Monday, November 2, 2015

Revel Rockies - July 19, 2015

You could probably call this the race that almost wasn't. In fact, for many half marathoners, this race actually wasn't, but not for me. The race was officially cancelled about 10 minutes before the half was supposed to start, but I ran it anyway... Let me explain...

A couple of years ago, I met an ultra runner whom I greatly admire. She's strong, she's tough. She's much faster than me, but I'm not sure she would be called elite. She is absolutely elite in my eyes, but that's because she's such a running beast. On top of that, she's supportive... even for a turtle like me. When I heard about the Revel Rockies race near her home in Denver Colorado, I asked if I could plan a trip to visit. And soon, another friend of mine decided to make the trip to Colorado with me to also run the race.

Having lived in Florida for the past 10 years, and having had asthma for the greater part of my life, and having heard horror stories about altitude and having experienced altitude issues myself while in Utah last summer, I knew that I needed to plan accordingly. I didn't have a lot of time, but the plan was to fly to Denver on Thursday, accompany my 2 friends to Aspen and spectate the Aspen Marathon, thus allowing time to acclimate. Then one Sunday, we would meet up with another friend flying in from California, and we would run the Revel Rockies Race.

The best laid plans...

Unfortunately, although packet pickup was smooth and seamless, race morning was an absolute disaster. The race was point to point starting at the top of a canyon, so we had to meet busses early in the morning to take us from parking to the starting line. My friend from Colorado was running the full marathon so she had to meet her bus earlier than the rest of us, so we arrived at the parking lot super early. We waited in the car after she left to catch her bus, then we saw a line starting to form for the half marathon buses. It was bitter cold, but we donned our plastic bags and went to stand in line for the buses.

During the next hour or so, I only saw a total of 5 buses, and they were all for marathoners. We waited and waited. We knew it was about a 20-30 minute drive to the starting line and we all started to get antsy when we knew that start time was fast approaching and the buses still never came. It was like Waiting for Godot. about 15 minutes before the race was scheduled to start, one of the volunteers came to tell us that they were trying to figure out the game plan because the buses never came, and they would update us. Less than 2 minutes later, we watched in shock as we saw all of the people in front of us scatter and start running back to their cars. We looked around confused for a few minutes, unsure of what was happening and meandered to where the front of the line had been. And on the way, my Florida friend learned through a post on the event organizer's facebook page that the half marathon had been cancelled.

I was in shock. I think had I not been so cold and tired, I might have been more upset, but at first, I just stood there dumbly. Until the frustration set in. I had spent a LOT of money on airfare, and expenses. I had taken unpaid time off of work. I had acclimated (although not well because I really wasn't feeling well). I didn't want to accept cancelled as an answer.

I'm not officially a member of the 50 state half marathon club yet (though I plan to be before the end of the year), but they have some guidelines for what counts as a race. As a member of half fanatics, there are other guidelines. My friends and I quickly brainstormed what we would have to do in order to be able to still run a half marathon and have it count for both clubs. We tried to rope others to drive with us to what should have been the start of the race, and run it with us anyway... But they wouldn't.

Eventually, we learned that if we could get ourselves to what should have been the start line within the next hour, we could still run, although we still didn't know whether our times would count, whether we would be entitled to course support, and whether we would get medals at the finish. We didn't know whether others were running the course also, so we didn't know if there would be the required 20 starters that the half marathon clubs require. But we were willing to gamble.

We piled into the rental car and drove to the start line, leaving our car in a frozen yogurt stand parking lot. We would worry about the logistics of retrieving it later. We looked what should have been the starting line and saw that there were others with the same idea.

We jumped on the course and started running.

My race was off from the start. As a back of the packer, I knew that I might be without other half marathoners for most of the course anyway, but with no real pack, I was literally on my own from the word go. Although there was a bit of a crowd (the same logistics that cancelled the half marathon messed up the full marathon and the crowd was really small), I never actually felt like I was running a half marathon.

Instead, I was left feeling like I was doing a 13.1 mile training run, crashing the course of the full marathon. The course was gorgeous, but I was too sick and dizzy from the altitude to really enjoy it to the fullest. Other runners would pass me and realize that I was a half marathoner and ask what had happened, but I didn't really know. All I knew was that I was on my own... and it was tough.

I saw a lot of people struggling out there. After the sun came up, it went from bone-chilling cold to brutally hot, and a lot of people were unprepared. I think a lot of people also underestimated the altitude. I know I certainly did.

Although I had allowed myself to acclimate, I stupidly thought that I might even PR this race because it was almost entirely downhill and was billed as a really fast course because of the altitude decline... but instead, it was the opposite. By mile 9, I was nursing a really ferocious headache. By 10, I was dizzy and nauseous. By 11, I felt like a jackhammer was splitting my skull open. By 12, I was delirious. I sat down on a guardrail to catch my breath and contemplated the race. I wanted to finish more than anything. But I also knew that I was sick. I took a selfie and realized that my lips were turning blue.

