Latest reviews by Christopher M.
The Hartford Marathon Foundation’s signature races (26.2 and 13.1) in my opinion are one of the highlights of the New England running calendar.
Quite smooth and seamless. I’ve registered for dozens of races, and this was one of the easiest platforms that I have ever used. The fine print is actually not that fine, you can read it! Additionally, registration allows for up to three different cell phone numbers to receive SMS alerts of your progress. I used all three spots, and each person I listed received my 6.5 mile split and finish time.
I also received a timely email upon registration and several along the way giving me updates on parking, and bib pick-up.
The race shirt for the 13.1was a long sleeve technical. It actually seems softer than most of the other technical shirts that I have. My only complaint is that the 13.1 and 5K shirts were the same; literally has 13.1/5K on the front.
I also got a draw string backpack and a few other goodies.
As a bonus, each finisher received a “Finisher” water bottle, reusable lunch bag filled with the usual race loot, and a very nice medal.
The expo was held in a very expansive exhibition hall at the XL Center. Dozens and dozens of vendors filled the hall. I was impressed at the variety as well, there are always repeat type vendors, but it didn’t seem to be given the size.
Bib pick-up was very quick. I went at what I assume to be a busy time, 3PM on Friday, and I was done in less than 20 minutes. There were plenty of volunteers, and they KNEW how to use the computers used to check runners in.
Shirt/swag pick-up was across the room, forcing you to mingle with the vendors. I’m cool with that, vendors make a ton of races possible, so I will see what they have to offer and grab a few free bars and gels along the way. As for shirt pick up, it was broken down by size, and there were plenty of volunteers literally, 1-2 minute wait to get my shirt.
The absolute highlight of the expo was none other than Bill Rodgers signing autographs and talking to runners. Bill grew up about 15 miles from Hartford, so it was a blast to see him home! I literally waited longer to speak to him than the rest of the time I spent at the expo. He was super gracious, approachable and personable. The one thing that I have noticed about running that no matter how fast or slow someone is, we have a bond. Bill absolutely cemented that opinion for me. He treated everyone he met as if they were his his equal. You would have never known he was at one time the fastest man in the world. Humble.
This course elevation wasn’t overly challenging, I would actually say it was average. I think that a bulk of the hills were in the first half of the race, with the exception of a downhill in the last mile, and last tenth was uphill, finishing just past the famous Hartford Arch.
Starting out, there are something like 19,999 other bodies with you. You deal with the typical bumping. I can’t think of a race that I have run where in the first few tenths there WASN’T bumping. After the first half mile it eases nicely. I think that the congestion is also partly attributed to the fact that both the 26.2 and 13.1 share the first 2 miles and finishing mile or so.
The entire route is laced with spectators. And they cheer! Growing up in Connecticut, one thing I can tell you about sports fans in the Nutmeg State, they are passionate. I had a great time just taking in the crowd. Based on the fans, I would add this race to my schedule every year.
As far as the scenery, the course takes you through and by a number of Hartford’s landmarks. They include the State Library, St. Joseph’s University, UConn Law, Elizabeth Park (Unbelivalbly beautiful!!!) and finishes just under the Bushnell Park Arch. The Arch also is the main subject of both finisher medals.
The course also has great support from volunteers. In addition to the 8 official water stations, I counted several other “unofficial” stops with people handing out water and Gatorade. There were more than enough trash bins along the way too, that coupled with volunteers raking up discarded cups, the water stops were very easy to navigate. Two official stops also had GU gels. Additionally, each mile marker had a digital time clock and was staffed by volunteers, all of whom in my experience knew seemingly endless bits of information about the race and the day.
Along the course there were several bands. They showcased Hartford's diversity including Latin, Afro-Carribian, rock, county and Indian.
The one negative that I had is the now former sponsor, ING, had a great cheering section set up. Yes, I loved the cheering. What annoyed me was that volunteers were handing out INC logo items in the middle of the course to the RUNNERS. Very difficult to avoid someone shoving their hand in your face wanting you to take a pair of their sunglasses or stress balls. The debris that it caused on the course was dangerous because most people just tossed what they were handed.
