Running on gluten-free carbs…

Hershey Half Marathon – Hershey, PA (October 21, 2012)

Me crossing the finish line of the Hershey Half Marathon – Hershey, Pennsylvania

Me crossing the finish line of the Hershey Half Marathon – Hershey, Pennsylvania

Race: Hershey Half Marathon

Place: Hershey, Pennsylvania

Date: October 21, 2012

Time: 1:51:37

Ever have one of those races that you just felt good going into?  That’s how I felt about the Hershey Half Marathon.  After making a stunning comeback from my torn plantar fasciitis in numerous races of varying length, plus having some really great training runs leading into it, I was confident that Hershey was going to provide me with a good race.  New PR or not, I was heading to the land of Hershey Chocolate…also known as…one of the best places on Earth.

So, aside from my goal of joining the 50 States Club, why a half marathon in Hershey, Pennsylvania?  Running for chocolate, of course.  This race, just before Mile 12, hands out a candy bar.  No joke.  That was what originally caught my attention.  It was mentioned on an early date of my roommate’s Food Challenge Desk Calendar.  And I immediately knew I had to run it.  I also knew this would be a great road trip to include Jenn on, because she is as much a chocoholic as I am.  We made plans.  Registration opened.  And I signed up.

This meant travel.  Lots of time in the car.  And it all started the Friday before the race on Sunday.  Cathy and I worked a half day on Friday and then made our way up to Columbus, Ohio.  We crashed at Jenn’s house that night, knowing the realization that we would have to be up crazy early in the morning (5:45 a.m. which I was not happy about) to eat breakfast (I brought homemade gluten-free carrot cake pancakes), get coffee (from Caribou Coffee…because when I am near one I have to have it!), and get on the road for the 7 hour car trip from Columbus to Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The car ride took forever.  Honestly.  We made a couple of stops along the way for stretching, bathroom, and food.  I had to be very careful with my food decisions that Saturday because I didn’t want to consume something with gluten in it the day before I ran 13.1 miles in a race.  That would have been disastrous.  So, I stuck to products I knew and trusted and were labeled gluten-free for the journey there.

At around 2:30 p.m., we arrived in Hershey, Pennsylvania and had to make our way to Hershey Park and attempt to find the Ice Palace, where packet pick-up and the expo were held.  We followed traffic to Hershey Park and then Cathy had her immediate freak-out of normal proportions with the usual, “I don’t know what I’m doing…I don’t think this is right…I don’t want to ask someone else…”  But once you get her past that part of the trip, she does better.  Well, she had that moment and it passed when we got up to the ticket gate and she inquired with the lady in the booth about packet pickup.  She told us to drive all the way around and follow the signs for the Season Ticket Office, and we’d get where we needed to go.

That’s what we did and we were directed into a parking lot, where we did a little hunting for a spot before finally getting out of the car for a little while.  It was nice to stretch and move some.  We had a little bit of a walk to the Season Ticket Office, which was marked with signs and balloons for the Hershey Half Marathon Packet Pick-up.  We entered…and I immediately spotted the booth for BondiBand.  I love BondiBand, so I said I would loop back around for it…and focus for the moment on getting my packet, which is truly the most important part.

It was easy.  The packet pick-up was done from the first letter of your last name.  I went up to the B box and he was able to easily find my name.  He pulled out a packet, handed it to me with my shirt and a reusable bag and directed me over to Chip Check, where a woman took the packet, ran it over a scanner, and made sure my name came up and the chip was functioning.  It was.  And I was Bib No. 400!

With the important stuff now in hand, I was able to walk around the expo.  There weren’t too many booths there, honestly.  Your local groups, a few vendors, and…BONDIBAND!  So, after making one circuit of the small expo, that’s where Cathy, Jenn and I headed.  Like I need more BondiBands, right?  I can’t help it…these things are great and I wear them on training runs as well as during races.  They’ve become part of my running attire and people recognize me because of it.  So, after about 45 minutes of searching, Cathy and I narrowed down our choices to four, which she bought for me, and soon…we were heading out of the expo.

With some time to still kill before meeting up with my friend Kathy for dinner at a restaurant with amazing gluten-free Italian food options, we ducked into Hershey World and checked out the prices for activities and hit up the gift shop.  Shopping took us a little while, but we wrapped it up and made our way to the resort we were staying at that night.  Cathy got us checked in and we took our luggage up to the room and settled in for a little bit until Kathy arrived to give us a tour of Hershey and take us to Piazza Sorrento, our choice for where to have dinner.

Dinner was delicious and hanging out and socializing with Kathy was a lot of fun.  But as the night went on…she had to get back home to her family and we had to get ready for yet another early morning for the race.  I dug into my luggage and started laying out what I was going to wear that morning of the race, noting that it was going to be a crisp, cold 43 degrees out and I didn’t bring long sleeves, arm warmers, or anything.  So, I knew I was going to be cold that following morning.  I did bring my running capri pants, but opted for my running skirt regardless of the chill in the air.  With all that done, we turned in for the night.

