4 salt pills (1 salt pill was taken before leaving the hotel). I alternated between the Citrus and Chocolate Cherry Shot Blok flavors to spread out the doses of caffeine from the cherry flavor. I also carried water with me and took sips every half mile.
The gun went off at 8AM on the dot and we were off! There were about 2,000 marathon runners total but it took me only five minutes to cross the start line.
I immediately noticed that my legs felt great – no lead-leg syndrome! I guess there really is something to this whole taper thing because my legs definitely felt fresh and weightless. It continued to rain but my hat helped me quickly forget about it as I set into a comfortable pace that hovered around 10:15 min/mile. Heartburn hit at mile 2 and continued to bother me for the remainder of the hour until finally disappearing. We ran through the town and settled onto more residential roads before running a few gorgeous miles along the river. My Garmin soon stopped matching the mile markers and I noticed it marked each mile about 0.1 miles before the actual marker (it would eventually grow to a 0.2 mile difference). I honestly don’t remember much of this course segment because I was focused on assessing how I felt and whether my current pace was maintainable.
Believe it or not, these were the toughest miles of the entire race. The arch of my left foot started hurting around mile 5, which immediately flooded me with extreme anxiety. And when I say extreme I mean extreme. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced during a run. Negative thoughts of dropping out filled my head and my heart rate shot up to the point that my heart was actually physically hurting. I know, the pain sounds scary but it runs in my family and isn’t a major reason for concern, I promise. However, it felt crippling at this point and I was holding back tears of stress for miles. The arch pain felt serious at times and each painful step threatened to shoot me into a full-blown panic attack. I never felt the need to stop (and never did during the entire race) but battling against my own mind was extraordinarily tough. I considered swapping out my shoes for the Saucony Cortanas and decided that I would ask my parents to bring them for our second reunion if the pain didn’t go away by the halfway point.
Hitting double-digits was a huge mental barrier-breaker. My left foot continued hurting and my right foot soon joined in the fun, but I did my best to shift my attention towards seeing my parents. We planned on our first reunion being at the halfway point, so I kept my eyes peeled at mile 13. I approached a large group of people and immediately spotted my parents screaming my name! Oh what a mood booster and motivator! Words can’t express how thankful I was (and still am) for my parents’ support. It was only after passing the 14 mile marker that I realized my foot pain completely subsided and I was essentially running pain-free…no shoe swap was necessary. Talk about a mental mind f*ck! I should also mention that at no point did any other part of my legs hurt. This was pleasantly surprising considering I struggled with occasional knee pain this entire training cycle! No complaints though, I’m incredibly grateful. I relaxed a bit after seeing my parents and even allowed myself to speed up a bit for the first time all morning.
Mile 13.1 = 2:14:01 (10:14 min/mile)
For whatever reason, mile 16 felt like a significant milestone for me. I spent the first portion of the race pleading with the universe to get me to mile 16, and hitting that point felt amazing. It was the first time I actually allowed myself to even think about that glorious finish line. This part of the course was much livelier since it was the out-and-back portion, and being amongst larger crowds gave me an added boost of energy. I was dancing along to the random music blasting from homes along the course, waving to spectators, and finally enjoying myself. Yup, it was still raining and the long residential roads were slightly hilly but seeing the pretty red/orange/yellow trees glistening with raindrops actually made me quite happy! I was feeling good, really good, but was still cautiously optimistic. I kept telling myself to prepare for the possibility of hitting the wall after mile 20 just in case, but my instinct told me this wouldn’t happen. I continued fueling with half of a Shot Blok every 2 miles and gradually began speeding up.
Mile 20 = 3:20:49 (10:03 min/mile)
Miles 20 – 24
In short, I essentially ran this race backwards with the toughest portion being the first half and the easiest being the last 6 miles. Crazy right?! I’ve always heard that the race truly starts at mile 20 and braced myself for the worst, but luckily the worst never came. I had never run more than 20 miles and worried about hitting the wall immediately upon seeing the 20 mile marker (irrationality at it’s finest) but burnout never hit. I have no idea what came over me but I continued to speed up with every mile and was passing people left & right! It was insane. I saw my parents again at mile 20 and blew them a kiss before speeding off…gosh they’re the best! The last 6 miles flew by the quickest and I found myself aiming to finish under 4:20. What would’ve been an unreasonable goal earlier in the race became a possible reality thanks to the negative splits I was now running. I was on fire! I told myself that 22 miles was another major milestone, and then did the same with 24 miles upon passing the 22 mile marker. The only downside was that my legs started feeling a bit numb from the cold rain, but I was in the final stretch and didn’t care too much. I ate my last ½ Shot Blok at mile 22 and 24, sipped on some more water, and sped up towards the end.
