Tuesday, October 15, 2013

ING Hartford Half Marathon 2013 race review

This fall I am training for 2 marathons, the Marathon Corps and NYC marathons.  I looked at my training schedule and saw that I would need to start tapering the second week of October. My training schedule stated that I had to only do a 13 mile run that weekend, so I figured I could get one more half marathon in before the Marine Corps Marathon.  I was hoping to check off another state and I found the ING Hartford half marathon in Hartford, CT.  They offer a marathon, half marathon, marathon relay, and 5k.  Starting at 9:30 am, they also have a kids K, which is a series of races from 50 yd to a mile.  I, of course, opted for the half marathon.  

Packet Pick-up:
The main reason I picked the Hartford race is that they offered an option to have your packet mailed to you.  For $20 they would ship you your shirt, bib, and gear check bag.  Since they don't have race day pick-up, this allowed me to skip the expo.  Hartford is about 2 hours outside of NYC.   It is close enough to be able to drive there the day of the race, but I did not want to have to drive up there twice.  Also I was happy not to have to sleep in a hotel overnight.

I signed up and opted to have my packet mailed to me.  Sure enough about 3 weeks before the race I received my packet in the mail.  Everything was included so I was already for the race.  

Morning of the race:
I had planned to drive up to Hartford the morning  of the race.  It sounded like a much better idea 2 months before the race.  Somehow I managed to forget that I am not a morning person.  The race started at 8 am.  I was hoping to get out the door between 5 and 5:30am.  I was unsure of how difficult parking would be and I know they closed a lot of roads at 7am.  I wanted to get there early and not risk missing the start.  I was up at 4:30 and I managed to get out the door by 10 after 5.  I stopped at a rest stop in CT to get some breakfast.  Luckily, there was a Dunkin Donuts.  Donuts, perfect, my go-to pre-race meal.  I made it to Hartford around 7:15.  There was a little bit of traffic coming off the highway because they had started closing the roads downtown.  I was happy to see there are a lot of parking lots and garages with a few blocks of the start.  I settled on a lot a few blocks from the park and parked the car.

The staging area is in Bushnell Park.  I got there with about 20 mins to spare.  I decided to make a pit-stop before the race.  The lines for the port-a-potties were pretty long.  But they had a lot of stalls, so they moved quickly.  With about 5 mins before the start of the race, I walked over to the starting line.  I was not sure exactly where the start was but I figured I would just follow the crowds.

The start line:

The marathon and the half marathon starts together in front the state house.   The 5 k has a separate starting line a few blocks away.  My one negative critique would be that the start was a bit chaotic.  There did not seem to be well designated corrals.  For a race with 15,000 people, I feel there should be a little more organization with the corrals.  There were spectators in front of the some of the runners blocking the corrals.  I thought I was in a corral but there were a few dozen spectators in the front of me.  I managed to work my way to an area where I did not see any strollers in front of me and figured that meant I was in a corral.  I could see the pace signs for the 2:10 half marathon pace group.  I was hoping to run with them, but I knew that I would not be able to work my way to get to them.  The race started about 10 minutes late.  Finally, the horn blew and we were on our way.

The course:
Both the full and the half started together at 8 am.  It was really crowded to start.  I was in the back of the pack, and it was impossible to get around the slowpokes.  The full and the half follow the same course for the first mile then after the first mile the two courses split.  They run a complete different course for the rest of the race until meeting back up a few hundred meters from the finish line.  I found that a little strange.  For most races that have both a full and a half marathon, the two events run the same the course for most of the race. The half marathoners usual head back to the start and the full marathoners continue on for the rest of the miles.  Or the two courses start separate but merge together at some point.  Anyway I was glad for the split, the course thinned out over the next mile and I was final able to get a decent pace going.

The course is pretty flat for the first few miles.  The half runs through the downtown area.  After mile 4, there is the "big hill."  The heard a lot of people talk about this huge hill leading up to it and I was expecting a big incline.  There was an uphill at mile 4 but it was not too bad.  After turning the corner there was another incline.  There were about a 1/4 mile long each, a steady incline, but not that steep.  After mile 5, there was a nice downhill stretch.

Around mile 9, the course enters Elizabeth park.  It was really pretty.  There was a wooded area and a  small botanical garden.  I like the mix of running through city landscape and parks in a race.  The change of scenery really helps make the miles go by faster.  In the park, there were a few rolling hills.  After about a mile and a half, the course headed back onto the city streets.  But this was more of a residential area.    Only a few more miles to go, I started to pick up the pace.  Around mile 12, the course runs by Mark Twain's house.  

