The Runner’s World Half and Festival weekend was an amazing experience. But, for a crazy running nut like me, it was both an honor and a privilege to be chosen as an official race ambassador. I watched the legends, superstars, and celebrities from the pages of Runner’s World come to life in the steel town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In between jaw-dropping moments of running fandom, I learned how to take better care of myself, run more efficiently, and eat healthy. Oh, and I ran 3 races in 2 days! Over 22 miles at sub-7:00 pace on hills that would make Sir Edmund Hillary think twice.
Thursday – Runner’s World Half and Festival
My weekend began with a visit to the Runner’s World headquarters for a cookout with the editors. It’s an entirely unassuming building that looks eerily similar to my old middle school. Bart Yasso, the Mayor of Running met us at the front door. Bart told us the story of the Rodale farm ( Rodale is the parent company of Runner’s World and Prevention magazine among others) as we walked past neatly tended garden plots on our way to a splendidly organic dinner with the writers and editors.
Fun Fact #1: The Rodale family is responsible for bringing stink bugs to America. #Truthiness
After dinner, we took a guided tour of the offices and work spaces. Among the highlights was a visit to the sacred room in the center of the building reserved for reflection and spiritual wellness, Bart’s office, and the workspace where the writers, graphic designers, and others build the monthly issues of Runner’s World.
Fun Fact #2: The hills of Bethlehem, PA were here before Bart Yasso.
Friday – Runner’s World Half and Festival
After fitful night’s sleep at the Comfort Suites, I awoke to the sound of my 5:25 alarm to meet my fellow ambassadors for a 1-mile warm-up jog the the Bethlehem Steel Stacks where a pop-up November Project workout was being led by legendary grass-roots-in-your-face-hug-it-out energy bomb known as Brogan Graham. It was a wonderfully intense workout that pushed both my social and physical limits. Let’s just say I’m more of a hugger now. If you’re on the fence about joining the November Project, let me make this simple for you. Show up! You’ll thank me later.
After the workout, I had a chance to chat with Brogan, or “BG” to fellow NPers. His message is simple. Be kind to strangers and spread love and positivity. He does by offering free workouts that break down barriers and build community. Anyone is welcome. You just have to show up and participate fully. For more, check out surprisingly awesome November Project book.
Fun Fact #3: Brogan Graham’s power animal is a black bear.
After a quick cup of coffee, I sat down to listen to Golden Harper, the founder of Altra running shoes, talk about running, running shoes, and an epidemic of running injuries caused by torpedo-shaped shoes. Golden Harper ran a world-best 2:45 marathon at age 12, and grew up working in his family’s specialty running store, educating people about proper running technique and becoming an expert on running injuries. The dude knows his stuff.
Altra shoes look weird. They’re shaped like a human foot. And they feel a little strange because they’re built with zero-drop soles that mimic the way human feet have made contact with the ground throughout our species evolution. Are they fashionable? Meh. But is that what’s most important to you? Many runners swear by Altras and I’ve added a pair of Torin 2.5‘s my heavy rotation because the theory and science behind them is rock solid.
Fun Fact #4: Golden and his three sisters Amber, Krystal, and Summer have all won individual State Cross Country Championships.
For lunch, we met with the founders of Wild Planet to sample their wild-caught tuna. They sell some of the finest tasting sustainably caught seafood while supporting the conservation of wild marine ecosystems. After listening to the health benefits of eating sardines, I can home a wolfed down a tin.
Lunch was provided by Runner’s World to showcase some of the delicious recipes featured in Shalane Flanagan’s new cookbook, Run Fast. Eat Slow. I loved the Don’t Get Beet Hummus and Fish Tacos with Mango-Avocado Salsa.
Fun Fact #6: Cilantro can help remove mercury from your body and mixes well with tuna salad.
Next, Dean Karnazes stopped by to talk about his recent rip to Greece where he researched the birth of the marathon. The inspiring ultra marathoner told us the story of Pheidippides and his legendary run from Marathon to Athens. Dean’s pride and passion runs deep when he speaks of his ancestors’ homeland. His latest book, The Road to Sparta, Dean combines history, adventure and details his own personal struggle to finish the grueling Spartathlon race.
Fun Fact #7: Marathon literally means “fields of fennel” in Greek
Saturday – Runner’s World Half and Festival
Saturday morning I awoke at 6 am after another night of tossing and turning. This time, due to a wedding party that moved from the hotel lobby to the parking lot at 2 am. After a hot shower to get the blood flowing, I dressed quickly and picked up a coffee and bagel before jogging 1-mile to the 5K race start.
I’d planned to take this first race pretty easy so that I’d have something left in the tank for the 10K and half marathon. That all went sideways as soon as the gun went off. I can’t race without racing. I’m not wired that way.
The 5K provided a gentle introduction to the hills of Bethlehem. I was impressed with the spirit of the runners, the enthusiasm of the race organizers, and the number of porta potties. Really! I never had to wait in line. Ne-ver.
Nineteen minutes after the gun went off I crossed the finish line to capture third place in my age group. Not a bad showing. The 10K start was just one hour and 41 minutes away.
I approached the 10K with some trepidation after feeling the hills beneath my feet in the 5K. I thought about maybe finding a friend to run with, or just taking some pictures along the race course. But, then I heard a beautiful rendition of the national anthem and high-fived the runners around me. That’s when I knew I was racing again.
The 10K course took us over some much bigger hills and I cursed Bart Yasso’s name with vigor. I purposely didn’t look at my watch and ran by effort alone. I allowed myself to give a 90% effort. Any more than that and I’d be a spectator the next day. Miles 2-5 dragged on forever, but the last mile felt really good. This time, I walked away with second place in my age group with a decent 41:10 finish.
After returning to my hotel room for a quick shower it was time to kick back and listen to the pros at the Runner’s World Half and Festival expo. I learned about running gear and gadgets, injury prevention, and I picked up some half marathon race course tips from the man who designed the course, Bart Yasso.
Fun Fact #8: Amby Burfoot and my father raced together at the New England high school cross country championships.
Dinner that night was hosted by Runner’s World. The pasta dinner was open to anyone that registered for the event. This was a special event because Runner’s World was celebrating their 50th birthday. Brogan Graham was there to lead us in song and we all enjoyed some delicious foods from Shalane Flanagan’s latest cookbook, Run Fast. Eat Slow.
Sunday – Runner’s World Half and Festival
Sunday morning a rolled out of bed walking like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz. I took a shower, grabbed some coffee and started my pre-race ritual with some dancing. A little Run DMC and some Black Eyed Peas helped me get my game face on at 6 am.
I met up with Ty from SeekingBostonMarathon.com and we decided to run together. He’s training for New York and needed to test his fitness, and I just needed a friend to latch onto for 13.1 miles. We ran well within ourselves and yo-yo’d back and forth with the 1:35 pace group for much of the race. Running for a finish and not a PR was a refreshing approach. It was… Dare I say it? Fun.
Was it a difficult course? Yes. Was it a tough weekend on my legs? Yes. Would I do it all over again? Heck, yes! This is a bucket list event. The races, the people, the food, and the opportunity to fly your runner freak flag make this a must-run event. For me, it’s right up there with running the NYC Marathon or the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler. Show up next year!