Race Review: Bucks County Marathon

Race Review: Bucks County Marathon

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.

The course going north.

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).

The course going south.

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.

Just showing up

Just showing up

Worst. Marathon. Ever. was how I described my 11th this past Sunday in social media posts. That wasn’t entirely accurate. It was just my time that was the worst ever and slowest would probably have been a more appropriate word. Because my eleventh marathon was also perhaps the prettiest – and maybe the best reminder of who I am.

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Race Review: Des Plaines River Trail Races – Half Marathon

Race Review: Des Plaines River Trail Races – Half Marathon

Just over three weeks ago on Sunday, October 17, I ran my second in-person race since prior to the pandemic. The first was the Chicago Half (which I reviewed in 2018). At the beginning of 2020, I had planned that year to complete my 10th Marathon. Check. And my 50th Half Marathon. Five weeks after the marathon, the world shut down. Half Marathons 49 and 50 would have to wait.

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When you can’t control the weather

When you can’t control the weather

There are events so big we plan for them for months, sometimes years. We do whatever we can to make the day perfect. We agonize over every detail. We think about Murphy’s Law and try to mitigate the risks. Then about 10 days before the big day, we begin obsessively checking the weather forecast. We become engulfed in emotions over the one thing we have absolutely no control over.

This past weekend we were doing just that as Kurt’s son and daughter-in-law prepared for their three-time rescheduled wedding celebration in North Carolina and many of our friends were about to toe the starting line of the Chicago Marathon. No one got the weather they wanted.

The garden wedding ceremony was moved under a tent. Marathoners slowed their pace and adjusted time goals to account for the higher temperature and humidity. Disappointment abound of course, although isn’t it all a metaphor for life?

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Vivian green

Life itself is as unpredictable as the weather and nothing is certain. I was a much different person 28 years ago when I got married the first time. I have come to understand what makes it all so much better now is that in becoming a more mature adult, I’ve learned to dance in the rain. I’ve learned to let go of what’s out of my control and embrace the surprises that come with the ambiguity.

August 24 in Chicago was a horrendously hot and humid day. Although the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I cut my morning run short because of the heat, but was optimistic about the rest of the day’s forecast. Heat I could handle. This was our wedding day.

We met on the Wabash Avenue Bridge and walked slowly toward our ceremony venue in Maggie Daley Park as our fabulous photographer captured each moment. Then a storm cloud appeared. Frantically checking weather apps, we hoped one would show it moving away from us. But that was not to be. Someone was sent back to the hotel to get the six matching umbrellas I had decided just an hour before to leave behind.

The ceremony was marred only by a little wind that threw a few hairs out of place. Some family photos, and we were on the way to our private dinner reception at a restaurant about a mile away. This is when the skies decided to open up. Without hesitating we agreed this was going to create some pretty spectacular photos and we were right. We got drenched. We laughed. We ate dinner wrapped in towels.

Whether we are training for a marathon or planning a wedding, some uncertainly has to be acceptable, because that’s all life has. In being able to manage disappointment in the things we have no control over, in playing whatever cards we’re dealt, we can find joy, contentment and happiness. A marriage is no less a marriage and marathon is still a 26.2 mile spectacular achievement. Plus crappy weather makes for a much better story.