On Saturday, April 6, New Holland, PA was the host for the 5th annual Garden Spot Village Marathon and Half Marathon. The race starts and finished on the campus of Garden Spot Village and benefits the Garden Spot Village Benevolent Fund.
I signed up for the marathon late last year as a kick-off for an ambitious (for me) running schedule. I had several reasons to pick this race. The race is just over a 30 minute drive away, so it is very convenient. It runs through the rolling farmland of Lancaster County, which I learned to cherish after running the Bird In Hand Half last year. Finally, it gets me half way to the highly coveted Road Apple Award.
I signed up for The Garden Spot on November 3rd, just a week after the Marine Corps Marathon. Training started a month later on December 3rd, following Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 program. Aside from some early calf issues and a few deviations to fit in races, training went really well. In all, I logged 496 miles during my 18 weeks of training.
Throughout those months, there were periodic e-mails from the race director, Scott Miller. Some were just check-ins to keep everyone energized about the race. Some were to inform us about race logistics or other features of the race. One of the new, innovative features was the Hydra Pouch, a rubber pouch that holds 6 ounces of fluid, as an alternative to using cups on the course.
I chose to do my packet pickup Friday evening. That gave me a chance to see exactly where the race started, drive some of the course and get all of my race gear set up that night. I got my bib, tech shirt and goody bag in about 5 minutes and was on my way home. There were some first aid supplies included in the bag. Little did I know I would need those on race day.
Hmmm … are they telling me something?
I like the tech shirt they gave us. Looks very cool if we ever see warm weather again:
The course is primarily an out and back course with a 3 mile lollypop near the half way mark and a different 3 miles at the finish. There are two significant climbs, near mile 4 then again at mile 21. After the first climb, you descend into the “Valley of No Wires”. An area of seemingly endless farmland. Of rolling hills and winding roads. A pristine area where many of the farms are run by Amish families using no power tools and no electricity.
Along the way, you’ll see a few horse drawn carriages:
Taken around mile 6. What’s missing from this picture? Power lines!
Some of your biggest cheering sections will try to get you mooooving!
In my pre-race course drive, I managed to see the two big climbs, but lost the course after that. I wanted to see what those climbs looked like and figured I could handle anything else the course threw at me.
Course Elevation Profile – The middle section definitely was not flat!
Just past mile 24, you are asked to turn and wave to the Queen of England. The Queen is there, at the side of the course, in honor of her part in lengthening the distance of the marathon to its current 26.2 miles. To read more about this, click here.
There were aid stations along the course approximately every two miles. Each station had water, orange Gatorade, gels, Clif Shot blocks, pretzels and bananas. There were also 2 or more potties at each station.
The course was well marked at every turn and had volunteers stationed at each turn to ensure you stayed on course. There were police at every intersection crossing and support vehicles constantly roving the course.
After another week of below average temperatures and above average wind, the weather forecast promised a more spring-like day. Well, so much for predictions. On the drive to the course, the temperature dropped to 28 degrees and the flags were stiff with a northerly wind.
Fortunately, the race provided a large heated tent for the runners to hang in prior to the race. In the tent, a ran across anoth Red Felter, Jennifer, who was running the Half today.
All full of smiles at this point. Little did I know …
There were lots of potties at the race start, so lines were quick. While waiting in line, I got this shot of what should be the symbol of Lancaster County.
My strategy for the race was to take it fairly easy in the first few miles and see how I did on the first big climb. If I felt good after that, I could push the pace some on the “flat” section, saving just enough to get up and over the second climb and get to the finish.
The race started well enough. Once the pack started to break up a bit, I could feel the chill of the wind from my left. I was happy when the course turned right and the wind was at our backs. I also noticed how fresh my legs felt after three weeks of tapering. Maybe a bit too fresh as I started out running sub-9 miles.
The first climb was long, but not steep. I was able to keep a good pace without feeling like I was over-exerting myself. As I got over the climb near mile 5, the leaders of the Half Marathon were headed back. I noticed the strain on each of their faces and wondered why. Maybe the sun was in their eyes.
Shortly after that, I got my answer. As I continued down the back side of the hill, it got significantly steeper to the point that I had to lean back a bit to check my speed. I made a mental not of that climb, knowing I would be dealing with it on mile 21.
