Sunday, October 9, 2022

Hilly Hartford Half!

I ran the Hartford Half Marathon yesterday. I chose this race because it was four weeks out from my full marathon (I like to run a half marathon 4-5 weeks out) and I had never done it before. It was also a quick flight and I had heard good things about it. 

When looking at the elevation profile, I had been looking at the 2021 course on Strava. It looked a little hilly, but nothing crazy. I knew that it wouldn't be as fast and flat as my PR courses, but I was excited about visiting a new state; I had never been to Connecticut. 

My training leading up to this race had gone really well. Even though the mileage was less than what I typically do, I had run some fast workouts so I felt like my speed was coming along. Key workouts included:

  • A set of 8 x 800m (with 400m recovery jogs) which averaged 3:10, and the last 4 of them were all under 3:10 (3:08, 3:06, 3:07, 3:09)
  • An 18-mile run with 11 marathon-pace miles averaging 7:21.
  • 3 x 10 minutes at tempo pace with 2 minutes recovery jogs, and the tempo miles averaged out to 6:51.
Unlike last fall, this fall actually started in late September so we had some nice training weather. 

If this course had been flat, I would have tried to PR. I don't necessarily think I am in the best shape of my life, but close enough that I would have gone for it. My PR is 1:30:58 from 2019 and I have run two marathons that were 1:31:xx. So when I am at my fittest and the course is flat, right around 1:31:00 is what I can do. 

Elevation Profile
A few days before the race, I realized that the 2022 course was not the same as the 2021 course; It would be hillier. The 2022 course had 428 feet of elevation gain according to Strava, and 450 feet of gain according to FinalSurge (my training log). Depending on where you train and what you're used to, this could be perceived as very hilly or not that hilly. At least on paper. If you ran this course in person, there was no way you could not think it was hilly!

Elevation profile, according to Strava

Given the elevation profile, I decided I would aim for a time of 1:33 (a pace of around 7:05 for 13.2 miles). I figured I could probably run 1:31-1:32 on a flat course, and hills would add an extra minute. 

It was 49 degrees at the start, warming to 51 by the finish, mostly sunny, with 10 mph winds. Pre-race, I was going to give this an 8 out of 10 on my race weather scale. But there were portions that were super windy, and when you are running up hill into the wind, that just sucks. So while I was on course I downgraded this to a 7 out of 10. 

Before the Race
We flew to Hartford on Friday, landing at around 2:00. It was a very quick flight from Dulles; only 50 minutes in the air. Our hotel was next door to the race expo, which was super convenient. By 3:30, we had checked in, gotten our bibs and settled back into the hotel. I made sure to hydrate really well. I drank plenty of water + electrolytes all throughout the day.

Greg had been planning on running this race, but last weekend he injured his groin on a long run. It's similar to what I had in the spring of 2021 only I don't think his adductor tendon is torn. He hasn't run since and will probably take another week off. Unfortunately when it happened he was on the W&OD trail and had to walk back to the car for over 4 miles. He wasn't heart broken about not being able to race, but he's definitely not happy about the injury.

We went to Salute for dinner, which was about half a mile from our hotel. This was one of the best pre-race dinners I have ever had. The garlic bread was amazing. It was fresh from the oven and you could sink your teeth into it. . . and it was like heaven. I had pasta with red sauce and chicken. The pasta was freshly made and the service was wonderful. 

I slept really well. I didn't find the bed to be particularly comfortable, but they had nice pillows, which is rare in hotels. I slept straight through from 8:30-3:15. I had no pre-race anxiety dreams. (I often dream that I missed the start, or that the race is an obstacle course), I was awake from 3:15-4:00, but then fell back asleep for another hour. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go. 

For breakfast I had a banana, almond butter pretzels, and the Maurten Drink Mix 160. I got dressed in my McMillan singlet, Tracksmith Twilight Split Shorts, and adidas Adios Pro shoes. I went with the original version of the shoe for this race.

Star Spangled Banner at the start
We left the hotel at around 7:20 for an 8:00 start. I warmed up for just over a mile on what I thought was the half marathon course. When I was done with my warm up, I noticed that there were no corrals. And I couldn't find Greg, who said he would meet me at the entrance to the corral. As it turned out, I was at the start line of the 5K. I had a brief moment of panic, but then realized that the half marathon start line couldn't be that far away. 

I found the half marathon/marathon start and Greg was at the entrance to the corral. I handed him my gloves and my jacket and he wished me well.

I was in the corral for about 10 minutes before the race started. The National Anthem was sung and then the governor said a few words. I was in corral "A" which was the first corral behind the elite athletes. I felt relatively calm, but definitely excited to be at the start line of a race.

Miles 1-4
The marathon and half marathon started together and only stayed together for the first mile. So the first mile was pretty packed, and it was hard to get into a good rhythm. The unusual thing about Hartford is that the marathon course is not at all the same as the half marathon course. After the first mile, the courses split off and they don't merge together until the finish line. The half marathon goes through west Hartford and is much hillier than the full. The full marathon is mostly flat until the last few miles, or so I have been told.

I ran the first mile in 7:13 which was right where I wanted to be. The plan was to start out around 7:10-7:15 for the first 3 miles and then speed up to half marathon pace after that, hopefully 7:05. I knew that the biggest hills would be during miles 5, 8, and 11, so I wrote those miles on my arm. That way, if i was slower on those miles, I wouldn't worry. I would make up the time on the downhills.

Mile 2.2
After we split off from the marathoners, I figured I would get into my groove and things would start to feel more controlled. But I still felt like I was trying to find my groove. We had a 10 mph headwind, so I tried drafting, but that didn't work very well. Very few portions of this course were flat; it was either up or down for 90% of the time. 

I saw Greg shortly after mile marker 2. That was about the time I wanted to take my first gel, but I didn't want to be taking a gel in my photos, so I waited until I passed him. He was on the opposite side of the street so I sped up to pass a few people to get a good view of him. 

I felt flat, but I didn't worry because I figured my caffeinated gel would perk me up. The pace felt hard, so I decided to keep it steady. If I averaged a 7:10 pace instead of 7:05, that would be fine. My legs didn't seem to have their normal pep or power, which was weird. In workouts they had been feeling awesome, and I even allowed myself a taper for this race. I hadn't done a hard workout since Monday - and even that was only 30 minutes of work. So there was no reason for the 'dead legs' feeling. 

Mile 1: 7:13
Mile 2: 7:11
Mile 3: 7:11
Mile 4: 7:15

Miles 5-9
Mile 5 was the first of the "big hill" miles. What surprised me most about this race was that it wasn't just the "big hills" - I think I could have handled those. It was all the smaller ups and downs that really wore me out, which I wasn't physically or mentally prepared for. As experienced as I am, I still find it hard to translate elevation profiles into knowing what it will actually be like when I am racing.

Back to the "big hill". According to FinalSurge, this hill had 79 feet of elevation gain and 5 feet of loss. Thus, my average pace was 7:46. I had assumed that I would probably run this at around 7:30, but it was much harder than I expected. And I didn't have a ton of energy to really push.

A hill like that early in the race can really kill your legs for the rest of the race. I ran the Hanover half marathon a few years ago, which had 150+ feet of climbing right at the the beginning. And after that my legs never recovered. I ran a time of 1:37:47. I didn't expect Hartford to be anything like Hanover, but the overall elevation gain was pretty similar.

I don't think the hills were the only reason I slowed down so much. It was a low-energy day for me, despite my good sleep, my proper fueling, the nice weather, and lack of digestive issues. I feel like I did everything "right" and yet I was running much slower than planned with little pep. Thankfully, I recovered during the 6th mile with a split of 7:08. That's more like it! 

I took my next gel at 1 hour into the race, and really hoped it would give me the energy I needed.

Mile 8 was the next big-hill mile. And I think it was around this point when the 1:40 pacer caught up to me. I knew I was not on pace for my original 1:33, but I also knew I was nowhere close to approaching 1:40 territory. This pacer must have been blazing fast for 1:40!

I ran mile 8 at a pace of 7:46 - the same as mile 5! At least I was consistent. 

Mile 5: 7:46
Mile 6: 7:08
Mile 7: 7:27
Mile 8: 7:46
Mile 9: 7:22

Miles 10-Finish
I didn't feel like the race was getting progressively harder like it normally does in half marathons. It was about the same level of hardness from mile 4 all the way to the finish. It was harder than it should have been early on. And then at the very end I didn't have the pain I normally feel. But yet. . . I couldn't go faster. "This doesn't hurt too much, but I physically can't give any more." 

This is a long winded way of saying I probably could have run a few extra miles at my average race pace, but I could not have gone any faster. 

Heading to the finish line
I kept a positive attitude, I had fun, I high-fived the spectators who had their hands up. I didn't get discouraged. I focused on keeping my form strong and powering through. There were a few people I leapfrogged with the entire race. They passed me going uphill and I passed them going downhill. I was happy that by the end of this game I was ahead of most of the leapfrogging squad. 

Just before the finish I finally passed that 1:40 pacer. I have to assume that he lost most of his group because he would end up running much faster than 1:40. It felt nice to be so strong at the end. Mile 12 was my fastest mile of the race in 7:04.  I said above, I wasn't "dying" out there or in a ton of pain. It was basically a lack of energy and with no pep in my step. It wasn't a bonk or a crash - it was a steady slog all the way through.

