This past Sunday I raced the Runner’s World Half Marathon in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This was the culminating race of the Runner’s World Half Marathon Festival after a weekend of various races.
Because I had to work a 12 hour shift on Saturday, this race weekend was slightly different than most race weekends for me. I wasn’t able to visit the 2-day expo hosted by Runner’s World as I was forced to pick-up my bib on race morning due to other “adult responsibilities”. I also wasn’t able to run the day before the race which was a huge mental barrier for me. Because I worked 6:45 AM until 7 PM, I had little to no choice than to skip a pre-race shake-out run. I didn’t want to wake up at 5 AM and go for a shake-out run because I feared running by myself so early in the morning and I didn’t want to run at 8 PM after work because that would cut in to my sleep the night before the race – after all, we had to leave for the race at 3:30 AM.
I consumed my carbo-loading pasta dinner after getting done my 12 hour shift, packed up some last minute things for race morning, and was in bed by 9:30 PM. My alarm was set for 3 AM which would leave me with 30 minutes to get my race outfit on and get out the door.
I was grateful to have my mom with me on race day as my dad and Josh were racing an adventure race at Brandywine the same day. We left the house around 3:35 AM and started out towards Bethlehem with the full moon shining high in the sky. We passed about 7 total cars within the 30 minute drive to the highway we needed to get on. The roads were dark and the rest of the world was still fast asleep.
Half way to Bethlehem, I realized I forgot my red Gatorade in the fridge so we stopped at a Wawa off the Turnpike since we knew we would have plenty of time to spare once we arrived to the race location. I opted for a blue Gatorade and continued on our way.
We arrived at the designated race parking lots around 5:25 AM and nobody was around. The parking lots were dark and empty, and I actually questioned whether I had the right date for the race. We asked a security guard where to park and he directed us to a different lot. Still the only ones parked in a huge parking lot, we gathered our belongings and I double and triple checked that I had everything I needed.
All of the pre-race emails designated these particular lots as the only lots available for parking, so my mom and I had no choice but to walk 1.5 miles to the Arts Quest building for bib pick-up. Here we were, at 5:30 AM walking down Daly Ave in the dark past the start, Sands Casino, and the outlets both layered with warm clothes.
We finally arrived to the Arts Quest building and I was able to pick up my race bib and race shirt. I am quite disappointed with the size of the long sleeve shirt I received. Usually I fit comfortably into a small, but the volunteers at the shirt pick-up warned me the sizes were running small. So, heeding to their warning, I opted for a medium. When I got home and actually put on the medium, the sleeves were about 2 inches too short, and the shirt just didn’t fit right. Believe me, I don’t do these races for the race shirts or the medals, but if Runner’s World expected me to wear this shirt around to advertise their race, they’re going to be quite disappointed in me.
Regardless, my mom and I hung out in the Arts Quest building until about 7 AM to stay warm before walking 3/4 of a mile back to the starting line. I used the bathroom two more times (my nerves were really getting to me!). We started our walk back to the starting line and by this time, Josh was awake so I was able to update him on safely making it to the race with ample time to spare! While we were walking my mom and I also got to talk to one of the pacers for the race who was pacing the 8:25 goal-pace runners. I told him I hoped to be ahead of his pace group the entire time and I hope I didn’t offend him. He didn’t seem offended and he wished me luck as he continued down a different road to a warmer place to wait out the remaining time until the start.
At 7:25 AM I decided to go on a 15 minute warm-up run to get the blood flowing. I ran back to the bathrooms at the Art Quest building since no bathrooms were available at the start line but was appalled by the line and couldn’t afford to wait in line. I located another bathroom which was just as bad of a wait so I decided to do some exploring on my own and located a much less popular bathroom in the outlets at Sands Casino. Turns out, there were about one hundred runners in this building waiting inside to stay warm until the race started – it wasn’t even that cold out!
After locating and using the bathroom for the third time that morning, I ran back to the start to meet my mom before the race started. At this time, I opted to run in my spandex shorts, my Sneakers and Spokes singlet, and arm sleeves. I had been debating all morning whether to run in my shorts or 3/4 length tights but running in shorts was definitely a good choice! I striped off my layers one by one as the starting time quickly approached. I told my mom to head down the street a ways as she would have a better chance of seeing me in the mass of people further down the street.
At this time, I also found Tiffany, our previous Altra tech rep for Sneakers and Spokes, and I was so excited to see her! She had won the 3.8 mile trail run on Friday, and also raced the 5k and 10k Saturday, and here she was ready to take on the 13.1 mile race as well (click here to read her race recap!). We were both very excited that we found each other in the mass of people. We wished each other good luck and by that time it was just about time to start.
I found myself towards the front of the crowd as nobody seemed too ambitious to start towards the front. After the national anthem, the gun was shot off and the mass of runners started their way down Daly Ave. The start was on a downhill so it seemed that everyone was moving pretty quickly. I knew it was going to be a fast mile but I felt comfortable and knew once it flattened out that I could settle in to a pace. We made a few turns and crossed a bridge, then the uphills started.
My goal for this race was to run a 1/2 marathon PR of sub-1:41 but I didn’t expect the course to be nearly as hilly as it was. It seemed that every half mile was either an uphill or a downhill. The uphills got my heart rate up, and the downhills destroyed by quads. After every downhill, it would take me nearly a quarter of a mile to regain a consistent pace and by that time we were going back uphill. It was a vicious cycle and I remember thinking numerous times that I just wanted the race to be over and done with already….we were only 3 miles into the race.
