I was supposed to do a 12-hour trail race in the mountains of north of Atlanta this weekend, but I chickened out. The thought of another rocky and rooty (and muddy) trail race so soon after the two I did in Texas last month was just seemed overwhelming to me. Asphalt was much more appealing. The warm and dry climate of north central Florida also pushed me to stay a bit closer to home. Last year I had walked the Ocala Half Marathon and enjoyed it, so I decided to sign up, albeit a bit late, for the half marathon as a training race on this holiday weekend.
Packet pickup was on Saturday so my husband and I drove to the Paddock Mall, site of the exceedingly small “expo” – not really what runners think of when they hear the term expo. It is just a few tables set up inside the mall near one of the larger stores, with a couple of local venders and tables with bibs and shirts. However, despite its small size, the process of getting one’s necessary stuff is smooth and efficient. The bib has a chip attached to the back and runner’s names on the front. Because I had signed up so late, my name was absent, but no bother. I just wrote it in with marker. The half marathon tee shirt is polyester, short –sleeved, royal blue with a nice large horse design on the front. I wish it had been cotton so I might actually wear it.
We spent some time shopping at the mall, had lunch at a nearby CrackerBarrel Restaurant, and then drove home. Sunday morning I rose at my usual 4 am, had breakfast, and dressed. One of the good things about a race I can drive to is the leisurely pace of race morning. I left my house around 5:45 for the 45 minute drive to Ocala and then sat in my warm car until around ten minutes to 7. The full marathon was to begin at 7 and the half at 7:15. I wanted to watch the marathoners take off and then position myself at the back of the start line for the half marathon.
Why didn’t I do the full marathon here? There were two reasons. It’s a double loop course and I have sworn off doing double loops. That second 13 miles is way too lonely for a back-of-the-packer like myself and it is much too easy to take a wrong turn when I am by myself. The second reason is the strict 6 hour time limit. I know I probably could have made the 6 hour cutoff with several minutes to spare but I dislike the stress involved with trying to meet the time limit. I will no doubt continue to do some marathons with a 6 hour limit but they will have to be ones on my wish-list of races (and minus a double loop).
As a result, the half marathon seemed like a good choice and it was (although it almost feels like cheating to do only 13.1 miles).
The course begins and ends in the shopping center, but most of the course is on rural roads that wind through idyllic horse farms and cattle ranches. Large oak trees line the roads and provide ample shade, although it is usually fairly cloudy and the temperatures in Ocala are rarely hot and humid in January. This year the weather was ideal – in the 50’s to start and the 60’s at the close. There are rolling hills, plenty of aid stations with water, Gatorade, gels, and bananas and oranges, and lots of enthusiastic young people manning the aid stations cheering us on. Otherwise, spectators were sparse. The roads were coned off but it was confusing as to which lane runners were supposed to be on – sometimes it was the left lane, other times the right. Drivers were confused as well and I saw some interesting maneuvers by drivers trying to avoid runners. Still, for the most part, traffic was light and drivers were very courteous and careful.
I crossed the finish line in 2:43, a few minutes slower than last year but still a respectable time for me. The medal is attractive but the lanyard is exceptionally so.
Publix provided fruit, rolls and spreads, sandwiches, blueberry muffins, and cookies at the finish line, and all racers received a chilled bottle of water. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning. I would definitely recommend the Ocala Half Marathon to walkers who enjoy a rural atmosphere and pleasant scenery.