The ING Hartford Marathon will kick off Saturday morning at 8 a.m. with about 15,000 runners expected to participate in the marathon, half-marathon, 5K and kids K races.
There is still time to sign up Friday for the races at the race expo, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the XL Center. There will be no race day registration. As of Thursday, 14,000 runners were registered for all the races.
Legendary marathoner Bill Rodgers will be at the expo today for a noon-time fun run followed by a book signing of his latest book, "Marathon Man."
A solid group of marathoners are expected to challenge for the men's and women's race titles Saturday. Last year's women's winner Hilary Dionne is back after running a 2:39 PR at Boston this spring and 2011 winner Erica Jesseman would like to try and qualify for the Olympic Trials with a sub-2:43 race. Both are part of the New England's Finest program, which recognizes and promotes top New England runners and rewards them with $6,000 prize money if they win the race.
The race is in its 20th running and participation has increased beyond anyone's imagination from the first year, when 1,700 ran in all the races.
Safety has been an issue of importance after the Boston Marathon bombings and indeed, a number of the participants in the marathon were in Boston this April. Some did not finish the race.
"It's sad we have to worry about that stuff," said Jesseman, who ran at Boston but had finished before the bombs went off.
Most runners are determined to show their support. Dr. Laura Nowacki, a marathoner and pediatrician in Newtown who lost eight of her patients in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, ran at Boston to support Newtown and the Boston Marathon's support of the town. One of her children was in the elementary school when the shooting occurred and her whole family was in Boston when the bombing occurred. Nowacki will be at Hartford to run the marathon for the 1214 Foundation, which is raising money to build a performing arts center in Newtown. But, she said, her children won't be.
"I didn't invite them to Hartford," she said. She needs a few more marathons to go by before she feels that they will be safe attending something like that again.
But more good comes out of the marathon than bad and that's why people keep coming back. Asked what the best thing is about being the race director, Beth Shluger said the positive emails she gets all year about the race.
"That it changed their life," she said. "That they were inspired. Because of what we do, they were inspired to get healthy. We get 100 of these emails a year. I lost 80 pounds, 100 pounds, I’m not diabetic. We get those all the time. Because this inspired them. They can do it. That’s the best thing. What’s better than having a job that does that for people?"
Her husband Ken, the race announcer, likes that the marathon provides a platform for people who want to achieve or do something.
"There’s guys who don’t have a leg, blind people, people who proposed marriage," Ken said. "This platform allows people to stand on top of it and accomplish things."