Wow, what a weekend! I don’t think I could have asked for a better event, weather or experience. I highly recommend adding the Runner’s World Half Marathon and Festival to your race bucket list. Why? Keep reading :) Sorry, it’s a long one!
I’ve wanted to run Runner’s World since they first started the event a few years ago. After originally deciding to not do a fall marathon (I’ve since changed my mind), I thought doing the Runner’s World Hat Trick would be a great challenge to undertake. The hat trick is the 5k and 10k on Saturday and the half on Sunday. I managed to convince another friend to join me, as well.
Once signed up I started getting the race newsletter. It had a lot of great information and got more and more detailed as it got closer to race day. When it came to the week of the race, I had no questions about where to park, what time to arrive, the schedule or anything else. In addition to the newsletter, they also had a free app that I downloaded. It was very helpful throughout the weekend with the schedule, parking maps, spectator maps, live results, and info about the city of Bethlehem.
My friend and I arrived on Friday evening, too late to hit the expo. We stayed about 5 miles away from the race at one of their partner hotels. Runner’s World had blocks of rooms at several area hotels that guaranteed you a specific nightly rate. All were reasonably priced and within a reasonable distance of the race. I loved the location of our hotel. It was across the street from a big plaza with several restaurants, a Target, Old Navy and numerous other shops. If we’d forgotten anything we’d certainly have been able to pick it up at the plaza.
Saturday morning, we left the hotel around 6 a.m. The 5k didn’t start until 8, but I wasn’t sure how crowded parking would be and we still needed to hit packet pickup. Runner’s World had a number of free lots set up, as well as a few paid options. A few of the free lots were along the course so there would be a certain time period where you wouldn’t be able to leave. We ended up in a free lot within walking distance of the Steel Stacks Campus and the ArtsQuest Center, home base of the race. It was perfect. We didn’t have to use gear check at all since we were so close.
The 5k was a great course. Due to the short distance, I didn’t find that the field spread out until mile 2. My strategy with the 5k was to run it, but not push too hard since I still had the 10k afterwards. The course was nice and only had two hills that were pretty minor. Here’s a look at the course map and elevation profile.
Runner’s World 5k
I finished in 25:07, which was right around what I was hoping to run. It left me with about an hour between races. Ivy and I took some time to stretch, hydrate and hit up the very nice, clean and warm bathrooms in the visitor’s center. Runner’s World had port-a-potties, but the fact that the visitor’s center was so accommodating was a huge plus. There wasn’t even a line since the bathroom was so large.
The 10k course had a bit more variety in terms of elevation and only minority overlapped the 5k course. This meant you had plenty of new things to look at. It took us through the beautiful historic section of Bethlehem with its many beautiful homes. There were a few more hills, but again a very manageable course.
My goal for this race was a PR and I managed it with a 50:53, almost two full minutes off my previous personal best.
After the 10k, I was able to meet up with a distant cousin of mine, Dan, who lives in Bethlehem. Coincidently, he lived only a block off the 10k course. While we had never met prior to this, he grew up with my mom and I had spent time with his mother growing up when visiting my grandparents.
One of the other great things about this weekend are the many seminars Runner’s World has for participants. They ranged in topics from nutrition to running form to a conversation with 3-time Olympian Deena Kastor to a half marathon strategy session. Ivy and I signed up for the nutrition seminar and the half marathon strategy session. After the 10k we had about two hours until the nutrition seminar so we walked around the Steel Stacks Campus with Dan. Below are some photos.
The new walkway that gets you up close and personal with the historic steel stacks. It’s similar to the Highline in NYC.
It was so neat and a beautiful day to be walking around exploring history.
View of a small portion of the steel stacks campus, the ArtsQuest Center, the finish line, the flaming arch, and more.
After heading back down to the ground level, we came upon the 1-mile dog run. It was adorable with dogs of all shapes and sizes, from Yorkies to Alaskan Malamutes.
The start of lap one.
The dogs seemed to have a great time. Some of them seemed like they really wanted their owners to run faster too. Some of the smaller pups eventually decided they weren’t so into the race and put on the brakes to make their owners carry them. It was all quite fun and adorable.
We parted ways with my cousin to head to the nutrition seminar with plans to meet for lunch. After the seminar, we headed to change and off to lunch. Dan then gave us a fun tour of Bethlehem and the Lehigh University campus. We had a great time!
Since we still had time before our half marathon strategy session, Ivy and I headed to a local ice cream shop that’s been serving homemade ice cream for 85 years. It was on the list of places to visit for a sweet treat from Runner’s World. It was so good! I highly recommend visiting the Bethlehem Dairy Store if you ever find yourself in the area.
