Race Recap: Hex Hollow Half

It was oddly warm for a rainy and dreary December Sunday, but a bunch of us felt it necessary to run in the woods along some of the gnarliest, muddy, hilly, soggy, soul-crushing trails in York, Pennsylvania in a 6.66 mile race known as the Hex Hollow Half. The race is held at Spring Valley County Park, in Glen Rock, PA.

Now it’s called a half since it is a 13.1 mile race if you decide to run the 6.66 mile loop twice. But let’s be honest, only the crazies attempt that. Since this was my first year, 6.66 miles was just enough for me to handle. So I guess I technically ran the Hex Hollow Half-Half.

Did I mention it was muddy?

The race begins on a downward trail that run along the border of the park’s woods. You feel great, the air is cool and damp, your footing is strong and the slight drop in elevation teases you into thinking Hex Hollow is a nice and easy quick race. I saw my 9:30 pace and chuckled as I jumped over some course obstacles. I left my Ultimate Direction hydration pack in the car, I mean it’s only a little over 6 miles, did I really need it?

The answer was yes. I’m an idiot. And it’s not because I needed hydration per se- it’s the fact that I started the race wearing too many layers. The pack would have been ideal for toting all my junk versus me awkwardly carrying everything the entire race.

Mile 1 was a freaking tease. The course never got any easier after that. What’s the saying? “What goes up, must come down.” Yeah, we went up alright and some sections we came down, but it never was easy either way. Going uphill seemed to be the theme of the day, and my heart rate was at maximum threshold the entire time. I would walk when the incline was just too much, but it didn’t seem to help the mental games the course played. I doubted myself in some spots, stopping was never an option because if I did I was calling it quits.

Miles 2-3 were tough. Coming down to the aid station at mile 3 was tricky. The trail was wide and looking inviting, it was a downhill section that was asking for trouble. The leaf covered ground hid rocks, twigs, and ankle twisting moss covered roots just salivating at the sight of runners. My quads burned as my internal Jake-brakes kicked in and I jarred and jolted my way down the hill. I’m not sure if I drank the water or just poured it all over my face, either way it was ice cold.

Most of the race was single track, sopping wet and muddy with no room for mistakes. The mud did everything it could to suck the shoes off your feet.

Miles 4, 5, and 6 weren’t any better. The stream crossings were refreshing and fording the knee deep water at one point was the highlight of the race. The air was cold, damp, and foggy, but as soon as your heart rate increased you could feel the humidity and weight on your chest. At mile 6 in a sharp incline an older woman passed me and grumbled something to God that there were no more hills. She hexed us, as we rounded a corner the hill only kept rising and if I had a rock I would have thrown it at her.

This race was a humbling experience. Beyond humbling if that. As I ran up to the finish line at 1:30:05 the race director asked if I had fun as he put his arm around me and matched my weak jog. I looked him in the eyes and said, “how do I politely tell you that I hate you guys? I’ll see you next year, I’ve got unfinished business.” He laughed and told me that is what he loves to hear, so many people have a love-hate relationship with the race that it draws them back for more. He’s right. I’ll be back, it was an awesome race and a great experience I’ll remember until next time.

https://www.bibrave.com/races/hex-hollow-half-reviews/11306

Race Recap: Two Town Turkey Trot 2018

Thanksgiving 2018 marks the third year of this Annual Turkey Trot, and also my (and my family’s) 2nd year running this race. The course is semi-flat with slight inclines on some sections and perfect for catching a PR and laying down some speed. The scenery running across the river is breathtaking and running through the charming towns of New Hope, PA, and Lambertville, NJ on a crisp autumn morning has its perks. At $35 per registrant, the race is affordable and on-par with similar 5k race prices.

The first year we ran this race, everything met our expectations. The tech shirts were nice and comfortable, appropriate for the autumn weather. The medals were made with impressive quality and a real collector’s item. We missed the second Annual race, but the tech shirts and medals were also impressive and truth be told: I was slightly bitter we missed the race. This year carried high expectations, so I was slightly disappointed to find this year’s shirt was your standard cotton tee and not a tech shirt. The disappointment also carried on to find that participants would not receive finishers medals. I’m curious what happened? Why the change from tech shirts to standard cotton tees? Why stop with finishers medals?

