Friday, April 5, 2013

Sunshine State Half Marathon - February 23, 2013

The running season in South Florida lasts from approximately September/October through April/May, with a hiatus in the hotter months because running would be unbearable. That being said, I recognized that if I wanted to reach my goal of 13 half marathons in 2013, I would have to get at least half of them in before the break for the summer.

That meant registering for smaller half marathons, which I potentially didn't know much about.

And that meant a lot of research.

The Sunshine State Half Marathon in West Palm Beach, FL repeatedly turned up on my radar, and I thought I might like to give them a shot.

I think part of what excited me about Sunshine State was that it was so small. This would be a good opportunity to go out there with a really small group of people (less than 500), run, and have a good time, without having to worry about being jostled off the course or taking an elbow to the chin by a power-walker with bad form. I also liked the fact that because it had a 6:30 AM start time (whereas other races had much earlier start times), which meant that while we did have to stay over at grandma's house the night before, we wouldn't have to leave the house at 3 am to get to the start line.

The course map for Sunshine State
Which is a great idea in theory.  But then when you consider the fact that this is South Florida and thus we had to contend with South Florida sun, that this race course followed the intracoastal and thus there was no shade from the sun for nearly the entirety of the race, and the fact that the heat can get downright brutal once the sun comes up... starting a race at 6:30 AM wound up being a huge flaw in their planning.

Me with fellow Half Fanatics, Juanita and Bobby
Arriving at 6:30 AM felt fairly good at the time though. I had made plans to meet up with some other members of Half Fanatics for a pre-race photo near the start line before the race, so this was exciting. Ray and I also ran into Tracey, whom we met through friends when we participated in the Run For Your Lives Zombie 5K. We got some obligatory photos then Half Fanatic Juanita and I went to the starting corral and waited for the race to start.

It was then that I had my first problem of the day.  I went to turn on my ipod to listen to one of my favorite running playlists (that I am not ashamed to admit consists of a lot of Lady Gaga, Pink, and Britney), and I got the beeps of death, signaling that I had less than 5 minutes battery time. Some idiot (me) forgot to charge the blasted thing, and I was devastated to learn I would be running this race sans music. I thought back to a couple of 3-5 mile training runs that I did without music and remembered how in tune I was with both my body and my breathing.

I had a choice. Either I could run without music, or not run at all. My shoes were already on, and I was already there. Running without music seemed like the lesser of 2 evils. Besides, how bad could it be?

Famous last words.

Because there is a noise ordinance in downtown West Palm Beach, there was no National Anthem or gun to get us started. One of the race directors just stood at the starting line and urged us to get a move on. And like that, we were moving. My new friend Juanita quickly pulled away from me, but I was expecting that.

What I wasn't expecting was the amount of pain my feet were immediately in. Like my last half marathon experience (which left me with swollen feet and ankles for 3 days and off my feet for almost a full week), the arches of my feet felt like they were getting hulk-smashed with a sledgehammer with every step I took. I had finally had an appt with an orthopedic who suggested wearing compression sleeves on my lower legs, and that seemed to help a little with immediate swelling and later recovery, but during the run, the pain was still really bad.

The course was interesting. From the start line, half marathoners ran 1.5 miles north, then 1.5 miles back to the start line, then continued along south until they reached the 8.5 mile turn around, then runners returned for the final stretch north again. There were multiple events taking place that morning, with a 5k starting 1 hour after the half marathon. The 5k course ran south from the startline for 1.5 miles, then turned around and returned to the finish line. This posed an interesting situation for slowpokes like me.

A quick pic with Ray at the 3 mile mark
I ran the first stretch of 1.5 miles north, then 1.5 miles south, but on the way, I passed the finish line, which meant that I passed the finish-line party, the refreshments, the people enjoying their medals, the music and the food. It also meant that I got to pass my awesome husband (who I paused briefly to take a quick photo with because I love him so much)... but for the most part, passing the finishline was just a tease.

Then for the next 1.5 miles south, I was running opposite direction from all of the 5k finishers who were flying past me. The pack had spread out enough that I could barely see the woman in front of me, and I thought that I was at the end... and I felt alone. And it didn't feel good to see people already finishing (even if they were just finishing a 5k), when I wasn't even an hour into my race.

And of course, because I didn't have music to distract me, I couldn't get out of my own head and stop with the negative self-talk.

Then my interval timer started acting up. Without any music, and without a working interval timer to keep me on pace, I had to resort to counting steps as motivation to keep going. I was falling further and further behind pace, I was running straight into the wind, so I felt my body working far harder than normal to gain less and less distance. And then with the sun being up, and without any shade, I began to lose steam quickly.

It was time for water.

Except that the water and aid stations were WAY too far apart.

And then the water came in the form of 82Go, essentially purified water which is packaged in sealed plastic pods, rather than in bottles. This water is great in theory, but in application it is far from perfect. In order to get the water out of the bags you must use your fingers to tear a corner, or you must use your teeth (which mom always scolded us about doing). Breaking open the bag means that water flies out all over the place. This wouldn't be a problem, except that the water has a distinct taste (and smell) that is a cross between petroleum, chemicals, and poison. I am sensitive to many smells, and one smell of this water the first time it shot all over me when I was puncturing a bag was enough to turn my stomach.

But I knew I was dehydrating fast. It was close to 85 degrees out, and I was running straight into a headwind. I cant drink a lot of full flavor electrolyte drinks because it hurts my stomach, so I had no choice but to try this water (which smelled like toxic waste).

