After one of us approached half marathon number forty-nine, we knew our next race would have to be a special one. The Ft. Lauderdale A1A Half Marathon fit the bill with its oceanside course, sunrise views, interactive finisher medals, and generous sponsors.
You know when a race expo is held in a convention center, it's going to be a good one. While A1A was a medium sized race, it came with all the trappings of a big event, and the race expo was one of them. An email the night before even warned us: "Our attendees rarely leave hungry or thirsty!" While we wouldn't say to hold off on lunch, organizers were correct in hinting at vendors' generosity. Samples were available from Powerbar, Vita Coco, Muscle Milk, Michelob Ultra, Community Coffee, Munk Pack Oatmeal Fruit Squeezes, Go Go Squeeze Yogurt, Yasso frozen yogurt pops, and more. Mission Tortillas was serving quesadillas while a local Mexican restaurant was handing out Margaritas. We may have reaped the most benefit from the Estrella PM samples, which allowed us to fall asleep early enough on the night before the race that waking up for the 6 am start didn't make us question our choice to run.
Past the vendors, volunteers were handing out race packets to runners who could show ID. Shirts were one table over, and lines were minimal to non-existent in both places. Race shirts were simple and tasteful in design and came in gender specific sizing. Be warned, however. Both the men's and women's tees ran small and we two medium-sized people found our larges to be snug. Consider ordering at least one size up for this race.
We registered for the race nearly at the last minute, but the only thing we missed out on as a result was having our names printed on both our races bibs and the giant race banner at the expo. In addition, Lexus wrapped runners' names on one of the vehicles on display. We'll register earlier next year just for the novelty of seeing our names printed on a Lexus.
The A1A race website suggested a number of hotels, and we selected the Best Western Plus Oceanside because of its claim to have a shuttle to the race start and because of its proximity to the finish. While it was a mere block from the finish (the only hotel that appeared to be closer was the B Hotel) the shuttle wasn't exclusive to hotel guests. Runners who stay anywhere in the area have access to the shuttle, even those who drive in and park near the finish. Don't be fooled into paying more for a hotel than you need to.
Places to Eat
Because it was an official race hotel, the Best Western had a $12.99 pasta special. Knowing the race's early start time would require us to wake up at 3:45 am, we opted to take advantage of this special. Eating in our hotel would allow us to eat earlier, finish earlier, and therefore get to sleep earlier. For anyone wanting to venture out, a Carraba's was located a mere two miles from the site of the finish line. For runners who prefer to eat more locally, about a half mile walk from the site of the race finish, at the intersection of FL 842 and A1A, there are a number of bars and restaurants ranging from Italian to Chinese to Mexican.
Course & Fan Support
Runners were encouraged to board the race shuttles between 4:00 and 4:30. We arrived at the shuttle stop at about 4:50 and waited in a quickly moving line, putting us on a school bus before 5 am. The drive to the race start is only about five miles, and after a few blocks walk to the Museum of Discovery and Science (past bars that were just closing up for the night and a few drunken revelers who had apparently just finished a marathon of a different sort) we arrived at the starting line. Runners were greeted at the start by a giant American flag, hoisted in the air by a local fire truck, along with music selected to perk up anyone who may have still been half asleep. Lines for port-o-lets were literally 35 minutes long by the time we arrived. Anyone that will need to use a restroom within 15 minutes of the start, plan on arriving more than an hour before just to be sure you get in. Plan on bringing your own toilet paper if you know you're going to need it; there was none left by 5:45 am. Let's hope race directors order more port-o-let's for the 2018 race and none of us have to worry about this!
The race began at 6:02 am with runners chasing the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. We were charmed by the string lights wrapped around the palm trees between the start and the ocean. Before running along A1A and the Atlantic, runners took a quick 3 mile detour through the cool maritime forest of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park.
We exited the park to the cheering of a modest crowd, and turned north on A1A, running along the Atlantic for the remainder of the race. A turn at mile 8 redirected runners south on A1A. For those mid-packers, this meant getting a glimpse of race leaders on the way out and back-of-the-packers on the way back.
The race finished at scenic Ft. Lauderdale Beach State Park where crowds of people lined the finisher chute. After volunteers handed runners their finisher medals (a sting ray with movable parts) we were sent on our way to the post-race party, which was somehow even more generous than the race expo. Finishers were plied with all the usual post-race food, in addition to free shaved ice, Bubba burgers, Michelob Ultra, Yasso frozen yogurt bars, Natalie's juices, Powerbars, Muscle Milk, Munk Packs, coconut water, and more. If runners were fish, we could have eaten ourselves to death at this post-race party. Fortunately, Orange Theory Fitness and Aetna were handing out bags to corral all this food.
In addition to plenty of eating opportunities, there were also tons of photo opportunities. From the finish line it was literally steps to the beach, more palm trees, and the Atlantic Ocean. A giant sand sculpture was positioned along the finisher chute, into which was carved a sting ray and the names of race sponsors, Publix and Colavita Olive Oil.
We needed a special race to celebrate running a fiftieth half marathon. Fortunately the A1A Half Marathon was perfect for the job. Runners benefitted from all the perks of a large race without all the hassle. Run this race for the view of the ocean, run it for the clever finisher medal, run it as an excuse to take a vacation... just find an excuse to run it.
Tips for Running a Successful A1A Half Marathon
- Just because the race is held in February doesn't mean it won't be hot and humid. Be prepared for this possibility.
- Out-of-towners, stay somewhere near the finish and take the shuttle to the start. The closer your walk to Harbor Dr. the easier your shuttle experience will be.
- If you know you will need to use the restroom within 15 minutes of the race start, leave on one of the earliest shuttles, otherwise you may still be in line at the port-o-let's when the gun goes off.