With one word to describe the Bird-in-Hand half marathon, this lone thought keeps topping my list.
It was a warm and muggy morning, with pre-dawn temps well into the 70s. Humidity was 96%. Oof.
An Amish family of runners at the race site
After an insane work week earlier this month, I headed to my hometown to run the rural road race for the second straight year. Lancaster, Pennsylvania is Amish country. Home to many in the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish and Mennonite community. Many in the county’s Amish community love to run and have a growing reputation as strong competitors in running circles. And this annual race is organized by that growing running community.
I drove to PA with my running pal Ray and connected with the lovely Kyle and Christina for our big Saturday morning run – the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon.
We headed to the race site in rural Lancaster County early Saturday morning amidst the fog and were treated to a stellar sunrise.
We arrived early so we could all mentally prepare. When Kyle suggested we run intervals together – I immediately agreed. Repeated cycles of five minutes of running and one minute of walking sounded like a brilliant way to tackle this muggy 13.1.
From left: me, Kyle, Christina and Ray
As we prepped to run and lined up at the start, we spotted a few ladies pinning each other’s race bibs on their dresses. That’s right – many of the Amish run in their everyday clothes, including hair coverings. And sneakers.
Let’s race, ladies
Soon enough, it was go time. Kyle and I ran together, and we were thankful to stick to our interval plan. Dozens of people passed us each time we walked those first few miles.
Among them, we repeatedly encountered an Amish man running with his young daughter. We cheered each time we saw them, noting how fantastic their joint venture was.
Seriously, I love this duo.
By mile three, I was drenched. I’m talking soaked to the bone. Kyle and I stopped to walk at least twice each mile.
Around the turnaround at mile five, Kyle waved me on. Her legs were heavy, as she’d run a 20-miler just 6 days prior.
I pushed ahead, passing folks as I ran, then watching them pass me by when it was my time to walk.
The next hour was such a challenge. I was overheated. I wanted to stop, but I didn’t. I stuck to Kyle’s plan, even though I was now running solo. I listened to her voice on my head. I didn’t want to let her down by walking too long, or running too slowly .
Running through the corn(fields)
The race itself was a stunning, but hilly course through the cornfields and farmland in Lancaster. Every mile or so, Amish kids manned water and Gatorade stations, and alerted runners to the beverages in four-part harmony.
Amish and Mennonite families cheered us along, many while also doused us with water from garden hoses and sprinklers.
With the heat and humidity, race organizers added about a dozen huge coolers filled with ice along the route. Each time I spotted one, I grabbed a handful, ate a few cubes and shoved ice down my bra.
I sounded like a maraca as I ran on.
As I ran on I saw lots of horses, cows and goats. There were loads of farms, fields and even a half-dozen one-room schoolhouses and horse-drawn buggies galore.
Around mile 8, I hoofed it up a hill and spotted something out of the ordinary.
Am I hallucinating, or is that a pair of camels?
Turns out, I said that out loud as another runner answered, informing me that yes indeedy, camels were hanging out along the side of the road.
I spent the next few miles wondering why. I learned more the following week when I found an article about a camel dairy farm in the Lancaster paper’s news archives. Did you know you can milk them? Yup. But apparently they are not incredibly willing participants.
By this point of the race, I was passing people left and right. Please don’t get me wrong. I certainly wasn’t speeding. My running time was just a 9-minute-mile pace. I’d just started walking far earlier than most, so I had more in my reserves as we all pressed on. (Thank you Kyle!!)
We cut through a farm on a gravel toad, where I tripped over a cornstalk and nearly landed flat on my face. Somehow I caught myself and moved on. It was along this stretch that cups of Rita’s Water Ice were distributed. So happy! The sugar rush added some pep to my step.
The last miles were tough. I’d been seeing occupied ambulances whiz by and volunteers and medics helping collapsed runners along the course. I was concerned about hydrating properly and making it to the end.
As it turned out, more than 50 of the 1,700 registered runners suffered heat exhaustion. Some even went to the hospital. The high for the day was 91.
I didn’t walk that last mile. I just wanted to finish. When I rounded the final turn onto a grass field and sprinted (eh, as much as I could muster) to the finish, I heard an announcer share finishers ‘ names and hometowns.
I never heard my name, but I couldn’t have cared less. I was done.
I guzzled water and chocolate milk and ate a banana before I tripped over Ray in the field and encountered my mom. A few minutes later, we heard Kyle ‘s name announced as she finished the run.
The hot air balloon launch at the start. This never gets old.
My time was 5 minutes slower than last year, when conditions were far more ideal. But I placed in the top third, compared to last year when I was solidly in the middle.
It wasn’t my best race by far. But I’m so proud of how all three of us fared – each about 15 minutes off our PR paces. But given the conditions, we ran smart and made it through without injuring ourselves. So to us, the race was a success!
We’re done! As Christina said, the race was so brutal we lost a whole human. Not to worry, she finished uninjured!
Despite the sizzling conditions, I love this small-town race and would do it again in a heartbeat. Plus, you get a handcrafted medal made from a horseshoe. I nearly tipped over – again – when an Amish girl placed it around my neck.
These miles marked my first double digit run this month for me toward Scootadoot’s Million Mile Run. And NEWS! This month, starting today (9/15) at midnight, Volvo is matching funds of donations to Alex’s Lemonade Stand for up to $30,000!
The number 30 is significant because every hour, 30 news cases of cancer affect children under the age of 20 worldwide.
That means any donation given during this period will go TWICE AS FAR!
If you wish to donate, check out our team page – We’ve raised $800 for pediatric cancer halfway through September!
Have you run a race in less-than-ideal conditions? How did you cope? Did you ever not finish due to overheating? Have you heard of this race?