This was an inaugural half marathon and the first of a special series of races held in the Clermont area just north of Orlando. Last year there was a discount available to people who signed up for all three of the halfs in the series – this one at the winery, the Orange Blossom half at Haines City in March, and the Lake Minneola Half in April in Clermont. I enjoyed the Lake Minneola race so much when I walked it last year that I decided to take advantage of the series and try all three in 2017. Successful finishers of the series are supposed to get another special 4th medal.
I liked this race quite a bit. There were a few snafus, and one can read complaints about traffic, a late start, running out of shirts and medals, etc. on the race’s Facebook page. Fortunately, I didn’t experience most of these problems, and that may have been due to arriving at the race venue very early so parking was not a problem. We also managed to pick up our bib, chip (the old-fashioned kind that ties on your shoe and must be returned), shirt, and wine glass on Saturday, the day before the race. When I asked the volunteer at packet pickup if there was anything else we needed to do, she said ‘be sure to arrive early because there are 2200 people registered for all three races’ (in addition to the half there is also a 10k and 5k). Forewarned, we duly arrived an hour and a half before the start on Sunday morning.
For the sake of brevity, here’s what I found good and bad about the event.
The good stuff:
- The tee shirt is a long-sleeve white cotton/poly blend with a design of the winery on the front. I’ve worn it once already and plan to do so again. Though we were promised gender specific shirts, those were unavailable but we were warned in emails about the problem and our sizes were changed to reflect the alteration. My lady’s medium became a men’s small and fit just fine.
- At packet pickup I was given a huge wine goblet, again with the Lakeside Winery logo on it. It was a good idea to give it out before the race instead of at the finish line – less breakage.
- The course was not closed to traffic but cars were few. Some people complained about the presence of cars on the course but after doing the Ocala half last weekend (with lots of traffic on narrow roads), this seemed not really an issue to me.
- I enjoyed the varied terrain on miles 2 through 12, a mixture of sand, clay, and asphalt. The clay and sand were easy on my legs and feet. I was glad I wore trail shoes and gaiters though.
- Signage was appropriate with bright red arrows pointing us in the correct direction
- The loop course had 3 short out-and-backs where we could see other runners and walkers.
- Yes, the course was hilly but none of the hills were steep and they went down as well as up!
Things that could be improved:
- Traffic and parking before the race is the first problem that needs to be resolved. The start time for the half marathon was pushed back half an hour from 7:30 to 8 to allow people lined up on the road leading to the winery time to arrive. I can only imagine the angst of people still sitting in their cars as the minutes ticked by.
- There were not enough portapotties, only 10 for a sizeable crowd. There was a building with about six extra men and lady’s rooms but that was still not sufficient, and eventually women began to use the men’s bathroom. When will planners learn that women need lots of toilets and men mostly just need trees??
- The race website is clear about the nature of the terrain so there were really no surprises. I knew to expect grass and clay as well as road. However, it’s still hard to know what that means to a fall-adverse person such as myself. It turns out that the only part I did not like was the uneven grass section because it was strewn with rocks, twigs, and roots from the start through mile 1 and from mile 12 to the finish. That meant I had to slow my pace and watch my feet carefully during those miles.
- Food at the end was minimal. The pasta salad was tasty but that was it, unless you wanted to pay for real food and drinks at the outdoor restaurant. I was given a bottle of water but no glass of wine, kind of strange at a winery, but I had chocolate milk waiting for me in the car thanks to my husband. However, the selection of food and drink options really needs to be expanded for finishers.
- I never did find out about an award ceremony for half marathoners. It turned out I placed 1st in my age group and I think that meant I should have received a bottle of wine but I only found out about that on Facebook.
When we go to Clermont, we stay at the Hampton Inn there. The rooms were recently renovated and very improved, though that hotel was always quite decent. There is a Carrabba’s Italian Restaurant within walking distance so we had a good early dinner and then repaired to our room Saturday night. There is also a Panera Bread, Applebee’s, and Zaxby’s nearby as well.
After I finished the race (in 3:01:50), we drove home, stopping at Blue Highway in Micanopy for our usual pizza, calzone, and antipasto. Blue Highway makes the best hummus I’ve ever tasted and their other offerings are delicious as well. Although the restaurant has sites in Gainesville and Ocala, we like the hippie atmosphere of the historic town of Micanopy so we always try to make a pilgrimage there.
Bottom line – this race is a very good choice for walkers. Just be sure to pick up your packet on Saturday afternoon, arrive very early on Sunday (at least one hour before the race start), and wear trail shoes and gaiters.