The Hartford Marathon

It’s five days post-marathon and I can finally write this.  It’s been a tremendous week.
Last friday I dropped the kids off to play for the afternoon, with minimal supervision, and drove into my dreams…

“Bye Mommy!  Good luck!  Run fast!”  

“You too!” I called. “Stay out of the woods, don’t talk to strangers, good luck, run fast!”  Love them so.

I took the most scenic, most beautiful drive through New Hampshire, Vermont, a little bit of Mass, and finally, Connecticut.  People pay for this time of foliage experience.  And then.  Hello, Hartford! 

I count it as a major accomplishment that not once did I get lost, that I actually used my GPS, found a parking spot, and walked into the giant expo center all.by.myself. in the middle of a city.  Unknowns in big cities make me nervous, which is funny and tells me I’ve lived amongst water buffalo and cows for a very long time.

I checked into the marathon, got my race number and marathon t-shirt (it was a great one, a pretty salmon) and walked around looking at all the cool gear for sale and collected free samples of Lara bars, GU, cheese, and Hawaiian sweet rolls. 

Then I plugged in the GPS once again and drove to East Hartford to find my running buddy and brother-in-law, Glenn, and our most amazing chauffeur, Dan.

We checked into the hotel and did a happy dance: We were going to run a marathon! We ate salad and soup at The Olive Garden and snagged free tickets to a hockey game. 

May we pause a moment and reflect on the sport of hockey.  After witnessing this game and my Fenway experience this summer, I’ve concluded that sport does indeed bring out the very best in us – and the absolute, most despicable, worst.  I took a picture of a fan, but decided to not post it out of some sort of politeness. 

Fans yelled horrible things and as Glenn predicted, there were two fights in the first quarter.  Please explain:  The refs watched them go at it! Hockey players punched each other in the face while small children and extremely out of shape people, cheered.  

We left, ready to move on to the morning.  Where hopefully we would encounter some higher decorum.

We drove into the night, the sun setting.  I slept well and set my internal alarm to 6.  In the morning I was up and ready to go.  Ponytail, shirt, shorts, socks, shoes, watch, GU, shot bloks.  Peanut butter sandwich, half a banana, and my special energy drink mix.  It’s a tradition.

I wrote down the pace I wanted to keep – to keep me on track.  This was done for one purpose:  To qualify for the Boston marathon.  I felt I had a shot.

My running buddy, Maryn, out with a hurt foot loaned me this great little pouch – an essential for storing fuel. In my shorts I put two caffeinated chocolate GU pouches.  In this little pouch I put shot bloks and one more GU.

Ready to go.

I also kept wishing I had a notebook handy to record all the one-liners Dan and Glenn exchanged.  They kept me laughing the entire time; a great nerve distraction.

Dan drove us to Bushnell Park, right outside the capital building; here’s something I really recommend:  A chauffeur.  Forget trying to navigate the streets.  As Glenn became social, I began to withdraw; this always happens to me before a race.  The zone was coming.

This picture above is the long, long line where we dropped off our special race bag. The line moved quickly, but we only just made it – about five minutes before the race.  And then it was time to join the throng of people.

The elites start the race, everyone else lines up in back.  Your time doesn’t officially start until you cross the starting line, an electronic chip in your bib keeping your time.  Glenn and I fist-pumped, then joined 16,000 other races.  

A veteran sang the national anthem.  Bands played. There were no fights, no booing, no penalty boxes.  Only cheering, excitement, heart-pounding adrenaline.

The announcer reminded us that this race was a BOSTON QUALIFIER!!!  As if I could forget!  So run fast, he said, run well.  And then we all sang Sweet Caroline, just like we did at Fenway – So good! So good! So good!

It was, in a word, awesome. I felt so happy to be with all these people who had set a goal, had run all those hard training runs, and were joined in one united group. Huge amounts of money was raised for charities, thousands got in shape. A hundred smoothies later, it was time.

The marathon was the pay-off.

The gun went off.

