Wednesday, December 19, 2018

MOUNT DORA HALF MARATHON - December 16, 2018

Seventh time’s a charm, but is it the last charm?

I have participated in this race every year since it’s inception.  The first two years, I stayed with Jen, and drove to Mount Dora the day of the race (it’s only one hour away).  The past five years, it has become a family tradition.  Unfortunately, I may be the only one in the family that feels this way.  With Lindsey coming to town from New York, and Rachel finished with finals at FSU, I just assumed everyone would be on-board with this mini-vacation.  Boy, was I wrong.  Mount Dora was played out, and no one really wanted to go.  Most surprising was Lindsey, since she had never run this race.  On top of everything else, I reserved a two bedroom cottage at our usual go-to spot, the Historic Mount Dora Inn. Since these reservations were made a year in advance, I did not factor in the  new living arrangements for both the youngins.  This race weekend also falls right in the middle of a potential vacation not named Mount Dora.  With all of this taken into account, I don’t know if this race will be in any future plans.   Rachel eventually changed her mind, and would go up for the weekend with Glenda and me.  Lindsey had made plans, and would hold down the fort in the 954.

We left around noon on Friday, and vowed to find something interesting to do on Saturday.  It only takes a few hours to walk through downtown, so we thought we would venture out to some of the surrounding areas (Clermont, Leesburg, etc.).  Wine tasting was definitely an option, but the weather didn’t look as if it were going to cooperate.  We didn’t hit any rain on the way up, but you could see it had poured earlier in the day.  The cottage was really nice; a big step up from our usual one bedroom bungalow.  A Sandhouse family tradition in Mount Dora is to watch holiday movies on the Hallmark Channel (mostly because there is only one television, and football is not an option).  The rain started to come down again, so we would take to the TV, and try and eat supper around 7:30.  We made reservations at Café Gianni’s, which is literally a five-minute walk from the cottage.  The rain eased up enough for us to go, and the food was fantastic (as always).  Our server suggested we go to Oak Haven Farms & Winery on Saturday.  They have strawberry picking and wine tasting, which is right up our alley.  We walked around to see the holiday lights, which are truly second to none.  The rain started shortly after that, so back to the cottage for an all-night Hallmark Channel marathon.

We slept in Saturday morning, and made our way out around noon.  The race packet pickup was right next door, and the shirts were a total departure from the previous races (I say that in a good way).  It had rained during the night, and the prospects of seeing the sun were slim and none.  On our way to grab a bite to eat, we stopped in The Cellar Door Tasting Room & Wine Bar.  After a couple of glasses, we staggered over to One Flight Up, which is another one of our usual spots. It was now raining on and off, and Oak Haven was closed for the day.  We dodged the raindrops, as we did some shopping in the downtown area.  We actually made some purchases, including bath balms, wine (of course), and candles.  Back at the cottage, it was more Hallmark Channel movies, and napping.  We went to Jeremiah’s for supper, which was a new experience for us.  It is about one-half mile from the cottage, and I guess you could consider it a sports bar.  The food was good, but our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. Back to the room, I went to sleep, as the Hallmark Channel marathon resumed.

The race started at 7am, with the starting line less than five minutes from the cottage.  The temperature was around 60°, with very little chance of rain.  I made the decision to wear a long sleeve running shirt, which I instantly regretted once I walked out the door.  The high for the race would only reach around 63°, but it just didn’t seem so cold.  840 runners stood tall for the National Anthem, which was 137 less than last year.  I think the inclement weather may have kept some of them away, and there was a half marathon in Jacksonville the previous day (once again, speculation on my part).  Once we were off and running, I was immediately in bad shape.  It’s hard to explain, but I felt as if I were having a panic attack.  My heart was pounding, and I was out of breath.  I considered doing intervals, but would give it a few miles before I would make that decision.  I slowed the pace down a little, which didn’t seem to help as much as I would have hoped.  Slowly but surely, the feeling started to go away.  As I was passing Mount Dora High School (around the three mile mark), I was feeling much better.

