Monday, October 21, 2013

Gettysburg Blue Gray Half Marathon Race Recap & Review

Half marathon #9 is in the books! This past Sunday, I completed the 3rd annual Gettysburg Blue Gray Half Marathon in Gettysburg, PA. My bff Kelly also ran this race and completed her third half marathon- and the second one in just 8 days! She's pretty amazing!

Located at the foot of South Mountain (part of the Blue Ridge Mountains), Gettysburg is the site of the largest land battle fought on US soil and the Battle of Gettysburg was considered to be the turning point of the Civil War. Though the actual course did not transverse any battlefields, it still promised to be a beautiful and unique run especially due to the timing; late October is peak leaf-changing season.

This race pits blue (north) against gray (south) in a civil war themed race. When registering, you could choose to run for the north or the south- each shirt and bib was customized with the color of the side you chose. The top female and male finisher times for each side were added together and whoever had the fastest time, "won" the challenge. All finishers that were on the "winning" side got a special commemorative item.

Everything about this race was low-key. Packet pick-up was a breeze, there was plenty of race day parking, and no lines to get food at the end of the race. Small, local half marathons really allow participants to enjoy the experience- for a low cost. I think I paid $60 for this race and it was absolutely worth it.

This year, packet pick-up was located in a movie theater in a shopping center. This would be the same parking lot for the race the next day. I picked up mine and Kelly's bibs. Mine was blue and her's was gray- we figured by running for opposing sides at least one of us would get the special commemorative item :-)

For shirts, we had a choice of unisex or women's cut long sleeved. On the race's facebook page, they had announced that because the field was more than half women, they would offer women's cut shirts. I picked up a blue and a gray shirt and was out the door in less than 10 minutes. There was merchandise available for purchase but since we'll be in Disney in just 16 days, I figured I'd better wait on buying even more running stuff.

Long sleeved "north" shirt
This race started at 9:00 am. Kelly and I got to the shopping center parking lot around 8:00 am. We ran over to the nearby hotel to use a "real" bathroom before walking the 10 minutes to the start.

After our potty break, we headed over to the starting line- just a few blocks from the parking lot. It was a simple walk but it was pretty chilly, around 40 degrees. Once near the start, we found a sunny spot and tried to keep warm.

Dressed in our gray and blue!
There was a simple bag check and plenty of port-o-potties. Around 8:45 we used the bathroom again, I ate a clif bar, and we lined up. Kelly started towards the front and I moved to the very back of the pack. This was a small race, only about 900 runners, and I didn't want to get trampled by doing my run/walk/run method.

The race started with a gun shot from a civil war-era dressed soldier and we were off! Starting downhill, I ran for the first 3 minutes and then settled into my 1:1 interval.

Around the first mile, there was a lot of separation between the front/middle pack runners and those of us in the back. It felt like I was alone very quickly. I took a picture of all the people behind me at mile two. There were four people behind me. I started to get worried that it was going to be a long, lonely race.

The front and middle of the pack.

All four people behind me.
At this point, I knew that I would stick to my goal pace- 12 minutes per mile- the entire race. If I stuck to this plan, I knew that I'd finish somewhere between 2:36 and 2:45. With this being my second half in eight days (and following weekends of 13, 15, and 17 mile long runs), I did not have any PR hopes. I just wanted to finish this race upright and smiling :-)

Miles 1- 4 seemed to go by very quickly. I chatted with a woman wearing a "half fanatic" shirt for a few minutes in mile 3. This was her 48th half marathon. 48th! Insane and inspirational.

I decided to kick it up a notch from miles 5-9. I knew that I could try to go faster for the middle miles and if I needed to slow down the last few miles, so be it. I was watching my mapmyrun app and my first few miles were a 12:30 pace. As I started running faster during miles 5-9, I watched my pace drop to 12:20, then 12:15, then 12:05, then 11:55. I was ecstatic. I wanted to keep this pace for as long as I could.

It was during these miles that I noticed that I was passing people. Me, the slowest of the slow, was passing people! I'd play a game: I'd find someone running ahead of me and I would give myself a time goal to pass them. For example, I saw this woman in the pink shirt and I gave myself five minutes to catch up and eventually pass her. I have never felt stronger or more confident in a race.

I passed these people!

There were water stations every two miles on this course staffed with local track and cross country teams. They were amazing! An added benefit to running in the back of the pack is that there is more time between runners so the volunteers sometimes are cheering just for you as you may be the only person at the station at that time. We also had our names on our bibs so the volunteers would yell things like "Go Sarah!," "You're doing awesome, Sarah!," "Keep going, Sarah! You're looking great!" It was so freaking cool. Definitely the best volunteers I've EVER seen at a race. At one point, as I was thanking the kids, one of the parents said to me, "Thank YOU for running." Cue the waterworks.

