Race Recap – The Sweetest Half Marathon on Earth!


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Last Sunday I joined a throng of nearly 4,000 other runners for the annual Hershey Half Marathon.  The opportunity to join in this massive road race became available about four days before the race – and after some internal wrangling (two beers) I decided to jump in with both feet.  My “training” this year has been loosely focused on ultras, mainly just plugging away miles without regard to pace, and certainly no speed work.

Busy Day at Hershey Park? Nope, It’s the Hershey Half!

The Hershey Half represented three first-times for me:  It was the largest race I’ve ran, the farthest road race, and most definitely the earliest race.  The gun goes off at 7:30 AM to ensure traffic flows and park visitors can return to normal by the afternoon.  Logically, this make sense…but when the alarm goes off at 5:00 it’s hard to agree with their reasoning.  Luckily the part of your brain which recognizes decisions you might regret generally isn’t operating that early, so when I rolled out of bed I was still feeling pretty good about the race.

My impression  was that the course was pretty well designed. There is a wide start line just outside the football field, with markers for your expected pace.  There is a predictable hike to the actual start line when the gun goes off (I crossed the START line at 1:30) but it breaks up relatively quickly after that. After weaving around the massive coliseum that is the Hershey Entertainment complex, the route enters the park and winds through some of the coasters and my personal favorite as a kid – the waterpark.  There was a live band in the park still dutifully playing us through as I passed.  The course then shoots through the town, the local golf course, and I think some property which belongs to the Milton Hershey School.  Lots of support & fans along the way.

While I didn’t win any awards on Sunday, there a few groups of folks worth mentioning:

1. Best Signs: There were some creative folks out there on Sunday.  My favorites included a bearded young man with a scully cap and a serious expression holding a sign that said “Worst Parade Ever”.  At mile 11, a beaming white haired woman with a red vest held an encouraging sign “Forget the Pace, Forget The Race, Let’s go Drink a Case!”.

2. Best Fans:  I’m sure they are a normal phenomenon at these types of races, but I haven’t seen them before.  The Team-In-Training folks were out in force!  Every few miles there seemed to be a sea of purple complete with noisemakers, balloons and costumes.  They were cheering full-bore every time I ran past.  That organization does a great job of supporting its athletes/fundraisers.

3. Worst Fellow Runners: I try not be evangelical about my running behavior.  I’ll do what works for me – you do what works for you, everybody runs happy.  But I got stuck with a group of runners who were constantly checking their GPS, and complaining at nearly every mile marker that course was poorly marked, since it was off by .1 or .2 miles from  their GPS.  If you have something positive to say, by all means speak up, but if you are just complaining about something trivial, please keep it to yourself.  The plus side?  My annoyance gave me enough umph to run faster and leave ’em in the dust.

All in all, this was a successful race and a great experience.  I finished strong, didn’t get injured, and put up a respectable time.  If road half marathons are your bag, put this one on your list.  If the chocolate aid station wasn’t sweet enough – race entry comes with two free Hershey Park Tickets!

The Importance of Being Selfish


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After reinvigorating my focus on the 2012 in 2012 challenge, I’ve been paying careful attention to the habits and routines that enable me to tick off 9+ miles per day, a necessary evil if I plan on marking this year a success.  My experience thus far has been that the most significant roadblock is not the physical demands (after all, I could theoretically walk or ride a bike slowly all day and rack up miles) or dealing with the weather, but simply finding the time each day to spend on  fitness.

I was discussing this point with my father-in-law while taking some time to run on the Tecumseh trail in Southern Indiana.  He shared an observation/advice from a friend that I felt was particularly fitting, since I recently signed up for the PHUNT 50k in January and will be staring down long runs each and every weekend.

It boils down to this:  Training for a specific event or maintaining a strong level of fitness requires a bit of selfishness.  There will always be other people, relationships, and tasks that are deserving of your time, and it’s easy to feel like you can’t make the time to disappear for a few hours to run, bike, or swim.  If you are a feeling a bit guilty about choosing the 18-mile run on your training plan over brunch with your spouse or friends, remember that the energy and focus you bring back to the table will be valuable to these relationships in the long-term.