The last 1.1 miles always feels like an eternity for me.  I know it is all mental.  If I was running 14 or 15 miles, mile 12 would not seem that bad.  But because I know the end is near, it feels like forever.  I knew the finish line was just past the big arch in Bushnell Park.  I guess I though I would see the arch from a half mile or so away.  Seeing the finish line helps motivate me to push hard and finish.  But you ready don't see the arch until the final turn and you are right in front of it.  I ran through the arch and it is about 100 meters to the finish line.  

I finished right around the same time the winner of the marathon finished.  It is always a little disheartening when you realize that someone else can literally run double the distance twice as fast as you.   I am always in awe of people would can maintain that kind of pace for 26.2 miles.  My time was 2:17:08.  A little slower than I hoped for. 

Course support:
They had aid stations every 1.5 miles.  I think all of them had Gatorade.  They had Gu either at mile 6 or 7.  For the most part, the aid station were well organized.  They had enough of volunteers and plenty of cups filled waiting for runners to pass by and grab them.  There were a good amount of  port-a-potties on the course.  Each pit stop had 3 stalls, and they were well spread out along the course.  There were a few medical stations along the course.  There were mile markers every mile.  They were low to the ground but they were in the middle of the street.  I could not see them from a distance, like I can at NYRR races, but at least I did not miss them completely and end up running right by them on the side of the road, like what happened at the Baltimore marathon.  I do have to complain a little that they only had clocks every other mile.  I feel like for any race with over 10,000 people, they really should spring for clocks every mile.  How much more could it really cost?  It does make a difference with pacing.  

Crowd support:
There was a decent amount of crowd support.  It was not the New York City Marathon but in the residential areas most people were out in front of their houses and there were a few cheer zones.  They must have given the locals orange cow bells to ring.  Because everyone had bells.  Of course, people felt the need to make "I need more cow bell" jokes.  In the beginning the bells were cute and they definitely helped make things spirited.  But at mile 11, they had a station giving orange ING bells, hats, and sunglasses to participates.  Listening to people running with a bell in their hand is beyond annoying.  Definitely a poor decision.  Leave the bells to the spectators.  If you are going to give out hats maybe do it at the expo or the finish.  If you don't normal run with a hat or were already wearing a hat, what do you do with it?  

After crossing the finish, they did not have cups of water.  Instead they had these weird water fountains.  I prefer to take a cup of water and sip it as I walk rather than having to bend over and chug water at a water fountain.  Right around the corner they did have plastic water bottle filled with water.  They were nice reusable water bottles but the water tasted a bit chlorine-y and it was warm.  Sorry, I'm a bit of a water snob. 

Finish Festival:

They had a really nice finish festival.  Shortly after getting your medal, they give you a bag filled with goodies: fruit cup, pretzel chips, larabars, etc.  They were a lot of tents with different vendors.  Basically, it was a continuation of the expo.

There was nice food tent.  Usually I find when races have sometime like that, the line is a mile long.  But this one worked very efficiently.  On the bottom of the bib everyone had a tear away ticket to get into the food tent to prevent people going back for seconds or trying to steal food for family or friends.  They had 4 lines to keep things moving.  The food was actually really good.  There were bagels, bananas, apple crisp, hot grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, and chocolate milk.  I found some space on the lawn and had a  nice post-race lunch.  It really hit the spot not too heavy but filling.  

Finisher medal:

I have to say I was a little disappointed with the medal.  They always do some version of the arch on the medal.  In the past, the medal was a solid gold or bronzy color and looked like a replica of the arch.  I'm not a huge fan of the rainbow colors.  I think looks a like a kids toy.  Not that getting excited over a medals is all that sophisticated.  But it is not my favorite medal.  The medal is basically the same for the full and the half.  Only differences that the half says "half", the half had a blue ribbon and the full had a orange ribbon.  I saw on their Facebook page after the race that they actually ran out of the medals.  Apparently, they had a lot of people sign up at the expo and they did not have enough medals for everyone who registered.  I had to admit I would be pissed too if I pre-registered but did not receive a medal because I finished at the end of the race.  But they did apologize and offer to ship out medals to anyone who did not get one.  

After the race, I walked around a little and got some pictures of the state house.  I went back to the car and drove home.  It was a long ride home.  After getting up before the crack of dawn and and running a half marathon, I was getting a bit tired on the way home.  I was tempted to pull over and take quick nap in the car at a rest stop.  If I do this race again, I will need to rope Donna into doing it too so she can be the designated driver.  

I would definitely recommend this race if you are looking to cross Connecticut of your list.  

The wrap-up:
Pre-race info- A
Packet pickup- A
Overall organization- B+
Course- A
Course support- B
Swag/post-race food- A+
Medal- C
Theme- N/A
Surrounding area- N/A