Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon – November 12, 2016 (Fort Oglethorpe, GA)

This was a fun race. At one time, I had considered signing up for the full marathon here but I had reservations because of the 6-hour time limit. Even in those years when I could easily finish a marathon in under six, I was hesitant because so many things can interfere with doing well in a race.

So, to make things a lot less stressful for me, I signed up for the half marathon and built in some time to explore the historic park after the race. We drove up on Friday morning, arriving around 2:30 in the afternoon. I had already checked in to the Hampton Inn at Fort Ringold, GA, so we were able to settle in until time for packet pickup between 4 and 8 pm at Fort Oglethorpe Baptist Church, about 7 ½ miles from the hotel and a short walk from the race start and finish.

There weren’t too many unique restaurants in the area so we decided to have an early supper at a nearby Applebee’s. After eating, it was time to unwind and relax in our hotel room. Both half and full races were set to begin at 7:30 Saturday morning (followed by a 5k at 8 am) so I set my alarm for 4 am. That would give me plenty of time to digest breakfast and make our way to the start, about 8 miles away.

It should be noted here that the race organizers had arranged for shuttle buses to stop at participating hotels at 6 and 6:30. Although the Hampton Inn was one of those hotels, it turned out that the 6:30 bus completely missed our hotel and left some runners stranded. Since I often take shuttles when they are offered, that would have left me in the lurch but because of the expected cold weather I had asked Darcy to drive me so I could stay in our nice warm car until I absolutely had to get out. As we made our way out the door of the hotel, my friend Mellody called out to me and explained the situation. We were happy to have her join us for the ride.

The weather was perfect – a cool 48 degrees at start, around 65 at the finish – but I was still glad to have the warmth of the car since that is chilly weather for me. Finally both Mellody and I had to find the portapotty line. Then, right on time, a cannon heralded the start of the races and we took off. The course, which winds through the historic battlefield with numerous monuments to fallen soldiers, is mostly paved and shaded – there is only a brief foray across grass and dirt for the first and last mile.

Aid stations were set up every couple of miles, with bananas, orange slices, gels, water, and Gatorade, offered by cheerful volunteers, many of them youngsters. The racers as well as the volunteers were friendly and enthusiastic. For first 8 miles or so I kept pace with Deborah who helped make the miles fly by as we chatted. She was fast, though, and after the halfway point she took off, finishing about 15 minutes ahead of me. Mellody was doing the full and trying hard to make the 6-hour cutoff time. We saw each other around mile 7 and then she too took off, whizzing past me. I was sure I could finish in about 3 hours but I was relaxed about it – half marathoners had the full 6 hours to complete the race, so stress was minimal.

In fact, I have nothing at all to complain about and can honestly write that I enjoyed the course immensely. Full marathoners had to repeat the loop again, with a few extra sections, but I was relieved and thankful I had signed up for the half. It was a relief to not have the burden of a strict time limit. My mind and legs were very grateful. Even though I tried my best and left everything I had out on the course, I was happy I only had to follow that loop once.

I crossed the finish line in 2:56 (I am nothing if not consistent!) and was given a medal which – this year – commemorated the state of Florida and its soldiers. There was hot soup and pizza and fruit at the finish. We also received a neat souvenir blanket, much nicer than the usual foil sheet. I felt so good that Darcy and I decided to stop at the Visitor’s Center and watch a movie about the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. We then had a satisfying lunch at O’Charley’s to celebrate. All in all, a very good day.

This half marathon is definitely recommended for walkers, and if you are fast, you might enjoy the full as well.

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