Around mile six, I got my first boost of the day. My friend Lance came out to run with me for a while. Lance ended up pacing me for nearly 14 miles in some of the most mentally challenging parts of the race.
A few miles further, we picked up a third runner going at about the same pace. After a couple minutes of conversation, I learned that this was his 99th marathon! Amazing! He’ll be celebrating his 60th birthday by running #100 next month in Annapolis. Ultimately, his pace was a little faster than I wanted to go, so he left up around mile 15.
The area from miles 9 to 20 are open farmland. It’s very pretty countryside, but it’s totally exposed to the wind. Even wearing sunglasses, my eyes were tearing. It was mentally exhausting and I was really happy Lance was there to keep me going.
Also around mile 14, I began to feel a twinge in my left foot, just behind the toes. It wasn’t like an injury pain, more like a blister pain. Now, I’ve never had a blister on the base of my foot, just in the toes. I just tried to ignore it and kept going.
A couple miles later, I got boost number 2! My friends Megan and Patrick came driving up the course to cheer Lance and me on. After a quick conversation, I asked them to meet us up at mile 20, near where Lance would be finishing up.
I was really happy to see Megan and Patrick again at mile 20. I don’t normally like to stop when I’m running, but this was a very welcome break. They had more Gatorade for me and, more importantly, lots of energy and encouragement! When we started up again, my legs felt fresh and I was ready to tackle the final 10K!
My Mile 20 support crew!
My pacer through the Valley of No Wires!
After Lance left, I was back on the part of the course shared with the Half Marathon, so there was more crowd support. By then, I needed every once of motivation I could find, because I was hurting. The blister was only getting worse. I privately hoped it would break to take some of the pressure off my foot.
As I began to climb the second big hill, I told myself I had a mile of hard running and could cruise to the finish. Boy, it was hard. I walked the steepest sections of the climb. I had to walk again further up because I felt my calf starting to tighten up. As I neared the top, I heard all sorts of noise coming up behind me. When it got to me, it was Megan and Patrick again, driving by, shouting encouragement. It made me smile at a time where I really needed it.
Heading back downhill felt really good. Going downhill took some pressure off the front of my foot, so it didn’t hurt quite as bad. I passed mile 23, just a 5K to go. At the bottom of the hill Megan and Patrick were waiting for me again. I waived and said I needed to keep going. I couldn’t stop. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to start again.
The last couple miles were the most mentally challenging I think I’ve ever run. My foot was throbbing. The wind was as brutal as ever and the last mile was back uphill. So many times, I wanted to stop and walk. A relay racer flew past me like I wasn’t moving. In a brief moment of humor, I saw the Queen to my left and jokingly yelled at her for making my run 2 miles longer.
As I turned back into the Garden Spot Village, I felt a boost of adrenaline knowing I was almost done. There was a good crowd near the finish and I wanted to look stronger than I felt at the finish. As I crossed the finish, Ron Horn, from Pretzel City Sports was there. He asked me “did you have fun?” I mumbled something like “uh, yeah, it was fun”. He response “well, you weren’t supposed to have fun”. Thanks Ron.
I finished in 4:07:40. Just over 8 minutes ahead of my MCM time on a much tougher course. I’m really happy with that time.
The medal matches the character of the race – not overblown, precisely engraved and fitting with the area:
After getting my medal, a thermal blanket and bottle of water, I headed to the recovery tent. At this point, I didn’t want to put any weight on my left foot. The tent brought welcome relief from the cold and the wind. It also provided more refreshments – fruit, pretzels, milkshakes, oatmeal, trail mix – a nice variety.
In addition to the recovery tent, there w a food pavilion where they were selling burgers, hots dogs and the like. Except, it was free for runners! Score! I got myself a cheeseburger and some chips since I was craving salt.
This was an extremely well managed race on some beautiful, challenging terrain. The volunteers were great. The amenities before, during and after the race were first class. Communication and logistics were excellent. Believe me, this is not an easy course. But, if you are up for a challenge and want to see the beauty of Pennsylvania Dutch country, I strongly recommend it.