It’s the affirmation of something we should all inherently understand: If you are not taking care of yourself, it is very difficult to maintain focus and take care of others.  It’s tough to shake off the warmth of bed before dawn, or even worse, show up late to happy hour to squeeze in some exercise.  However, the long term health benefits, self confidence, and ability to complete that race goal in three months require those sacrifices.  So suck it up, buttercup – there’s miles to run (or bike, or paddle, or swim)!

Not Dead Yet!

Earlier this week I pulled up wordpress to cobble together an online presence for a great event coming up in November, the Harrisburg Cranksgiving. It’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun, so If you are in town on November 18th, please come out and join us!

It dawned on me that it had been some time since I paid any real attention to the 2012 in 2012 challenge. It’s been a busy summer – much of it was joyfully spent on planning and celebrating our nuptials, and soaking in the sights and sounds of a Peruvian honeymoon. I also competed in a few trail races, and spent as much time as possible paddling, hiking, biking, and running in the summer sun.

With three months left in the year (actually 89 days at this point), I dutifully pulled up DailyMile to see how much distance has been recorded. Now, I know that I’ve not been as regimented about logging miles as I should have. I’ve certainly missed a race or two and plenty of utilitarian bike trips, and haven’t recorded any paddling miles. That being said, in the interest of transparency, I can’t go back and guesstimate and will stick with those miles recorded.

As of this morning, I’ve logged 1,163 total miles in 2012. Going by this number, I’ll need to average just over 9.5 miles per day to complete the challenge! For a guy that doesn’t tick off century rides every weekend, this will certainly be a tough goal to hit. By adding some mileage to my work commute, and throwing in some long runs on the weekends, I still believe I can pull it off.

If you are looking for me over the next 3 months, I’ll be guy riding back and forth on Riverfront park on an old Mongoose Mt Bike…

Trail Race Recap – Hyner View Trail Challenge

“Our course is designed to reward those who have trained and punish those who haven’t!” – Not the encouraging words I had hoped to hear during the first mile of the Hyner View Trail Challenge, as I found myself running within earshot of one of the race organizers who was gleefully reciting the above mantra that is found on the Hyner View and Rothrock Challenge websites.  Sporting a healthy elevation gain of 4,226 feet over 16ish miles, I was not feeling particularly confident in my lackluster training regimen leading up to race day.  Luckily the weather was just about perfect for the race, hovering in the mid 50’s with plenty of cloud cover and the potential for a bit of passing rain.  This is a tough race, but the grueling course encourages camaraderie (misery loves company, after all), and the excellent organization makes the race feel much smaller than it actually is.  The trail is technical, and the views are incredible.  Those views don’t come free, however.  The hill climbs on this race are brutal, and there are three major ridges to conquer. I generally lost a few spots with each climb, but made up lots of time by bombing down the long, technical descents.  My knees are definitely going to make me pay for that strategy in a few years.  With 4 well-stocked aid stations, I chose to run sans hydration bottle, assuming I might need my hands for scrambles and to break the inevitable tumbles.  I ended up finishing MUCH better than I had anticipated, and celebrated with plenty of post-race beer provided by Yorkholo Brewing Company in Mansfield, PA.  If you ever get to Mansfield, make it a point to stop by!  One of the best parts of trail races? There is always good beer at the end!

Speaking of beer, we had meandered our way northward the previous night, carb-loading on great beer and pub grub at Selinsgrove Brewing Company and the Bullfrog Brewery en route. Selinsgrove is currently pouring the Snake Bite Stout, fairly light in body with a nice hop kick at the end.  Certainly worth a quaff! Growlers from each made it into the cooler for post-race celebrations.  While sitting at the Bullfrog, we happened to meet  two folks who were headed to Hyner the next morning as well.  One of these fine folks noticed the Ithaca HHH logo on our growler of Hopsfyxiation, and as luck would have it he had just founded a SoChesCo Hash in Chester County.  Stop by and see them if you are in town!

