Considering I came into this race just a few weeks removed from Morgantown, with only about 26 miles of training, I was surprisingly feeling pretty good. It was time to make our first trip out to the New England states to start chipping away at them. In typical fashion, Kaela and I wanted to make the most out of our trip and decided that another set of back to back races would be a good idea (it always seems like a good idea). It had almost been a year since my last back to back in Delaware and New Jersey so it seemed fitting to do it again with Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Race: Hartford Marathon
Location: Hartford, CT
Date: October 12, 2019
Time: 4:34:33

I was able to leave work around lunch, which allowed us to get on the road at 1:45pm. The drive out was exactly what you think a late fall drive through Appalachia would be. Beautiful colors on both sides of the road from the leaves that were still left on the trees. The weather this year has been just crazy and leaves changed quickly and therefore fell off quickly. We had the windows down for most of the drive so we could enjoy the abnormally warm fall weather. We started the drive at 77 degrees, but it slowly made its way down to 47. By the end Kaela was wrapped in two blankets, covered from head to toe. I prefer to drive with the windows down as it helps keep me awake. Shortly after closing the windows because it was getting too cold, I started to get sleepy. There was a ton of construction on the road which caused me to over focus which did not help with the fatigue. But we powered through and made it to the hotel at 10. I was asleep by 11.

This is how you pack for back to back races
Can’t forget nutrition!

We stayed right near the triple state border of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. It was a cool morning when I woke up for my shake out run. I didn’t really plan out much of a route and just took turns where it seemed interesting to do so. I ended up near the small “downtown” area of Matamoras, PA. The cool brisk air kept me moving while admiring the small cute houses that lined the street. I ran the first 2 miles at a relaxed pace and then picked it up a bit in the last ¼ mile to spread out the stride and break it up. Back at the hotel I grabbed some breakfast and enjoyed it in the room. Side note, hotel Belgian waffles have to be one of my favorite things about traveling now.

After breakfast, we packed up and got back on the road to head to Hartford. The weather had made a change from our drive in and was staying cool and a little wet. We arrived in Hartford and drove directly to packet pick up. Kaela found a spot to park and I went in to get my items and some extra gels (I am always forgetting to pick up them up before we leave). I also had to visit a booth to get moved up a corral since I had a qualifying time to start a little closer to the starting line. The expo was a typical size for a smaller race with plenty of booths to get free items as needed. I wasn’t interested in anything else and really I was ready for some lunch so I quickly made my way in and out.

Being in New England we wanted to get some seafood for lunch and obviously lobster rolls were at the top of that list. I found J’s Crab Shack that had great reviews and had some chowder and lobster roll options with outdoor seating. That seemed like the easiest place for us to eat with Bella. I ordered some New England chowder and a lobster roll for Kaela and me to split and then decide if we wanted to order another after. Problem is, when I ordered the lady asked if I wanted it warm or cold and since it caught me off guard I just said warm. This meant just cooked lobster on a roll with butter sauce, also known as “not a real lobster roll.” So between that and the food not being all that great, we decided not to go back in for a second one and that we would just snack until dinner time.

We still had a little bit of time before we needed to check in to our hotel, so we found some breweries in the area that were open and that allowed dogs. It seemed those two requirements really limited the options we had. We stopped by Thomas Hooker Brewing Company for a few flights. They had a good selection of beer types and Kaela enjoyed their sours in a first flight before she went to the stouts and I went to the IPAs for our second. It was a cool environment inside so we just hung out for a bit chatting about race prep for the next day.

It was close enough to check-in (so we thought) so we headed over to the hotel to get settled in since we didn’t have any other options close by that allowed dogs. When we arrived I noticed that there were signs for the 5 weddings that were taking place that weekend on site. Then the lady at the front desk informed me that our room was not yet ready and to come back in 30 minutes. I wanted to pick up some Tailwind so it worked out ok as there was a running store down the street that we would stop by to kill some more time. I like to have a less sugary drink in my handheld rather than slamming Gatorade all day, especially in the back to back races. The running store only had Skratch and not Tailwind, and you know what they say “always try something new for race day” (or maybe I’m remembering that wrong) so I picked up a few of the individual pouches before backtracking and heading back to the hotel.

