I didn’t realize the course was all uphill. Even on the downhills, I swear, they were still uphill.
So with that, half marathon #5 is in the books! I went to Harpers Ferry, knowing the challenges that awaited, and still took them on over 13.1 mi. This is a small community race, with only one international participant (me!). There was also someone from Alaska, which I think is awesome. (Side bar: They were working on running a half marathon in every state in the US, and this was their West Virginia race. Congrats on that lofty goal! Maybe I’ll join you some day!)
While the Harpers Ferry Half Marathon was small, there were about 400 participants in the half marathon, which apparently was about double the number of people who ran last year. It is organized and run completely by volunteers, so this event truly is a labour of love for them.
We arrived to packet pick up the day before the race and found the start/finish line. Because it is a small race, and because they are so organized, this was a breeze! I even won a bottle of sports detergent (which is awesome, by the way) because I was among the first 200 people to register online. We returned the following morning for the 8am start, thankful that it was cloudy to help ease what could have been a much warmer (and thus more challenging) run.
The horn went off, and the runners headed towards the first challenge, a run across the School House Ridge battlefield. We headed up the first big uphill of the day, running past the start/finish area, where my husband was videoing me and caught me walking a few steps. Oops!
We then headed through the KOA campground on a trail, through a few streets, then down the park road into the lower town of Harpers Ferry–where we began the first really big uphill at the bottom of High Street.
Oh my! I have walked up and down that hill before. And it still is really steep! I started by running, and about 3/4 of the way up, I had to walk for a bit. I took that breather, and started running when I felt up to it (and when a woman said that the small hill in front of me was the top). After making the turn to head back down, I had an unhappy moment where I saw this hill going up–and it was steep, unexpected and thus one that I had to walk up. Ugh.
Once past that, the run was down back the hill to lower town, and it was a breathtaking downhill. The only thing that stood between me and the finish line was the final uphill–the park road. Which, I will say was the worst hill of all. It was not just because it was steep, but I think because it was a hill that had very little to look at during the steepest uphill. I walked. No shame in that. I was exhausted. I did a few spurts of running, but most of that mile was a fast walk to get me back to the top. A water stop at the top greeted me, and then I knew I could get that final mile in at a good pace, enjoying the accomplishment of completing yet another 13.1.
The final stretch of the race was a fairly steep downhill that was gravelly–a dangerous combination for those with the jelly legs you get after running hills. But I saw that finish line and I was ready to be there. And before I knew it, a medal was around my neck and I was hugging my husband, who congratulated me on my run, which I finished in a very impressive (for me) 2:16:48. I really thought I would be closer to 2:30 given the hills.
Post race party included lots of great food in the form of bagels and pizza. And there was beer on tap–both Bud Light and Yuengling. And after a slice and a beer, I headed back for a shower (then later walked down the hill back into town–and even later than that, I walked back UP the hill to our B&B, which really was the biggest mental and physical test of the day). (Sidebar: we then decided to do a bike ride the following day on the C&O canal towpath. And on the Monday, we did a 4.1 mi hike at Chancellorsville battlefield. Every. Step. Hurt.)
Final thoughts: I knew about the hills, and was mentally girded to tackle them. And they were doozies. But I ran when I could and walked when I needed to. And I made it through. The sense of accomplishment on this race was off the charts because it was so difficult. And the chance to see places (like the battlefield) that I had never been? Brilliant! This is one of the best things about running. Seeing a place through a different lens.
What I didn’t realize going into this race was how difficult it was to run on the various surfaces–especially the grass on the battlefields. I found that to be very difficult, something I was definitely not prepared for mentally or physically. The first three miles were a test that I was not expecting, and to compound it with the number of people who passed me on this section really made me doubt how well I would do.
In all, I had a great time. I am not sure I would do this race again–once is enough! LOL But if you need a challenge and want to experience a gorgeous course, this event is highly recommended. You won’t be sorry.