This past weekend I did another repeat race, the Ocala half marathon. Offerings also include a full marathon as well but since the full is a double loop (not my favorite iteration) with a strict 6-hour time limit, I’ve never been brave enough to attempt the full and have always chosen the half instead. I did this race in 2012 and 2013, finishing in 2:40 and 2:43 respectively. I remembered the course as an attractive jaunt through horse ranches, with rolling hills and peaceful countryside.
Although there were some changes this year, the race course is essentially the same and just as pleasant. My only complaints revolved around the lack of coned lanes for runners (while traffic was fairly light on Sunday morning there was a steady stream of vehicles on some of the more narrow roads and I felt I had to watch for cars every minute) and loneliness at the back-of-the-pack for miles 6 to the finish. I checked the number of finishers for previous years; it came as no surprise to me that this year there were only 188 half marathon finishers while in the past that number had been at least double. With the increasing popularity of half marathons, I am at a loss as to why the numbers had decreased so dramatically but this year there were long stretches of the race when I could see no one in front of or behind me.
The course is marked with bright red arrows on large signs that pointed racers in the appropriate direction. Markings were not as plentiful or useful as in First Light in Mobile, AL, but they were sufficient enough that I managed not to get lost.
Darcy and I drove down on Saturday, picked up my race packet at the Paddock Mall parking lot near Sears, and checked into our room at the Residence Inn about 5 minutes away. The race is chip-timed but the only timing mat is at the finish. There is no need for corrals with such a small field so there is plenty of room for everyone to cross the chalk line on the ground within a matter of minutes. The tee shirt is short-sleeve tech, so I told them to keep it or give to someone else. No point in taking something only to give it away. I wish more races offered a ‘no shirt’ option. We had a good dinner at the Miller’s Ale House, our go-to restaurant in Ocala, and then tucked in early for bed.
The marathon started at 7 and the half marathon at 7:15. Weather turned out to be perfect – about 55 at the start and 70 at the finish. No need for hand warmers or scarves, just a light jacket which I soon doffed and tied around my waist. For the first 4 miles I walked at a good clip with two friendly race walkers from Ohio but the soreness in my ribs and side from the fall in Mobile was still bothering me and I slowed down to adjust my arm movements to lessen the pain.
There were aid stations every mile or two, with water, Gatorade, bananas and orange slices, and very enthusiastic volunteers. Other spectators were rare. Police were at road crossings and on motorcycles. I had an unusual experience with one police officer who was directing traffic at an intersection. He had me wait (wait!) while he let two cars make a left turn in front of me. I am used to police holding up traffic so runners can cross and maintain pace so I was a little perturbed at having to come to a complete stop for these vehicles. It’s not like I was going to PR but it did make a jumble of my rhythm.
I crossed the finish line in 2:54, achieving my goal of under 3 hours, and received my medal decorated with a horse and horseshoe on it. There was plenty of food for runners – beans and rice, pulled pork, bagels, fruit, and cookies. This race is an enjoyable one and is recommended with certain caveats for walkers. Be alert for cars on the narrow roads, watch for the red arrows to direct you along the course, and expect to spend some time alone during the race, especially in the latter miles.