18th Annual Ocala Half Marathon-Jan 25, 2015

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)?

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!

Holiday Halfathon, Madiera, FL-Dec 14, 2014


This was the 13th Annual Holiday Halfathon which is part of a starfish medal race series in the surrounding Clearwater Beach, FL area, held by Florida Road Races.

I drove down from Jacksonville and stayed with friends in Clearwater, about 20 minutes from the Start. It was a gorgeous mild and sunny afternoon, so we had lunch on the patio on the water, and had a visit with Santa! After a cold, but gorgeous sunset, we had a relaxing evening at the house. Unfortunately I spent the night tossing and turning and woke up feeling I barely slept.

This festive race is held on the barrier island of Madeira Beach and runs through Remington Shores, Indian Shores, with a huge part along the Pinellas Trail, a very straight, paved pedestrian trail that basically runs between the backs of peoples houses and some woods. This is an A to B course, starting at City Hall and finishing at Taylor Park where you do have a little bit off the pavement. It is a flat course with one small bridge over the water and 2 small overpasses on the Trail.
The first few miles are just a block from the ocean, but there is very limited views of the water between all the tall condo buildings.

Being an Out of Towner, parking was a little bit confusing and stressful. We asked several people questions for clarification, but still went to bed the night before a little worried. The website advised there were 2 public lots to park, which we checked out the day before. Both were not large enough to hold all the runners. The other option was provided in an email to park at the Finish and car pool to start, or call pool all together. Of course, being an out of Towner and not knowing locals, this was not a choice. At packet pick up we addressed out concerns, but the volunteers were from out of town as well and had no answer. We were warned in previous communications NOT to park at Winn Dixie (at the start line) as you would be towed. At packet pick up, we were told they 'may' let us, to follow Facebook for this to be addressed. It never was. Final response race morning was it was 'at your own risk.' Under FAQs we were told you could park at the library and softball field. We never found a softball field and the library lot was ridiculously tiny, so we passed it up and headed out extra early for the public paid lot.

Later, after paying for our paid spot, we learned people were parking in grass all around the starting area, as well as Winn Dixie. There really needs to be more organization around the parking situation. We ended up having to pay $10 for the day, and still came back to the machine 'out of order' that we couldn't extend our time as we had lunch in the same area.

The Starting area was in front of City Hall and only a short walk from public parking. There were tons of portal potties, so only a short line. They had a bag check, but it was basically just leaving your bag next to a sign with your bib number range. It would be the same at the finish. Not as secure as I would have liked, but they warned us of that. So I can't complain.

They had a 'Walkers Start' which was about 30 minutes before the race. I still don't understand why they would start them before the runners. I'm not fast enough for a big impact, but the fast runners had to do some weaving.

They had a man and woman National Anthem duet which was unique. All the while a pelican was soaring overhead looking for fish in the intercoastal water next to us. It was very peaceful.
There was no order to lining up, just place yourself where ever. My group lined up together closer to the front and wished each other luck.

I really was going into this race feeling like a PR. I hadn't PRd all year and it was time. To top it off, I had found my first sharks tooth ever, and thought it would bring me good luck. I was motivated and excited being with a group of friends and dressed in costume! I pushed myself for the first 3 miles, as I wanted to see if I could perform the same as I did for the Thanksgiving half (under 30). However, my Santa hat had me completely overheated quickly (I suddenly thought it was raining even though the sky was clear, but realized it was huge sweat beads dripping from my hat!) I felt okay until about M7. After that point, I felt like I was giving it my all, but the time just wasn't reflecting. I was exhausted. I could no longer see my friends and I felt defeated that I wouldn't PR again. I tried to just enjoy the day. It really was a perfect running day, but it was a bit of a mental struggle. The rest of the group did Fantastic! They had some PRs which made for a great celebration!

The stations were properly stocked, but all I could remember is they said there would be Florida Oranges at the stations, yet I only found 1 or 2 towards the end.

It was a festive finish line with huge Christmas wreaths, and Santa giving out the awards. The food line was fully stocked with pasta and meatballs as well as all sorts of snacks like fig Newton, pretzels, twizzlers, muffins, cookies, chips, bagels, bananas. Unlimited Michelob Ultra was provided with practically no line.

