What did I get myself into?!
That was the thought playing on repeat in my head as I tried to navigate the grassy, divot filled path for the beginning of the Masters of all Terrain half marathon.
But first, let me back up and lay a little ground work here.
My sister emailed me a while ago for some advice on nutrition especially for her upcoming half marathon. I knew after looking at countless race calendars that there was only one left in Florida for the month of June (theres a reason for this folks!). I asked if she was doing the Masters of all Terrain in Mt. Dora and yup, that was the one.
I considered and pondered and questioned whether I should do this race. Ultimately, this was my third race in as many weekends and was creeping into the warmer months. I still had the urge to do it and my tri coach thought it would be good to gauge my level of fitness and provide a good “catered long run”. So I signed up, got to know the RD through Facebook and even held a give a way for a free entry through KickStart.
My longest run to date had been around the 8 mile mark for the season but I felt strong and knew I had the endurance for the event just maybe not the speed. Well…speed wasn’t a part of this race for anyone as this was by no means a PR course.
I closed up shop early on Friday and headed north to Orlando to stay with my sister and brother in law. We ate a good meal that Kevin cooked for us, talked race strategy, and headed to bed early. I got a good night’s sleep and felt ready to go the following morning. We made the trek to Mt. Dora and turned into the abandoned air field where the race was being held. As we weaved our way around, I saw two porta potties by themselves in what used to be the end of the landing strip.
I thought “I hope those are just for the parking lot”. Yeah, not so much!
We eventually parked, crossed over the knee high grass and went to the registration tent. Check-in didn’t take very long though they should have sent the waivers to us before hand and had us print them out (save time where you can folks!). We opened our race packets and found that there were no timing chips…hmm. I didn’t really care as much as I knew this was a different kind of half as opposed to a traditional road race but nonetheless I was surprised there wasn’t one.
As we headed back to the car and grabbed our things, my sister stated she needed to use the bathroom. Well so did everyone at the race apparently. We stood in-line for about 45 minutes with everyone else for those two lone porta potties! Some men and brave women made their way into the woods by the porta potties but unfortunately yours truly didn’t have that option.
The RD soon saw he had a major logistical issue on his hands and had to push the start time back a half hour. Uh oh. I barely made it in time to use the porta potty and get to the start line where I bid farewell to my sister and brother in law and made my way closer to the front.
During announcements it was explained that the race route was actually 13.6 miles not 13.1 miles…ok then a little more running! With that, the national anthem sung, we were off, running down the air strip.
The first 4.5 miles of this course were through old fields following somewhat patted down tire tread tracks. This is was the most painful part of the race as you were constantly worried about rolling an ankle, stepping in the right spot etc. It was not only physically draining but mentally as well. I started out with an 8:30 mile but quickly this pace crept up. At the first aid station around 2 miles in, I stopped to grab water to take a salt pill, fearing that the one I took about 1 hour before had been washed away into the porta potty. Well, I couldn’t get the pill out and eventually wasted about a minute doing so.
This quick stop did allow me to hydrate, take the pill and pick up my new running buddy who would stick with me for another 6 miles or so.
Don, hailing from Tampa, works for UPS and had even participated in mock interviews as an interviewer at my alma mater, Elon! Go figure! We had plenty to talk about including upcoming races, how we were being careful on the course, who got us to do this race and more. I’m glad he decided to run with me as I may have started to walk earlier than I did.
At about 8.5 miles in, my energy levels continued to drop from the heat and the fact that my socks were completely wet since mile 1 and having to run through the wet grass. I stopped to get a pebble out of my shoe but eventually I told Don to go ahead as I was going to take a quick stretch and put my music on.
I AM SO GLAD I BROUGHT MY MUSIC! I have not been running much with music since I can’t use it in a triathlon but boy did it make a difference at this race! My pace quickened and my mood elevated. At about every aid station I was taking three cups of water, 1.5 half to drink and 1.5 to pour on my neck, back and shoulders. I typically don’t do this but since there was no relief from the sun, I had to do it.
Eventually, a blister formed on my left foot at the base of my big toe and hampered my running. Had it not been for the blister and rocky terrain, I certainly could have posted a better time but oh well thats how running is. This race was unlike anything I had ever done in competition before as I had never walked so much in a race. In fact, I’ve only walked in one other race, the run portion of the Motivation Man triathlon last year where I walked for just a couple of minutes to try to cool down.
The route, once we got off the grass, was basically a large square, running alongside canals and undeveloped land. We ran on very rocky gravel, sand and stone. I typically enjoy this kind of route except that day I was dealing with wet socks and blisters so I had the blinders on and was doing a jog instead of the run I had pictured in my head leading into the race.
This is pretty much what most of the race route looked like. Eventually I passed the 11th mile aid station where I was told this was the last place to grab water (there was actually another one up ahead from the 5k race) and became concerned as it was so hot and humid out that I would need water one more time since we were still 2.6 miles away from the finish. Lucky for me, I was closer to the front of the race where as others including my sister and brother in law experienced a shortage of water at this key aid station.
Turning off of the rocky road and back towards the grassy fields, it was a welcome sight to see the air strip again. I always muster more speed towards the end of the race but man was it hard to do so! I crossed the finish line, grabbed a water and just kept walking so I didn’t become stiff.
I sat under the shade for awhile, reflecting upon my race efforts and making sure nothing was going to cramp. Kevin crossed the finish line some time later followed by Michelle. I knew the whole race that she would be cursing this race the whole time as she wasn’t familiar with off road racing and wasn’t even entirely sure she was ready for the distance. I was proud that both of them made it through and didn’t turn around early on.
While the two of them rested, I got some food from the Local Yokl food truck! I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to eat but after asking the food truck owners for a suggestion, I chose the Twisted Elvis!
A sandwich made from french toast with peanut butter, bananas, and bacon!
It was a delicious post race meal that I thoroughly enjoyed! Once I grabbed food, we headed home to ice our sore muscles in the pool and of course, eat some more.
This race was a great mind race as I really had to dig deep to push through and get to the finish line while ignoring the fact that I was going to be way past my goal of 2 hours. I’m not sure if I would do this route again as those first 4.5 miles are just brutal and cause your ankles to really hurt afterwards. I hope the race succeeds but I know they learned a LOT from this race and will improve upon things.
Time: 2 hours 23 minutes
11/44 Age Group (26-35 yrs old)
The girl who won the overall for the females was in my age group and ran the course in 1:40. Remember, this was actually 13.7 miles but the degree of technical difficulty certainly shows in the overall winner’s time.
Happy National Running Day-I hope you got your run in!