Race Recap: Hershey Half Marathon

Hey, guys! Todd and I ran the Hershey Half Marathon this past Sunday. We had an awesome time, and better yet, this weekend’s 13.1 was TRULY my last “long run” for my New York City Marathon training…because I “only” have to run 8 this weekend!

We drove up to Hershey, PA early on Saturday morning, and arrived at the expo around an hour after opening. With approximately 4,000 runners, I knew the expo was going to be pretty small — but even that seems like an understatement now.

There were only a handful of vendors, packet pick-up was a breeze, and the “official” merchandise — which you know I’m usually a sucker for — was pretty pathetic. We were in and out of there in less than 15 minutes. (But, of course, not before stopping for the first of many, many photos with our chocolatey friends!)

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We spent the day walking around Hersheypark and Chocolate World (we saved the actual activities for AFTER the race on Sunday, however, since they all require lots of sitting down and remaining motionless, haha).

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We also purchased the finishing touches for our race day ensembles; I basically packed our “Will Run for Chocolate” Bondibands along with a million different colors of Sparkle Athletic skirts, Pro Compression socks, and, of course, the orange pants I purchased for my Daisy Duck costume but decided were “too orange”…and as soon as I saw a sparkly Reese’s shirt in one of the gift shops, the decision was made. :)
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We had dinner at the Chocolate Avenue Grill (YUM), and headed back to our motel, the Howard Johnson on Chocolate Avenue.

A quick note for anyone considering running this race in the future: LEAVE. EARLY. The trip to the Hersheypark Stadium that should have taken all of 5-10 minutes actually took closer to an HOUR. The race instructions recommended arriving by 7am for the 7:30 start time, but they didn’t offer a whole lot of warning in terms of just how jammed the roads and parking lot entrance were going to be. We were still sitting in traffic on one of the roads that was going to be used for the first mile of the race at 7:20!

Somehow, we made it into the complex, found a spot, ran for the bathrooms for a quick pre-race potty break, and began the races along with hundreds of our tardy friends about 5 minutes after the official start of the race. Thank god for love chip timing. :) hersheyhalf1

The race starts out through the stadium parking lot, which they somehow magically cleared of the traffic jam we had been sitting in just 10-15 minutes ago. We started out slow and steady; I already knew this race was going to be hilly based upon blog recaps I read before the trip, and so I was mentally (and, I hoped, physically) preparing myself for a challenging course.

The good news? It was downright COLD! It was actually in the freakin’ 40′s, and all kinds of windy, and I LOOOOOVED it. It’s been a long time since I ran a race/long run in such chilly temperatures, and it felt fantastic. Of course, I was already warmed up and regretting the long sleeve shirt by mile 2…but, still.

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The course takes runners through a bunch of residential areas of town, including Chocolate Avenue, and within the first couple of miles we were heading into Hersheypark. It was definitely fun running through the park (although, it’s no Disney World, of course). I guess this is just the runDisney addict in me, but I was kinda sorta hoping there’d be photo opps with chocolate characters along the course. Not even gonna lie. Haha.

There were a handful of random chocolate bar characters along the way, like Rolos (who eats Rolos?!), but they were placed practically right on the race course and it would have been impossible/unsafe to the other runners to stop for pictures — so I settled for a high-five. Of course, we did manage to stop for photos once or twice.

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There were bands playing and lots of excitement, and yeah, I was definitely getting lots of attention for my bright orange costume. Naturally, we were among only a few runners wearing “costumes” — since, once again, this was definitely not like a Disney race! Spectator support was pretty great along the course, and everyone was shouting things like “Go candy!” and “Reese’s and Hershey!” at us. Gotta love it. :)

We started out at a conservative pace in the early portion of the race — around a 10:45/11-minute mile or so — but I noticed that as the miles flew by, I was actually getting slightly faster…to a 10:30, a 10:15, and I even saw — believe it or not — a “9″ in front of my pace for a couple of miles. I haven’t seen that kind of pace (at least not for any significant length of time) in MONTHS! Also? I never, EVER negative split, and didn’t think it was physically possible for me to pick up the pace in the second half of a race…so I was pleasantly surprised with how we were doing, and was thrilled to see paces like 9:15 and 9:30 in a race again.

Also? I was feeling awesome. Yeah, I was running on tired, heavy legs that have already endured months of marathon training, and there were, indeed, a number of fairly steep hills to climb that I didn’t especially care for, but overall it was turning out to be one of the best half marathons (non-Disney!) that I’ve run in a long time. I was surprised by how good I felt, and I have to say, it served as another boost of confidence to know that I am READY for NYC.

A significant portion of the second half of the course takes you through the MASSIVE campus of the Milton Hershey School, where there were hundreds of students waiting to cheer us on and give us high-fives. It was a beautiful campus and the energy of the kids (and their cheers for REESE’S!) kept me going.

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Before I knew it, we were already in mile 11, and headed back towards Hershey Stadium. Instead of water, one of the stops had volunteers hanging out mini Hershey’s chocolate bars. Now that’s MY kind of race fuel. :)

We made out way into the stadium, and ended up crossing the finish line in 2:23.

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Obviously, it’s not my best half marathon time, but it also wasn’t my worst.

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Given that we took the early miles slow and easy, and stopped for a photo or two along the way, I was THRILLED with our finish.

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We were expecting to receive a cheesy medal featuring a Hershey candy, as finishers have received in the previous four years of this race. But I guess since it was an anniversary year, we were handed a pretty solid piece of bling that depicts some famous Hershey landmarks, like the Hershey chocolate factory stacks and Chocolate Ave. Not too shabby.

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We got a little snack bag and heat wraps (which I still find completely useless, BTW) and stood in line to take a quick photo in front of the half marathon backdrop…

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…and then I felt it was very important to begin re-fueling. :)

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We got cleaned up (via ShowerPill wipes, of course) and spent the rest of our time in Hershey at Chocolate World. Where we:

Learned about chocolate…

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Watched 4D movies about chocolate…

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Created our own chocolate bar…

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Posed for pictures with chocolate…

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..and we took the trolley tour around town to learn more about the history of Hershey and the “Milton Hershey story,” which was awesome. Oh, and plus, they gave us some more free chocolate. Just like every other attraction at Chocolate World. This couldn’t have been a more fattening weekend…good thing we burned a couple of calories during the race, haha.DSCF1407

Also, I gotta tell you, I think this is one of the best deals we’ve had yet when it comes to race fees; the race itself was very affordable, and on top of it, you get two free tickets PER RUNNER for Hersheypark, which are normally $35+ per visit! Plus, we never had to pay for parking (we just had to tell them we were going to the expo), and in addition to the usual fare, the post-race goody bag had candy (obviously) and other goodies, including a GIANT cookie from the Hershey Lodge. Not bad at all. Other than the parking madness on race morning, I also thought it was very well-organized and staffed with plenty of enthusiastic volunteers. Would definitely recommend!

Overall? It was one of my favorite “race-cations” to date, and I felt it was the PERFECT way to wrap up my grueling season of NYCM marathon training. It served as a perfect reminder that running — and racing — are still truly FUN to me, and that running isn’t always about the physical pain and mental agony that comes with those 16- and 18- and 20-mile marathon training runs.

Plus, running gives you a perfectly acceptable excuse to gorge yourself on chocolate. And drink chocolate martinis. :)

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Have you/would you ever run the Hershey Half Marathon (or a race through a theme park)?

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