Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bird in Hand Half Marathon

What an amazing event.  Bar none my favorite half marathon to date.  Although I probably say that in almost every post, with each new race I am exposed to new scenery, new volunteers and new spectators.

This was the events sixth year, but you would have thought it was their 60th.  It was so well organized and so well staffed with volunteers that all aspects of the event were silky smooth.  Everything from the expo and packet picket, pre-race dinner, post race picnic and awards ceremony.

For those not familiar with this area, Bird in Hand, PA is right in the middle of Amish country near Lancaster, PA.  Seeing the horse drawn carriages, scooter bikes and Amish children everywhere was amazing.  A more kind and humble people you will probably never meet.

My wife chose this event as her very first half marathon, so I ran this one with her for support.  Since we live about 2 hours away, we decided to drive up the night before and spend the night.  Didn't want to add to any potential stress levels by needing to drive up the morning of the race.  Since there is no race day packet pickup, staying the night made even more sense.  There are plenty of places to stay right near the Expo and start line, but we opted for 10 minutes away at the Hawthorn Suites.  This put us right in the middle of a bunch of lunch/dinner choices as well as an easy drive, heading against traffic, to the event.

From the moment we arrived on Friday afternoon to get our packets we were treated to the beautiful country side and Amish lifestyle that we were so looking forward to seeing.

Farm near the Expo and Start location in Bird in Hand, PA
The expo location was on one of the Amish farms in Bird in Hand and had plenty of well marked parking and volunteers directing the cars.  Was one of the easiest races I have been able to get in and out of, both for the expo as well as the actual running event.  They had multiple entrance and exit points to ensure traffic heading west/east or coming from the north/south didn't have to wait.

Expo Tent during packet pickup Friday before the event

Of course we were treated to passing buggies on our way back from the expo to the hotel.  The Bird in Hand offers a 5k on Friday and the Half Marathon on Saturday so racers can do both.  They also have, what has become a coveted Road Apple Award, if you run the Bird in Hand Half in September as well as the Garden Spot Village Full/Half Marathon in April.

Amish buggies passing each other as we leave the Expo area
The expo had several vendors and food choices to look over as well as the medals and awards for the Overall winners and the age group winners.  One of the more interesting displays was for art prints based on your running map.  While she had several maps already done, you can send her a custom map from your running app and she will turn it into artwork.  You can see her work on her Shop Silver Box website

On race day we planned our morning to arrive about an hour before the start to give us time to get settled, stretch and use the port-a-potties.  What was waiting for us were several hot air balloons that were being setup and "inflated" for their lift off about 20 minutes before the start.  Was a really cool scene as the sun was coming up over the Amish farms.

Hot air balloons getting inflated before the race

They are all getting there; almost air worthy
Once they all took off they dotted the skies.  Unfortunately by the time the race started they were all long gone.  I am not sure if that was the plan, or if the winds were just not cooperating this time.

What I found really interesting, and unique, was the idea of motivational phrases in the port-a-potties.  There were 60 port-a-potties in all, and each one had a different phrase.  I was able to read two of them, but didn't have plans to try to see them all.  I am convinced that it added a few seconds to each persons usage however so they could read them, and/or take a photo like I did.

7:30am, time to start running.  The event started exactly on time.  They had pace groups for those targeting a specific time, but since this was my wife's first event we found a comfortable spot near the back of the pack.  Seeing the Amish running with us in their traditional clothing was a treat.  As we took off there was clearly a lot of excitement in the air.  The weather was nice and cloudy with a steady breeze.  It was a little more humid than I would have preferred, but overall was very pleasant running weather.  We did get to experience some rain for the last mile, but the down pour didn't start until after we got back into the car.

Amish farm right before the start of the race

Approaching the first water stop we realized that they would all be staffed with Amish families that volunteer for this each year.  Some were staffed by all boys while others were staffed by all girls.  Seeing the families sitting along the road was just priceless.  It was like running through a series of Norman Rockwell paintings.  At one farm there were about 4 or 5 little boys and girls sitting at the end of their driveway with their legs crossed and a puppy in one of their laps.  At another location there was a long line of several families all sitting out watching us go by.  They had their garden vegetables and pumpkins all out for sale.  As I looked over at the pumpkins I saw two little girls sitting between them...priceless.

Amish staffed water stop

As I mentioned before, the course is absolutely beautiful; so scenic and peaceful to run.  With lots of rolling hills, none too steep or too long to overcome, but for the "first timers" a challenge.  According to Strava total elevation gain was 419 feet.

Strava map of the Bird in Hand Half Marathon

At the end of the event runners are treated to one of the most unique medals you could ever earn.  The Amish take used horseshoes and turn them into runner's medals.  These are made by hand each year for the close to 2,500 runners that attend the event.  It was even called out in Runner's World Magazine as one of the coolest race medals available.  In addition, there was a free picnic lunch.  The line for this was long by the time we completed the event so we decided to head out and stop at iHop for carbs and protein (e.g. omelet and pancakes).  After a long race this is usually what I want anyway, along with Starbucks coffee.

Horse shoe runners medal

This was an amazing event, and a great first half marathon for my wife. While the course was somewhat challenging given the elevation gains, the scenery and rolling/curving course was a great distraction for her.  Thank you to all that volunteered for this event and made it such a wonderful race.