This race has a good amount of hills, so I really didn’t want to do intervals.  I just walked up most the hills; that seemed to do the trick (the course flattens out after the six mile mark).  I was now filled with lots of energy, and was able to make up for lost time.  The sky was totally overcast for the entire race, and rolling up my sleeves allowed me to run in comfort.  I texted Rachel and Glenda when I was one mile from the finish, so they could get themselves in good position to take some photos (they did not let me down).  I sprinted the last quarter-mile of the race, and felt great crossing the finish line.  Considering the bad start, my time was not too far off from Space Coast and Weston.  On top of everything else, I had a negative split.

I was sad that this may have been my swan song, but I booked reservations for next year…Just in case.


Monday, December 10, 2018


Okay, I know what you’re thinking…Why in tarnation am I doing this race again?

If you are a loyal reader of my blog, you know what a debacle last year’s race was.  If not, read the post from last year, and you’ll be all caught up.  In a nutshell, the Mayor’s Challenge 1-Mile Walk ended in the same place as the half marathon.  It was a logistical nightmare finishing the race, let alone getting your medal.  When the emails stared to pour into my inbox for the race this year, I contacted the folks in charge to express my concerns.  To my surprise and delight, steps were taking place to clear up the chaos from the previous two years.  They were very gracious, and even offered me a discount code if I would give them one more chance.  This was apparently a very big issue, and I’m guessing many runners threatened not to enter this year unless changes were made.  With this sticking point apparently resolved, I gladly entered again.  I’ve run this race many times, and it falls on a weekend that never conflicts with anything else.

I went Friday afternoon to pick up my race packet.  They moved the location this year to Weston Regional Park.  I’ve never been there before, but all I can say is WOW!  What a beautiful place.  The entire city of Weston is very pretty, but we don’t venture there very often.  The race shirts were nice, and I asked one last time about the Mayor’s Challenge 1-Mile Walk.  The volunteers assured me that there would be no issue this year.

The race started at 6:20am in front of Cypress Bay High School.  As I approached the starting line, the crowd seemed a bit lighter than usual.  494 runners (compared to 623 last year) may have been a result of the confusion from last year, but that’s just conjecture on my part.  The temperature was 73°, and we were underway.  The race is basically an out-and-back, with lots of pretty homes, golf courses, and water to look at.  I felt good the entire time, and ran a pretty strong race.  Having no sun in the beginning is a big help, but you run west for the last half of the race, so a hat is standard equipment.  As I crossed the finish line, I was delighted to see the kids and their parents in an entirely different location.  Not having to fight the crowds as I finished was something I always took for granted.

I’m happy things are back to normal, and plan on entering this race for many years to come.


Sunday, December 2, 2018


I can now cross another race off the bucket list.  The question is, should it have been on the list in the first place?

This seemed like the longest summer ever, and my running was very laborious.  Global warming (if you believe in that sort of thing) made every weekend run torture, with intervals being the only saving grace.  I plugged along nevertheless, and the first races were finally upon us.  The Flanigan's Rockin' Rib 10K was up first on November 18th, and was a great warmup for the half marathons that would lie ahead.  Renee from Runner’s Depot always does a first-class job with this event, and this year’s race was no different.  Vista View Park welcomed 1,665 runners, including my long-time friend Doug.  The shirts and medals were very nice, and I had a very enjoyable run.

Next up was the race that started it all…Tamarac Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving morning.  What made this even sweeter, both Lindsey and Rachel were in town for the holidays.  Lindsey and I would run the race, with both Glenda and Rachel cheering on 1,805 runners at the finish line. Another enjoyable race; now on to bigger and better things…Space Coast.

This is a race that everyone has talked about since the day I started running.  I’ve never heard anything but great reviews, and it was something I was encouraged to add to my running bucket list.  Legend has it that the race sells out in a matter of days, and I should jump on it early.  One drawback…it is Thanksgiving weekend.  You know what that means…UF vs. FSU.  That limits my entry to even years (when the game is in Tallahassee), and Lindsey and I decided early on that this would be our year.  We registered right away, and picked the new North course.  That’s right, there were now two courses, with the full marathoners running both.  Since my childhood friend Doug (who has been running Gasparilla with us the past few years) lives in Titusville, getting him to register was an easy sell.  Rachel was headed back up to Tallahassee on Friday to go to the game, so Glenda was all in on going to Cocoa Beach with us.

