For awhile now, I have been really itching to check out the Best Damn Race events. They presented an overall ethos which I can absolutely stand behind… and they also provided me the opportunity to use the word ‘ethos’ in a race review, for which I will eternally be grateful. Anyway, the BDR organization is a relative newcomer on the race events block, but they’ve quickly become notable for their mission to provide big-ticket, main-event races at local race prices.
As someone who has run Disney way too many times at exorbitant rates… this was a philosophy I could unequivocally support.
So far, Best Damn Race has produced (or is scheduling) race events in Safety Harbor, Orlando, Cape Coral, and Jacksonville, which basically includes almost every quadrant of Florida except mine, so I used the 2015 Best Damn Race Orlando Half Marathon as my excuse to plan a weekend jaunt to Orlando, race a little, and do some general noshing and theme parking around the area. I justified the visit with the relatively inexpensive cost of the half. BDR uses a tiered system of pricing that rewards the early adopter. The first ten registrants get in for ONE DOLLAR…
… while the next ten get in for $5, the next ten for $10… by the time I registered my cost was $55, which was still a massive bargain for a half marathon. Oh sure, I’d have to schlep up to Orlando, so figure in gas, tolls, hotels, and other travel-related expenses this might not have been the most cost-effective half ever. All in the name of blogging, folks! Still, the race also featured free food, free massages, and free race photos. What’s not to love?
Anyway, let’s roll right into the event itself. Boots and I left Fort Lauderdale mid-morning on Friday and arrived in Orlando roughly 3 hours later. The expo was held outdoors at Lake Eola Park, which would also serve as the Start and Finish area for the following morning’s race. It wasn’t particularly crowded that afternoon, and within minutes I already had my bib, swag bag, and race shirt in hand. There were a handful of vendors present but nothing really caught my eye; it was mostly geared towards local events, organizations, and charities. After a full lap around the grounds, we returned to our car, made our way to our hotel, checked in, and relaxed for a few hours before an early dinner at The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
Here are some expo pics, for your pleasure and enjoyment:
Did you see that PR Bell in the slideshow right above this sentence? I was determined to ring that sucker for all its worth the following morning. Would I be successful in my endeavors? Keep reading, gentle Hokeyfolk…
I woke up from the worst night of pre-race sleep ever about 15 minutes before my alarm was scheduled to go go off at 5 AM. Exhausted doesn’t cover the half of it; I was literally waking up every 30-40 minutes throughout the entire evening. Certainly not the best of ways to start a race day, but I was determined to push past it. I quickly dressed and put together my race gear and supplements; we were only about a 15 minute drive away from Lake Eola Park, so I wasn’t in much of a rush or anything like that. Still, I’d rather be too early than way late, so we left the hotel just after 5:30.
But first it was all about taking this killer “About To Vacate The Hotel Room” pre-race shot!
I’ve been swimming a lot lately; it’s been leaning me out. So I’m showing off. My blog.
Anyway… I was expecting a mountain of pre-race traffic, but at that time there wasn’t any whatsoever. The hardest part was navigating our way to the parking garage through multiple road closures, but we were parked (for free!) and good to go by 6 AM. There was plenty of time to kill, and with temperatures in the upper 50s it was just a lot easier to chill in the car for a good half hour. Finally after getting antsy enough, Boots and I exited the parking garage and suddenly realized we had no idea where we were going! Thankfully, your intrepid narrator has the Blood of Portuguese Navigators flowing through his veins, which instructed him to either turn on Google Maps or ask a stranger, because The Blood wasn’t helping out one whit. Freakin’ genetics.
Still, we managed to make it to the Start Area in Lake Eola Park with no muss and very little fuss. A trip to the porto units was in order, and after a none-too-protracted wait there Boots and I bummed around the Start Area until around 7:10. I kissed Boots goodbye and wormed my way into the Start chute and waited for the race to begin.
Here are some pre-race festivity shots:
After the traditionally over-sung National Anthem, a blind runner was allowed to begin with his guide a few moments before the general start. By 7:17 AM, the race began (somewhat anticlimactically) in proper. I crossed the Start Line at 7:18 and I was off on my way!
Here’s an overview of the course, thanks (as always) to Google Maps and my Garmin 220:
As you can see, this was no basic out-and-back course, but one that took us on an occasionally symmetrical route starting from Lake Eola, turning north and east, then south to and around Lake Underhill, then south on Crystal Lake before turning west to Summerlin, looping back east before returning west and back to Lake Eola to finish exactly where we started.
It was a pretty humid day… moist, thick, and about 94% humidity with temperatures at about 61 degrees at race start. It had been pretty drizzly the previous day, which led to the streets being a bit wet and sometimes a little slippery. This was especially prevalent during the brick roads that made up much of the first mile or two. Still, it was mostly easy running. The vast majority of the course took us through local neighborhoods, with the occasional turn into a few commercial areas.
Also of note was that the course had a lot more elevation changes than I was expecting. It wasn’t remotely “hilly” by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the Central Floridian version of “gentle, rolling hills”, or what you more mountainous types would call “flat”. Take that for whatever it’s worth; all I remember was elevation going up 100 feet between Mile 1 and Mile 1.5.
