It was going to be one or the other – a PR or a PW. When you’ve only done one other half marathon, you’ve got a 50-50 shot at improving your time. A PR is a Personal Record…a PW is a Personal Worst (I like to think Mama D and I came up with that ourselves). Between the difficult course and the weather forecast, we both knew going into it that we could very well get a PW and we came to terms with that fact.
We arrived in Hershey on Saturday to pick up our race packets and to see if we could drive part of the course to prepare. The expo was small and they had a time lapsed 5 minute video of the entire course, which made us a little nauseous from watching all of the twists and turns – in a good way. Another Mother Runner was there with a table and they had the cutest t-shirts (not the greatest picture, but I really enjoyed how they hung them all on a faux wash line and clothes pins).
We got our race packets, awesome long sleeve black tech shirts, and two tickets to Hersheypark. Needless to say, it was a great day. My foot was still a little sore (much better than earlier in the week), but it wasn’t going to hold me back.
A couple of screams on the Great Bear roller coaster later and we were ready to hit the hay after some delicious carb loading.
Sunday morning started at 5:15am in the dark. Luckily we were staying with friends, so we weren’t so far out of our element trying to get ready. It was a blustery Winnie the Pooh kind of morning and we were praying the wind would die down a bit. I think that’s what made me the most nervous, the wind. The wind takes so much out of you when running, it feels like 100% more energy is spent in this kind of weather. I was hoping that it wouldn’t zap me and cause me to hit a wall. At least there was a 0% chance of rain…until we were walking from the car to the start of the race under the one dark cloud that decided to let loose. The odds seemed against us. Luckily, things turned around pretty quickly.
We were cold, and we barely made it on time (somehow we didn’t realize there were 5000 runners which meant a bazillion cars and lots of traffic). We only had enough minutes to stand in the long port-o-potty line, go one more time, and round the stadium to the starting line. Because we had such little wait time, there wasn’t much of a chance to get really nervous! I’m going to try to rummage through my memory and take you through each mile, but I have to admit that some of it was a blur.
Mile 1: Started out with my two of my best gal pals from college, which makes anything feel like a walk in the park. We stuck together in a large pack of runners for about a half of a mile, then Mama H and I went ahead. We started out by running around the stadium and through the parking lot and onto the road that circles around and brings you into the park. Mama H and I decided to start conservatively so we wouldn’t run out of gas early. So far so good.
Mile 2: Still going strong and feeling good in a large pack of people. We left the parking lot area and got onto the road outside the park. There were so many people and we were looking for friends and family. Lots of waving and smiling was still happening at this point (Mama H is waving like we’re on a Disney float – I love it!).
Mile 3: We traveled up the road and eventually made our way into a secret side entrance of the park. We snaked through the park for roughly a mile and then finally made our way out of the back of the park. We passed Mama D, she was about a mile ahead of us and in her zone.
Mile 4: Running through the neighborhoods and streets of Hershey was lovely. I always feel great during mile 4 so Mama H and I were just grooving along and in a good rhythm.
Mile 5: This mile had the first real hill that we’d been anticipating since we drove on the road the day before. This mile took us along the golf course and was a low grade, long hill. We were feeling great and tackled it no problem (we had no idea this was the easiest one, aside from the shorter hills through the park). I could tell that Mama H and I started to loosen up, we had picked up the pace and finished this mile with just under a 10 minute mile pace (9:56).
Mile 6: More (expected but unexpected) hills. The halfway mark seemed like it was right in the middle of a hill and we crossed the 6.55 mile mark at 1 hour 7 minutes. We were on the streets, I’m assuming it was the town of Hershey, but I was fairly disoriented at that point. We had taken so many turns through the town that I didn’t quite know where I was. It didn’t matter though because Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer came on my playlist and I decided to share it with everyone around us. I was glad too many people didn’t seem offended by the song blaring from my phone. I sang what I could of the chorus (Whoooaaa we’re halfway there – WOOAH livin’ on a prayer!) and so did another woman a few feet away. We fist pumped in the air a few times and it was obvious that I had gotten an adrenaline rush. I was giddy that we were already halfway through the race and I felt great. I had a ton of energy and my legs felt perfect. We finished this mile with a 9:47 pace. And then…..
Mile 7: We turned into the Milton Hershey School and ran through the entire campus for the next 2-3 miles. I had no idea what was ahead of us…hill after hill after hill after hill after hill… and hard ones at that. For me it felt like the hill repeat workout that I never wanted to do. I started coming down from my “halfway high” around mile 8 and I started to lose it mentally. Mama H had to give me a verbal slap. I don’t know what happened to me, but all of a sudden I saw another hill and I just started to panic – I was starting to fatigue and I didn’t think I was going to be able to run another 5 miles. It seemed too far. Mama H told me to stop it and that today I felt great and we were doing it. That helped. What helped even more was every single student from this school was outside, lining the streets, cheering for us like we were Olympic athletes. Truly, they were so encouraging, so positive, and so energizing – they carried each runner through the gauntlet of their campus. I feel such a sense of gratitude and thankfulness when I remember those miles. Every “You got this”, every Bible verse, every smile was what kept the runners going. I slapped their hands as I ran past as if we were on the same team and I had just hit a home run. They kept me falling forward and those students made that race worth running.
