Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon (November 5, 2016) – Gainesville, Florida

This was my very first race, way back in October of 2005. I realize it is somewhat unusual to do a half marathon for an initial race but I didn’t know any better, so I trained assiduously for several months by power walking around a 3 ½ mile loop in a nearby neighborhood. When I could complete this loop four times in under 3 hours, a total of 14 miles, I felt reasonably confident that a half marathon was within my reach. In 2005, the race course was held in the historic town of Micanopy, about 10 miles south of Gainesville.

A few years later, the race was moved from the streets and roads of Micanopy to Boulware Springs Park, along the paved Gainesville-Hawthorne bike trail that crosses Paynes Prairie. The newer course is a pleasant, partially shaded, out-and-back that is used primarily by cyclists.

I returned to Gainesville to do this race because I had other reasons to visit the city. In addition to a doctor’s appointment, Darcy and I visited the Serenity Garden at Cofrin Nature Park to have a brick placed in the garden in memory of our son Ben’s passing 2 years ago. That was on Friday.

The race was Saturday morning, with packet pickup beginning at 7. It was chilly and I overdressed to keep warm as I waited for the 8 am start. Mosquitos were active and biting despite the cold and I spent a good portion of the morning trying to brush them off my legs. Both the 5k (with 51 people) and the half marathon began at the same time. During this year’s race, I saw no pedestrians or dog walkers, only runners and bike riders. This made it very lonely for back-of-the packers like myself. Most of the 237 participants were fairly fast runners, although there was an official run-walk 3-hour pacer; she finished just ahead of me, in 2:56, leaving me to cross the finish line in 2:57, officially the last person (known affectionately in racing parlance as DFL).

While this remains a significant race to me for purely sentimental reasons, I doubt I will do it again. The timing clock was stopped at 3 hours but there was no mention of a time limit on the race web site. I knew that there was one young woman who was behind me when I made it to the 6 ½ mile cone at the turnaround but she was not listed as finishing. That would have been a major disappointment to me. At the time, I had no idea that the clock was stopped just after I crossed the finish line. It was only when I scanned the results that I realized what had happened. For that reason I would not recommend this half marathon for walkers; it would be necessary to maintain a pace consistently under 13 minutes to meet the time limit and it is very lonely for long stretches, especially the last 8 miles or so.

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