Last Sunday my hubby Bill and I traveled to Forest City, Pennsylvania to run the D&H Distance Run, a half marathon.
It was our second race in two days (the first one was The Flying Fish 5K) and I was a little bit unsure of my ability to run back-to-back races.
Forest City holds a special place in my heart. It is starting location of my very first marathon, Steamtown. While Steamtown Marathon is run mostly on roads, the D&H distance run is run entirely on a rail-trail, the D&H Rail Trail, to be specific.
We arrived at the trailhead on an overcast, cool race morning to pick up our race packets and were instructed by a volunteer to park in a nearby field. We parked and headed downhill to the pavillion, where we stood in a short line to receive our race bibs and T-shirts. The short-sleeved T-shirt was a soft poly-cotton mix, my favorite kind.
Music was thumping from the huge speakers on the truck shown above. There were treats for the runners before the race, always a nice touch. We could eat our fill of bagels, fresh fruit, and granola bars. Coffee, water, and Gatorade were also available.
We wandered around the registration area and found the finish line on the packed cinder rail-trail, but not the starting line. I assumed the starting and finish lines were at the same place since the race was advertised as out-and-back, but you know what they say about making assumptions.
The starting line was actually on the road leading to the field where we parked, up the hill from the rail-trail, giving us a nice downhill start.
As we waited for the start of the race, I chatted with a woman standing near us. “Have you ever run this race before?” she asked. I told her that I had not. “The first part, when you are going out, is very, very slightly uphill and the last part, when you’re coming back is very, very slightly downhill.”
I liked the sound of that.
The starter counted us down and the race began right on time. We ran down the hill on a paved road for about a tenth of a mile, then made a left turn onto the rail-trail. Cheerleaders from the local high school cheered us on as we ran past, just as I remembered them doing at Steamtown.
As we ran on the packed cinder path, I tried to concentrate on watching the beautiful scenery. Wildflowers and trees surrounded the trail. I was hoping to spot some butterflies, but I didn’t see many, probably due to the overcast skies.
Bill and I had decided to stay together for this race and we settled into a comfortable pace. I didn’t notice any uphill at all, in fact, if anything, I thought the course was slightly downhill.
“Maybe I was confused,” I thought. “Maybe the first part of the course is downhill and the last part is uphill.”
There were aid stations approximately every two miles. Bill and I decided to get a drink and walk through the aid stations. I was feeling fine until about mile four, when I began struggling again, just as I had done in a similar rail-trail half marathon (The Hellbender Half Marathon), which we had run three weeks before.
Due to the nature of the course, spectators were few and far between. At about mile 5.5, however, the rail-trail passed through a small town. A small, but very enthusiastic crowd of spectators cheered as we ran past, a welcome diversion. A short distance down the path, a troop of boy scouts encouraged the runners.
Right about this point, the surface of the trail switched from cinders to packed dirt, another welcome diversion.
As we approached the turn-around point, we started seeing runners ahead of us coming back on the opposite side of the path. I watched to see if there were any women ahead of me who could possibly be in my age group. I saw three.
The first potential age grouper was very far ahead of me. There was no way I could catch her, but I thought she was probably younger than me. The second and third looked to be running strong. Catching up to them also seemed unlikely.
Then we hit the turn-around point.
Once again, I was fooled. We had been running slightly uphill on the way out. The course was now definitely sloping downhill. No doubt about it.
As we ran toward the finish line, my energy level improved drastically. I gradually began increasing my speed, until Bill told me, “Honey, we ran that last mile in 8:30.” I slowed down. At mile nine, we passed one of the women I thought could be in my age group. At mile 10, we passed another.
Only one woman remained who could potentially be in my age group. At mile 12.5, she came into view. I still felt good, so I stepped on the accelerator. I was closing the gap, when, at the 13th mile-marker, she began sprinting too. I couldn’t quite catch her.
Bill and I crossed the finish line together at 2:06 (six minutes faster than a similar half marathon we ran three weeks ago), got our medals and something to eat and drink. I congratulated the woman I couldn’t catch on her good run. We chatted with some people we knew from other races.
The timing company posted results very quickly. When I checked, I saw I had won my age group. The woman I was trying to catch was actually two age groups below me. Age group awards for the D&H Distance Run were really nice coffee mugs, which I used just this morning.
I definitely recommend this race to everyone. There were lots of pros, including:
- Very good communication from the race director before and after the race.
- Excellent racecourse on a very forgiving surface.
- Plenty of porta-potties.
- Enthusiastic volunteers and spectators.
- Great age group awards.
- Easy logistics.
- Plenty of aid stations.
- Refreshments before and after the race.
As for cons, I got nothin’.
If you are looking for an early fall half marathon in northern Pennsylvania, this is the perfect race to consider.