Race Review: 2017 Best Damn Race Orlando Half Marathon (3/4/2017), or: “Keep your head still, I’ll be your thrill…”

So I returned to Orlando on the weekend of March 4th, 2017, to run the 2017 Best Damn Race Orlando Half Marathon, but I wasn’t all too enthused about it. And believe you me, it had NOTHING to do with the race itself.

To put it bluntly: I’ve been having a pretty weak running season, and it had been bumming me out a little. Well, more than a little. Anyone who runs or races regularly knows that feeling when you put in all the effort, the training, the miles, the insufferable social media posts, and so forth and such as, and not only do you not see any real improvement, your performance is actually getting worse. That can drive you straight to snorting crank off a hunting knife, except that’s much more badass imagery than I could ever live up to.

I mean heck, my 2015/2016 season was absolutely insane. I seemed to PR every other race and met a ton of fitness goals I set for myself. Then I blew out a hamstring at the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon, and that single calamity sparked a litany of cascading issues that left me slower, heavier, less fit, and angry.

It’s also pretty much why I didn’t blog about the 2016 Space Coast Marathon or the 2016 Best Damn Race Cape Coral Half Marathon. I didn’t do that well at either of them, so I decided to spare you, my faithful Hokeyblog readers, a whole bunch of whining and moping. Of course I just dumped two paragraphs of that on you just now, so I may be slightly full of dookie. But bear with me. We’re going somewhere with this.

Right.

Now before we begin, here comes the standard disclaimer: It behooves me to point out that I am affiliated with Best Damn Race as one of their proud, dedicated, and ferociously attractive Race Ambassadors. So what does that mean? Mostly that I received absolutely zero compensation or payment for my participation in this event or this race review; I paid for my own race entry registration, these words are mine and mine only, and every review I present here will always be a “warts and all” approach. As an Ambassador, I simply just try to spread the gospel about Best Damn Race and why I think they’re absolutely worth your time seeking out (if you’re a Florida runner, or happen to visiting in or near the area). The only recompense I’ve received from BDR is a bunch of ferociously attractive buddies and a few beers (alongside crying over the perpetually stinky Miami Dolphins) with Nick, the CEO.

Moving on… I had run BDR Orlando once before in 2015, and enjoyed it but with some slight reservation. The positives were many: the race was inexpensive but featured big-time race amenities, the course was pleasant and flat, the smaller number of runners meant a less crowded course, the time of year meant good weather, and of course a kickass after-party. My only criticisms were that there was some cobblestone street running and that the course, while pleasant, was mostly low-key. I felt at the time that it was a really great race for Central Florida locals, or if you decide to make a weekend out of it by visiting the Orlando area, but not necessarily worth driving several hours out of your way to attend.

Of course I live 3 hours away and felt it was worth it. But how did the 2017 race hold up in comparison to 2015? Let’s find out shall we?

If you get this reference, you’re old like me!

The race took place on Saturday morning and offered race day packet pickup, which is good because Boots and I were driving up from Fort Lauderdale and didn’t arrive at our Orlando hotel until 10:30 PM the night before. Thankfully, our hotel was all of 1 mile away from the race. Let’s give it up for convenient proximity!

We woke at 5AM the next morning on race day. Boots was walking the 10K, which was scheduled to begin at 7:00 AM, with the Half Marathon to follow at 7:20, but we still had to drive over to the Staging Area, find parking, and pick up our bibs. I donned my Rush 2112 tech shirt for this race. I had last worn it for the 2017 Walt Disney World Marathon, which was another disappointing race performance for me this season, so I had some ideas of somehow redeeming it this time around. We’d soon find out, one way or the other.

We drove over and parked super close to the race. It was just after 6 AM when we entered the Staging Area to grab our bibs.

Things moved pretty quickly: one line for your bib, one line for your shirt and swag bag, and one line to get your “Why even ID me, Mich Ultra is basically water anyhow” wristband.

We had some time to kill, walking around, snapping pics of the park and Lake Eola, and generally soaking in the pre-race atmosphere. Things were fairly bouncy-bouncy in terms of energy and excitement. Plus the weather was absolutely perfect: clear, sunny, low humidity, and wonderfully cool — mid 50s. We even hit up the Dunkin Donuts stand for some free hot chocolate and other goodies.

