Race Review: Garden Spot Village Half Marathon

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The Garden Spot Village Half Marathon is situated in beautiful Amish country, and I have been part of the pace team for the past three years. There’s both a half marathon and full marathon, and I pace the half. The timing is perfect: a little more than a week out from Boston, and it’s the distance and pace I’d normally be running that day anyway. I usually pace the 1:45 team. A few weeks before the race, the guy who coordinates the pacers asked if I’d be willing to switch to the 1:40 time slot. That’s about a 7:38 pace. My training had been going well, and I’d been doing my long runs a touch faster than that so I figured it would be a better fit than the 1:45 time slot anyway. I agreed.

This is a Saturday race, and the race director invites the pacers to come to the pasta dinner for free the night before. He knows most of us come from about an hour away, so he puts us up in a nearby hotel for the night. I look forward to this mini-getaway each year.

I got to the pasta party and grabbed my packet. The organization that hosts this race is a non-profit, and they pull out all of the stops. My swag bag was an awesome: a clear tote adorned with the race emblem and a zipper that would be great to use for bag check for future races. It came stuffed with lots of goodies, including THREE shirts! The racers got two shirts – a short sleeved tech tee, and a short sleeved cotton tee (the cotton tee is SUPER cute!), but the pacers got an additional pacer shirt. The pasta dinner had all of the usual items and then some – pasta (regular, whole wheat, gluten free), meatballs, garlic bread, sweet potatoes, coffee, tea, iced tea, cookies, chocolate cake. After eating our fill of food and chatting with the race director, we headed to the hotel.

I got a decent night’s sleep and woke up around 5:30 am. Oddly enough, the forecast was calling for snow. Being as it was April 9th, I simply didn’t believe it. I got up and looked outside. Nothing. I was certain it would just be colder than average but with no precipitation. I typically wear shorts and my pacer shirt for this race, but this year required some warmer clothes. Tights, a long sleeved shirt with the short sleeved pacer tee over it, gloves and a headband. I hit the road to get to the race just before 7 am, and the first few flakes were beginning to fall. It was actually snowing!

I got to the start and headed to the heated tent to stay warm and dry. By this point, the snow was coming down pretty hard. They had coffee and hot tea set up for the runners, so I grabbed a coffee and chatted with the runners and pacers. My concern wasn’t that we had to run in the snow. I enjoy snowy runs, and a snowy run through Amish country would be spectacular. My concern was with holding a certain pace in the snow. If it stuck to the roads, I wasn’t confident I could do it. I lined up at the start and found I was the fastest pacer. The fastest marathon pacer was 3:25, so it was likely that I would have a few marathoners attempting a sub-3:20 finish starting with me.

Several runners came over and introduced themselves to me, and told me they wanted to break 1:40. They asked what my strategy was, and I planned to keep even splits throughout the entire race with the exception of the notorious mile eight hill. Keeping even splits as a pacer is important because you can’t cater to how each individual runner trains. I did a post about this with tips for being a pacer following the Hartford Marathon.

As with most races, being familiar with the course helps tremendously. I know from past years of pacing Garden Spot that as we descend the hill, we should pick up the pace. It’s a significant climb coming back up. If I keep the pace up the hill on the way back, runners often get discouraged and begin to walk. The plan was to run that hill on effort. The mile with the hill has 243 feet of elevation gain, but only 21 feet of elevation loss:

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Side note: If you run the marathon, that uphill welcomes you at mile 22. Mean!

As the gun went off, I had a large group of people and it was snowing pretty hard. Everyone was quiet, so I talked. I don’t usually talk about myself but I could tell within the first mile that the group was working. Lots of heavy breathing. I checked my watch religiously to ensure we were not moving too quickly. I needed to keep a consistent pace, but also knew I might lose runners at the beginning of the first climb (about mile 3).

I thanked the group for keeping me company on my last long run for Boston. They seemed to really like that and perked up almost immediately. It got some runners chatting about upcoming races, and I asked where everyone was from. I wanted to make sure the effort was appropriate for the group so I tried to get them talking to listen to their breathing. I wanted to hold 7:30-35 pace to ensure we came in just under 1:40. As pacers for this race, we are asked to bring the crew in around in whatever your goal is, but ideally a few seconds under.

We settled right in and held 7:30s pretty consistently from that point on. It was snowing so hard that it was almost white out conditions, but thankfully wasn’t sticking to the roads. It was one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever run – the snow blanketing the farmland and farmhouses was a magnificent sight. The mile markers were on little street cones, and I missed the first one because I couldn’t see it. I was trying to run the tangents but came up on mile two and noticed the mile marker was positioned .06 after my Garmin indicated we were at mile two. I hit lap and decided I should continue to try to run the tangents, but to stick to 7:30-7:32 pace in the event every mile was off this way.