Miles 25 – 26.2
My Garmin beeped at mile 25 but it was consistently off by 0.2 miles (I think I weaved around too much) and so I found myself eagerly waiting for the actual 25 mile marker. I picked up my pace as soon as I saw it and kept telling myself that this was the final stretch. I was about to be a marathoner! But no marathon simply lets it’s runners off the hook that easy, and the small city of Hartford decided to throw in one final hill right at the start of mile 25. The race course had plenty of smaller hills that didn’t really bother me but this one was a steep highway ramp and a bridge, and my legs felt the climb. I did my best and actually quickened my pace…I just wanted to be done at this point! I could hear the finish line festivities and eventually sprinted the final quarter mile to the finish line with a huge smile on my face. I spotted my parents cheering me on and used the elation I felt at that moment for one final surge towards the end. The announcers called my name as I crossed the finish line (although I didn’t hear it) and I was done. Oh the glory, I was a marathoner!
Final Time: 4:19:41 (9:55 min/mile pace)
Age Division (25-29): 74/155
My Garmin showed the crazy distance of 26.53. I clearly did a lot of weaving around and running in the middle of the road! (which I did)
My splits are shown below for those who are curious. Keep in mind though that my Garmin was slightly off which likely skewed the paces.
The overall time was still pretty accurate although I forgot to stop my Garmin a few seconds after crossing the finish line. Speaking of finishing, I honestly felt like I could’ve run another 3-4 miles! Incredibly, I still somehow had fuel left in me. I’ll keep this in mind next time I consider an ultra (kidding, I think)…
I found my parents almost immediately after crossing the finish line and we snapped a few celebratory photos.
Seeing my parents so proud meant everything to me. Everything. If only I could always make them that happy!
Side note – I downloaded the Glympse app for my phone and sent a ‘glympse’ to my parents so they would always know where I was in real-time (thank you Kim for this suggestion!). The app has a maximum tracking time of four hours and unfortunately I wasn’t able to re-send a ‘glympse’ because it was too wet/rainy outside to use my phone. But my parents loved this app and said it was incredibly useful!
The pain & soreness really set in about 10 minutes after I finished the race. I suddenly felt the cold raindrops on my skin and the shivers passing through my body. My feet ached with each step and I was desperate to take a hot shower. At this point I grabbed some food and hobbled back to the car with my parents.
The steamy shower was a dream come true! I assessed the damage done and was happy to discover only a few minor blisters, one slightly bruised toenail, and no chaffing. I was barely able to force myself out of the shower but we had to check out of our hotel by 2PM (they kindly gave us a 1 hour extension). My appetite still hadn’t returned but I forced myself to eat a can of anchovies with a slice of bread and an apple on the side…gross but so delicious I swear! Fun story – I actually accidentally brought those anchovies in my bag (we had just gone grocery shopping before driving to Hartford) and oddly enough they ended up being the perfect recovery food for me.
At this point we were all exhausted and eager to return to Manhattan, so we loaded up the car and hit the road. Luckily, the trip only took 2.5 hours this time! I snacked much of the way…
• Fueling & amenities: there were water/Gatorade & Port-a-Potty stops at almost every mile! But Gu was only handed out once on the course (not sure if this is normal or not for a full marathon)
• Admission: I paid $95 for this race which isn’t too steep for a marathon
• Post-race goodies: there was an entire booth that gave out grilled cheese, bagels, warm apple pie samples, granola bars, milk, and bananas to runners! Reusable water bottles were also given out to runners near the finish line.
• Easy to spectate: it was fairly easy for my parents to spectate along various parts of the course because the race was on the smaller side, and it was also easy for me to spot them
• Flat course: there were a few hills but nothing too crazy
• Small race: I never felt crowded while running and felt like I had my choice of where to run
• Entertainment: there was plenty of entertainment and live music along the course, including random people blasting music from their homes
• Minimal crowd support: I suspect the endless rain scared many of the crowds away, but I don’t expect large crowds to gather given that it’s a small town
• Uneventful race route: much of the race was incredibly boring, especially the parts along the highway
I kept debating on whether the Hartford Marathon was a good choice for my first marathon and have officially decided that yes, it was a great first race indeed. It’s true that while I enjoyed the calmness surrounding the smaller race, there were many moments where I really needed the screams and support from spectators. In the end though I’m incredibly happy with my choice for marathon #1 regardless of it’s size. The entire experience was so positive and went so well that I’m secretly fearful it set the bar too high for future marathons. But 26.2 miles no longer feels as daunting as it did, and I’m itching to sign up for marathon #2 (and #3 and #4….) now that I know I’m capable of conquering the distance!