Once we checked in we made our way to our room to notice the obscene amount of hair scattered throughout the bathroom. I remember when booking our room that the accessible room was cheaper so I just went with it, but I didn’t know that mean a roll in shower for those in wheelchairs to access. So there was a drain in the middle of the bathroom to catch any escaping water and that is my guess for why there was hair all over. I mean it was in the sink, on the floor, on the counters, around the toilet, just disgusting. Kaela took Bella for a walk as I called the front desk to tell them about the situation.

They sent someone up and she entered the bathroom with a Swiffer Wetjet and went at it for about 5 minutes and then said we should be good to go before walking out all in a single stride. After she left I walked in the bathroom to notice the hair still on counters and decent amount still on the floor. Even though hair like that makes my stomach knot up, I cleaned it up myself as it wasn’t worth making a bigger deal of it. I did leave a review talking about my experience and still have not heard back from management about the issues.

Kaela and Bella made their way back with a milkshake from Chickfila. Kaela apparently walked to the drive thru to place an order and the wonderful employees invited her in even though she had Bella. We hung out in the hotel room while I planned some course information for Kaela and she cleaned up to get ready for bed. I found a local Italian restaurant, Bertuccis, just a block away and placed an online order to pick up. The food was delicious with large portions that provided some leftovers to save for the next night. While we ate, I discussed the plans for the race with Kaela and showed her the course map locations that may be her best chance of seeing me. After dinner, I cleaned up, stretched and tried to relax before getting a good night’s sleep.

Up and at it with a 4:57am alarm. I prepped my bagels with jelly for my pre-race routine before getting Bella her breakfast and taking her on a short walk. While I ate breakfast I saw the headline of Eliud breaking the marathon world record at Berlin and watched the replay of his last 5k. It was a powerful video watching him just dominate the course. His motto of “no man is limited” was going to stick with me the entire weekend.

With clothes on, gear prepped, and car packed we made our way to downtown Hartford. There were a handful of paid parking garages but I remember from the race book that there was also a lot of free street parking, so we made finding a spot our first mission. The idea was that Kaela could see me a few times without ever having to drive but we wanted to be outside of the race course so that if she did want to drive out she would be able to do so. Just under a mile from the start of the race we found a side street that had tons of open spots. I took off my warm up pants and added an extra layer of 2Toms to the areas that would need it the most (thunder thighs) and did an inventory check of my gear before walking to the corrals.

The start and finish were separated by Bushnell Park. The post-race activities wouldtake place in the middle of the park, but right now it was just a sea of runners stretching, warming up and standing in line for porta-potties. The first spot Kaela would see me is about a mile walk for her so I posed for my mandatory pre-race photo, gave her and Bella a kiss and we parted ways. I had this urge to pee again but I was not wanting to wait in the long lines that had formed at the close to the starting line porta-potties. I decided to ignore the feeling (always best to ignore discomfort) and make my way to the corrals.

I was walking next to a guy that was running the half marathon and he talked about how exhausted he was due to the Incubus concert they went to the night before. We chatted a little bit about the weather, overcast with a slight chance of rain but cool temps, and about our mental state going into the day. I don’t bring up to people “yeah and after this race I’m doing another tomorrow” because that seems like a jerk thing to bring up, but I let him know that I was feeling good about today and was ready to get started.

The Hartford Marathon has a half marathon that starts with the marathon and then breaks off on a completely course around the 1.5 mile mark. I like when half marathoners have their own course but I also like when they have their own start to lighten the load in the corrals. Upon my arrival of the corral I quickly realized that the seeded corral situation doesn’t matter. I did some quick dynamic stretching, tied my shoes and then hopped into the corrals where I could with just a few minutes left before the start. I ate my pre-race gel, said a quick prayer and waited for the sound of the start.