Two minutes later I passed the start, pressed START on my watch, and began to run.

Crowds lined the streets, flags waved, children jumped up and down.  I was careful not to go out too fast.  I knew that after a few miles, all the adrenaline would wear and I would be left with only my training.  After two miles, the crowds thinned, after eight, I wasn’t trying to move around anyone. 

I was never alone the entire race.  There were always people around, and this felt good because though I didn’t actually speak to anyone, I felt the energy.

Hartford does such an amazing job with organization, water, and GU.  The only thing I wished I had done was grab the vaseline to prevent the chafing.  This however, I didn’t feel until it was all over.  And no, I am not above talking about chafing.  Let’s get real, man. 

I ran a great half, coming in three minutes under my goal.  In retrospect, this perhaps, may have been a little too fast.  But I was feeling really good until about mile 16 and by mile 18, I was starting to feel a ton of pain all the way up my hamstrings and butt.  Mile splits began to slow.

I actually had to stop a couple of times to stretch. 

At mile 20 I knew I wasn’t going to make my Boston goal and while this was a little sad, I focused on one thing:  Finish it.

It was hard, one of the hardest races I’ve raced.  The last six miles I ran almost two minutes off my pace.  A girl ahead of me collapsed, paramedics came.  It was hot.  My music helped.  Finish, finish, finish.  Get across the line.

And finally I saw it.

The Finish Line.  Lined with the same cheering crowds who had been waiting for hours to see their runners come through.

Here’s a shot Dan captured…eyes closed…finish, finish, finish.  Pretend it doesn’t hurt.

I came through, stopped my watch, and walked in a somnambulatory state…like sleepwalking while being given a water bottle, a heavy metal.  

I stumbled to lie down on the grass surrounded by hundreds of other runners who were mostly celebrating, talking about times.  I saw a wife comforting her sick husband.  I covered my face with my arm and cried. I was so disappointed.

I tend to take these things hard.  I was so embarrassed I had even mentioned Boston on this blog, that I had even told people it was a goal.  It seemed directly related to my novel – good, but never good enough…and so it went for the next half hour.  It was a despairing moment.  And then I crawled to my feet and went to claim my bag.  I sat on the steps of the capital and watched a girl approach a boy – “You crushed it!” she exclaimed.  I cried some more, and no one comforted me.  It’s just understood.

Then I hobbled to the finish line to cheer on everyone else, knowing that this race wasn’t ever just about me, but everyone else trying to come in, too.

I spoke to my husband on the phone.  “Looks like the last six was pretty tough,” he said.  He had been getting texts the entire race.  “Yes,” I said, not being able to say anything more.

Glenn came in.

And we need to stop and think about Glenn.  This was his first marathon.  He’s got a football player frame, an athlete with a ton of power and strength.  And he crushed it.  After weeks of training, of making me do this, of pushing me to even sign up, to be excited about a huge distance, suffering through shin splints and a crazy travel schedule.  I’m just so proud of him.

I watched a little longer as the 5:30 mark came around, as runners ran through the finish line, both exultant and crying from pain.  Runners were congratulated over the big speaker for finishing 50 miles in all 50 states.  I watched an elderly couple, wrinkled from age, holding hands as they ran across the finish line.  They raised their clasped grasp in the air. Together.

I found Glenn and Dan.  They have a way of making me feel happier 🙂  We began to talk about next time.

Glenn lays in the wood chips.

We separated soon after that, a little sore, a little nauseated.  Dan and Glenn drove to Mystic where Glenn would take a flight to Colorado.  I got in the car and drove to New Hampshire.

I reflected on why I hadn’t “reached my potential.”  And the thought came that these races aren’t just about times.  Yes, there is training and a new respect for the distance.  But potential isn’t all about what the worldly success, the career highs.  Potential is the thing you learn from shortcomings.  Like humility, gratitude, kindness, hard work.

I felt, at that moment, all of those things.

The phone rang several times.  Texts came pouring in.  I felt the love.  I felt such gratitude.