We left Friday afternoon around 1:30pm, and arrived at the Four Points by Sheraton Cocoa Beach around three hours later.  Jen had stayed there several times, and it was one of the host hotels for the race.  The room was very nice, and we grabbed an early supper at the Sandbar Sports Grill (another recommendation from Jen).  We walked on the beach for a bit, shopped at the giant Ron Jon Surf Shop, and capped the evening off by indulging in some outstanding key lime pie at Florida Key Lime Pie Company.

The expo opened at 9am on Saturday, and we wanted the get there bright and early.  The UF/FSU football game was a 12 noon kickoff, and we didn’t want to rush.  The expo was at the Radisson Resort at the Port, which was very close to our hotel.  I assumed that the expo would be big, kind of like Gasparilla or Miami; boy was I wrong.  Considering the amount of runners entered in this race, the expo was extremely small.  Brooks was a major sponsor, but the merchandise was pretty weak.  That being said, the race shirts were outstanding.  We met up with Doug, stalled for as long as we could, and made our way back to the hotel.  With more time on our hands before kickoff than anticipated, we went back to the Florida Key Lime Pie Company.  Besides the deserts, they had an extensive selection of wine.  Since Glenda and I have recently become wine “connoisseurs,” we purchased six bottles for our new wine rack.  We sat down for lunch in the hotel’s sports bar to feast and watch the football game.  During halftime, we went back up to the room. Glenda and Lindsey would nap, and I cheered the Orange and Blue onto victory.  Another walk on the beach during sunset, supper again at the Sandbar Sports Grill, and back upstairs for an extremely early bedtime.

One of the advantages of staying at a host hotel for the race was the shuttle bus that would pick us up and take us to the start.  The disadvantage to this was the bus was coming at 4am!  There would be a second bus at 4:45am, but it was suggested to go for the first one.  We were downstairs at 3:50am with 30 of our closest friends.  It was after 4am, with no bus in sight.  The person in charge seemed very pensive, and we knew that something was just not right.  Apparently, dispatch for the busses for all the guest hotels did not get the memo that the race was starting at 6am.  It was now just after 5am, and everyone (I’m guessing around 50 runners) were all downstairs, and in a mild state of panic.  Ten minutes later, three busses arrived, and we scrambled to get a seat.  The starting line was only 15 minutes away; you could hear a collective sigh of relief when we got there.  We met up with Doug, who would be running the South course.

The race started by Cocoa Riverfront Park, which is located by Cocoa Village.  It was very pretty, and the street was roped off for the South course (on the left), and the North course (on the right).  5,533 runners (4,712 for the half; 821 for the full) took their mark, and we were off and running.  Lindsey had not run too much recently, and we debated doing intervals.  I set my watch, but we would only do it if we were hurting.  Thankfully, we ran the entire race.  We never actually looked at a course map, but I guess we would be running past the space center.  Boy was I wrong.  The entire race (which was an out-and-back) had very expensive homes on one side, and water on the other.  The closest we got to anything was the vehicle assembly center off in the distance.  Don’t get me wrong…the course was very scenic; just not what I expected.  It was comparable to Gasparilla or Mount Dora, but I was hoping for rocket ships!  It was foggy most of the morning, which kept the sun at bay.  I had a relatively easy run, but Lindsey had some shin splints early on.  The finisher medals were outstanding, and we also got a beach towel.  The best part of the race…I beat Doug 😀.  The after party was amazing, with everything from pancakes to pizza (and of course beer).  Doug was nice enough to drive us back to our hotel, where Lindsey took a shuttle to the Orlando Airport.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend.  I’m not really sure what all the hype was about, but I would certainly recommend this race.  Nice course, outstanding bling, and a great way to end your Thanksgiving weekend.


Friday, March 30, 2018


Georgia on my mind…but Lindsey in my heart.