At the start they had about 10 drones overhead capturing video from all different angles. It was cool, but it was also super eerie to hear the buzz above my head constantly that first ¼ mile or so. I didn’t have any hard goals for this race but I wanted to try and get in under 4:30 if I could. Coming off a tough race in WV I knew it wouldn’t be easy but hey, I needed something to push towards.

The start of the race was packed. People were cutting in front of each other to try to get some open space. However, with the amount of people that started together, space was not going to be something anyone would get until the split. As people flew by me on the mostly downhill start, I did my best to keep focused on my warm up pace and to get in my rhythm (even though the first two miles were my fastest of the entire race, whoops). The crowd support in this first part was nice as we ran away from the park and then back past the park, running on the same section that would bring us home in just a few short hours (haha I said short hours).

Before I knew it, we had already approached the split and waved goodbye to most of the runners that were around me. Now this was a more manageable pack of runners! Shortly after the split Kaela was on the side of the road cheering me on while capturing a few photos. There was a guy holding a sign that said “Pain is just a French word for bread”. I don’t know why but that cracked me up and luckily he showed up throughout the race to bring that chuckle on each and every time. After the turn we continued on a road that took us out of the downtown area into more of a business park area. The road had some slight rolling hills which helped keep my legs loose from having to adjust the cadence on the fly.

Just before mile 3 we turned shortly after New Country BMW and at that point a thought popped in my head. “I still haven’t peed.” *d’oh* Luckily there was an aid station on the corner which meant that there were porta-potties close by. After a quick deposit of fluids (yeah I said it) I felt much better with each step I took. We approached a long gradual incline that I just locked into and made myself power through: one, for the sake of my confidence, and two, to get around some of the grouping that was still happening in the pace I was running. I was passing these two ladies that I overheard talking with accents and decided to strike up a little conversation. Their accents were strong and I didn’t catch where they said they were from (I didn’t want to be rude and ask them to repeat so I just nodded and smiled) and we talked about their running. It was their first marathon and they said that I must do these a lot as I looked prepared as they pointed to my belt with all my nutrition. I wished them luck up the hill and through the rest of the race as I continued on.

At this point we were making our way down to the Connecticut River to run along the bike path. It was a nice path with plenty of space to run and due to the surrounding trees and buildings it was guarded from the cool wind. Across the river we could see runners that had already crossed over and were somehow 3-4 miles ahead of us in the first 45 minutes of the race. Kaela surprised me down on the river trail as I thought I’d only see her up above. I let her know I was feeling good and thanked her for her encouragement. Around 4.5 miles in, we started a slow climb off of the river trail, under interstate 91 and back on the road to take us into downtown. The area looked oddly familiar and then I realized we were just a block away from Thomas Knob brewery. I had a quick moment of salivation thinking about how great one of those sours would be at this point.

Bella happy to be out of the bag

We wrapped back around into downtown and continued until we made our way back to the turn right after the split for the half marathoners. At this point we made a right and headed up and over the river on Founders Bridge. Traffic was backed up in all four lanes on the opposite side, and by the looks of it everyone was very surprised that an event was taking place while we went along one step at a time. The bridge wasn’t as inclined on the way over as I would have expected but I did play it smart and keep my stride in check. I was taking my first gel at mile 6 on the bridge when I noticed Kaela on the pedestrian walkway of the bridge. I had expected to see her at the turn to get on the bridge so it was a relief to know she had made the trek from the river and was able to get on the bridge.

“The Bridge”

The back side of the bridge was a long decline that had me feeling like I was gliding. I had this discomfort about it though, as I knew that this was the same way that we would be coming back to finish the race. But I’ll worry about that in a few hours. We wrapped around another business park before making our way to a road just above the river walk on this side of the river. Kaela had made her way off the bridge and down to the road level, yet again a surprise as we didn’t discuss that the previous night. She told me to keep it up and that she would see me towards the end of the race as the course headed up north through the suburbs.