I should mention as an avid runner I’m okay with not getting medals for 5Ks, and I’m fully aware that 5k races attract a wide range of experienced and inexperienced runners. And I understand a majority of these races help raise funds for local charities. This race supports the Delaware River Towns Chamber of Commerce and a local charity that helps feed local residents. But I can’t help shake the feeling that even though the entry fees remained the same, the entrants got less in return from previous years. Also for non-avid runners and those that are in it for the family fun aspect, not getting a finishers medal is kind of a bummer. My whole family runs this race, so the kids (and some adults) were disappointed no medals were involved.

Also for the inexperienced runners, no aid stations were offered, nor water for finishers. It was a little bit of a letdown, but not a deal breaker for me, but for the recreational runners, I’d expect at least one aid station somewhere along the course/finish.

I’m on the fence about registering for next year’s race. While I enjoy the course, I can’t see paying the entry fee for a family of 4 only to be dissatisfied again. I also would like to see the proceeds of this race benefit the local charity “Fisherman’s Mark” more than the chamber of commerce and its programs. It seems the organizers really stepped down the “swag” to their benefit. Eh, what do I know?

I finished 158 out of 680, with a finish time of 00:25:24

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Race Recap: iCare 5k

Every year a nearby food bank hosts a 5k almost in our backyard. Blessings of Hope has a huge yard sale, auction, food vendors, activities for kids, and of course a 5k race in beautiful Lancaster County. The company is predominantly Mennonite so it attracts the local Amish and Mennonite community at large. Turn out is always HUGE.

This year the 5k drew a much larger crowd as well. The course was the same as the previous year, a nice easy run on the back roads of Amish Country. There is a slight incline, at the very start, but for the most part it’s nothing too crazy and very runner friendly.

At the very beginning I noticed a lot of kids hanging around the starting line- in fact there were a lot of kids and I thought how fun it will be to blow past them at the half way mark. The announcer’s voice boomed over the handheld speaker as she yelled “GO!” and we were off. Truth be told: those Amish kids took off and I didn’t see a single one after that. Even though my first mile was complete in 7 minutes, and my second mile at 7:20, those kids were fast and long gone.

The course was beautiful as always, and the atmosphere and iCare event was a lovely experience. Even though I hit a few PRs, fastest mile (7:11), fastest 2 miles (14:31), I still finished 25th overall. I placed 3rd in my age group and received a fidget spinner medal- all-in-all, it was pretty fun.

Last year I ran a lot slower, with an average of 9:00 min/miles and placed 2nd in my age group. So this year I’d say the amount of competitors was a lot higher and the skill levels were just as high to match. This is a fast course and we saw some really fast times! Looking forward to next year!

Hard Cider Run – Race Recap

It’s that time of the year again! When the grass begins to grow,  the cider flows like water, and over a thousand people attempt the run the Hard Cider Run 5K in Gettysburg, PA.  This year we signed up for year 3 of running the Hard Cider Run at Hauser Estate Winery, home of Jack’s Hard Cider, in Biglerville, Pennsylvania (Gettysburg).  This is usually our favorite race, mostly because its in our favorite town, and also the course is just downright fun.  However, this year was a little different.

I will say, the PROs of running this race: Nice Shirts and Medals, the event hosted by Hauser Estate gets better every year with entertainment and food trucks, Race photos are typically posted within a few days, and the Jack’s Hard Cider is always welcome.  We’ve signed up every year for the last 3 years, so obviously we really enjoy this race, but I think after this year we’re going to take a break.

Side note: look at the first year we ran the race until now, Transformation Tuesday!

And here’s why:

First off, when you really enjoy something, it’s easy to over do it. And some times too much of a thing can be a bad thing, so in an effort to keep our love affair with the Hard Cider Run, we’re going to take a back seat for a year or two.  That is the main reason we are going to sit the next year out.  That being said, this year’s event didn’t seem as streamlined as previous events, and the overall experience was soured a little by that.

