Runners World Half & Festival Recap: Day 1

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ve probably noticed I’ve been ALLLLL over the place with the great stuff happening at the Runner’s World Half & Festival this past week – but now that I’ve finally got some time, I’m so excited to recap everything for you! Let’s start from the beginning and take it one day at a time, shall we?

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Back in August I was asked to be an Ambassador for the Runner’s World Half & Festival, and I’m not going to lie: I thought they’d made a mistake by asking me. The other bloggers and ambassadors were SO much more well known! I’d already been following all of them in some form or another, and couldn’t believe I had the good fortune to get selected. So after geeking out for pretty much the entire two months leading up to the weekend, I found myself loading up my car and heading out to Bethlehem, PA on the Thursday before everything went down.

After I got into my hotel room I squealed at myself in the mirror for about an hour and dove into the ridiculous goodie bag the sponsors dropped off. Seriously, it was like the Oscars Gift Bag of Running: Balega, KT Tape, White Claw Hard Seltzer, Krave Jerky, Cal-Ez, Real Time Pain Relief… craziness.

At around 5 we all met down in the lobby for the first time and I nailed my first interaction with a famous blogger: when Jason Saltmarsh of Saltmarsh Running introduced himself to me, the conversation went something like this:

Jason: Hi, are you here for the Runners World thing?

Me: Yes, hi!

Jason: Hi, I’m Jason Saltmarsh, from Saltmarsh Running… ::extends hand in normal person handshake::

Me: ::floundering and stuttering, thrusting clammy claw-like hand at him:: gah yes! Hi! Jason, yes! ::shakes hand and nods during awkward silence before realizing this is where I introduce myself:: Ahh, this is Jess! ::points at self:: Jess runs happy! I’m on instagram mostly…

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basically me

To his credit, he did not laugh at me (thank you, Salty) – in fact, just the opposite happened. Because he is one of the kindest, most encouraging folks I’ve ever met, just like the rest of the gang that soon joined us in the lobby for the party bus ride to Runner’s World HQ in Emmaus:

These folks are seriously amazing. We all had such a blast together. If you haven’t heard of them, you must go follow them all, immediately, on every social channel they’ve got. Go ahead. I’ll wait. I’m just hanging out with my tea at Starbucks… OK.

So after a round of introductions, we all piled into a sweet party bus for the 15 minute drive out to RW, during which I got to chat with Hollie up there. A fellow NJ runner, she and I bonded over our love of Jersey diners, chatted about local races, bonded over our recent injuries, and more. It was so fun to talk with someone I’ve followed on social media for a while and discover that we have so much in common (i.e. our love of sweet things follows roughly the same order: buttercream > whipped cream > caramel, and butterscotch ranks in there somewhere too).

Once we got to Runner’s World HQ, I won’t lie: things started happening FAST and I legit had to pinch myself a few times. Bart [FREAKING] Yasso came out to meet us outside the bus, showed us the garden that the RW folks grew right outside the building, and led us into the building, Willy-Wonka-style, to a dining room where a BBQ buffet had been set up and about 30 Runners World staff members were there to greet us.

They assigned us to tables with our ambassador partners and placed a few editors and staff members at each table too, so while we ate we chatted with folks like Reporter Kit Fox and Editor-in-Chief David Willey. And the Wassner twins were right next to me too! Full disclosure: I was starving, but I did not eat very much. You try looking cool eating a burger the size of your face in front of world class athletes and the editor in chief of Runner’s Freaking World. Go on, I dare you! I guarantee you’re going to be staring, starstruck, as these folks chat nonchalantly about how to balance real life with training for and winning international events, all while your burger goes cold.

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Having said that, I DID eat the whole burger. It was incredibly delicious. I also had a brownie and a lot of White Claw Hard Seltzer to take the edge off. It worked.

For the weekend, we were paired off into teams of two for what they called the Altralympics: a weekend-long competition sponsored by the main event sponsor Altra Running, where we would complete challenges to earn points towards a grand prize pack. I had the great fortune to be paired with social media guru Ty from Seeking Boston Marathon  who had already been killing it online. Ty, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU.

Our first official game in the Altralympics was a Flag Contest: in this tumultuous political scene, the idea of seceding from the union is all too enticing, so we were tasked with creating our own countries, complete with a flag and a motto – in 20 minutes. Ty quickly found a quiet spot to brainstorm while I grabbed tape, construction paper, glue and scissors. Clearly our teamwork skills were already ON FIRE.

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the artist at work. paper, marker and glue, 2016.

Starting with the idea of a running utopia, we began tossing out the things our new country stood for. Unable to move off the idea of running for donuts and wine, I tried out a few versions of a motto and after Ty tweaked a few words, a lightbulb literally went off over our heads; thus, our beautiful nation was born. The idea of the blue & yellow Boston colors and the stripes was mine, while Ty figured out the 4-image quadrant in place of a sea of stars, and down to the last minute we worked furiously gluing and cutting washi tape into donut sprinkles. Once time was called we all got to present our countries to the applause and laughter of the RW staff and our fellow ambassadors:

There were lots of laughs: namely over the sucking up almost every team decided to do by including Bart Yasso somehow in the name or motto of their country. Finally, Ty and I presented our creation: Runtopia, where We Count Miles, Not Calories.

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Not ashamed to admit that flag is hanging proudly in my home office right now.

After our country presentations, Bart Yasso himself took us on a private tour of Runner’s World Headquarters, and he delivered with a personal touch. He’s like the great laid-back uncle you wish you had.

Every corner we turned, he had a funny anecdote to share about this person’s working habits or that department’s history. It was one of those moments in life where you find yourself in the middle of it, telling yourself, “Remember every second of this, it’s truly incredible.”

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Where the magazine is built, page-by-page, each month.

After our tour, the bus took us back to the hotel where I called my mother and squealed for 15 minutes about everything being so cool, called my husband and squealed all the same stuff to him, laid out my flat runner for the following morning’s 5AM wakeup call, and passed out HARD.

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I fell asleep smiling and reliving all of the craziness that had happened in the previous 6 hours, completely oblivious to just how great the next few days were going to be.

Stay tuned for Day 2!

11 thoughts on “Runners World Half & Festival Recap: Day 1

  1. So wonderful, so exciting, so, just SO!!! Members of Old Bridge Roadrunners were there too! I wish i was :(. Thanks for an exciting inside peek!

  2. Pingback: Runners World Half & Festival Recap: Day 2 | Jess Runs Happy

  3. I’m getting prepared for my first marathon and I’ve been in kind of a slump with running. This post was exactly what I needed to get me all pumped again. Glad you had a blast!

  4. Pingback: All you need is a little marathon inspiration – A Girl on a Search for Adventure

  5. Pingback: 2016: The Year of That. Just. Happened. | Jess Runs Happy

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