Gasparilla Tampa Bay Half Marathon: COMPLETED
Chip Time: 1:52:09
Days since race: 2
PRs CRUSHED: 1
Minutes I took off my last time: 24
Concert attended race day: Yep
Hours spent PTFOd on the couch yesterday: apx 7
Post race massage: Most brilliant idea any race organizer has ever had EVER
Race Weather: Sketchy, hurricane-y, wet, windy, and almost pleasant.
Conversations I had on course with strangers: 5
Random running buddy Raoul: Better than the pacing team I started with.
OK. I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I last wrote. Especially since I did in fact break the 40 minute mark on a 5 miler (finished strong in 39:07), set a new 5k PR and kicked ass on a couple tempos. My last 2 long runs were completely miserable however, and made me question why in the world I put myself through this garbage and don’t just run 5ks like a normal person? Well…because I’m a nutbag and 5k is not enough. That’s why. Last time I updated I just registered for this race. Well, I ran it and WIPED THE DAMN FLOOR WITH IT.
For as much of a “yea whatever” as this felt like during training and even leading up to it and walking around the expo, the race was pretty awesome and I have to hand it to the organizers, they did a great job. There were plenty of aid stations, everyone was super friendly, we started on time and it didn’t feel like a mob scene and they funneled us right down through all the recovery stations to the convention center after the race right to where our massages were. And holy crap. That 10 minute massage probably is what kept me upright at the concert Sunday night rather than laying on the floor in a mangled pile of aching joints since it kept my right hip from locking up when I stopped moving. BRILLIANT. I will get the 20 minute one next time. I did feel bad going in there straight from the finish line with my sweaty gross legs, but everyone else was too and I know relatively it wasn’t that bad since it was all kinds of windy during the race.
The feel of this race was SO completely different than the last and I think it was both due to the fact that I knew without question that I would finish and the pace I was running. The crowd you’re mixed in with while running 8:30 and faster miles is so much different than the 10 minute mile crew. Everyone in that group is running for a time goal and are much more focused than the jovial casual atmosphere in the 10:00/mile group, but they’re still super supportive of each other and friendly. I hardly saw anyone walking at all until I passed the 10 mile mark and even then not many. It’s cool how the attitude shifts as you get faster without losing the camaraderie. We still all cheered for the leaders as they passed on the turnaround and joked with each other, but there was also more conversation about pace and timing.
Runners may be crazy, but they really are pretty awesome people, I’m finding. During a race, we all band together and help support each other through each painful mile even though we’re all strangers and all running our own races with our own goals. If someone breaks down and walks, there are people around to give a peptalk, encourage you and get you started again. People yell out where the puddles are for those behind them and if there are potholes or rough spots. Everyone says “thank you” to the live entertainers, volunteers and supporters on course as they pass. In the predawn early race portion when all you hear are feet hitting the pavement, breathing and Garmins beeping to mark pace and distance it’s sort of surreal. I had to remind myself I was actually running a race. Especially because it’s distance running, so you settle in and get comfortable and it’s not a frenetic, adrenaline fueled flight to the finish with spectators cheering. There are occasional pace time checks and laughing, occasional yells of “Water, Right!” “Squeeze coming up!” or “Left turn ahead!”, occasional words of encouragement from people parked on the sidelines, but it’s just 6000 crazy people all running on quiet blocked off roads both together and in their own race. Crazy crazy people. And I’m one of them.
Sitting in the car at about 5:15am waiting to head to the start, the wind was so strong you could feel it pushing the car around and it suddenly started pouring buckets. It legit looked like a hurricane outside and my crazy ass was getting ready to go out in it in some tech shorts and run. They weren’t going to call the race unless there was lightning, and if it was on, I was running. Have you seen that finishers medal?? It’s frickin’ sweet! I didn’t come all the way to Tampa to be scared off from taking that thing home by a little wind and rain. I say little….but the wind was 20+mph sustained. It was not fucking around. Hence why I wore the headband and double braided my hair. You do not want to have to fuck with that stuff in the middle of a race. Especially if it’s wet and windy. Makin’ sure it stayed out of my face and contained.
While I did get all kinds of prepared and packed up and brought all my stuff, ate a good breakfast and all, the weather distracted me and I totally forgot my knee brace and my sportshield. I had a moment of panic at the start where I went “SHIT. My knee is gonna blow out and I’m gonna have thigh/underboob blisters the size of pancakes by mile 5. This is bad.” Then I looked around, realized it was either run without or don’t run at all and went “Meh, fuck it. Let’s run.” I know. Super serious. Turned out I didn’t need either. My knees did just fine, my new Champion sports bra was AWESOME and my chicken legs are still skinny enough they don’t rub together anyway. So there. I consciously decided to not bring the camelback since there seemed to be enough aid stations and with the wind and wet it seemed like it would be more of a hindrance, which also meant I left behind the phone since I had nowhere to carry it and it was safer not getting rained on anyway.
