It was a bitter cold Sunday morning, 28 degrees according to the Weather Channel, and I really wanted to stay huddled and cozy under the warm quilts on my bed. My sore arm, injured in the Delirium 24 Hour race the week before, was still hurting quite a bit and I did not look forward to walking a marathon while in constant pain. Earlier that week my husband and friends all told me to stay home and forget about this race. But, heck, it was practically in my back yard, mile 6 goes right past my street, and the first half of the course is challenging but fun. The second half, however, is the proverbial bear, a real teeth-gritting experience; it takes a lot of mental forbearance and determination to face the long uphill winding roads in a headwind with no spectators and few fellow runners. In fact, for most of the last 10 miles, I was completely alone on the course.
Now, I knew all this in advance. I had walked the half marathon back in 2008 and had completed the full marathon in 2009 and 2010. The race has a 6 hour time limit but I felt confident that even if I got lost I would be able, eventually, to find my way to the finish line and back home; after all, I have lived in this town for almost 25 years. In 2009, race officials kept the finish line open well past the 6 hour limit and there was plenty of pizza, water, and bananas for late-comers. I even won my age group and was awarded a nice metal cup. In 2010, however, the timing clock was the only thing still standing at 6 hours, all the food had disappeared, and although I won my age group again, there was nobody around to give me my award. I was disappointed and vowed never to do this race again. And I kept my word – until this year. In 2011, I did the Myrtle Beach Marathon in SC and thought it was a great race, very well-done. In 2012, I did the Austin Marathon for the second time and enjoyed that race immensely. Recaps of both races appeared on this blog. There are a lot of races on this weekend in February so it seemed rather silly to sign up for one that was just so-so. The big attraction of Five Points was its proximity to my home.
So on that freezing cold Sunday I pulled myself out of bed, ate breakfast, dressed warmly, and woke up my husband and asked him to drive me as close to the starting line as possible; my arm and wrist were still hurting and I was concerned about driving. I had to walk a little over a mile to get to the Performing Arts Center on campus, site of the start. Half marathoners lined up on the left side of the road while the small group of full marathoners (126 of us) lined up on the right. The siren blew and we took off. Although we were told to stay on our respective sides until we reached Newberry Road, it didn’t take long before the half marathoners encroached upon the entire road, with the faster runners dominating the road and elbowing slower runners and walkers out of the way. It would have been smarter if people had lined up by pace but that is something that race officials here have yet to understand.
There is not much to see for the first 4 miles, mostly stores and neighborhoods, but soon runners reach the infamous ‘hills’ of 16th Avenue that Olympic star Frank Shorter trained on when he attended the University of Florida. Upon reaching 13th Street, runners head east towards the historic Duckpond area with its attractive older homes and the restaurants and theaters of downtown Gainesville. Then it’s back to 13th Street where racers go under the street at the School of Education via a graffiti-filled tunnel and out the other side on the campus proper. This is a fun section of the course and is highlighted by a run through the Florida Field concourse, by other University of Florida buildings, along Lake Alice, and then to the half-full split. The course for both races is identical until the 13 mile mark when half marathoners return to the starting line and full marathoners continue on, heading back downtown along a bike path and city streets that eventually intersect with Williston Road, a very long, very boring stretch of the course. The agony of Williston Road ends at mile 22 when runners face another very long, very boring couple of miles until finally back on campus and the final .2 to the finish line.
It was a real struggle to complete those final 13 miles, cold, mostly alone, and hurting. I crossed the finish line in 5:54 and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Someone handed me a medal and I had to ask about food. A table with some bananas, water bottles, and pizza was pointed out to me. Ten minutes later, the timing clock was taken down and everything was packed up. There was no party, no entertainment, and nobody around to ask about awards. Turns out I won my age group again but was sent an email telling me to go to LifeSouth, the Five Points race sponsor, to pick it up. No problem there, I stopped by on Tuesday, but I was very disappointed to see that the ‘award’ was a medal from a previous year’s event on a lanyard that simply said ‘1st place.’ No mention of age group, no personalization, just an old medal on a meaningless ribbon. I was also given a cooling towel. Both items went into my basket for Goodwill.
Enough griping. There was one outstanding aspect of this race – the police, medical staff, and volunteers. All of them were polite, supportive, and cheerful, despite having to withstand freezing cold weather. There were 8 medical tents and at every single one of them, medics would cheer and clap as runners and walkers passed by. The policemen and policewomen were terrific at stopping traffic at every intersection while giving us thumbs up and shouting encouraging words. This was extremely important to me and I am sure other racers appreciated it as well.
But still – I really should have known better and stayed under those covers. The Five Points of Life marathon is definitely not recommended for walkers. The half marathon is recommended for walkers only if you live close by or are a died-in-the-wool Gator fan.