The Writer Goes Running: 2014 Hartford Marathon Race Recap

I really thought I was going to die.

I guess I can own up to it now. Over the spring and summer, I was secretly training for another marathon.

Secretly, because I was pretty sure that my fulsome frivolity in this training cycle would eclipse my chances of actually making it 26.2 miles. From Bushnell Park right in the center of Hartford, to the suburbs of East Windsor and back around into the heart of the city again.

26.2 miles is a long, long distance, and in hindsight, I can say that I shouldn’t have finished, and it was only with some support and blind luck that I actually did.

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The rain began before the sun rose, and found me sleeping in my car under a poncho in the Capitol Street parking lot. It was forty degrees and wet. As the sun rose, I tried to wrap my shoes in Saran wrap and secure the plastic with safety pins. By the time I’d left my car and crossed the street to the porta-potties, the plastic on both shoes had ridden up around my ankles.

The rain began to fall in earnest as 26,000 runners stood in the starting corral in front of the Lafayette statue. I wore a navy blue poncho with the hood up, a white hat, three water-resistant layers, and chafing gel on my feet. By the time the National Anthem was sung, my hat had shellacked itself to my head, and I removed my poncho hood instead.

The starting gun went off.

And we stood there, just absorbing the rain.

Out of respect for the truly speedy, those of us running the marathon for bucket list purposes stay toward the back of the pack. This means that for an 8am start time, you’re probably not crossing the starting line until around 8:05am or so.

As the huge herd in the corral began to lurch forward, I found my pace group and my right foot found its first deep puddle.

After 5 hours and 23 minutes, and with my shoes full of water and chafing in unmentionable places, I crossed the finish line, writhing out of the waterlogged poncho and managing a grim smile for the photographers. With only four long training runs under my belt (one 13, 14, 18 and 20 miler), I should have been in too much pain to finish. Left to my own devices, I would probably have stopped running around mile 17, but I had the unexpected good fortune of meeting a brand-new running buddy in my pace group.

Joanna was a mom of three, from Iowa on a mission to run 50 marathons in 50 states before the age of 50. She was bubbly and talkative, and seemed to be unfazed by the rain and her own soaked nylon running slicker. And did I mention that Saturday’s Hartford Marathon was the first ‘thon in Joanna’s plan of a double-header weekend? That’s right – she informed me, cheerfully, that she was headed straight from the finish line of Hartford to another marathon, held the next day in a neighboring state.

“Almost halfway done!” she said, somewhere around mile 23.

Her steady cheeriness took the edge off my grim lack of cheer, and we fell into a Galloway-esque run/walk rhythm: Run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute.

And in that way, encouraged by a running buddy, and by the resolute and wonderful volunteers handing out water and Gatorade in pouring rain, I slowly, painfully, gratefully crossed the finish line back in Bushnell Park.

But this is a writing blog, so here are my observations from this latest, and very unique, marathon experience.

Run the marathon two minutes at a time.

My Galloway walk/run strategy paid off big dividends. When you’re running a huge distance, or completing any kind of enormous task (like, well, writing a novel), considering all that’s still ahead is literally the worst thing you can do for your motivation. But if you view a marathon as simply a series of 2-minute running intervals, with a walking break always right around the corner, your mind can fall into a comfortable, reassuring rhythm. You can run for two minutes. You can write one paragraph. There’s always a break right around the corner, where you can catch your breath and get ready for the next push.

Buddies help carry the burden.

My first marathon, which ran through the night and into the next morning, was a lonely and desolate experience. Not only was there nobody on the course to cheer you on (it was 1am), but the runners were few and far between (I was a slowpoke).

In Hartford, throngs of people lined the streets, cheering and getting soaked by rain. And best of all, I ran surrounded by other runners. With my running buddy from Iowa, and our pace group of happy and relaxed racers, I was never alone. I was inspired. And I found it much easier to keep going.

See a theme here? Find a group. Find a running buddy. They help carry the burden of your pain and discouragement, provide blessed encouragement and welcome distraction. Writers can sometimes be islands unto themselves, but fundamentally, we’re people. And people need other people. We simply work better that way.

Grilled cheese never tasted so wonderful as it did after 6 hours in the wet and cold.

Self explanatory.

Everyone walks funny after a marathon.

Everyone. Check out this video from the recent NYC Marathon. Runners walking like zombies. One guy’s yelp of pain when confronted with the staircase down to the subway station is some #realtalk, yo.

The Hartford Marathon was a completely different, and altogether more wonderful, experience than the 24 Hours Around the Lake Marathon in Wakefield, MA, that I ran in 2012. I talk about it here: 12 Things My Awful Marathon Experience Taught Me About Writing. And the best part?

I beat my 2012 marathon time by 47 minutes.

Have you ever run a marathon? What did you think? What was your time? Are you thinking of running a 50k like me? Share in the comments!