It was the sweatshirt that drew me in, hooded with both front and back emblazoned with scenes from the long abandoned Pennsylvania turnpike tunnels near Breezewood.
The course is an out and back on an unused roadbed and through two separate tunnels, abandoned back in 1968 along with the roadway. I found the surface in the tunnels easiest to navigate as it was not exposed to weather as the concrete and soil surfaces of the roadbeds were. Total race distance in the tunnels is just under four miles.
In addition, it seemed like a fun way to do a non-serious run, a tourist run of sorts. This was an opportunity to get in a half-marathon distance and maybe add in a mile or two on each end amidst these eerily incredible tunnels.
I had a lot of company in my thinking as there were well over 400 participants. As I approached the pre-race group, I spotted my fellow River Runners from Harrisburg, clowning it up in the porta-potty line.
With a starting temperature in the mid-40’s and overcast skies it was perfect running weather.
Just a scenic, fun half-marathon run
The course begins with a slight incline for less than a mile before entering the first of two tunnels. Did I mention that runners were required to bring a headlamp or flashlight? I was wearing a headlamp and as a failsafe wore my newly acquired nuckle lights.
Shortly after the start, I saw someone take a hard fall on the broken cement that had been a Turnpike lane. It was a reminder that this was not a PR course. I reaffirmed with myself to take it easy and enjoy the run.
As we approached the first tunnel I felt my headlamp fall around my shoulder, something that had not happened before. It was simply a matter of resetting the clip, but not easily done on the run. I stuffed it in a pocket and turned on the knuckle lights. This was the inaugural run for the lights and they worked great.
Entering the tunnel, I saw bouncing beams of light in front of other runners, dancing off surfaces in the distance.
As we entered and exited tunnels, race volunteers had the volume pumped up on appropriately spooky tunes, from Witchy Woman to Thriller. I don’t recall hearing the Monster Mash but it was probably playing somewhere along the course.
Shortly after looping back through the second tunnel, a group of River Runners doing some serious tourist running passed and I hopped in a photo with them.
It all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
The fun and games stopped for me at about 9.5 miles when I took a quick, hard fall. Pulling myself up, I could see where my toe made a divot in the gravely soil in front of a chunk of concrete. The race was over for me.
A couple of other runners checked that I was ambulatory and went on their way. I went on my way as well, walking, blood from my scraped hand running over my pretty new blue just-out-of-the-box nuckle lights, and my left arm becoming stiffer.
I pulled off a fast 3.5 mile walk, taking extra water at the water stop to rinse the gravel off my hands and knee. During that three-mile walk, I reconciled with myself that autumn races in the future will be on the road. The slightly goulish photo below is reminiscent of my trail race last year.
No crazy autumn races in 2020, I promise myself. Happy Hallow’s Eve everyone!