Pink buses took you from the Finish back to Start. It was definitely a good 20+ minute drive between the two. We waited to almost the end of the event before heading to the shuttle and there was still a line waiting for what seemed to be only 2 or 3 buses. We would have been fine, but as we finally got on a bus, the driver backed us off  as they were 'full'. We then were told only '2' more. We were a group of 5, so let others go. Then the driver yells out  '4 more!' WAIT, WHAT?! To top it off, he added even 2 more after those 6! The drivers definitely need counter devices to prevent grumpy, cold, wet, runners!!

Nice gender specific shirt without ugly sponsor logos all over the back!

Big, heavy, festive medals that really sparkle in the sunlight! The race name is a bit small, but at least there isn't ugly sponsor names plastered all over it.

The Clearwater Beach area is gorgeous and running in NFL this time of year is perfect. This is a great location for an extended relaxing weekend. I would highly suggest this race and I wouldn't mind checking out another one of the Florida Road Races events.

HM #45

I am on a mission to run a half marathon in all 50 states. I race a half a month and a full marathon in February at 26.2 with Donna which is the only national marathon to donate 100% proceeds to breast cancer research and care. (Mayo Clinic and Donna Foundation). Please consider making a donation to show your support. Www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2015-marathon/melissajohnson

Subaru Distance Classic-Thanksgiving 2014

This was the 31st Annual Distance Classic Half Marathon held in Jacksonville Florida. It is a long running tradition for this Thanksgiving Day race, which has been sponsored by different groups. Currently it is Subaru and 1st Place Sports. There is a half marathon as well as a 6k. (I have yet to figure out why it is 6 and not 5k)

This is a very simple type of race, as most 1st Place Sports races are. There is no glitz or glam about their races.  But then again, the registration prices reflect that as well. I took advantage of their 'test drive a Subaru' deal and got in the half for only $15!! You really cant complain about that! Unfortunately that is one of the only few things I cant complain about for this race.

So doing the Subaru test drive (which was a very simple and painless process, as long as you don't mind follow endless emails and phone calls asking you to buy a new car), I was forced to register by a tiny piece of paper and was told to drop it off at 1st Place Sports. I headed right over to the running shop, paper in hand, and the non customer service oriented teenage punk at the register instructed me that 'all registrations HAD to be done online' and waved me over to a computer to start typing.  So I start filling out my now Second Registration form.  Almost finished I asked what promo code I used for the test drive, and he then proceeds to tell me they have to enter the registration form for the test drives, not me on the computer. SMH....3rd registration form is a charm right? ...we'll see...

There is a Facebook page for 1st Place Sports, but not so much hype or communication the weeks leading up to the race, since they are involved in so many other races and events around town. There was no email communication except the week of the race, which had very limited info (no bib info, and basically just directed you to see their website). I went online to check my confirmation and bib number and low and behold, my name is not there. By a quick response from Facebook (kudos) they advised my name was misspelled with 3 s's. Ok, simple human error I guess, but still it provided a mini panic attack.

Since 1st Place Sports has multiple locations across the large Jacksonville city, you have your choice of picking up your packet at any location, or race morning, you just put your selection on your registration form. I of course, choice Jax Beach because it is practically across the street from where I live. So I arrive and low and behold, was told it was at another location. Seriously? So I got to leave empty handed and had to rework my evening/morning plans to make sure I arrived with extra time to spare on waiting in line in the cold in the morning. Not a happy camper.


The only instructions for parking was the shopping center of Pickwick Plaza. Unfortunately, once the navigation system got me there, I realized that lot was actually the starting area and there was no parking. Already in the left turning lane into that center, I realized most people were parking across the street at another shopping center. Unfortunately no one was directing anyone, not even the 2 cops standing partially in the intersection.  The turning lanes were backing up, and there was no way I would be able to get across the street easily. After a few loops around the only small lot on that side of the street, I finally decided to jump the curb and park in a small patch of grass and squeeze under a tree, which I scratched the hood of my car to fit into.


Luckily I got to the packet pick up line with only about 5 people ahead of me. Unfortunately there were about 8 boxes of bibs with only 2 people working them, and it seemed everyones numbers were in the same box! What should have taken about 5 minutes took over 20 min. I grabbed my bag and headed back to the car to warm up and put on my bib, except they didn't put the pins in the bag!

