Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Coral Springs Half Marathon - March 28, 2015

We can just call this one the one where I got hit by a car, and we can call it a day!

OK, so maybe its not that simple, but I did get hit by a car during this race.

Let me start by saying that this was the 3rd time I had run this half marathon. I ran it the first year with a friend, I ran it the second time solo with an attempt to PR, so when I registered for the race I knew that I would achieve that illusive PR on the third time. After all, third time's a charm, right?

And I probably would have reached that goal had I not gotten hit by a car, seriously. Or maybe it wasn't the actual getting hit by a car that slowed me down, so much as the fallout and the reporting that was required and almost getting pulled from the course a number of times after the incident. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Maybe I should start at the beginning...

After the Gasparilla Challenge in late February, I had a few weeks off from running races. Husbeast and I took a small vacation, we had some quality quiet time on the weekend (something that we never get during running season because I am always off in one place or another), and we just enjoyed being together. I took a break from long distances, and focused on shorter distance runs, but more often... afterall, I had decided that I would be running my first Ultra Marathon with my friend Mel the week after the coral springs race. Essentially that meant that the Coral Springs half marathon was my last long training run before my 50K the following week, so although initially when I registered for this race, I had wanted to PR, I knew that if I was being honest, that just wasn't in the cards.

The morning of the race was a series of disasters. I was late waking up... possibly because I just wasn't feeling it. I was slow driving to the start. I slogged through getting prepared in my car before leaving the parking lot. I was one of the last people to the start corral, and as the National Anthem started to play, I realized that I had to go to the bathroom. I almost missed the start of the race because of that trip to the port-o-john. This was definitely not how I like to start a race. I was frazzled. And because I was frazzled, I started at a much slower pace than I normally do. I was hovering at just over 16 minutes per mile at a run-walk-run... and my body really just wanted to walk and skip over the whole running thing.

But after about a mile and a half, my body limbered up a little bit. I started itching to increase my speed. I think this is the first time I started putting 2 and 2 together that if I started almost unreasonably slow pace-wise I could increase my speed significantly and make up time as the race went on. I almost didn't believe my eyes when I saw it happen the week before at Gasparilla with Mel... but this race was feeling like a repeat. My pace was increasing without much work on my part, my energy levels were up, I felt strong and capable. And soon, by mile 5 I realized that I was running at a faster pace than I had ever run before, and I wasn't even feeling slightly fatigued!

I like this course because although it is not entirely closed, the runners run a large loop and are given at least 1 full lane of traffic along the course. On top of that, the cones protecting the runners from the traffic are closely spaced, there is a really strong police presence, and the support is spectacular. This is by far one of my favorite races because the support is so great, obviously I must love it to repeat it 3 years in a row, right? But there is a spot on the course where there is not a lot of support, and the officers are a bit more spaced out. This is somewhere between mile 7-9. Instead of being in a more suburban commercial area, the course sprawls out through a residential area flanked on both sides by gated community after gated community. And this was where I ran into problems with traffic.

Despite there being plenty of advertisement and signage out there that there was a race happening that weekend, it must have been the national convention of stupid drivers out there. Four different times I was running in my designated race course lane when a driver disregarded the traffic pattern and broke into the runner lane nearly hitting me. It was the 5th car... that was so oblivious to the world around her cell phone that ultimately hit me.

Don't get me wrong. I am acutely aware of just how lucky I was that morning. I was lucky because I felt a brief warm breeze coming off the engine of her car as she pulled up behind me. I turned to check my surroundings over my left shoulder as I was lifting my weight off my left foot. Had my weight been disbursed more evenly, or had I been at a different place in my stride, the damage could have been devastating. But I was lucky. Her bumper hit the back of my left knee as it was mid-bend. I tripped a little and fell forward and out of the way. I was lucky to have seen her.

And although she broke into a restricted lane, she raised her arms up and screamed at me as if I was in the wrong. I regained my footing and kept plugging along as she decided whether she would stop to get out of the car and inspect either the car or me for damage... She chose poorly, ultimately deciding on neither. Instead, she drove less than a foot behind me, laying on her horn, screaming obscenities at me. I wish I could be tough and say that for her sake I was happy that there was a police officer less than 2 tenths of a mile away who came running to my rescue and who then stopped her, but I'm a baby. And I was shocked. After the officer determined that I was OK, I continued on my way.

The shock came for me around mile 8 when I realized that I was still on track for a PR, and I was still running my best race ever. I was running on adrenaline at that point, I am sure... but still...

