Two Weekends, Two Half Marathons – Tomoka (March 26, 2016) and Savannah Women’s (April 2, 2016)

The Tomoka races – full and half marathons – are held in Ormond Beach, Florida, always on the last weekend in March. I’ve completed the marathon twice, during its inaugural year in 2014 as well as the following year in 2015 and I signed up once again to do the full. However, this year’s events fell on Easter weekend and I unexpectedly had to host an Easter Sunday brunch in midmorning instead of a much later dinner. That meant that we would be leaving the race as soon as I finished so I could arrive home to shower, change clothes, and prepare to do a repertoire of springtime dishes for the next day. A full marathon really tires me out, so I knew I would be exhausted. A half marathon, on the other hand, would be just as much fun, last only about 3 hours, and I would not be decimated. I emailed the RD to ask about dropping down and was told there would be no problem.

The RD was correct. I easily switched races at the small expo held at the local YMCA and received a new bib and number. The shirt was a short-sleeve gray tech and destined for the charity pile. Because the host hotel, the Hampton Inn, was sold out far in advance, I had to make reservations at a Courtyard in Daytona Beach. This was a little out of the way but not a bad choice since Darcy was planning to drop me off at the starting line at the historic Casements in Rockefeller Gardens on North Riverside Drive. Only guests staying at the host hotel are supposed to use the shuttle to the Casements but since there is plenty of free parking at a nearby elementary school, driving is not a problem and is certainly convenient when getting ready to leave after the race.

I’ve posted reviews of my previous experiences doing the Tomoka Marathon so I won’t repeat particulars here. The half marathon starts at 7 am, 30 minutes after the full. There is also a 5k that begins at 7:30. One of the reasons I enjoy the marathon here is because of the beauty of the course which follows parts of the canopy oaks covered Old Dixie Highway and runs through several state parks (dirt and small pebbles but no tripping hazards) and crosses a drawbridge. The half marathon course is pleasant enough and includes a section of Tomoka State Park but skips my favorite section along the Old Dixie Highway. Both races go over the Granada Bridge at the beginning and end – easy at the early miles but a challenge approaching miles 25 and 26. I crossed the finish line in 2:50; I felt great and when I reviewed photos taken during the race I could see that I must have been smiling the entire time. Well, why not? It was a fun race and 13.1 miles is so easy compared to 26.2. Everything is relative, I guess. We made it home in about 4 hours and I had plenty of time to shower, change clothes, and start food preparation – sausage hash brown casserole, deviled eggs, pulled pork sliders, cinnamon coffee cake, fruit salad, triple chocolate cupcakes, chocolate marshmallow pie, and a few other sides.

Definitely recommended for walkers. There is a 7-hour time limit, though if doing the full, it gets a little lonely at the back (most of the 330 or so finishers are done by 4 hours). However, I’ve not been last here (yet) and the course is well-marked, easy to follow, and there are plenty of helpful volunteers. I will probably attempt the full next year.

Next up was the Savannah Women’s Half Marathon on April 2, my birthday. Since we’ve been through Savannah on our way to somewhere else but never visited the city itself, I was looking forward to doing some sightseeing as well as the race. We left Friday morning for the 4-hour drive. Traffic was heavy and there were several accidents and some road construction but we managed to arrive in town around 2 in the afternoon.

Our hotel was the Hilton DeSoto, a beautiful building and the host hotel for the race. Our room was ready and we were able to settle right in. The lady at the front desk was exceptionally kind, especially when I told her I was doing the race for my 69th birthday. Later in the day we were surprised when I answered a knock on the door to find that she had sent up a bottle of wine and a cheese and cracker platter, gratis.

But we saved that treat for later because we had already eaten a huge and delicious meal at Moon River Brewery. We stopped by the expo, conveniently held right in the hotel, and I picked up my bib with no waiting. There is no tee shirt (thank goodness) but participants instead received a large grey and purple zippered tote bag. That was a nice change. The expo was slightly larger than the one in Ormond Beach and had a few unusual vendors, including one that sold all kinds of flavored popcorn and another that sold salt and other seasonings. I splurged and bought a turmeric seasoning blend to mix with sour cream or cream cheese; the sample dip was tasty and turmeric is supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Publix is the primary sponsor so they had a booth – no $5 off coupons (I keep asking) but free towels.

