I am always looking for races that I can bring the family along and find something for everyone to enjoy. The Hershey Half Marathon fit the bill perfectly. And where else can you run where the streets are paved with chocolate?

Well, it might have been brown painted asphalt, but still …

October 19, 2014 – Hershey, Pennsylvania

Weather: Cold and Windy, temps in the mid to high 30’s at start of race.
Terrain: Rolling hills throughout with the largest hill at mile 11.
Organization: Well organized, no hiccups.
Crowd Support: Excellent!
Freebies/Goodie Bag: Assorted chocolate treats and sweets, free passes to the park, nice long sleeve tech tee, nice medal.
My gear: SKORA Fit running shoes.

The race was on the only Sunday that we did not have a soccer game and he next day was also a day off from school for Connor, so we turned “Daddy’s Race” into a mini family vacation.

We booked a hotel that was two miles from the Hershey Stadium where the race started. Connor’s soccer game was on Saturday for a change, so we hit the road shortly after a resounding 9-0 win. Since it was late, I couldn’t pick up my bib and race packet until race morning.

Since we were fairly close, I decided to jog to the stadium early in the morning for a warm up. Jen and the boys stayed snuggled in while I braved the cold and dark. Since it was cold, I wore a sweatshirt, buff, gloves and headlamp. Once I had picked up my bib and goodie bag, I stashed my extra clothes and headlamp and handed it all over to bag-check. I had to fight the cold by jogging around the parking lot. It was 38 degrees and windy. I was eager to get started.

hershey3I found my way to the front of the first corral. My goal was a top 25 finish and a sub-1:30 time. There were 3000 runners, so a top 25 was a pretty lofty goal. My previous best half marathon was a 1:35.

After a few announcements and the National Anthem, they turned us loose on the streets of Hershey. I had a plan in place to try and keep a steady 6:17 – 6:25 pace for the majority of the race, especially at the start so I could get settled into that speed. The first 4 miles, I was right on. The course took us through the parking lots that surround the park, and then through the park itself, passing rides, roller coasters and attractions prior to the park opening to the public. Several bands were set up along the way providing a nice boost with their music.

Outside of the park there was a lot of spectator support, especially young kids. I made every effort I could to high five as many as possible, no matter what side of the road they were on.

After the park, we raced toward the Milton Hershey School, which was on a hill – one of many that would stand between me and the finish. Here is where my pace began to dip into the 6:30 – 6:45 minute mile range. The wind seemed to be in my face the entire time. The roads surrounding the Hershey School were lined with kids of all ages who were cheering and holding signs even in the cold temperatures. The crowd support for the whole race was great.

After the School, the course went through a golf course community. There was one little stretch of about fifty yards that was running on grass. The rest of the course was paved and nice wide roads. And the worst of the hills loomed ahead at mile eleven.

After running down Franklin Avenue, with its Hershey Kiss shaped street lights, we raced down Hershey Park Drive. There was a gradual uphill grade that lead to a left turn. After the turn, the hill steepened. It was definitely a pace killer. A series of other small hills after that made the thought of that finish line even sweeter.

The final stretch brought us through the parking lots again and into the stadium. The runners’ names were announced as they entered the stadium. The crowd cheered as we each crossed the line. My time was 1:25:47. A new personal best and I met my goal time. Later I found out that I placed 25th overall, so that goal was checked off the list as well.

Remember the part about me jogging to the stadium? I now had to jog/walk the two miles back. It wasn’t bad though, since I doubled back along Franklin Avenue and passed runners who were making those final few turns (and hills) before the finish. I saw my friends Vern and Lisa and shouted words of encouragement as they passed.

When I finally made it back to the hotel, the kids were up and had grabbed some breakfast. I showered, got dressed, and ate so we could hit the park. We met some of our friends from Pennsylvania that we hadn’t seen for a few years. They have two boys as well and all of us had a great time walking around the park, riding rides, and catching up. I think I walked and ran at least a thousand miles that day.

I recommend the Hershey Half Marathon if you are looking for a challenging race in a destination where the whole family can have fun.