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After the first series of hills, I found myself running alone. I was worried and disappointed that I’d burned the group out. I caught up to two runners that were from the area and we chatted. You could tell that both of them were very comfortable and were actually slowing down to talk to me. I told them that I loved their company but to drop me if they had energy. They did, and I later found out that they ran 1:36!

I hit the big downhill solo, and started cruising down. About half of my original pack crept up behind me and someone said, “We finally caught you!” They told me they knew I was on pace and were trying to keep me in their sights. They knew the second half of the course was more downhill, and wanted to try to catch up to me at that point. This relieved me, knowing that they could see me and used me as their “rabbit”.

The turnaround on the course is well over halfway into the run. It’s somewhere around mile 7.5. It’s nice because you have one HUGE climb, and then it really is almost all downhill from there. We started climbing the hill and once again, the pack dropped off. I was holding about an eight minute pace for that mile, and when I reached the top I picked it up a little to try to earn some of the time back. One by one, the pack caught up with me. Each time, I told them that the rest was downhill so they needed to go and make sure I didn’t catch them. For most of the runners that passed me, it worked. Most came in well under 1:40. Some fell behind, and I didn’t see them again.

By this point, I was absolutely freezing. I was soaked, and my hand was numb and cold from holding my 1:40 sign. I reeealllyyy had to pee because I hadn’t gone before the race started in an attempt to stay warm and dry for as long as possible. I could hear footsteps and breathing as a runner was coming behind me. I slowed my pace and let the runner catch up to me. As he approached, he looked pretty strong, so I encouraged him to take off and not let me catch him. He laughed and said, “Maybe at mile 12.” We ran together for awhile in silence, and at mile 12 he took off.

I finished alone, but I still felt happy with the job I did pacing because many of the runners “beat” me. Maybe that’s the name of the game for 1:40. If you can get in under that 1:40 mark, why not? I finished in 1:39:52. I hope I paced the runners accordingly, because I had a lot of fun with that pace.

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After the race, I typically like to stick around to watch the runners finish, and to hang with the rest of the pace team. The post race food at this race is fabulous – omelettes, oatmeal, etc. The race director puts on quite the event, and I highly recommend this course to anyone looking for a challenging spring half. I was cold and soaking wet so I made a beeline for my car and my warm clothes. Once I got changed, I was still freezing. I couldn’t talk myself into going back out into the snow, so I headed to Starbucks before getting on the road. I was also concerned about the long drive home in the “winter” weather. At this point, the conditions were like this:

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It was so beautiful, but so slushy and wet. I can’t imagine the marathoners that were still out there for hours running in that. Imagine being a first time marathoner that day. You pick an April race thinking the weather might be ideal, but you get February conditions. What a way to experience 26.2 for the first time. If that doesn’t make you badass, I don’t know what does!

I ended up being the 7th female and got 2nd in my age group. I’m listed as earning that award but I hope they gave it to the someone else because I don’t feel right about it. It was not my day to be winning; I was there to help others achieve their goals. When I crossed the finish line, they took my tag from my bib (even though it was chip timed) and I told the volunteer to not put me on the board. My name is still listed in the awards. Since I didn’t stick around this time, I don’t know for sure what happened.

I love ending my Boston training with pacing! After having a great training cycle and some spectacular races, I like being able to give back to the running community before my goal race. This was quite the different experience, but still just as rewarding.

Have you ever been a pacer before? Do you ever volunteer at races? 

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47 thoughts on “Race Review: Garden Spot Village Half Marathon

  1. afastpacedlife April 14, 2016 / 8:17 am

    What an amazing pacing job!!!! You are super stellar. Like a mailman, neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor glooms of night stays these pacers from the swift completion of their appointed pace.

  2. Nora April 14, 2016 / 8:31 am

    I always wonder how pacers are able to hold a sign for that long, especially in your situation with the weather. I really love running in snow except it gets wet. It’s interesting that you were trying to get your group talking to check on their effort. When I am racing I can maybe get out a sentence but it’s choppy and I don’t want to waste the breath. I feel like I’m. Easing up my breathing pattern by talking too. On long runs I can talk pretty comfortably though.

    • allisonfiorini April 14, 2016 / 11:29 am

      Normally, the sign doesn’t bug me but MAN my hands were SO COLD! Even with gloves, BRRRR! I don’t expect people to talk to me in the later miles of the race, but I like to check in and see how the group is handling the effort in the first few miles. If I notice someone breathing really heavy or struggling, I wouldn’t discourage them from keeping up the pace but I might give them some encouraging words or hand them some extra water at a water stop!

