Lake Minneola Half Marathon (Clermont, FL) – April 23, 2017

When I did this race last year, it was right before the first of my foot surgeries. Those operations sidelined me from racing for about 8 weeks; my comeback race was the end of June last year and it took me another couple of months before I felt comfortable walking again. I was slow and my feet still swollen but my stamina increased and I was confident that my speed (such as it was) would eventually return. Now, one year later and one year older, I am glad that the surgeries are behind me and my feet feel so much better. This year, my finish time in this race was only four minutes slower than last year’s result and two minutes better than my other recent half marathons.

This half marathon was the third in the Triple Half Challenge. The other two races were the inaugural Lakeridge Winery Half in January and the Orange Blossom Half in March. All three races are fun and perfect for walkers. Lake Minneola is especially enjoyable. The course is entirely paved and most of it follows the lake itself. There are a couple of slight hills as racers maneuver through some neighborhoods, but otherwise it is essentially flat. Around mile 7, there is a four mile out-and-back, with the finish line in close proximity to the start line at Waterfront Park.

Darcy and I drove down to Clermont on Saturday and checked into the nearby Hampton Inn. We had lunch at Carrabba’s, within walking distance of the hotel, although there are a few other fast food places nearby. This year the hotel was packed with travelers, many of them attending a wedding at a popular venue. When we do these races, we usually stay at this hotel because it is close to both Lakeridge Winery and Lake Minneola. It’s also very clean and comfortable. However, on this weekend the people in the rooms on either side of us were noisy during the evening hours and I had trouble getting to sleep. Finally, with the help of a sleeping aid and headphones, I managed to get about 5 hours of rest. I was up at three to eat and dress.

We had picked up my race packet on Saturday afternoon at Waterfront Park but participants can also get their bib, returnable chip for shoe, and tee shirt (short-sleeve cotton/poly) on Sunday morning before the race. Parking is plentiful but only if for early arrivals so Darcy and I left the hotel for the race site by 5:45. The race was slated to start right at 7, so after a trip to the real bathrooms (there are also porta-potties but it is such a treat to have actual washrooms), we walked around enjoying the early morning coolness. The predicted thunderstorms never arrived and the morning was very pleasant, with temperature in the upper sixties. That soon changed, however, because the heat and humidity rose quickly and the cloud cover disappeared once the race began.

I enjoyed watching the birds, fishermen, and boaters to my left on the pristine lake and the beautiful houses on my right. Later, the lake would be filled with swimmers and beachcombers but in the early morning hours all was peaceful. For the first few miles I chatted with my friend Leigh-Anne until she moved quickly on ahead. She is a fast walker who has begun to run every couple of miles to speed up her time and she usually finishes well in front of me.

Although I didn’t do as well as I did last year, I was pleased with my 2:52 finishing time. Now that I am in the 70 plus age group, I managed to finish in first place (out of 6) and received a nice plaque in addition to the race medal and the triple challenge medal. That gave me a lot of bling for this race and I basked in my accomplishment. The only down side to this race had nothing to do with the race itself. When we returned home I realized my phone was missing – either lost, misplaced, or stolen – and we had to check with the hotel, notify AT&T to suspend service and block my account, and then find a replacement. That entire experience was exhausting, far more stressful than any race!

Mosquitos were a real problem this year. I felt them bite me as I waited for the race to start but never saw them. A day later, I had multiple itchy bites all over my legs. Next year, I will bring bug spray to use as a deterrent.

The course is well-marked, there are enough participants to never feel completely isolated (there were 435 finishers; I was #331, so there were over a hundred people behind me), and aid stations with water and Gatorade are plentiful. The latter was especially important given the heat and humidity this year. Refreshments at the finish line included bottled water, beer, doughnuts (yum!), chips, and fruit. There is a four-hour finishing time. All the races in this series are highly recommended for walkers.

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My Fiftieth Half: The Savannah Women’s Half Marathon – April 8, 2017 (Savannah, Georgia)

It was back to the historic town of Savannah for my first race in the 70 and up age group (itself a huge milestone for me) and my fiftieth half marathon. I can’t pretend I wasn’t excited, especially after my disappointment at last week’s cancelled race in San Antonio.

The logistics for this race couldn’t be easier. After driving to downtown Savannah and checking into the host hotel, the luxurious Hilton DeSoto, we picked up my race packet at the expo in one of the larger hotel ballrooms. The expo is mid-sized for a half marathon (most of the half marathons I’ve attended recently don’t even have an expo) with an emphasis on items of interest to women. There were booths selling jewelry, clothes, skincare and bath products, and food specialties like blended seasonings and flavored popcorn. Every year there is a gift item for participants and this year we were given a velour pouch with an adjustable bracelet and charm. Last year’s gift was a large zippered travel bag. The bag was certainly more useful, especially if, like me, you seldom wear jewelry, but the bracelet was better than another tee shirt, especially a polyester one.

After the expo, Darcy and I headed to the Moon River Brewhouse for a late lunch. We had tried earlier in the week to make reservations at the very popular brunch place, B. Matthew’s Eatery, but it was booked solid, so we decided to return to Moon River where we had enjoyed a very good meal last year. I had several lists of other purportedly excellent restaurants but we were on a tight budget this year so we opted for a known place that had reasonable prices. Economics was another reason why we decided to spend just one night in Savannah instead of our customary two nights.