So back into the cold I go. Oh hell no, im not standing in what is now a 30 person deep line. I warn everyone in line to ask for pins, and skipped to the front to grab what I needed. What was included in the packet bag?....last seasons local magazine (yep, advertising races and events that already passed) and a handful of flyers.

So now I am fully dressed, bibbed up, selfie taken, I put on my Shuffle and try to test it out (since Ive had issues the past several races) and of course it doesn't work. ARGH! Its ok, I really am used to running without music. But the question was, could I PR without music?? (The weather was definitely PR weather ~50degrees).

I sucked it up, and back to the starting area to find the porta potties. Except, where the heck were they?? Finally I saw.... all FIVE of them!! WHAT?! Ok, whew, no, theres a sign that says more this way. But wait?...Why would they put all 50 of them right BEHIND the shopping center in such an  incredibly small space between the building the porta potties? There was absolutely no space to create lines. People were creating one unnecessary line to get to 50 porta potties, when all the ones in the middle were open!

Heading to the Starting Line, I search everywhere for my friends, but without luck. I put myself at the 9minute pace flag. Unfortunately there were no Pacers.
The starting time was delayed a few minutes. The National Anthem was sang....well, played....with a mechanical error at the last verse. Everyone looked around for minute. All I could think was recently in the news at a Canadian hockey game, the same thing happened and the Canadians just sang out loud and finished it. So I started singing and the people around me did too. I don't think it was as moving. Oh well.


The course is good, im not going to lie about that. Its very pretty with huge mossy trees that overhang the street. We run practically next to the river most of the course through neighborhoods, but of course all the mansions block the view. I think we had one glimpse of the river the entire course. The 6k and half run together and then split off. Before we started, there was a warning about the opposite turns for each course. Im going to give it to them, there was a pretty tall sign right in the middle of the road that said 6k this way, half this way. However, there must have been AT LEAST 10 people that I saw do a turn around, even up to the next mile or 2 after the sign. And that was just in my pace. Obviously, they have had this happen in previous years if there was a warning at start. Obviously, that sign is still not working. Why not put signs on the SIDES of the street as well?? Why not put cones out that make the two separate lanes? Why not put chalk writing on the street, so when those looking down while running can see it too?? Why not have different courses or start times??


The hydration stations were well stocked and manned except for one at about M9. The course took you by this station twice. There were 2 tables on each side of the street, but there were only about 6 volunteers. There were no cups ready. Unfortunately this was also the gel station, but you didn't realize it unless you saw the box sitting there on the table. I believe it was a Poweraid gel. I have no idea what flavor it was, but I seriously asked the person next to me if they thought it tasted like tequila as well!


There were a good amount of spectators out, as the course takes you through neighborhoods. You were constantly being told Happy Thanksgiving which was fun, and some people were even dressed up.


I felt really strong the first few miles. I had planned to run the first 6 without stopping, but I actually ended up blazing through the first 3 a lot faster than expected. When I looked at my Garmin at M1 and it said 9:05, I knew I had to push it for the next 2miles to try to break 30min for the first time ever! I officially ran 28:53!! Im so ecstatic, except there wasnt a 5k mat to record it!! (they did have a 10k mat....weird to have 1 and not the other). My Garmin records every mile for me, so to record 3.1 (5k), I had to press the lap button to record it, then lap again at M4 to get me back on course recording every mile. Except somehow I ended up stopping the Garmin all together. I didn't realize this until after about 3 minutes or so. So the rest of the course my timing and distance was completely off and I was constantly doing calculations in my head (which ended up not being right). I did the run 3minutes, walk 30seconds from M4 until about M8, then I went down to 2min:30sec. Im not going to lie, pushing it for the first 3 miles really took it out of me. Around M10 or 11, I had calculated that there was no way I was going to PR, so I kinda gave up on the hopes and dropped to 1min:30sec. When all was said and done and calculated, I actually was only 12 seconds off from a PR!! I could really kick myself for giving up at the end. But im still happy for my 5k time!