If you’ve never been to the PA Wilds, you are missing out on one of the great land legacies and landscapes in the country.  The PA Trails Trophy Series is a great way to explore some of the best wilderness areas in the commonwealth, and tackle some awesome races with solid company (and good beer at the end). Many thanks to The Nature Conservancy, Western Clinton Sportsman Club, sponsors, and volunteers for putting on an awesome race! See you next year!

Mileage: 16.35

Total Mileage: 456

Next up: Rothrock Challenge!

*I apologize for the lack of scenic photos, but I left the phone/camera in the car!

Trail Racing: The Ugly Mudder

Eight hundred and eighty is a pretty big number.  Not only is it (in pounds) the record size of an American Black Bear, and the size (in sq miles) of Bee County, Texas, there are also 880 people named Michael Smith currently living in the State of Virginia.  It also happens to be the number of hill-loving, ankle-twisting, beer-drinking runners that descended upon the Reading Liederkranz for the 9th annual Ugly Mudder 7ish-mile Trail Run.

The Ugly Mudder is a no-limit race, and the unseasonably warm February weather brought people out in droves.  The course was pretty typical for a Pretzel City affair, with plenty of mud, single-track, and grueling hills which make trail running such a fantastic sport.  As folks began wandering down from the Liederkranz (some  intrepid runners carb-loading with Franziskaner) and lining up at the start, speculation began flying in regards to the size of the race.  After brief remarks from the race director (with the help of his beautiful assistant), we were off.  The course starts with a short straight-away on a wide macadam road.  I should have been sprinting during this portion to get ahead of the pack, but alas found myself in a herd of runners when the course veered right and up a hill into the woods.  With a pack about 20-30 runners wide pushing themselves up through the woods, most managed to keep in good spirits by moooing and making the best of the situation.  It was tough to get moving past runners on the single track for the first few miles, but as the crowd thinned out, I was able to let loose and make up some time.  After downing two refreshing alternative beverages at mile 6, I really picked up the pace for the last mile.  Rounding the last turn towards Mt Whadafug, I realized with dismay that the guy in the grass skirt and plastic leis was still ahead of me.  Talk about demoralizing!  Luckily I was able to maneuver past him on Whadafug and finished strong, to be greeted by an ice cold Franziskaner Dark.

This is a great race for a beginner, or someone who is a bit nervous about breaking into the world of trail running.  Unless you want to push it very hard in the beginning to jockey for position, it’s important to enter into the race with a positive attitude focused on enjoying the experience and camaraderie, not pushing for speed at all times.  During a single-track race with that many participants, the average runner will definitely encounter bottlenecks that require slowing down or walking.  Keep that in mind from the beginning, and will you will still have a blast!

After a few hours celebrating at the Liederkranz, we headed home and stopped by Stoudts Brewery for dinner.  The brewpub is decorated with Victorian-era furniture and campaign propaganda from the 1800-1900s. There is an interesting planned community next door called Stoudtburg, which is loosely designed after Rottenburg, Germany.  If you get a chance to visit, it is well worth it!  Your best bet?  Run the 12K Stoudt’s Distance Classic in Oct!

Miles: 7

Total Miles: 207

One Month Down – Status Update

With a rip of the the “word-of-the-day” calendar on my desk (munificent), the first month of the 2,012 challenge is over.  Unfortunately, I am way behind.  The one-two punch of injuries late last year and early this year threw a wrench in my otherwise ambitious plans, but I am almost fully healed, and ready to double my efforts to keep ticking away those miles!

As of last night, I have logged a total of 80 miles.  In order to be on track, I should have ran, walked, and biked 171 miles by this point in the year. Fear not, my dear friends, as I’ve got two aces up my sleeve! Inspired by the good folks over at The Run Commuter, I’m going to start plugging in some more running miles during my commute (more on that later).  Also, I am going to sign up for an ultra.  This will force me to fit in longer and more frequent training runs, and get me back on the bike for longer conditioning rides.

