One Tough Pumpkin: I Ran The Great Pumpkin Run 5k Holding A Pumpkin The Entire Time

I am a tough pumpkin. Literally.

After coming across the information for The Great Pumpkin Run I knew I had to do this one. Besides all the cool swag given to runners, it seemed like the perfect fall race. But of course, running a 5k wasn’t enough for me. I read about the Tough Pumpkin Challenge and knew thatthere was no way I would travel to this event without proving that I am one tough cookie.

It was messy and muddy. It was slippery with lots of sliding. It was fun.

I ran the Great Pumpkin Run while holding a pumpkin the entire 5k and not only did I finish, but I served to tell the tale after those unfavorable course conditions.

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The Event

The Great Pumpkin Run is a festive fall race that has become an increasingly popular 5k for both avid runners and those just looking to have a fun time while also doing something fitness related. Races are held throughout the U.S. including in Texas, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Maryland, and more. Those who sign up as a team of four runners or more save $5 each registration. For those who don’t have an event in their nearest city, there is also a virtual option that includes all the great swag.

And we need to talk about the swag. I’ve been running races for years and The Great Pumpkin Run has the best race gifts. While most events give free T-shirts with registration, this gives all participants lightweight tech hoodies. These are super comfy and great for wearing all fall long. The design of the hoodies changes and this year was a green one with a pumpkin face that is my new favorite fall running shirt.

Along with the hoodie, racers get a finisher’s medal and this one is big and festive and a great addition to any medal collection. It also doubles as a magnet for those wanting to display it on their fridge with their fall decor.

Finishers also get a small pumpkin to take home after finishing and a cup of apple cider.

Then there is a post-race party with food and local beers and other fall activities. The races are typically held on a farm (sometimes there are urban locations), but activities like corn mazes, build your own scarecrow, and fire pit s’mores vary based on location.

Tough Pumpkin

And if running a 5k is easy peasy, try the Tough Pumpkin challenge. This option consists of carrying a pumpkin throughout the entire course. Cross the finish line with that pumpkin and the runner gets a second Tough Pumpkin medal.

When the racers get to the event on race day morning they head over to the specific tent for the Tough Pumpkin challenge. This option must be added to registration prior to the race. The runner picks out their pumpkin up to 10 lbs. to carry with them. There are light ones that are able 3 lbs. to big mama jama ones.

My suggestion is to do the Tough Pumpkin! It’s recommended to train for this task, so work out those arms by weightlifting or push a jogging stroller as I do while running. It’s a worthy challenge for the double medals and to say you did it. Worse case scenario, the runner can always drop their pumpkin if it becomes too tough.

The Course

Participants can run, jog, or walk the course. It really is a race for everyone. Upon registering, participants must until their average pace so that they may be broken into corrals. This ensures the faster runners are in the front of the pack and don’t have to weave in and out around slower ones. Waves of corrals are separated by a few minutes so there isn’t that much traffic on the course.

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The course itself varies depending on the farm and weather conditions. Typically terrain consists of open fields of grass, dirt roads, gravel paths, and even corn fields.

“Please note that if it rains in the days leading up to the race, the course WILL become muddy,” the race website states. And they weren’t joking.

I ran the Pennsylvania location in Furlong at Froehlich’s Farm and Garden. The farm itself was nice and festive with lots of decorations and had fall vibes written all over it. Parking was ample and free. But participants were sent an email before race day warming about the recent rains. This resulted in a change, of course, to prevent going through some of the muddier sections. Runners were advised NOT to wear their favorite or new running sneakers.

Rain was in the forecast for race day morning and it fell down steadily until after mid-way through my corral’s run. To say this was a muddy course is an understatement. We all just embraced it because we had no choice and new things would get messy.

It was cold and wet when we set off, already slipping and sliding at the first turn. Runners got stuck in the mud, leaving behind a shoe and having to hop back to retrieve it at this one section. I literally had to run looking down the entire time to see where to place my feet. The mud was thick and like quicksand. The feet sunk down deep each step. The best strategy was to follow in the footsteps of the runner before.

