Last weekend I ran the 2014 Bucks County Half Marathon. This was my very first half marathon back in April 2011 (my wife convinced me to sign up two weeks prior to the event that time). I also ran the event back in 2012 but it didn’t fit into my training program for last year’s New Jersey Marathon. This year, however, the plan called for 12 miles so this was a good fit.
It is held in Tyler State Park in Richboro, PA and is about 10 minutes for my house. I have trained in there for a number of my marathons. It is a great place to run. As I was driving to the event that morning I realized I became one of those people who paid to run somewhere I typically run for free. I guess that makes me a ‘real runner’ LOL.
The packet pickup was pretty simple. It was held at the Newtown Athletic Club. There wasn’t an expo but they did have some race merchandise (new this year). The club was local so I was able to run in/out quickly so as not to mess up our day. This was great because my last few races have had packet pickups which have not been very convenient. Did I tell you that I love local races?
The weather forecast for the event was much better than in the previous two weeks (see LOVE Run and Hot Chocolate Run recaps) so I was looking forward to actually staying warm and dry. I set up my gear the night before as always before a race and chose to wear my newest shoes which I plan to wear for the marathon to get a few miles/long runs on them before the big day. They are a little red don’t you think?
Being a local race I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn like usual. With a 10 minute drive and no parking issues that I knew of I planned to leave the house around 7am for an 8am start. No problem…or so I thought. It looks like everyone else had the same idea. Yup…panic sets in when you are stuck trying to get into the park and it is already 7:30. I took a couple of pictures outside the park as I and dozens of others were trying to get to the starting area.
I finally made it into the parking lot, stretched by my car and walked a couple of hundred yards to the starting area. First things first when you get to a race close to the start time…you hit the port-a-potties. Again, everyone had the same idea. Ugh! There were about a dozen port-a-potties for about 700 people. I stood in line as the clock ticked down to the start time. The line didn’t really move. Ugh! Well…I looked around and saw that a few people were making their way across an adjacent field. What happens in the woods, stays in the woods.
The race was set to start at 8am (at least I thought it did). Actually, and thankfully, it started around 8:15am. I think there may have been a deliberate delay as when I was walking from the parking lot there were a few folks from the race crew running up and back with walkie-talkies. I figure they recognized the bottle neck of people trying to get into the park so pushed the start back.
There were no corrals like in bigger races. The faster runners placed themselves up near the front and everyone else kind of either stood with friends, near the back if they were walking or just stood where they were. I saw someone I knew (Jason) and headed back to wish him good luck. The National Anthem was sung and off we went.
Now the one thing about starting near the ‘Arts Center’ at Tyler is that by the center there is space to mill around (see the corral photo above) but within a couple of hundred yards from the start line the pathway significantly narrows. At best you can have 3 people run side by side comfortably. As you progress down that path (it’s a downhill) the sides off the path drop away so there is not much opportunity to pass other runners unless you like to live dangerously and don’t need both ankles to run on. Needless to say the first half mile pretty soon became a bottle neck. That is not the fault of the organizers but more a limit of the terrain in the park.
The race didn’t have waved corrals and the one corral we did have wasn’t stacked by pace like I have seen in other races. I have been to other races when everyone goes in one big wave but they have put out signs within the corral based upon pace so people could line up under 7:00/mile, 8:00/mile, 9:00/mile, etc which meant that people would start out with similar paced runners and that would somewhat alleviate bottle necks and people trying to pass in the first half mile or so. Just a thought.
It was actually too crowded that it was really unsafe for me to do my usual run/walk interval (currently using 4:00/0:45) because I feared it would be too dangerous for me to stop. Now I don’t necessarily have to take my walk intervals so I ended up skipping the first two intervals and ran the first mile with the other runners until there was enough space around me to make it safe to move over to the side for a walk break. The temperatures were already rising so I took water in early and pretty much skipped only a couple of water stations when they were close together.
The course for the race is a small loop of 3 miles and then two 5 mile loops. The 5 mile loop is my usual circuit so I knew what to expect and where the hills were. Interestingly the 3 mile loop was different from when I ran in 2011 and 2012. Where in previous times I had run an outer loop of the park down a steep hill back to the boat house area, this took a slightly less elevated route through the local elementary school parking lot and through a parking lot within the park and back along the creek which we had run on the way out on the 3 mile loop. It was nice as I was not looking forward to the larger hill that early in the race. Nice to run something a little different.