At the water stop at mile 8.5, I briefly told the person in charge that I had been hit and that I was OK, but that they needed to be aware that it happened. And after that it was a blur. Every mile or so, I either had a police officer, a race official, a volunteer, or the SAG wagon try to talk to me to get more information. I understand that they had a job to do, and I don't begrudge them that, but I had 4 miles left and I didn't want to lose my PR now because of administrative issues if getting hit by a car wasn't what actually slowed me down. I continued on my way, but after getting stopped for the 4th time with an attempt to pull me from the course, I was angry. No amount of running was going to alleviate my anger. I told the officials that I would meet them at the finish line to go over any reports that needed going over, but to please leave me.

And so I finished. I lost out on the PR because I had been stopped so many times after the accident... but I finished the race. I would have intense pain in my shoulder and upper back for the rest of the week, but I finished the race. Under those circumstances, that's all I could have asked for. I was lucky. It might take some time for me to trust drivers on semi-closed courses again...  but with time, all things are possible.

Half Marathon #37
Gun 3:21:57
Chip 3:21:02
OA 381/386
Gen 217/222
AG 29/30

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gasparilla Amber Challenge - February 21- 22, 2015

Since I started running half marathons just over 2 years ago, I had heard wonderful things about the Tampa Bay Gasparilla Distance Classic. Over the course of 2 days, participants run a 15K, a 5K, a half marathon, or an 8K. Participants can run any any of the races individually, or they can run any combination of the races to qualify for one of the various challenges. It was my goal to be able to run the combination of all 4 races, but in order to do so, the half marathon had to be finished well under the 3:30 time that I like to allow myself for a buffer, and I was not sure that I would be able to make that cut off after running the equivalent of 12.4 miles the day before.

Instead, I had to settle for the Gasparilla Amber Challenge: a 15k followed by a 5k on day 1, and the half marathon on day 2. I was splitting the costs of the trip with my friend Lisa (who had done A1a with me the week prior), but in the week since I had last seen her, she found out that the prognosis on her knee was not so good, and she was going to have to sit the weekend out. In the end, that was probably the best option for her anyway because she wound up with some serious allergy symptoms going on and was s-i-c-k.

A very cold start to the 15K
This is one of the largest races in the Tampa Bay area, and the expo was fantastic. The swag bags for the participants was stellar, and for those of us who were just crazy enough to do one of the challenges, we were even given jackets! We almost needed them the morning of the first set of races, if only it wasn't bad juju to wear race apparel before completing the race.

The morning of day 1 was colder than normal, but we had been going through an uncharacteristic cold snap recently. I was on my own at the race, but I knew that I would be amongst friends as I had seen facebook's chattering nonstop about this race for the previous 2 weeks. At the start line area, I met up with my friend Mel from Jacksonville, and his friend Suzy. We also met up with some other friends including April. I didn't think that I would be able to keep pace with them in the cold weather, but Mel (as encouraging as he is) insisted that he was going to be pacing the group relatively slowly so that we would have energy on day 2.

After the 15K
We started off at what Mel would call a "slow pace" but for me it was still a little faster than I would have liked to start. We chatted, our group dwindled down to just me, Mel and Suzy. We distracted ourselves, we encouraged one another, we took it easy, and then we harped on Mel that his definition of slow was clearly not the same as the definition that can be found in the dictionary. 

At the end of the race, I was exhausted. The cold had given way to a bright sunny day, the raw chill associated with the fog had burned off, and the temperatures were increasing, but once we stopped moving we all felt a little chilled. We crossed the finishline together, then we went to Mel's car to meet up with his wife and hopefully warm up for a few minutes before the 5K.

Before the 5K
The 5K was one of the first 5K races that Mel's wife Jolyn would participate in (at least that she would be able to get a medal for). I had never met Jolyn before, but I immediately fell in love with her. When we started the 5K, Jolyn paced with Suzy and another of our friends (Amanda), while Mel and I stayed back to allow her some space without the stress of her husband. 

The 5K was much more walker friendly, and we used this to our advantage. We laughed, we joked, we encouraged Jolyn, and when Mel and I saw the RedBull Girls giving out free cans of Redbull, we quickly detoured off the course to procure enough for our little band of athletes. Our finish time was respectable for a walk pace, not one of my worst, but not one of my best. But we helped Jolyn into her 5K finish and she finished close to her fastest pace up until that point.

After the 5k
At the finishline, my friend Lisa met up with us and we went to lunch to recover. Then we rested up for day 2.

The morning of Day 2 was exponentially warmer than day 1 had been. Instead of long sleeves, I probably could have worn a tank, but because of a packing fail on my part, I had really only planned for the uncharacteristically cool weather. I met up with Amanda in my hotel lobby and we walked to the start together where we met up with Mel and Suzy. 

What I haven't mentioned about my friend Mel is that he is a Galloway trainer and pacer, he has paced many races, including the RunDisney races. Most of the time he runs as a group pacer, but sometimes people reach out to him privately to pace him for specific events. I have seen Mel at various events, I was friends with him on facebook, but I during the course of this weekend, it was clear to me why people like to have him pace them.

