Runner’s World Half Marathon & Festival Weekend

Three weeks after my return to running was the Runner’s World Festival in my hometown. I registered for the “Hat Trick”, meaning I was signed up to run the 5K, 10K, and Half-Marathon. The 5K and 10K were both on Saturday, and the half was scheduled for Sunday. I participated in the event last year and really enjoyed it, so when registration opened up for the 2013 festival, I had to sign up. Since I’m still recovering from my recent injury, I don’t have much to say about my performance in the races, although I was pleased with my 10K time. It wasn’t even close to a PR but I held half marathon pace for the whole thing, which I hadn’t done in awhile.

Putting all injuries aside, it’s somewhat difficult to race all three of these events. Some of my friends ran some spectacular times for one or all of the races, but the courses are quite challenging.  If you choose to race all of them, be prepared for some tired legs in the days to follow! Last year, I ran the 5K and the half-marathon more aggressively and kicked back on the 10K. This year, due to being injured, I was more aggressive with the 10K and ran the 5K and half marathon at a comfortable pace. The key to being successful in the Hat Trick is holding back from going all out in each race. Even when I’m in my best shape I personally wouldn’t race all three of the events, but it can certainly be done.

The Expo

The expo was held at ArtsQuest, which is an eclectic building by the Steel Stacks on south side of Bethlehem. The expo was decent last year, but moving it to the ArtsQuest building was a nice improvement. They provided a variety of vendors, several noteworthy speakers, and merchandise available for purchase throughout the building. The layout of the expo was odd: bibs were distributed upon entry, but runners had to walk all the way up to the top floor for the t-shirts and swag. On your way downstairs, runners were directed through an area to check out the vendors before exiting. I realize it was set up that way with the intention of getting runners to walk through all of the vendors and spend some money, but I just thought the logistics were strange. The shirts and swag were top notch: as a “hat trick” participant, I received both shirts. They were both technical tees, and the colors were tasteful and something I know I’ll wear often. Gray for the half-marathon, navy blue for the 5K/10K. Doing the hat trick also got you a commemorative hat (a hat for the hat trick, how clever). This year’s hat was navy with white trim.

There were many worthwhile speakers and events going on throughout Saturday and Sunday, but I was unable to hang around the expo. Some of my friends took advantage of the festival and seemed to really enjoy everything the expo had to offer. The Runner’s World crew does a nice job of inviting interesting people to come and run the race: there was an Olympic swimmer in town that ran this year, and Shalane Flanagan ran the half marathon last year.

The 5K

The start time for the 5K was 8 am. I was surprised to find that the course was changed for the 5K this year. I liked the course just as it was last year, but I thought the change this year was an improvement. The start began near the SteelStacks, but a little further down the road from the starting line for the 10K. After the national anthem, the race directors began the “march” to the start of the 5K and we were off. The course started on the south side, but then crossed the Fahy Bridge and did a short loop on the north side. We had to cross the bridge again to get back to the south side but it was a pleasant loop. It’s Bethlehem, so all three of the races were a little hilly. The finish line is the same for all three of the races, and is right in front of the Steel Stacks. It’s a pretty exciting finish line, and Bart Yasso was announcing the runners as they came through the finish line.

As far as my performance, I decided to run the 5K at 10K pace. The 10K was going to start shortly after we finished the race and I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel running a significant number of miles over a relatively short period time at a more aggressive pace. It was a far cry from a PR, but I felt strong and comfortable and zero pain from my recently injured tibia.

The 10K

The 5K went off at 8 am, and the 10K starts an hour and a half later, at 9:30 am. It’s very similar to the 5K course, but with two extra loops. One on the south side that runs by Lehigh’s campus, and one on the north side that ventures up main street and through the historical district in Bethlehem. Of the three races, this is my favorite . It’s beautiful, challenging, and truly showcases what Bethlehem is all about. It’s pretty much part of my usual running routes so it’s really exciting to see it as part of a large, organized event. I’m excited that out of towners had the chance to experience what I get to experience regularly. The 10K is also a bit hilly, but it’s such a cool route that you barely notice it. If I had to make one complaint, it’s that the 5K and 10K both utilize the Fahy Bridge. However, I can’t think of a better way to run those courses without the Fahy. There are two other bridges in close proximity that serve a similar purpose (the Minsi Trail Bridge and the Hill to Hill Bridge) but neither would really be logistically possible to use for the race. There were plenty of water stops and lots of places along the course for people to stand and cheer on their runners. The finish is the same as the 5K, and Bart Yasso was announcing names again for the 10K as each runner crossed the finish line.

I was the most pleased with my performance for the 10K. I was a little slower than half marathon pace (close to the 7:30 range) and really felt great when I was done. I wasn’t sore or tired afterward and felt like I still had energy left at the finish, which was a nice surprise.

The Half Marathon

I really like this half marathon because it’s run on roads that are very familiar to me. The course is almost always part of my long runs and offers many challenges. The starting line is completely different from the other two races, beginning in front of Sands Casino (about a mile from the finish line). It runs through historic neighborhoods and down some of my most favorite roads in Bethlehem. It passes by two local college campuses, Lehigh and Moravian. It weaves through some of the historical Bethlehem landmarks, such as Bethlehem Steel. There are some tough hills but they are all worth the climb, because it’s relatively downhill after mile seven. It’s really more of a net descent from mile seven until the finish, but it feels like a real treat after all of the climbing. If I had to pick one of the three events to run, I would have a hard time deciding between the half marathon and the 10K.

There are plenty of water stops, and a station with GU around mile nine. Around mile seven, there is a water station sponsored by a company that produces running skirts, and if you choose to stop they will give you a free skirt. I don’t wear them so I didn’t take one, but a lot of people did – even some of the guys. The finish is the same as the 5K and the 10K, and Bart Yasso was announcing names for each runner as they crossed the finish line.

I plan to participate again next year, but will I do the hat trick again? Undecided. I liked doing it the past two years, but depending how 2014 goes, I might choose to pick one (or two!) events and actually race.

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