The original plan was to run Chicago. Then the already twice-postponed wedding of Kurt’s son was re-scheduled for October 9, 2021 – Chicago Marathon weekend – and I knew I’d have to look for another race. I had run Bucks County (Pennsylvania) before, in 2015 just five weeks after running Chicago that year and still managed cut 8 minutes off my time. It was a very flat and fast course.
With a time goal in mind, I registered for the Bucks County Marathon back in January; back before vaccines, when the idea of races returning was still met with some skepticism. The Bucks County Marathon organizers however did pull off a race in 2020 with COVID mitigations in place so I felt the risk was minimal. There were 132 finishers last year. Interesting that with more marathon options this fall, there were only 107 finishers.
In a normal year, like when I ran it in 2015, there were still only 252 finishers. So if you’re looking for a big marathon with lot’s of other runners and hordes of cheering spectators on the course, this is not it. If you’re looking for a race in an incredibly beautiful setting, on a super flat course, organized by some very nice people, I offer you the Bucks County Marathon Weekend.
I say “Bucks County Marathon Weekend” because in addition to the Marathon held on Sunday (9am start), there is also a 5k that day (9:20am) and a Half Marathon on Saturday (10am). There are also the “Bucky” (Half + Full Marathon) and “Baby Bucky” (Half + 5k) Challenges for the more ambitious among us.
The race start and finish are at Washington Crossing Historic Park not far from Trenton, New Jersey and about 35 miles north of Philadelphia’s city center. There’s lots to do if, like me, it’s a destination race for you. We actually flew into Newark Liberty, rather that Philadelphia, because of better fares and more scheduling options. Driving from Newark only added about 15 minutes to the trip.
The park setting was absolutely gorgeous as the foliage seemed to be peaking a little later than I remembered. The course is an out and back on the Delaware Canal Towpath which runs parallel to the Delaware Canal and Delaware River for almost 60 miles. In the past both the Marathon and Half were single loops with the Marathon extending up to New Hope. For COVID mitigation last year, the Marathon became a double loop (the Half Marathon course x2).
This course is flat! But every course has its challenges. So does this. The trail is red argillite. It’s kind of like a clay that was used by the indigenous populations to make pottery. When dry its a nice compact surface on which to run. After a heavy rain, it’s muddy. Very muddy. That’s what I experienced this year. While I was disappointed that conditions didn’t allow me to even come close to my time goal, the beauty of the course made up for it.
For a tiny marathon, race organizers’ attention to detail was noticeable. The registration process (through RunSignUp) was easy and I’d add more affordable than most marathons. I was eligible for early-bird pricing which if I remember correctly was about $60. The race director communicated with participants regularly though email leading up to race day, including a video message the night before updating us on course conditions and reminding everyone to read the participant guide. The participant guide was extremely thorough and everyone who took the time to read it would have had all their questions answered.
There was packet pick-up Friday evening as well as on both race mornings. Amenities included a long sleeve technical shirt with a very unique design, an aluminum water bottle with event logo, and a commemorative poster. And of course finisher’s medals! There was an “official race hotel” – the Hampton Inn-Newtown – a short drive away. We stayed there. It was very nice, offered a free breakfast each morning as well as being walking distance from Dunkin Donuts.
There were an adequate number of course hydration stations, most with both water and Gatorade. In spite of a last minute call for volunteers and runners being urged to self-carry, all but one of the the stations was staffed with volunteers and all had cups. Access to the hydration was hands free which was safe and quick. Post race refreshments came in the form a Wawa box with a sandwich, bag of chips, big cookie, and a bottle of water. In the past they had a big spread that included hot food, but this was a great, safe alternative. And for a Jersey Girl living in Chicago, Wawa was a welcomed treat.
RunBucks also offers this same double loop marathon course for their “Chasing the Unicorn Marathon” in early September as a last Boston Qualifying opportunity. That time of year, I’d have to add heat to the challenges. For this event, held November 14, the temperature was a near perfect 40-45 degrees.
I have recommended this marathon to others and will continue to do so. I may someday be back myself. For November 2022 I have my sights set on NYC again, which will be quite the contrast to this sleepy little race. Who knows what I’ll do after that. Maybe take a break after 9 marathons in 9 years, who knows. But I don’t think I’m done here. I enjoy the peace and solitude of it. That might not be for everyone. I find it good for the soul.
For my full Bucks County Marathon experience, read Just Showing Up.