13.1 in 01002. That's right, my adopted hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts is now also home to the Amherst Half Marathon. Late this summer, I was excited to learn that the Hartford Marathon Foundation was going to be putting on a race weekend in Amherst. The two-day event, would feature a 5K race on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. Hartford Marathon Foundation puts on great events, and this was an opportunity to run a race without travel. I was totally in! I registered for the Amherst Double, signing up for both races -- perks included a small charm to attach to my half marathon medal and a 1/4 zip for signing up early.
The weekend of running, as I called it, ended up calling for some cool weather. The 5K on Saturday was at 11:00 a.m., allowing for some time for warming and temperatures in the low 30s. About 30 minutes before start time, I headed the 1.5 miles up the road to Amherst College's Alumni House where registration was happening. It was a bit funny to be picking up a pair or race bibs at my workplace, but it was certainly convenient. In less than five minutes, I had bibs for both of my races, a short-sleeved t-shirt (for the 5K) and a long-sleeved t-shirt (for the half). I also had my free 1/4 zip. I quickly dropped things in my car and connected with my friend, Katie, who would be running the 5K with me.
Katie and I jointly decided to run the 5K at an easy pace. The focus here was fun, not competition. We'd chat on the run. This seemed to me the perfect plan what with a 13.1 miler scheduled for the next day. (Plus, I had PRed at my last 5K, the Dakin Toasted Owl Halloween 5K, where I ran 26:43.)
The race started at 11:00 a.m. with some brief announcements. The starting line was directly in front of Alumni House, allowing people to wait inside until the last few minutes. The field was small -- probably a hundred runners, if that, but people seemed to be excited to race.
The course took us quickly along College Street and then back behind the Amherst College campus to the bike path. We ran along a stretch of path through the College's conservation area before turning around right after Fort River. This was a stretch of path I knew well from my almost daily bike commute during the summer.
Katie and I turned around and doubled back on the path for the second half of the race. It was cool out but sunny, and we were having fun running together. At the intersection with Route 116, we got off the bike path to finish with a quick uphill section. The finish line was situated right in front of the Amherst College Alumni Gym. Katie and I ran through the inflatable arch together with a finish time of 32:17.
Interestingly enough, the finish line was about a half mile walk from the parking lot by Alumni House. This gave us some cool down time as we made our way back to our cars. Overall, the course was flat and fast. It was not the most interesting course ever, and the tight turn was probably a challenge for faster runners, but everything was well organized, and the course was good at accommodating the number of runners who participated. Most of all, I had fun running with my friend! I grabbed an RXBar at the finish line -- there were snacks aplenty! -- and headed home to await the half marathon the next day.
Sunday morning dawned bright and cold with temperatures just edging over 20 degrees. The race was scheduled to start at 8:00 a.m. at the University of Massachusetts, along University Drive, right along Hagis Mall, a main part of campus. Knowing that it was forecast to be 24 degrees at race time, I decided a wait in the cold was not what I wanted -- I needed to jump from my car to the starting line with minutes to spare. One of the luxuries of living three miles from the start line is that you can leave late. I hopped in my car at 7:45 a.m., which meant I only had to freeze for about five minutes before the run started.
The Amherst Half Marathon is the first time I'd done a race that covered many areas where I regularly run. There was no area of the course new to me, and many part of the course were along areas where I ran many times a week. In a way it seems crazy to think that I spent $60 to run where I often run, but in another way it's amazing! I was able to support a new race in my hometown and get to see racers from all over New England enjoy roads that I am lucky enough to enjoy all the time. Amherst is lovely, and the course we took reflected that.
The half marathon started by taking runners up University Drive and off the UMass campus, through downtown. We then ran down Route 116 with Amherst College on our left. At around the mile and a half mark, we passed my office. From there, it was downhill, a regular stretch of road I must run on average two to three times a week.
At the bottom of the hill, we turned left onto Shay Street and made our first significant climb of the day. Shay Street is relentless as the hill just seems to continue and continue. Fortunately, I was lucky to run into a fellow Amherst College employee, Anita, on this part of the course. We ran up Shay Street together until we reached the South Amherst Commons. The course then took up downhill along Station Road, where we connected to a stretch of bike trail that I use for my weekly long runs. Anita and I ran together along the bike path, chatting, and generally enjoying ourselves.
We were almost to the six mile mark, and I was feeling good. I had not trained intensively for the Amherst Half Marathon, having focused my summer and fall efforts on preparing for OCR World Championships. Fortunately, I had kept doing long runs as a staple in my exercise calendar, with 9 to 10 milers regularly occurring. (In addition, I also did a virtual half marathon with my friend, Amy, in support of Team Mike McNeil, who fund-raise to fight cancer.) The first two miles had been a struggle to get warm, with feet that felt like blocks hitting the ground and fingers that were icicles. At this point, I was finally warmed up and on my way.
The course had great runner support. I had brought some chomps with me, but was happy to not have to tote water around, as there were water stops every mile or two. There were even restrooms on course, which I found use for at mile six, after which we runners turned off the bike path and on to South East Street.
We ran a ways along South East, until it turned into North East Street. At this point, the course, once again, became quite hilly. We rolled along headed into North Amherst. The Town of Amherst is narrow east to west and longer north to south. We had started in North Amherst at UMass, headed to the South Amherst Commons, and, now, were heading back to the northern edge of town. Though the hills along North East Street were a bit of a drag, the scenery was great. There were panoramic views of farmland and hills covered in foliage that was just passing its prime but lovely nonetheless.
We turned on to Pine Street near what I unofficially consider the North Amherst Commons and then made a quick left onto East Pleasant Street. This was the part of the course I was least accustomed to running. I live more toward the southern end of town. I run around UMass sometimes, but don't normally come past the northern end of the University. East Pleasant Street reminds me why. It's a lovely street but it's also a relentless hill from north to south. At mile 11 in a half marathon, that sort of thing makes you rethink your choices.
All that being said, I was feeling pretty good. Considering how hilly the course was and how cold the day, I was pretty happy to be going along at 10:25 miles. Training for marathons in 2016 and 2017 really did a lot of my endurance. While before a half marathon seemed almost impossible, now it was more like a fun day celebrating my enjoyment of running.
After reaching the top of East Pleasant Street, I knew it would be all downhill and flat for the next mile and a half. We turned right to go back into UMass, past the dorms on the northern end of campus. I picked up speed downhill. At the bottom, I turned onto Pleasant Street for the final run through UMass. I was hoping we'd actually get to run in the middle of the campus, something I like to do during my lunchtime runs, but we stuck to the road -- probably a good idea to keep people from getting lost, practically speaking.
I made the turn on to University Drive again and ran into Hagis Mall, running as fast as my somewhat tired legs could take me to the inflatable arch.
I crossed the line in 2:16:45, having had a good race and done well on a lovely but hilly course.