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Updated: June 3, 2019

Shluger’s Hartford Marathon makes a personal, community impact

Photo | J. Fiereck Photography
Beth Shluger  CEO & President, Hartford Marathon Foundation Inc. Size of organization: 12 employees; 55,000 annual participants and volunteers. Education: Still learning! Previous job(s): Chef, Sommelier; Director of Special Events for the Hartford Whalers.
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Beth Shluger ran her very first Manchester Road Race in 1973, three years before women were even able to register for a bib number.

She hasn’t missed one since.

It’s that kind of dedication, as well as her love of the sport of running, that’s kept Shluger heading up the Hartford Marathon Foundation since 1994.

“In the beginning it was just me, and a group of loyal and loving family and friends who helped me,” she said. She previously had been hired to manage a triathlon in Hartford and wanted to fill in the gap when that race ceased operations. Now, she has 11 staff members and 5,000 volunteers.

Shluger said when she began she “didn’t have a clue. But I happened to be a passionate runner myself. But that’s not why I did it. I did it because I knew we could make something great, and bring a lot of spirit and money and have an impact on the city of Hartford.”

The foundation’s Eversource Hartford Marathon weekend brings in about $15 million in economic value to the area over the course of a race weekend. In 2017, the race and its events drew 71,780 spectators, participants and volunteers to the area who stayed at hotels, dined at restaurants and shopped.

“The economic boost for the Hartford region has been an incredible benefit,” said Josh Miller, vice president and race director for the foundation. “But the sense of pride we can take in having this world-class event in our backyard is priceless. The positive impact is far-reaching through local charity fundraising and attention to their mission. But Beth also leads us to think about the individual race participant, volunteer, spectator or community member in all that we do. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been touched directly and indirectly by the work of the Hartford Marathon Foundation and Beth’s vision leads this incredible journey.”

The marathon doesn’t just change the city for the better, running changes people’s lives, said Shluger.

“Running is affordable and open to anyone — young, old, fast, slow, wealthy, poor. All you need is running shoes. You can run anywhere, anytime,” she explained. “Running gives you a sense of pride, accomplishment and good health. It’s a great cure for stress, sadness, emotional strain.”

It can raise money for worthwhile causes — the foundation has raised $7.5 million alone from the Eversource Hartford Marathon. And it can bring a community together, as happened with the 2013 Run for Sandy Hook when 15,000 people came to show support for the victims of the 2012 elementary-school shooting in Newtown.

“Before we started the race, my husband and I rang a ship’s bell 26 times, one ring for each victim,” Shluger said. “I will never forget how long it felt to ring that bell 26 times, and how moving it was to see thousands of people come together to support the Sandy Hook community. We raised $475,000 for Sandy Hook that day.”

Shluger and the foundation have become so good at what they do that the HMF functions as an event manager for five other races and hosts 30 others in concert with local community organizations.

“My team would tell you the most important thing to me is ‘no lines.’ And that is true,” she said. “Long lines at the portalets or registration or post-race food make me crazy. I think that is because taking care of people and providing them with the best possible experience at HMF is what is most important to me. We strive for excellence in everything we do, whether it is making sure there are no wrinkles in the banners, to carefully designing traffic flow to avoid lines and to sourcing the freshest local food to serve after a race.”

Service oriented

A former sous chef and executive director of the Hartford Restaurant Foundation, Shluger is passionate about service-industry details.

“She never settles for the basics, and leads our HMF staff with an attitude to achieve further and more for our race participants and for our community,” Miller said.

Shluger is especially proud of the foundation’s focus on healthy children. For the last 12 years, the HMF FitKids in School program has grown to support 15,000 elementary- and middle-school students with a six-week, goal-oriented running program at no cost to the student or their participating school, thanks to generous donors. At the finish is a one-mile fun run with music, the cheering support of friends and family and healthy snacks and fitness activities.

And HMF continues to find new ways to bring fitness and community together in New England with its first-ever RiMaConn Relay planned for August. Teams will travel through 95 miles of roads, trails and paths through 21 towns in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, finishing at a post-race party at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza in Hartford.

As always, her husband Ken, a state Superior Court judge, will be cheering her on.

“He is my support and my partner in this thing,” she explained. They are looking forward to their annual hike, this year with plans to go to Portugal.

Shluger has two grown children, David and Olivia, and while her knees no longer allow her to run comfortably, she does bike and walk. “But I miss it greatly,” she said.

Fortunately, she continues to help others learn to make running, fitness and charity a part of their life.

“If you are out there running for an hour or two, you talk about everything in life,” she said. “It makes best friends.”

On the job

Guiding business principle: Share my passion and surround myself with people who share my passion (and who are smarter than me).

Best way to keep your competitive edge: Explore, learn and steal great ideas.

Proudest accomplishment: Production of the Sandy Hook Run for the families in March 2013. The event drew over 15,000 runners and was the largest inaugural 5K in the world. Event logistics were put together in eight weeks. The expenses ($450,000) were completely paid by donations from our vendors and $475,000 was raised for the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. It proved that a simple road race can lift the spirits of a community.

Goal yet to be achieved: Actually run in the Eversource Hartford Marathon!

Favorite part of the job: Working with my team on race day. It’s a beautiful well-oiled machine. Everyone excels at their role, works together well and truly loves their job.

Least favorite part of the job: Figuring out how to pay for everything.

Personal touch in your office: My daughter’s papier-mache giraffe from fifth grade and my son’s clay and beaded head from third grade.

Judgment calls

Best business decision: To create the Hartford Marathon Foundation as a nonprofit organization.

Worst business decision: I’ll let you know.

Biggest missed opportunity: Buying into Rich Rosenthal’s Max Restaurant Group.

Best way to spot trends: Talk to my kids and their friends.

Next big move: Becoming an expert in something new.

Your pet peeve: Long lines at events; no excuse for them.

Personal side

City of residence: Waterford

Favorite way to relax: Cooking with my family

Hobbies: Running, biking, cooking

Last vacation: Island of Madeira

Favorite movie: Right now — “Green Book”

The car you drive: Audi but wish it was a Vespa Scooter in lipstick pink.

Currently reading: “Educated,” by Tara Westover. It’s a compelling story of self-discovery and the struggle to gain confidence in your own beliefs.

Favorite cause: HMF FitKids — bringing running and exercise to kids and schools and showing kids that running is fun!

Second choice career: Winemaker

 

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