Pre and Post Race and other amenities:
Coming from about 30 minutes away, I drove into town rather than spring for a hotel. Parking was very easy, and I paid $10 to do so. I could have parked closer the start/finish, but I knew I would have a challenge to get back to the highway.
The Bushnell Theater provided a bag check for runners, I was seriously worried that I would miss the start of the race given the HUGE line, but it was faster than an elite in a 5K. Post race, it was even smoother given the staggerd finishes.
Each runner in addition to the goodie bag I mentioned above received a full post race meal. It included a grilled cheese sandwich, vegan tomato soup, fruit, yogurt, and other items…OK, I went for the soup and sandwich combo, one of my all time favorite meals. An AMAZING touch was that each menu item also had a full ingredients list. That such a great touch for a lot of people given the attention to food allergies today.
Additionally, a large number of vendors who participated in the expo the day before also were set up outside in the park where we finished. The YMCA also had volunteers also roaming the area offering full use of their locker rooms and showers to all runners, including toiletries and towels. Again, another great detail that contributed to my overall impression of the race.
This race has been nicknamed "Little Boston" or "Baby Boston". Given the climbs, it's very easy to see why. Miles 1-4 are completely uphill. Bill Rodgers won the race it's first three years in the 1970's. Several locals who qualify for Boston generally treat this as a training run.
Registration is generally very easy. This year however my GMail spam filter picked up the confirmation email. 2014 was the fourth time I ran this race, and it has never happened before. Coincidently, my final instructions email hit the spam filter too. Race Wire supports the event, so I was very surprised.
If you do decide to run this race, register early. If you register by 1/17, the cost is just $25. Every month on the 17th, the price goes up by $10 until March.
The race shirt isn't your typical race shirt. It is a pigment dyed shirt and around here it is considered quite stylish.
The expo is basically just bib pickup. I have two complaints about pickup. The first is that there is a DJ blasting music in the tent they use as Race Headquarters. It is extremely difficult to hear. Additionally, in years past, bib pickup started at noon on Friday making it easy for me to run over at lunch and pick up my bib and shirt.This year, it started at 3PM. They will let you pick up on race day as well, and they also allow someone else to pick up your bib providing they have your final instructions email.
On race day, the Race HQ allows runners to hang in a warm environment. They also provide bananas, chips, cookies and waters to runners. The DJ is still blasting music, so it's not ultra comfortable for my tastes
Parking is very difficult. With the number of spectators and runners, you can park up to 1/2 mile away from the start. There are some lots that charge, but there is a ton of on street parking.
A local church runs a free bag drop, donations are accepted. I have not used it personally, but I have spoken to a few friends who say it is secure and well organized.
As I mentioned, the first four miles are uphill. Out of the chute there are 6000+ runners, and hundreds of bandits. The race now staggers the start with elites and mid pack runners going off first. A second and third wave goes off a minute after the first two groups. The two mile walk goes off a minute or two after the runners and now has it's own course. In years past, walkers clogged the course slowing everyone down.
The first 1/2 mile you get the typical bumping, but the course opens up quickly, so it's not an issue. There are two official water stops along the way. The first has tables set up on both sides of the street causing bit of a slow down. There are also not enough trash bins at either stop so it's a bit messy.
The spectators literally make this race. The ENTIRE course is lined with spectators. Given the celebration the weekend of the race, everyone is rowdy. It is actually infectious. Spectators along the route also have literally dozens of unofficial water stops as well as beer, Jell-O shots, and nip bottles. I will say these unofficial stops are well maintained. I'm always scared of tripping on a discarded cup.
The final 2.2 miles are mostly downhill, and 5 is extra fast as it is the steepest down grade. Once you cross the finish line, you are corralled a few blocks before you are dumped back into the center of the St. Patrick's Day celebration. There is water at the end of the finishing corrals, but by the 70 minute mark, most of the water and cups are gone.
A highlight of the race is the costumes. There is the traditional St. Patrick's Day garb, a man playing a tuba, yes, a 25 pound brass tuba over 6.2 miles, guys in drag, tutus, a ghillie suit, speedos, green men, and a juggler.