Passing the merch tent, I was flagged down by fellow Best Damn Race Ambassadors Meghan, Caitlyn, and Jennifer, which naturally called for a group pic that I’ll share with you now:

As the hour approached 7:00 AM, I walked with Boots over to the Start chute, kissed her for luck, and then immediately hit the porto-line for the ceremonial PRP. Nature didn’t disappoint. After that it was simply a matter of heading into the chute, lining up around the 9:30 min/mile sign, and playing the waiting game.

So here’s the view ahead:

… and the view behind:

… and the freakin’ selfie, because NOBODY is sick of looking at my soily mug yet:

After a fine rendition of the National Anthem, the race began in earnest. I dialed up my latest Zombies, Run! mission (Season 4 Mission 27, “Hit Me Baby One More Time”), plugged in my earbuds, and clicked off my Garmin as I crossed the Start Line. I was off!

The 2017 Best Damn Race Orlando Half Marathon!

Let’s take a gander at the race course, courtesy of Schmoogle Maps and my trusty Schmarmin 920XT watch:

With a start line adjacent to Lake Eola Park on Central Boulevard, the race course takes you east on Central and loops around the Hornton Park and Hampton Park neighborhoods for the first 3.5 miles. Around Mile 4, the course shifts southward, next to the Orlando Executive Airport, and then loops around the southern half of Lake Underhill until Mile 6. Then the next 5.5 miles run through the scenic neighborhoods of Lake Como, Lake Terrace, Lancaster Park, Delaney Park, and Lake Cherokee, moving south, then west, the north again until you reach South Street at around Mile 11.5. Here the Half runners met up with 5K runners and complete the final 1.8 miles together, heading west on South, north on Rosalind, and then east on Central again to reach the Finish Line next to Lake Eola Park.

As previously mentioned, weather-wise it was perfect for running. The cooler temps and lack of humidity felt invigorating. I took off with my usual half intervals (run a mile, walk a minute) and almost immediately, we hit the beautiful cobblestone streets surrounding the area. Beautiful to look at, but somewhat problematic to race upon. At least for me, anyhow, as I get very self-conscious about my foot strike and balance. As in, I have the worst balance imaginable. I don’t think it affected my pace but it took a bit more mental concentration. Regardless, the cobblestone section of the beginning of the race ended pretty quickly, and we were back on smooth, dependable asphalt.

Otherwise I was having a great time. Around Mile 1 I was passed by my speedy buddy (and fellow BDR Ambassador) Haley, who was on her way to not only a PR, but her first sub-2 half. Righteous. Then around Mile 2, I randomly encountered my longtime buddy Lauren’s law office, so of course I had to snap a picture of it. She wasn’t in, but it turned out she was but a few miles away doing volunteer work.

Free plug for ya, Lauren!

As the run continued, it never felt crowded or cramped. As this was a smaller-sized race, there was plenty of elbow room for everyone. The only time things felt a little less-than-spacious was the walkway running adjacent to the Executive Airport and around Lake Underhill. At least the park at Lake Underhill looked pretty spiffy that morning:

In case you’re worried, those two behind the trash can are a trainer and client doing crunches. Honest.

The second half of the race felt a lot different from when I ran it two years ago, and that’s because it was. The course had changed since then, with less commercial street running and lot more traversing through scenic local neighborhoods. We’re talking lakeside million dollar mansions, even. Impressive stuff.

There was plenty of race support, hydration stops, gels, medical tents, everything you find at any properly maintained race. There wasn’t much in terms of local crowd support throughout the race. A few people came out on their lawns and driveways to cheer runners on, mostly in robes holding cups of coffees with mildly quizzical stares, but they were appreciated nonetheless.

Meanwhile, I was maintaining a pretty decent pace. My last few halfs weren’t too impressive; so far this year I was hitting 2:15, 2:12, and 2:16 for my halfs. Last season I was everywhere from 1:59 (my current PR) to 2:06. My only goal for the race was to break a 2:10. By the time I got to Mile 8, I was averaging 9:30 minute/miles… not particularly speedy, but fast enough to not only hit my goal, but potentially even break 2:06. When I ran this race in 2015, I finished in 2:06:41. That was my time to beat.