The aid stations and volunteers had been amazing so far. They were calling out water and Nuun at every stop and doing a darn good job at the cup hand off. My only gripe was with the Nuun itself. It was a little watered down and I felt like I wasn’t getting the extra I had hoped so I was relying a bit on the skratch that I had in my handheld. But the volunteers and spectators were on point! Another unique thing was the road marshals that were on bikes were also handing out gels as runners passed by. They would get a bit ahead and then come back at us slowly with a few gels in their stretched out arms. I felt like the Nike 2 hour project where people were going alongside me to provide nutrition. You know, like that, but WAY slower.

We went under the bridge and then around to the river walk. I had some people comment on my “Avoid the Road” Possum shirt which gave me an opportunity to talk about Team Possum. The group of folks, 2 ladies and a gentlemen, were all on their own 50 states journeys so we talked a little bit about races we completed and what was coming up on the schedule. I have noticed this more and more as I cross off the states: there are a lot of people that make poor decisions just like me.

We left the trail at around mile 8 and looped down a business drive that allowed an opportunity for another aid station with some more nutrition. I had plenty of my own gels but decided I would grab some to use at a later time.Really, my race registration paid for them, so I might as well partake. The next mile or so was uneventful visually but I did feel like I was getting locked in with more consistent running. The splits for miles 8, 9 and 10 were 9:53, 9:53 and 9:52 respectively. I was just enjoying my time out on the road.

Around mile 10 we turned down a side street into a neighborhood and I remember a handful of houses with their doors open just watching and cheering the runners as they went by. Just as it has been with many recent races, a lot of people had their own music going instead of experiencing what was around then, so I made sure I thanked every person that was cheering us on and keeping us motivated (well those of us that were paying attention to them). We continued through the neighborhood and within one mile hit two of the best music spots on the course. The first DJ was playing some MJ to get me going and then the second had some Spice Girls jammin as we ran on by. There is something about hearing something other than “Eye of the Tiger” when you run that is so satisfying.

This was the start of our “mostly” out and back section that would bring us back to the bridge. By the time I arrived at mile 11.5, the leader was just over 5k away from the finish as he quickly approached and blew by us. There was a police officer standing at the corner where those returning were coming from and I thanked her for being out and said I’ll see ya in a few hours, which gave her a good laugh. As I approached the halfway mark, I started to feel the fatigue in my legs. I knew I didn’t have as many miles on my feet as I did last year at that point but I had hoped to hold it for longer than just 13 miles.

2:10:58 (official)

The pace was good but I had the thought that maybe I had gone out just a little too fast. I sparked up a conversation with a guy that had been running a similar pace as me for the last few miles. He lived about an hour south of Hartford but his family lived in Ohio and was actually in town for the race. I could tell that I was holding him back a little bit as I slowed down my pace during our conversation so I walked through the next aid station to give him an excuse to leave me behind. I now had 4 miles out on a straight road before doing a sharp u-turn to do it again.

The street was lined with spectators, many of which were residents of the houses on each side of the street. Some of the faces I recognized from previous spots on the course. Then there was a face that I knew much more than that. Kaela had made her way back to the car and drove along the course to see me again. This was definitely needed and caused me to get a little misty with happiness. I couldn’t get the shit-eating grin off my face as I ran by. My legs were getting heavy but I told myself that I needed to make it to the end of this out and back before I even thought about mixing in walk breaks. The spectators and volunteers lining the road were keeping the energy high with cheering, music and some interesting yard decorations. One of my favorites was a toy t-rex that was on a leash. Kaela made her way further down to give me some more motivation as I think it was clear I was starting to struggle.

Unknowing Kaela was around
Thrilled to see her

When I hit the turn at mile 17, I knew I had some more in me and wasn’t going to bring in the walks just yet. There were some spectators with buckets of candy and I indulged with some Smarties and Jolly Ranchers. I got to see Kaela two more times on my way back. She told me to keep it up as this time was for sure the last time she would see me until the finish. I kept the pace as consistent as I could with each step. I saw the people that were coming at me, heading out to the turn around, and tried to give them all the motivation and support the same way those did for me just 30 minutes prior. Around mile 18 there was a couple with a table along the road with a few bottles of Tito’s. While it seemed tempting it was definitely not a smart idea with the way I was currently feeling.

