Ocala Half Marathon, January 22, 2012 – A Race through Horse Country

In my quest to become a Half Fanatic (the section of Marathon Maniacs that is devoted to half marathon addicts), I decided to do the Ocala Half Marathon this past Sunday. Since I usually do the Tallahassee Half Marathon on the first Sunday of February, that would give me the necessary 2 half marathons within a 16 day time frame – enough to qualify for the lowest planet level of the Fanatics and good enough for me.

Packet pickup was at the Paddock Mall on Saturday so my husband and I drove down around 10 am to get my tee shirt and race bib. There were not a lot of signs directing us as to where to go so I looked for people with swag bags and asked them for directions. There were some tables set up here and there in the general area of the packet pickup but it was not an expo in the traditional sense. We spent a couple of minutes checking to make sure I had everything and then left for lunch at a nearby CrackerBarrel.

Even if I was not so anxious to join the Half Fanatics, it turned out to be a very good decision to do the half instead of the full. Although the finish line was supposed to be open for 6 ½ hours, it seems there was a push to have everyone finish well before that deadline. I later heard that walkers and slower runners were hounded by race officials to ‘hurry up’ even though they were on target for a 6 hour or so finish. Nothing like adding to the angst and stress of completing a marathon!

In addition, the Ocala race course was a double loop, and the thought of having to complete that second loop with fewer people and scant directions was just too much for me to contemplate. I know it would have driven me bonkers. I had no problems at all with the loop on the first go round: there were plenty of participants, the course was well-marked with red arrows for the half , and the aid stations were plentiful and the volunteers cheerful and ready to assist.

The marathoners started at 7 am and the half marathoners at 7:15. I found the people doing the half to be a relaxed and friendly group, and I chatted with several of the people at the back of the pack as we cheered the marathoners on and waited for our signal to start. Although the race is chip timed, there was no mat at the starting line (too expensive, I was told), so this was not a good race to go for a PR. Not a problem here for me; I was just aiming to have fun.

The warm weather was pleasant, slightly humid but not overwhelmingly so. I thought the scenery was terrific – I enjoyed seeing the sleek horses and carefully tended ranches. It was so different from the bleak sameness of the Warner Robbins course the preceding weekend. There were hills, lots of them, but nothing too steep and I found the rolling hills to be a welcome change from just flat road. I ran the downhills whenever I could because it felt so good – that pull of gravity downhill is wonderful.

The only real problem with this race is the lack of traffic control. The streets were open to cars and there was no shoulder to walk along. Well, there were some orange cones placed about 12 inches from the side of the road but if that foot-wide path was meant for runners, it was definitely not wide enough. Plus, sometimes it was not clear which side of the rode we were supposed to be on; runners strayed all over the road (me, I looked to cut the tangents whenever I could, as long as I could do so safely). I personally found the drivers to be courteous and patient, but as the day wore on I am sure that frustrations increased for both racers and drivers.

I crossed the finish line in 2:40 and was pleased. Someday I hope to do a half in 2:30, but as long as I finish in under 3 hours I am satisfied. However, as I stepped on the timing mat at the end, I expected to have a volunteer place a medal around my neck. Imagine my dismay when I was told that they had run out of half marathon medals! Oh, I was so disappointed! I walked to my car to put away my jacket and cap and then walked to the mall to freshen up. Well, the mall was closed (it was Sunday so it did not open until noon) so I walked back to the finish line to use a portapotty before heading home. On my way, I saw lots of people with half marathon medals around their necks. I walked up to a lady who seemed to be in charge and asked about the medals. Turns out it was the race director and she was very apologetic when I expressed my dismay about not receiving a medal. She said there were plenty of medals but one of the boxes had slipped under another box and appeared to be missing. The lost was found, however, and she kindly put a medal around my neck and congratulated me. I was so very glad I had walked back there! The medal is unique, the only one I have with a horse on it.

There was quite a bit of food at the finish line – granola bars, bagels with spreads, bags of chips, ice cold water in bottles (nice) plus $5 off coupons for Publix, our local grocery store. I headed back home, a happy camper, thinking this is a great half marathon to do every year.

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