I crossed the finish, grabbed my medal and water, and was looking for a beer. It was after all a day of celebration. I saw people with mimosas, I saw people with beer bottles. I did not however, see any table handing any of that out! I was told by someone, that since Subaru took over, they stopped serving alcohol! WHAT?! If I didn't have plans to go to the Petes street party, I would have really been disappointed. But I did, so I grabbed the banana, muffin, and crackers they were passing out and I hightailed it out of there!

We received a gender specific tech shirt, which finally had the first glimpse of the holiday spirit. However, it was this strange shade of grey, that is almost green in the light.Also, the screen print is one of the worst quality I have seen. There were several 'cuts' in the print, as well as 'bubble's. 

The medal is one of the most disappointing I have seen. I guess because, again, Where's the Turkey?? One would think doing a Holiday race, there would be something involved on the medal with that Holiday. It really is a generic medal and has little to do with anything except the sponsor and race names.

There was a TON of free photos loaded on 1st Place Sports Facebook page. Which is a huge plus. However, there wasn't much organization of them, distinguishing between half and 6k.
There were also the usual overpriced photos for sale by Speedy Banana, organized by bib numbers on their website.

I am extremely disappointed all around with this race. Would I do it again? Probably not. I really signed up for this race for a little healthy Holiday spirit. However, there was very little to make it feel that way.


I am on a mission to run a half marathon in all 50 states. On my journey, I race a half marathon a month and a full marathon in February at 26.2 with Donna which is the only national marathon where 100% proceeds goes to breast cancer research and care (Mayo Clinic and Donna Foundation). Please consider making a donation to show your support www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2015-marathon/melissajohnson

3rd Annual Lighthouse Loop, Port Orange, FL-Oct 26, 2014

Event photo for Lighthouse Loop Half Marathon & 5K

The Lighthouse Loop is a half marathon and 5k ran in Port Orange, FL just south of Daytona. Proceeds benefit athletic programs in local high schools.

I had spent the prior week on vacation in St Lucia and the week before that in Jamaica, so needless to say, there wasn't a ton of training going on in the weeks leading to the race. One of the last days of my trip, I fell down a few wet cement steps. It was probably the worst fall of my life (it sounds silly saying that, as it seems like a small ordeal), but it was so hard, I just sat there for a bit speechless. When I finally was able to stand, I could not speak as people were asking me if I was ok. And then the tears came, and the dizziness. To wrap it all up, I ended up bruising my coccyx. Lets just say, after a week when the pain was still there, I was scared. Was this going to take weeks off of my marathon training?? Was I going to be able to race the Lighthouse Loop? The pain was slow to go, but it was very minimal by race day.  So much so, I couldn't tell if it was the bruise on my bum that I felt when I ran or the coccyx itself. I decided the worst comes to worse, I would just walk the half.

You had the option of packet pick up the days leading to the race, or on race morning. I decided to save the money and drive in race morning. I woke about 3a and drove the 2 hours from Jacksonville, arriving at 530. I was feeling pretty good (bum wise). We were warned there was lots of scattered parking, but limited early bird spots and it would take you 30 minutes (1 mile) to walk to the start (over the bridge). I saw very few people as I got out of my car to try to find the Starting area. There were cars but only 1 other person walking, someone else that was crazy enough to drive in from a couple hours away!

Finally finding the bright lights/Starting area, I was so happy to see coffee. Unfortunately I was quickly told it was for a running group only. :(

The packet pick up included a drawstring bag, bib, shirt, a really disgusting protein energy shots, and a handful of advertisements. Luckily they had a gear truck (suv) to get what you needed out of the bag (bib) and then throw it in the truck so you didn't have to walk all the way to your vehicle. Unfortunately, the line was ridiculously long as there was only 1 person handling all the name writing on tape to put on each bag.

The starting area was outside a local restaurant DJs Deck. I always find these situations funny, as the race directors always brag about so and so restaurant helping out. It seems though, if a restaurant wanted to help out a race, they would have it opened or have some employees there serving up some hot coffee, or chocolate, or breakfast of sorts. Just my humble opinion. 

Porta potty lines were short. There were no refreshments nor munchies as we waited at the start, but luckily I found some water.

There was a slight delay to the start because of the gear truck. However, the Start line was fun. There was a dj and good music and some party lights. They had pacers for this race and I lined myself up with the 2:30 finish. They had a recorded national anthem right at sunrise and then we were off.

