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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hershey Half Marathon Race Report

Less than 7 days from when I crossed the finish line in the Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon, I arrived with my wife at the packet pick-up/expo for the Hershey Half Marathon.  During the 6 days in between, I had run (or more appropriately, jogged) exactly 5 miles on laughably flat routes in order to simply keep my legs loose.  I wasn't really sure what to expect over the next 24 hours mentally or physically, but I was willing to give it a shot and allow things to play out.

First up, we were extremely happy to find a legit race expo at the Ice Palace at the Hersheypark Arena, home of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game which took place 50 years ago this past March.  There were at least a half a dozen retailers along with 20-30 other booths with the standard giveaways and/or information.  The actual packet pick up was at the far end of the hall, well organized and well staffed.  It went smoothly, but we were then directed over to a separate area to do a chip verification scan, something neither of us had ever heard of.  Basically, a volunteer waves your bib over a scanning device to ensure the timing chip is working properly.  I suppose this extra step was most likely in response to the timing fiasco that occurred in the inaugural Hershey Half Marathon, but even though we were both involved in that event two years ago, were not worried this time around.  Ironically, my wife was hopeful to hit a PR during this year's race, which would rely on an accurate chip time...what is that saying about lightning striking the same place twice? ;)

Busy expo, Saturday around noon
Later that evening, we enjoyed some down time taking a peek into our race bags, highlighted by 2 Hersheypark in the Dark tickets a piece.  This was followed by her idea for a pre-race meal: dinner pancakes (they're the same as regular pancakes but you eat them in the evening). During our consumption of three giant-sized cakes each, she hinted at a new tradition which I have to admit, just might stick around for years to come.  We got to bed early in hopes of getting plenty of rest before a 5:00 AM wake-up on race day.

Race fuel
Fast forward to 6:56AM, and we're in Hershey, just a few hundred yards from the starting line and traffic going into the parking area is moving slower than some of us would be at 12 mile mark later that morning.

Busy underpass, Version A (6:56AM)
We eventually made it to Hersheypark Stadium, right next to the starting line in hopes to use the facilities.  The lines proved to be too long to get that business taken care of before the race, though.  It seemed like mere seconds from the time we walked out from underneath the stands to the time the gun went off, at 7:30AM.  With only 4 minutes between when the sun came over the horizon and the starting gun's explosion, we all set out braving the chilly, dim morning and for 13.1 miles of fun.

Many of us spent the final moments before the race in the warmth at the stadium
I've never designed a race course, but would imagine an important aspect of the first few miles is the width of the road.  The organizers did a great job here, utilizing all three lanes of the pavement (see busy underpass pictured above, 40 minutes beforehand) which wraps around The Giant Center while the runners spread out.

Busy underpass, Version B (7:36AM)

It was around this point that my Runkeeper audio cue (which is set to give me feedback on pace, time, and distance every half mile) gave me the heads up that I started off a little too briskly at about a 7:40 pace: almost a minute faster than I originally intended.  With nothing to lose and legs which (currently) felt good, I decided to let it ride.

Soon after the Giant Center loop, we encountered a line of spectators along Hersheypark Drive representing the Children's Miracle Network, the beneficiary of the race's net proceeds.  This was certainly one of the loudest cheering sections on the course, rivaled by only the enthusiastic Team in Training groups near every odd mile marker, as well as the kids around every corner at the Milton Hershey School...more on the MH kids later.

Miles 2-3 had us winding through Hersheypark, with some tight sections keeping everyone on their toes.  Though I've been skeptical about using gels during races recently due to stomach problems after the finish, I got one down the hatch about a half mile before the aid station near mile 4.  There were aid stations at every even mile (2, 4, 6, etc.) offering Gatorade and water, in that order from a runner's perspective.  My legs continued to feel good so I kept up the pace established early as we left the park and headed east.

Aside from a short little section through a tunnel then past a few holes of Hershey Country Club and the High Point Mansion, the next 3 miles were long, straight sections in eastern Hershey with not a lot to see.  I did find it funny that this is the second race in as many weeks that brought me right up against a golf course though.

Early morning scene near Hershey Country Club and the High Point Mansion.  This photo could have been really cool with everyone's breath in the morning sun, but the photographer's timing was a bit off.

