The Hellbender Half Marathon

Meditations in Motion

For those of you who are not herpetology experts, a Hellbender is a salamander, in fact, it is the state amphibian of Pennsylvania. Hellbenders exist only in clean, fast-flowing waterways.

The Hellbender Half Marathon (and an associated 5K) is held in Weiser State Forest inΒ  Central Pennsylvania to raise funds for the Roaring Creek Valley Conservation Association, which promotes clean water in the state forest and the surrounding Roaring Creek Valley, thus the name of the race.

Meditations in MotionI traveled an hour north of my house early last Sunday morning with a friend and my hubby Bill to run this race. Bill and I ran it before, in 2017, then the race went on hiatus last year. When we heard it was back on this year, we signed up in a heartbeat before it sold out (and it did sell out).

Due to a miscalculation on my part of how long it would take to travel to Weiser State Forest, we arrived early (you’re welcome) and had plenty of time to get our bibs and long-sleeved blue cotton T-shirts.

My friend and I are huge fans of cotton T’s. We both have plenty of tech shirts to run in from participating in other races and don’t like to wear them for non-running activities. A cotton T-shirt, and one in a pretty color to boot, was definitely welcome.

We visited the porta-potties, drank a little water, I ate a handful of salted almonds and dried apricots (my go-to pre-race food), and watched the early starters begin the race.

Meditations in MotionAt exactly 8:30 we lined up at the starting line and were off, running through the woods on a wide dirt path. Bill and I decided to run together in this race. Our speedy friend was out of sight in no time.

The path we were on was fairly flat at some places and gently rolling in others. Bill and I both thought there were more downhills than uphills for the first miles of the race, and I made a mental note to save something for the end of the out-and-back course, reasoning the end of the race would be mostly uphill.

One very nice feature of the course was that it was 90% shaded, a much-needed perk on this very hot and humid morning.

When I typically train for a half marathon, I like to do some long runs of between 15 – 17 miles. Before this race, however, the longest run we did in training was just over 13 miles. We also had not done a training run longer than four miles in the month before the race, due to our traveling schedule.

I was slightly nervous about this lack of training, but I always figure that walking is an option, so I was not too concerned about finishing the race. Between mile three and four, though, I reevaluated my level of concern. I was tired. Very tired. Struggling at mile 3.5 of a 13-mile race is not good.

I told Bill I needed to take a walk break to try to collect myself. We walked through a water stop, where I drank a full cup of water, then rinsed my mouth with some Gatorade. It worked somewhat; I was able to run again, but my lack of training was evident and Bill (bless him) had to pull me along to the halfway point, which was the turnaround, where we walked through another aid station.

Meditations in Motion

I was slightly apprehensive about tackling the mostly uphill portion of the course, but the area near the turnaround was flat, so I decided to enjoy the mile I was in. We were around mile seven when something clicked. It felt as if I remembered how to run.

I leaned slightly forward, pushed off with the balls of my feet, and picked up the pace. “What got into you?” Bill asked me. I couldn’t tell him. I felt great, like I had just gotten my second wind. Or in this case, my first wind, since I was pretty miserable on the way out.

We took a few walk breaks, but I no longer had anxiety about finishing the race. In fact, when Bill told me, as we passed the mile marker for the 11th mile, that he wanted to try to finish in under 2 1/2 hours, I was puzzled. I looked at my watch for the first time: our time was 1:48. I was wondering if there was something he wasn’t telling me.

I was also surprised that the uphill I was dreading for the final miles never materialized. The course seemed downhill going in this direction too. Yes, we found an out-and-back half marathon course which was downhill in both directions!

The final two miles were mostly a run/walk, but we finished in 2:12, a time I was pleased with, especially considering the heat and humidity.

After we were handed medals and a cold bottles of water by volunteers, we found our friend who had finished much earlier, and we all ambled over to the food tables, where a spread much more like post-trail race food than post-road race food (that is to say, plentiful and good) waited for us.

We munched on turkey and provolone hoagies, chips, popcorn, cold watermelon and other assorted fresh fruit, homemade cookies, and my personal favorite guilty snack, Cheetos.

Meditations in MotionThe award ceremony began in a timely manner and I learned that I had won my age group (Bonus: I was not the only woman in the race in my age bracket).

Bill and I cleaned up as best we could in the state park bathrooms, changed out of our completely soaked running clothes, and made the six-hour drive to meet friends in Boston for a short vacation after the race sans showers.

I would enthusiastically recommend this fairly small (capped at 325 runners) race to anyone. The price is extremely reasonable, the course is a pretty, gently rolling, mostly shaded dirt path through the woods, the T-shirts, medals, and awards are all top-notch, and the post-race food is plentiful and tasty. It checks all the necessary boxes. I will definitely be back next year.


