OUC Orlando Half Marathon – 40 Years of “Why?”

Harry Wessel
Retired Orlando Sentinel reporter, Central Florida resident since 1976,
40-year OUC Orlando Half Marathon veteran

Why am I running the Orlando Half Marathon?

The short answer: I haven’t missed one yet.
The longer answer goes back to the pre-streak days of 1977, the inaugural year for what was then called the Tangerine Bowl Road Race.
There weren’t many road races back then, and a half marathon had never been held in Florida. For an avid runner who had recently moved to Central Florida, it was a big deal. I was excited enough to coax my sister Ellen — a Boston Marathoner living in Northern Virginia — to come down and run it with me.

Road races were then largely populated by experienced, competitive runners. Like most of the roughly 700 T-Bowl entrants, Ellen and I didn’t just want to finish; we wanted to see how fast we could run the 13.1 mile course, given our level of training. Our goal was to break 90 minutes, and we both (barely) did it. I had run a few shorter races before, but the thrill of accomplishment from finishing such a long distance over familiar downtown terrain — accompanied by hordes of like minded runners ranging from preteens to senior citizens — was special. I figured if Orlando was smart enough to make this an annual event, I’d keep coming back.

And that’s what I did. Looking back at the 40 years since, my Orlando Half Marathon career divides into four rough eras. The one constant is that every finish, no matter how fast or slow, has been hard earned.

Era 1 Racing: The ’70s and ’80s were my 90 (minutes)-and-under days, when I even toyed with breaking 80 minutes. I got close twice but never made it. Bummer.

Era 2 Running: My per-mile pace had slowed by a couple of minutes in the ’90s, but I could still run the entire course. I’d usually finish in under 100 minutes if the weather was cool, a bit over 100 minutes if it was hot.

Era 3 Run/Walking: Although my times were slipping, the aughts started off pretty well, with five straight years of sub-1:50 finishes. I was still running most of the way, but walking breaks were becoming more frequent. By the end of the decade I was struggling to break 2 hours.

Era 4 Walking, Mostly: Since 2011, the last time I finished in under 2 hours, the walking-to-running ratio has ratcheted upward. Last year Iwalked about three-quarters of the course. This year I may walk more than that, although I’ll be sure to jog enough to finish in under 3 hours… exactly double my time goal of 40 years ago.

Forty years is quite a run, so to speak, and I’m seriously thinking of using that nice round number to make the 2016 OUC Orlando Half Marathon my last. I’m a walker now, not a runner, and — for me at least — road races are meant to be run. And did I mention my wife and I are moving to Colorado, where our new grandchild happens to reside? Every streak has to end sometime, and I’m grateful for mine. The literally thousands of training miles in preparation for my annual December ordeal have helped make me the happy, healthy walker I am today. I’m strolling, rather than running, into the sunset.

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