Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hershey Half Marathon 2014 Recap, Part 2

Find Part 1 of my recap here.

Despite a topsy-turvy start and some tumultuous weather, I was excited to begin racing.  Hershey’s course has mostly stayed the same over the years: runners wind through the Entertainment Complex parking lot and along Hersheypark Drive for the first three miles (although this is the flattest section of the route, there are still several small hills to be found) before turning into the park itself (by far my favorite part of the race).

Hersheypark is home to several small, steep hills, but the adrenaline rush in that early part of the race is more than enough to help push past those particular inclines.  Having worked at the park one summer, I love seeing it when it is (mostly) empty.

Around mile four, the course detours into the residential neighborhood that rims ZooAmerica (and yes, you can smell the animals).  Mile four also marks the first “oh crap” hill of the course—grade wise it’s not too bad, but it’s on a fairly ho-hum section of road.

Throughout the park and the surrounding neighborhood, we were buffered from the wind.  Heading into mile five, however, we were headed into wide open country, where the wind howled wildly.  Still, I was more focused on cruising over the hills than battling the weather.  My drive led me to ignore my planned walk intervals.  I had intended to replicate my marathon training intervals (run 9:00 minutes/walk 1:00), but I was on such a runner’s high that I didn’t stop for the first five miles.  Soon, however, I was tiring.

Miles 5-13.1 are comprised of various hills, beautiful pastoral scenes, hills, downtown Hershey, and more hills.  Thanks to Mother Nature, miles 5-13.1 were also windier than the first part of the course.  Yay for us!

I have to hand it to Hershey though for having some of the best organized water stops of any race I have run.  Spaced out every two to three miles, I found them more than adequate in the cooler temperature (I was, however, carrying my own disposable water bottle through mile 11).  This year us middle-of-the-packers got pure, undiluted Gatorade filled to the rim of our cups.  I couldn’t take down all the liquid at once without stopping, so I only drank half of each cup.

When we reached the Milton Hershey campus (always the most defeating part of the course, in my opinion, due to the plethora of hills and generic rural terrain), the students were full of energy: truly the best spectators ever.  Wrapped in blankets to buffer the cold, they hooted and hollered with so much gusto, I couldn’t help but smile.

Heading into mile 11, we were back in downtown Hershey.  I ran past my old high school (oh heyyyyyy, HHS), the smokestacks along Chocolate Avenue (RIP original chocolate factory), the Hershey Theatre and my fave, Houlihan’s.

Yep, it was pretty much the same post-race scene this year as last, right down to the menu.

The much touted chocolate aid station was right before a turn leading around the perimeter of the park.  I grabbed a mini Hershey bar for later (I knew I couldn’t eat it while running without regretting it), but I must have dropped it while trying to put it in my pocket, because it was nowhere to be found when I finished.  Bummer!

Per usual, the last mile of the course was killer, but I was determined to make my sub-2:00:00 goal time.  Throughout the race I had worn a pace band, and I had checked it quickly at each mile marker.  I was on track during the entire run, but I knew I would be tired in the final stretch.  I took a quick walk break up the hill by Chocolate World AND in the parking lot before the tram circle (that parking lot was a major wind tunnel) before picking up the pace for my last half mile.  In a stroke of genius, I had set up my iPod playlist so that “Don’t Stop Me Now,” my personal anthem of the 2013 Hershey Half, started to play right around the 1:58:30 mark.  As soon as I heard those opening notes, I began my sprint on the outside of Hersheypark Stadium.  I knew I was SO CLOSE to meeting my goal.  I would either just make it or just go over the 2 hour mark.

Thankfully, it was the former:  I finished in 1:59:24, twelve minutes faster than last year’s time.  Given the wind and my pre-race stress, I am a little shocked that I made it.  And ecstatic!!!
At the race finish, I was awarded my medal by Everest, this year’s Miracle Child.  I love that a portion of the proceeds from Hershey races go to such worthy causes!  You can visit the Chocolate Town Challengessite to learn more.  I think I might have scared that precious dear—I was practically sobbing from the joy of netting my goal time!

Our race medal and tee were pretty rad!

Before leaving, I grabbed my mylar blanket (a godsend in the wind) and goodie bag, and I was outta there!

I had other things to do… like gorge on carbs and party in the park.

I didn't take pictures during the actual race, but I did have the opportunity to goof off afterward.

Course: A
*If you like flat and fast, this is not the course for you. I happen to enjoy hills, for all of my griping about them.
Packet Pick-up: F/B
Post-Race Experience: B
Event Organization: D/A
Overall Grade: B

My grades for Hershey stay the same this year for the course and post-race experience.  Packet pick-up was a pickle: while getting my actual bib was easy peasy, the hurdles leading up to it were pretty darn irritating.  If it wasn’t broke, Hershey, you shouldn’t have fixed it (and the same goes for race morning): please, dear goodness, go back to your old system for 2015’s race.

Aid stations, volunteers (including an adorable towheaded child at mile 11.5 offering up tissues to passing runners) and goodie bag pick-up were impeccably organized, but the issues with the porta potties and gated participant area were impossible to overlook.

Consequently, my overall grade for Hershey goes down to a B.  If the race organizers can work out the kinks from this year, I will gladly bump it back into A territory for 2015!

~Tomato Face

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hershey Half Marathon 2014 Recap, Part 1

People say that the third time’s the charm…and I might agree with them, with some reservations.  On Sunday, I ran my third consecutive Hershey Half Marathon.  It was sweet indeed, as far as my performance went.  In terms of race organization, it was a tad sour.

In past years, I’ve delighted in Hershey’s easy breezy packet pickups, even if the so-called “expo” element of the half leaves something to be desired.  This year, however, was different.  For some strange reason, the Chocolate World parking lot (my normal packet pickup parking area) was closed, and so we were forced to join the Hersheypark traffic going through the Entertainment Complex.  Chaos ensued.

Cars were bumper to bumper, and the hyper Hershey security team did nothing to calm nerves.  Exiting traffic from the Giant Center was being directed in front of the incoming traffic for the Entertainment Complex, which caused major tie-ups.  Screaming, honking and apocalyptic outbursts ensued from Central PA’s irritated suburban drivers (I would like to dump all these people on my city block during a simultaneous commuting hour/ambulance incoming and see just how they deal).  It was truly horrific.  

At packet pickup itself, the tension was still high among participants, but the actual deed of grabbing my bib and t-shirt was straightforward (you know, after my family spent 30 minutes maneuvering past irate drivers and searching for an elusive parking space).  Thanks to the morning madness, we decided not to brave entry at the park on Saturday (two tickets to Halloween in Hershey are included as part of the race fee).

The bedlam continued into race morning.  I woke up at my usual Hershey time (5:15) and was on site by 6:45 am.  Around 7:10 am, I got into line for the porta potties, thinking from my past experiences with Hershey races that that would leave more than enough time to be at the start by 7:30.  Bizarrely, Hershey thought it would be a wise idea to move all of the porta potties into a newly-gated participant area (previously they had a long line of stalls in the parking lot to alleviate congestion near the stadium restrooms).  Furthermore, there was only one entrance for the participant area, and it was on the far side of the stadium, making entry horribly inconvenient for anybody who didn’t park in the Entertainment Complex (and we heard from those people who did park in the designated areas that traffic was nightmarish again on race morning, forcing many runners to ditch their families at the curb in order to get to the start in time).

The forecast had called for yucky weather (46 degrees, overcast and windy), and just for fun, it started to lightly rain as us runners all assembled.  Thankfully, the rain was just a tease.

I was in line up until 7:28 am, and I had to fight my way through the crowd to reach my mom and ditch my warmup clothes before the starting gun.  I didn’t have time to start my Gamin in advanced like a normally do, and as it searched for a signal, I was afraid I was going to get stuck at the very back of the pack.  Mercifully my watch locked in on a satellite right as I was directing myself over the starting mat.

I was hoping the race itself wouldn’t be as frenzied as the pre-race episodes!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my race recap, including my finish time and overall race grades, tomorrow evening.

~Tomato Face

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Marathon Monday: 2014 Fall Marathon Training Week 13

I know, I know.  It is no longer Monday.  But I still wanted to recap my past week of training, even though it was a slacker-iffic one.

Monday:  Rest day

To summarize this entire post: rest was the theme of the week.

Tuesday:  Running, easy, 4.01 miles @ 9:40 minute mile pace—38:44 minutes

My journal notes from this run read “Good lord, was this rough… achy, weak.  Struggle.”

Yeah, it was THAT good.

Part of my problem with Tuesday’s workout was mental.  I was starting to get anticipatory anxiety about the half marathon.  I wasn’t worried about my time or finishing, but I was disturbed by my various aches and pains that suddenly manifested.  It seemed my body (and mind) were conspiring against my attempts at a calm state pre-race.

Wednesday:  Rest day

I was originally supposed to run on Wednesday, but after Tuesday’s hot mess of a run, I just wasn’t feeling it.  

Thursday:  Running, easy, 6.40 miles @ 9:33 minute mile pace—1:01:06 hours

Although I still was suffering from a sore knee and tight leg muscles, I was much more relaxed in this last workout before my race.  I was super excited to be going home for the weekend and I was jazzed about returning to the Hershey course, so that contributed to my overall happy mood.  As I said earlier, attitude is everything!

Friday:  Rest day

Saturday:  Rest day

Packet pickup on Saturday was a nightmare (I shall elaborate in my race recap).  I shook off the horror of that experience by carb loading Saturday night with spinach ravioli and watching my fave, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  

Sunday:  Race day!!! Running, 13.1 miles

My mini taper came to an end with Sunday’s race.  It was cold and it was blustery, but I was glad it wasn’t 90 degrees and/or rainy.  Stay tuned for my recap tomorrow and Thursday!

This upcoming week I dip my toes back into pre-mini taper mileage with one of my last long runs (possibly a 20 miler!!!) before the marathon.  Eek, I can’t believe I’m down to the final few weeks of training!

~Tomato Face