Hartford Marathon Founder Beth Shluger Works Round The Clock
October 05, 2009
Beth Shluger is worried about moving 10,000 people around Bushnell Park at 7 a.m. Saturday. That's why she's up at 4:30 a.m. most days, troubleshooting and answering 300-plus e-mails she receives daily about the upcoming mega event.
"I live on coffee from about 5 to 7," says Shluger, who is leading all the juggling required to stage the annual ING Hartford Marathon and Half-Marathon.
On a recent Monday, this race director met at 9:30 a.m. with a water vendor; at 11:30 a.m. with reps from the state police, the department of transportation, and Hartford, East Hartford and South Windsor police departments; at 1 p.m. with the production crew at the XL Center in Hartford; at 2:30 p.m. with managers of Carbone's to arrange the pre-race dinner for 1,000 guests; and at 5:30 with an army of volunteers. Between meetings, Shluger handles queries from sports agents, media and insurers. She grabs a bite of cold pizza exiting her last meeting, arrives home at 9:30 p.m., and tries to shut her eyes before the alarm rings again.
While clearing the way for 10,000 runners expected to participate in Saturday's race, she is persevering through an emotional marathon of her own. This past year, "I lost the youngest guy in my life and the oldest guy in my life," Shluger says, referring to her father's death two months ago and her only son's move to Chicago.
This week, she's focused solely on the participants in the 26.2 mile marathon, half-marathon, marathon-relay and 5K (3-mile) races, and the 2,000 kids running shorter distances.
"It requires so much planning to move that many people," Shluger says.
More than 130 Hartford police officers are involved, 112 of them at intersections, says Robert Allan, a Hartford police sergeant who's worked at the marathon for 10 years. Every year, there is a frantic bride who can't get through blocked-off streets to walk down the aisle. No sweat, Allan says. He can get her through.
From her Glastonbury office, Shluger works year-round to secure sponsorships needed to fund the event, which started in 1994.
As race day approaches, Shluger's still coordinating smaller races as well, such as a fundraiser for United Way and the 30 running, biking and swimming events she's developed for the Hartford Marathon Foundation, a nonprofit with a $2.5 million budget.
Saturday's runners will raise a record $500,000 for charities, which Shluger says is one of her primary goals for the marathon.
The idea for this local marathon started around the family's kitchen table, says Shluger's husband, Ken, a state Supreme Court judge. She had participated in races in Hartford in the early '90s, but those ended and she and others wanted something to fill the void.
"The first year, we painted the roads with directional arrows ourselves from midnight to 3 a.m. At 4, we made coffee for all the volunteers," says Ken Shluger.
Beth and Ken are still up early, "putting toilet paper in port-o-lets" or doing whatever needs to be done. Daughter Olivia and son David will join them Saturday.
Army Of Volunteers
Beth launched the marathon with a handful of "F.O.B.s," Ken says, also known as "friends of Beth." Now she marshals more than 1,500 volunteers of all ages.
"I'm just like the director of a big symphony orchestra," she says, deflecting credit onto her volunteers.
"If she wasn't running the marathon, I think she'd be running Microsoft," says Christine Andrews, who has organized volunteers for the marathon since 1994. "Every year it's got to be a little better or Beth's not happy."
Last year, the race won acclaim for being the "greenest marathon" in the country, using recyclable cups made of corn. This weekend they are going greener, using four-gallon jugs made from recyclable material and serving runners organic food.
That's not enough for Shluger. The former chef feels the job's not done until there is entertainment. Voilą, musicians perform along the race course.
To conduct this opus every year, "I give up running for almost a month, ironically enough," Shluger says. A former swimmer at Manchester High School, she took up marathon running in her 40s and switched to triathlons a few years ago.
"I run, bike and swim all week. If I only have time for a 40-minute run, that's what I do, and if I have time for a two- or three-hour bike ride, I do that."
But, when stress is over the top, Shluger hits the stove. Two weeks ago, she stopped by a farmer's market, went home and whipped up eight pots of minestrone, chili and chicken vegetable soup: "I love to cook. Love it."
"She's a great organizer. She's a great motivator. Beth puts her heart and soul into this race," says David Polk, chairman of the board of the Hartford Marathon Foundation.
"Hartford Marathon is absolutely her passion," says Allan. "She is extremely motivated ... This is one of the most organized events, if not the most organized, of any of the events we do."
"This is not a one-person operation. The success of this is the volunteer team, and the 75 to 80 sponsors," Shluger says.
Moving those 10,000 runners Saturday, that's "a good problem," she says. "It's just wonderful to be part of something that so many people are involved in and care so much about. It doesn't get any better than that."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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