For racers who miss the Friday afternoon packet pickup, there is an early morning opportunity from 6:15 to 7:15 am to get your bib. Both the half marathon and 5k begin at 7:30 sharp at Forsyth Park, a short walk from the Hilton and other downtown hotels. There are corrals with suggested pace times; these corrals are not monitored so the beginning of the races tend to be very congested, with many slower runners and walkers holding up faster paced participants, but by mile 2, everyone spreads out and shorter thereafter the 5k people head towards their finish line while those doing the half continue on the very flat but scenic course around the city and surrounding area.

The weather at the start was cool but not freezing. It soon warmed up to the mid-sixties with a cool breeze, perfect racing weather for me. The streets had occasional cracks in the pavement that might have easily become tripping hazards (for me) but I took care to walk carefully around them. There were several out-and-backs on the course, something I always like because it gives me a chance to high-five and cheer on some of the people behind me (and I am exceedingly grateful whenever there ARE people behind me).

For the most part, the course is very well-marked. It was only at the 12 mile mark that I began to wonder about the absence of some arrows pointing out some turns but was able to follow several runners in front of me to the finish line in Forsyth Park. I crossed the finish in 2:55 but couldn’t find the awards tent to see if I placed in my – NEW – age group. However, I did manage to find the beverage tent with mimosas and beer. The medal is attractive and sparkly; refreshments included a Publix shopping bag with bottled water, fruit, and muffins.

Darcy and I walked the short distance back to our hotel so we could pack and drive back home. For newcomers to Savannah, spending extra time exploring this attractive city is a good idea. In addition to the home of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, there are many historic statues and places to visit and a plethora of breweries and restaurants (as long as you make a reservation beforehand). Savannah is definitely on my list of places to revisit.

The half marathon is highly recommended for walkers as well as runners.

 

The Race That Wasn’t: HEB Alamo Run Fest Half Marathon (San Antonio, TX) – April 2, 2017

This was supposed to be my birthday race. Not only did the half marathon fall on Sunday, my birthday, but it was also a landmark decade for me. I was proud to reach 70 years of age and to feel great enough to make this event my 50th half marathon. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.

Because this would have been a very long drive, Darcy and I decided to use our frequent flyer miles to make the trip by air to San Antonio. The two flights to Texas were thankfully uneventful and we arrived in plenty of time to taxi to the Homewood Suites on the Riverwalk, check into our room, and walk to the expo at the Alamodome. Since I had preregistered, getting my bib with chip and tech tee shirt was simple. There were numerous booths offering samples of sports drinks and goodies as well as a few sports clothing and shoe displays. The size of the expo was small compared to many big city events but much bigger than most half marathon expos.

One of the big draws of doing this race was a chance to indulge in our love for Tex-Mex food so immediately after picking up my race packet, we walked to Mi Tierra, one of our favorite San Antonio restaurants to eat a late lunch. Then it was back to the hotel to watch the weather forecasts. There was a dangerous storm hovering over the western portion of the state and it was expected to reach Bexar county by late afternoon. We waited, checked the news and weather reports, and waited some more. As far as we could tell, the race would go on as planned.

I slept fitfully, expecting to hear thunder and see lightening through the curtains of our room, but all was silent. When I peeked out the window I could see no rain at all, though the streets looked damp. By 4 am on Sunday morning I was up and obsessively checking my email and Facebook for word about the race. Finally, there was a message that stated the RD was still discussing what to do with local officials and the SAT police department. The storm was extremely slow-moving but was expected to hit the downtown area (the race start and finish) by 8 am, half an hour after the race was to start. After that one communication, we heard nothing more. Darcy and I sat in the room wondering what to do. The Alamodome was a good 15 minute walk from our hotel and we were hesitant to walk over there if the storm was about to hit; we might have a hard time getting back to shelter. On the other hand, it looked decent outside, cloudy but with no rain, and there was still no word about the race being cancelled.

Finally, about 30 minutes before the race was to start, we headed out. I would rather be there waiting, ready to go, instead of missing out. As we reached the start line, I was encouraged. It seems that many people had the same idea as me and had made it to the Alamodome, the heck with weather predictions. I wore a sign on the back of my racing vest that proclaimed that ‘today is my 70th birthday’ and as a result I had many people wish me a happy birthday and ‘feliz complean˜os’ as we waited in our corrals. I even met two other women who also had the same birthday! Someone sang the National Anthem and gave the invocation. It looked like we were all set to go – that is, until the announcer said that there was one more meeting with city officials. When he returned, he said he had good news and bad news. The bad news? The half marathon was CANCELLED! The good news? Everyone could wait for an hour inside the Alamodome until the expected storm passed over and then we could all do either the 5k or 10,000 steps. Not a good option, really. I didn’t want to be squished inside a building with thousands of other people just waiting so we could do a much shorter race.

We decided to walk back to the hotel before the rain started. The skies had darkened considerably and we began to feel the first raindrops. Once we were safely back in our room getting ready for a leisurely hotel breakfast, we received word that ALL the races had been cancelled! I was glad we decided to return to the hotel.

As a result, this blog post really is not a report on the race. I was extremely disappointed. Now I will have to wait 6 six years until I can do another race on my birthday. Of course, by that time I will be in another new age group (that is, if I am still doing races when I am 76). The course was supposed to be excellent, passing by many historical landmarks and museums but it’s uncertain if I’ll have the chance to do the race in the future.

However, there are worse places to be spending the weekend, even without a race. Darcy and I ate our fill of fajitas, visited the Alamo, the Briscoe Western Art Museum, and the Institute of Texan Cultures, and in general made the best of our 3 day trip. I’ll just have to be patient until I can complete my 50th half marathon.