Squeezing in Just One More Half: The Lake Minneola Half Marathon, April 24, 2016 (Clermont, FL)

As I write this I am lying on my bed three days after surgery, my legs elevated and right foot bandaged and iced. The surgery was planned and carefully orchestrated to fall in between the races on my spring calendar. Even with attention to meticulous timing, it was hard for me to avoid signing up for enticing races.   I had to weigh the pros of finally taking care of some long-standing foot problems with the cons of missing out on good races and losing the strength and training I had worked so hard to attain. However, I realized it was time to take the plunge before my foot problems became more severe.

But before I made a date for my surgery, I tried to squeeze as many races as possible into my schedule. I managed to do four races in March and three in April, including this excellent half marathon in Clermont, Florida, a small city just west of Orlando. Unless I experience a miraculous recovery, the Lake Minneola Half Marathon will have to tied me over until my expected return to racing in June.

The trip was a brief one. Since Clermont is only a four-hour drive via several interstates and the Florida Turnpike, we left on Saturday morning and planned to return on Sunday right after the race. Our first stop was at the race site at Waterfront Park at Lake Minneola. The weather in south Florida was already hot and humid and the lake was filled with swimmers and sunbathers enjoying the warm temperatures. Packet pickup was from 11 to 4 on Saturday at the Highlander Building right across the street from the lake. It took less than 2 minutes to get my race shirt (short-sleeve royal blue poly-cotton) and my bib along with one of the rectangular chips that must be attached to one’s shoe laces (it’s been awhile since I’ve seen those). There is packet pickup on Sunday morning as well.

We had reservations at the local Hampton Inn but since our room wasn’t ready yet we walked over to Carrabba’s for lunch. Since this race attracts mostly locals, there is no specific host hotel but the area has many options. The Hampton was clean and attractive but rather pricey; this was one of the reasons we decided to stay only one night. I suspect that the high cost of a room was due to the fact that it was bike week in nearby Leesburg. However, we were able to get a late checkout so I could return after the race for a quick and very welcome shower before leaving.

On Sunday, I was up and ready to go by 5:30. The race was supposed to start at 7, with a 5k at 7:40, but since I always like to get to the race site in plenty of time, we arrived by 6 am. Usually Darcy waits with me until the race begins, but he was feeling miserable, with a troublesome cold, cough, and sinus congestion so he dropped me off and returned to the hotel for more rest. The weather was in the upper 60’s and pleasant so I didn’t mind at all; I wandered along the lakefront and people-watched until the race began. There were real bathrooms plus additional portapotties.

Around 6:45, an announcement was made for people to line up out front. Everything seemed to be extremely well-organized; timing mats were placed down, banners with pace per mile were set up, and people chatted and laughed. The atmosphere was casual and relaxed and I began to enjoy myself immensely. The usual angst I feel before a race was not present. I realized that this was in large part due to the nature of a half versus a full marathon. Many people sported Fanatics and Double Agents shirts (and I had on my Fanatic singlet and Maniac cap).

The race began about 5 minutes after 7 (something about fog, I think) and we headed north through some relatively hilly neighborhoods. Yes, it surprised me too, that there were hills here in central Florida, but – because they occurred during the first 6 miles – they were a minor issue. The rest of the course was pancake flat and took us around the lake, through some well-heeled neighborhoods, and back again by the Lake. The trail is completely paved and in great condition, no cracks or tripping hazards. Several of the aid stations offered gel packets as well as water and Heed.

Around mile 6 a young woman caught up with me and said she had seen me at the Tomoka half. She complimented me on my steady pace and told me she had to run a bit to catch up with me. That made me feel pretty good since she seemed about two or three decades younger than me!

I crossed the finish line in 2:48 (right around my usual half marathon finishing time) and collected my medal, an attractive beverage opener on a narrow lanyard. Post-race food included pasta (with and without meat), fruit, and water. There was a table with several computers so people could check their times but it seems a technical glitch made that impossible. It was kind of funny, too, that as we crossed the finish line, the announcer read off our numbers but not our names or where we were from. In fact, the only complaint I could make about this race (and it is a very minor one) is that I had to wait a couple of days to see results posted online.

The half marathon has a 4-hour time limit, with several finishers who came in over that limit, though not by much. This year there were 486 finishers and they were evenly spread out over the course. I always had people I could see in front of me and behind me, which I find very reassuring. I highly recommend this race for walkers.

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