As Hurricane Matthew blew through the Caribbean and headed towards eastern Florida and up the southeast coast, bringing disastrous flooding and strong winds to many communities, there was a good chance this race would be canceled. Although the race site in Florida’s panhandle was spared from Matthew’s fury, the race organizers were from the low country of South Carolina, and that was indeed right along the hurricane’s path. Fortunately, the race director was able to travel successfully to western Florida and all races (a 5k and 10 miler on Saturday and a 10k and half marathon on Sunday) went on as planned.
We drove to the panhandle on Saturday afternoon, arriving around 2:30 in the afternoon Central Time. Packet pickup began at 3 at Pandora’s, a local restaurant, so we spent half an hour exploring the surrounding area and walking to Grayton Beach along the sand dunes. One of the reasons I decided to sign up for this race was the low-cost option of a ‘retro’ registration. Participants who signed up for the retro version would get an official time but no tee shirt or medal. That was fine with me. I only wanted the official time and certainly didn’t need another medal and I didn’t want a tee shirt I would never wear. So for $45, I was in. That made packet pickup easy; I just got my bib (with chip on the back) and that was it.
Our hotel was about 25 minutes away, a very attractive and clean Marriott Courtyard. After checking in, we walked to the nearby Applebee’s and enjoyed an early dinner (although we usually prefer to eat in a locally recommended restaurant, sometimes convenience trumps taste – and Applebee’s has very good sweet potato fries, my favorite). We relaxed in our room while Darcy watched football and I knitted.
Sunday morning arrived and I woke a little before 3:30 am so I could have my breakfast and get dressed well before the 7 am start. Our plan was to leave around 6 so we could have plenty of time to check out the start. Only problem was that I had forgotten to change the time on my IPad to Central Time and so I woke an hour earlier than I needed to. That was okay; I just read until it was time to go.
Instead of my usual pre-race jitters I was fairly at ease. Funny how half marathons don’t stress me out the way longer races – or trail races – do. Still, I was a bit concerned about getting lost since this was a small race. I had no idea how very small the race was, in part because the 10k people were mixed in with the half marathoners and the bibs didn’t distinguish between races. We all started at 7 am and ran the first 6.2 miles together, across the timing mat at the 10k point, and the half marathoners continued along route 30A.
I hadn’t seen a map of the course although I had read the description on the website. But the street names meant nothing to me since I was unfamiliar with the area so I was surprised when we made a loop around the town of Grayton, headed down the highway for a couple of miles, and then made that same Grayton loop again. That brought us to 6 miles, with the timing tent just .2 down the road. From there we stayed on 30A until we took a left at mile 8 and went uphill towards a touristy residential beach area (though we couldn’t see the water at all because of all the 3 story houses) to the turnaround at mile 10. At that point, we retraced our steps back to the timing tent. There were only 92 runners in the half and I came in at #82, so I wasn’t at the very end but close. Still, I finished in 2:54:22, under my goal of 3 hours, so I was completely satisfied. Placing 2nd in my age group helped too.
Darcy met me at the finish line and we walked to the award ceremony and food and drink area at Pandora’s. There was fruit, granola bars, and little sub sandwiches (ham or beef) plus soda and water. As we got ready to leave, one of the volunteers asked me if I wanted a tee shirt. I explained that I was a retro runner but she replied that they had plenty of shirts and since the half marathon shirt was cotton and a pretty light blue, a gratefully accepted one.
Then it was back to our hotel so I could take a quick shower and take advantage of our requested late check out. As we drove home, Darcy asked me if I would do this race again (something he always asks me after a race) and I said ‘yes’ – I would definitely consider this race again. I think I was the only person who walked the entire way so it was definitely a little lonely along parts of the course, but now that I understand the course layout, I wouldn’t worry about getting lost. Most of the route is along a paved bike path and the rest is on paved streets. I was glad I wore gaiters because there was sand and some pebbles that could easily have penetrated my shoes so I’m sure they helped (though I didn’t see anyone else with gaiters on).
Recommended for walkers.