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I Ran the Half-Wit Half Marathon, and Lived
To Tell the Tale

by Amy Farr, SRC
August 2008

On Sunday morning, I woke up mighty early: it was still dark. Had my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on toast and some Gatorade to get me going. After ushering Ramiro out of his comfy slumber and luring him with some cherry pie and coffee to go, we made it in the car around 5:45 AM. The moon was full and enormous and bright; we watched it get dimmer as the sun came up.

The drive out to Reading, PA was nice and free of traffic (who else is up this early on a Sunday?). Along the way we made a much needed pit-stop at a BK Lounge (a.k.a. Burger King - Dane Cook reference). Fortunately our GPS led us to the right spot for the race. I couldn't help feeling nervous as we parked the car at the Liderkrantz, which was a German Bauhaus kind of place.

The restaurant was not open yet, but there was an outdoor pavilion with lots of tables and a stage for music. The finish line was here as well. I got my number and while milling about, I felt like I was on the back-side of a double black diamond mountain surrounded by expert skiers.

I let my nerves get the better of me and thought that everyone there was a super-dooper expert runner! Ramiro said I was acting silly and to just chill. So I did! After a while we went back to the car and got ready.

Then we walked over to the apparent starting line of the race. Except that when we got there, there were only 3 other runners! No starting line. No paint in the road. No signs. Nothing. It was the strangest thing.

I struck up a conversation with two of the guys who were there (they were stretching in the road that led into the park). Suddenly, the race director speeds up in his old minivan and shouts out to us, "Now this is a classic 'half wit' experience: you're lying down, stretching right in the middle of the road!"

He exclaimed that he had intended to set up the starting line the night before, but ran out of time. So he set up the starting line while the runners gathered around. His pre-race speech started off with, "How many of you are running the Half Wit for the first time?"

Then he asked, "How many of you have next of kin?"

He has a very pronounced sense of humor and got everyone laughing while he explained how much more difficult this year's course is over last year's. People cheered. My stomach flipped. I gave Ramiro a thumb's up as I ran by and started to pray.

The beginning of the race was nothing like I expected because at every obstacle, be it a downed tree or a stream crossing, everyone was so close together that we all bunched up and had to stop running to let people through one at a time. There were around 400 starting the race.

I took the opportunity to breathe deeply and calm my nerves. But all of the starting/stopping was a little annoying and lasted for the first 15 minutes or so. Then it thinned out.

So basically, for the first 3 miles, it was nothing but uphill. Much of the up-hills were run-able, but most were not. So we walked. At mile 3, there was water.

Then for the next 3 miles, it was pretty much downhill, and again, not run-able. 
The rocks prevented you from getting a clear foothold and it was so steep that one misstep could send you tumbling.

Around mile 4 or 5, I thought that my legs were pretty warmed up; either that or I already couldn't feel them. I couldn't tell. I just kept on going.

The parts in the woods that were run-able were actually a lot of fun! And I enjoyed that a lot. The walking parts were VERY difficult, especially on jelly legs. We came to a sign on a tree called, "Bushwhacking Section" where there were more rocks than usual. This basically meant more walking and lasted at least a mile or more.

Another water break around mile 6 or 7 and I Gu-ed for the first time. Then it was the sign that said, "Oh no! It's the 128 Steps of Hell!", which were indeed steep steps that led straight up the hill/mountain. That winded me.

Then we could run for a bit.

We came to a series of signs that were spread out like every 100 meters. The first one said, "Suckiest Hill of the Course", followed by, "I told you this sucked.", then, "Doesn't this suck like really, really bad?", then "I can't believe you still have your shoes on!"

And when he said suckiest hill, it was the honest truth. I walked up it as slow as I could, and my heart was pounding in my chest so loud, I thought everyone within a 50 mile radius could hear it! And I'm a hiker, too! So I'm used to that! It was crazy! It was about this time that I first thought that the race director was trying to kill me.

So after this point, it was a series of running parts and steep uphill walking parts. Some of the down-hills were so steep that your foot slid about 2 feet in the dry dirt.

I took a second Gu to keep me going.

On one of the uphill climbs around mile 10 or 11, I stopped for the first time to break to catch my breath. As I stood there behind a tree (so as to not block traffic) the tree began to wobble in my vision like I had WAY too much to drink. Uh-oh! So I just rested for another 30 seconds or so to let my heart rate come down and then I was fine.

Soon after that, we came to a loop where we were passed by folks who were close to finishing. This was exciting and motivated me to finish, even though I had about 3 miles left and they had only one.

It was a nice change of pace from being spread out with other slower runners like me that were doing the run/walk thing. And they were encouraging as they passed and shouted things like, "keep going!" and "lookin' good!"

The trail was very narrow and from yielding to the faster runners, I was often nearly in the bushes. But that part didn't last too long.

We came to a water stop, which was also serving beer from several huge kegs! The guy offered me some but I just laughed and took some water.

On and on we went.

I was leap-frogging with an amazing runner who's locally famous. He's 76 years old and runs in nearly every race in nothing but sneakers and a pair of red shorts. The race director joked at the starting line about how he pre-registered - he said, "how's that for being optimistic!" and he gave him a head start! Around mile 12, this old guy passed me and sped away! I was amazed and struggled to keep my legs going.

 

Passed that water/beer stop one last time and knew I had only a mile left to go.

I kicked it into a higher gear knowing the finish line was close. This last mile was mostly run-able, except for the last 100 meters, where you had to climb up steep rocks and cross a stream, which totally broke your pace right before the finish.

FINALLY, after 3 hours of what I now affectionately refer to as "My Own Private Hell", I saw the pavilion and the finish line.

Ramiro cheered for me as I walked up the steepness that opened up to the grass. Uphill all the way to the finish line, but I ran through it and finished just over 3 hours (official time was 3:02:14, overall placed 360 out of 441 finishers).

I cheered for myself as I finished: just so proud to have done it!

It was a great party atmosphere there, as people had been drinking for hours by then. The fastest time was just under 1:30! Holy smokes!

Overall, I was shocked at how difficult the up-hills were, amazed at how many up-hills there were, surprised that I enjoyed the rest of the race as much as I did, and darn proud of myself for actually crossing the finishing line intact and in one piece!

We hung out for a bit and ate bratwurst and beer and listened to the crazy race director give out awards that were plaques with a horse's rear end sticking out of them. We were a lively bunch of people celebrating one of our biggest successes of the year: being an official Half-Wit.

One guy asked me if this was my first time running it, and I replied in the affirmative.

He asked, "Ya gonna do it again next year?"

I said that I wasn't sure. He replied, "Well, if ya do, then you'll only be a quarter wit! See, every year you go down a little bit further..."

Ha! Anyway, for those of you up to a challenging but fun event, sign up to be a Half Wit next year. It is an experience like no other!

AF

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