Monday, December 11, 2017

Harrisburg Marathon

I had high expectations for the Harrisburg Marathon.  Within hours of finishing the Harrisburg Half Marathon I signed up for the full marathon.  I absolutely loved the half marathon event, everything about it.  The hotel I stayed in, the route, the bridges, the scenery and the support from volunteers and spectators.

For the most part, I wasn't disappointed at all, but there were a few things I wish would have been better.  As with the Half Marathon I stayed at the Harrisburg Hilton hotel.  In the case of the Marathon event, this is the event hotel.  They had a special rate for the marathon runners and they granted us all a 3pm check-out, which was great.  Plenty of time to run the race and get back to the room for a shower and a change of clothes before seeking out breakfast.

And therein lies one of the few low points of the event.  And it really had nothing to do with the event per say, but the hotel.  I love Hilton hotels.  I have points and I stay at them whenever I can.  You can read this from other runs I have done like the Baltimore races.

One of the three bridges crossed during the Harrisburg Marathon

However, in this case, they dropped the ball in my opinion.  They are the "host hotel", but for this race I am not sure what that really means.  Packet pickup isn't at this location, which in most cases is the case., but the race does finish about a block or two from the hotel, which is wonderful.  I excitedly made my way from the finish line, not really grabbing food, as I couldn't wait to get to the hotel, change and get downstairs for their buffet breakfast.  The same one I had after the half marathon only a few months before.

To my horror they didn't have it.  Wait, what?  You read that correctly.  Instead of having 30 linear feet of made to order omelets, waffles, fruit, muffins, veggies and other indulgences after a long race, they had only their menu items.  None of which appealed to me, which is why we got up and left, and worse yet ended up at Cracker Barrel for a better selection of food.  Now, I don't have anything against Cracker Barrel, but it isn't usually my first choice.

The menu on race day was comprised of items like a lobster omelet and pumpkin pancakes and a variety of brunch like items (sandwiches, soups, roasted veggies, etc.).  It was all very posh and very complex.  The kind of food I normally enjoy when I am out for a nice dinner, but not what I wanted after 26.2 miles.  I didn't get a "feedback survey" from my stay this time, so hopefully they do get some feedback and make changes next year.  Aside from the lack of "runner friendly food" before and after the race, I absolutely loved this event.

One of the really nice perks about the Half Marathon and Full Marathon in Harrisburg is that they both have an early start for walkers or anyone needing some extra time.  For the marathon race, they get an hour and a half head start, staring at 6:30am.  The event itself starts at 8am.  While they indicate that those starting early will not have race support for the first several miles, it turns out that they actually did have race support as early as mile 3; even thought they were still setting up.

We did start on time, promptly at 8am.  The course is open until 2pm which puts the race requirement at a 13 min/mile pace.  This is fairly quick, so the extra hour and a half does come in handy for first time marathons or folks needing a little buffer.  The extra time puts the limit at about a 17 min/mile pace.  Staying at the Hilton is very convenient given the start location. It was around 20 degrees or so when I stepped outside to make my way to the starting line, so having not to wait in that temperature was great.

Strava map of the Harrisburg PA Marathon

The course has a few confusing turns in it, especially in the last mile or so, but overall it has a lot of scenery to take in along with crossing three bridges in all.  As with the Half Marathon the race starts out heading South along the Market Street bridge before heading North/West along South Front Street and the Susquehanna River.  At mile 1.4 your turn right and go over the Harvey Taylor Bridge back into Harrisburg Proper followed by a wide loop around the Capital Building.  While it isn't easy to get a good view of the capital there are some other cool building and architectural elements to see along this part of the route.  In particular I really liked the entrance columns to the State Street Bridge.

After going around the Capital Building you make your make back along the Susquehanna River heading South East until Mile 5 at which point you head "inland" and around some industrial areas.  A few small (but somewhat steep) hills in this area.  By mile 7.4 you find your way back near the water along the upper walking path (Capital Area Greenbelt) headed towards Market Street Bridge which you cross and then exit down onto City Island.  After a lap around City Island you head back over the river on the Walnut Street Bridge and head North West along the water.

Some fall foliage along the Capital Area Greenbelt path

Around mile 10.8 you come up off the water to North Front Street.  You stay on this road until mile 13.3 or so and then you head into more of a community area for a mile or two before popping back out onto North Front Street around mile 15.  There are some really nice old houses along North Front Street so certainly worth looking around as much as you can.

At mile 16.3 we went under a stone arched railroad bridge that was full of icicles as the water was freezing at it dripped through the stone.  The road was starting to freeze as well so volunteers were frantically directing runners as other tried to break up the ice on the road.  Well done to all of them and thank you!  I had to stop and take a picture.

Icy railroad bridge underpass

At mile 16.8 we went through Fort Hunter Mansion Park.  What a beautiful old house and barn.  Certainly a place I would enjoy visiting when I am not running through it.  It wasn't possible for me to read the history on the plaques as I ran by, but I am sure it was interesting.  This is a long stretch of road so it was nice to have a few interesting things to run by in order to break it up before getting the 180 degree turnaround at mile 17.6.

After the turn around the trip back is largely the same until after you go under the Walnut Street Bride.  At that point you turn left and take the "switch back" at mile 25.2 up to the "Capital Area Greenbelt" trail near the river where you run until mile 25.8 before backing another U-turn back down North River Street until turning left on Pine Street as you near the finish line.  The finish is then a quick right onto North 2nd Street and your done!

Strava Harrisburg Marathon Elevation Chart

Overall the course seemed relatively flat with a few hills, but for some reason Strava showed an overall elevation gain of 1,558 feet.  So either running "up river" was a lot more than I thought during the moment, or Strava and/or my TomTom messed up.  My guess is there really was this much elevation as usually both Strava and my TomTom are spot on.

After crossing the finish line, you are able to claim your medal, get a drink and bottled water and get in the food line just outside the runners finishing chute.  As with the Half Marathon, the food was sponsored by Panera so they had three kinds of sandwiches (one veggie), chips, bagels and even hot soup.  I grabbed two bags of chips, but otherwise didn't partake as I was looking forward to the brunch buffet at the hotel which turned out not to exist.

Finishers Medal for the Harrisburg PA Marathon

Overall this was a very enjoyable race and I would certainly do it again.  I didn't have the time I wanted, but it was my third fastest marathon overall.  The race support was good, with water/Gatorade and gels about every 2.5 to 3 miles along the course.  While I did have Gu and Huma Gels on me, I didn't feel the need to carry water.  There were plenty of stops for that and I didn't feel that I Was struggling.  Perhaps if the race had been hotter I would have felt differently.

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