Amazing views :-)
I ran past the 10 mile marker and looked at my time- 1:59! Under 2 hours!! Again, cue the waterworks. At this point, I ate my pack of clif shot bloks and prepared for the last 5k. I knew I could run a 40 minute 5k so I calculated that I could finish in under 2:40 if I really pushed.

Miles 10- 13 were the most challenging of this course- not because of the course, but because I was struggling mentally. Though I had just finished my shot bloks, I was hungry. Like really hungry. I started to get really warm so I took my arm sleeves off and immediately felt better.

Around mile 12 there was a simple out and back- we ran about a tenth of a mile out to a cone and then came right back. This totally messed with me mentally. I hate having to run out and backs like this- it sucks to see everyone in front of you finishing the turn around and continuing the course while you are just entering the out and back. Not cool at mile 12.

After the out and back, it was just a long stretch of road with no mile markers. It felt like it would go on forever. Even though the temperature was nearing the mid-50's, I was getting really warm. There was just one person in front of me, and I was determined to finish in front of her.

Mile 12.5? UGH. But, I did pass the person in front of me :-)
I looked at my app and saw that I was at 2:34. I knew the finish was around here somewhere, I just had no idea where. Cue runner brain. Finally, I made a left hand turn and saw the finish- at the top of a hill that seemed incredibly steep. The last tenth of a mile was all uphill. I felt like I was sprinting but I knew I was barely moving. I had to stop and walk for a few steps, which I NEVER do that close to a finish. Nausea waved over me and I thought I may puke right there in front of all the spectators. I saw Kelly cheering me on and taking pictures and I motioned to her that I might be sick. I was confused, sick, and just ready to be done.

I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch and my app, and then propped myself up against an ambulance and dry heaved. I did not vomit though I absolutely thought I would. A volunteer actually came over to me to hand me my medal because I had gone right past him- I was making a bee line for the ambulance. A few minutes later, I caught my breath, met up with Kelly and went to the bathroom. I felt much better after I cooled down and walked a bit. We grabbed some food (chips, bagels, bananas) and some water and waited to hear the results. Blue won a handsome coffee mug :-)

Winning coffee mug!
Though my finish was awful, I did PR- 2:36:00. Three and a half minutes off my previous time (Frederick Half Marathon in May) and 16 (16!) minutes less than my time last week in Baltimore.  Kelly finished in 2:17- I am so proud of her!

Overall, this race was one of my favorites. Minus the hunger and over-heating, I really had a great time. Though I was by myself this race, it really was enjoyable! I'm actually still in disbelief that I ran all 13.1 miles alone AND ran a personal best! I got in the zone with my music and my pacing goals and the race just flew by.

Great views, amazing volunteers, and quality premiums/medals with a $60 price tag? I'll definitely be back for this one again.

Oh yeah, about passing people- I looked at the results and I finished in front of 60 people. 60 people! When I started there were only four people behind me! I somehow passed 56 people on the course. For most runners, finishing in the last 100 people of a 900 person race isn't much of an accomplishment. But for me, it's simply awesome. I'm proud of my progress and I'm motivated to reach my next goal sometime in 2014- a sub 2:30 half marathon.

What's your next goal? :-)

...Eggs... Are.... Sides....
Directional signs on the course.

Such a pretty course.

I passed her too :-)

First time I've been this close to cows on a course.
Finished and ready for a beer!
Handsome medal!


  1. Congratulations Sarah on finishing with a new PR, that is fantastic. I love your determination throughout the race to just keep moving forward and passing folks as you went.

  2. Congrats on the PR! I'm actually quite envious of you because you have easier access to all those great runs throughout the Mid-Atlantic/NE. That scenery looked to die for, and what a buttkickin' piece of bling too. Florida is all "Hey, there's a palm tree, and a beach, and a giant mosquito with a machine gun..." At least the latter makes you run faster ;-)

  3. Thanks! And yes, this is a beautiful area to run! However, the snow and ice through the winter usually cramp my outdoor runs and I end up on the "dreadmill" more often than I'd like. Today, it's super cold -palm trees and Florida weather would be perfect right about now!

    Maybe if we had more mosquitoes I could get under 2:30! :-)

  4. I found your blog through the team run disney page. This looks like a beautiful course and such a fun theme for an event. Congratulations on exceeding your expectations!

    1. Thanks! This was just a great experience, from start to finish! And I LOVE team run Disney- it's such a wonderful group of people :-) Are you running at Disney any time soon?

    2. I'm doing Disney World and the Tinkerbell. Well...hopefully! I'm just hoping not to get sick traveling to FL since the races are only a week apart!

    3. That's great! Back to back weekends of Disney racing? Sounds like an awesome idea to me! Just take plenty of airborne or emergen-C and you should be good to go for the plane :-)

  5. Thanks for this writeup! I just signed my husband up for this race this year. You and I run close to the same pace! (well, when I am in shape).

  6. Hi Nice blog and review of the race, I'm thinking of registering, it will be my 28th half. I love the medal and shirt so besides country running which I normally don't like, Id just be doing it for the swag!