Whether it’s close by or a road trip away, with old friends or new, you won’t regret traveling to a new place for a race.
In October of 2018, a friend and fellow Coast Guard spouse came down from South Carolina to visit me in northeast Florida. Jo Ann and I were stationed in Alaska together. (I later visited her in Charleston, where we did run, but mostly just ate good food. Maybe I’ll do a post on that later.) We spent the first part of the weekend racing- I drove up a little over an hour on Friday, 10/5 to meet her on Jekyll Island in Georgia for Under the Oaks Run, in it’s 8th year at the time, organized by Saint Simons Christian School.
Jo Ann and I reunited at the Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island, where we stayed before the race. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years, but I think other military spouses will agree that our shared experiences often create a unique bond.
It was a beautiful day. We walked down the sidewalk along the beach to Tortuga Jacks restaurant for packet pickup. The atmosphere was fun, with runners everywhere enjoying the island vibes. We spent time catching up out on the deck before the 1-mile Neon Fun Run, which was a great way to kick off the weekend. With hats, glow sticks, desserts, face-painting, and balloon animals, I think it was a fun opportunity to involve the whole family. (I, however, was enjoying rare toddler-free time.) Afterwards, we carb-loaded at the pasta buffet. Each event was only $10 for adults. This was my first time doing anything “extra” for a race, and I enjoyed it.
Our room was comfortable, but neither of us slept well- chalk it up to pre-race jitters, or the fact that I couldn’t get the AC to emit the perfectly consistent fan sound that I require (oops). Saturday, we drove the short distance over to Summer Waves Water Park for the race, which began at 7:30 a.m. We were worried about parking since it’s a small island, but we left early, and it wasn’t a problem. I ran the half, and Jo Ann, who I believe was training for a different race at the time, ran the 10k. There was also a 5k.
I’d like to share a few reasons that I loved this race, and I wish I’d been able to do it again while we lived here. First, it was relatively small, so I enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t crowded. Had I trained more, I think an age group award could have been attainable. Second, I loved the course- it began on the road, but quickly moved onto the sidewalk, through some trees, and out along the beach for a ways- luckily that sunny part was early, before the heat set in. The rest looped back on mostly shaded, paved trails through the beautiful oak trees. (A friend mentioned that at a previous UTO, the sidewalk was hard on her legs compared to running on the road like most races, so that may be worth noting for some.) Third, there were several photographers for the events, and all photos from True Speed Photo were FREE! Can we talk about how expensive race photos are?! Not only were these free, they were my favorite race photos ever. Usually I look like I’m one step away from collapse, so I’ve never bought a race photo. I don’t know if it was the nice lighting and background, or just my golden view of the overall experience, but I loved all of them.
After the race, there were more family-friendly activities as well as giveaways inside the water park entrance. A funny note: while exploring Instagram hashtags a few weeks before, I connected with a runner in nearby Jacksonville. After the race, someone randomly asked me to take a photo of them and their family. I later saw the photo I took posted on the Jax runner’s Instagram page- what are the odds? I wish we’d recognized each other so we could have connected in real life!
We spent the evening back at my house in Yulee, Florida. The next morning, Jo Ann went for a run on my usual neighborhood 5k route, but I was too much of a wuss to get my sore legs moving again. We then had a delicious southern brunch at Florida House Inn in Fernandina Beach- a basket of cornbread, biscuits, and jam to start, then chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits- foreshadowing of our Charleston visit? What a great weekend!
A few months later, I had a destination racecation experience. (Are y’all tired of this made-up word yet? Not me.) On Friday, 1/18/19, a group of local runners from my northeast Florida/southeast Georgia community (including several other military spouses) made the long drive down the entire state of Florida for the Key West Half. A few of us stopped in Key Largo for lunch at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen for some famous Key lime pie. (Yes, that Beach Boys song was on repeat in my head).
Luckily, it was a beautiful day, so the views were nice on the long stretch through the Keys, though after an early morning start and several hours on the road, we were ready to reach our destination. Our cute house was in the gated community of Coral Hammock. It wasn’t in the heart of the festivities, but Uber rides were easy to come by. The best part about the location, to me, was the CVS right across the street, because I needed something right away to help with morning sickness. Yep. I found out that I was 6 weeks pregnant a just a few days before the trip. Surprise!
I powered through and had a blast with the girls that night. We started at Santiago’s Bodega, a tapas restaurant where we shared approximately 87 small plates of food. We then headed out on Duval Street, which reminded me of a less crowded Bourbon Street, for my fellow New Orleans lovers out there. It was nice to spend the evening dancing and having fun on Friday, since the race was on Sunday of MLK weekend.
Saturday, we rented bikes to ride downtown, but it only took a couple of blocks before a childhood trauma resurfaced- flashback to elementary school when I went riding with a friend, but I was too scared to borrow her big sister’s bike, so I toddled along behind her on an old kiddie bike wearing a Ninja Turtle helmet. Utter humiliation. I decided to scrap the idea and borrow my friend’s car to meet them at Turtle Kraals restaurant for packet pickup. Luckily, a nice couple was leaving as I arrived, and I got a coveted parking spot in the small lot AND time left on the meter. The rest of our group ended up ditching the bikes once they got there, as it was a more strenuous trip than they thought. (The whole situation was hilarious.)
After lunch at Half Shell Raw Bar (where I resisted raw oysters), we did the touristy thing and walked down to the southernmost point. There were pasta dinner specials at Turtle Kraals and the Raw Bar (as well as drink specials on race day), but I honestly couldn’t tell you where we ate dinner- I think it was somewhere out and about. A quirky thing about Key West that you’ve probably heard is that there are chickens everywhere. There was a rooster that hung out in our backyard and many just roaming the streets.
Of course, we couldn’t resist staying up late again Saturday, but in a surprise turn of events, freak back-to-back storm fronts blew through in the early morning hours, causing the race start to be postponed to 9 a.m. I remember checking my email for updates in bed, glad for the extra rest! It was still windy and rainy at race start, so we bought ponchos at a souvenir store, but we quickly ditched them as the sun came out and steamed everything up. We still laugh at this pre-race photo!
The race itself went partially through the downtown area, past the southernmost point, and along the water and back. I kept up with my friend Michelle (who uses the Jeff Galloway run-walk racing method) for about 9 miles, until I had to stop and walk more- early pregnancy was kicking my butt. I ran into her again towards the end at a round-about, and her little cheer as we met each other gave me the boost I needed to finish! My official time was 2:37, my slowest half yet, but I was just happy to finish while carrying new precious cargo. Also, LOVE the mermaid medal!
We had lunch at Raw Bar again, and that evening we had dinner and watched football (Who Dat!) at The Waterfront Brewery. I was even able to meet up with another CG spouse I’d been with in Alaska- we are everywhere! Most of the group stayed out for awhile (when in Key West, right?), and I think all of us had a miserable drive home on Monday, but it was so worth it! On the way out, my road trip buddy Christina and I stopped by Baby’s Coffee. I’m always down to try a new brew!
Many of our group went back for round two this year, and I was signed up, but now that the little mama’s boy is here, I ended up staying home. (I was actually going to stay with Jo Ann, who is stationed in KW now! Small CG world!) Have you ever traveled with friends for a race, or do you have a destination race you’d love to do? We just found out we are moving to Wisconsin this summer, if anyone wants to check the Midwest off their list! (*double-checks map*) Thanks for allowing me to record and share my memories!