At the last minute I hooked up with the 1:50:00 pace team in the starting area and stuck with them for the first half of the race. That meant they were trying to average 8:24 per mile. Since everyone’s packed together at the start and your first mile tends to be kind of slow, you have to make up that time in the subsequent miles. Well, the lady leading the group was not fucking around and by mile 3 we had made up a full minute and kept running somewhere between 7:40-8:00 per mile for the first 5 miles, I guess to buy some time for the bridge and wind. Yes, the wind was strong enough that it slowed you down considerably when it hit you full in the face and sometimes even when you caught the crosswind off the water. At around the 5 mile mark though, I realized if I didn’t cool it and back off to an actual 8:24-8:35 sort of pace, I’d burn out too early and be in bad shape towards the end, so I stopped for a second to drink my gatorade at the second aid station instead of just throwing it towards my face and hoping it landed in my mouth and I lost them over the bridge. Whatevs.
Side note, it is really hard to drink out of a paper cup while running. I’ve seen techniques like scrunching the cup so the opening is more of a slit or just straight pouring the water over your head with your mouth open, but the one time I did successfully get more water in than on me, I was spluttering and coughing for the next quarter mile from half inhaling some since I was, you know, running still. I finally determined it was better to just walk for 3 seconds, pound it and continue (those nights doing shots at the bar paid off!). Also, even though I know you’re supposed to, it is very hard to convince myself it’s OK to throw the cups and my Gu packets on the ground. Just feels wrong, both in the littering sense and the “I’m not a disrespectful slob and won’t make you volunteers who are nice enough to stand out here in the rain with water for us clean up after me” sense, but there weren’t any trash cans at all save for 1 or 2 stations, so that actually was the only option. Thus, I THREW IT ON THE GROUND!
Around mile 5 I paced and chatted with a grandfatherly sort of guy in an orange shirt who asked “you were with the 1:50:00 pace team too, huh?”. We then chatted about how the lead lady’s pace was sort of crazy and how we were in fact right on pace to meet the time anyway and he reminded me to “always run your own race, not someone else’s” which is good advice for distance running, but also a good thing to remember in general. Forget about “keeping up” with someone else. Run the race that’s right for you right now. Thanks Orange Gramps for the conversation and life lesson. See ya at the finish.
At the halfway point, I started pacing a running-dad kind of guy who introduced himself as Raoul. He was super consistent in his pace and super friendly. We chatted a little and I yoyoed from next to him to ahead a bit and back for the rest of the race. The one time I broke down and walked at around mile 9 to work a kink out of my hip, I heard him behind me coming up yelling “Come on Kelly! You can do it! Keep going!” after which another guy in white passed me and said “Let’s go yellow! Don’t stop!”. I laughed and picked it up again. I wasn’t walking more than about 30 seconds to a minute. These guys weren’t having it. I need them on my training runs!
At about 10 miles I had to do that “Ok. That was just a REALLY long warmup for a 5k. ONLY 5k left. That’s NOTHIN’. You got this.” By mile 11 though, I was out of steam. I was tired and achy and the wind was blowing against me hard enough to knock me off balance a couple times. I kept waiting for the last Gu I took at mile 9 to kick in and it kept not happening. I slowed down dramatically, but kept plugging. I ran 11 miles in about 1:33:00 and kept looking at the Garmin for time and distance going “Don’t give up now. You’re on track to kill it as long as you don’t start sandbagging now. No walking. Keep plugging. In like 15 minutes, you’ll be getting your sweet sweet skull medal and feasting on bananas and bagels and victory. Don’t listen to your hips and knees. They’re being whiny bitches.” Raoul helped peptalk me into picking up the pace a little, but then since he was being all consistently paced and I was petering out, I lost him in the last couple miles.
In those last 2 miles I am hard pressed to tell you why I do this. Everything in me is screaming to stop, to sit down, to just not run any more. And then I round a corner and can see the finish line. And I push even though I don’t think I have anything left. Once I cross that line and stop the timer, there is a feeling that floods through me. Maybe it’s part relief that I don’t have to run any more, but seeing that timer just barely clicking over 1:53:00 and knowing my actual time was less than that as I finished and knowing just how huge an improvement that was and that I did in fact just run 13 miles on my own steam feels so good. Yes, a lot of people run these things now, but it’s still a small percentage of the people I know that can say they’ve finished a half marathon, and in a damn respectable time, to boot. I had the dedication and drive to train for and finish this thing. Fuck yea. I’m pretty awesome.
Since I am apparently crazy in the coconut, I also bought tickets to go see the Dropkick Murphys in Orlando with my friends the night of the race. I could barely walk up the driveway to the house by the time we got home after jumping and stomping for 4 hours in the pit, but it was totally worth it. The show was awesome and I had a great time. All in all, a really bitchin’ day and another milestone.
Now to decide if I can squeeze in one more race and one more PR before I back it off for the summer. I’m not training in the heat again this year. I’ll stick to 3-5 milers early in the morning and then pick up seriously when the heat breaks in the fall. Got my eye on a half at the end of April, though. We shall see…the addiction has taken hold for sure.