By staff contributor - Alexander Kowalsky
What started off as a frigid April morning turned into a beautiful spring day at the Middletown 1/2 Marathon. As I continue building into the triathlon season, I decided to jump into this race to test my fitness and gauge what kind of 1/2 marathon I could lay down after a hard bike ride. The plan was to ride 40 miles from Madison to Middletown, avoiding no hills and trying to dial in a steady effort. My weapon of choice was the Cervelo P2 and since I haven't been riding the TT bike much over the past 6 months, one of the objectives was to stay in the aero position for the duration of the ride. Riding up to Middletown was cold, hilly and windy, but I managed to make it there in under 2 hours after climbing over 2300 feet in just 40 miles.
Packet Pickup in Union Park was easy and stress free. The folks at The Hartford Marathon Foundation did a nice job organizing the pre-race logistics. After picking up my race bib, I had about 45 minutes before race start. My father planned to meet me at the race, so after finding him I did a quick costume change, hydrated, ate some nutrition, threw on my Newton Gravity III and made my way to the start line.
By the time the gun went off the temperature had risen to around 50 degrees. Going into this race, I knew it was a hilly course, but I underestimated just how punchy it was going to be. Within the first mile we hit a massive hill on Court street before easing into a downhill on the other side. Despite the 40 miles already in my legs, I felt good on that first uphill mile with a 6:33 split. Before reaching the 2nd mile split there was some confusion at an intersection of the course and several athletes (myself included) were misdirected. Instead of turning right to do a 3.5 mile loop, a group of about 12 of us were instructed to go left. I remember hearing volunteers yelling, "1/2 marathon LEFT, 4-mile RIGHT." And as I saw several 1/2 marathoners sprinting back the other way after turning right, I made the left turn as well. Within 1/4 mile it was apparent we had been misdirected because my Garmin gave my second split as I went passed the 5 mile mark. The good thing was that I was still on course, albeit about 3.5 miles ahead of where I should have been. I didn't let it phase me because its not like I was competing for anything. This was a training run and the goal was to test the fitness, not to be competitive.
The best way to describe the Middletown 1/2 marathon is that it is relentlessly rolling. The course is punctuated by punchy little hills that made it impossible to get into a rhythm. I don't think there was even a single 1/4 mile section that was flat. Next year they should re-name it the "Up or Down" Middletown 1/2. By mile 7 I had been averaging 6:38/mile pace but could feel the fatigue creeping in. My legs were getting heavy and it gradually became harder and harder to move uphill. I managed to take on some calories and a little water at the aid station around mile 8, but felt that I was beginning to run on empty. Just after the 15K mark a volunteer on a bike caught up with me and had identified me as one of the runners led off-course. At this point I was near the last mile but the volunteer instructed me that I had 4 more miles to go and that if I turned off at the next road I would be back on course to run the 3.5 mile loop I had skipped earlier. The biggest challenge of doing the 3.5 mile loop late in the race was that there were 2 BIG hills and I fell apart when I got to the first one. I had hit the wall and could not go uphill anymore. I felt awful and had to walk, although it looked more like a drunken stagger. I walked for about 10 seconds before re-gathering myself. I was just under 11 miles in and was running on fumes. Before mile 12 I hit another hill and was yet again reduced to walking. I did everything I could to put one foot in front of the other. The only thing that made it easier was telling myself that it was "only a 1/2 marathon" and that it was almost over. The last mile was a nice downhill to the finish on Main Street.
In hindsight, I think my nutrition plan was flawed. I did not drink enough fluid on the bike ride and failed to take on enough water during the run. Although I had been taking electrolyte tablets throughout the day, I should have drank more fluid and had more calories. All in all, I was pleased with my performance despite being humbled by a hilly run course. My finish time was just over 1:33 although the mishap on the run course added about .5 mile getting back to do the 3.5 mile loop at the end. The total elevation came out to 700 feet of climbing. That is a lot for a 1/2 marathon. If you're looking for a challenging race, I would definitely recommend Middletown.