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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!