Mindy called.  “Want to go for a run?”  I laughed, told her where I was, told her of my disappointment.  “Oh Amy!” she said. “You’re not getting paid to do this! At this time in our lives – just be happy you finished the damn race!”

I smiled.  I need friends like this.

Perspective began to come.

As Sarah also reminded me, “Let yourself wallow a bit.  But no more than 24 hours.  Then pull yourself up by your bra straps, get it together, and come up with a plan.”

Five hours after the race I was starving so I pulled over for some KFC.  KFC is totally underrated.  It was like, the best thing ever.
Five days out, there is more perspective.  There is this, the most spectacular fall weather.  There is beauty all around.  My children had been well taken care of by their saint of a grandmother. They hugged me and then went out to Chinese while I took a shower.  It was the most wonderful and worst shower of my life (oh my chafing!) 

As I laced up my running shoes this morning, there was this feeling…God gave me these legs. Defeat begins to fade. There will always be another race. Another “next time.” 
Run on, mates.  To the next thing.  For as dear Theodore said,”…the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”
Keep running.  Get in the arena.  And I’ll see you there!

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16 thoughts on “The Hartford Marathon

  1. Arianne

    What an achievement! It’s beyond my comprehension that you could run so far, and be motivated and disciplined to train for such a race. You’re right–it’s the process that counts, not so much the end result.

    Reply
  2. kimmalee

    You are inspiring. I need to start running more seriously so some day we can run a race together. I have no doubt you can make it and am awed and also shocked that you and Glenn were talking about “next time” within a day of finishing a marathon.
    I agree with your friend. Be proud that you finished the damn race…but you didn’t just finish, you ran really fast while in intense pain for hours! Yowzah Amy. I’m happy for you and bummed for you and excited for your motivation to run another race. So inspiring, my dear. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Lindsey

    Oh Amy…this post made me happy, and sad and proud and inspired all at the same time! I really am so impressed with you – you are accomplishing more than I EVER will. I’m sorry you were so disappointed following the race (and I’m sorry I was one of the “Texters” that you had to explain it all to over and over again!) 🙁 You are awesome and I can’t wait to hear how your next race goes!

    Reply
  4. Jessica Lawson

    Such an inspirational post! Thanks for sharing all the hard work and excitement that goes into marathon day! I know you were disappointed, but please know that you impress the heck outta me 🙂

    Reply
  5. Julia Tomiak

    I’ve been thinking of you, waiting to read this post! I’m so impressed- I looked at your pace goals and knew I could never keep up with you! I’m sure you feel better now, but please take the advice of my daughter’s swim coaches: You are not defined by one success or one failure- success in athletics is fleeting; habit and attitude are forever. (NOT that your finish was a failure- but it wasn’t the time you wanted, so…)
    It’s good to set goals Amy, and you should be proud you set one and shared it with us.
    How far did you run today? 😉

    Reply
  6. Emmy

    Way to go Amy!
    I’m so proud of you….and amazed! How did I not know you we’re training for a marathon?
    I would love to see you do Boston….that’s a dream of mine…I think it’s now only a wish though…..
    Great post.

    Reply
  7. Melissa Sarno

    Catching up on my blog reading – I’m so glad I didn’t miss this post. My heart was racing the entire time, you captured the anticipation of the race. This is such a great recap.

    I’m sorry you didn’t get the time you wanted. I understand the disappointment. I trained so hard for a triathlon and I was so delirious I missed the 2nd loop of the bike leg and never truly completed it. It was devastating.

    However! Look at what you accomplished, the journey to get there, the crossing of the finish line. You’ll get the time next time (I know you will) and the accomplishment will be even sweeter.

    Reply
  8. Allison Nelson

    Your post made me cry because you’re just so honest, so real. I cried with you at the disappointment, and about the way we women tend to blur all our emotions, reflect on past “failures” in a painful moment. I’m glad you were open about wanting to qualify for the big B…how else could we anticipate with you? Oh Amy you’re simply the best. I love you.

    Reply

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