HARTFORD —— As running slowed to walking under the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch for a sea of competitors crossing the finish line in the half marathon on Saturday, Stephen Campbell waited to reunite with his wife.
Time seemed to stop for Laura Campbell when she collapsed into her husband's arms. The Meriden couple embraced for minutes as tears fell from her eyes.
The 38-year-old mother of two was speechless after running her first half marathon.
"She's lost 300 pounds in the past three years," Stephen Campbell said.
Laura Campbell's story as a runner began with a determination to move, she said. She started walking; walking became running, and she went from 5Ks to triathlons.
On Saturday morning, she was among the record 17,000 registered runners participating in the ING Hartford Marathon, relay, half marathon, 5K and kids K.
The temperature and numbers broke records for the Glastonbury-based marathon organization that has raised more than $3 million for various charities since it began in 1994.
Winner Abiyot Endale, 26, of Ethiopia, ran a record time of 2:15:35 after starting at 8 a.m., when it was 27 degrees.
Hilary Dionne, of Charlestown, Mass., won the women's category in 2:40:34.
"This is perfect weather," race director Beth Shluger said. "It was chilly at the start, of course, but it's cool and we've got great sunshine for runners."
Clothing shed by runners as the temperatures warmed filled dozens of black trash bags on Capitol Avenue. Spectators lined Pearl Street some four hours after the start to cheer runners as they approached the finish line.
After the race, some runners stretched aching muscles on patches of grass while many explored a postrace expo at Bushnell Park, seemingly unfazed by 26 miles and 385 yards of continuous movement.
For one group, finishing was a personal accomplishment fueled by competition.
Nina Cattan, 24, felt like giving up at the 9-mile mark, but managed to win a competition with her brother and a former teammate in cross country and track at East Hartford High School, Chris Cole, 24.
"It's just all mental, said Omar Cattan, 21. "It's an accomplishment and it's friendly competition."
Said Cole: "I just kept thinking, I can't let them finish and me not finish."
Lynne Kopac, 59, is also familiar with competition-inspired motivation.
A 10-year breast cancer survivor, she began running to relieve stress from chemotherapy treatments. On Saturday, she was one of 10 mentors with 25 students in the Marathon Project in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
The group's mission is to use running as a way to inspire youth. For several students, it was their first time participating in the half and full marathons.
"It's going to be a great bus ride back," said Kopac, sporting pink hair and gear for breast cancer awareness month.
With the Connecticut Whale season opener Friday at the XL Center and a Boston Celtics-New York Knicks exhibition basketball game Saturday night, downtown businesses such as McKinnon's Irish Pub reveled in the crowds.
"We look forward to any type of big events in the city," owner Matthew McKinnon Corey said, running between the bar and cash register. "It helps us all."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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