I rarely get pictures of me running!
When we started the race, a couple of us were concerned that we couldn't maintain the required pace through the first 5 miles of the course (where the pace requirement relaxed a little). So we took it really slow, but maintained a strong pace around 15:45 per mile. After the first 5 miles, we slowed a little to around 16 minutes per mile and Mel and I got to talking. 

I like to run negative splits, and I started joking with Mel that with a little extra effort, I could bring my overall pace from 16 minutes down to around 14:30 (finishing the half marathon), and bring in a PR. I was joking, and Mel knew it, but at the same time, he saw the opportunity for a challenge. We discussed the possibility of forcing myself to PR with Amanda and Suzy, and they suggested that we leave them and pursue this option.

And we agreed that if it was a possibility, Mel could help me reach my goal. So we said our goodbyes, and Mel and I slowly started to create a gap between us and them. With his steady coaching, we started overcoming runners in front of us. We weren't sprinting, but on our run intervals we were pushing just a tad harder than normal with the intent to pass this next person or that next person. I looked down at my watch, and by mile 9, we were well on our way to getting me that PR.

Gasparilla is a spectacular spread, with all the bells and whistles, but the one thing that nobody ever really talks about is the course. The 15K from day 1 is straight our and back (flanked on one side by the gorgeous waterway). But then the 5K repeats the first portion of the course and goes out and back. The half marathon starts with 4-5 miles on a small island, but then the last 10 mile are the exact same course as the 15K. This leads to boredom and for me, boredom leads to burnout. and by mile 9 on the half course, I was really feeling the burnout.

After finishing the half
Mel kept pushing me, I kept following. The temperatures kept increasing. And my asthma kept worsening. With less than 1 mile to do, my body failed me. I couldn't seem to catch my breath, the coughing from running in the cold the day before had caught up to me, and it was so bad I felt waves of nausea. I begged Mel to leave me behind. There was only so much that he could do to help me get to a PR, but my body wouldn't allow me to go any further.

1 mile left, and he left me to my own devices. I slowed to a walk, the coughing continued, then the nausea turned to vomiting. I stopped to vomit with half a mile left, then I vomited again with only yards to go. I was spent. I didn't reach the PR, but I was only about 5 minutes off from it. Not bad for such a strain on my body, and for day 2 of a challenge like this.

And when I crossed the finishline, Mel was right there waiting for me with a smile on my face, asking when we would be planning our next adventure.*

With an armload of bling after the weekend!
Chip 2:19:33
Gun 2:23:21
Div 430
Gen 2835
OA 5033

Chip 57:33
Gun 59:11
Div 801
Gen 6177
OA 10706

Chip 3:24:38
Gun 3:33:11
Div 474
Gen 3146
OA 5533

*When we finished the race, Mel suggested that I join him for his next ultra marathon... Ultimately I chose to join him, but at that point, it was only a pipe dream. He's always up for a good challenge. He and I have some other extreme distance trips planned for the near future... but that's a story for another day.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fort Lauderdale A1a Half Marathon - February 15, 2015

On Day 1 of the Fort Lauderdale A1a weekend, I ran a 5k.

On day 2, I had to wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed to arrive at my 35th half marathon.

I knew that this half marathon was going to be a slow one. I was feeling somewhat down on myself and my athletic abilities for the past few weeks (maybe even months). Thankfully, my dear friend Lisa was coming down from the Stuart area of Florida, so I would get to see her and spend some time with her.

Lisa had previously done some significant damage to her knee, and was waiting on the results of an MRI or something. Because she's a crazy half fanatic just like me, she wasn't about to let some pesky injury slow her down. I decided before the weekend even started that I would forgo my own pace and would instead walk with Lisa and hope for a finish that was sub 4 hours.

This would be the 3rd time that I had done this course, and while it really is one of my favorite courses to date, I felt confident in my decision to spend the morning enjoying the event with my friend at her pace.

The course is straightforward, starting in downtown Fort Lauderdale, going over the intercoastal and toward the beach, then north for for 2 miles to a small park which is very peaceful and serene. Then back out to the beach, northward until mile 8, then a turnaround and south on the beach until the finishline.

I had a lot of friends who were also participating in the race, and it was nice to see them out there on the course. A few friends got their elusive PRs, and I couldn't be happier for them. Around mile 12, I had a friend leave the oceanfront restaurant that she was having brunch at and walk the last mile or so with me to encourage us on a nice finish.

I finished strong, as did my friend Lisa. We met up with other friends at the finishline area, and then we went off to start our day. There really isn't all that much to say about this race... unremarkable course as it was my 3rd time doing it, unremarkable weather, unremarkable pace. The real joy was in the camaraderie and conversation with a dear friend that I don't get to spend a lot of time with.

