The Inaugural Tomoka Marathon (Ormond Beach, FL) – March 29, 2014

It’s always an adventure to do an inaugural marathon because the chances are good that something will go awry. Despite that, inaugural races are compelling because the race director is often willing to be flexible with time limits, race discounts, packet pickup, shirt exchanges, and other stuff important to racers.  I signed up for the first Tomoka Marathon because there was a 6 ½ hour time limit, a registration discount for Marathon Maniacs, and the destination was an easy 2 hour drive from my home.

This was a quick little trip to Ormand Beach, near Daytona. My husband and I left on Friday afternoon and drove straight to packet pickup at The Casements, the former winter home of John D. Rockefeller.  This venerable old building has an intriguing history, not only as Rockefeller’s home in the early 20th century but also as a college for young women, and then a retirement home and hotel.  It is now on the National Register of Historic Places and open to the public.  Getting my bib and gender specific tee shirt (short sleeve green technical) was simple and quick.  The timing chip was a rectangular IPICO one that had to be returned (unlike the ones at Seabrook that could be kept as souvenirs).  Hours for packet pickup were generous and included the Thursday before and the morning of the race.

Once that was done, it was time to check into the host hotel, a local Hampton Inn about 5 miles away. Shuttle buses were scheduled to bring runners and supporters to and from the race site on a continuous loop from 5:30 am to 2 pm on race day.  It was also possible to drive to the race start; parking was available but taking the bus was easier and more efficient.  The buses were waiting for runners to board just past 5:15 (the Hampton Inn was kind enough to open their breakfast bar at 5) and left on time.

The start line was right in front of The Casements while the finish line was located several yards away. I was up early after a fairly restful night, boarded the first bus, made the obligatory trip to a porta-potty, and then waited inside the building talking to people and trying to relax.  The weather was an issue here.  Reports called for thunderstorms early in the morning and later in the afternoon.  I wore a rain jacket plus a slicker, but as we lined up outside just before the 7 am start, it was cloudy and overcast but dry (although it had rained the previous evening).  Temps were in the low 60’s and that was pleasant.  The race was supposed to begin at 7 but evidently there was a problem closing the streets to traffic and the gun did not go off until 7:30.  Meanwhile, runners and walkers were getting impatient, especially slower participants like me, because there were 2 hard cutoffs in the race and we were unsure whether those would be extended for 30 minutes to accommodate us.

It was good to finally move! We began by heading south on a short out-and-back, then crossed the long Granada Bridge over the Halifax River (the only ‘hill’ on the entire race), and then headed north to Tomoka State Park.  Miles 4 through 8 are an out-and-back within the park itself and consisted of a sandy trail with some rocks and sticks and several big puddles left from the preceding night’s rain.  Naturally, several rocks worked their way into my shoes but fortunately did not turn out to be a major problem.  Had I known about this section, though, I probably have worn my gaiters.

When we finished this portion of the course, the half marathoners split off from us and returned back over the bridge to their finish line. Full marathoners turned north and continued in that direction until mile 14.  As soon as I reached the half/full split and made the turn, I was by myself.  I knew there were many people ahead of me but I couldn’t see them.  There were at least 3 people behind me because I had passed them in the park.  Usually this would be an anxious moment for me because I would worry about getting lost, but I had studied the course layout and it was pretty straightforward.  I knew I had to keep on the same highway until mile 14, then take a right turn, and stay on that road until the first cutoff (4 hours 15 minutes into the race) at mile 17.  Then the course turned right again, heading south, until the second cutoff at mile 24 (6 hours into the race), and then moved east for the final 2.2 miles.  I was pretty sure I could manage.

I needn’t have worried. There were volunteers at every critical turn to guide me. There were also plenty of aid stations, about one every mile or so, and they were staffed by more cheerful volunteers who handed out water and Gatorade, gels, and even some snacks like peanut butter and jelly quarters and cookies.

Miles 8 through 14 turned out to be my favorite part of the course. I liked the quiet and peacefulness of the area, with just the sounds of birds to keep me company.  I passed one walker during this section and she also mentioned how beautiful this area seemed.  Traffic was light in the opposite direction (and at least in this portion was curtailed going northward) and drivers in general tended to be courteous and supportive of racers.  While there were lots of oak trees in the park, I enjoyed the vistas along the road even more; they seemed very typical of ‘old Florida,’ with pines, palm trees, creeks, and marshes.

At mile 14, I made the requisite turn, passed another person, and then was alone once more until just before the turn at mile 17. There I had to cross another bridge before heading south.  This time the bridge was a drawbridge – and it was UP!  I thought ‘oh,  this is good, if it stays up, I will be able to catch several people who had been stopped by the bridge’ but just as I got within several yards of them, the bridge came down and the road opened up.  I did manage to meet up with these runners just past mile 17 and amazingly I made it only five minutes after the original cutoff time.

I’m sure the rest of the course was very scenic but by mile 18 it began to drizzle and then rain with a vengeance and, at that point, my primary concern was to finish and not get struck by lightning! The sag wagon kept circling runners at that point, trying to get us to ride to the finish line, but I managed to just keep moving as fast as I could and studiously avoided eye contact with the driver and the police at intersections.  I later learned that the police wanted to call the race early because of a severe thunderstorm warning but the race director said ‘no’ and besides, none of the runners would stop.

The deluge continued right through my final miles to the finish line. I was completely drenched, my shoes felt like they were wet bricks, and my clothes and hair were sopping wet, but I finished the race in 6:03, just a little over my usual goal of sub-6.  After getting my medal (I really earned this one!), my husband brought me some dry clothes and I changed in the ladies room at The Casements.  The post-race meal was pancakes, sausage, and coffee, not the usual fare, but good nonetheless.  After eating our fill, Darcy and I made our way through the storm to our car and drove home.

As inaugural races go, this one was better than most. The only real problem was the long delay at the start; in future years, traffic control may improve.  If the weather had been better, the worry about the cutoff times would not be an issue to walkers who can manage a 6 ½ hour finish.  There were two wonderful aspects to this race.  The first was the course itself –walking through what I consider the real Florida was impressive.  The other wonderful part of this race was the volunteers – they were, in a word, magnificent.  They stayed at their stations despite the really nasty weather, through all the crashing thunder and lightning, right up to the last runner and walker.  Back-of-the-packers like me definitely appreciate those stalwart volunteers who stay at their posts to help us out, despite bad weather and boredom.  The Tomoka Marathon volunteers all deserve gold stars!

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