Adventures in Appalachia: Three Marathons plus a Half in Four Days (October 12-15, 2017)

Lest anyone think that completing 3 full marathons plus a half marathon in 4 days is a great achievement, the supreme accomplishment is racing all 9 – that’s correct, NINE – marathons or half marathons in 9 days for the entire series of Appalachian races. Mainly Marathons (MM) puts on these crazy races in every geographic area of the United States, including Hawaii and – soon – Alaska. For people attempting to do races in every state, running or walking in the MM series of races will help them succeed quickly and with a minimum of expense. It’s still expensive, but not so costly as planning a trip individually to all 50 states.

I did several races in the Appalachian series a few years ago, in North and South Carolina and Georgia. This year the organization decided to expand to Alabama and Florida, so I signed up for Lizella, GA, Eufalla, AL, and two in the Florida panhandle in the small towns of Cottondale and Marianna. Each race had its own flavor and distinctiveness. MM races are usually held in parks and trails in small to medium cities, with driving distances between venues anywhere from 10 miles to 200 miles. This particular series began in Virginia and West Virginia, moving on to Bristol, TN, Fletcher, NC, and Seneca, SC. I joined the group in Georgia and stayed until the series ended on Sunday.

We drove to Macon, GA, on Wednesday and looked for the race venue in neighboring Lizella before checking into our hotel, the Hampton Inn in Macon, just off I-475. It’s always a good idea when doing these races to find the next day’s location beforehand because the races begin so early in the morning (5:30 or 6:30 am, depending on whether one takes the early start). This race was in Arrowhead Park, an extensive rural area with campgrounds, trails, and lakes. The double-lollypop course was paved but extremely hilly and confusing. The day was hot and humid with no shade. After the requisite 12 loops for the marathon, I still found the course convoluted and had to keep watch for the signage and flags. There were bathrooms but the stalls had no doors! My finishing time – 7:15.

The next day’s race was in Eufalla, Alabama, on the Yoholo-Micco Trail. This day turned out to be my favorite because it was a scenic rails-to-trails course, all paved and relatively straight out-and-back, and even though it was hot, there was some shade. Only negative was the 3 portapotties (just 3 for all of us plus other visitors) but at least they had doors! My finishing time – 6:55.

After Alabama, we drove to Cottondale, Florida, for the first of two races in the panhandle. We stayed at a Fairfield Inn in Marianna for both races, since the two towns are only 10 miles apart. The Cottondale race was held in a park (called the Athletic Fields) and it was a paved circuitous course with just a small broken gravel section. There was some shade, which helped stave off the worst of the heat and humidity. This was my second favorite course, though it took me longer to finish – 7:30 (fatigue must have begun to take effect).

The final race was in Citizen’s Lodge Park in Marianna. This was supposed to be partly crushed gravel, partly paved, with some shade. Because most of us complained of the sunshine beating down on us in the earlier races, the organizers decided to change some of the course to include a couple of forested rocky and rooty trail sections. That tree cover certainly helped with the heat but the trail made the footing far more treacherous. The crushed gravel turned out to be chunks of gravel combined with occasional large rocks. I kept my head down for a good part of this race to make sure I didn’t fall. Somebody did, in fact, take a bad tumble, but he was able to continue with the race. Because of the precarious nature of the course, I wisely decided to drop to the half on this day. Positive aspect of this race – real bathrooms (yes, with doors). Finishing time, a PW for me – 4:30. Of course some of that time was spent chatting with friends along the way and well worth the extra minutes expended.

Here are some tips if you are considering some of the MM races:

  • Check out the race area for the next day as soon as you arrive. It will be dark on race morning and you don’t want to get lost looking for the race start
  • Because it is dark if you take the early start, bring a flashlight or headlamp. You will only need for the first hour
  • There is usually a mat and benches to put a drop bag. I don’t usually bring a drop bag for a race less than a 50k, and I didn’t here, but it would have been a good idea to have a bag to store my jacket and light
  • The aid station has a lot of food so there is no need to bring snacks unless you have a special item you need. I always carry an energy or granola bar just in case but I never had to eat it; instead I indulged in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs, and candy
  • You can sign up for a 5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, or 50k, and if you change your mind and want to drop to a lower distance during the race, you can
  • Timing system uses rubber bands/elastics. Every time you pass by the start/finish, just pick one up and wear or carry them
  • Most of the races are done on loop or out-and-back courses, but they can be confusing since some are rather convoluted. My tack is to follow the person in front of me if in doubt as to where I should go
  • Stretch before driving to the next location. If I skip this, my legs cramp up and it is not too pleasant standing by the highway stretching while traffic whizzes by
  • There is no hard time limit, although slower racers are strongly encouraged to take the early start. Check out the results on the MM page and you will find finishing times as long as 9 hours. After all, some of these people have been doing ALL the races in the series and they are understandably tired. This is great from my point of view because I am not alone at the end of the races
  • Organizers, volunteers, and racers are exceptionally friendly. It is easy to share the difficulties of each day’s race with other people who understand your angst and fatigue.
  • The medals are unique, with a basic medal for the series and individual state medals for each state you finish and they latch on to each other
  • There is one tee shirt for the series. It used to be cotton but this year it was tech. When I refused the tech shirt, I was offered a past year’s cotton tee, which I gladly accepted
  • There is one bib for each series so you just wear that same bib and number for all the races in that grouping. Makes things easy
  • Be prepared by reading the course description for each day’s race but don’t be surprised if there are changes
  • The race venues for each series often change every year, but if by chance there is a return to Eufala or Cottondale/Marianna, River City Grill in Eufala and Madison’s Warehouse Restaurant in Marianna are excellent places to eat
  • Maniacs, 50 Staters, and members of other running clubs are offered a $10 discount per race

