This was the 18th Annual Ocala Marathon, held in Ocala, FL. This is a very small race in a small horse town. There were 67 marathoners, 223 half marathoners, 92 5kers.
This is a loop course with a small out and back that starts and finishes at Paddock Mall. The marathon does 2 loops. Other than horses, Ocala is one of those Florida cities known for its 'rolling hills' but still small compared to other parts of the country. All races ran the same course, all with different start times. With it being such a small event, the roads were still open, even on the side of the road we were running. There were some cones and some officers, but then there were other areas where the cars would race by, not move over enough, and I even got honked at! And not in a good way! A small portion of the course had rough/uneven asphalt and another portion you had the option to run on the busy highway partially blocked by cones or on the large sidewalk. I chose the sidewalk.
The course started off beautiful with a lot of horse farms. It was an almost freezing morning, so I'm not sure if all the horses were out. The ones that were, were beautiful in the morning light. There were also a lot of cows. At one point the cows were so close to the road, I could have reached out and touched them. I could see their eyeballs literally watching every step as I ran by them. Then another group of cows started running across the field. I couldn't help but laugh as I had never seen cows run like that before. I guess even us 'slow movers' can pick it up when we want! Being in the country, you also came across some interesting things on the road.... such as a dead snake (which I almost stepped on) and a large carcass (maybe a deer)?
PACKET PICK UP
January is an awesome time of year for Florida races. So I decided to try this Ocala race only 2 hours and 15 minutes away. I left the house around 345a, which put me as one of the first to arrive race morning. They had the option of picking up your packet that morning, which worked out nicely. There were other options to pick up the days before for those in town.
Because we start and finish at a Mall on a Sunday, parking is endless and close.
It was a very brisk 36 degrees, so I quickly got back into my car and waited after I got my packet. I parked so close, I could crack my window and hear the guy on the loud speaker. They gave a mile by mile course review, but I'm not sure there were even that many people of there yet. They then did the National Anthem at 650am and walked the marathoners over to the Starting Line (just a few hundred yards away) for a 7a start. The Half would go at 715a.
As I lined up, I realized my IPod wasn't charged. Luckily we ran right by my car, so I threw it in. It was meant to be. This course is good to run sans music. We were in the middle of nature. I heard the most amazing nature sounds the entire course (well, until we hit the busy highway at the end). The quiet and stillness of the sunrise rays beaming through the trees, the fog hovering over the large ponds, the sprawling fields of wet (or frozen) grass. Birds starting to wake everyone for the day. All I could hear in those first few miles was my breath and the steps of the runners. (and an occasional other runners blasting IPod). There were moments on the course where I was all alone and could hear nothing. Absolute nothing. It was wonderful. And then I would hear a marathoner approaching and speed by me. (a little bit of an encouragement killer not only for this race, but also for my own upcoming full marathon)
There were no loud spectators cheering you on, just a random quiet 1 or 2 waiting for their loved ones. There were no motivating posters saying you can do it. It was just you surrounded by nature enjoying the gift of being able to run. This would be the same at the Finish. Sure there were people waiting for their loved ones, but there really wasn't a lot of cheering going on if they didn't know you.
The Aid Stations were amazing! And probably one of the best spreads I have ever seen! I guess that's one of the perks of running with a full marathon. Of course I didn't need much of it for the half marathon, especially on a cool day that we had, but it was nice to have the option! Besides the usual Gatorade, water, and some sort of GU. They had oranges, bananas, pretzels, fig Newtons, candy as just some of what I can remember.
The finish line also had a great spread as well. There was pizza, personal pies, multiple fruit options (pineapple, grapes, bananas), granola bars, fig Newton, cookies, bagels, peanut butter, Nutela just to name a few.
I didn't see any beer, but then again I wasn't really looking. Besides it being Dry January and training for the full marathon in a couple weeks, I also had to drive home and run another 10 miles!
The shirt was great, no obnoxious sponsor logos plastered all over the bag, except it was unisex. And a big unisex of that. I am drowning in a Medium. Oh well, one of these days they will all be turned into a tshirt blanket anyways!
The medal is basic but nice.
A huge shout out for having FREE race photos.... and organized by bib numbers! I know this may have something to do with the small field, but still. The photographer was waiting at the Finish Line and I had at least 5 pictures to chose from. Unfortunately I forgot they were free, and didn't 'strike a pose' or even smile. Oops.
I felt good in the cold. The gloves stayed on the entire time! It was disheartening a few times as the full marathoners raced by you, as the full does 2 loops, so the fast ones catch up. However, almost every one of them had encouraging words for me as they sped by! Which was very nice. I tried not to push it too hard as I knew I had to go home and run another 10 miles for my marathon training. I did finish in my average time despite the hills, so I am happy.
For a small town race, they do know what they are doing. I would definitely recommend this race as an experience if you are in the surrounding area. The course is "Florida" challenging, but not enough so to not make it unenjoyable. Being engulfed with nature and escaping the fast pass of every day life is definitely a perk! Ocala is also very accessible to some great cities and major attractions if you are looking to extend your weekend!
I am currently running a half marathon a month closing the year with a full marathon at 26.2 with Donna. In the meanwhile, I am also checking off the 50 states. Please show your support on this mission by making a donation. 100% proceeds benefit the Mayo Clinic and Donna Foundation!