The course weaved us through some streets of Bethlehem – the main street in Bethlehem which was lined with about 100 or so spectators, and back neighborhood streets of Bethlehem that got me questioning where I was. I had no idea where I was the entire race and the neighborhoods we ran through were quaint and quiet. The course wasn’t lined with spectators like big city races and I was actually somewhat disappointed that not more spectators were out and about – I was under the assumption that this was a big event for Bethlehem. I guess I was wrong.
Mile 6 brought a huge uphill that seemed to go on forever. I knew at the 10k mark that a text would be sent to my family and friends tracking me so that motivated me to get to that point but I still felt tired and ready for the race to be done. I knew how much the uphills were slowing down my pace so I tried to make up as much time on the downhills as my legs would permit. Other racers kept passing me – I actually don’t think there was a single person that I personally passed from mile 2-11. Everyone seemed to be passing me. I kept thinking that I must really be slowing down and I had a feeling that 8:25 pacer we met earlier was going to also pass me (he never did).
At the 10 mile mark the clock read 1:18. After some quick calculations, I realized a PR was out of reach but I could try my best to run under 1:45. That became my new goal. We crossed the bridge again to get back to the finishing area and a fellow racer was alternating between running and walking. I figured he probably just was cramped up or maybe pulled a muscle. When I eventually did pass him I asked him if he was ok and he said he was fine. I kept running hoping he was indeed fine.
We passed the finishing area and looped back around for an additional 1/2 mile until the finish. At this time, I saw a fellow South Jersey runner that I know by association (check out her race recap here). She told me I was doing a great job but at this point I felt absolutely horrible and I was sure I was running very very slow. In the last 1/2 mile I got a painful stitch right below my rib cage that pulled with every step. It hurt but I had no choice but to keep moving forward.
The finishing stretch included a local high school band playing pep songs, and spectators lining the last 200m of the race. I tried my best to look strong and to finish strong but my legs weren’t moving very fast. People kept passing me. I just wanted to be done. I crossed the finish line next to a man carrying an American flag. My finishing time was 1:43.
I was handed a medal and a heat blanket. It didn’t feel nearly as warm as the one after the Philadelphia Marathon but I was grateful for it. I walked over to grab from an array of snacks. I picked up some veggie straws, granola bars, and a chocolate bar (mmm chocolate!). I met my mom at our designated meeting spot and she congratulated me. We walked over to a sculpture and she took a few pictures of me. I tried my best to look happy even though I felt physically drained.
My feet felt great in my Altra Torins. I didn’t get any blisters and I was happy to have raced in my Torins as the race was sponsored by Altra – this was actually one of the main reasons I signed up to run this race!
My mom informed me that there was a platform that ran along the steel stacks if I wanted to go up there and check it. This required me to climb 3 flights of stairs but I made it to the top. I got an awesome view of the finishing area and the rest of the runners finishing.
After that, we made our way back to the car which was yet another 1.5 miles away. This was a much slower walk than earlier in the morning. Luckily when we arrived back to the parking area there were actually cars parked in the lots from other races. That made us feel better about our choice to park so far away – after all, we were only following the instructions listed specifically in the race emails.
I changed into warmer clothes and we started our drive back home. My legs ached and I was exhausted. Although I didn’t run a 1/2 marathon PR like I intended too, I was happy with the fact that I got in a solid training run for my marathon. The marathon is my bigger goal and this 1/2 was just conveniently at the mid-point of my training. My splits weren’t as consistent as I would have liked them to be, but due to the rolling hills throughout the course I have accepted them for what they are. Now I know that the next 2 weeks of marathon training before tapering need to be solid training weeks. My body needs to be ready for 26.2 miles.
Organization – I would give this race an “A” for organization. Offering race day bib pick-up was convenient and the race was very well organized. There are two things keeping me from giving this race an A+ – the inconvenience of parking and not having bathrooms available at the start line.
Swag – I would give this race a “B-” for swag. Knowing how big of a company Runner’s World is, I expected quality swag. I am very disappointed in the situation with the race shirts. However, I do like the medals that were handed out for the race – it also functions as a bottle opener!
Course – I would give this race a “B” for the course. I wasn’t overly impressed with where the course brought the runners, as there were very many desolate and quiet sections of the course (“how the heck did we get here?!”). If you’re looking for a more challenging half marathon this is the race for you! Do not expect a PR, but do expect a nice challenge for both your quads and your calf muscles!
Spectator-friendly – I would give this race a “B-” in regards to how spectator friendly it was. My mom was only able to see me at the start and the finish. There weren’t very many spectators throughout the course, however most of the spectators congregated around the start/finish area. If you’re looking for a race that will keep your adrenaline flowing for the entire course, you may want to look for a different race.
Would I do this race again?
Simply, the answer is no. This was a one and done race for me. I wasn’t impressed with the course and I’d rather find a 1/2 marathon closer than a 2-hour drive. It was fun while it lasted, and I’m happy with such a great training run leading up my marathon but I wouldn’t go back to this race time and time again.
I am 100% looking forward to my goal race – the Philadelphia Marathon! Time to put in some solid work this next 2 weeks before I start tapering!!