With a bit more time to kill, we walked around the expo. The expo was a bit on the small side, but it was solid. There were a nice selection of vendors and I ended up getting a new pair of my preferred Thorlo Experia socks and a shirt from Aardvark Sports, a running store in the city. We also visited the Runner’s World Bookstore. There they would take your picture and make it look like you were on the cover of their magazine. It was free too!
Bart Yasso and two others led the half marathon strategy session. They offered insight into everything from when to arrive, where to park, when to push and when to coast. I tend to like to be blissfully naive when it comes to courses, but it did help to know where the challenging hills were and that it was a negative split course. Definitely a worthwhile seminar. Bart Yasso is also incredibly nice and quite entertaining.
We pretty much fell into bed Saturday night super early. I’m not sure what time I fell asleep, but it was definitely early. I slept straight through until 4:30 a.m., which was amazing since I rarely sleep through the night. The nights before races can be even worse than normal since I’m always worried I’ll miss the alarm.
We were out the door of the hotel by 6:30 and parked by 6:45. Couldn’t have been easier. If you ever run the half, park in the Sands Casino parking garage. It’s huge, free and you can hang out in the lobby and keep warm, which is exactly what we did. It was just steps from the starting line.
I was anticipating a challenging course, but I was confident it would be similar to running the hills at home. I’ve also become someone who prefers running uphill vs. down.
The course really showed us the best of Bethlehem.
As you can see, the terrain was much more varied, but that the bulk of the challenge was before miles 8-9.
Only a half mile or so into the race I experienced a pain I’d never had before. Immediately I knew it was my IT Band. I’ve always wondered why people complain about that pain, but now that I’ve experienced it I understand why. It’s pretty damn awful.
I want to blame myself for the pain. I didn’t warm up as well as I could have. For the 5k and 10k, Ivy and I ran around the parking lot a few times and that really helped warm us up. I should have done that again. Not sure if it would’ve made a difference, but I’m probably going to try to make that more of a habit.
The first several miles were spent with me attempting to keep a conversation going with Ivy to distract myself from the pain. If we weren’t talking I was taking in the scenery, which helped. At times I debated whether it was pain I could and should run through, or if it was pain I should stop for. Since it was a new one for me, I just didn’t know. I kept hoping it would go away…probably not the best strategy in hindsight. I did notice the pain was less on uphills than downhills. There were a lot of hills in the first 8 miles so the pain was fluctuating with them. I didn’t have a time goal for this race other than under 2 hours, so even with the pain I made it my goal to stay in front of the 2 hour pacer.
After Ivy and I parted at the 10k mark, the pain eventually went away. I’m not sure why or how, but it did, although I knew I’d feel it later (and I do). The rest of the race went well and I even managed to catch the 1:55 pacer on the bridge back across the river just before mile 12. I was just going to stick with him, but he cheered me on and told me to keep pushing so I did.
The energy from the crowd the last 3/4 of a mile was awesome. They were lining the street and cheering everyone on as they went by. Somehow I was able to find my usual burst of energy at the end and push to the finish line. I finished with a 1:52:48, which was better than I expected or had hoped for.
I got my medal and grabbed a bottle of water and looked for Ivy to finish. She came in only a few minutes later and we hung out in our foil blankets snacking and warming up.
Here’s a shot of the finish line for all three races. I took it early Saturday morning before the 5k. What a great backdrop!
Runner’s World had a postrace concert lined up, although we didn’t stay. I’m sure it was a lot of fun.
The postrace buffet for each race was good. For the 5k and 10k, there was water and Ultima, bananas, bagels, raisin and Subway cookies. For the half they added Entemanns mini muffins and brownie bites to the rest of the goodies. It all hit the spot! I also loved the foil blankets we received after the half. It’s the best one I’ve gotten thus far. It doesn’t crinkle much so I decided to save it. It folded up well and I’m planning to use it prior to a future race on a chilly day.
You can see the race shirt in the magazine cover photo we took. I wish I could show you the back. It has a silhouette of the steel stacks on it. It’s a nice dry fit too. I don’t have a lot of long sleeve shirts like that, so it was great to add to my collection. For running the Hat Trick, we also got a commemorative fleece reversible hat that even has a ponytail slot in the back. Finally, all participants got a pair of running socks.
Finishers for each race received a medal, so if you did the hat trick you walked away with three medals.
The Bethlehem star is the backdrop behind the Runner’s World Logo.
The aid stations were well-equipped and the volunteers were cheerful and energetic. I even got to yell “We Are!” at a couple in Penn State gear, which was fun. The crowd support along the courses was also pretty good.
So with all that said, would I do it again? Absolutely!
Would I recommend it to others? 100% yes!
Start watching for signups for next year’s race. It was such a fun weekend. They also offer a 3.8 mile trail run and a kids run on Friday. I wouldn’t mind trying out the trail run next time. I heard it was fun, but challenging.
Overall, I had a wonderful weekend!
Did you race this weekend? How’d it go?