Smiles on the way back

Mile 20 was when I started to slow down a bit. I kept the stride moving at a slower pace for about a mile before breaking down to a walk break. Over the next mile and a half I went between a slow run and a fast walk just trying to keep moving forward. I felt like I had no energy at all. The gels weren’t making any difference and with having next to no sugar in the Nuun and Skratch, I was falling apart. A lady caught up to me that I just kept in stride with and then started up a conversation. She was on state #41 and we talked to help keep my mind off the struggles. As we joined back on the main road, I said thanks again to the police officer and said “I told you I would see you in a few hours.”

At mile 22 there was an aid station with flat soda and Jolly Ranchers and I think that was the sugar lift that I needed. The lady and I picked up pace after the aid but within a half a mile she said she wanted to walk/run it in and I just took off. I went from a 12:15 split for mile 23 to a 9:52 for mile 24. When I started to feel a little down I would pop another blue raspberry Jolly Rancher to pump me back up. I ran passed the two DJs that were still playing some great tunes (can’t remember what they were but I was jammin’) even though there weren’t many people running by them at this point. Down the street, the people were still sitting on their porch cheering us on and I had to give them a big thanks for giving us motivation especially at this point in the race.

When my legs felt heavy I would walk it out quickly and then get back into my stride to not waste any time. I did  some math and knew I had a chance to still make it in under 4:30 so I was making every step count. After a few turns I arrived back to the bridge. I shortened my stride keep my eyes on the horizon and pushed until I could no longer push. The bridge got the best of me but I kept my head up as I power walked to the apex of the climb before letting gravity assist in moving me down. We had another climb that I had forgotten about at the beginning of the race (it was a nice downhill) and powered up as fast as I could.

As I hit mile 25 I picked out a few runners ahead of me that I was determined to pass before the finish. I focused on keeping my legs moving forward and ignoring any cramps and pain I picked up the pace. After another short climb the mile 26 marker was in site. I knew I was running out of time to hit the final guy that I wanted to pass so I put it into overdrive and gave it all I had left (in hindsight, not the best idea when you have a race the next day).

Kaela was at the final turn that brought us under the park gate to the finish. I noticed her at the last minute but I was so focused on passing this guy that I couldn’t even acknowledge her. In the last tenth of a mile he seemed to have slowed down a bit and I just flew by him with a huge smile on my face. As I approached the finish I heard over the speakers, “congratulations to Jonathan Flores all the way from Columbus, OH.”

4:34:33

I was spent.

I stumbled down to the finishers area, trying to walk out the lactic acid built up in my legs. Kaela met me on one side to give me some congratulations. I kept on moving to get some food as my body felt so weak, and boy did the food come through. There was something called an “autumn harvest bowl” with veggies, rice and edamame; donuts; fruit; and of course delicious chocolate milk. Usually after races my stomach is in knots and I can only get down a little bit of food but that day I smashed it all. Kaela ordered some sliders from a food truck and while she was waiting I started the slow walk towards the car (Kaela knew she would easily be able to catch up). When I got back to the car I did some simple and quick stretches, changed into some fresh clothes and just like that we were off to Rhode Island.

This was a really fun race. The volunteers and spectators made it something special for sure. Sometimes I feel when you head to races that start downtown and head out into the suburbs, you only get a few handfuls of people cheering you on in the back half of the course. I think having the half marathon have its own dedicated course allowed each section to have its own “cheer squad” and they came through. It was also nice to see Kaela a few more times than expected to keep my motivation levels high.

As far as my running went, I wasn’t super happy with falling apart early, but I was proud of myself for digging deep and not giving up. The picture above shows my progress through the splits and even though I slowed down throughout the race, I gained position overall which I will count as a positive. Also the course was a lot hillier than I had expected, and coming off of West Virginia my legs held up surprisingly well.

With this race done, we were back in the car and headed further into New England for my first ever visit to the state of Rhode Island.

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