Mile 10: I think this is when we started to exit the campus and head back toward Main Street and the amusement park. Mama H and I split up, I needed to walk for a moment to collect myself. My breathing was heavy, I was overwhelmed by all of the students and their support and I was starting to get really tired. I caught my breath, squeezed out my second Gu, drank some water, psyched myself up for the last leg of the race, and started up again. At about 10.5 miles there was an awesome marching band with a sign that said “Only 2.5 miles left” – that was inspiring.
Mile 11: I had been dreading this mile since mile 9, knowing that I was probably going to want to stop at this point. Mile 11 took us ON A HILL up Main Street. The crummiest part was that you could see it coming. Everyone turned left and started their ascent. Ugh. Somewhere in this mile there were pictures of Children’s Miracle Network kiddos (the charity that this race funds) and apparently they made Mama H and April cry. I don’t know why, but I didn’t see them at all. Not a single picture, which kind of freaks me out that I had tuned the world out that much at that point…but let’s remember, this is mile 11 and I had to dig deep. Also somewhere else along the way (maybe right after that hill?) when I could barely breathe (I think near the Hershey Museum), volunteers were handing out mini Hershey bars. I couldn’t move my arms to grab one. If I moved out of rhythm in any direction I was going to lose it all. Mile 11 wasn’t as bad as my first experience with mile 11 and it actually went by fairly quickly, but it was still mile 11 and I had to use every ounce of focus to get over that mental hurtle. And then…
Mile 12: SURPRISE! THERE WAS A GIANT HILL at the start of this mile. What is with these courses and their monster hills at mile 12?! I couldn’t believe it when I saw it, I started to feel the panic, but I stopped myself. I had felt so much stronger this race than before and I had to remind myself that it was almost over. I think this was a shorter, steep hill, but it felt like it took me ages to climb up and get to the top. It was outside the park and took us to the parking lot where you could feel yourself getting closer to the finish line, thank God. I have to say: to the gust of wind that hit me when I turned into the parking lot, I will forever shake my fist at you for making me feel like I was just going to blow over and die right there. If there had been any less people there (I’m vain), I would’ve stopped, but this mantra popped into my head at this time “Your mind gives up way before the body ever does.” So I collected myself (again) and I got back to work. The middle of this mile took us through the tram chute, which was lined with cheering people who were also very cold. I felt bad for them because at least I wasn’t cold. I saw my family and friends smiling so big at me right around 12.6 miles. It was just what I needed to finish the race. From the looks of these pictures, we all needed them.
At around mile 12.8 there was another clock and I saw that I was going to beat my time from my first half. I started to sprint (way too early….waaaay too early) and then I promptly slowed back down when I actually did the math and found out that I was still about 3 tenths of a mile away. Delirium had set in and my legs were so heavy. I couldn’t even feel my feet at this point, but I couldn’t believe I was this close so I made them keep moving.
Mile 13: Runners entered the stadium and sprinted their way to the finish line. I kicked it up again and was in my zone. I saw the finish line clock, somehow managed to do some quick mental math to subtract 3 minutes (based on our start time) and I was brimming with pride. I had beat my first time by almost 10 minutes and finished in 2:13:15.
Mama H came in about 2 minutes ahead of me at 2:11:00 and Mama D led the pack at 2:02:11 (extremely consistent). We cheered April on as she entered the stadium and crossed that finish line at around 2:40.
Aside from feeling stronger this race (strength training really works). I think I’m made to run in the 40 degree weather, my body just responds so much better in the cooler temperatures. I was definitely more prepared mentally and gear wise for this race too, which I think contributed to my successful PR. I had my own fuel belt and used 2 Gu packets (one at mile 5 and one at mile 10 – both with caffeine). I also carried my own hydration – one small bottle of water and one small bottle of water with watermelon Nuun for electrolyte replacement. Overall, this was a total success and I don’t think I’ll ever do this race again because I need to quit while I’m ahead. That said, I would definitely do the relay with someone and take on half of the hills…the first half…
Best signs spotted in the race:
- You’re running better than our government
- 1 in 100 runners poops in their pants…are you that 1?
What I loved about this race:
- Amazingly organized, loved it!
- The water stations and Gatorade stations were at the same spots, but opposite sides of the street so there was no waiting.
- Great volunteers all throughout the course.
- TONS of support, families and cheering all along the course
- Mile and time markers throughout. In addition to the half way mark/clock, there were at least 3 other clocks along the course. There were also mile markers and traffic cones with even more detailed distance markers attached. Being the data junkie that I am, I couldn’t get enough of this along the course – it really kept me focused.
- Running through the tram chute (lined with people) and into the stadium that was bursting with runners, families, and excitement. The air felt electric!
- Standing in the stadium with my medal and realizing that I just conquered one tough course!
What I would change about this race:
- All those beastly hills! Although, I’m not sure I would want this course to change. I feel infinitely more proud of myself knowing that I conquered each one and they didn’t get the best of me (I even passed people on the way up – wha- what?!).
- More running through the park! That was a lot of fun and I would’ve liked to stay longer than a mile in there (I don’t know if it was even a full mile).
I’m definitely still on my high from this race and am ready to sign up for another one, but I’ll wait for spring… Right now I’ve got my sights set on the full marathon in January, and it feels like the real training starts now. I’m overwhelmed by the amount of mileage we’re going to cover in the next 12 weeks, but this half marathon was an incredible confidence boost. I know we can do it and I know it’s going to be amazing!