This is a Point to Point race, but the Start and Finish are in a walkable distance and you can walk back to your car (within a mile or so). The Start is on one side of the Dunlawton Bridge and the Finish is on the other side of the bridge. The course takes you straight to the beach community. You get small glimpses of sand and water in between the houses. The course then enters a park and you run around (well, half way around) the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and back into neighborhoods, then over the bridge to finish. It is a pretty course and flat. And with the perfect FL winter running weather, it could easily be a PR race.

High school volunteers manned the stations and they did well. Gu was even provided at one point.

I felt good in the first few miles. I felt real good. There was no pain and I was happy. That meant this could mean PR with the perfect racing weather in the 50s and sunny, so I left the 2:30 Pacer and caught up, and even passed the next pacer. I however, had to make a quick stop as we entered the Ponce Inlet sign around M3 (of course). Unfortunately my camera was acting up and it took much longer than I would have liked.
Everything was going well, I was definitely in a pace to PR and I was in good spirits.... until about M10. Slowly by surely I was getting a weird feeling all the way from my coccyx down my right leg to my toes. My foot almost felt like it was numb. My leg felt like it was 'dead' and heavy. My hip was sore. My knee was getting a sharp pain and my coccyx felt like it was bruised again. Ugh. I started taking more walk breaks. But every time I started running again, the pain was miserable. I stopped to sit and adjust my shoes and stretch. It didn't help. My knee was starting to really hurt which was throwing off my stride.

I started worrying again about what this meant to my future marathon training. A coccyx injury is not something to laugh at. There is absolutely nothing you can do, except minimal movement. And that is nothing a runner wants to hear. Did I really screw up by racing today? As the tears were coming, I pushed myself to accept 'just do what you can do to cross the finish line, even if that means walk.' However, when I hit the bridge, I realized the 2:30 pacer had not yet passed me. (2:30 is my absolute worst I wanted to accept). And then there he was. So I ran, or hobbled. I put the pain aside and dug deep. I would deal with the recovery later. I ran with probably the ugliest face, but I ran across the finish. I finished at 2:28 with 3 stops, which was amazing to me. But I would have had a PR. That race was supposed to be mine. I don't know if I was crying more because of the frustration of the injury, or because it is race #8 of the year and I STILL have not had a PR this year at all! And this one was supposed to be it!

The finish line at Aunt Catfish's on the River restaurant, was 2 sharp turns at the end of the bridge, which made it a little awkward.  There was a dj and music and massages, and beer, and a Real Breakfast! ...it was on the inexpensive, not something I would usually eat type of fake eggs breakfast, but it was a full meal, it was hot, and it hit the spot after running....and with a beer of course!

The shirts were gender specific, but ran a tad small on the womens side. They did allow a shirt swap weeks later if you need to change or buy another shirt


This is a little local race that helps out the community. They manage to keep their registration cost down, but still provide everything that every other race provides, if not more! And that's what I love. This race falls in a perfect time of a year in FL for PRs. With the flat and scenic course, it is one to be loved. As long as you are mentally prepared to handle the 'warm up' bridge walk to start, then you will enjoy this race. This is also a great location for an extended weekend vacation! There was a shuttle of sorts to get to the Start for some of the hotels. And that shuttle then looped around to pick up last minute stragglers walking as well.


I am on a mission to run a half marathon in all 50 states. On my journey, I race a half marathon a month and a full marathon in February at 26.2 with Donna which is the only national marathon where 100% proceeds goes to breast cancer research and care (Mayo Clinic and Donna Foundation). Please consider making a donation to show your support www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2015-marathon/melissajohnson

Talladega 21000-Sep 14, 2004

This was the 6th Annual Talladega Half Marathon and 5k. The race takes place on and around the Talladega Nascar Superspeedway! This is a capped race and proceeds benefit prostate cancer through the Urology Health Foundation.


A couple weeks before the race, I received an offer from work to travel to Rome for a week. I of course couldn't pass up this opportunity, even though it was a packed itinerary, and would bring me home only 36 hours before race time and I would still have to drive from FL to AL. Little did I know, that our return flight home would be several hours delayed, making it a close call on even being able to make the race.