Some quick reflections on the 2,012 challenge:

1. Hardest Part: The most difficult part of this challenge is going to be having the discipline to calculate and record all the miles.  I have been making great strides in embracing technology (iphone w/ runmeter) to help automatically track miles and send them to Dailymile.  I’m still not listening to music outside though, keep those earbuds on the treadmill!

2. Running/Biking: I had high hopes for this challenge to knock off most of the miles running.  I am coming to terms with the fact that I won’t be ready for a few months.  I need to build up strength and ease into high-mile weeks so I don’t injure myself.  I need get the bike tuned up for longer rides, and start hitting that Greenbelt (and not feel guilty about it)

3. Best Part: Motivation to get out there and hit the trails.  It was a beautiful day yesterday, and the need to clock miles gave me the motivation to throw running clothes, shoes, and a waterbottle into the truck while traveling for work.  I had time to go for an amazing sunset run at Gifford Pinchot.  It was quiet, beautiful, and serene.

Pinchot Lake at Sunset

I may be behind the 8-ball right now, but I’m coming back strong! See you on the trails!

Trail Runs – Boyd Big Tree Preserve



One of the finest characteristics of our capital city is its proximity to a host of natural amenities.  While there are ample opportunities for biking, running, and walking within city limits, you are limited to relatively flat, paved trails.   Drive just a few minutes north of the city, however, and there is a grand network of public land and trails to keep your feet happy for years.   One of my favorite spots in Fishing Creek Valley (the first valley north of Harrisburg) is Boyd Big Tree Preserve.

This 800-acre conservation area is owned and managed by the PA DCNR for multiple uses, including hunting, so be sure to wear your orange during hunting season!  With over 12 miles of well-marked trails (plus a bonus trail that shoots over to Blue Mountain Parkway through Central PA Conservancy land), there is enough to keep you busy for your spring training runs.  This area is particularly well suited to folks like myself who, during a momentary lapse in judgement, signed up for April 21st quad-burning monster, Hyner View 25/50k.

Need hill training? This is the place to go.  There are enough trails that you can tailor the run to your degree of difficulty, and the loop below is my favorite for easing into hill training.  Once you have a strong base built up, take the yellow trail straight up the west side of the property, or if you prefer, chug up the powerline.

It was a beautiful morning to be out in the woods, and I was lucky enough to run with a few deer that made it through the hunting season.  Despite a few folks hiking with their four-legged friends, I had the park to myself.

The Dreadmill Workout – Indoor Winter Running


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The treadmill and I have never gotten along.  The same can be said for stationary bikes, ellipticals, rowers, and all manner of cardiovascular indoor equipment. Despite my complete lack of coordination on these torture devices, on some base level it bothers me to be exerting so much effort and movement, but never really getting anywhere.  It’s hard not to feel like a hamster on a wheel when surrounded by the hum of a line of treadmills, staring out the window (or at the television).   I’ve always reveled in foul-weather challenges, and can generally get my myself motivated to head outdoors in the rain, snow, sleet, or hail. I probably would have made a great postal worker.


Don't make me go!

That being said, the weather on Monday was nasty.  The fog was so thick I couldn’t see city island  and riverfront park was still icy and slushy.  I didn’t have time to make it to the woods, and I didn’t want to risk slipping and twisting on the ice and aggravating my almost-healed injuries.  It was so bad even the dog didn’t want to come out and play.  But I needed to run.  Not just for the mileage challenge, but for my own sanity.  I had to face the treadmill.

I sucked it up and pushed through a 45-minute workout – a new treadmill record for me.  I rarely listen to music while running, but with the help of the Big Damn Band and some quality day-dreaming, I got through.  I also learned to appreciate the value of a treadmill workout to the mental challenge of running.

From a 5k to an ultra-marathon, there is a mental/emotional challenge in addition to the physical requirements of training and racing.  Sometimes you might just be having a bad day, sore from an earlier workout, or realizing that biscuits and gravy washed down with a beer are not a great breakfast before a 13-mile training run (I know this from experience). For me, it is tougher to keep myself moving on a treadmill than in almost any other running situation.  A few long treadmill workouts help develop and practice the mantras and interior dialogue that can you through a tough race.

Total Miles: 56