Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hooters to Hooters Half Marathon Race Report

Sure, Fort Myers is a three-hour drive south of Orlando. And, sure, there were a bunch of other races that day that were closer to Orlando. But how could we resist a race that starts and ends at Hooters? Obviously, we could not.

So we drove down on the Saturday, making a side trip to see the mermaids of Weeki Watchee Springs (a longtime dream of mine...), and arrived in Fort Myers just after dark. We attempted to pick up our race packets, but we were about an hour too late. We were about to leave to go to the hotel when we decided, what the heck, let's have dinner at Hooters.

Here's what I didn't know: Hooters is a restaurant, not a bar. And people bring their families there. I'm going to have the phrase "highchairs at Hooters" kicking around my mind for years to come. I have never been in a Hooters -- other than in the gift shop in Amsterdam, where I bought my dad a shirt he loved. (He and his buddy Bob used to have lunch at the Hooters in Lynnwood once in a while.)

We had margaritas and fried cheese (yeah, probably not the best pre-race food...) and sat on the patio listening to the band that had been hired to play for the half marathon after-party the next day. (Pretty good, in that completely nondescript rock 'n' roll way.)

Well, then we headed to our hotel, checked in, and tried unsuccessfully to sleep.

Got up early in the morning to drive to the start... but noticed it had just started to sprinkle. So we executed a couple of elaborate U-turns and hurried back to the hotel to pick up our rain jackets. But by the time we got to Hooters, it didn't seem like rain was all that likely, after all, so we put the jackets back in the car. After all, none of the locals were jacketed up, and we figured they knew better than we did.

does that really look like rain?
We picked up our numbers (123 and 206, cool) and our race bags -- cute string backpacks and rather fetching (if mustard yellow) race shirts. We dropped those in the car as well, and then followed the crowd down the street to what we assumed was the start. 

is this the start for the half marathon? 
Note to all race organizers: bullhorns are cheap. So are signs that say "the start is this way". I'm just sayin'.

But, soon enough, the national anthem was sung, followed by "America the Beautiful". These Floridians are VERY patriotic. Not so patriotic that they remember to remove their hats, of course, but...

obligatory pre-race photo
Then with a blast of an air horn, we were off. And within the first hundred yards or so, it started raining. Not drizzling, but proper solid rain. And by the time we hit the first turn, it was a torrential tropical downpour. It was the hardest rain I had ever seen... and there I was in a tank top and shorts.

Within a minute or two we were soaked to the skin -- even our feet were soaking. Not from the puddles (though that became a problem shortly thereafter) -- but from water from the sky. It was intense and a little scary. We watched as more than one person just pulled over to the side of the course and stopped. Amazing.

But this was to be the first half marathon of Wil's 40s... so we couldn't stop.

I should point out that it wasn't actually cold -- it was still a balmy 77 degrees. And it had been so humid that, maybe, the rain was a blessing. But it was raining so hard that it was difficult to even see. Thank heavens we had our visors!

I'm going to be really honest here -- I don't remember a lot about the course. The hard rain stopped after 20 minutes or so, but left huge puddles and steaming runners in its wake. I do remember looking over and seeing the Ford and Edison Winter Estates, which was geek cool. And I remember feeling more and more, um, "gastrointestinal distress".... and had to make a stop somewhere around mile 6? 7? Who knows. Was it the deep fried cheese? Or the waffle in the morning? Who knows...

best mile markers EVER
But after my little break I felt MUCH better. Until we stepped onto Edison Bridge. First, it was a long, steady hill. Second, the wind was blowing freakishly hard right in to our faces. We tried running, but realized that we seemed to be better off just walking with our heads bend to the wind. Runners who had reached the turnaround we being blown down the hill -- hair whipping over their faces. Cups from the water stop at the end of the bridge -- a mile away -- were flying through the air. It was really bizarre. We just kept thinking about how nice it would be to go in the other direction.

It seemed to take forever to cross the bridge, and the poor volunteers at the water stop were struggling to hold things down. But we grabbed some water and made the turn. Eight miles down, five to go!

With the wind at our backs the bridge was much easier, and before long we were back on dry land. We wound through a cute old downtown, passed the stadium where the Red Sox hold spring training, and then ran through a residential area all the way back to the Edison Mall. One quick loop halfway around the mall parking lot, around a corner, and boom, Hooters Girls at the finish! We were done!!!

The post-race party was in full swing -- vast trays of wings (no thanks, but generous!), choice of beer, served up by Hooters Girls (potentially with shirts that said "Beer Babes"?), and of course bagels and bananas and water. People were friendly and chatty, all talking about "the rain" -- because there's nothing like a shared natural experience to give people a sense of togetherness!

We had arranged for an hour's grace late checkout at our hotel, but really had no desire to linger too long. So we finished our snacks, ditched most of our beer, and headed back to shower and change. All in all, a fun race, and a great way to kick off 40 @ 40!

post race pic

2012 Hooters to Hooters Half Marathon Medal

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