Despite the heavy feeling beginning to set into my legs, I decided to go for a negative split and push just a little bit harder shortly after the halfway mark, which I crossed in 50 minutes and some change so I knew I'd be setting a PR today if I could get through the final 6.5 miles injury-free.'re able to stop running sooner if you run faster, right?  The course didn't provide any relief to help in my effort though, seemingly getting more and more hilly as the mile markers passed.  Speaking of mile markers, the course was absolutely littered with orange cones alongside, displaying detailed mileage information down the the second decimal place.  This was a bit overkill for a race of this length...did we really need to know we were currently at mile 7.15?  Each mile would be perfectly sufficient in my book.

Near mile 8, there was a slight incline to an area of the Milton Hershey School property consisting of wide open spaces and several student homes.  By this point it was around 8:30am and all of the MH kids were out lining the route, cheering everyone along while donning their sweats and fleece throws in an effort to stay warm.  Their attire reminded me of what most folks wear while opening presents Christmas morning.  One young boy along the hill was a little overzealous, shouting out phrases such as "YOU OWN THIS HILL!!!".  His outbursts were fun and "PG", bringing a smile to many of the participants' faces through that short section.

The next 3 miles are now a blur, with the exception of a high five from my Mother in Law at mile 10.5.

We were getting back into the town of Hershey by mile 11 and encountered the hill from hell just before the "Chocolate Aid Station" (where instead of water and Gatorade, volunteers are handing out mini Hershey's Chocolate bars).  It wasn't particularly demanding: only about 50 feet of climb over .2 miles, but being at mile 11 of a half marathon was a complete drain: far enough into the race that your legs are complete toast, but not close enough to the finish to let the endorphins take over.  All I could do to get up this obstacle was stare down at the double-yellow line in the middle of Chocolate Ave and put one foot in front of the other.  I made it to the top in one piece and wanted nothing to do with chocolate.  I wasn't the only one around me who didn't partake; it seems the hill may have done a number on their appetites as well.  Oh and in case you're wondering, Hersheypark Drive and Chocolate Ave are legitimate street names in Hershey.  We didn't run on it, but Cocoa Ave is another!

After passing through town we skirted the amusement park boundary, coming within just a few feet of Hershey's newest addition to its roller coaster arsenal: Skyrush.  A quick loop around Hershey's Chocolate World and we were on the homestretch towards the stadium.  Along the final quarter mile of the course, I passed 10-12 other runners in hopes of breaking into the top 100 finishers for the day.  As I crossed the finish line inside the stadium, the clock read just under 1:39:00!  Knowing that I just (to quote Eric Turkewitz) "blew the doors off" my PR by over 7 minutes, the next few moments all seemed so secondary as I came through the chute grabbing my medal, water, heat sheet, and post-race food.  The immediate order of business though, was to find my wife on the course.  She'd be coming through within 20 minutes with her own hopes of a PR.

I secured a spot along the fence right where the runners were entering the stadium.  After about 10 minutes, she came speeding in, with a strong cadence for the final 150 meters.  I asked the gentleman next to me if he had the time and I was elated when he responded with 9:28AM.  This put my wife with a PR for the day as well!

By this point a large crowd was gathering in the infield and we followed suit.  Hershey's candy mascots were all around for photo ops and high fives, meanwhile the timing company had results stations near the finish line, which was a nice touch to check on our official chip times immediately following our finishes.  Bree ended up beating her previous PR by about 2 minutes, clocking in with a 1:57:50, and I had a 1:38:15, good enough for about 135th out of around 4,000 participants.  We didn't stick around for too long though, since the chill was beginning to set in as our bodies cooled down.

Celebrations, stretching and fellowship in Hersheypark Stadium

Later at home we had a chance to check on the post race goodies, chock full of Hershey's stuff:

By the time the day ended, it couldn't have gone any better:
  • We both had PRs
  • All of our friends who also ran were happy with their races
  • My fantasy football team won
  • and...the Steelers had a victory late on Sunday night!


The next race for these two running fools will be the Sophie's 6K in about 4 weeks, a much smaller race and a much shorter distance.  It'll be nice to rest for a week then get back into some more regular training after these two crazy half-marathon weeks.  Though they were difficult, I had a blast challenging myself and sharing a great day with my wife and friends.


  1. Ian:

    Congrats on the PR. As you might guess, I am not in the least bit surprised.

  2. Thanks! I appreciate the confidence Eric; it was a fun two weeks of races.