Mile 10: 7:16
Mile 11: 7:24
Mile 12: 7:04
Mile 13: 7:19
Final 0.27: 6:45 pace

After the Race
I had a nice sprint to the finish, and crossed with an official time of 1:37:14. That was a 7:20 pace on my Garmin - not sure of the official pace. I placed 10 out of 224 in my age group.

I walked through the finish line chute, got my medal and heat sheet, and then found Greg. I was exhausted and not in the best mood. All I wanted to do was get back to the hotel and rest. 

We walked just over half a mile to the hotel and it felt so good to get out of those clothes and into the tub. My hands had gone numb and my arms were cold. The rest of me was hot. My body is not good at distributing heat evenly. 

We had a 2:30pm flight out of Hartford, but it was delayed by nearly 3 hours. This really ate into our day because we didn't get home until 7:30. We grabbed take out on the way home, ate it quickly and went to bed. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
This is obviously not the race I hoped for, but there are definitely some positives to take from it. There's really no way to know for sure why I felt so sluggish, but I have a few theories. It's probably a combination of all of them. 

1. I underestimated the difficulty of the course. Maybe this is actually a decent time for me on this course, given that I am not a strong hill runner. 

2. My legs were tired from marathon training. I don't really buy into this one too much, because I have PR'ed half marathons during marathon training cycles. But once again, a hilly course demands more out of your legs, so it could have played more of a role here than on my flat half marathons. 

3. Just an off day. We all have them, probably likely that this was my off day and I'd rather have it today than during my full marathon.

4. Post-covid heart rate issues. I was 99% sure my covid heart rate issues were behind me, but my heart rate during this race was really high for the paces I was running. My heart rate suggests that I could not have pushed harder, even if I had the energy. According to my heart rate, I ran this at an extremely hard effort. I REALLY hope this is not the case, because if it is, it will always limit my racing potential and I will never race long distances as fast as I used to.

Some people have suggested that it could be an iron deficiency of a vitamin deficiency, but if that were the case, I wouldn't have had such strong workouts leading up to this race. I felt great during those!

Now for the key takeaways, starting with the negative and then moving into the positive:

  • It was disappointing to be so far from my goal, and to place 10th in my age group. At large half marathons in the past (Wineglass, Columbus) I have won age group awards. 
  • My goal marathon pace is 7:20 and yesterday's average pace was 7:20. That doesn't bode well for it being my full marathon pace in 4 weeks.
  • Since this race didn't boost my confidence in my marathon abilities, I will work with my coach on workouts that will get me closer to my goal. I've had quite a few marathon pace workouts, but maybe I need more half marathon pace workouts to increase my lactate threshold
  • This race was a good workout for the marathon!
  • Not sure if this is good or bad, but my heart rate had me at half marathon effort or harder
  • I ran 13.27 miles according to my Garmin; I need to do less weaving
  • I got to experience a new race and a new state
  • I had fun
  • My effort level was consistent throughout the race; I didn't bonk or crash
  • I kept a positive attitude, and didn't give up mentally
  • My fastest mile was mile 12, which has never happened before in a half marathon
  • I am healthy and not injured
  • Objectively, 1:37 is a solid half marathon performance
  • I will be very thankful for a flat marathon course
I got it done. I ran a steady race. Now I am more hungry than ever for some fast times. 


  1. I'm putting my money solidly on #1. The combo of hills + headwind is one giant energy suck. Congrats on a great race in spite of it all!

  2. Probably a combo of underestimating the course and just having an off day. I hope you don't let this one get in your head as you prepare for your marathon. You did really well in spite of feeling off!

  3. Take what the day gives you is my running club's motto. 1:37 half marathon may not be "fast" by your standards, but you ran consistent and steady effort with respect to the hills. The issue with the "heavy, dead or no pep legs" feeling I propose may be more related to your training....that is, in the sense you do not train to run hills. If you don't have a training regimen that includes hill repeats or running longer duration intervals in hilly terrain, then your likely not going to have the leg strength to run super fast in the hilly course race. And even the little mini-rollers leading to the first big hill in early phase of race at your effort level likely contributes to feeling and perception of no pep legs? You ran well Zebra!

    1. I think you nailed it. The more I reflect on this, I think that I am just not well trained for hills. I have been consistently doing 1 hill workout per week, but my normal route is not that hilly. And yup, the mini rollers definitely took their toll early on.

  4. May have been a tough day but based on your miles, you were in fact consistent and that is just what you had in you that day. I hope it isn't a sign of anything other than that. I like that mile 12 was such a great mile but understand your wondering why you could hold that pace but couldn't push yourself to go any faster. Hard to give advice because we are all different and what works for one, doesn't for someone else. You're not going to lose fitness in the next three weeks (bc that's what it is now) as long as you keep getting out there, so hopefully you'll figure out the right way to be your strongest come race day as I am pulling for your successful run and rooting for you!!