Listen, it wasn't my best finish time, but I took solace knowing that I had accomplished more in that morning before everyone else was awake than most do over the course of the day.

And hey, it was half marathon #35.

Gun 4:05:44
Chip 3:59:40
Pace 18:18/ mile
AG 334/340
OA 4200/4240

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ft Lauderdale Valentines Day 5k- February 14, 2015

It was my plan all along to run the Gasparilla Distance Amber Challenge in Tampa at the end of February, and I was falling a little behind on my training schedule. The Amber Challenge consists of a 15k followed by a 5k on the first day, then a half marathon the following day. Obviously, I have done challenges like this before, however, I was always a bit more trained. So at the last minute, when I found out that there was a Valentines Day 5k as part of the A1a half marathon weekend in Fort Lauderdale, I signed up in a heartbeat.

There aren't a lot of places to plan a 5k course through downtown Ft Lauderdale, so the course was one that I had ran numerous times before. My familiarity with the course helped me to break up the distance a little more and provided some much needed distraction.

REMEMBER... I don't usually run 5K races because it usually takes me about 3 miles to warm up during a run and shake out the aches and pains. And because of this, I needed all the distraction that I could get.

As I meandered my way through the course, and cursed the nagging pains in my shins and lower legs that have become my standard for the beginning of any run, I chatted with fellow runners. I wound up meeting a woman who was really struggling, and I offered her a little encouragement along the way.

It was a short race, the crowd was pleasant, the weather was nice. I was home before my husband even woke up for the day... so that was good. And although I treated it like a training run for the half marathon that would follow the next day, and for the Gasparilla Distance Amber Challenge a couple of weeks later, my pace wasn't that far off from a 5k PR.

I was proud of myself. And when I ate those chocolate covered strawberries later, I didn't feel guilty one bit.

Gun 45:03
Chip 43:45
Pace 14:05
Cat 52/57
OA 639/838

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Melbourne Music Half Marathon - February 1, 2015

I might have gotten a little crazy with my registering for races for the 2014-2015 race season.

There, I said it. It was much harder to actually get that to come out of my fingertips than I thought that it would be.

My first and second year of running I was gung-ho about everything. I wanted to run ALL THE RACES, even if that meant pushing myself just a little too hard and bending the doctors orders just a little so that I could get back out there without a full recovery on an injury.

As 2015 started, I was realizing that my big problem was that I had spread myself a little too thin the previous two seasons. And while I realized that, I also think I might have finally gotten it through my thick scull that some races you run for the fun of it, and some races you go all out and race, aiming for a PR. By choosing to separate my races between competition mode and joy mode, I realized that I was able to bring joy back into this sport for me.

All along, I had planned to run and RACE the Melbourne Music Half Marathon. On paper, this race looked flat and fast. I was intrigued by the fact that they would have 23 different musical acts on the course for entertainment, and I thought that this would be a good race to PR at... particularly after what happened not long before that at the Miami Half Marathon.

My friend Vikki and I had actually planned an entire girls weekend (a mini-runcation) of sorts for the weekend. We would drive up two days befoe, stay at a decent hotel overlooking the beach (which I rarely indulge in), visit the sweet artsy little town of Melbourne, and we would run the race. It was a great plan, and we really enjoyed our time away from our men.

Our men, that sounds so caveman-eque, my other feminist friends would gasp!

Anyway, the race was ultimately not really anything to write home about. It was essentially a big square that hit a decently sized bridge at mile marker 6, then another really large bridge at mile 12. The first half of the race had really interesting scenery, and it was easy for me to maintain a nice easy race pace.

The problem was that going into the first bridge, I started to have a nagging feeling in my hip and groin that appeared to trail down into my foot. I had done too much too hard the week before, and I was certainly paying for it now.

So Vikki and I eased up and brought it back to a walk. She hadn't put in any significant high mileage since Halloween, and she was also having some nagging pain to a recent injury. So we decided that we would walk the rest of the race, and enjoy the company, enjoy the bands, enjoy the crowd support, etc.

But the course was really front-half friendly with entertainment and things to distract us from the distance. We were left with little more to entertain us than giggling as we bit the heads off of gummy bears or catcalled one of the course marshalls that constantly rode by us on a moped with his 80s music blaring.

By the time we finished, I was almost delirius from the boredom of the course and the excruciating heat that seemed to increase exponentially (welcome to Florida!). I really didn't care about the time when we finished, because I was laughing and joking with a good friend the whole time. And we have pictures to prove it.

Half Marathon #34
Gun 3:49:49
Chip 3:46:54
OA 1103/1127
AG 679/699