A Challenging New Course: The Tallahassee Half Marathon (February 7, 2016)

This was my 10th Tallahassee half marathon. I’ve only been racing for 10 years, so it stands to reason that this race must be one of my favorites. Truth is, I keep returning because I can convince my son David, who lives in Tallahassee, to do the race with me. We start out together but he quickly takes off, finishing at least 20 to 30 minutes ahead of me. He waits patiently at the finish line for me and since I have the key to his car in my pocket, he really has no choice but to wait for his back-of-the-pack mom.

I always did the half marathon because the full had a strict 6-hour time limit and with a small field of under 300 full marathoners, I would undoubtedly be at the very end and pressing that time limit severely even during my faster and younger years. I also knew that my son would balk at a full marathon but could manage to finish a half with just a minimum of training (ah, youth!).

In prior years, the race began on the Florida State University campus and ended on the FSU track. The course was flat and fast but notoriously lacking in scenery. Part of it went along the St. Mark’s Trail but there were few spectators and not much to look at, although there was a long out-and-back that allowed runners and walkers a chance to wave at each other. I never did the race for the scenery but rather for the chance to have one-one-one time with my son, at least on the drive to and from the race.

This year things were very different. The course was changed completely and it now focuses entirely on downtown Tallahassee and its surrounding areas. This makes logical sense for out-of-towners because visitors can stay at downtown hotels (the nearby DoubleTree was the host hotel), walk to the outdoor expo at Kleman Plaza, make their way to the start in front of the courthouse, and then back to their hotel from the finish line. There are many excellent restaurants close by as well as a number of things to do before and after race day. Instead of a pancake flat course, the new route encompasses hills, lots of hills, some steep, others long and gradual. It reminded me a lot of the Georgia marathon course in Atlanta. I must admit that I really enjoyed the energy-sapping hills, despite the fact that they occasionally caused me to breathe rather heavily. Walking uphill and running downhill always seems easier on my leg muscles and my feet than strictly flat terrain.

I can’t speak firsthand about the expo since my son picked up my packet for me on Saturday. He noted that there were about 30 vendors plus a play area for children. Tallahassee was experiencing freezing weather the entire weekend so most people limited the time they spent at the outside expo. Shirts were light blue tech, short-sleeved, with a print of the city skyline on the front. This too was different than in previous years, when a cute little groundhog was the unofficial mascot of the race and appeared on both shirts and medals. Medals this year were larger and also had a cutout of the city skyline on them.

There were aid stations every couple of miles with water, Gatorade, pretzels, and gels. Volunteers were excellent and the neighbors and church goers who came out to cheer us on were very vocal and positive. The police and course marshals were extremely helpful and invaluable, especially at the numerous street crossings. The course was marked with signs and with arrows chalked on the ground. However, I mostly followed the people ahead of me. It seems there were a lot of people running at my walking pace so I never worried about getting lost.

I crossed the finish line in 2:49:49 chip time, good enough for 2nd in my age group. Of course, David had already finished (30 minutes ahead of me) and was cheering me across. Afterwards we joined my husband and granddaughter and David’s girlfriend for brunch at Azu, a favorite Chinese restaurant.

Although I heard both positive and negative comments about the new course, I must admit I liked it. Two days later my quads and hamstrings are still pretty sore but overall I enjoyed those hills.

There was a lot of camaraderie at this year’s event, more so than in previous years. I found many people were eager to talk and share their experiences. While I was glad to turn off at mile 12 and head towards the half marathon finish line, a part of me wondered what the other half of the new course was like. It was supposed to wind around the FSU campus and finish on a new special permanent finish line several yards from the half finish. Maybe next year I will be able to talk my son into trying his first full marathon and we can see for ourselves how the second half of the course unfolds.

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