  3. Lisa @ TechChick Adventures April 14, 2016 / 8:52 am

    Great job on keeping your goal! That did make me think about the pacer holding a sign for so long. I never had thought about it before! I get annoyed holding a water bottle for that long, and it’s strapped to my hand! Also, I feel the same way about pacers winning awards. The pacers are really part of the race, not competition, so it doesn’t seem fair to take away from the racers. What a great feeling when you pace and help people achieve their goals!
    I totally love snow, but getting pretty sick of running in it. We got hit pretty hard in Ohio too, but hopefully that is the last of it! I do NOT want to see any snow on my race day.

    • allisonfiorini April 14, 2016 / 11:30 am

      Thanks Lisa! It only bothered me because of the cold. My hand was frozen! I really hope they gave the award to someone else. I was disappointed when I saw that. I plan to email the race director next year when I confirm I am going to be pacing again!

  4. Anna @ Piper's Run April 14, 2016 / 9:09 am

    It’s always a fun time running in weather like that. Great job with your pace and pushing people onwards.

    • allisonfiorini April 14, 2016 / 11:32 am

      Thanks, Anna! It was certainly a different (but fun) experience!

  5. suzysuzyheather April 14, 2016 / 9:51 am

    You’re the marathoner’s dream pacer! I have a buddy who paces and nails it like you did. But you never really know what you’re going to get on race day! You did such a great job, and it was so kind of you to volunteer to do that! Three shirts is awesome!!

    • allisonfiorini April 14, 2016 / 11:33 am

      Thank you, my friend! I really liked pacing that group – it was really fun!! I like to end Boston training with that gig. It just seems like a good way to start race week!

  6. Hanna @ TheMillennialNextDoor April 14, 2016 / 9:56 am

    Ugh, that weather! You are such a trooper. Really glad everything went well! I agree that it doesn’t seem right to give awards to pacers. Hopefully it was just a mistake on their part and they forgot to update the online results or something.

    I remember last weekend feeling really bad for people who were running their first half or full marathon out in those conditions. Can you imagine? I mean April is unpredictable but no one expects THAT. Gross! It didn’t snow as much here but it was FREEZING COLD. Like, below 32. WTF?

    • allisonfiorini April 14, 2016 / 11:48 am

      Thank you Hanna! I know, I was chatting with a bunch of runners that morning who were about to run their first half/full marathon. Everyone had such a good attitude about it. But honestly when I crossed that finish line, I was so ready to be done because I was SO wet and cold. The flakes were huge and kept getting in my eyes and it was hard to see. I kept shielding my face with my sign! It was crazy. But everyone I saw was still smiling!

  7. DarlinRae April 14, 2016 / 10:11 am

    Amazing job pacing that race–you were right on target! I’m sure it must have been pretty to run in that snow, but boy oh boy and I over winter right now…

    • allisonfiorini April 14, 2016 / 11:48 am

      Thanks Rae! Ugh, SO over winter right now. Looks like a gorgeous weekend, though – let’s hope that weather sticks around!

  8. Heather [is probably running] April 14, 2016 / 11:06 am

    It snowed on Saturday in Michigan too. I saw your instagram post about the weather right before I headed out for my long run. I was so tempted to cut it short because of the weather and then I remembered that you were out pacing a race in even worse conditions. And I thought, “well if I want to be as fast as Allison someday I’d better get out there and stick with it!”

    I actually like when pacers talk about themselves/their races. It saves me from having to talk when I’m working hard and helps keep me distracted.

    • allisonfiorini April 14, 2016 / 11:55 am

      Awwww! I’m glad it kept you going! You are awesome! I don’t usually like to talk about my own races or times when I pace but they seemed to like to talk about Boston, so we did! It broke the ice. Or the snow? LOL!

  9. candies & crunches April 14, 2016 / 11:58 am

    Congratulations! I’d love to have you as my pacer at my first half!!! xoxo

    • allisonfiorini April 14, 2016 / 12:18 pm

      Thanks girl!!! I would love to pace you, LOL! It is such a fun job!

  10. Hollie April 14, 2016 / 12:29 pm

    It’s remarkable you were able to keep that pace in that weather. It looks like it was beautiful but ugh snow at this time of year. Good luck at Boston!

    • allisonfiorini April 14, 2016 / 12:54 pm

      That was exactly my attitude – so beautiful, but NOT for April! Thanks Hollie!!

