Dad on the Run’s first half marathon with twins: Runner’s World Half Marathon Race Recap
The first race after having children will be tough. That is pretty much guaranteed. Due to reduced time to train, sleep deprivation and fatigue, and less motivation to get out and run, getting ready can be nearly impossible. Even when things align well, getting out to a race and managing the night before and day of the race can be challenging. However, the boost you can get from knowing your family is waiting for you at the finish line can make it more than worthwhile. Here’s how I prepared for and ran my first half marathon since the twins were born, the Runner’s World Half Marathon.
The Runner’s World Half, put on by probably the biggest running magazine by the same name, is not only a race, but a full weekend of celebrations of running. There is a 5k, a 10k, a trail run, and even a one mile run for dogs. Throughout the weekend there are talks, book signings, and seminars from the staff and running celebs. During packet pickup, I saw Dean Karnazes as well as the founder of the November Project, Brogan Graham. They even ran a session of the November Project in the morning running up and down the stairs on the massive steel stacks. Though it is a huge event, it felt a bit small this year compared to two years ago when I ran it as there were very few people at the expo, perhaps due to the timing. It did make for a nice and fast big pickup though.
Getting through a race expo with a twin stroller requires athleticism nearly on par with running a half marathon. Corridors and paths are not made for the width of a double stroller and this one spanned three levels, meaning lots of elevator rides. Most doors don’t allow the full stroller either, so much folding and unfolding ensued.
One of the reasons I enjoy the Runner’s World Half is the setting. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is a lovely place to run, and is in fact where I began running recreationally during college. Then I was only going out for mile or two runs that would take an hour, but it did make me realize I was able to run for more than a sprint. In high school gym class, I was always the one walking around the track for the mile run portion of the presidential fitness test, and was pretty pleased that I could walk a 12 minute mile. Much has changed since.
The area has become pretty good for food and drink since I graduated college. A few microbreweries have opened and several gastropubs have come around. Never one to turn down either, after pickup we headed to the fairly new Lost Tavern Brewery in nearby Hellertown. As any brewery should, no one gave us a second look as we brought in the twins in their car seats. Later several children in strollers showed up as did many now sporting their brand new 2016 Runner’s World shirt. The beer was quite excellent and the flight was the perfect size to get some necessary nutrients without paying for it the next morning. The amber ale in particular was a favorite.
Another addition to the town since we graduated is Mint Gastropub. We knew it was popular but didn’t expect that we would need a reservation to get a table inside. Luckily, due to somewhat unseasonably warm weather, we were able to sit with the boys outside and enjoy a meal at this extremely memorable restaurant. You’d expect a gastropub to have good beer, but Mint clearly spends time to pick out excellent brews. Many places rely on having a huge list so that you can find at least one thing you’ll like, but the great places like Mint have a fairly limited menu where everything is truly great. The Oktoberfest beer I had here was staggeringly good. To be honest, good beer can make even a bad restaurant ok to me, but the food at Mint lived up to the bar set by the beer. There was an octopus special — we have a rule to never turn down octopus — that was nice and tangy from a spicy sauce with a nice balance of crispy texture from light frying and the nice tender bendy texture excellent whole octopus should have. The entire menu changes seasonally, and the fall menu has a nice amount of spice and hearty flavor on it. The voodoo shrimp and grits and the chicken mole both had a nice combination of slight spice and flavorful tender meat / shrimp. Even the okra in the grits was delicious. This is the kind of place I considered going back to on the next day.
The half marathon itself is also a good introduction to the sights of Bethlehem. It begins at the somewhat new Sands casino, built into the old Bethlehem Steel mill along the river. The casino makes a nice place to stay warm and limber before lining up. It is a fairly small half of about 3,000 people so you don’t need to push and elbow your way into the right coral as much. Still, people have a hard time lining themselves up correctly it seems and like pretty much every race I’ve done except the huge and well moderated races like New York, the start is a bit chaotic as people take about a mile to figure out their pace and get some separation in the packs. I’m sure people think the same of me when stuck around me, but I’m often struck by how clueless and inconsiderate other runners are while you are trying to pass, often resulting in last minute dodges or even light pushing. I know it’s easy to zone in on your own race, but it would be great if other runners would actually take time to look around and be aware of their surroundings let alone move over for faster runners.
