#RaceRecap: Garden Spot Village Half Marathon

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I think Punxsutawney Phil lied. Well to be fair, he’s only right about 39% of the time so can I really accuse him of lying about an early spring? I guess not. Not to mention, I’m one of those people who actually enjoys winter so don’t think I’m complaining about an April snow storm. But that’s just what we got on Saturday, April 9 at the Garden Spot Village Half Marathon.

This was my second time running this race. A friend and I attended last year, and I loved the course and the volunteers so much that I wanted to come back. Last year the weather was in the 40s, sunny and crazy windy. This year was drastically different. What we lacked in wind, we more than made up for with snow. I’d never run a race in the snow but there’s always a first time for everything.

My friend Alyssa joined me this year. She had run the race four years ago and was hoping to improve upon her course time. My plan was to take it easy and just enjoy the race as I had to follow it up on Sunday with a 20-miler. Yep, a 20-miler…33 miles in two days.

Anyway, back to Garden Spot. We got there just in time on Friday night to pick up our race packets. This year you got a clear stadium-approved bag and two shirts, a t-shirt and a tech shirt. Both allowed you to choose from men’s and women’s sizing.

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We grabbed a quick dinner over in nearby Lancaster at Panera before heading to check in to our hotel and go to bed. As usual I didn’t sleep well the night before the race. I think I’m always afraid I’ll have set my alarm wrong or it won’t go off and I’ll miss it.

We woke up race morning and the snow wasn’t projected to start until 8, aka race time. Our hotel was just a short 5 minute drive so we got there around 7 a.m. and hung out in the car for a bit. The race is based and sponsored by Garden Spot Village, a retirement community. Many of the volunteers, from the people who park your car to those working in the food and registration tents, are all residents. Some of the residents even participate in the race.

As usual the race organizers did a great job in preparing for the weather. The tents were heated and dry, although a bit crowded since everyone was hoping to stay as warm as possible before the race.

With 10 minutes to go, Alyssa and I headed out to the starting corral. By then it was starting to snow, but that was only just the beginning.

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After a blessing and the singing of God Bless America, off we went, some of us to run 13.1 miles and others to run 26.2.

By now the snow was coming down pretty hard and the roads were wet with water runoff. Thankfully the snow was only sticking to the grassy areas so at least our footing wasn’t impacted. By the 2 mile mark I noticed my shoes were already squishy with water. I wasn’t too worried though as I was focused on just enjoying it. I do love snow after all.

I was hanging out with the 2:00 pacer, but found myself getting antsy. I tried to convince myself to just hang out there for the race, but I just couldn’t do it so I slowly moved on at a comfortable pace. I caught the 1:55 pacer around the 5-6 mile mark and again had the same conversation with myself. I lasted a little while with him before again I found myself wanting to keep pushing. There was a small voice in my head reminding me of my 20-miler on Sunday. I didn’t completely ignore it, but I didn’t exactly listen either.

The Garden Spot Village course is quite hilly, but one of the reasons I didn’t slow down was because it wasn’t as hilly as I had remembered. The most challenging part is between mile 7-9. After the half marathon turnaround, you have to head back up hill for probably a mile starting with a short but very steep section soon after the turnaround. What’s great is that there are always people there the full length of that hill cheering you on. It definitely makes you want to keep pushing. Once you get past that it’s just a steady incline for quite some time. You can see that section below in the elevation chart.

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You’re eventually rewarded with a nice long downhill before it’s almost completely flat to the finish. This is a great time to use whatever reserves you have left in the tank to finish strong. I wasn’t trying to PR, but since I had not taken it easy as planned I decided to just keep moving at a solid pace to see how well I’d do.

I finished in 1:51:54, which was an improvement on last year’s time at this race but not a PR. I was more than happy with that time, especially with the weather. After crossing the finish line the volunteers were there ready and waiting to hand you your medal, a foil blanket and a bottle of water. All three were very much appreciated at that point.

Since I had a little time, I decided to go see if there was a line at the tent where they offer free sports massage. Amazingly there wasn’t so I went in and had my glutes worked on since they were  already a bit sore. It was such a nice perk to have that after the race. She spent at least 20 minutes on me, which was way more than I expected.

After I found Alyssa and we headed into the Runner Recovery Tent for food. They offer a great spread for runners, including oatmeal, soup, sandwiches, wraps, eggs, chocolate milk, bagels, bananas, pretzels and more. The tent is also heated, which was a huge plus.

At this point we were both getting really cold after having been in wet clothes for so long. We went outside and grabbed some photos in front of the backdrop then headed off to the car to grab our clothes bags so we could change for the drive home. We used the changing tent, which while dry, was certainly not warm. One of the other perks I haven’t taken advantage of is they open their fitness center to runners. You can use their showers, their pool and hot tub. How many races offer that?!? Maybe next time I’ll take advantage of it.

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I highly recommend this race. It’s on the smaller side with just 1,500 participants (1,000 for the half and 500 for the marathon). You can even decide last minute since they do accept walkup registrations. In addition, they do not have a time limit for either race. There are people who walk both the half and full marathon. While they do eventually switch to manual timing, the race staff and volunteers stay out there until all participants get to cross the finish line. That’s something special most big city races can’t offer. The race is also a Boston qualifier if you’re looking for one.

Another added bonus is it’s the sister race to the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon nearby that takes place every September. If you complete both in the same calendar year you’re eligible for the “Road Apple Award.” Let’s just say it’s an award very fitting for the area 😉

If you want to check out more photos from this year’s snowy race, visit the Garden Spot Village Marathon’s Facebook page.

Now it’s time to get ready for the Rumspringa Half Marathon this weekend. It’s another small-town race in the Lancaster area. I’m heading down with a few friends for the night. Looking forward to another hilly course but hopefully some sunny weather instead.

Did you race or run this weekend? How’d it go?

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