Florida running avoids the ice and snow

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By Paul Oppenheim

Running Columnist

For something different my wife Barb and I rented a house in Florida for the month of December -- and we hit it right. While most of the country was freezing and snow-packed, The Villages (that's the name of the place) in Central Florida was having above-average temperatures.

Our friends live there and we have visited them before, so we're familiar with the place. It's a highly planned 55-and-up development, with population approaching 100,000, built around dozens of golf courses (a terrible waste of good pasture land), where everything is connected by golf cart lanes. Practically everyone owns a golf cart – many of them customized, and monogrammed with the names of the happy owners in front, like "Susie and Earl" on either side of, say, a Green Bay Packers logo.

I drove down to Florida with my bike in the back of the car, while Barb flew. And with the great Florida weather I was able to crank out lots of good bike miles with my old army friend Andy Gaul, who also lives there part-time. But I'm also a runner of course, so I looked online before leaving Oak Park to see if I could find any local races near The Villages.

A 5K was listed for December 7th in Ocala, about 25 miles away -- perfect. And since recently graduating into a new age group, I'm entering a few more races, so long as my gimpy knee cooperates. But on the drive south I began to think about all those geezers living in Florida, some of whom are probably pretty good runners.

Andy drove me up to the race, and after arriving at the event I warily checked out the assembling crowd. A couple old guys with gray hair were warming up and looked good, with typical runner's bodies and smooth strides. Oh well, at least I'd get in a good run, even if finishing as an also-ran. The race wound through a woodsy park on a beautiful paved trail, and the weather was uncomfortably warm. Surprisingly, there were a few gentle hills causing me to work pretty hard, but I had a little wind left for a feeble kick to the finish line, barely out edging a lady who had been ahead of me.

After the usual post-race refreshments, I saw runners crowding around results sheets taped to the wall of the park headquarters. Working through the crowd I scanned the list and was delighted to see that I had actually won the 70-98 age group! Obviously those other gray-haired guys I saw before the race were younger. However, it was a bit disconcerting to note that the next-higher age group is dead. But now I'll have to get used to being in the upper divisions.

Needless to say, as a winner I had to stick around for the awards ceremony. But before recognizing the winners, the Race Director got a big laugh announcing that the medals were on a truck, stuck on an icy interstate somewhere up north. So I got mine in the mail.

Reader Comments

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Joanne M. Coen from The Villages, Florida  

Posted: January 5th, 2014 10:25 AM

You didn't mention that you also won a Christmas ornament which will now and forever decorate your Christmas tree! By the way, temperature is in the 70s today!

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