I went home to rural Lancaster County over the weekend, where I ran one of the most beautiful race courses I’ve yet to see.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania is Amish country. Home to many in the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish and Mennonite community. Many in the county’s Amish community love to run and are quite fast. I am familiar with the Anabaptist community, as I grew up in the area and regularly visit my parents, who still live in Lancaster.
The annual Garden Spot Village Marathon was filled with such runners. Some of the men ran in their plain clothes and women ran in dresses. I also spotted some incredibly speedy Amish kids. It was a pretty impressive sight.
This race was different from any I’d run before. First off, it was on a Saturday morning, this is in part because Sunday is a day of rest for Amish and Old Order Mennonites.
Since I worked a full day before making the five-hour drive south, my mother graciously offered to collect my race packet from the expo in New Holland, Pa. (Thanks, Mom!) Race officials offered packet pickup Saturday morning, for about 90 minutes before the race. I loved knowing this was an option, as did the more than 700 runners who weren’t able to attend the Friday evening expo.
I gathered my race gear Friday evening, including my trusty roller, The Stick. I knew my quads would be sore since I raced a hilly 15K last weekend. I had looked at Garden Spot’s elevation chart — hills were definitely par for the course.
Ready to roll!
Race morning went smoothly. We left the house around 6:30 a.m., arriving at the race site shortly after 7. Parking was a breeze. We were directed to a spot in the grass and waited in our car until 30 minutes before the race was slated to begin, 8 a.m.
In less than 20 minutes, I used a toilet twice, located my friend Wendy and lined up at the start. This is one highly organized, user-friendly race.
Wendy and me at the starting line.
Meet Wendy, a childhood friend who was itching to run her first half-marathon. Together, we selected a race in our hometown as a bit of a homecoming since she moved to South Carolina after high school and I’m in upstate New York. Her older brother Eric and her nephew Nate joined us.
Soon enough, we were off. We lost the guys within 30 seconds. Side note – Nate, 12, won his age group with a time of 1:51. So impressive!
Wendy and I settled in for a much slower pace, we ran out of the village, along East Earl Road, then Stauffer Road. We hit a few small hills as we rounded the corners. And we repeatedly dodged road apples (horse manure) left behind on rural roads.
Beautiful course. Note the woman on the right running in a dress.
We chatted with each other and strangers as we jogged along. We were happy with our pace, even as we took on the hills.
We passed several Amish buggies on the course. We also had a rather large cheering squad of Amish and Mennonite kids, many who sat on their porches and waved to runners. Some sat on blankets and wagons in their yards. All appeared to be excited to see the parade of runners.
Around mile 4, we headed up a rather significant hill that passed by the horse auction. Amish and Mennonite men and women were lined up for the weekly event, barbeque cooking on the old pits. Some horses hitched to buggies and carts appeared to be circling a fenced course, as if they were racing. It was a scene from yesteryear.
Eventually we turned off Hill Road to Steep Hill Road. (I kid about the name, but it would have been appropriate.) We headed downhill past more buggies and fans. And then we hit THE HILL. We knew it existed, but seeing it in person still shocked us.
Heading down the Mentzer Road hill in mile 6.
We slowed WAY down to avoid tumbling. We ran well past mile 7 to the turnaround point and straight into the wind, and ultimately, back up this evil hill.
It may not look incredibly steep, but trust me, it was. 100+ feet straight up just past mile 8, followed by another 100-foot incline back on Steep Hill Road. A cow in a nearby field urged us on: “Mooooo-ve!” I heard.
We huffed. We puffed. But we made it.
We reversed the route, back past the horse auction and downhill (hooray) until the last 5K. We turned off on Overly Grove Road, past a park and more farms and hoofed it into the finish.
Wendy was beginning to fade a bit during that last mile, but considering the hills we had conquered, her movement was impressive. She had not walked once. She pushed forward through the wind and hills. She didn’t quit and we passed several runners that last mile as we moved forward.
Then we turned into the village campus.
“Where’s the finish line? I don’t see it,” Wendy said.
“Ahead,” I promised. “Less than 2 minutes to go. It’s just you and me out for a run. Ignore everyone else.”
About 90 seconds later, we rounded the last bend to the finish line. I spotted my mom as she yelled our names. We sprinted it in, finishing around 2:12. Excellent job Wendy!
We reunited with our families within minutes, grabbed some delicious homemade post-race food.
There is a second Amish Country race in Lancaster County – the Bird-in-Hand half marathon in September. I have a feeling I will be back.
What’s the most beautiful race course you have run? Have you ever run among the Amish?