Bottom line – these races are great for walkers who are worried about time limits. Runners and walkers who want to quickly add to their statistics will also find MM races an easy way to accomplish this. On the other hand, I am glad I reached my 50-state goal by visiting major well-known cities and racing in marathons that took me around the most interesting sections of those cities. It took me almost 5 years to achieve that goal but it was time and money well spent. Now I can do MM races and other similar events for mileage accomplishments and race totals and enjoy the rural countryside and relaxed environment.

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Tails & Trails Half Marathon, Tallahassee, Florida (May 6, 2017)

I decided to not do my scheduled race for this weekend, the Strolling Jim Marathon in Wartrace, TN. Fortunately, there was a half marathon right here in Tallahassee on Saturday so I registered for it without giving too much thought to the consequences. That was not such a good idea, as I found out on race day.

But first let me explain about Strolling Jim. My main reason to avoid this race was a last-minute email from the RD that stated there would be zero portapotties on the course. Otherwise the race was extremely appealing; there was no time limit and the entire course was paved rolling hills. I knew many of the other racers and it would be great to see them again. But I just could not deal with the idea of abstaining for 6 hours or more. I canceled our hotel reservation and planned to spend a relaxing weekend at home.

And then I remembered Tails & Trails, a local half marathon to benefit the animal shelter. The race starts and finishes at the shelter and takes runners through Tom Brown Park, across the Lafayette Bridge, and around the J. R. Alford Greenway. It seemed a good substitute for the Strolling Jim. I had signed up for it last year but couldn’t make it because of my two foot surgeries. This would be a good time to do it, or so it seemed. The course is shaped like a lollipop, with a long out-and-back, and marked by floured arrows and in some places by small orange utility flags. I had no idea what the terrain was really like and I did not know anyone who had done the race before. But how bad could it be? After all, some trails are paved, some are packed dirt or crushed limestone, and some are rocky and rooty. I was gambling, but it was ‘just’ a half so, really, how bad could it be?

I soon found out. I am sure that trail lovers would also enjoy this course but for a paranoid trail racer like me, it turned out to be was sheer agony. As we gathered at the start line at 8 am, the weather was chilly (unusual for May in Tallahassee) so I wore a light jacket plus gloves and hand warmers. The runners who were doing the 10k and 5k (including my granddaughter) waited patiently until their start 30 minutes later. There was a countdown and we took off, with me at the back. Two walkers were behind me until we entered THE TRAIL itself and then I found myself completely alone. By mile two I gave serious consideration to turning around and making my way slowly over the huge tree roots back to my car. Only one problem – the faster 10k runners were beginning to overtake me and I hesitated to confront them if I turned back.

So I persisted. I figured if I could get to mile 5 and crossed the bridge that connected the initial trail to the greenway, maybe the terrain would change and I could speed up a little. If the trail was still too dangerous for me at that point, I could then decide whether to keep going or turn around and give up. The race had a 3 ½ hour time limit and I knew I would not make it. I was averaging a 20 minute per mile pace, even slower as I gingerly treaded around every tree root.

There were some grassy areas and in a few places the trail on the greenway section was mostly sand and pebbles. But every time I built up a little speed, I was slowed dramatically by another rocky section filled with roots. It was a trail lover’s dream but a road racer’s nightmare. A course marshal on a bike warned me about the time limit. I responded that I understood but was already too far in at that point to just give up. I emphasized I was okay if I had a DNF. This would be a training walk and I didn’t expect anyone to wait for me.

Two hours had passed and I had only gone six miles. When I could muster enough courage, I stopped looking at my feet and looked up to appreciate the beautiful scenery – a lake, the forests, a jackrabbit crossing right in front of me, the great weather. As I finally passed miles 7 and 8 on the greenway, I realized I was on the return trip. Of course, all the runners had finished well ahead of me and I managed to get lost twice, in part because the volunteers directing runners had left (who could blame them?) and also because some of the directional chalk arrows had disappeared.

I did finish the race finally. I didn’t fall or break any bones. Although the timing mat had long been pulled up, some wonderful volunteers remained to clock me in at 3:55:18 and hand me a medal, a bottle of water, and a banana. I thanked them profusely and walked back to my car. I was pleased I had been stubborn enough to finish. Despite coming in last and getting lost several times, I finished first in my age group (no matter that I was the only crazy 70-year-old woman in my age group). From now on, no more trail races – ever, ever again!

 

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.

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.

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.

Orange Blossom Half Marathon (March 11, 2017) – Haines City, Florida

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.