  11. kristinegift April 14, 2016 / 12:52 pm

    Perfect pacing job, especially in gross conditions! I’ve only volunteered at a couple races, but I want to get involved in more local races as a volunteer or pacer this summer/fall.

    Good luck at Boston! I can’t wait to read all about it!

    • allisonfiorini April 14, 2016 / 12:55 pm

      Thank you Kristine! I’m getting super excited for the weekend and the race! It was a lot of fun to pace that group. It is so rewarding to help out the running community – runners are always so happy and grateful!

  12. Kim K. April 14, 2016 / 2:37 pm

    I am super impressed you were able to power through those weather conditions; and carrying the sign nonetheless! I’ve raced a lot over the years, but can only remember one race where there were pacers; my plan was to go 1:50, and my paces were right on track, yet I only caught the 1:55 pacing group at mile 8 and they wound up finishing right behind me…um a 5 minute difference? Come on! I wish you could be a pacer for all races, in all states, all the time 🙂 Is there such a thing as a professional pacer?! I live in Boston, ran Boston twice, and cannot wait to track you on Monday. Looks like it may be a warm day out there! GO GET EM GIRL! Enjoy every second, especially the girls at Wellesley!

    • allisonfiorini April 21, 2016 / 12:58 pm

      I definitely like running in the cold better than the heat, that’s for sure! Those Wellesley girls were on their game this year – so fun!

  13. Jennifer @ Dashing in Style April 14, 2016 / 8:01 pm

    That weather was nuts! We also had snow that morning, but it seems your area got it worse. You’re a great pacer! I love running with pace groups. Following a pacer really helps me. Glad most of your group came in under goal, and your time was spot on!

  14. Alanna April 15, 2016 / 8:00 am

    Awesome job! I’m glad that the snow didn’t stick to the roads enough to make running difficult.

    • allisonfiorini April 21, 2016 / 12:59 pm

      Thank you! I was really glad it didn’t stick too much too!

  15. Megan @ Meg Go Run April 15, 2016 / 8:42 am

    What crazy conditions! That’s PA for ya. Hope you have better weather on MONDAY!!! 🙂

    • allisonfiorini April 21, 2016 / 1:00 pm

      Hehe – I think I prefer the snow and cold to the heat, now that I’m on the other side of it all!

  16. charissarunning April 15, 2016 / 10:40 am

    That hill is definitely bigger than the Kutztown one – omg!! And I can’t believe the crazy weather you got for this race! It snowed a little where we are too but none of it stuck. But as always, what a superb job of pacing you did!

    • allisonfiorini April 21, 2016 / 1:02 pm

      Thank you! Yeah, that hill is NASTY! But, you get to run DOWN it too!

  17. cnbenton April 15, 2016 / 11:58 am

    Nice job! I’ve only paced at training runs, never an actual race. When I’m in top form, my easy pace is 9-minute miles, but I prefer to pace 10-minute miles just in case I show up having an off day and 9-minute pace is a struggle. Someday, I’d love to pace a half for the sub-2 group!

    • allisonfiorini April 21, 2016 / 1:03 pm

      You could totally pace a sub-2! I think that would be SUCH a fun group of runners to pace. That is a huge milestone!

  18. everythingswaiting April 15, 2016 / 1:00 pm

    I love the picture of you crossing the finish with the sign in your hand and the clock showing the official time!

    • allisonfiorini April 21, 2016 / 1:04 pm

      Thank you!!! They definitely got some good shots that day!

  19. Ali @ Hit the Ground Running April 15, 2016 / 9:22 pm

    What an AMAZING way to finish your training. I seriously love this and I LOVE your attitude toward pacing. Thanking your group for joining you on your last long run was brilliant 😉 You sound like such a wonderful pacer.

    I don’t know how you guys run with that sign though!

    • allisonfiorini April 21, 2016 / 1:06 pm

      Thank you! Ha! It usually isn’t so bad but the cold made that hand go numb, lol!!!

  20. hellyontherun April 15, 2016 / 11:09 pm

    You keep impressing me that I’m starting to become immune to your amazingness. (yeah right, like never). I really need to meet you at a race so you can pace me! ❤

    • allisonfiorini April 21, 2016 / 1:06 pm

      I would LOVE TO PACE YOU! That would be the best race EVER!

  21. irishrunnerchick April 16, 2016 / 2:52 pm

    Yikes! That is some pretty terrible weather. I ran 5 miles with a pacer in my race this morning and he was great. Told us his plan, kept chatting which was a great distraction and then encouraged us to go for it if we felt strong.

    Best of luck on Monday – I look forward to hearing all about it!

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