Thursday, March 3, 2016

Race Recap: Orange Blossom Half Marathon

This Orange Blossom Half Marathon & 5k has been held annually in Lake County for Several years.  I ran this one in 2013 and was actually my first half marathon since having my sons.  I remember it being scenic, but so cold and windy running around several lakes.  It was tough and since I was only about 3 months postpartum I was just so excited to have made it out alive, but swore it off from then on out.  Of course when I saw Sommer Sports was offering a big deal on this event for 2016 and they had changed the location, I figured what the heck I should give it another go.  I am so glad that I did!

Registration for this race was on a scale in which the first X amount of people would get the race for $1, the next group would get it for $5, then so on.  By the time I hit register, I think I paid maybe $10 or $15 bucks, so it was a steal as far as I was concerned.  Not to mention I was excited to try a new course and the medal (above) looked beautiful.  I even looked back at the registration page a few weeks before the event and the cost still didn't reach over $50, making this quite possibly one of the least expensive Half Marathons you can do in Central Florida if not the whole state!

Communication leading up to the event was great.  We received several emails indicating the date, time and location of packet picket.  Since the event was over an hour away from me, I was so relieved to see they had race day pick up.  And based on the information on directions and parking they sent out, it looked like it would be fairly easy to get to and park at.

The weather forecast was another iffy one, which is par for the course this time of year.  Though temps were expected to warm up later that day, they were calling for upper 30's to low 40's at the start of the race.  These temps were very similar to when I ran 26.2 With Donna two weeks prior and I remembered how quickly I warmed up once I got going.  So I opted for shorts and long sleeves for this one.  As I do for each race, I lay my outfit out the night before, snap a "Flat Christina" to share on Instagram and with my Moms Run This Town Facebook group and gt ready to hit the hay.

I was coming down with either a cold or my allergies were really starting to kick into high gear, so I was not feeling at 100%.  In fact, by Friday night, I had full blown laryngitis and I was coughing quite a bit.  I figured if I felt iffy in the morning, I would skip the race since I didn't want to make things worse for myself.  When the alarm clock went off at 4am, I didn't really have much time to think about how I felt, I just hopped out of bed, got dressed grabbed my race bag and hit the road.  It wasn't until I was about 3 or 4 miles down the road when I started coughing terribly.  Oh that's right, I'm kinda sick, not horribly, but I certainly do not feel great.  Oh well, no turning back now, let's just go see how this goes!

MapQuest was not kidding, it was definitely over an hour away and when I pulled into the parking area, it was a little shy of 6am.  It was pretty dark out still and a frigid 38 degrees.  The website said packet pickup started at 6, so I figured I would have to wait in my car for a few minutes, but as I saw people going in and out of the banquet hall, I thought maybe they had started early.  Sure enough, when I got in there, they were already doing packet pick up.  They were READY, I like it!  I remember this race being smaller when I ran it back in 2013 and it by the looks of the set up, the ease of parking and the amount of people there at the time, I could tell it was going to be another quaint event.  Those to me, can be just as awesome if not more than the larger races.  It makes it feel more like a family.  Rhere is a lot of excitement for everyone from the first to the last finisher.

I met up with a couple of my MRTT mamas and we headed over to the start area a little before 7am. There were no pace groups for this event, so I figured I should just head up close to the front.  After some announcements, course descriptions and a playing of the national anthem (that cut in an out, oops), the race began right at 7am.

The sun was really starting to come up by then and the temp had also come up some.  The first part of the course took us through some houses skirting downtown and up a hill.  When we finally got up the hill and out of the downtown area, we took a sharp right after a school and then it was a mile or so on a beautiful country road with farm lands to our left.  I could see the sun really starting to rise on the horizon, the air was cool but crisp and refreshing.  This part of the course we had a tailwind and a slight decline, so I was able to really pick up my pace and hit a great stride.

Only mid race pic snapped by a friend of mine.
Around mile 3ish we took another sharp right turn and soon after a left turn.  Here comes the orange groves and the hills.  For about a mile, we ran uphill until we turned onto some clay roads.  I was a little nervous about the clay, but this was actually where I did the best.  It was very pretty running through the orange groves (despite all my coughing and sneezing) and the clay was hard packed and mostly flat.