And that was a horrible mistake. 2 sips had me doubled over with my stomach in revolt. Yuck. Vomiting on top of dehydration sucks. A lot.

I slowed down even more. I could barely keep propelling myself forward. But I knew I only had a couple more miles before the final turn around. And if I got that far already, I should just keep going. So I did. And my asthma started really acting up. At the turn around (at 8.5 miles), I gave up my running intervals altogether, and decided to walk the rest of the way back.

And I became acutely aware that I was on my own. I was still within the maximum time limit of 16 minutes per mile, but I didn't have much room to play. I was past the point of wanting to beat my personal best... my goal was just to finish. But that became more and more difficult as I passed places where I knew that there were supposed to be aid stations, and the volunteers were gone and they didn't have any fluids or support available for me.

I was angry. If a race advertises that they have a time limit of 16 minutes per mile, the volunteers and support need to stay in place for all entrants to have support.... not just the fast ones. I felt as if they took my money for registration, but didn't uphold their end of the bargain. Adding insult to injury, at mile 10, I was told by a police officer that I needed to get off the street and onto the sidewalk so that they could re-open the roadways for traffic. I was still within my time limits, but I was being cast aside. I was frustrated.

I just wanted to finish, and be done with this course, and the disorganization of the event.

At mile 12, I began to pass people who were participating in the 3rd event of the day... an untimed 5K walk to raise money for a homeless support program. Although this meant that I now had to contend with people walking 5-10 abreast in the opposite direction as me, this was good news. This actually meant that I had race support available to me once again, and would have access to poison-water (i was desperate and would have drank straight from the intracoastal if someone had handed me a cup).

When I rounded the final curve and saw the finish line, I saw my husband standing at the front of the chute. He knew something was wrong and met me on the course asking if I was ok.

Eventhough the goal was to finish and at this point, it didn't matter whether I got help at the finish or not, I was reminded of this inspirational video (which is inappropriately titled "very funny marathon finish" because really, is more inspirational than funny, or maybe even more scary than funny).

I wanted a clean finish. But I felt my body failing me. I told ray that I needed him to stay with me and stay close, ready to catch me if I fell, but to not touch me. This was something that I needed to do for myself, by myself.

And as I crossed the finishline, adding insult to injury, I heard the MC announce me as one of the "first finishers for the 5k fun walk." I guess that sounds less embarrassing than being announces as one of the last finishers to the half marathon, but I didn't see it that way. I did the same 13.1 mile course as the other half marathoners out there. I thought I deserved the same recognition.

I dropped a couple of choice words, cursing the MC (who, in his defense, had made an innocent mistake) and collected my medal. Before I could even take a peek at the medal, my feet came out from under me and I was blacking out.

Next thing I knew, I was in the grass with Ray, Juanita and EMTs around me.

I wound up not taking the courtesy ride to the emergency room, and I wound up refusing further treatment. But I do recognize that I was in rough shape. 

All because it was the worst race ever.

I do have to say though, courses that loop back on themselves are really neat because you pass other runners throughout the run... and there is nobody that understands how much encouragement a runner needs than another runner. For those other runners, I am truly thankful.

Me and Juanita holding up our mediocre medals.

Later that day, when I had fully recovered, I would realize that while it wasn't a PR race, it wasn't my worst half marathon time either.

Little miracles.

Chip - 3:31:55
Pace - 16:12/mile
Overall - 327/331
Age 70/71


  1. You are amazing, I hope to have that kind of determination when I do my first half next year! Inspiring!

    1. Thank you so much Karen,I appreciate the kind words. and I am sure you will. training and patience. you can do it... Princess is only a little ways off yet.

      how did you find me, by the way?

  2. Just think...after that, you can do anything!

    1. I think that this race will be the race I always remember when I need help in not quitting. Because you are right, if I survived this one, I can probably do anything.

  3. WOW. It's amazing you finished under those conditions and you had a whole lot of stuff that was OUT of your control. The NASTY water (that sounds gross, what's wrong with cups or bottles?) and then abandoning the aid stations which is a HUGE cardinal sin. I'm so glad you finished but also glad you posted this so others can avoid this race in the future!

    1. Thanks Eric. I think sometimes we have problems because we are undertrained or underprepared, but you are right. sometimes things are just out of our control. I would encourage you to follow the link to the 82go (pseudo) water and if you happen to see them at a race, then you will know what you may wish to avoid. i've been told that not everyone has a problem with it, and it may just be that i am particularly sensitive to smells, but i wouldnt risk it again and would tell others to steer clear as well.

      I think one of the things that frustrated me was that after contacting the promoter, he gave me a bunch of lip service and then suggested that no matter what happens at a race, people always complain. then he proceeded to give me a story about last year's event where someone complained that there wasnt enough pizza at the finish line and they had to wait (gasp) 20 minutes for more pizza. SO not the same thing. And I didn't like the implications that he had. you are right. abandoning aid stations and not providing support is a huge no-no. if i was doing a "fat ass" race where i knew that i wasnt going to get any support, that would be different. but this was a supported race. yikes.

      never again.

  4. and I feel incredibly bad for leaving to run this race alone ... but I am glad I was there at the end to see you finish! Whether we are turtles or hares, the goal is the run and the accomplishment of running long races that few others get to experience. I am proud of you and proud to have you as a friend!

    1. Thank you so much Juanita,
      I dont want you to feel badly for leaving me to run your own race. We all have to do what we have to do, and I would never stand in the way of someone bettering themselves. Go you! and keep up the excellent work towards your next PR.
      can't wait to share our next accomplishment together.