Pre and Post Race:
First thing pre-race that you should be concerned with is parking. Bib pick up begins at 9AM the party starts at 9:01. There is a kids run as well at 10AM. There are a few free parking garages in the area and some pay lots. The on street parking tends to fill up quickly. If you don't get there early, be prepared to walk 1/4 to 1/2 mile. The race committee also provides a shuttle bus from a local Community College. Be prepared to wait in long lines for the buses to and from the race.
As I mentioned, the crowds are huge. It makes it difficult to make your way through the crowd to the start, and if you jog lightly as a warm up, it is very difficult to do so with traffic around the area and people wandering about.
A huge draw for the race is the after party. Honestly, the party isn't my thing. If you do stay, the food vendors are very reasonably priced and beer is very cheap.
Overall, the sheer challenge of the course makes me go back year after year.
A great sprint triathlon for beginners, but still a challenge for seasoned athletes. Once again, the Hartford Marathon Foundation puts on a great event.
Quite smooth and seamless. I’ve registered for dozens of races, and this was one of the easiest platforms that I have ever used. The fine print is actually not that fine, you can read it! Additionally, registration allows for up to three different cell phone numbers to receive SMS alerts of your progress. I used all three spots, and each person I listed received my finish time.
I also received a timely email upon registration and several along the way giving me updates on parking, and bib pick-up, and possible weather contingencies.
As this is a USAT sanctioned event, you either need a current membership or you will have the option to purchase a one day membership. The cost of a one day membership can be used to buy down the cost of an annual membership. The first year I did this race I got the one day and the very next day, I upgraded to the full. Literally, the experience that I had with this race cemented my love of endurance racing.
Solo registration starts at $70, but jumps to $85 after mid January. After July 4 , it's $95, $100 on race day. This does not include the cost of the USAT membership. You can not complete registration if you do not have a valid membership or purchase a one day. The cost is $12 for the one day. A yearly adult membership is $45, but you in addition to that cost, you receive hundreds of dollars in perks. I would recommend if you plan on doing two or more multi sport events, splurge for the full membership.
The race shirt is a great dry release shirt. It is extremely soft, unlike any other dry release shirt I've seen. Well, maybe at another HMF race. Additionally, I received a draw string bag, water bottle, and wave specific colored swim cap.
There isn't a traditional expo at this race during packet pick up. It is held however at Niantic Bay Bicycles, so if you need something pre race, you can grab it. I will talk more about the bike shop later in the review.
You will need both your photo ID and registration email to pick up your packet. Also if you are a USAT member, you will need either your ID card, key tag or official printout from USAT. If you signed up for a one day membership, you will need that email receipt as well.
All athletes, regardless of membership status, are required to sign a liability waiver. If you are likely to read the fine print, it's a good idea to pre read the waiver. It is available on the HMF and USAT websites.
On race day, there are several vendors and sponsors setup by the transition area. They have sunscreen and lip balm giveaways, always great in race day! There also was a chiropractor and a sports massage station.
Parking is on two grassy fields a both a good distance away from Transition. One is directly across from the bike dismount, and the second is much further out next to a church. There are actually two churches fairly close to the parking areaYou are going to miss the typical Sunday traffic due tot the early start times and the fact that you want to get tot the race at least 60-90 minutes early to set up your transition area and get loose.
I had my wife drop me off at the bike dismount which proved great for me to get to the corrals early, but because she left to get coffee and pick the kids up, the walk back to the car was quite a hike. Be prepared if you do the same.
There were just two volunteers at body marking. A third or fourth would have made the day start out much smoother.
Transition was extremely secure. I had to show my bib number to enter and to leave at the end of the race with my bike. The transition area had ample space for every athlete. Bikes weren't crowded on the racks, and I was able to set up my shoes and gear easily without crowding someone else. Also, the racks were numbered clearly making T1 and T2 smooth.
Bike support was provided by Niantic Bay Bicycles. The owner, Steve Morrissey was the head mechanic for the USA Cycling Team for several years. I always give my bike a quick once over prior to any race, but I brought it over anyway. They checked my breaks, front and rear derailleur, and tire pressure. All without asking.
