Friday, October 24, 2014

The 2014 Hershey HILLY Half Marathon

It has been a while since I've written here.  After completing the 2014 Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge, I feared that my enthusiasm for running would drop off.  For the most part, it didn't, as I want running healthy to be a lifelong goal and lifestyle.

I did run (run/walk) a few races since the Goofy Challenge:

2014 Atlantic City April Fools Half Marathon -- 2:14:41
Disney's Castaway Cay 5K -- click for my previous report
2014 Long Branch Half Marathon -- 2:13:00 PR!!

And this past weekend, on October 19, 2014:

The 2014 Hershey Half Marathon!  -- 2:15:57

I had planned this half marathon as part of my training toward the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon (about 5 weeks away, yikes!).  My training was going well, basically doing almost a minimalist training plan with only 2 short runs during the week, and one long run during the weekend (what I basically did for the Goofy), and wishful thinking of a ton of cross training.  Did I mention wishful thinking about the cross training?

There was a stretch of about two months that I got off course, and my overall motivation dipped a bit.  My family and I had gone to the Philippines for vacation ...

Mayon Volcano, at Cagsawa, Legaspi, Philippines

The Philippines was a supremely awesome time, but with all the visiting relatives, driving to see the sights, eating, drinking, and basically 90 degree humid weather, I didn't get much running in.
I tried running on the treadmill in the hotel (gotta convert km to miles!) but even the air conditioning there wasn't enough to keep me comfortable.

When we got back to good ol' New Jersey, I tried to jump start my training again with a 15 mile run around the Manasquan Reservoir, taking a 20 sec walk break after every mile:

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The Manasquan Reservoir is a beautiful place, has a glorious 5.1 mile scenic easy trail loop, and is as of right now my favorite local place to run.

However, pain in my shins after the 15 mile run plus some loss of motivation led me to almost defer out of the Hershey Half Marathon.  But a couple of long runs later, the date crept up, and next thing we knew, my wife, my son, and I were packed up and were driving to Hershey, PA!

On the 3 hour drive there, my sister (also running the half) texted this pic:

Yup, that's a Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Martini!  We arrived, checked into the Hotel Hershey, dropped our bags in the room, and went over to the Harvest restaurant for said martini and some food ... I also had a delicious Troegs Hopknife (I didn't know Troegs was a Hershey-based brewery).

The next morning we headed to Hershey Arena for packet pickup and expo.
AT 10 minutes before 10am (the open of the arena), there was already a line outside the door waiting to get in.  Inside, the expo was small, with a few local vendors, the entire event sponsored by Capital Blue.  Plenty of free sample food, including bottles of iced tea, chocolate chip cookies, and sausage.

Packet pick up was smooth and straightforward, tables were clearly marked with letters corresponding to your last name.  After pickup there was a line to get a gear bag and to check your chip.  There was a separate section for Kids Fun Run registration.
Gear included a long sleeve tech shirt, and an average-quality drawstring bag with a few goodies and ads inside.

Afterwards we went on be tourists: chocolate world:

Hershey's Chocolate World was nice, "attractions" included a Disney-esque ride throught a "tour" of how chocolate was made, with a free KitKat at the end.  But basically a huge chocolate and souvenir shop (not that anything is wrong with that).
The best online review I read of chocolate world went something like ...

"Hundreds of people acting as if they've never bought candy before and will never have the chance again."


That evening was the Hershey's Kids Fun Run ...

Registration included a nice quality cotton T-shirt:

We expected some chaos for the kids fun run, but it was pretty well organized, as each age group was lined up along designated yard lines on the football field in Hersheypark Stadium and went off in waves towards a common finish line.

That night, we ate at Fenicci's of Hershey for some traditional night-before-the-race pasta loading. At the hotel I double and triple checked my gear, outfit, and pinned bib, and off to bed I went.

