Sunday, October 1, 2017

Harrisburg Half Marathon

I have to admit that I didn't have any real expectations for the Harrisburg Half Marathon, but I was looking forward to running over some bridges and I knew it would be relatively flat.  As it turned out it was a totally awesome race.  So much so in fact, that I signed up for the Harrisburg Marathon this November shortly after finishing the race.

I have never spent any time in Harrisburg so I had to do some online research to prepare.  My wife was also planning on running this event and since she had been sick for a few weeks prior, she was planning on taking advantage of the optional "walkers start" that gives runners an extra 45 minute head start.  Given that decision it made sense to try and get a hotel instead of getting up early and making the hour and a half drive to the race.

I found a reasonably priced room at the Harrisburg Hilton that was a short walk to several restaurants as well as packet pickup and the race start on City Island.  The Hilton was beautiful and the location was perfect.  The rooms were comfortable with great views of the river and the on premise food choices were great.  In fact, the Sunday brunch turned out to be perfect after the run.  The bar area had a really impressive wine display in a clear rack that was used to divide the dinning room.

Harrisburg Hilton Wine Rack

After arriving at the hotel and checking in, I asked for a late checkout.  The staff were great and honored my request with a 2pm checkout.  This was going to give us plenty of time to do the run, get back for a shower and then enjoy the buffet before heading home.  After dropping off our stuff in the room, we walked the half mile to City Island and picket up our race bibs and running shirts.  The Walnut Street Bridge is the route we took to the island and is the same bridge that acts as the last 2 tenths of the run before crossing the finish line.  The open grate floor was a little disorienting at first, but after walking on it for a while I go used to it.  Was glad I wasn't going to experience this for the first time during the run.

Walnut Street Bridge

For dinner we walked to McGrath's Pub just down the street from the hotel.  We heard from the bartender at the hotel that the food was good, and their online menu indicated they had a salmon dish which is a favorite of mine before a race.  The food was good, but I did find the salmon a little on the sweet side.

The weather was absolutely amazing for the two days we were in Harrisburg.  Couldn't have asked for anything better.  Since we were staying so close to the starting line, we were able to take our time getting ready and walking down to the starting line.  Since Trisha was starting early we got there in time to use the restrooms and make sure she got lined up with plenty of time.

When it was time for me to line up I planned on sticking with the 8:00/mile pace group.  This would put me right around my Half Marathon PR time.  While I didn't expect to really stick with this group the entire run, I did want to try and keep it close.  Using that pace I figured I would catch Trisha around mile 6 or so.

Starting Line Setup for Harrisburg Half Marathon

The course turned out to be fairly flat as I expected, with a total elevation gain of only 220 feet according to Strava.  In fact a good bit of the elevation gain comes in the first two miles or so as you make your way off the Market Street Bridge to the South and then hook around and head North over the Harvey Taylor Bridge.  I found it really cool how wide the Susquehanna River was.  And seeing all the various bridges during the run was really unique.  You usually don't see that many bridges in such a confined area; especially over such a large river.  There were usually five bridges in view at any one time.

Side view of Market Street Bridge

Harrisburg Half Marathon Strava Map

After crossing the Harvey Taylor Bridge the runner turn right along North Front Street.  The street was closed for this part of the run so that made it easy to navigate with the other runners.  At mile 2.8 we dropped down to the paths along the river off the road surface.  This was still paved and provided some great views, but there were a few potholes.  Just past mile marker 3.2 we get back on the roads and make a left onto Sycamore Street and then a right onto North Cameron.  There were a few short but fairly steep climbs here.  At mile 4.6 we made a J-hook onto a gravel trail called Capital Area Greenbelt.  The trail was fairly well maintained and didn't contain a lot of large rocks or roots.  At mile 5.4 we were back on the concrete river side surface.

Harrisburg Half Marathon Strava Elevation chart

I caught up with Trisha at mile 6.2 and while she was doing well, I decided to run/walk with her for a little while.  I had been maintaining a 8:06/mile average which wasn't bad, but I clearly wasn't going to PR, so made sense to hang with Trisha.  We ran together until mile 8.5.  For most of this time we stayed along the river and then eventually made our way back up to North Front Street.

As I started back on my own I only had to go to mile market 9.7 where we turned around and headed back the way we came towards the finish.  I tried to push myself some in order to simply work on my times for future races.  I was maintaining around an 8:00/mile pace plus or minus.  Running back along the river was nice.  On this side there are stair case like features along the water that allows spectators to sit, fish or simply view the scenery.  It reminded me a lot of Nottingham in the UK along the River Trent.

Running along the river with the Harvey Taylor Bridge in the background

At mile 12.7 you make a quick u-turn uphill to get onto the Walnut Street Bridge and head towards the finish line.  I was pleased to see that they were directing us to run on the sidewalk side of the bridge versus the open grated area, which suited me just fine.  I pushed hard as I crossed the finish line with an overall average of 9:37/mile.  Overall not bad and I got to enjoy several miles with Trisha.

Side view of Walnut Street Bridge

At the finish you were presented a bottled water along with the finishers medal.  A short walk to the City Island Carousel where the packet pickup was located was some great sandwiches provided by Panera.  At that point I relaxed as I waited for Trisha to finish a little while later.  After getting back to the hotel and taking a quick shower, we treated ourselves to the brunch buffet with fresh fruit, waffles, custom omelets and coffee.  They even had an acoustic guitar player singing some classic 80s songs.  A great way to end the experience.

Harrisburg Half Marathon Finishers Medal for 2017

Again, I highly recommend this event.  It was very well organized and was beautiful to run.  I am really looking forward to the Full Marathon event in November.  While I am running that event alone, I expect to see some great scenery again, including the beautiful capital building.  The host hotel is the Harrisburg Hilton, so I have already booked the room.  And of course they are offering all runners late checkouts, so hopefully I will have time to partake of the breakfast buffet once more.

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