Pre race warmup:
Take your pick. Both bike and run courses are very accessible, again, you will need your bib visible to exit or re-enter. Everyone also seems to do a pre race swim by the start. My advise is do at the swim exit especially if you want to go hard and fast of do a pickup set. Once you finish that set, make your way over to the start and stay loose with a breast stroke.
Getting from Transition to the swim start was a bit of a hike. I wore a cheap pair of Old Navy flip-flops to throw out since I had to walk over grass and a rocky patch to get to the beach.
The views of most of the swim area are obviously obscured, other than spotting or breaths. However, looking out to the bay it is quite nice, if you don't notice the nuclear power plant in the distance.
The starts are staggered nicely, but the actual chute is a bit narrow. Once the gun goes off, there is going to be a ton of kicking and punching due to the small start area. There are several waves, elite/invited athletes, age group men/Clydesdales, age group women/Athena/Masters males, and first timers/relay.
The first 100 or so meters of the swim is covered with seaweed. It passes quickly, so no need to stress. There are jelly fish in the bay too. Dozens of lifeguards are in the water, and the buoys are large, and easily spotted to keep you on course.
The swim exit is on the beach. Just past the beach in route to T1, there is a a kiddie pool to rinse your feet off. There are volunteers hand king out water too. Always good to rinse the salt out of your mouth.
What I did miss was the table with vinegar sprays for the jellyfish stings. Didn't hear about it until the post race festivities. This is why you read the entire athlete information packet!
I did not wear a wetsuit, opting instead for a one piece tri kit. The water temperature does allow for one, but considering the overall length of the swim and race itself I believe that the extra transition time required to strip it off is not worth the effort. If however, you are treating this as a tune up for a 70.3 or 140.6, by all means, go for it!
Coming out of T1, the bike course starts on a fairly large uphill. The road is wide allowing for the faster cyclists to pass. Each turn is clearly marked and well staffed with volunteers. There are a few turns that come at the bottom of downhills. The volunteers are trained to alert you to the turn and motion to slow you down.
Keep in mind, not everyone in this race is experienced in cycling. Make sure you announce your passing intentions and check your 9 o'clock often.
The opening and finishing miles are on main roads. They are very well coned off and several police are stationed strategically to protect runners.
Each of the bike miles takes you through a fairly beautiful area. Actually, most of the ride is shaded.
After dismount, there is a fairly steep run back into transition. If you wear cycle shoes, make sure they come off prior to tackling the hill. YOU WILL FALL DOWN.
Coming out of T2, the run is fairly flat. The views of the bay and beach are spectacular. At about the 1/2 mile mark, there is a water and sports drink stop. Additionally, there is someone with a garden hose offering a spray. Very nice treat. I'm guessing that you hit the water/spray station somewhere in the middle part of mile 2 as the overall course is mostly a loop.
The finish is amazing. The final 500 meters or so are run on the sand. Be aware of the change in terrain. I stumbled a bit. My suggestion is do not wear newer running shoes to the event. You are going to get them full of sand, inside and out. You can try to rinse them out, but it never works.
At the finish, you receive a very nice beach themed medal along with a water and popsicle. The 2013 edition was quite warm, so it was welcome. They do collect your timing chip and strap before exiting the finishing corral, so there is a small backup, but not too inconvenient.
A few nice things to note here. Most everyone cools off back in the bay. The water temperature is perfect to do so.
There is also a nice post race spread with yogurt, bagels and assorted toppings, fresh fruit, water, and this amazing Asian inspired ramen salad. If [Hartford Marathon Foundation Executive Director] Beth Shluger is listening I want that recipe!
Results are posted in the expo/sponsors area. It is very difficult to navigate the sea of people that are trying to see their results on a computer printout. A few other HMF events have computer terminals set up and a volunteer searches via your bib number. My guess is that there may be something different due to USAT rules.
Again, this is a great race year after year. It was the first race that I had done as a triathlete, and it is still on my race calendar.