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.

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