This year over 1,800 people signed up!  Like most races, this was broken up into corrals for different skill levels / running pace.  Since we treat this as a fun run, we sign up for the third wave, which is around the 10:30 min/mile pace (run/jog) corral.  In previous years, there was a 10 min break between corrals, which kept the field traffic to a minimum – this year, the break was about 3 minutes.  The course was changed from the previous years and rather than a gradual hill to start, the course immediately sent you into a bottleneck, and then an insanely steep hill.  There was a lot of heavy huffing and puffing as people attempted to chug up the hill.  Since the corrals were released so quickly, we did a lot of stopping this year due to traffic jams.  So needless to say, the race didn’t have a very graceful start, and it seemed like the traffic continued throughout the race.  By the way, speaking of people, race photos – this sums up my race experience (lost in the crowd), there were literally 2 pictures of me in the all race photos, and I’m buried in a sea of people. Haha.

Also, new runners, it’s great to see so many people participate in this event – that ensures it will be around for years to come – but there are some general house keeping rules they should have announced to each corral. If for some reason you are going to stop or walk, please step to the right side and let runners pass on the left.  Also, in tight areas (I know this hinders social time) but please don’t walk side-by-side.

Anyway, it’s not you Hard Cider Run, it’s us – we don’t ruin wanna a good thing.  In fact, after re-reading this I feel like I’m coming across as complaining and whining jerk.  Please know I love this race and we’ll be back – just not next year.

Hot Chocolate 15k – Race Recap

Before we start, can I tell you how much I love this race? The Hot Chocolate 15k is just an awesome race all around.  The only complaint is finding a parking spot around the city, but hey, par for the course.  This year I hit another PR, beating my previous runtime by around 8 minutes.  I felt strong the entire race, and get this – NO MUSIC.  I decided to ditch the headphones and listen to myself breath, and it was an amazing experience.

Running without music really heightened my other senses and I felt like I was sincerely listening to my body.  It also afforded me a chance to really take in my surroundings and hear what was going on around me.  Life can be pretty crazy, and it’s almost sad to say this, but you never know what’s going to happen at an event like this.  There were over 5,000 participants in the 15K, plus spectators, staff, and volunteers – it was crazy busy!  So being alert and knowing my surroundings was extremely comforting.  Another comforting sight was seeing the sheer amount of awesome volunteers, police, fire, ems, and sanitation crews.  Major kudos to the men and women of the Philadelphia Law Enforcement, First Responder, and Public Works Departments.

The first half of the race takes you from the Philadelphia Museum of Art toward Center City and then loops you back around to cross over the Susquehanna into Fairmount Park.  You run up Martin Luther King Drive and catch the wonderful sights of Boathouse Row.  It’s an amazing sight and such a beautiful landscape.   The Philadephia Hot Chocolate Run is an Out-and-Back Course, so once you run the entire length of the Park, you turn around and come right back.

I didn’t carry much on me during this year’s race, last year I carried Sport Beans and two water bottles with Nuun in them, this year a single Stinger Gel Flask and one Orangic Honey Stinger Waffle was just enough.  Heck, I even forgot to eat the waffle until the very end!  The entire race was enjoyable, it wasn’t until mile 8 that I noticed some discomfort.  I’m not really sure what triggered it, but I decided to check my heart rate at mile 8 and noticed I was at my max threshold (red area for those Garmin users).  Maybe it was a lack of glucose in my bloodstream, but I just felt a little off.  I decided to walk for 1 min, and see if my heart rate would drop back to my Anaerobic zone (Orange) or if I could manage to calm myself my Aerobic zone (Green).  I chugged the rest of my gel flask and nabbed a Nuun water from the last aid station – I checked my watch and saw that I had managed to bring my heart rate into a comfortable zone, so I picked the pace back up.  I finished feeling pretty good with my average pace around 9:30 min/mile.  Could I have gone faster? Maybe, but let’s save that for next year!

Finish Time: 1:29:41

Hershey Half Marathon, a Wrapup

Well another year has come and gone and another chance to hit a PR was on the line. The Hershey Half Marathon is one of my favorite races of all time and continues to serve as a benchmark for the race season ahead. So how’d it go? Here’s the nitty gritty.

Did I PR? Why Yes, Yes I did!
I managed to snag a course PR… by 9 seconds. I guess I shouldn’t complain because a PR is a PR is a PR. My finish time was 2:13:51 and I’ll take it.  My goal was to hit 2 hours even, by the start of the race I was held up by some slight congestion with the mass of runners and the first two miles were averaging around a 9:30 pace.