In addition to the half marathon, there is also a 5k. Both begin Saturday morning at the same time, 7:30, in nearby Forsyth Park. There is also packet pickup on race morning from 6:15 to 7:15 in the park. This was a good thing for many racers, because storms were heading through northeast Georgia, heading straight for Savannah and points north so traffic was snarled on many major highways and visibility was poor. Some people posted on the race Facebook page that they might not make the expo by its 8 pm closing time. I was glad we had arrived before the bad weather, but race morning itself turned out fine. It was cloudy but there was no rain (though there was a brief drizzle towards the end of the race), and temperatures were in the mid-60’s, perfect for me, since I didn’t need a jacket. I did wear a rain coverall just in case but took it off after two miles.

One thing I did was prepare a laminated sign that I pinned to the back of my racing vest. It said “today is my 69th birthday” and I had downloaded some pictures of a birthday cake and runners. Many many kind people shouted ‘happy birthday’ to me as they passed and that really made me feel special. I always try to find a race that falls near my birthday but this was the first time I was able to do one that was actually ON my birthday.

There were so many things to like about this race and this city. The course is well-marked and stays within the city boundaries, passing by and through a number of the beautiful squares and parks that make Savannah so remarkable. There were sufficient aid stations well-manned by friendly volunteers, police were at all intersections, and streets were closed so there was no worry about traffic. Around mile 4 I met up with Maniac and 50 Stater friend Liz and we spent the next 6 miles together. Since Liz was planning to do the All American Marathon in NC the next day, she was conserving some of her energy for that race. I, on the other hand, had no such excuse (in fact, I have a week off) so I pressed harder to see if I could finish in under 3 hours. I crossed the finish line in 2:55, pleased that I met my goal. Post-race sustenance included bananas, blueberry muffins, and bottled water in a canvas Publix bag. The medal was attractive, purple with a swirling replica of a fountain in the center. Beer was available but I was drawn to the freshly made mimosas – they just hit the spot!  Runners could get two so I shared with Darcy.

After the race, Darcy and I walked back to the hotel where I showered and changed clothes. No need to rest much after only 13.1 miles – I was ready to play tourist. We ate lunch at the highly touted Vic’s on the River (both Darcy and I found the meal overrated and much less tasty than our dinner at Moon River on Friday) and then walked along the river until time for our tour of the Juliette Gordon Low House. We joined the groups of Daisies and Brownies to visit the home of the founder of Girl Scouts (I had been both a Brownie and Scout so I enjoyed this; Darcy kindly tolerated it).

After that it was time for dessert. We took our place in the long line winding around Leopold’s, a famous Savannah ice cream parlor. It took 30 minutes to reach the counter but it was worth it. I had a sundae with the works and my favorite ice cream flavor, maple walnut (a seasonal flavor) and blamed the splurge on my birthday. Even though we were full, we just had to make a stop at Chocolat so we could buy some special chocolates for later. The varieties of chocolate delicacies are arranged here on shelves with card catalog file replicas to use as ‘shopping carts’ – how could a librarian resist that?

Savannah the city surprised me. I hadn’t expected it to be so lovely and so full of American history. I can hardly wait to return for another visit. I would love to do the race again and try some other restaurants, take a trolley tour, and maybe visit a museum or two.

The races, both the half and the 5k, are very walker friendly and highly recommended.

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2 thoughts on “Two Weekends, Two Half Marathons – Tomoka (March 26, 2016) and Savannah Women’s (April 2, 2016)

  1. Hello — I came across your blog while looking for race reports by marathon walkers. Just wanted to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed reading your reports; although I may never make it to the South for a race, it’s inspiring to read about such an accomplished walker. I am beyond impressed that you walked a sub-3 half-marathon and then went home and made all that food! Happy birthday, and thank you for sharing your adventures.

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