I ended up back home Friday around 11p, woke up Saturday at 7a and me and the pup drove 7 hours to Talladega. Luckily, there was a time change, so I gained an extra hour of rest....every. hour. counts.

They provided both before the race, and race day options to pick up your packet. The day before was at the Motorsports Museum, right next to the Superspeedway. I made it in time to get my packet the day before. There wasn't much to the packet, just your bib and gender specific shirt and a few ads. But we did receive a cool race koozie as well. I tried to pry some information about the race from the solo person, stating Im from out of town, but there really wasn't much to that either. I was too tired to do the museum, but think it would be cool to do before the race. There were no shopping options here, so make sure you have all your race supplies.

After that, it was straight to the hotel to rest. Late lunch/dinner was a salad with chicken, and then a late snack of a Lara bar and banana. Just enough to get me by without getting out of bed. I was asleep by 10p and slept like a baby til 530a.

We were warned of several things (1, do not, I mean do not bring your dog.... ok, how many times?) and 2, be prepared for traffic if you arrive after 630. So I arrived around 615. It was a breeze. Race was to start at 730a. It was cool to drive in the stadium as Talladega is spelled out in the stands and the seats are also colored to look like it is packed with people.

Parking was easy and I realized there was a real bathroom right there near by spot. It wasn't a bad walk to the Start area, but they had a shuttle system for those that did not want to walk (mainly spectators).

Even at the Starting area, they had real bathrooms in a couple areas as well as portal potties. I think most people didn't now about the real bathrooms in the pit garage.

There was coffee set up, but I couldn't find any water. I finished half a banana and a Lara bar for breakfast.

This was the first race I had been to where there was an actual worship service. Ive seen prayer groups before, but this was an actual tent with chairs and a preacher with a bible, preaching for about 15 minutes. I walked over and listened to the motivational words. It was about belief and he related a lot of it to racing.

The weather was almost perfect. It was in the upper 60s and overcast with a slight breeze as we waited to start. People were actually complaining they were cold! I thought it felt great. Except it seemed the breeze stopped after we started running. The last mile or two the sun did finally make its appearance and it warmed up quickly.

We ran the 'flats' of the speedway. It was really cool to see the turn walls.... they are a LOT steeper in person than on TV! But no worries, you dont run on the steep turn walls. We also got to run the wall above the track, and through the parking/tailgating/camping areas. We ran passed a few houses and on the main road to the entrance of the speedway. We then ran through the concession area/grandstands, on the wall above the track again, and then back on the track, through the middle/pit area, and down the straightaway to the Finish Line. The straightaways were so much longer than it looked to make it to the turns. One lap around the track was about 2.5 miles.

The water/Gatorade stations were properly stocked. However, the sheet they gave us the night before listed there would be THREE GU opportunities. When I first saw this I thought it was a ridiculous amount for a half marathon. However, after having a hectic travel week, I was super excited and was going to take advantage of every one of them. One of these days I will learn to not rely on the races promises. But at the same time, I paid for this, so they should own up to what they promise. It ended up being only 2 spots with GU. I don't know if it was mental, but I was exhausted and dying for the 3rd.

The Hash House Harriers (a drinking club with a running problem) put up their own hydration table. I had read they would be out there, but little did I know, it was the first mile! Of course I had to partake in the alcohol with my fellow hashers!....they were of course, how I started getting into running...plus who goes to a Nascar speedway without a beer in hand??. They were also at the last couple miles as well.

There weren't that many people out there beside the runners. Mainly some family members here and there. The scenery and excitement of the speedway was pretty much enough to keep your mind sidetracked and motivated.

Survival was my only goal for this race. I had been fighting a cough all week, traveling all over Rome, and then driving from FL for this race, I am extremely lucky my body did not crash on me! On top of that, my performance was the fastest of this year so far! There was only one moment where I thought I was crashing (when I learned there wasn't a 3rd GU station) but that was already so close to the end, I pushed through.

The finish line was just slightly off from where the start was on the straightaway on the track. Once you crossed the finish line, you were welcomed with water and an ice cold chamois towel, as well as the traditional bananas and oranges. You then walked through Victory Lane for photos and back to the pit garage for the after party.

