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.