My first in-person race since the eight-mile trail race my hubby and I did in Florida back in January was also my youngest son’s inaugural race.
Chris began running eight months ago but our first attempt at running a race together in May was scuttled by the pandemic.
When I got an email advertising a real in-person race in Weiser State Forest near Danville, Pennsylvania at the end of August, I was excited about the opportunity and quickly got the OK to register from my two running companions.
Bill and I had run the Hellbender Half Marathon last year, so we knew the organization of the race was excellent and the course was beautiful.
We woke up early on the morning of the race and set off for the Roaring Creek Trail in the state forest.
The emails we had received from the race director informed us that masks were required at all times when we were not running, so we masked up to pick up our race packets, which consisted of a really nice long-sleeved cotton T-shirt, our bibs, and five “Hellbender Dollars” to use for purchasing food after the race.
Because our state has a strict 250 person limit on outdoor gatherings, the size of both races (the 5K and the half marathon) were reduced this year and runners were asked to practice social distancing.
As I was waiting in line for the porta potty, I heard someone calling my name. Fellow running blogger, Tracy was there to do the half marathon. I was amazed she recognized me with my mask on, but was happy we got a chance to chat in person after commenting on each others’ blogs for years.
We cheered for Tracy and her companion at the start of the half, then got ready for the 5K start 15 minutes later.
I told Chris I would let him set the pace. My goal was to try to keep up with him. He has been using a walk-run strategy in his training but his run portions are speedy and I didn’t want to slow him down.
He told me he followed my advice to have three goals – a fallback goal he was pretty sure he could achieve (32 minutes), a realistic goal (31 minutes), and a pie-in-the-sky-if-all-the-stars-align goal (30 minutes).
The timer counted us down and we set off down the shaded gravel trail, the three of us running together. We commented that the beginning of the course seemed slightly downhill, so the ending of the race (an out and back) would be uphill, although the “hill” was really just a slight incline.
The first mile passed quickly with no walk breaks. As I looked at my watch, I was surprised to see we were running at a 9:18 pace.
I kept looking at my son, wondering when the walk breaks would begin, when the front-runners began coming back toward us on the other side of the trail. We were approaching the turnaround point and the only water stop on the short course.
We made the turnaround and I asked Chris if he wanted to grab a water. He said “No” and kept on chugging.
The morning was not especially hot but it was very humid, so I grabbed a cup of water, downed it, and sprinted to catch up to my husband and son.
We passed the second mile-marker, and still no walk breaks. Finally at about mile 2.3, we slowed for a brief walk. I remarked that the second half of the race seemed to be mostly downhill. We didn’t realize we were running uphill on the way out, always a good sign.
After several seconds of walking, my husband suggested we finish the race using a run-walk method and Chris agreed.
We set off again at a jog.
Because the trail is mostly straight, the finish line was visible from some distance away. Before too long, my husband said “There it is. The finish line is in sight.”
We finished strong at 28:54, all crossing the finish line together, beating Chris’s most aggressive goal by over a minute.
We picked up our medals and walked over to the food cart to spend our Hellbender Bucks. For my $5, I got a turkey sandwich, chips, a blueberry muffin and water. What a great deal!
There was no award ceremony but results were available online almost immediately. We found out that my son and I both won second place in our respective age groups and my hubby won first place in his.
As a first race experience, The Hellbender 5K could not be beat. The race organization was once again excellent, the course runner-friendly and fast (downhill both ways), the beneficiary (a conservation group) worthy, and the amenities outstanding. Plus Chris beat his goal time and placed in his age group.
I look forward to doing one of the Hellbender races again next year. Maybe it will be Chris’s first half marathon?!?!
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