Disclaimer: I received free entry to the Mushroom Cap Half Marathon race as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
Welcome to the “Mushroom Capitol of the World”, Kennett Square (commonly referred to throughout this post as KSQ), Pennsylvania! This is my first year running the Mushroom Cap Half Marathon, so there is a lot riding on first impressions for this event.
One of the first things I do before I approach a “new to me” race is to check out the race reviews on Bibrave.com. After a quick search, I found one review that commented about the hills of KSQ. This piqued my interest since running hills seems to be my MO lately – See my Freedoms Run Half Marathon hill experience. I know of the area (used to work in KSQ, for a little over 5 years, for what seems like many, many, many years ago) so I knew vaguely where the course was and what to prepare for ahead of time (also see my pre-race checklist). With all my gear prepped the night before, I headed to KSQ bright and early the morning of the race.
7:00 AM, One Hour Before Race time
As I pulled up to the Kennett High School I noticed the lot wasn’t very full. Part of my thing before any race is to make sure I show up as soon as I’m able, to take advantage of getting a decent parking spot and giving myself time to use the bathroom… and socialize if I’m meeting friends.
I sat in the car and looked at the outside temperature of 33°F, sent out a tweet about my feelings of the cold weather and slowly sank a little bit deeper into my Subaru’s heated seats.
After a few minutes, I felt the urge to get up and get moving. The parking lot was starting to fill and people were buzzing around, the excitement was in the air, and I was ready.
I made my way to the Starting Line/Registration area and ran into fellow BibRave Pro Meridith! We both commented about the cold and chuckled that runners are crazy people who like to get up early, stand in the cold, run mile after mile, just for a medal, some swag, and a free beer.
Side note: The Creamery in Kennett is an awesome venue! The Mushroom Cap organizers have a good thing going with the Creamery and it made the pre-race huddle enjoyable.
7:58 AM, Minutes Before Start
As we made our way to the starting line the excitement grew, I caught a glimpse of some old co-workers and Instagram followers. I made sure to greet a few of them, after all it’s nice to meet the person behind a username.
Reinventingrob (also known as Rob) was in line wearing a t-shirt and shorts! Much too cold for me, I commended him for his attire, but I know he’s a fast guy and most likely wouldn’t be affected by the cold much longer.
As the race was about to begin, I readied my Garmin and queued up my playlist of episodes of the BibRave Podcast. I like to purposely let my library build up with a backlog of unlistened episodes, this way I have good content to keep my company for the next 2 hours (or however long my long run goes).
8:00 AM, Start Time
I’m not sure if there was a gun or announcement, but the crowd of runners surged and we took off. I clicked START on my Garmin as I crossed over the starting line, and hit play on my phone. As I heard the familiar tune of The BibRave Podcast intro, I slipped into a steady rhythm of step-step-breathe-step-step-breathe. The cold air filled my lungs as we made our way down the street and the energy of all the runners around me immediately made me forget how cold it was outside.
Side note: I love listening to podcasts on my runs, as well as audiobooks… and what better way to listen to them than on a pair of Aftershokz headphones! I love the open design that allows me to hear my surroundings, yet still enjoy a good book or podcast, or music while on the move!
The course takes you around the town of Kennett, and onto some back roads that pass by small neighborhoods, horse and mushroom farms. The views were extremely pleasant for a person like me that loves autumn weather- the fall leaves delicately decorated the ground with a splash of color and the air was crisp and cool on my skin.
Typically the first few miles either fly past or they drag on, which ends up being an indication of how my race will be run. The Mushroom Cap was slightly hilly, but no more than I’m used to, I just remember seeing that the hardest hill was going to be at mile 8-9 of the course and kept telling myself, “this isn’t that bad“.
Just as we rounded a wooded section of a small neighborhood, some white-tailed deer bounded across the road. It was at this moment I realized how quiet it was, and all you could hear was the sound of feet hitting the ground. It was therapeutic in a sense.
In this stretch of miles, I felt pretty good except I knew I had to use the bathroom. I fell into a nice groove with a small pack of runners and didn’t want to spoil the party. The party was all in my head, or at least that’s how it felt. Typically during a race, I have found, that I tend to pair up with runners of the same ability or at least runners who are keeping the same pace as me. I like to stick with a group whether we talk or not, again I find having bodies running near you can help encourage you to keep on pace and can boost your performance when you really need to push hard and dig deep.
The course flip-flopped between asphalt and gravel. The gravel sections felt like service roads that connected farms to the main streets, the rocks were packed tightly, yet a few large more course rocks riddled the top. I noticed in one section my gait had changed and I was heel striking more than I would have liked, this was the only moment in the race where I felt uncomfortable.
At this point, I had to use the bathroom, so I broke off from my group and made a pitstop. The organizers have port-o-johns in areas away from water stands – which is actually a huge blessing. I have found that the combined bathroom and water stations can jam up a race, so having them separated allowed for a quick in-and-out stop.
I quickly regained the group I had left, I was feeling great so when the big hill arrived at around the 8.8-mile mark, I decided to power through and make the climb. At this point, I separated myself from the pack in a good way, it was time to tap into the fitness that I’ve been building over the last 5-6 months.
Side note: I’ve decided that going forward for all half marathons my approach is to run the first half relaxed, to enjoy the day and to find a pack of runners to stick with. I wait until mile-8 of a half marathon to push myself and the pace. It’s around this point when others start to tap out that I have noticed where my training pays off. I’m able to tap into energy reserves I forgot I have and finish the race feeling strong.
Although I didn’t make any huge gains in my pace, I stayed relatively steady despite the climb. I felt really awesome nearing the last stretch of miles that made up the course.
The Finish and After Party
As I re-entered the town, I felt the buzz of energy inside me surge. I feel like I finished strong, I managed to pass the 2:15:00 pacers, and although I didn’t finish under 2 hours, I was still feeling good about my overall finish. The course is challenging and yet wonderful at the same time.
As I collected my medal I ran into an Instagram follower and we both congratulated one another on a job well done. Beer Runner (also known as Alexis) mentioned this was the second-fastest half-marathon she’s run, so major kudos to her!
I re-joined my BibRave Pro buddy Meridith in the Creamery for a celebratory brew and met the race’s Social Media director! We shared some conversation and the entire event felt like it had come full circle for me. Being a BibRave Pro and running this race was an amazing opportunity and one that I’m glad I got to experience.
The Race Organizers did a wonderful job of putting this event together. From the cooperation of the town, assistance from the local PD, and volunteers at every stop and aide station, it was a really awesome event. The course has hills, but nothing I would say is terribly difficult, and the alternating terrain is a refreshing change from your standard road race. The Creamery of Kennett is an excellent place for a post-race party, along with the free drinks the venue had Herr’s Chips (a local Philly favorite snack brand) readily available, as well as a live band!
The atmosphere was buzzing with post-race excitement and the live music and crowd really added to the experience in the best possible way. It was a great day for the running community, and a great day to celebrate 13.1 miles through KSQ!
So where do I stand with the Mushroom Cap Half? I give this race 5-stars. Everything about the race was on-point; from parking, pre-during-post race experience, post-race party, you name it! See my complete rating on BibRave.com
All-in-all the Mushroom Cap Half is a great event, one that I’d highly recommend adding to your bucket list of awesome Pennsylvania Races! I’m looking forward to returning in 2020 as a BibRave Pro again, and hopefully, make some new memories along the way!