The Bird-In-Hand Half Marathon Weekend is an incredible display of community and the love of running. It’s held in Lancaster County, PA, which is an area heavily populated with Amish and Mennonite families, and serves as a major fundraiser for the local volunteer fire department. The whole community turns out to volunteer. It was an incredible experience (which is probably why it sells out so quickly), and one I highly recommend to all runners.
Festivities begin Friday with with a hot air balloon launch, right outside the large tent where packet pickup, the expo and all other events take place.
Packet pickup was a breeze, even though I was picking up for five other runners who wouldn’t arrive until much later. The race organizers are very trusting – no IDs or special waivers required. After I brought all six race packets and swag bags back to the car (and avoided the temptation to eat all of the homemade Whoopie Pies), I spectated the end of the 5k. It was incredible to see families running together and cheering each other near the finish line.
After the 5k, lots of runners headed to the Pasta and Pizza Party in the event tent (only $13 for all-you-can-eat, including desserts). Meanwhile, volunteers were preparing for the free S’mores party. They really have the operation down to a science!
On Saturday morning, we drove two miles from our hotel to the race start. There are only about 1,700 runners in the Half Marathon, but traffic still takes a while in a one-light town. As we were getting out of the car, there were more hot air balloons launching overhead.
We found a bunch of friends and fellow Mickey Milers at the starting line.
The weather was humid, but much cooler than last year, with temps in the upper 60s. Overcast skies offered protection from the sun, which makes a big difference on a course with almost zero shade the entire way. The course loops through rolling farmland, and this elevation map doesn’t do justice to the hills. It seemed the entire race was running up or down hills – but mostly up!
Our good friend Sam couldn’t run the race due to a scheduling conflict, but he graciously brought us donuts just before the first mile marker.
We were greeted at the first water stop by local families, with the kids handing out water and Gatorade and parents setting up the cups. It was great to see the families working together to support the runners.
One of the benefits of the rolling terrain is the ability to see the field of runners ahead. Seeing the extended downhill ahead is kind of nice, too…
I didn’t think I’d like the little out-and-back portion of the race course, but it was actually kind of nice because it offered the opportunity to see some of our friends.
Me: “C’mon, Mark, let’s get a cow selfie!”
Me: “A cow selfie! Where else can we get a cow selfie?”
Me: “C’mon, Mark, now let’s get a pig selfie!”
Me: “A pig selfie! Where else can we get a pig selfie?”
Mark: “OK, OK!”
Look at this teeny tiny kitten in the corn field on the side of the road. He would have fit in the palm of my hand! I was so temped to put him in my pocket and take him home.
Look at this slightly larger, slightly flatter kitten near the corn field in the middle of the road. He would have fit in my backpack! I was not tempted to take him home.
Do not attempt this at home, or anywhere else, even if you believe that it’s impossible that an Amish farm would have electrified fences, because apparently, they sometimes do.
As the race got near the end, we were ready to be done and started getting hungry…
…and the shenanigans just escalated from there.
The crowd support was incredible! In front of many of the houses along the course, families of five, ten, or twenty or more lined up in lawn chairs to cheer for runners. A few provided some much-appreciated cool water from sprinklers, and some performed music.
Instead of a traditional medal, Bird-In-Hand Half Marathon finishers receive genuine, used horseshoes welded to a plaque with a leather strap. Theoretically you can wear it around your neck but it is HEAVY!
After the race we went into the event tent to buy some more Amish baked goods, and we ran into Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run and the newly released Natural-Born Heroes. He was kind enough to pose for a picture and talked with us for five minutes about Team Shenanigans and our love of running for fun.
The slogan for the Bird-In-Hand Half Marathon Weekend is “Vella Shpringa,” which is Pennsylvania Dutch for “Let’s Run.” It captures the feeling of the weekend: experiencing the joy of running in community.
I highly recommend running this race, with the caveat that if the weather is hot, it will be a real challenge. It’s no surprise to me why it sells out so quickly. My only regret is not having had enough time to participate in more of the weekend’s events.