Experience has taught me that the half marathon here is much better than the full for anyone that needs at least 5+ hours to complete a marathon. It’s not because aid stations close down (though they may be unmanned). There are plenty of cones to separate runners from traffic and course marshals remain at the ready to guide racers, but the long uphill stretch along Williston Road (miles 18 through 22) are lonely and boring, especially after the variety of scenery offered by the first 13 miles. The several times I have completed the full, I was alone for most of the last 13 miles. While the finish line was still open, there was no more food and the awards had already been distributed or packed up.
That made doing the half an easy decision. I drove to Gainesville on Saturday, had a pleasant brunch at the Hilton with Marylyn, my friend and former boss, walked across the street to packet pickup at the UF Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Institute, and then had a much-welcome massage with Kathy, my massage therapist whom I now get to see only sporadically. I also had a chance to visit with Karolyn, my friend and former neighbor.
There are only a few booths at packet pickup so I hesitate to call it an expo, but considering the small size of the running field, that was reasonable. There was a single long line for everyone, whether one was racing the full, half, or relay, but the line moved quickly and smoothly. Everyone received a bright red bag (the race series is sponsored by LifeSouth Blood Center so the color is appropriate), a water bottle, some ads, and a bib with chip and our name on it. The tee shirt is a navy short-sleeve tech shirt with a picture of an alligator’s head rising from the surface of Lake Alice. In the eye of the Gator is a runner. How appropriate for Gainesville, home of the Florida Gators! While the shirt is 100% polyester, it has a soft cottony feel and I’ve already worn it several times.
I stayed at the Hilton on SW 34th Street, right across from the Performing Arts Center, site of the race start and finish. The hotel was pricey but I was only staying the one night and the convenience of walking out 15 minutes before the 7 am race start was worth the cost. I was up early on Sunday, ate a quick breakfast in my room, dressed, and checked on the weather outside. It was cold but not freezing, warmer than last week in Jacksonville, so I wore just one long-sleeved shirt with roll-up sleeves, my Half Fanatics singlet, vest, cap, and a light jacket with lots of pockets (the jacket came off and was tied around my waist after the first 4 miles).
Of course, there were already long lines at the portapotties (only about a dozen or so for 3000 people) so I quickly joined one and waited my turn. I then walked around the staging area, looking around for familiar faces. I soon found Bettie and Cheryl and gabbed with them for a few moments. Very soon it was time to find our pace signs out on the street. For some unfathomable reason, this race has marathoners line up in front of all the half marathoners, instead of having everyone line up by their pace. When I have done the full here, I would be bombarded by hordes of fast half marathoners rushing past me. Now that I was doing the half, I could casually line up towards the back and not have to worry about getting swamped by faster runners.
We took off on time and headed up 34th Street, turning left on Newberry, and right on 43rd. Police were on every corner and at every street crossing, cheering us on. One of my favorite parts of this race comes next – the “hills” of 16th Avenue, those same hills that Olympian Frank Shorter trained on when he attended the University of Florida. This part of the course was also where I trained for my first race, the Tom Walker half marathon. In fact, mile 6 goes right past the street where I used to live.
The remainder of the 13 miles takes participants downtown, past the historic Duck Pond area, through the tunnel under 13th street that leads everyone to campus, around the football stadium, down Fraternity Drive, and along Lake Alice. The final romp along Museum Road leads back to the Performing Arts Center finish line and passes by the bat house and university communal gardens. I was immensely happy to make a right turn at the end of the road and head to the finish line. I finished in 2:48, third in my age group.
After getting my medal (with the same alligator design as the tee shirt) and a slice of pizza (one benefit of doing the half – food is still available), I waited for fellow Maniac and 50 Stater Cheryl so I could give her my collection of tech tee shirts. I love to piece and quilt, but I don’t like to wear or work with polyester and I don’t enjoy machine quilting, so I have many shirts that just take up space in my closet. Some I donate to charity but those from my favorite races are too memory-laden to give away. Cheryl has a popular quilt-making business (Run With It Quilts) that helps fund her trips to races and she does beautiful work, so I commissioned her to make me a quilt. Her website is www.gallery123uniques.com, in case others have the same desire to have a tee shirt memory quilt made.
I highly recommend the Five Points half marathon for walkers and velocity-challenged runners. If you stay at the Hilton across the street for convenience (the host hotels are further away), it is possible to walk to the expo as well as the start and finish lines. Restaurants (except for the expensive hotel restaurant) are a short drive away; most major chains are represented locally (this is a college town, after all) but if you want really good pizza, try Blue Highway in Micanopy (10 miles away). For seafood, Northwest Grille up on 39th Avenue is fine as is Flying Biscuit on 16th Avenue for breakfast. And don’t forget to wear orange and blue!