I knew from the start that if I wanted a 2 hour finish I needed to dig deep and push hard.  Unfortunately my body had other plans, and rather than injure myself I decided to run at the race my body was telling me.  The first 5 miles I was running a comfortable 9:30 average pace and if I held that pace I knew I would hit a 2:04ish finish time.

Learning from Last Year:
Last year I had to stop twice to pee – which cost me precious time.  So taking a note from last years race, I made, what ended up being a crucial mistake, by deciding to not drink a lot of fluids the night before and the morning of the race.  I figured I’d carry my own water (infused with Nuun) and would make due on the course.

Mile 6-7 proved my no fluids tactic was dumb and my left leg revolted in the worst cramps I have ever experienced! I ran into some friends that could see the struggle in my face, however their encouragement pushed me to press onward and run through the pain.

I could feel the tension in my left calf muscle, but as long as I put most of my weight on my right leg it wasn’t horribly bad. And the fact that I had some friends nearby I felt the need to keep up. I held an average 10:30 min/mile for as long as I could. By mile 10-11, I knew the race was almost done, but my calf was just not in the mood. I slowed down, got to the side of the course and stopped- a cardinal sin in my book of running. I stopped and evaluated my situation, I ran both hands down my legs to make sure they felt the same. My thigh muscles and calf muscles were identical so I knew I hadn’t done serious damage. My left calf muscle just felt tense- so I took the opportunity and massaged it firmly while stretching it out a little. The brief stop was relief enough for me to bounce back slightly and maintain a 10+ min/mile pace.

As I rounded out the course there were kids from the Children’s Hospital there cheering us on and the emotional experience took my mind off the pain and I pressed on.

I finished the race, grabbed my medal, my snack bag and headed right for the infield of the stadium. I collapsed and immediately began stretching and massaging my left calf in an effort to rid the pain. After about 10 mins I got up and at that point noticed walking was out of the question- the stiffness was too great. Walking was out of the question, but as long as I kept my heel up, jogging back to my car was still in the cards.

As I jogged back to my car I overheard some people saying “that guy is still running- guess he thought this was a Marathon…” I laughed in my head as I returned to my car. I guess from someone else’s prospective it would appear that way- which made me stop and think for a brief second: Should I run a full marathon next?

Crazy right?

Great Pumpkin Run, a Wrapup

Well, another fun 5K in the books.  The Great Pumpkin Run, held at Savidge Farms by Sour Fish Events, proved to be another interesting race experience.  And since we are such good parents, we enrolled our children to tag along as chaperones.  The course was a winding adventure through corn fields, some woods, fields again, a pumpkin patch and wrapped up with a cattle chute finish through a narrow corn maze.

The good stuff:
The event itself was fun and family friendly. Make no mistake, we enjoyed the atmosphere and thought all-in-all the course was challenging and exciting.  Our chaperones did okay considering this was their first “off-road” course.  It my rookie mistake only training with them on smooth paved trails. The rocky fields and wild corn husk now and then of Savidge Farms, proved to be a little more tricky than dodging cyclists on our home training grounds.  Despite having to stop to fix a shoe, walking in sections that were deeply rutted by farm equipment and my irritating words of encouragement, the kids maintained a 14 min pace.

If you read my previous post about 80/20 running, my slow runs are around 11:30-12 min pace, so this was a good test of remembering to slow down.

The not-so-good:
The course was fun, but certain sections bottle necked runners close together. (Small rant Warning) I’m all for loving thy neighbor, but there seemed to be a lot of people in a hurry to catch a PR and made for rude attitudes, yelling, and a few elbows in the way.  Now, mind you, this race has your typical waves, so the more “advanced” runners should have put themselves in an earlier wave or at least started at the very front of the slower waves.

Just a side note: If you want to catch a PR, sign up for the first waves dedicated specifically for Running. Leave the Run/walk waves to those of us with kids that just want to have fun.

I realize I’m just complaining about circumstances out of the event organizer’s control, so take everything I’m saying in strides.

The race metals were pretty sweet, (see picture above) but I think the shirts lacked a little something.  The screen printing on some of the shirts were damaged and I noticed a few people went to Facebook to complain about the quality of the tech shirts.  Again, all minor details, we had fun and that’s what counts.

Family Finish Time: 44 mins 40 seconds

Garden Spot Village Half Marathon

Well, here it is, my Race Recap of the Garden Spot Village Half Marathon – and I have two words for anyone considering this race: THOSE HILLS! Yes, oh my God, now I’m saying it too.