Then came a roughly three-mile stretch after Mile 8, featuring the return of the cobblestone streets.

This was during the most scenic stretch of the race, but it was also the most challenging. I got entire obsessed with the possibility of enacting a spectacular wipe-out. Again, I have major balance issues. That’s what you get for being 6′ 2″ with long legs and center of gravity located somewhere around the Mesosphere. My main concern was avoiding a near-inevitable faceplant.

Akin to this, perhaps…

Still, I kept running… but accordingly, I had slowed down. I won’t blame it all on the cobblestone streets; I probably went out faster than I should have. Oh well. I was still in great spirits and on track to run my fastest half of the season, as long as I didn’t start to slag off. By the time the course joined up with the 5K runners around Mile 11.5, I had long since said goodbye to any intervals and stuck to solid running and maintaining pace.

For what it’s worth, I really liked joining up with the 5K crowd to run the last portion of the race together. It really helped all runners imbibe energy from and push each other through the ever-growing and cheering crowds and excitement as we neared the Finish Line. I picked up my pace as we rounded Rosalind onto Central, the Finish Line well in sight.

I finished with a time of 2:05:59, which made this race a triumph for me. Not only was it the fastest half I had run this season, not only did I beat my previous course PR by 40 seconds, but I also ran my third fastest half out of forty. Not bad at all. You know how I spoke of redemption before? This was it, baby. My race season (and Rush 2112 shirt) got some nice payback!

I grabbed my medal and a bottle of water, and called Boots to meet me by the picnic tables in the center of the park. I also picked up a frozen avocado popsicle (delicious!) and other promo items in the form of cookies and cheese, and made my way to the picnic table. And then there was the customary bling selfie for social media, one in which I had something hanging from my lower lip. Which went completely unnoticed by me at the time, because I’m a dingbat.

Still I present it as is, with no Photoshopping, and I guarantee it’s NOT a booger.

#NotABooger

Boots joined me minutes afterward, already having partaken in the post-race amenities, so she sat and watched over our stuff as I hit my first stop: The Beer Garden.

Normally I would avoid saying that Michelob Ultra after the race is basically a Mile 13.1 Water Station, except that apparently I just did, so durnit. And yet I was willing to drink it anyway. I grabbed a beer, and drank it as I waited in line for a second one. At that point it was almost refreshing.

Almost…

You learn to pick your battles…

In the tent next door, two comely lasses were serving up Bloody Marys and Martinis. I’m not a martini fan, but I was keen for a Bloody Mary. I asked the server if she minded posing for a picture for the blog, and she obliged.

The Martini Girl felt miffed and slighted, so here she is, ready to kick my ass for such a grievous faux pas!

I avoided a butt-whooping and partook of my drink with aplomb. It was a most enjoyable concoction!

Right around here I also bumped into my buddy Michelle, a fellow BDR ambassador and blogger (Crazy Running Legs), as well as being a super speedy runner. I think I spent the vast majority of the race about 50 yards behind her, at least until the final 2 or 3 miles, where she blew me out of the water. One day I’ll get to be that zippy!

After grabbing some hot food in the form of Hungry Howie’s pizza, I returned to Boots at the picnic table, where we chatted and ate and enjoyed all of the post-race atmosphere and festivities. There may or may have been a most agreeable sight of attractive and fit Asian women runners in booty shorts dancing to Blink 182’s “All The Small Things”. That sort of sexist talk and juvenile commentary hardly abides the telling whatsoever, except that maybe it does.

So my feelings about the 2017 Best Damn Race Orlando Half Marathon are pretty much right in line with my 2015 experience. It’s a fine race, extremely well-organized and presented, and at super competitive prices on top of everything. While the Safety Harbor half is still my favorite, Orlando is a close second. If you’re local to the area (or reasonably close by), this race is definitely worth checking out. If you’re not quite so local, consider using this race as an excuse to hit the Orlando area for the weekend (if you need one). That’s pretty much what I did, and look how things turned out for me!

Thanks for reading, gang. Here’s the video. And thanks a bundle, sexy Asian runners in booty shorts!