A month or so ago, I was alerted to a marathon happening in Hartford, CT. I’d only run two marathons before, and since this was an indoor marathon, it seemed like a good chance to go for a long run and give the Achilles a nice little test run. Sure I could go for a long run and see what happens, but it just made more sense to do it when the furthest I would ever stop from the start would be a tenth of a mile.
Gearing up I didn’t really have a plan. I had an idea, but no real plan. My hope was to go out, run some seven minute miles and see how things felt. If nothing else I could slow down, but ideally I wouldn’t go faster than that. But of course, as things go, this would certainly not be the case.
As race day approached, the forecast started warning of a snow storm for the Hartford area Friday night into Saturday. As Saturday progressed, the snow was supposed to worsen. It sounded like getting to the race would be easy enough, but coming home might be a struggle. I checked the weather the night before and figured two-and-a-half hours for a normal two hour ride would be fine. It was all down at least two-lane interstate and I wasn’t supposed to hit snow until at least halfway there.
About a half hour into the ride, the snow flakes started falling. Not heavy, but they were coming. As I got closer to half-way, the snow really started coming down. Speed slowed from 80 to 40. At points I couldn’t see the lanes – 6:30/7:00 on a Saturday morning, no plows in sight. At a couple of points I almost turned around, but convinced myself that I had already paid my money and things couldn’t get that much worse. I was sort of right.
Vermont does something funny with their roads. I’m not sure what it is, a lack of salt, sand, no plowing, something; for as soon as I hit the Massachusetts border, the roads cleared up. What was once unidentifiable as a road quickly became a skim coat of slush on top of pavement and we started driving a little faster. We were still going slow, but I still had almost two hours until race start. I was a little behind schedule, but would be okay.
I’m not sure where I was when it happened, I recall seeing a sign for Hartford, CT 44 miles, but don’t’ know if I was infront or behind. Slowly traffic in front of me started building and we started slowing down quickly. It reminded me of rush hour traffic getting off of NYC. As we got to a long downhill, I could see the hold up, three plows across two lanes of traffic driving 20 MPH. There was no way around them and it looked like they were making the roads worse. As I rode behind the snow plows it started to dawn on me that I would not make the race on time. I convinced myself it was okay. It was just laps.
Finally the plows pulled off at an exit and I was on my way to Connecticut. Not having clocked mileage I had no idea how far it was to Hartford. I knew the exit, but no mileage. And of course, the kind folks in the Connecticut DOT don’t feel it’s necessary to put up those signs, so once again, I was driving blind with a timer running out and no sense of how far I had left to go. Finally about five minutes before race start, I pulled off the exit. The arena, which I assumed would be well marked with road signs, was not. As I looked skyward to the top of the buildings, I saw a big ‘xl’ on the side of one, surely that was the xl Center. Wrong. But they did give me directions to the right xl Center.
At 9:15 I showed up, grabbed my bib, got changed and hit the track. The adrenalin from rushing around and being late had managed to push all sense out of my head. My 7:00/mile race plan vanished. There were people everywhere on the track and I just went. I clicked off the first couple of laps in 1:20 (it was 5 laps to a mile) and knew I was too fast. I tried to slow down and I managed to for a few laps here and there, but it was a constant battle. I had found a rhythm and with people all around and a DJ who thought he was hosting a roller skating dance party in 1994, it was all but impossible to break out.
When I run, I talk to myself. Sometimes I whistle or sing. It’s all out loud. Usually outdoors, this doesn’t matter, I’m relatively alone and no one can hear me. Inside is a different situation and I got more than a few looks as I tried to talk myself into slowing down, mostly by cussing myself out and using a litany of derogatory terms.
I rolled through the first half in a 1:27ish and knew I was going to be hurting by the end. I could keep the pace for a while longer, but I wasn’t sure how much longer. By mile 17 I had stopped carrying my Orange Mud Handheld for a couple laps at a time and carried it consistently. By mile 20 I was shot. My quads were beat and I knew I was done. I stopped at the water station a couple of times and chatted to the girl while she filled my handheld. All sense of urgency was gone and I was hitting 8:00 miles.
It was the first time I used Gatorade during a race. Usually I’m just a rinse and spit kind of guy, but as it was indoors, there was no spitting. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind it, and while I didn’t feel any difference in energy, it did taste good.
I ended up finishing third in an official time of 3:19:52 but if I had showed up on time, or if the clock started when I started it was a 3:06:28. Given that I’ve been running 30mpw since July, I’m pleased. I will add that the DOMS are killing me. I recovered faster after the Joe English 6hr than I did this marathon.