Once we left the clay and were back on the road, we were also back to the hills.  Mile 7 was actually one big hill and that is where things stated to fall apart for me.  I was keeping an average pace of about 7:35 but to get up that hill, I found myself running in the low 8's.  By the time I reached the top of the hill, my legs and lungs were burning.  Once things finally flattened out, we were faced with a pretty strong headwind.  The saving grace was the course was actually really pretty, tough but pretty.

They took us through a dirt/gravel path for a mile or so then it back on to the original course to head back to the start/finish line.  Knowing how far I had left and what it would look like, I felt relieved and excited.  A little under 4 miles to go, I figured I could kick it into high gear.  Unfortunately, I was wrong...

Those lovely earlier miles that were downhill with a tailwind were now my last miles and the complete opposite as before.  From mile 10 on I struggled uphill with the wind at my face.  The cold/allergies/fatigue situation I was experiencing was really taking over me and I was struggling.  Knowing if I could just keep a certain pace, I would finish under 1:43, so I worked on that.  Not a PR, but a strong finish nonetheless. 

Around mile 11, I could see a shadow of someone approaching to my right.  I looked over my should and she gave a big smile and seemed like she wanted to chat.  I paused my music to say hello.  She was ironically someone I knew through Instagram but had never actually met!  We ran and chatted for about a quarter of a mile, but she was a little too fast for me and all the running and talking got my lungs going again, so I had to pull back while I coughed up a storm.  She ended up finishing a few minutes ahead of me and we met up after.  It's funny how social media and running can bring people together and forge new friendships!  Here we are pictured below and we have already discussed plans for running again soon!

Back to the race.  We passed back by the same school and I knew we were getting close, but it seemed a little too close.  Yep, my suspicions were confirmed when I came upon someone directing us down a narrow trail, which we ran out and back for a little over mile to give us the extra miles needed.  The trail also had our last water stop.  After chugging my last bit of water I realized a couple of things.  First, the water tasted a little funky, almost like chlorinated pool water.  Also, there had been no Gatorade or Gu along the course.  Most distance races offer those at some point along the course so I felt that to be a little odd.  I was at least grateful for the pool water they served us.

As the trail came to an end, we took a sharp right and up a hill.  There was less than mile to go at this point and fortunately, what goes up comes down.  The last little stretch to the finish line was mostly downhill so I was able to kick it into high gear and finish in my typical sprint.  Luckily that last little push got me in at 1:40:58.  It was about a 45 second PR but a PR nonetheless!

The after party was quaint, but they had plenty of food (including full bbq sandwiches for the runners), places sit and a lot of socializing.  The sun was up, it was warming up and it was shaping up to be a beautiful morning.  I was able to meet up with some of my MRTT mama's as they were coming in and spend some time recapping our adventures out on the course.  The general consensus was that it was a tough, hilly course but very beautiful.

It turns out that my time was enough to get me up on the podium.  I placed second in my age division, receiving a super cute little plastic orange in it's very own wooden crate with the name of the race and my place engraved on it.

Here are my final pros and cons to recap this event.

Great pre-race communication and instructions
Race day packet pick up available and was simple
Easy to get to and from
Plenty of parking
Clean bathrooms inside as well as port-a-johns outside
Race started on time
Beautiful course
Plenty of instruction along the course
Free finish line photos
Instant results on large screen
Great food for runners
Medal is large and very pretty
Got right to awards ceromony
Results were emailed right away

No pace groups for those who like to use them
Course was rather challenging (fun but tough)
Clay and dirt roads
Lots of hills
The added out and back narrow trail was a little dauntingWater tasted icky
No Gatorade or Gu
Crowd support was lacking, even at the start and finish line, no real areas for crowd support along the course
No course photography (just finish line)
After party could use more vendors, activities and excitement

All in all, it was a fun event that I plan to do again next year.  In fact, I think this would be a great one for my husband and I to do together if I can just convince him to train for and run a half

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