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From the South Side of Bethlehem, the route crosses over a bridge to the North Side and follows the course of the river for a bit. Here you head past a historic train depot and the still used tracks of the once immense, but still fairly widely used freight line of the Lehigh Valley line. If you set out too fast and begin flagging here on one of the first of MANY hills, the adrenaline you’ll get when a train you didn’t notice blasts its horn will get you moving again.
The first few miles are fairly hilly with at least three fairly steep and / or prolonged climbs. I’ve finally learned to not push myself into overdrive to crest these, at least in the first half to preserve some energy for later hills. After a romp through some of the residential neighborhoods of Bethlehem, the route curves back to the oldest part of Bethlehem, site of the first house — now a ruin with just the foundation — the 6th oldest college in the country, Moravian, and the famous Moravian Bookstore. From here we run up main street, the part of the race with the most spectators except for the finish.
The hills on this course are no joke. In this, the fifth running of the race, the course was changed for the fifth time to attempt to counter some of the bigger hills, but it doesn’t feel like there are any fewer or that they are any less intense. The event website promised a relatively flat course from mile 7 on, but the key word is relatively. Sure, these hills are smaller but it isn’t exactly a straight shot to the end.
Right after the boys were born I suffered an IT band injury while out running — back in June. After two months of therapy, targeted stretching, exercise, and foam rolling, it had just begun to get a little better, but was still bothering me if I went more than 5 or 6 miles. Before going on paternity leave, I was also having a hard time waking up early enough in the morning to run, the only time I could due to work and the boys’ schedule. Once on leave, I couldn’t manage to really find time except for a few short morning naps that coincided well enough between both boys for long enough to get a few miles in. In short, I knew I was underprepared and would suffer during the last few miles. And I did. Slowing to walk through water stations suddenly became compelling. My pace didn’t drop too much, but I felt myself nearly stumble a few times because my feet were dragging so low. The last four miles seemed to stretch forever. I knew the return to the South Side of Bethlehem was near the end, but didn’t realize there was still a mile long straight, uphill section between miles 11.5 and 12.5. Thankfully, around mile 12.5 we returned to the Steel Stacks area where the crowds picked up and raucous support from a high school band and the spectators helped push me to the finish line. I even had someone come up next to me in the last quarter mile who I could use as a target to beat to the line. It’s the little things that make it easier to finish.
Right at the finish line, for the first time it wasn’t only my wife cheering me on, but also the lads. Of course they were passed out and drooling in their stroller, but seeing them gave me the emotional boost to burst across the finish line. After 13 miles, your body is draining of nutrients and many chemicals are imbalanced. Sure the endorphin rush may still be ongoing — it wasn’t for me because of my under-training which left me with the rush closer to mile 8 — but seeing the little — hopefully future running — creatures you created and have kept alive after a trying race is an indescribably pick me up.
The race ends at the Steel Stacks, the huge metal behemoths where steel was forged and transported during the heyday of American steel manufacturing. Steel for the Golden Gate Bridge, Navy destroyers, and much of the rail that connected the country was forged right here. Now it stands abandoned and rusting, a monument to the effusiveness of industry and the inevitable, ceaseless, passage of time. At least now, more is being done with it. The casino sparked additional development from an arts center to a stage where a pretty good band played after the race. They even recently built an elevated walkway past the stacks similar to New York’s Highline. And it even has an elevator so getting the double stroller up is no problem.
Several half marathons I’ve run stick out to me for either their scenery, excellent fans, a fun route, or more times than not, having good beer — that is free — at the end. Sure you get a nice big bagel — everything style of course for me — water, chocolate, banana, a cookie, and veggie chips, but the beer is what I look for. Sleepy Hollow had an amazing selection from a nearby craft beer bar that offered full and unlimited pours of about eight brews. The rock and Roll series offers a free light beer at the end, but if you find the right staff, you can get two or three. The Marine Corps half had Goose Island which tasted phenomenal after a warm race. Runner’s World this year may come in second to only Sleepy Hollow due to the supremely tasty Saucony Creek lager they had. You could only get one, but it was a full pint and tasted so good after the run.
My result? I finished in 1:55:58, slower than my average from this spring, but faster than the average from last fall. It was almost exactly what I expected based on my training. Sure, the boys made it a bit harder to train and prepare for the run, but they also helped get me through it. Thinking of them and knowing they’d be waiting for me at the end helped get me over some of the bigger hills and keep my legs moving in the last few miles. So not only is it actually possible to keep running with twin infants, they may actually help you perform better mentally and emotionally.