You know you are going to be earning your t-shirt when the words “hill master” appear on it.
But the third annual Perk Up Half Marathon, held on rural roads in the rolling hills of northeastern Pennsylvania’s scenic Upper Perkiomen Valley, was worth the price of admission. A beautiful course, a sun-splashed August day and some shade from trees that lined much of the course.
I was spending the weekend with friends in nearby Lansdale, Pa., and looked around for a race in the area. I was thinking 5K, but a half fit my marathon training. So sign me up!
The race wasn’t very big – 300 hardy souls registered, about 260 actually ran it from start to finish. We gathered on the picturesque campus of the Perkiomen School, a wealthy prep school with impressive credentials – and real bathrooms!
It was hilly from start to finish, and a bit warm. The conditions were not ideal for cold-weather folks such as my training partner Natalie. But I don’t mind the heat, there were enough water stops, and the volunteers were extremely kind and encouraging.
My personal favorite moment: One guy and I passed each other a few times between miles 8 and 10. When I slipped by at 10, he said “how are you so fast?!” He was wearing headphones and I don’t think he realized he said it out loud. But, dude, we had already run 10 miles and we were maybe 5 yards apart. I think we were running at pretty much the same speed!
The race payoff was nice. Thanks to runner fees and support from pharmaceutical companies and the community, the local chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation raised a cool $25,000.
“The Chamber of Commerce wanted to put on an event that would showcase the beauty of the area,” foundation fundraiser Janine Roberts explained. “They paired us with the Perkiomen School, which is very prestigious but kind of in a remote location.”
No race is perfect, and this one had a few bumps. All could be overcome. The online registration website struggled a bit. On race day, some of the mile markers seemed almost random, which I could handle with my GPS watch. But if you didn’t have GPS, some of those miles would seem to go on forever.
I didn’t see Gatorade until mile 10 or so. A race that long, you should provide more than water in the early miles. And since the roads weren’t closed, there were a few blind turns where you had to be uber cautious. Headphones were NOT a good idea. But it was early, volunteers manned some of the tight turns, and there really were very few cars.
“You are asking an enormous number of people to do things for nothing, so of course we had a few problems,” Roberts explained. “This is a small community, but it really does rally behind the event. People are all-in.”
And so were the runners!
John Bacon has been running for 25 years. He is the rewrite chief at USA TODAY. Natalie’s trusty marathon training partner, lunch sharing buddy and loyal sounding board. Follow him here on Twitter @jmbacon