I am linking up with Running on the Fly and Confessions of a Mother Runner for their Weekly Rundown and Kooky Runner for Tuesday Topics.












  1. Hi Laurie, just looking at the start and the finish of this run (I hate the word race, it makes me nervous) it looks a lovely run surrounded by nature. Don’t you just love it when something just ‘clicks’ and you find that reserve of energy from somewhere? Are you sure it wasn’t the aroma of that food waiting for you at the end that got you kicking it up a gear? I know it would, me!… I bet you smelled sweet after a 6 hour drive sans shower. Hopefully, no one noticed!πŸ˜‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Yes, that was probably the reason I was somehow able to kick it into gear after the halfway point of the race – I was anxious to get back to the food!

      The only one who could have smelled me was my hubby and he smelled just as bad, if not worse! πŸ˜€


  2. I am not a runner, have a bad knee, so I’m always so impressed by my runner friends, especially when they do half-marathons or longer, Laurie! Not only did you impress me by finishing this behemoth but you also impressed me by your perseverance when it was super easy to give up! You go, girl! And I’ll take this post as a metaphor for life as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Promoting clean water is a very good cause. I have worked many years in the environmental field and clean water was one of the top ten priorities.
    I also love the cotton t-shirts and I never wear the tech ones in no running activities.
    Congrats on the finishing time and on winning the age group. It’s too nice to run with your hubby.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was not worried about you. πŸ™‚ But that’s easy for me to say! Glad to hear that your second half went so much better. Sounds like a fun race!

    It took me quite some time to motivate myself to move after my little 10k this morning. Seriously, I had things to do & just wanted to stay put!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought that’s what people would think – that hellbender was a description of the course that would make it seem like a tough race. Thank you!


  5. Woot!!! A fantastic 1st place! Good for you…glad things turned around (literally LOL) in the second half. I’m headed out with the hubby for a long bike ride (after dinner, so early evening), and maybe I’ll grab one of my (numerous) long-sleeved cotton shirts….I’m kind of at a loss as to what to wear with the cooler temps (?), and for a ride, none the less.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kim. I was amazed to actually feel better in the second half of a race. That never happens to me! πŸ™‚ Have a great bike ride. Hope your long-sleeved shirt works out for you!


  6. Wow, congrats on the AG win! LOL on getting your “first” wind – whatever it was, it worked! Driving 6 hours after a race with no shower sounds rough, but changing into fresh clothes makes a big difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Coco. I almost never feel better in the second half of a race. Most times I have positive splits. We could not wait to get to our hotel in Boston to get a quick shower before going out to dinner with our friends! πŸ™‚


    • It really was a fun and beautiful race. I don’t like gels, gu, etc. I had to come up with some other source of calories. I pack a little baggie of dried apricots and salted almonds now for each marathon.


  7. Congrats on the age group win and surviving when you weren’t sure you would! I would much rather a run start out eh and turn out great than to start out great and finish eh (as my Hands on House half went last year!). 6 hours in a car after a car just makes my legs ache thinking about that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tracy. I almost never run positive splits in a race, so this was a new experience for me. HOH is a tough, hilly half. This one was much easier. After 6 hours in the car, my piriformis was screaming!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great job on your race and winning your age group! Wait, did I read that right about running 15-17 miles when training for a half marathon? I’ve done 14 and that I thought that was more than enough. πŸ™‚ I like cotton shirts too. I use them as pajama tops.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Congratulations
    “It felt as if I remembered how to run.” is such a true sentiment, and glad you experienced it
    Shorewalkers is a group here that promotes clean water access – love doing their walks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jan. If you could have seen me during my long run today, you would quickly change your mind. There may have been tears involved. I consoled myself with a (diet) Coke and the Cheetos from the race.


  10. Wow, great job on the AG win! Sounds like a great race especially considering it’s downhill both ways! Lol.
    That’s a great strategy to run 15-17 miles before a half. I may try that.


  11. Awww, Laurie, what a fun read! It’s reassuring to me to hear that even seasoned runners have times when they have difficulty kicking into gear in something they’re good at, if that makes sense. Congratulations on finishing first in your age bracket! That’s wonderful. It was fun to see an actual hellbender. My son likes salamanders, and he liked that picture. It sounds like you have some beautiful places to run in PA!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jeanne. I used to participate in a herpetology study for a university here in PA. I was assigned a “block” and had to count and identify all the reptiles and amphibians in the block. It’s how I know a little bit about salamanders. Hellbenders were a rare and exciting find!

      Liked by 1 person

    • This race was a trail-ish race. It was on a dirt path, but it wasn’t the typical single track with rocks and roots. I love trails and would like to get back to more trail racing.


  12. Congratulations again Laurie – you are amazing. Great training for your big Marine Corp. Marathon event and also your walking event – so keep on pushing. It sounds like a win-win all the way around.

    Liked by 1 person

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