The after party was sponsored by Jim n Nicks BBQ and it was probably some of the best bbq I've had! Besides the BBQ, there was slaw, chips, ice cream, and unlimited beer and soda. They also had a really good band playing. The sun had finally come out, and it was becoming a gorgeous day. Too bad I had to hurry back to the hotel before check out time and drive back home.

I really had no expectations for this race. I hadn't come across many Alabama races in my search, and this one stood out to be the most unique. This was just a quick in/out, checking off the state of Alabama for my race bucket list type of trip for me. However, with all that said, this was definitely a top favorite race of all times! It is by far the most unique I have ever done and I would highly recommend it to others. Im not sure there is much else in Talladega, but Birmingham is not far away, and looking back, I would have spent some time there after the race.

State #19
HM #42

I am on a mission to run a half marathon in all 50 states. On my journey, I race a half marathon a month and a full marathon in February at 26.2 with Donna which is the only national marathon where 100% proceeds goes to breast cancer research and care (Mayo Clinic and Donna Foundation). Please consider making a donation to show your support www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2015-marathon/melissajohnson

3rd Annual 13.Wine, Michigan WineTrail Half Marathon-Aug 24, 2014

This was the 3rd Annual Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon, aka 13.Wine, held in Baroda, MI, population 869. (aka South West MI otherwise known as Lake Shores region). This is a capped race and this year there were 366 half marathon finishers and 78 5kers (The Galloping Grape 5k).

When I came across this race on the internet, of course the name itself had me intrigued. I’m on a trend of trying (and liking) small town races and this fit nicely into my summer schedule. It was an easy flight into Chicago, just an hour and half drive north, Exit #1 across the Michigan border. When I told everyone where I was going, of course no one had even heard of it, not even my friends from Michigan. Most didn’t even know that Michigan had a ‘Wine Country.’ As I did more research, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was this Florida beach girl going to be close to the shore line and beaches of Lake Michigan, but I would get to run through the local vineyards and farm land. To add the cherry on top, they promised a 13.Wine logoed wine glass at the Finish Line! How could one pass this up?


The course had constant rolling hills, and held up to its ‘challenging’ promise, with one minor killer hill (is there such a thing?) at M8. We basically ran in a square and passed by several wineries along the Michigan Wine Trail. The grapes were even large enough to even see their beauty from the road….as well as the corn fields, apple orchids, and pea crops, all ready to be harvested soon! We had a glimpse of a lake, and a couple ponds in peoples yards as well as some cool log cabins with beautiful flower filled yards. The course went in the perfect direction too, as our last couple miles, the hot sun was at our backs, not faces. The majority of the road was closed or partially closed. With only a rare passing car from a local resident.


There was not an Expo for this event, per se but they did create the 1st Annual ‘Party at the Pavers’ which was a local music and wine/beer tasting event with a couple crafters and food vendors. It was nice to have a little celebration to kick off the weekend, however, it was a little disappointing as there was a $5 'suggested' donation at the door just to get our bib, and those ladies were hard sellers! I would have liked to have seen a little more running oriented options. For those of us out of town, I never saw any sort of running store to pick up anything you may have forgotten on your travels. 


The weather was actually almost perfect for a mid summer race! We received warnings of a heat advisory the day before from the race director, but I guess this IS Michigan and not Florida. Temps ended up being the lower 70s with partly cloudy sky. The best part? There was almost a consistent breeze! And a pretty good breeze, almost so much that it took a little effort at one stretch.


The starting line was in an open wet grassy field close to the parking lot. There were plenty of portal potties. They also gave an option to do same day bib pick up. There was a call over a microphone to line up, a few good advisement of the course, and then a 1,2,3 Go! Nice and simple. 


The water stations were manned by cheerleaders and Boy Scouts and were properly stocked with Gatorade first and water following. M8 had a fuel of some sort (not GU) which did a number on my stomach, as I am a regular of the GU brand. One of the last stations had wet towels which was perfect as it was starting to warm up.


There were a couple of people at a couple of corners, but other than that, your motivation had to come from within. This was definitely a serenity run, as I tried to stay focused on the beauty of the fields and fields of farmland. There was however, a good 10 or so signs posted at the first/last mile or so with some clever/funny sayings. My favorite and most appropriate being 13.Whine crossed out and edited WINE! The second best sign being at the top of the biggest hill-‘stop complaining about this hill, its great for sledding!’