Despite the slippery mud, most runners took the race seriously and tried to run their best. Of course, I was a bit slower than normal like most, but this wasn’t a run for time because of the course conditions.

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The terrain was entirely open grass fields, but more like entirely on mud with some sections of a little grass. Many used the grassy sides of the mud path for traction. We all ran moving side to side to step in the right spots. Mud flew everywhere and I’m pretty sure some got into my mouth at two different times. I was ankle deep in mud and kind of loving every second of it. It was uncomfortable and slightly gross, but we all embraced it. The course ended up being closer to a tough mudder race (minus crawling in barbed wire and other obstacles) than a fun run—but was still very much so a fun run.

The course itself featured a few hilly sections, lots of bends and turns but overall it was nice to run throughout the farm which really set the scene for all things fall.

What Is Was Like To Run The Great Pumpkin Run

This runner highly recommends The Great Pumpkin Run. It’s a great option for someone’s first 5k, as well as for those who like a challenge when taking the Tough Pumpkin Challenge. It is scenic (depending on the course), and a great way to celebrate fall.

Just keep in mind that weather can really throw a curve ball here. It was fun being hot and humid the week before in the East Coast to still feel like summer to cold, rainy, wet and muddy in a few short days. This did make it feel more like fall, so just prepare for not ideal racing weather. Some people, like me, prefer running in cooler weather and don’t get bothered by a little rain.

This is the type of 5k to run with a group of friends, but just as enjoyable solo.

Bottom line is some people left loving this race, while others hated it.

What It Was Like To Run As A Tough Pumpkin

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I figured why drive all the way an hour to the race across state lines and not take on this fun and unique challenge? At least for the sake of a good story.

With that said, figure out which strategy and holding technique to use.

Runners can hoist the pumpkin over their head, cradle like a baby or hold it by its stem. It doesn’t matter how you carry that pumpkin. You just need to cross the finish line with you to get that Tough Pumpkin medal.

I picked a medium sized pumpkin that weight in at 4.5 lbs. It wasn’t tinnie tiny but not really heavy. Running with it really wasn’t that bad, and this challenge is totally doable.

So here I was holding my pumpkin by its crooked stem. It seemed like a good idea in theory since it fits perfectly in my hand. And I was still able to pump my arms in the race while running. I held my pumpkin in my right hand, my stronger arm and made it maybe half a mile before it took a tumble.

Splat!

My pumpkin bounced on the ground, mud flying up and then started to roll. Left dumbfounded with its stem in hand, I quickly rushed to it, and all I could do it think about the meatball song where it rolls out from the dinner table to out the door. I couldn’t lose my running buddy.

So I had no other choice but to clench on to its round body. It nestled in my rib cage just above my hip. I used my bent arm as a seatbelt for it, palms in towards my chest. I will say I felt its weight for sure. My arm got tired at one point and I had to switch sides before passing it like a hot potato back to my dominant side.

I am happy that I did take on the challenge, and think in the end I picked the best weight. It wasn’t overly heavy while running, but it was a challenge, to say the least. My arms did feel sore, the sign of a good workout the rest of the day each time I picked up my son.

The cradle strategy in the stronger arm seemed like the best plan of action for me. I saw some guy with huge 10 pounder walking uphill and then back up to a jog with there’s held in both hands like a pregnant belly. One guy had his pumpkin above his head uphill. Even some ladies opted for bigger pumpkins but used the “hold me like a baby” method. I would only recommend stem holding for those lighter than 4 lbs.

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Post-Race

Crossing the finish line with pumpkin still intact and in my arms felt great. This was a really good time, despite the mud. It almost made it that much more fun and unique. The farm was warm and welcoming and my toddler loved running around in the mud as my sister watched him as I competed.

The race also took complimentary photos so all us finishers can remember what a tough, yet rewarding race we ran.

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