Given that the course took us mainly through local neighborhoods, it wasn’t the most scenic of races. It was safe, pleasant, and remarkably uncluttered by traffic. It was also remarkably uncluttered by cheering spectators. There were a few people out and about, mostly people in robes standing on their lawns, driveways, or porches, holding cups of coffee and cheering on runners, but for the most part it felt pretty empty. In fact, it felt more like a training run than an actual race itself, save for the hydration and gel stations. Speaking of which, there were plenty of those on the race and most of them had enough volunteers to keep runners moving. I can only recall one of them that was a bit understaffed, forcing runners to grab their own water or Nuun (no Powerade or Gatorade, but Nuun electrolyte replacement drinks).
This was a low-key race, but I enjoyed the simplicity of it all. There were just over a thousand runners participating, so there was plenty of elbow room for everyone to run their own race. I just ran, period, and enjoyed it as much as I could. I wanted to PR, and felt strong coming out the gate, but as the temperature rose over the first hour I could really feel the humidity affecting me. What had felt effortless during the first five miles now started to feel exponentially tougher in the steamy morning air. Somehow that loop around Lake Underhill, roughly between miles 4.8 and 6.2, felt like a chore.
One particular pet peeve irked me early in the race: I started towards the rear of the pack. That was my own doing, as I should have lined up in the chute earlier than five minutes before the race. Anyway, I was shooting for a sub 2:06 race time, but as I passed the 2:30 and 2:15 pacers, I noticed that those people running with the pacers tended to form a wide human wall on both sides of the pacer, making it very difficult to navigate past them. People: DON’T DO THIS! The pacer is actually scheduled to finish the race a minute or two (or more!) ahead of their promised time; you can run behind them and still hit your goal. So no worries, OK?
Another incident was much scarier; the local police were doing a fantastic job holding up automobile traffic as runners were making their way through intersections. Well one driver wasn’t having any of THAT! She tried to make her way around the gridlock and plow through the intersection anyhow, despite a cop standing their with his hand up. He screamed, “Lady… LADY… LADY!!! STOP!!!” over and over again until she screeched to a halt in front of him. He motioned her to reverse and back up into her previous lane of traffic, walking in her direction so she would get the message. She dropped into reverse, backed up a few feet… and the minute the cop walked away from her, she GUNNED IT through the intersection anyhow, speeding away from the screaming policeman with a look of utter smug delight on her face.
I only wish I knew the rest of the story. I don’t wish ill will on anyone, but if, say, this woman was later admitted to the Emergency Room with an eggplant firmly lodged up her butt, I’d probably be OK with that.
Otherwise, it a simple, safe, humid run back to the Finish Line. Mile 12, on South Street, seemed to go directly downhill for a full mile. I decided to forgo my 5:1 intervals and run the last 2.1 miles of the race straight through, in a last ditch effort to make my PR. Strangely enough, running without intervals at that point felt pretty easy, even as the road elevation leveled off and the decline ended. It felt pretty muggy and thick out — but not all that hot, thanks to the cloud cover — and I gave it all I had.
Turning back onto Central Boulevard, I could see the Finish Line, roughly 0.3 miles away. I picked up the pace and gunned it (as best I could). A photographer captured this amazing action snapshot:
With Lake Eola on my left, I continued heading down Central and saw Boots near the Finish… and she captured these pics right here:
So did I do it? Did I manage to PR? Well my existing PR (from the 2014 Avengers Half Marathon) was 2:06:04…
My time for this race? Well, I do believe this picture tells the story rather succinctly:
2:06:41 — missed it by 37 seconds.
Listen, I wasn’t torn up about it. The margin of error between half marathons means that a difference of a minute or more could easily be attributed to course conditions, weather, heat, humidity, bodily function issues, crowding, whatever. I wasn’t feeling my best at this race and I still managed to run my 2nd fastest half marathon out of 24. I’ll take it. Gladly.
And here are some of those awesome free race photos!
I met up with Boots pretty quickly, and helped myself to a ton of the post-race amenities: oranges, bagels, brownie bites, and some coffee and doughnut bites courtesy of Dunkin’ Donuts. Pollo Tropical was offering a hot meal of beans and rice, but generally eschew that sort of stuff just after finishing a race. Afterward we walked over to the PR Bell, where Boots got that picture of me GLARING SADLY at it, and then we took this pic right here:
So what’s the verdict on the 2015 Best Damn Race Orlando Half Marathon? Well for the price, it really can’t be beat. Most assuredly, they live up to their reputation for providing a big ticket experience at a local event price. There was a smaller number of runners which meant pretty open racing conditions, and the Start/Finish amenities were excellent. The medal was pretty big, simply designed but beautifully rendered. That having been said, Best Damn Race is, at its core, still a local race. There wasn’t much in terms of scenery, entertainment, or cheering spectators. It’s probably not worth driving well out of your way to attend, but if you’re within striking distance of the Start Line, Best Damn Race Orlando provides a very worthwhile and enjoyable experience. Here’s the video: