I’ve always enjoyed the Runners World Festival in Bethlehem, PA, put on by Runners World Magazine. During the Runners World Festival Weekend, there are several multi distance challenges and levlels including a kids run, trail run, 5k, 10k, dog run, and half marathon. The Runners World Festival has a race for runners of all levels. For me running the 5k and Runners World half marathon works the best (to stay healthy). The Festival is Beautiful Bethlehem, Pennsylvania just miles away from the Runners World Headquarters (ETA: Now moved to NYC).
The Runners World Half Marathon is one of the hardest half marathons I do. Oddly enough, even after running the 5k before, I seem to run one of my faster times, and I’ve run two of my top 10 half marathon times there.
This year, my dad decided to run as well. We relaxed and had a relatively easy morning.
Around 7 am, we walked to the start. I found the half-mile walk to be warm up enough. Between the 5k, warmup, cooldown and exploring downtown Bethlehem, I had put close to 13 miles on my legs the day before. I didn’t need any extra miles before the race.
After going to the bathroom a few times, I found my way to start corral near the Bethlehem Steel Complex. I was still wearing my leggings. As I tried to pull them off, they got stuck on my shoes, I fell, and my shoes came off. All of this two minutes before the race went off. I had already made a fool of myself. As I’m fumbling, the announcer called for us to move up and the 1:50 pacer moved in front of me.
It all worked out, and I quickly made it to the appropriate place and started next to my friend Rosie. The course had a few changes around the start this year, and we looped around the steel mill area. It was tough to see the mile 12 marker before crossing mile 1, but I put it out of sight.
I hit the first mile in 6:30. There was a huge pack of people in front of me, followed by just me. I laughed at myself in what I nicknamed: “The chase pack of 1”. I was hoping I would not be running the entire race alone, but whatever happened…happened.
During the second mile of the Runners World Festival Half, I began catching the pack. It included my friend Rosie, five other women and a few males. I wasn’t counting the men because it didn’t matter to me. I didn’t know who was beyond that pack, but I decided to leech onto to the pack. During the second mile, I felt like the kid trying to fit in with the cool kids but was just lagging. The title of high school gym class.
The third mile brought all of the women running together and the men spread out. We quickly formed a lady pack, and ultimately about five us ran nearly the entire race together. I have run very few races with a pack of people for the whole race. It’s intimidating, nerve-wracking, and scary. We hit the 5k in 19:33.
The middle miles (between 4-10) is where the course gets moderate and challenging. We climbed several uphills as well as downhills. The next few miles ticked off quickly and running together made it go by much quicker. It was evident which runners were stronger in downhills and uphills due to how the pace would vary. We were never more than a couple of seconds apart.
I believe around mile 5; someone shouted top females are coming through. It was at that point I realized, holy $hit, any 5 of us could win right now. To be honest, I kind of shut myself out. I thought, if it came down to the final mile, I wouldn’t have it in me. I also thought I might get dropped in the later miles anyway. I didn’t have confidence in myself. I was cruising at a pace, I wasn’t trained to be at but running surprises you. Sometimes you have a magic gear that appears when you least expect it.
I hit the 10k in 40:23 and I was both surprised and excited. I wasn’t sure how I would feel during the half marathon. The year before, I had run a 1:24.17 and two years prior a 1:28. I told myself anything faster than a month ago at the Air Force Half Marathon; I would be pleased with.
After the 10k, I was still running in the same pack of women. No one had left our pack, and we were all appearing to run strong. I began to realize just how painful this finish would be. Not everyone could be a podium finisher. It was intimidating to know that in that group, only one person would win and only three would place. Winning was not the most important thing to me, I just had never been in that situation, and it was weird to think about.
Around mile 8, my favorite event of the entire weekend happened. Our lady pack passed a young kid in a Batman costume. He was trying his hardest to high five the runners. To that point, we hadn’t wasted any excess energy. We were running in a tight pack and cutting all tangents. As we passed this young kid, our pack went into a single file line and each side fived the kid. It was if we had planned the entire thing.
Mile 8 and 9, climbed a couple more hills but nothing of note.
I hit the 10-mile point in 1:04.25. At that point, I realized it was just three of us. Myself, Rosie, and another female from Philadelphia who had outkicked me last year. I knew her well and knew she was the best downhill runner I’ve ever seen. Which was not good news because the last three miles of the race are more downhill. They aren’t total downhill, but there is more downhill than up.
At one point during mile 11, I was leading the entire race. I laughed a bit, and of course, a video crew was filming the race there. I waved to the camera like a fangirl and carried on. We crushed mile 11 in 6:18. I just kept telling myself 2 miles to go.
In the final two miles, Rosie and I separated ourselves from the pack. I could not believe it. I was a contender to win, and so was my good friend and neighbor Rosie. We hit mile 12 in 6:20 and it began a power sprint. She floored it into a gear I did not have that day and started separating herself from me. Around mile 12.5, I knew I couldn’t catch her, but I didn’t want to give up second. I gritted my teeth and just focused on the finish. I saw Rosie finish just up ahead and by the time I knew it, I was crossing the Runners World Half finish 10 seconds later.
I crossed in 1:24.52 and as second female overall. I could not believe it. I had surprised myself in time and placing. Not my fastest course time, but my highest placing and my most competitive race. It taught me a lot about running in a pack and not second-guessing yourself and your ability.
They announced the top three females, and it was great to stand on the podium again with Rosie. I could not be happier for her as she is an incredible athlete and forwent a marathon this season (she’s run under three before) to train for that.
After that, I went and cheered for my dad who ran a great race as well.
In all, I’m happy with another successful weekend of racing at the Runners World Festival. The Runners World festival is such a fun experience, and I was telling a few people, even if I don’t run or race well, it’s just fun. Typically the weather at the Runners World Half is beautiful, and the vibes from the race are so enjoyable. It’s hard not to enjoy yourself and that’s why I’ll continue to go back to the Runners World Festival.
Questions for you:
What is the hilliest race you’ve done?
Have you ever run with a pack of people?