Hartford Marathon Review

The Hartford Marathon is a great race.

I ran the Hartford Half Marathon in 2009 and 2010. This year it was time to step up to the marathon (my second marathon overall). The Hartford Marathon Foundation (HMF) puts on a fantastic race. I’ve run a number of their 5ks and the Amica Half Marathon.

Usually when I arrive at a Race Expo there is a long line where volunteers search for bibs. When I arrived at the XL center, I showed race staff my license, and they grabbed the next available bib, scanned it, and it was mine. This made check in faster than any other race that I’ve run. This is a small example of HMF’s commitment to detail.

The Expo was nice. It wasn’t too large nor was it too small. Vendors had plenty of running gear. My only criticism is that there wasn’t a whole lot of options for men’s Hartford Marathon gear. I like to buy race specific merchandise and found the choices to be rather limited. I grabbed a Marathon T Shirt and a poster. I wanted to spend more on a jacket or sweatshirt but my options were limited. There appeared to be more selections for women.

The race shirt was a nice long sleeve technical shirt. Runners of all distances received the same shirt this year. This made the lines move very quickly.

Parking was easy on the morning of the race. I had no problem obtaining a free spot. If you are driving in, plan to arrive a little early. It appeared that traffic backed up. I arrived about 6:45 in the morning and only ran into a little traffic and had no problem obtaining a parking space.

I did not check a bag but it appeared easy to do so. This year HMF moved the bag check to the Bushnell.

If you’ve ever run a larger race you know there’s going to be lines for porta potties. HMF had a large number of porta potties on Lafayette Street. However, the lines were still long – manageable but long. I waited approximately 15 minutes in line and had no problem getting to the start.

If you are planning to meet people before the race, you should select a  meeting site not in Bushnell Park. Bushnell Park is full of people wondering around prior to the race. Finding anyone there is a crapshoot. My advice is to set a meeting spot outside of the Bushnell where things are less crowded.  Further, if your friends are stuck in traffic, the Bushnell is closer to race start.

After going through a number of course changes, HMF has perfected the marathon course. The Course starts between the State Capitol and Supreme Court. It is one of the most beautiful parts of the city. The course begins with a slight downhill and there is plenty of room for spectators.

The marathon and the half marathon start together. The course split about a mile in. I never felt like I had to fight for running space but after the split I had plenty of room.  The first part of the course takes you through downtown and into north Hartford where you encounter what feels like the largest hill on the course at Rev. Moody overpass. It’s not much of a hill at all. The course is very flat.

You’ll then run through Riverfront Park in Hartford and enjoy great views of the CT River in the fall. The river front stretch is one of the highlights of the course. After running along the river, you’ll briefly find yourself in an industrial zone. HMF wisely modified this part of the course to cut out a portion and extend the course in South Windsor.  From here you’ll make your way into south downtown Hartford, back to downtown, and over the bridge into East Hartford.

Once in East Hartford, you’ll be treated to some of the flattest stretches of the course as you make your way through a commercial park onto a beautiful riverfront trail. The views of the river and Hartford from East Hartford are also fantastic. This part of the course has plenty of tree cover.

You’ll then wind your way through a school driveway. This is the only part of the course where it feels like you are being detoured to add miles. It is brief and necessary.

Once you come out of that, you are basically making a straight shot out to the farthest point on the course in East Hartford. You’ll travel down route 5 and onto Prospect Street before reconnecting with route 5. This part of the course largely runs you through some residential neighborhoods. The terrain is rolling hills which felt nice on my legs.

If you are slower, like me, this is where you are likely to encounter the elite marathoners coming back and making a beeline to the finish. This moment gave me chills. The elite runners are so good. Every runner around me kept running, applauding and encouraging them.

You’ll then make your way onto King Street in East Hartford as you push onto Main Street in South Windsor. This is a very fun part of the course. This residents from here through South Windsor really embrace this race. All sorts of parties line the course. Here you’ll encounter what I felt was the second largest hill on the course – again it is very small.

When you turn onto Main Street, you are heading out to mile 17. Main Street in South Windsor is beautiful. Main Street in South Windsor in mid-October is very beautiful. Lots of green farm land, old trees, and older homes – all embracing the fall. As an added plus it is flat. The way out to mile 17 presented a slight incline. Nothing major but this is the point of the run where you may start feeling it. Fortunately between miles 17 and 20 is a slight decline.

Once you hit the turnaround you are 9 miles from the finish. The course will no longer loop you around. Mentally, this helps me. I hate winding courses, esp. at the end. You’ll largely retrace your steps (though you’ll stay on Main Street and skip the hills on King Street) and take a right onto Pitkin Street.

When you turn onto Pitken Street you are slightly under 2 miles to the finish. Pitkin Street is very flat. Here you’ll encounter the mile marker for mile 25 before turning onto the ramp for the bridge and heading back into Hartford.

This is my favorite view of the city. You’ll pass over the river and head into downtown. Here you’ll encounter your last “hill” of the course before the Old State House. It’s not much of a hill at all and I was so excited to be close to the finish I’m not sure my legs noticed. Soon you’ll pass the mile 26 marker.

From here to the finish, you’ll likely encounter people lining the streets. You’ll quickly see the “Arch” and run under it. The finish line is about 200 feet beyond the arch and has a very slight incline (just be prepared for it). It’s easy to see the arch and think you are done.

The finish line was well organized. They have this cool water fountain system which makes it easy to get water after your run. Plenty of volunteers greeted me to hand out medals and those tin foil “blankets”.

Along the course, I found water stations to be extremely well staffed, plentiful and organized. Each station featured gatorade and water and were well marked. A few stations had ample amounts of gu. There was one junk food station at mile 22 or 2 that featured soda and candy. You can carry your own water if you’d like but I was fine using the water stations. Volunteers on cyclists were all over the course, checking on runners, and handing out gu.

There were several bands and DJs along the course that were well appreciated.

The food tent at the end of the race is outstanding. Plenty of healthy options and well organized.

I loved this race. I’ve run the Vermont City Marathon (a course noted for being scenic) and found this course to be more scenic. This of course is a matter of preference.

Every year this race HMF pushes to improve this race and every year they succeed in doing so.  I love living so close to such a great race.  If you are looking for a mid sized, well organized, fairly flat, beautiful, fall marathon – strongly consider Hartford. I think you’ll love it, too. I recommend this race without hesitation.

I’m signing up for next years race the first day registration opens. One day soon, this marathon is going to start selling out quickly.

Ryan McKeen is an attorney at McKeen Law, LLC.