Before heading to the free flowing local wine and beer tent, there were ice cold popsicles to cool down with. As well as Oreos and Twizzlers for sugar, potato chips of sodium, banana for potassium were the other food items.

We received our 13.wine logo seamless wine glasses and the age group winners received a logoed wine decanter!


I knew going into this race, I wasn’t going to PR with the hills, so I didn’t really have much of a plan, other than just getting out there and run listening to my body. I left the pace alert behind and with that said, I never found my rhythm. I had bad cramps from about M8-11 and the final stretch I was simply hot and exhausted. I still managed to run around a normal time for me, so I'm not too disappointed.


The shirt is basic tech shirt. It has a small simple logo on the front and the usual huge ugly sponsor names splattered all over the back. The only thing that makes the sponsors different on this one, is they are the wineries we ran by. So that is cool. Women came in a nveck and mens crew.  


The medal is a cool stained glass, shaped in a wine glass and it even says Michigan on it. I believe this is my first of 41 half marathons were it has the state name.


For anyone thinking of traveling to Michigan for this race….there aren’t many hotels to chose from and those that are in the near vicinity are quite pricey for summertime. It is best to split, or even look into renting a condo/house near the lake. There are several airports to chose from, all within a reasonable driving time. Just remember, if you fly into Chicago, it is CST, and Michigan is EST. That was the most stressful part of my trip…making sure I made it in time for my flight! There is plenty to do in the surrounding lake shore towns, so make sure to plan this as a long weekend!


Parking-There seemed to have been some confusion on race day with parking. Despite the detailed map on the website and in the email communication from the director, there still ended up being a random ‘empty field’ with a handmade ‘parking’ sign in the same vicinity, just a mile or so further down the road. When I pulled into it, I found it very strange there was not a single race volunteer around to ask the direction to start and there were multiple cars that kept driving by. As I started walking, someone was coming back and advised there was a whole other lot at start, aka where we should have been parked! Not knowing the area, and if anyone was going to be towed, we moved our cars, but a whole lot full stayed. I can only assume the signs were left over from the day before Party on the Pavers event.

Photos-there was not a single photographer on course or even at the Finish Line. That’s just always disappointing not to have action shots from something monumental. There are too many amateur photogs out there….I think that with just a little inquiry out to the public, someone would volunteer their time and post photos on Facebook at minimum. I did see some random photos posted on the Midwest Race FB site, but it seems it was someone running the race theirself and capturing friends or those around them only.

Start/Finish-I’m not sure that it rained, but there was a mud pit, or two, or three, which meant we had to be overly cautious starting so we didn’t twist an ankle, and there was no way to kick it up a notch to sprint across the Finish line at the end. I’m not quite sure why we didn’t start on the empty road to begin with. I am sure it has something to do with closure of the street with the city, but it still would have been nice not to be on a bumpy muddy field….also getting your shoes wet as you wait to start.

Roads- The roads were consistently warped. I’ve heard this is of the norm for snow states though?? There was also a loose gravel section we ran on for a bit. Yes, I know this is overly picky of me, but some people may just want to know.

Fuel-They promised some sort of fuel on course, so of course frugal me did not bring any. Unfortunately it was ‘after’ the major hill on the course. It would have been nice to have the bit of energy ‘before’ the hill so it could have been attacked better.


This was my first time to Michigan and I would surely come back to explore some more! I tried to make my way up the coast, and actually hit up 8 lake shore towns all the way to Ludington! I would have liked to have made it to Traverse City or even Mackinaw, but time did not permit. All of what I did see was Gorgeous though and the beaches got nicer the further north I went. This could be a nice girls weekend get away, as there are tons of wineries to explore! Or make it a family weekend and spend some time on the beaches!
I would highly recommend this race. It is in its early years and already well organized! I can only imagine how well oiled of an event this will become over the years! And with the scenery, challenge of a course, and distinctive perks, this race definitely stands out from many!
State #18
Half Marathon #41

I am running the 50 states and a half marathon a month in support of the 26.2 with Donna, a national marathon who donates 100% proceeds to breast cancer research and care! Please consider a donation today! Www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2015-marathon/melissajohnson