Back in April, when I was working out my “maintenance training plan” for the period leading up to Chicago Marathon Training, I found a loose schedule that culminated June 8, with a half marathon. I liked the variety of mileage and paces in the plan, but as a Floridian, was pretty darn sure I wouldn’t actually find a half marathon to run, in June, in Florida….that is, until I heard about the ECHO Half Marathon!
Soon after reading about it, I was seriously considering it. It’d be about a 3-hour drive (not too bad, even for this gal who despises driving) and the host hotel (a Hampton Inn) had pretty low rates. And, the course was advertised as mostly shaded, on their extensive trail system. Still…a half marathon? In June? In Florida? SERIOUSLY. I had to think about it a little more.
Now, for those of you that have followed my training in the past, you know that last summer, I ran 13+ miles routinely in the heat, yet, there was still something that felt crazy about actually running those miles in an organized fashion. But, as fate would have it, my friend Megan was having a similar mental conundrum about the situation, and after exchanging a few messages, we both decided to go for it – and, as an additional bonus, we’d be splitting the hotel room cost.
I was in.
Fast forward to race weekend – the event information had stated there would be NO race-day pickup, so I left for the drive to DeBary, FL a little after noon on Saturday. On the way over, I made a quick stop at Downtown Disney for an Iced Clover Coffee at the new Starbucks Reserve (and took the opportunity to walk around a bit, to keep my legs loose) than continued east on I-4 until reaching my destination. Although it was a long drive, thankfully it was a pretty easy one.
At packet pickup (which was a BREEZE), I ran into Megan (whoo!) and within a few short minutes, we checked in to the Hampton Inn and hung out for a while before heading out to dinner at a local establishment called the Swamp House Grill. I had a great sandwich, their rendition of a cuban, with pulled pork, and, thanks to the monsoon that stranded us in the restaurant for a little longer than we had hoped, we had refills on our drinks – but fortunately were also able to watch the entirety of the Belmont Stakes – before the DirecTV cut out again!
We had both set our alarms for 4:15 AM (shuttles were set to take us to the start of the point-to-point race at 5:15) and I felt pretty refreshed, despite waking up a few times because of mosquito bites on my legs. I checked the weather/temperature and saw that the temperature was low (70’s) but the humidity was high (a nice 100%). Yahoo. So, I made a quick call to go with the Oiselle shimmel (less layers), paired with my mac rogas, cheetah Sparkle Athletic skirt, my trusty headsweats visor and CEP compression socks.
Side note: I have to admit, I was feeling a little nervous – and not necessarily for the physical aspect of the race, but for a silly reason – those aforementioned socks. See, I usually go with short socks in the heat, but for some reason, I felt like these would help with any fatigue that might pop up, since I’d been running consecutive days since Memorial Day as part of the Runner’s World Run Streak.
Spoiler alert: the socks were fine. Back to the recap.
So, after grabbing a bite from the hotel’s awesome “on-the-go” packs (they assembled packs of cereal bars, a water bottle and banana in a paper bag) and picking up some coffee, we headed out to the shuttles. We were kind of surprised to be some of the last passengers boarding – it was only 5:10! Nevertheless, we made it, and the bus headed off to the starting point at a park in Osteen, FL.
The bus ride seemed kind of long, but that was probably due to the fact it was still pretty dark out and we really couldn’t see anything. After disembarking, we wandered around, and found ourselves by the portapotties – after a quick trip (we found two away from the main line up, no line!) we hung out til it was time it line up for the 6:30 AM start.
The race was smallish (I think about ~600-700?) so there were suggested pace areas, but not corrals or anything. Maybe I wasn’t fully awake, but I didn’t see anything between 1:45 and 2:00 so I just stood between the two. My PR is 1:45 (from ZOOMA) and I knew it wasn’t a day to beat that time, but I didn’t want to go over 2 hours either, so it was a good place to hang out.
After a few announcements and the anthem, it was time to go! I wore my Garmin, so I took a few glances down, making sure I was keeping the pace conservative. Within a mile, that crowd had thinned out considerably, and I had settled into a groove – today would definitely be a “strong training run” day – not a “let’s go and race!” day.
Splits: 8.19, 8.40, 8.41, 8.47, 8.28, 8.41, 9.07, 8.58, 9.05, 9.14, 9.04, 8.50, 8.31, last .19 – 7.40 pace.
There were 13 (or 14?) water stops on the course and were all manned by enthusiastic volunteers, which was definitely awesome since there weren’t any spectators. It truly felt like a heavily supported long run, and that was cool. With any pace pressure off, I walked through each water station, and probably took Gatorade at about 10 of them. At Mile ~7ish, I stopped, pulled to the side, and took my Salted Caramel GU (the course had gels at 7.5, but I did not partake).
Admittedly, if I had been a more comprehensive reader of the course description, I would not have been so surprised about the diversity of the course, but I have to admit, I wished more of the race had taken place on those gorgeous trails! Oak-shaded and newly paved, these trails were truly spectacular!! Of course, I’m sure the course was trained with efficient maneuverability in mind, but as a fundraiser / awareness booster, I would have loved to run more on these – there were elevation changes, beautiful surroundings – and of course, a much more refreshing feeling, as compared to the stifling heat and humidity of the roads.
As we neared the end of the half marathon, we took a path that went right by our hotel, which – according to paperwork – was .7 miles from the finish area. Hmm. Maybe there was a shortcut somewhere we didn’t know about, but that was around Mile 11, so…yeah😉 I didn’t mind though, as it was fairly easy to navigate how I’d get back if I were to travel by foot.
The last portion of the race was shaded again (yay) and as I edged closer to the finish, I charged back up with some extra pep and passed a few runners on the final push.
After giving my mom a quick phone call (I had missed it the night before due to our early bed time, I moseyed on over to the refreshment table – and after a rather rude exchange with a volunteer (my only complaint about this race: she asked for my refreshment ticket – I did not have one, and asked her where I was supposed to get it; she told me, “they hand you one with your medal,” and I told her no one had given me one, to which she said, “well, you need to have one.”) I walked back to finish, then back to the table, and had a nice little nosh of BBQ pulled pork and cold strawberries, along with an iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts (yum!)
After that, I was ready to get out of those sweaty clothes, so I walked out of the finish party area, and out to to where there were supposedly shuttles. Of course, after waiting a few minutes, and not seeing any confirmation from the signage that these shuttles would even be the ones to take us back to the hotel, I decided to take the path we’d ran in back to the hotel. The walk was a nice cool down – definitely about 2+ miles, so I was extra ready for a shower, then! Still, it was nice cheering on those finishers coming in, so I didn’t see that walk as a negative.
Overall, I was impressed by this race – especially with it being an inaugural event. The registration fee was very reasonable, and knowing that the money was going to a good cause (promoting the trail system) definitely sealed the deal – oh, and the medal was cute, too!
Did you race this weekend?