When I told people I was racing in the Garden Spot Half Marathon, everyone said the same thing; “watch out for those hills”. I heard that so much so, that whenever I told people which race I was signed up for – I would interrupt them and yes, “yes, I know, hills – but I ran the Hershey Half and dealt with my share of hills”.  I was confident I had trained well and was prepared.  However I learned, confidence only gets you so far.

First off, let me start by saying Garden Spot Village (GSV) does a race right. The venue is perfect, the accomidations – awesome, the staff and support – out of this world.  My hat is off to GSV for putting together such an awesome event. I enjoyed every detail before the race, I enjoyed every mile during the race, and I thought post-race recovery was done right.  Kudos to their entire team and sponsors.

Now, let’s get down to business and talk racing. I woke up bright and early the day of the race and had a decent breakfast protein shake (Vega Vanilla and Greens, Banana, Quick Oats, Cocoa Nibs, Maca Powder, and Peanut Butter). After taking the pooch out for a walk I came home and donned my running gear.

Typical of my pre-race ritual, I arrived early.  In fact, I was the first runner to pull up to the empty parking lot at 5:55am.  The parking lot attendants clapped and yelped and told me to park anywhere I wanted.

Arrive Early: Check.
Score Amazing Parking: Check.

I waited in my car, meditated, rested my mind – it was hard since I was pumped up and ready to go.  I waited until about 40 mins before the start of the race to emerge from my car and hit the porta-john before flocking over to the tents and excitement. Not that these are excuses, but I had two setbacks I feel like I could have avoided had I done better preparing on my part. I did arrive early and I made sure to use the facilities when I got there, but I forgot to make one last pit stop before the race started. I wanted to make sure I was hydrated so that extra bottle of water in my belly would come back to haunt me. When the race started I immediately had to pee… ugh, not how I wanted to spend the next few miles.  Every two miles GSV had setup a water station and bathrooms, and of course, the first stop was already occupied. Other than having to pee, I felt pretty good, I was breathing a little heavier than I would have liked, but this was a race after all and I will keeping a good pace of 9:30 min/mile among the crowd.

Miles 1 – 4 are pretty uneventful, aside from having to pee the course was proving to be somewhat hilly and challenging, but nothing I couldn’t manage. As I wrapped up mile 5 into 6 and feeling good coming down a huge monster hill it dawned on me that I was going to be turning around at some point and running right back up the monster I just traversed. At this point my body was not pleased with my bathroom choices and forced me to stop at the next water station to empty what felt like a gallon of water – and of course there was a little wait so this added more time to the clock.

Once I exited the porta-john I thought I saw the turn-around and my spirits instantly lifted.  I popped some Honey Stinger snacks into my mouth and enjoyed the sugary high they brought.  My joy was very (very) short lived once I realized that what I saw was not the turnaround, but another hilly drop ahead, with the realization that the second leg of the race was mostly uphill. I made it to the turn around and starting noticing that evil voice in my head telling me to just walk for a few minutes to catch my breath before the hillclimb from hell started.  I did my best to ignore this voice – my average pace was right around 9:45 – 10:00 min/mile and the thought of beating my 2:14:00 finish was in sight… or so I thought.

Mile 7 was the kiss of death, I hit that first steep hill and slugged my way up it. I quicken my pace but then used what energy I had and gradually ended up slowing down faster than I expected. Walking, my own personal no-no. My pace went from 9:53, to 11:26, to 16:00 min/mile and I hit the 9 mile mark with a lap time of 14:24 min/mile.

More Honey Stingers. Check.
More Nuun Water. Check

From that point on my moral hit rock bottom, I tried to quicken my pace to at least finish with my same personal best of 2:14:00, but with each slow step the goal grew further and further.  I finished in 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 40 seconds – 13 minutes longer than my personal best. I wasn’t upset, but I wasn’t happy with that time.