The 5:30 a.m. wake-up call came and I dragged myself out of bed and went to get dressed.  I put on my running clothes, got my plantar fasciitis sleeve over my taped feet, then my running socks.  My shoes were laced up and I was good to go except for putting the colored hair extensions in my hair and putting it up in ponytails.  I managed that, put on my “Will Run for Chocolate” BondiBand I purchased online prior to this race, and headed out to the living room area of the suite.  I grabbed a bag of gluten-free cereal and settled in at the table to munch.  It wasn’t the usual cereal I would eat, but it was already in a portable container.  I had picked it up the weekend prior at a gluten-free expo, so while it would have been better with some almond milk over it…I work with what I have.  Both Cathy and Jenn (poor Jenn had been awake since 3:30 a.m.) had their breakfasts as well and we finished up getting ready before heading out the door.  I grabbed my banana to consume an hour before the race, filled up my water bottle with SmartWater, and we were off.

I stepped outside into the garage of the resort and immediately knew I was honestly going to be quite cold for the start of the race at least.  The wind was quite strong and very frigid.  But…I also knew I would arm up as I ran, and a half marathon is quite a distance to go being overdressed.  So, I freeze some at the beginning, but don’t have to worry about shedding layers or being too hot during the event.

We drove over to Hershey Park and found a great spot near the end of a row.  I didn’t want to get out of the car yet, so I waited for Cathy to futz around with what she needed in the bag she was bringing, what she wanted in the trunk, and whatever else she was futzing with.  And when she was finally ready, Jenn and I got out of the semi-warm vehicle and walked toward Hershey Park Stadium.  As we were walking, I peeled my banana and began to slowly eat that.  We ducked into the brightly lit stadium to take a look around.  I got to see the Finish…and knew that was my destination.  I just had to get there.  The start of the race happened outside of Hershey Park Stadium, but we still had some time.  Instead of standing out in the cold, we headed over to where Packet Pick-Up was happening and ducked inside.  On our way there, a runner spotted my “Go Karen Go!” sign that Cathy has at every race and she said, “Oh my God, you run in Louisville!  I see that sign at every race!  You won an award at the Big Hit Quarter Marathon!”  I couldn’t believe that the sign was spotted and recognized by someone else up from the Louisville area.  How cool!  We said hello, wished each other luck, and we went to step into the warm surroundings of the packet pick-up space.  It was in here that I began to stretch.  And as the crowd began to thin out, I knew race time was getting close.  So, sucking it up…I went back outside and made my way over to the starting area.

Me and the Hershey Bar before the start of the Hershey Half Marathon

Me and the Hershey Bar before the start of the Hershey Half Marathon

Being that this is the Hershey Half Marathon, a lot of the Hershey mascots (aka: Candy Bars) were out and roaming around.  I spotted the big Hershey Bar and knew I had to have my picture with him.  So after a high five, we took a great picture.  Jenn and I then hopped into a picture with the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup mascot.  Awesome.  And, little did I know that the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup was the featured candy.  It was on the medal this year!  SWEET!  Cathy opted to have her picture taken with the Kit Kat Bar.  It was pretty epic and so much fun.  What a great way to just sort of take the edge off before a race.   And, it got me out of my hoodie to acclimate to the cold air sooner than I would have otherwise.

With photos done, and announcements about to be made, Cathy and Jenn gave me good luck hugs, told me they’d see me at the finish, told me to have a great run, and Jenn gave me the best send-off with “Don’t pants your poop!”  HAHAHAHA!!  Love it.  Marathon Thoughts…thank you for that one.  I got lined up in the middle of the 8 minute miles and 9 minute miles…my proper spot this time.  The race director went up to the podium to give a small speech about the race.  I wasn’t aware that this was only the third year the Hershey Half Marathon had run.  I thought it had been going on for much longer than that.  He went over the rules…like not to take fluids from strangers…look for volunteers in the orange shirts instead.  It was great.  And then he turned the microphone over to the miracle child from the local Children’s Miracle Network picked to kick off this year’s race.  He was so adorable and not shy at all.  With much gusto, he got us out and going with a simple “Ready….Set…….GO!”

And so…the race was on.  The movement toward the Start was easy and smooth.  It took me about a minute to get from where I was corralled to the actual Start gate.  So, that wasn’t too bad.  I spotted Jenn and Cathy on the other side, flashed a smile and a peace sign…and was off.

