I was pretty nervous about this one after touring the course by car. Narrow country roads, no shoulder. And, oh yeah, something Hal Higdon refers to as one of the 10 toughest hill climbs in the nation.
The following excerpt comes from the HOA entry form:
I picked up my packet at 5am the morning of the race. Cool technical t-shirt, great design. Very bummed I won't be able to wear it, because it is the biggest Small I have ever seen. I think 2 or 3 of me could fit in it. I guess I will be sporting technical jammies now.
We started at 6am in the dark. Largest field they've ever had, I heard there were over 300 registrants. It was humid, overcast, and temps in the 60s.
I ran the first 3 miles solo, and then was joined by a guy named Brook from St Louis who has run 10 HOAs, a guy named Jody, 49, friend of Brook, from St Louis who has run HOA twice, and Tom, 50, from Tupelo who has never run HOA. After just a couple miles, nature calls for Brook, and I didn't see him again until the end. Jody tells us "He always does that."
We chatted about running (surprise). We learned that Jody and I have done Boston in the same years. Tom has done 23 marathons in 16 states, including Extra Terrestrial, Boston and Chicago.
HOA veteran Jody served as our tour guide, letting us know where the course used to be different, where to watch out for poison ivy and which hills were the worst. There are 6 major hills, the third being the notorious Easley hill, which starts at mile 12, and goes to the half way point.
Jody assures us that the traffic won't be a problem, that most of the vehicles out here are here to see the runners. He was right. I never once felt I had to dive into a ditch to dodge a car. Though there was an abundance of roadkills on the course, in various stages of decomposition, none of them had bib numbers, and it appeared all of them had 4 legs before becoming roadkill.
Jody also strongly encourages us to run Easley hill. He declares that the day he walks it, is the last time he ever does HOA. Ok, I am game, I'll try running it. So, we did. We got to the top, and the halfway point in 1:47. Feeling really good, we continued on the rolling hills until mile 20, and Jody dropped back. Tom and I continued on, still feeling good, and holding on to our pace.
For a small race, there was surprisingly good crowd support. Local residents were out cheering, and the spectators that were there for a specific runner were very encouraging to all. Very relaxed and upbeat feeling amoung spectators. One guy was holding a sign that said "I'm holdin' a sign". Saw him a couple times, that made me chuckle. Course entertainmment included an accordian! And I thought Lakefront had the only accordian player.
The finish area had a pretty decent cheering crowd as well. Folks seemed to really be enjoying watching the runners complete their journey.
We finished in 3:32ish, and headed straight for the legendary post-race ice bath. This is a dream come true for me. I am a big fan of the ice bath, but I usually have to wait until I get home, and with the exception of the jump in Lake Superior after Grand Island, have always done this alone. There were 2 large tubs, big enough for 5 or 6 people, full of ice water. I quickly ripped off my shoes and socks, (left everything else on) and gently jumped in. I was in there with the woman who holds the female course record, another woman who finished ahead of me, the woman that finished right after me, another guy, and Tom. Group ice bath. Yeah. Tom and I were the only ones feeling good. The others were all totally spent, hurting, sighing, groaning and comiserating about how brutal it was. Tom and I kept quiet.
This was a very charming down-home event. Great volunteers, great spectators, challenging course, low key, relaxed. I would definitely recommend this one.