Full disclosure…I have really enjoyed having a “running buddy” for the past two years.  Sure, Lindsey is much faster than me, but it was a pleasant change from the “lone wolf” life.  I did this race two years ago, and was anxious to try it again.  Lindsey was totally onboard, and we booked our flights.  It was a few weeks before the race when a bittersweet turn of events would put her participation in jeopardy.  Lindsey accepted a new position with the Weather Channel, and would be moving to New York.  Her first week was right before the race, but she was determined to do whatever she could to fly into Atlanta.  After exhausting every possibility, we came to the somber conclusion that breaking the bank was the only way to get a flight from NYC to Atlanta on such short notice..  Rachel was already committed to a USY convention in Tampa, so it literally looked as if I would be “flying solo.”  In a truly selfless act, Glenda stepped up to the plate and offered to be my companion for the weekend.  It was smack-dab in the middle of tax season, and she had been putting in outrageous hours at the office.  Nevertheless, a weekend away was a good remedy to recharge her creative batteries.

We flew in Friday afternoon, and stayed at the Hyatt Regency.  They were the host hotel this year, as there was a good amount of construction going on in front of the Omni.  We really liked this place, and the layout is very reminiscent of the Contemporary in WDW.  We grabbed lunch at Max Lager’s, which was less than one block away from the hotel.  The food was excellent, and we polished off the meal with their famous Fried Cheesecake.  Yes…it was as good as it sounds.  We then went to the expo, which was conveniently located in the hotel.  WHAT A DISSAPOINTMENT!  Two years ago, the expo was at the Georgia World Congress Center; I made several purchases, including two jackets.  The expo this year was tiny, and I couldn’t even make a pity purchase.  I would expect an expo like this for a race with 1,000 people or less; not nearly 7,000 runners.  The race shirt was very similar to the one from two years ago, but at least it was green for St. Patrick’s Day.  Back up to the room, Glenda pretty much passed out, and I watched the NCAA basketball tournament.

We made plans to have lunch on Saturday with Susan, Betsy, and Mark.  They all live in Atlanta, and it was a great opportunity to get together.  Betsy and Mark picked us up at the hotel, and we met Susan at Marlow’s Tavern.  With the St. Patrick’s Day parade taking place, the trip to Marlow’s was a bit more time-consuming (and scenic) than expected.  We had a great time catching up, but for some reason, I wasn’t feeling that great.  We checked out the start and finish of the race, as it was moved just a bit because of all the construction.  A couple offered us their tickets to the CNN tour; it pretty much sucked.  Back at the hotel, it was now my turn now to pass out.  It got too late to go out for supper, so we ordered in some chow from room service.

The race start on Sunday was at 7am, with my particular wave going off at 7:12am.  6,563 runners took their mark (1,008 for the full; 4,555 for the half), with the temperature around 53°.  For reasons I can’t fully explain, I was a little disappointed in the course two years ago.  I think my expectations were too high at the time; I realized it later on.  This year, the plan was to soak in each and every mile.  Unlike the previous day, I felt great.  This course was very scenic, and there was no shortage of hills.  Nothing like Mount Dora, Ocala, or Gainesville, but I knew I would be feeling it several days after the race.  Some of the more picturesque highlights include Georgia State University, The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, and Georgia Tech.  All I can tell you is that every inch of the race was aesthetically pleasing; how did I miss that last time?  I felt strong from start to finish, and I can honestly say it was one of the most enjoyable races of my running career.  Glenda was waiting for me as I crossed the finish line, and she was in good position to take a photo.  The medal was just okay, but they did have chocolate milk for the finishers.  The after-party took place in the area between the Atlanta Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola.  They had some good snacks, but we needed to get back to the hotel to catch our flight.

  The trip home was very eventful, but not in a positive way.  Some of the highlights included: spending an hour going through TSA, Glenda losing her iPad (thanks TSA), and the television not working on the plane (thanks JetBlue).

This is a race I hope to do again, but only if Lindsey runs with me.


Friday, March 2, 2018

GASPARILLA DISTANCE CLASSIC – February 24 & 25, 2018

My favorite race weekend had finally arrived.

Going into my third half marathon in a row, the excitement known as Gasparilla was upon us.  My only concern was how my knee would hold up on back-to-back days of races.  It had been fine the prior weeks, but you never know about these things.  Doug would be joining us again this year, but not the fabulous ladies of Ocala (we banned Doug from our room because of the snoring fiasco from last year).  They all had prior commitments, but I was sure it would just open up the floodgates to create new shenanigans.