From here it was the usual (or should I say ‘my usual’) loop past the boat house and around the back of Bucks County Community College, past the farm and up the big hill towards the residential side of the park (I envy those houses every time I run past them). This loop repeats twice and with its long winding up hill direction it is usually my slowest part of the run. Today was no different. I seemed to be managing a decent pace considering and was able to keep my pace per mile below 9 minutes given the rising temperatures and the inclines. I was monitoring my heart rate as I have struggled in the past in this section and slowed myself down once I was close to 170bpm. This time I was doing fine and enjoying the run. You can see from my Garmin Activity the course and elevation.
Once you hit the part of the loop past the houses there is a nice downhill section where you can easily make up time until you round the corner to the starting/finish line area which we would run through on the first loop. The course was open to walkers. On the first loop we passed the walkers as we came back on ourselves before mile 3. We (or I) didn’t pass too many walkers until the second loop. I will commend them as a group as even in the narrow parts of the course no-one was blocking runners coming up behind them and they all seemed to be having a good time.
Personally this was a race that I wasn’t totally ‘racing’ but did have a time expectation not a time goal. I have been trying to focus on improving my speed going into the New Jersey Marathon at the end of April and I figure a good run in Tyler with all those hills is a good sign of my fitness/conditioning. The last two races I had run (LOVE Run Half Marathon and Hot Chocolate 15K) had been good performances for me averaging 8:34/mile for the half and 8:46 for the 15K so I was keen to keep my pace under 9:00/mile in Tyler which would lead to a sub 2-hour time. I wasn’t looking to push too hard or PR as I was supposed to be in ‘taper’ mode and this was scheduled to be a ‘long run’. The run itself felt comfortable. I never felt like I was pushing nor did I feel like I was running too easy and ultimately my finish time reflected this. I was very happy with my time. I was under 2 hours and beat my 2012 finish time. That made for two sub 2-hour half marathons in 15 days. I finished with an official time of 1:56:45 with an average pace of 8:54.
The finisher medal was in the shape of Bucks County, PA and was nice. Very impressed that the actual medal ribbon had different scenes of Bucks County printed on it.
I joked that the medal was in the shape of a map in case I got lost. That is not too far from the truth. The very first time I ran in Tyler park was a week before the event in 2011. I printed off the course map with a plan to run 10 miles (at that point my longest run to date). I learned quickly that there are many routes in Tyler and also being new to this park its best not to hold the map upside down when you run. I’m definitely better at that these days 😉
The finish line area was in the small parking lot to the side of the start line. There was water, soft pretzels, bananas and even pizza. There were some local vendors who were sponsoring the race so they had samples of their wares. There were smoothie samples (which I skipped) and there were bread/cake samples (which I didn’t skip…multiple times). The crowds were decent at the finish line for a local race. I only saw a few folks around the park cheering others on but seeing as this was a 5 mile loop it made most sense to stay near the start/finish line area as you would see your runner pass by as they began the second and final loop and it was great to hear the encouragement.
One thing I did notice was that there were spectators in the finish line area eating some of the pizza and other refreshments. I didn’t stay too long as I had a busy family day ahead. I heard from another member of my running team (Mickey Milers) the next day that for the walkers the post race refreshment area was packed up by the time that they finished. Only the timing mats were out to record their finish time. The race website said that the race was open to walkers so it seems a shame that they didn’t get to experience the same benefits that the runners did. I hope in future years that everyone is treated equally.
Overall it was a great day for a run and a nice (if not familiar) race. Would I return again? Perhaps depending on my schedule. The novelty of running a half marathon in Tyler Park where I do a lot of training doesn’t thrill me as much as it used to but the atmosphere was good. I would recommend this race to folks who don’t train here as it is a good challenge in nice scenery.
Up next I have to get through the taper, learn to manage with limited mileage and catch up on my sleep. I take away from this the confidence that I am maintaining my goal pace of sub 9:00/mile going into the New Jersey Marathon. Fingers crossed I run a sensible and comfortable race. This was a nice warm up for me.
Thanks for reading.