Couple gear notes:
Running in the Hoka Conquest.  I obsessed for a bit on what shoes to run in.  In training, I had used the Conquests for my long runs, and my Bondi B's for short runs.  But my long runs with the Conquests had been on trails, and my short runs with the B's were on road.  Now I was to run a long-run race on the road.  After realizing I was obsessing too much, I slapped myself and decided on the Conquest.
I was also wearing Zensah Ultra compression calf sleeves.  Wasn't a believer until probably a few weeks before the race when I tried them on for a long run and my shin pain was relieved.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Usual race-day excitement was my natural 4am alarm, and I fueled in stages.  Had a nature valley protein bar, banana, and water first.  Then after getting ready I had some Hawaiian sweet bread I picked up at Target (broke the rule of don't try anything new on race day, but it was goood), and some Belvita crackers (one of my new fave quick eats).  Took a swig of Gatorade, and I headed downstairs to meet my sister at the Cocoa Beanery.  (They have this Hershey's Cocoa Cafe -- you really can't go wrong with mixing hot chocolate and coffee).

We walked out the front door and the shuttle bus to the race was waiting.  I guess we could have technically walked as well, as the start was less than a mile away, but there was a bus.  Transportation was provided from The Hotel Hershey and The Hershey Lodge.  Parking is also free for runners and spectators. We were dropped off at Hersheypark stadium with maybe only about 6 other runners on the bus, but before 7am there were already thousands there.

Starting area:
The starting area was located in the parking lot outside the Hersheypark arena.  There was a designated and guarded "runners only" area, but the security was not at all as strict as the other races I've participated in, especially the Disney Races.

There was bag check if you needed.
There was pre-race water station or food station that I could see.
There were plenty of port-a-potties, enough for the amount of starters, but they were located in a weird area, lined up right along the starting corrals, so at the start the runners running and the runners still in line for the potties were bumping into each other!

TIP: to avoid port-a-potty congestion, go into the arena, there were PLENTY of public restrooms there, and very short lines for both men and women.

This was a "self-corral" race, with areas marked for expected pace, but no distinct lines/borders/fences between each.  My sister and I lined ourselves at the front of the "11/12/13 minute mile" corral, in time for the National Anthem.

Cloud, few drizzles at the start, 40sF.  Cold at the start, but I ditched my throwaway hoodie within the first minute of the start.

The Course:
Picturesque, countryside, "local" feel.  The first 5 miles or so took you around the Hersheypark Stadium and Arena areas and into and THROUGH Hersheypark.  I was really looking forward to this as it reminded me of running through the theme parks at Walt Disney World.

But after the park, you were on your own with the fields and countryside of Hershey, PA, for the rest of the race.

Honestly it was very pleasant.  We ran through and around The Milton Hershey School, the streets lined with groups of students for high fives.
We ran through a golf course, even ran on some grass for a bit.
But the star of the show was the HILLS.

Here's the course elevation chart:

There was some hype about the hills prerace, and yes they were definitely there, with relatively few flat areas in my memory, but overall the hills were enjoyable.  Even that stetch after mile 5-6 (see above), although a long hill, was manageable.  I took walk breaks, and tried to time my walks when going up hill, but nothing consistent.

Crowd/spectator support was good, and local, but not dense or crowded.  Less than Disney, much more than Atlantic City or Long Branch.

I saw my family at Mile 11 for some high fives, and shortly afterwards there was even a "Chocolate Station," where they handed out Hershey Chocolate Bars.  I was looking forward to it, but at mile 11 it wasn't pretty, my clumsy hands dropped the first bar when trying to unwrap it, and I was equally inept at stuffing a second bar into my mouth that I ended up coughing it out.

I wish there was a water station right after the chocolate station, but you still had to run a bit.

Volunteers and Water stops:
Excellent and plentiful.  There were plenty of volunteers directing runner traffic at turns.
There was a water and Gatorade stop every 2-3 miles.  When I heard about this I wasn't sure if it was going to be enough, but it was just fine.

Finish area:
Inside Hersheypark Stadium.  There was an expected crowd right after the finish line to pick up medals, heat sheets, and goodie bag, but at that point I felt great.

I ended up doing a negative split as planned:

First 5 miles at 11min or just below
Next 5 miles at 10:30 pace or below
Last 3.1 miles a 9:30 to below 10 min pace

Official time:  2:15:57.

Overall I'm happy and proud, given the dip of motivation and training, and the hills!
I felt great afterwords, and just stretch out on the 10 yard line waiting for my family.

Very good half marathon, I had lots of fun.  There were about 4,100 finishers, not too congested at all.  Support was good, the course was hilly but you get to run through Hersheypark!  And ... they give out chocolate!

Now, stay tuned, because my next goal is the Philadelphia Marathon!
credit runnerwithanappetite.

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