Battling the Elements at Gettysburg!

A wet one for the history books!

Three weeks ago on April 30th 2023, I had the pleasure of celebrating my 4th year as a runner by participating in the 13th Annual Gettysburg  Festival of Races.  The Gettysburg Festival of Races is the combination of three historic races in held just outside the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg battlefield. They are: the GETTYSBURG 5K,  the BLUE-GRAY HALF MARATHON, and the NORTH-SOUTH MARATHON.  The Festival kicks off with a race expo on Saturday, and the  three races are held on Sunday on the same course. The half-marathon and full marathon start first at the same time, (usually 8am) with full marathoners running a second lap on the course . About 15 minutes later the 5K runners head out. The race is chip-timed by 2L Race Services which also holds the race. I have never run the 5K, but I believe it is just a simple 1.55 mile out and back. I have always ran in the BLUE-GRAY HALF MARATHON each of the four times I have made the trip to this historic location. Finishers medals are awarded to only the marathon and half marathon runners who complete the race. All participants get a t-shirt, pint glass,  and snacks. Other swag in the past has included a drawstring backpack and a race logo sticker. Race Director Lowell Ladd has always delivered a fun and professional race and I highly recommend this one.

For those unfamiliar with U.S. history here is a brief lesson. (Disclaimer: I am neither an expert on Gettysburg,  nor a Civil War historian and this is my best understanding of the facts.)

The United States experienced a bloody  American Civil War from Apr 12, 1861 – Apr 9, 1865 which split the nation in two.  It was fought between the Union (the North wearing blue uniform) and the Confederacy (the South wearing gray uniforms). The Confederacy was formed by southern states wishing to succeed from the USA in order to preserve slavery in the south.  The 1st battle of the war was the Battle of Bull Run (JULY 19, 1861). The war ended on  April 9 1865, when Confederate General Robert E Lee surrendered to Union  General Ulysses S. Grant and his troops at the Battle of Appomattox Court House.

The Battle of Gettysburg is important because it considered by many historians to be the turning point of the American civil war. In 1863 the battle raged around the town of Gettysburg from July 1st till July 3rd as Union Major General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, halting Lee’s invasion of the North. It was the bloodiest battle of the civil war. The two armies suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties. Union casualties were 23,055 (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, 5,369 captured or missing), while Confederate casualties are more difficult to estimate. Many authors have referred to as many as 28,000 Confederate casualties. Four and a half months after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous speech The Gettysburg Address on November 19th 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery (now known as Gettysburg National Cemetery). As previously stated, the Confederacy ultimately surrender to the Union on April 9th, 1865. Five days later John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln as he was attending a play at Ford’s Theater on the night of April 14th. The president died hours later on April 15th, 1865 as the final casualty of the civil war.   

Originally, the race course ran through the battlefield. Runners ran past displays of cannon, monuments, and plaques describing the events of the battle.  As this was a race, you really didn’t have time to stop and read anything, but it still was an experience. 

Alas the joy of running through the memorial park is now also a thing of the past.

The original course map.

(mile 1 highlighted in blue)

On Jan. 1, 2022, The Gettysburg National Military Park instituted a ban on competitive events like footraces. Park officials said on the official website that the ban was put in place because “competitive races do not foster an understanding of and appreciation for park resources, have no direct association with or interaction with park resources, and result in unacceptable impacts to park resources, visitor experience, and visitor safety,” They also felt that the shouts of encouragement and ringing of cowbells by race spectators  diminished the ability of other park visitors to experience and enjoy the history of the hallowed grounds and solemnity of the park.

So the park officials may have kicked us out of the park, but fortunately the race continues to this day. It’s  now held on a modified course which runs just outside the Gettysburg battlefield, winding through beautiful wooded back country roads, past fields and farms, and crosses the historic Mason-Dixon line into Maryland and back.  There is a little bit more elevation to this new course, 1,512 ft vs. the original 659 ft, so expect a couple of hills that just seem to go on forever. I really like the part where you cross the Mason-Dixon line into Maryland, and this is usually demarked by a chalk line drawn on the road.   

The new course map.

(mile 1 highlighted in blue)

As I said the 2023 race was a battle against the elements with cold rain falling all day, and pre-race lightening that nearly delayed the start of the race as we waited for the OK to start inside the warm expo area.

Race director Lowel Ladd addressed the assembled runners, telling us that our safety was paramount, and if at any point we felt unsafe, just turn back. Once the rain let up a bit, and it had been several minutes without lightening, the race was on.

So how did I do?  I ran my fastest half-marathon in over 2 years. Chip time was 3:37:20.6 This was also my 2nd fastest time at Gettysburg, about 40 minutes slower than my 2020 PR. Considering the added elevation of the new course, and the unrelenting rain, I think I did awesome.  I was cold, wet, and miserable by the time I was done.

Both of my calves started cramping at mile 12. But, I muscled through the pain because I just wanted to get to my room, take a hot shower, put on dry clothes, and eat leftover pizza. Thank God I had PICKLEXIR in my Jeep for the cramping.

The following text is taken from the wrap-up email report sent by Lowel Ladd the next day.

We got it done (barely)!

“We had over 1300 registrants this year and the forecast looked less than ideal for days.  I personally thought it couldn’t be as bad as they predicted.  It might have been worse.  After going out at 5am to make sure the creek along the course hadn’t flooded the roadway, I began looking at radar and lightening strike maps constantly yesterday morning.  When we heard thunder and saw lightening at 7:35 and saw how bad the radar looked, I wasn’t sure if we could get the race in at all let alone safely.  We were fortunate and while the rain did not relent, the severe weather passed and we got off on schedule.  Almost 1000 of you showed your determination and came out and took part, which is awesome!  The day was tough on all the volunteers who were out in the conditions, so I hope you thanked them for grinding it out with you.  Some of the technology did not like the rain and did not cooperate (finish line clock, some missed chip reads here and there, etc.).  But we got through the day together and hopefully it was good memories once you dried out.”

Next year this race will be held on April 28th 2024. You can bet that I’ll be there once again running the half-marathon, so will you join me for this not-to-be-missed race?

You can find me at these upcoming local races

JUNE 2023

June 10th Dumb Dutchman Half Marathon  @ 8:30 am Reading PA

 June 15th  Third Thirsty Thursday 5K Race Series (#3 of 7) @7pm Reading PA 

Be sure to check back  for another article. As always, I wish you success and happiness!