We met Doug at the hotel around 3pm, and made our way over to the expo.  As silly as this may sound, I really look forward to seeing the race shirts for the first time at the expo (some races show them to you prior to the race weekend).  They are always spectacular, and did not disappoint again this year.  They went in a different direction for the challenge jackets, as it was more of a raincoat than a windbreaker.  Nevertheless, it was very nice, and the colors weren’t too shabby (orange and blue).  Spoiler alert…I did not buy a jacket from the official merchandise booth!  I know that’s shocking, but it looked too similar to last year’s model.  This is a very nice expo, and I was able to pick up some accessories.  We later got together with some of Doug’s friends at Fergs Live, which is right across the street from the hockey arena.  It was not crowded at all; I wish we knew about this place three years ago!  A quick stop back to the expo after dinner, and then lights-out for our big day tomorrow.

Here are the numbers for the weekend:
15K:       6,511
5K:         13,206
Half:       6,303
8K:         5,524
Total:     31,544 (around 400 less than last year).

The three of us signed up for the Amber Challenge, which is everything except the 8K.  We met up with Terri at the starting line, which was a very pleasant surprise.  She agreed to run with us during the 15K, but I don’t know that she truly knew what she had signed up for (I have become progressively slower, and then there are all the visits to the bushes).  Lindsey was going to run by herself, and Doug was sticking it out with me.  I made my first bathroom trip around two miles into the race; that was the last I saw of Terri  😎.  It was extremely hot and humid, but the conversation helped us overcome the “swap-like” conditions.  Around the four-mile mark, we decided to do 3 x 1 intervals.  This really helped, even though my knee was feeling great.

Once the race was over, Doug told us he would not be running in the 5K.  He had some free money at the Hard Rock Casino, and would be gambling instead.  Lindsey and I walked the 5K, which seemed to take forever.  We grabbed our celebratory beer at the “after party,” and went back to the hotel room to shower.


I received a message from Erin, whom I’ve known since fourth grade.  She lives in Tampa, and wanted to meet us for lunch.  This was very exciting, since I hadn’t seen her since our last high school reunion.  Once Doug came back, we met Erin and her daughter at Columbia Restaurant, which is a mainstay of Gasparilla race weekend.  It was fun catching up, and Erin’s daughter was truly a breath of fresh air.  We took them to the expo after lunch for some free ice cream samples, which really hit the spot.  After we said our goodbyes, it was now down to business…nap time!  We were out for a pretty long time, so we ate supper in the hotel.  The service was very slow, but they made amends by giving us our food for free.  Despite our extended slumber, we had no trouble falling asleep right away.

The half marathon started at 6am, which was an hour earlier than Saturday’s 15K.  This was a good idea, as it was going to be another scorcher.  Lindsey was going to run with me, and Doug wanted to try and stay with one of the pace groups.  Lindsey and I had predetermined that we would run 3 x 1 intervals, but she could take off anytime she became bored. Once the race started, I was pleasantly surprised how good I felt (it must have been the nap).  No pain at all in the knee, and bathroom breaks were at a minimum.  There was a good amount of cloud cover before the sun came up, but that was short-lived.  This may have been the hottest half marathon I’ve ever run (85° when all was said and done).  We saw fellow “Turtles” Amy, Debbie, and Liza early on, which is always an added bonus to any race.  Lindsey left me at the nine-mile mark, and I was dripping like a faucet.  As I crossed the finish line, I could not get over just how good my knee felt.  Not even one twinge the entire weekend.  Of course the medals were first-rate, as I mugged for as many photos as possible.  Walking over to the food area, we saw many runners holding bunches of bananas.  Our initial reaction was why so many?  It became obvious, as some very overzealous volunteers were giving them out that way.  I felt like a schnorrer walking back to the hotel.


This Gasparilla Distance Classic traditionally coincides with Disney Princess.  I would like to give that race a shot, but I can’t imagine giving up my annual trip to Tampa.  This is why I run!