Now, prior to the race, I watched the video of the course.  It looks pretty flat from the video.  But on Thursday night, I started looking up blogs on the Hershey Half Marathon and everyone was talking about how hilly it was.  I was determined that they ran a different course than the one I saw.  But…nope.  They were absolutely right.  HILLS!  Lots of hills.  And not just small rolling hills either.  Some of these were pretty good climbs.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The beginning of the race is mildly challenging.  The first mile, for me, flew by.  Honestly.  I was just sort of running at what I deemed to be a good, slower, start time for my run.  I want to get better at run easy…push more…finish fast.  But I was through the first mile and it felt great.  Mile 2 was spent running through Hershey Park itself.  That was a lot of fun.  I enjoyed seeing the park, the rides that were available, the vendors.  Sure, it was tight quarters with all the runners in there, but you make the most of it.  You enjoy it.  You choose a pace and you just work through it.  Quite a few inclines welcomed us inside the park.  I did my best to power up them without using too much energy so early on.  As we came out of the park, the race hit Mile 3 and off we went to wind through the streets of Hershey, Pennsylvania.  With the challenge of the hills I found myself focusing a lot more on the road ahead of me.  I didn’t glance at my pace, even when another mile beeped off on my Garmin.  I wanted to just run this at what felt comfortable.  It had been working for me in the past couple of races…why mess with it and try to rush myself?  Miles 4-6 just seemed to fly by because of the hills that greeted the runners.  I was so focused on getting safely to the top without expending too much energy, but not slowing down to a crawl either, that before I knew it…I was halfway through the race.  I was warmed up.  I was feeling good.  I was remembering to hydrate when I felt I needed it.  Halfway was where the relay teams tagged off, so I got to see some of that happening, which was cool.

Mile 7 took us basically up a hill almost the entire way.  But my legs were feeling strong and pushed forward.  I was moving at a good pace.  Mile 8 – 9 was done through a residential area.  The roads narrowed a bit at Mile 8 because we had runners coming up one way, and those going through Mile 9 were coming down the other way.  But everyone navigated it well and the neighborhoods were a nice change of scenery.  Some of the best crowds were out on these corners.  And if they saw your bib…they would shout your name.  This was one very awesome crowd.

Miles 10 – 11 felt amazing to me.  I hit that 10 mile mark and saw the time clock reading of 1:23:17 and I knew I was far above my normal race pace for this run.  My best 10 mile race time was 1:29:33.  This race was proving to be one of my best half marathons yet…even with the hills.  Normally by Mile 10 I need to refuel with Sports Beans or a GU.  But not today.  I had energy.  I was pushing now because I was only 2 miles from the end.

As I came onto Chocolate Avenue, I was greeted by the volunteers dangling Reeses Nutrageous bars out to runners.  It was the Chocolate Aid Station!  YAY!!  A lot of runners ignored it…but the whole purpose of this race was to get the chocolate bar at Mile 12.  This happened just before Mile 12, but I had to take one.  I had to.  I didn’t eat it, but I carried it with me as I ran up the street lined with Hershey Kisses topped street lights, and back toward Hershey Park.  Mile 12 had yet another hill, but I was so close now, I could taste it.  I came into the parking lot and started down toward the tram gate to run toward the stadium.  Then it was out and around the stadium before coming into it, dashing around a corner…and finding that Finish line.  I was rewarded with a Finisher’s Medal almost immediately.  That finish was one of my better ones.  I immediately spotted Cathy and Jenn in the stands and I was so pumped up from the finish that I was bouncing and pumping my fists.  Even more amazing…the chocolate I got at the Chocolate Aid Station didn’t melt.  I got my finisher’s photo taken and Cathy said they would meet me at the Results tent.

I made my way there, getting the little cooler of goodies along the way…and some water.  I was gifted with another space blanket to help warm me up…and I walked onto the field and over to results.  Sadly, my results weren’t up yet to find.  However, I did go and get hugs and congratulations from both Jenn and Cathy immediately afterwards.  I handed Jenn the Nutrageous bar I picked up at the Chocolate Aid Station and thanked her for coming out after a long trip and sleepless night to sit in the cold and wait for me to finish a race.  I was pumped.  I was so excited.  My best race yet and I was still feeling great!

I got my Arbonne Vegan Chocolate Protein shake out and drank that down while standing around and texting my family.  Then I sent the text to my friends.  And then…after downing some water…we got into the car to head back to the resort so I could shower and we could head out and do something out of town the rest of the day.  This…was one hell of an amazing race.  And when all was said and done, I shaved 7 plus minutes off my previous half marathon PR.  So a great run and a new PR…despite the hills!  YES!  All that hard work and training really is paying off.  What a fantastic run!

The official results of the Hershey Half Marathon have me finishing in 1:51:37.  I was 642/3932 finishers overall.  I was 212/2516 women runners to cross the finish line.  I was the 634th person to cross in the 25-34 age division.  And I placed 77th for people who were 32 to cross the finish line.  THRILLED!  Ecstatic.  Just…so proud of myself for such a well run race. 1/58 in my age division.  I set a new PR for a half marathon…and I have my next one, in…2 weeks.  No joke.  But I am treating that one as a training run due to it being so close to this one.

Being part of the Hershey Half Marathon was so much fun.  Pushing myself without knowing it and setting a new PR while here…priceless.  Running for chocolate…the best reason to run.  Period.  I might have to do this one again sometime!

Me striking a pose for a strong finish and new PR at the Hershey Half Marathon

Me striking a pose for a strong finish and new PR at the Hershey Half Marathon


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