Normally we don’t spend an entire weekend at a race that is less than an hour from our house, but my wife and I knew that the Runner’s World Half Festival weekend would be far from ordinary.  Both of us decided that this trip would be a celebration of our accomplishments two weeks prior:  A double BQ at the Steamtown Marathon.  With the pressure off, it was time for us to have some fun.

We arrived Friday night, checked in at Hotel Bethlehem, and had dinner at a place called the Bookstore Speakeasy. It was recommended to us by Runner’s World Editor, Meghan Loftus, and was just what the doctor ordered: good food, drink, entertainment, and a smoke-free atmosphere for a couple of running geeks.

In fact, the more time we spent in Bethlehem over the weekend, the more it felt like a running geek convention.  All we needed were lanyards.

On Saturday morning, we did a shakeout run, so we decided to run toward the 5K course to cheer on the participants (many of which were doing the Hatrick, all three festival races scheduled that weekend).  Well, my wife is now fired up to do the Hatrick next year!

We’ve been to bigger races (Boston, MCM, NYCM), but this felt better.  The events, lectures, and information sessions felt less claustrophobic, less harried.  I’m not sure if this was because of the logistics or our attitude, but either way, the experience was special.  My wife sat in on the session: Women’s Running: Why It’s Different for Girls, then we got to watch part of “Run For Your Life,” which chronicles how Fred Lebow got the NYC Marathon up and running, and finally Bart Yasso and a panel gave tips on course strategy. There were other talks that I missed because of my work schedule on Saturday, but I felt like I got a good taste of what was being served.

Speaking of being served, this was our first “pre-race pasta dinner” with other runners. We usually steer clear of the masses and make a reservation at a local Italian restaurant, but since we were being more laid back about our race, we decided to join the party.  The food and company were great, and the dinner company included David Willey, Editor-in-Chief of Runner’s World, who sat down beside me and asked me where I got my beer (because he wanted one too).

Which brings me to the Runner’s World staff…the accessibility and warmth of the Runner’s World staff was special.  I know they had to be ambassadors all weekend, but you can tell that they love what they do, and they are running geeks too. They have the same aches, pains, and shoe questions as us.

The race itself was a blast (I will keep this part short). The start and finish area was at the Steel Stacks, a symbol of Bethlehem’s industrialized past, and its reinvented status as a service and tourist spot (the Sands Casino).

Because of my tired legs from Steamtown, I decided to stay with the 1:30 pace group for at least 7-8 miles.  I knew the first part of the course was hilly, so this conservative approach felt smart to me.

It was a nice, conversation pace, and I’m sure I annoyed Robert Reese, the Runner’s World Editor/Pacer for our group.  He couldn’t have been more friendly and laid back.  At Mile 9, my legs still felt fresh, so I decided to push the pace.  I knew Shalane Flanagan was up ahead, and (jokingly, in my mind), I planned to catch her.

After the last hill around Mile 10, I went full steam at my 5K pace.  I latched on to a fellow runner who was struggling, and I told him we would stick together and pass the carnage in front of us.  In the last miles, we picked off 12-14 runners.  My last 5K ended up being just over 19 minutes;  however, Shalane remains undefeated against me (she beat me by 13 seconds)!!  I never got my picture taken with her, but it was great to see her on the course.

Wait, I did get my picture taken with her!! I’m the orange blurry dot in the distance

It’s mesmerizing to watch an elite runner: they glide and float.  I know she was just doing what amounted to a Sunday jog for her, but it was still a thrill.

I ran 1:27, and my wife did a 1:51, which was faster than we planned, but more fun than we expected!

At the finish, we got sweet medals, which doubled as bottle openers. So, I guess we got our “lanyards” after all!

End Note:

The weather, race and weekend were just about perfect.  One fun part was finally meeting some people we had known only through Twitter.  With my introvertedness, there is always the fear that the real interactions will be awkward, but ours (with the Runner’s World staff and a couple we met for a drink) were so much fun!  There was even a #Runchat meet-up, which unfortunately we missed, but I’m sure other runners can speak more about that experience.

 

 Running Geek Conventioneers

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