From a dairy farm in Storrs to the hotels of downtown Hartford, local businesses and officials geared up for one of the largest events in the city, the Eversource Hartford Marathon, which is expected to draw more than 10,000 runners and 2,500 volunteers to the capital city. When the first runners cross the start line on Saturday morning, the work of almost 150 local vendors will have contributed to the development of the event, said Hartford Marathon Foundation CEO and President Beth Shluger.
“The vendors that we use for staging this entire extravaganza are local organizations as much as we can,” she said. “Cash is king. We always need money to help put this on. We feed 10,000 plus athletes’ ... There are lots of things that local businesses can do to be a part of it and support it.”
One of those tasks is crafting the 350 awards for the top finishers, which is done at Bevin Bells in East Hampton, and another is fueling the athletes before and after the race. At the two-day fitness exposition at the XL Center, Woodbridge-based “superstarch” seller Generation UCAN and Storrs’ Mountain Dairy milk provider joined about 60 vendors introducing their products and services as runners picked up their race bibs.
Generation UCAN is a starch intended for producing steady energy over time and stabilizing blood sugar, which was developed by the father of a son with a dangerous blood sugar disorder. It’s used by endurance athletes. Outreach events like the marathon expo offer a chance for businesses to connect with their customer base but also draw inspiration from the athletes as well, said Zach Cohen, UCAN’s business operations manager.
“The marathoner is probably our first and favorite customer because they’re so impacted by their endurance levels, we’re able to see this product help them reach this level in their life,” Cohen said. “I was never a runner. I’d never run more than four or five miles in my life. Being in this community and hearing all these amazing stories is what’s really inspired me.” In November he will run his first marathon, in New York.
At a nearby booth, Lisa Ennis poured thick chocolate milk into sample cups for expo attendees. As director of sales at the 146-year-old Stearns Family Farm’s Mountain Dairy milk company, she watched her coworkers — and the cows — ready almost 7,000 10-ounce containers of 1% chocolate milk for runners after the finish line. This is the first year the Stearns Family Farm is a sponsor.
“The cows are fine, the plant manager not so much,” Ennis joked. “[But] the more nutrients the better after you have exhausted yourself running 26.2 miles.”
The value of supporting the marathon with their milk is “endless,” she said. “Probably [Thursday] alone 60 percent of the people that came up to the booth had never heard of Mountain Dairy or never sampled the chocolate milk. So for us the exposure alone is priceless..”
While attendees perused racks of marathon apparel and tasted UCAN and the milk, hotels and Airbnbs scurried to ready their accommodations for what is, for many, a sold-out weekend. Shluger said the marathon fills about 1,000 hotel rooms, though several hotel general managers cited Tommy’s Tattoo Convention 2017 as another driver for guests.
“The hotel is full this weekend,” said Robin McHill, director of sales at the Hilton in Hartford. She said that the period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is the local industry’s busiest. “The marathon is definitely a part of that…. It’s been fun to see everybody coming in today. It builds an air of excitement for the city.”
Duane Schroder, general manager of the Hartford Marriott Downtow, said all 409 rooms of his hotel are booked. The Goodwin, which recently had its “rebirth” in June as a boutique hotel, is listed as the distinguished travel partner on the marathon’s website and hosted a VIP reception last week, said Stephanie Pion, the hotel’s sales manager. The hotel’s restaurant tweaked its menu to offer more vegetarian specials for pre-marathon meals.
Out of 140 active Airbnb listings in Hartford, 132 are booked for the weekend, according to Airbnb spokesman Peter Schottenfels. The website, where homeowners rent rooms to visitors, showed only 13 percent of active listings in the greater Hartford area as available for the weekend.
The logistics of the marathon extend beyond hotel rooms and carb-loading. Police across the city and in nearby towns were capping off weekend race preparations.
For Hartford police, a plan, crafted for months and built on past experience, calls for efforts you will see, and many you will not.
“There will be a cop on every corner,” Deputy Chief Brian Foley said. He said they plan to have hundreds of additional officers on hand to keep runners and fans safe.
“We will have roughly 200 officers on [Saturday] all paid by the Hartford Marathon Foundation,” Foley said.
In a technological nerve center on the far end of the city, Foley said police, fire and other emergency officials will huddle as the event unfolds, ensuring a safe and smooth race. The Capitol City Crime Center will chime to life by 5:30 a.m.
In West Hartford, the half marathon course creeps up some major thoroughfares, so roughly two dozen extra officers will be on hand as traffic is shifted accordingly, police Capt. Jeffrey Rose said Friday.
“It’s closing several major roads in town,” Rose said. “It takes a lot of coordination and effort to get this done safely.” Rose, who heads the traffic unit, said he gave police dispatchers information this week as they fielded calls about expected detours and closures.
Ultimately, Rose said the aim is to keep the runners safe.
In South Windsor, a distant out-and-back stretch of the course, officers are falling into a well-orchestrated plan, Deputy Chief Scott Custer said.
“This has been going on for 20 years now, we have a great operations’ plan down in conjunction with the fire department and [EMS],” Custer said.
Like West Hartford, South Windsor anticipates to have extra officers on-duty, between 12 and 14, as well as supervisors at the command station in Hartford.
Courant staff writer Nicholas Rondinone contributed to this story.