It was a beautiful day in Happy Valley on Sunday for a race. Despite the temperature being below 30 and a bit of wind, it was sunny. That’s something we don’t take for granted in the winter here.
I finally decided to run the Nittany Valley Half Marathon. It was the 31st year for the race (the first was run in 1978 and then not again until 1984). I had yet to run it partly because my previous job kept me busy on the weekends, and because it’s a “no frills” race. There are three water stops, bananas and bagels at the end, a timing chip for your shoe, and a shirt. There are no bibs or medals. They did finally switch to a tech shirt this year though and I was quite pleased with it.
The race starts at the Snyder Ag Arena and runs along the gravel roads of farm/tailgating fields. You do two loops around covering more than 2 miles before hitting Fox Hollow Rd. heading toward our local airport. It’s mostly rolling hills along a two lane road with a bike lane on either side. The issue along this portion of the course is that the roads can’t be closed because it is the only way to access the airport. With more than 500 runners stretched along the road in a bike lane, it meant you had to be careful when passing. I was really disappointed in the speed of the cars, many of which were at least moving over but appeared unconcerned about the cars coming toward them that were also moving at rather high speeds. I think traffic control by local law enforcement could be better in at least keeping the speeds lower. Because our airport has a very limited flight schedule, you can show up 45 minutes before your flight and have no problem checking in. Subsequently you don’t need to speed on your way there.
For the most part, runners were kind and let you pass if you had decided to pass. I did find one young woman (I’m thinking high school or freshman in college) who multiple times let me reach her hip before speeding up. It was irritating on multiple fronts. First, at this point along the road to the airport there is no longer a bike lane. Second, it’s a local half marathon not a track meet. I don’t want to have someone playing games with me and wasting my energy. Finally, either speed up and stay at that pace so I don’t need to pass you or let me pass you and deal with it. Sorry, had to get that off my chest 😉
Once you pass the airport you made a right turn on Rock Rd. and began a long steep downhill near the halfway point of the race. Downhills are nice, but can wreck your quads. The grade reaches 6% at one point along this downhill. I decided to let myself embrace the extra speed (rather than braking) in an attempt to save my quads for what I knew was coming over the next six miles.
At the bottom is the second water stop with Gatorade. From there the road is relatively flat for a bit with a stream on one side and a cliff wall on the other. It’s quite pretty. The course is also closed to traffic in the direction the race is going so it’s much safer.
After another few small rollers, you tackle a nice steep hill up into Houserville with only a 5k remaining. Eventually you make a right onto Puddintown Rd. where a group of locals has a beer station. I decided to take a sip before tossing the rest. I ended up spilling a great deal down the front of me. Thankfully it was a lighter beer!
Down the road you round a bend and move onto the bike path at Spring Creek Park where you find the last aid station. My friends Lori and Brian were also there in the cold to cheer on me and my friend Bill. This section is flat for about a 1/2 mile until the right turn onto Orchard Rd. Here’s the description from the race website:
“Over the course of 1.24 miles, the course climbs 160 ft up Orchard Rd, making a left on Park Ave. (still climbing), and a left on Porter Rd. (still climbing). In spots, the grade on Orchard is over 5%. While you’re staggering up Orchard Rd., the Centre Community Hospital is on the top of the hill to your right. You’ll wish you were there!”
Having run this hill a few times, I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s only steep in parts and there’s a little bit of a break about halfway up. I think it really gets to some people once you’re on Park Ave. and it continues the climb. Then when you’re within sight of the finish line it continues to climbi. I dare say many people were probably walking faster than they would’ve run it.
The finish line is at the Centre County Visitor’s Center and has a nice contingent of people there waiting to cheer you in. They hand you a bottle of water and there you have it.
I just missed my PR with a 1:54:42. Pretty proud of that though considering all the hills and my sorry attempt at continuing to run post-marathon. I once again chose to run sans GPS watch so I was basing my pace off how I felt. I was home from work on Friday sick, but by Sunday morning I felt pretty good. I do think it took a little extra out of me coming off being sick as I was more tired than normal that afternoon. But overall, it was a good race.
I would definitely recommend running it to others. It’s a low entry fee (similar to a 5k race) since it’s “no frills” and you never know what the weather will bring. Some years it’s been 50 and others it’s been snowing.