Blue Angels Rock N Fly Half Marathon (March 18, 2017) – Pensacola, Florida

This was another enjoyable weekend, although the logistics were somewhat convoluted. The theme for this year’s races (a half marathon plus a 5k) was ‘Soul Train’ with music and video on two jumbotrons at the start and recorded soul music along the course. It all sounded like fun and indeed it was once the race began.

Packet pickup was Friday afternoon at a restaurant in the Seville Quarter downtown. We could have waited until Saturday morning at 6 am to get my race packet on the Naval Air Station but I always prefer to get my bib and chip the day before whenever possible. It makes race morning preparations so much easier and less stressful if that is all taken care of before the race starts. Finding our way around downtown Pensacola, however, was not that much fun; the streets were confusing and even my husband, a geographic whiz with maps and directions, was getting frustrated. We finally found a metered parking space and walked to the location of packet pickup. Because we were too early (the hours were 3-7 pm) I managed to find a great knitting store a few blocks away. My patient husband followed me into Dixie Knits where I spent some productive time selecting yarn and needles while conversing with the owner of the shop and the several women who had gathered for a Friday afternoon knit-along.

At 3 o’clock we followed the signs to packet pickup to get my bib, chip (the kind attached to one’s shoe), and a dark purple poly/cotton short-sleeved tee shirt. Then we drove to the naval air base to make sure we found the easiest route for race morning. Our hotel, Homewood Suites, was near the airport since there were few of our favorite chains located close to the base or in the downtown area. There was a Miller’s Ale House a short distance away and that was our go-to place for dinner Friday evening.

It took about 20 minutes on Saturday morning to arrive at the base. The weather was near-perfect on race day, in the upper 50’s to start and mid-70’s at the finish, with some sun and occasional clouds. The gym was opened for same day packet pickup so bathrooms were also available within the building. Closer to the starting line, there were about a dozen portapotties as well. As Darcy and I waited in the start area, I met up with friends Mellody and Vicki. There was complete silence at 8 o’clock as we watched the color guard, listened to the national anthem and invocation, and then watched as 3 jets did a flyover.

Half marathoners and 5k runners all began together to make their way along a completely paved and mostly flat course. The only uphills were gentle slopes, hardly noticeable to those accustomed to the hills of other Florida races (like Tallahassee, for instance). The course followed along a cemetery with headstones in precision-like arrangement and then wends along a 6 mile out-and-back stretch that brought us back by the start line at mile 9 and then through a back-lot area. This section is not very attractive but by that time, who cares? My thoughts were only to follow the loop around and head to the finish line.

The medal is heavy and colorful. Food at the finish line includes pizza, bananas, water, and beer (although I never did find the beer tent). I’m sure there was an awards ceremony but we were eager to return home so we did not stay to find out. Maybe that was a bad idea since my 2:52 finish qualified me for third place in my age group, but I didn’t realize that until later that evening. No worries, just finishing in under the 4-hour time limit was satisfying enough.

This race is recommended for walkers. The course is easy-to-follow with good signage and volunteers, plenty of vocal and supportive people at the 10 aid stations (water, Gatorade, and gels), and enough racers to never feel alone yet not so crowded to feel claustrophobic.

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