So what did I learn? First and foremost – Not all half marathons are the same! And you can never be too prepared – next year I intend on beating my time as this was not where I thought I would end.  I left that race saying “never again” only to find myself saying “next year” a few days later. GSV Half Marathon is no joke, train for hills… serious hills.  Also, I’m not sure carrying my own water was necessary – with water and Gatorade stations every 2 miles, what was I saving myself by toting that extra weight? Next year, I need to ditch carrying so much stuff.  Pee, pee, pee – make sure you pee right before you race even if you have to force it, bathroom breaks kill me. Oh and arriving 2 and a half hours before the event started was awesome – but being so close to home, it was a little overkill, next year an hour extra should suffice.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the Hershey Half this fall, and I intend on beating my 2:14:00 finish – at least I know there won’t be the same hills as GSV. Now, back to training – The Hard Cider run is just two weeks away!

Hot Chocolate 15k – Follow-up!

Oh man, I’m I excited to share with you all my Race-recap of the Hot Chocolate 15k in Philadelphia! This is the second year I’ve run this race and I have had a great time so far!  Oh and best of all, this race counted as my long run prior to my half marathon so I basically got rewarded for training.

If you are planning on doing the HC15K in Philly, here are my tips for the newcomers:

  1. Parking is a horrendous nightmare! Get there early and look for parking near the backside of the art muesun. If you are daring, feel free to park on the street, bonus points if you make your own parking on the concrete islands that serve as lane dividers. Tip: This seems like a no-brainer, but- Get there early.
  2. The inflatables attract a lot of attention, so if you want your picture with the giant marshmellows, do it first thing when the crowds are small. Again, early bird gets the worm.
  3. If you arrive early and want to stock up on Merchandise- buy gloves and hats before the race because these are the first things to sellout. Tip: Wait until after the race to buy clothing (sometimes they’ll have a discount rack to move product faster).
  4. Bring layers! April in Philadelphia can be unpredictable, but so far every year it’s been biting cold and rainy in the morning and then getting nicer at the conclusion of the race. Tip: Wear old clothing you don’t mind discarding, they’ll donate discarded clothing to the local shelters. 
  5. When you have to use the bathroom, the port-a-johns closest to the starting gates are always packed. Tip: Take a few extra steps and walk toward the end of the long line of facilities and you’ll either have a short wait or not wait at all. 
  6. At the end of the race, collect your medal (you deserve it!) and head to the tents to collect your finishers mug! Tip: Again, take a few extra steps and walk away from the crowds to the lines furthest from the finish line- there’s usually never a wait.

Cheerish these tips, they have served me well! Now, about the race: the course is fairly flat, so this is a great time to turn up the speed! In my case this counted as a long training run before my half marathon next week, so I took it easy. I ran at an average 10:22 pace but found myself passing a lot of people along the way. If your like me and carry your own hydration, stay to the outside of the course and just keep moving along. There are several hydration stations and bathrooms along the way, and also the park is alongside the entire course so if you want to avoid the crowds or take a break there is a walking trail that parallels the course.

There were over 6,000 participants so the event can seem a bit crazy at times. Kudos to the event organizers for keeping things moving and keeping the crowds under control.

I usually start in the corrals near the back: One, I know I’m not super fast runner so starting in the front doesn’t mean much to me. Two, I like to pass people vs. getting passed repeatedly. 🙂 Lastly, it gives you a chance to walk around and take it all in.

I started off nice and slow, with an average pace around 11min/mile just to get warmed up and a feel for the pack I was running alongside. After the second and third mile I picked up the pace and started to focus on my cadence and breathing. In through the nose and out the mouth, feeling good. Miles 4 and 5 were closer to 10 min/mile pace- I wanted to go faster but just didn’t want to over do it.

Mile 6 into 7 I started to hydrate – I didn’t feel thirst, but I could tell my mouth wasn’t was moist and my nose wasn’t as runny as it normally was during the beginning of the race. My pace slowed slightly because now I was catching the large crowds that were in the corrals ahead of me. At some points during the congestion I was trying my best to navigate through the walkers and abrupt stoppers.

Mile 7 into 8 I started to feel a little tightness in my calves, but nothing that warranted stopping so I pressed on and picked up my pace a little.

Coming into the final stretch I realized that the course barely had any photographers- in fact it wasn’t until I approached the finish that I saw the event photographers. Not that I wanted photographers catching me every 10 minutes, but just an observation I picked up on from last year. The last and final approach is on an incline, so just remember to save a little bit of extra umph for a strong finish.

I had a great time, picked up a little extra swag afterward and enjoyed getting out and running the 15k for another year.