Though I loved the Runner’s World Half in Bethlehem, PA last year, I wanted to try out the Hershey Half this year. This weekend seems very popular with races as the weather is typically perfect. It ended up not being as perfect as desired due to an early season cold front, read on to see how this played out.
Pre-Race: Packet Pickup and Hershey Park in the Dark
Getting to Hershey and staying was super easy with relatively little traffic out from NJ. PA needs to invest in three lane highways so that you don’t get stuck behind trucks trying to pass other trucks, but I guess this is good run passing preparation. The area has tons of hotels, and is very affordable because of the park and other attractions. We stayed at the recently remodeled La Quinta which was adequate and best of all, dog friendly so Hershey could make the trip to his name place. Breakfast was even included and while I didn’t want to risk the muffins on race day, they made a good post race snack.
Packet pickup this year was at the Hershey Arena where I had seen KISS and Aerosmith as a kid (those were the days) and across from the old stadium where we used to have season tickets to the Hershey Bears. I sure do miss Tim Tookey. The packet line was a bit long but moved fairly quickly. The gift bag even included some snacks which were nice and an awesome long sleeved tech running shirt. I always appreciate long sleeved ones as in the North East, I have far more cold running days than hot ones. I wish some races would give out shorts as I’m getting plenty of shirts now. The expo had more apparel than some of the larger ones, but in terms of size was much smaller than NYC ones obviously. Even with exploring the expo, we were in and out in about 15 minutes, probably a record compared to the long lines at NYC runs.
The nicest perk of this run is the inclusion of two complementary tickets to Hershey Park in the Dark, the fall version of the park where most rides are surprisingly still open, including all the rollercoasters. I expected the park to be fairly deserted for the fall, but it was packed. There were tons of school groups and parents there and of course lots of runners. I love amusement parks, but can’t take the lines as much as I could when I was a kid. I don’t remember waiting for over an hour per rollercoaster ride, so ended up riding only two. We then rejoined the rest of the group who wasn’t interested in riding coasters for the Hershey Kissing Tower, waited 20 minutes, and then when at the front of the line, were informed it’d be shut down due to high winds. We ended up going to ZooAmerica instead which I love, especially the wolves. I could watch them running around all day. A brief cold rain got us to leave and seek shelter at nearby Chocolate World, a favorite when I was younger. We of course did the short tour ride which has held up well and even got a free kit kat bar at the end. I remember only ever getting Hershey Kisses at the end, so that was a nice upgrade.
(Photo from Pennlive.com because I ate my brisket to fast before thinking to take a picture)
For the pre-race dinner, I found the nearby Smoked BBQ, a highly rated BBQ joint. Getting our 10 person party seated took some time, but service was very quick and nice. It was lauded for the craft beer selection which I didn’t think was phenomenal, but did have some decent choices. The food was excellent though I paid for the high sodium levels during the run. The menu features several burgers, a big selection of bbq like wings, ribs, brisket, and pulled pork, and a huge variety of sides. I suggest chugging several glasses of water with this though as I had a hard time for the first few miles because of the salt. After the big meal I immediately slipped into a food coma and had one of the better pre-race sleeps. I usually get no sleep at all before a race so this was a nice change.
Sunday morning we awoke to a cold front passing through and temperatures in the low 30s for the start. We huddled in the car until right before the start, then made our way up near the start line. There are no corrals or even pace markers in the race, so you pretty much go wherever you want. The field was announced at 4,000, but felt bigger. I was always in a decent crowd during the entire race, perhaps due to the starting configuration. It was a very fast start with a countdown from 5 pretty much right after the anthem ended. I didn’t have time to get my watch set right so ran the whole thing by feel which ended up being ok. After setting a 1:44 PR, 9 minutes faster than my previous PR last week, I was really just using this race for a weekend run with no real goal in mind.
The course was pretty good with some variety. There was a little too much running through the enormous parking lot for my taste, but I don’t see how it could be avoided due to the layout. We started at the arena, ran around the lot, into the park which was the coolest part though quite hilly and fairly narrow, though running past the coasters and rides was pretty cool, then out to the golf course, around the Milton Hershey school, the town, and back to the arena. The school was very cool and great motivation as tons of kids were out cheering us on and giving high fives. There were also local bands out playing, giving it a great small town race feel. At mile 11, volunteers even handed out chocolate bars though I declined as I was getting quite thirsty. The course was surprisingly hilly and the last few were difficult. I ended up finishing with a 1:52, good for my second fastest half and awesome considering the lack of a goal and overall soreness I was feeling.
Post-Race The Bling:
The sweetest medal I’ve received for a race. Every year they give a different medal shaped like one of their candies. This year’s was a kiss which I thought was a nice emblematic one. Imagine getting a Mr. Goodbar medal! The finish line was inside the stadium with a fairly large crowd and a victory lap around the track. I also got a heat shield, a bottle of water, and a small lunch bag with some treats including of course candy. It wasn’t much compared to the extravagance of last week’s Rock and Roll Half where I ended up with almost a shopping cart full of food and drink, but was enough to keep moving. It also meant easy access back to the race to cheer on other runners. The course doesn’t loop around many times and because of the parking situation, it’s hard for spectators to see you many times on the course. The best bet is just after the start and right before the finish line which are close to the arena. The nice thing was that Hershey could come cheer me on though.
My favorite part of any race is the after party, typically at a brewery or at least a place with good beer selections. For whatever reason, I always crave a beer after running. Luckily, Troegs has a huge modern brewery and pub right next to the park. It was packed after the race with runners, but we eventually scavenged four seats and reveled in the beer menu. They have a selection of the popular brews you might find at your local distributor and some small batch ones that were amazing. The pumpkin wasn’t very pumpkin-y but was awesome for the fall. The bock was also very fortifying for a post run recovery.
They also have a self guided tour through the brewery and a huge store with beer and merchandise.
The poutine jumped off the menu as the perfect calorie replacement item. The fries were delicious with a great balance of crispiness and tenderness. The cheese curd was delicious and melty and the gravy was heavy but not overly so. We destroyed this in a few minutes. It went great with some strong beer to wash it down as well.
Since it competes with the Runner’s World Half on the same weekend, I may have to alternate between the two, but these two are now some of my favorite races. On to the Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half Marathon in two weeks and the Philadelphia Marathon in a month!