This race is the second in the Triple Half Marathon Challenge from Sommer Sports. The first was the inaugural Lakeridge Winery Half back in January, a race I enjoyed tremendously though it did experience a few first-year difficulties like not enough parking spaces. It was the second year for the Orange Blossom Half (along with its 5k and 10k races) but my first attempt at it.
We drove down to Lake Eva Park on Friday to pick up my bib and shirt. The timing chips are the old-fashioned kind that tie on a shoe and must be returned after the race, but that’s not really a problem as long as I remember to get a volunteer to clip the ties. The shirt is a gray cotton-poly blend with a big orange blossom on the front. So far, this race series gets an A from me for the quality of its shirts. They do tend to run small so next time I would probably request a larger size.
After getting my race packet, Darcy and I drove to Winter Haven to check into our hotel, a Hampton Inn. Because Haines City is so small, there are no well-known hotel brands within the city limits. Winter Haven is a 25-minute drive farther south so we had to plan our trips judiciously to save time. We decided it was wiser to check out early Saturday morning so Darcy would only have to make one trip to Haines City. After dropping me off at Lake Eva Park for the start of the race, he then spent the morning eating breakfast and reading the paper at a nearby McDonalds.
It was chillier than I expected, about 59 degrees at the 7 am start but it quickly warmed up to the low 80’s. The humidity rose as well so I was glad I wore shorts and a short-sleeved top. There were 4 portapotties (not enough) but the restrooms in the Aquatic Center were open for us to use. The start was delayed about 10 minutes to allow for latecomers to park. After the singing of the National Anthem, we were off with a horn blast.
Overall this was a very pleasant experience. The course meanders through the rural roads of Haines City, with orange groves on one side and waste treatment systems (‘sludge lagoons,’ per my industrial hygienist husband) on the other. The air was permeated with the aroma of sweet orange blossoms and I was tempted to stop and pick one but I restrained myself. Aid stations were about 2 miles apart and offered Gatorade, water, and enthusiastic volunteers. It was hilly (for Florida) but nothing like the steep hills in Tallahassee. The terrain was mostly paved, although there were several miles of clay, sand, and dirt. I was glad I wore gaiters. The miles were marked with signs and red arrows and course marshals were present at every turn; that is always a relief to me, since getting lost is always a possibility.
I finished the race in 2:55, under my 3-hour goal. I didn’t think I would place in my age group because I saw a lot of women about my age, but surprisingly I came in second (which illustrates how very bad I am at guessing people’s ages). The medal is an attractive heavy wreath of oranges and orange blossoms on a creamy orange and white lanyard, and my age group award mirrors the same design. At the finish line, we were given bottles of water, chili, chips, cookies, bananas, and beer from Orange Blossom Brewery.
There were 290 finishers in the half; I came in at number 244, so there were almost 50 people behind me. There is a 4-hour time limit but I believe the finish line stays open longer. Although I was concerned about getting lost on the course, the race has excellent line-of-sight with lots of straight roads and helpful markings, so I needn’t have worried.
The only negative is the lack of shade on the course, a potential problem in the heat; otherwise, this is a pleasant choice for walkers.