I quickly did a little math in my head. I'm no mathematician, and considering how out of it I was, I'm not sure how accurrate this was, but I remember thinking I had at least another hour for the course to remain open (if I was allowed to finish the race considering that technically I was a bandit on a cancelled half marathon). I weighed my options. If I quit due to the altitude (which would have been a respectable quit in retrospect), I would have to spend all that money again. I would have to acclimate to the altitude again. I would have to do the entire race again... and it just wasn't worth it.

So I sucked it up. I finished, but that last mile took me a ridiculously long time... almost a half hour to be exact. The course was kind of jacked in that it ran a little long, and the final stretch was back uphill after a steep and steady decline through the canyon. That seemed a little sneaky to me, but who I was I to complain.

I crossed the finishline, and immediately sought out medical. I've never seen a setup like this before. Medical was not immediately at the finishline, you had to go over a guardrail and down a little hill to get to them... and I didn't see them immediately and started to panic... which of course only heightened my problems. Another runner saw that I was in distress and escorted me to medical. Where I promptly took a breathing treatment and sat for awhile on oxygen. I think that I might suggest that should this race series return to Colorado they revisit their setup for finishline. food trucks do not need to be immediately on top of the finishline, medical DOES.

In the end, although it was a rocky start, and although I never really felt like I got the experience I was looking for, it was a state that I finished. Not every race can be excellent and run smoothly... But I finished, and that's all that counts. There will be other races on other days.

Gun = 4:52:28
Chip = 3:48:31
Pace = 17:26/mile

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Disney's Tinkerbell Pixie Dust Challenge- May 9 & 10, 2015

I've really been dragging my feet on blogging, and part of the reason is that I like to post in some type of chronological order, and I wasn't ready to talk about the Disney Land Pixie Dust Challenge that took place over mothers day weekend at Disney Land in Anaheim California.

Prior to registering for this race, I had actually sworn off Run Disney. I am certain that saying this will get me drawn and quartered, but I am really not a fan. My first half marathon was a Run Disney. I've done a number of their events before, and I really have been left with a bad taste in my mouth. Now before anyone tars and feathers me, let me explain... I am a solo runner. I like races because I can be with other people and get the crowd experience, but Disney races are over crowded. The course in Orlando really cannot support the 30,000 + runners that it hosts, there are bottle necks, and the crowds are intense. I am really NOT a crowd person. The Miami Marathon sees the same number of participants every year, and the course doesn't even feel a quarter as crowded. Then factor in the money. A Disney race is expensive. And with the fees, it feels like a lot of the participants feel a sense of entitlement. Yes, you are entitled to get a good race experience and entitled to have a great time, but you are NOT entitled to some of the shenanigans that I have seen at Run Disney events.  So all that being said, I am not a huge fan.

But a dear friend of mine is. She came out for Wine and Dine last year (yes, the race that we essentially swam because it was raining that hard), and then she came to visit me not long after that to defend her doctoral dissertation. She told my darling husband that she was running the Pixie Dust Challenge in the spring, and my husband thought that (although I had sworn off Disney except for a repeat of Wine and Dine this coming November) I should join her on the trip. Except the registration had come and gone already, so I might have been out of luck.

The following week, I got an email from my friend saying that she had found a charity group that I could partner with in order to get a race bib. I should probably also say that I am not a big fan of charity groups because usually they take a huge cut of the money raised for frivelous stupidity like airfare, travel and lodging, and astronomical salaries... but I looked into the group she recommended to me.

The name of the group is Team Muscle Makers, and as it turns out, they are absolutely fantastic. Their fundraising requirements per person are reasonable, and they are able to keep them reasonable by not including airfare, travel, and lodging. But best of all... the organizers of the charity do not take salaries. YES! you read that right. They donate 100% of the monies raised to the Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego where there is a state of the art muscle disease clinic that provides care absolutely free to their patients... which included the son of one of the founders of the charity group. I have to say, I was nervous signing away my soul to raise almost $1,000 for this group of strangers, but they made the entire process seamless. And I walked away with dozens of new friends. In fact, although I swore off Run Disney races, and I don't need to run California again for my goal of all 50 states, I am actually considering partnering with this group again in 2017 for another charity race.

The weekend itself left me with mixed feelings. I was dealing with a lot of stuff in my personal life in relation to my job. I didn't have a lot of time to take away from Florida because it was the middle of the semester, so it was a super quick trip. As soon as my plane landed, I actually had more work stuff dumped on me via email, and I spent the weekend juggling work stress and frustration, all while spending time with my best friend in one of the happiest places on earth. Because of this crazy stress, we didn't spend a lot of time at the parks between races, and most of the weekend was a blur. What I do remember was that packet pickup was much messier than it would be at a Florida Run Disney event, so that left me feeling a little nervous.

yes, that's me. 
But the morning of the 10K, all those jitters went flying out the window. The pre-race party and the corral system were absolutely spectacular, I didn't feel overwhelmed by crowds, I had the space to breathe, and I was relaxed... unlike the other Florida events where the crowds get me antsy.

My friend had a bad experience a few months prior while she was attempting the Goofy half marathon & full marathon challenge. She got swept during mile 19 or something during the full marathon on day 2... so she was nervous about attempting another 2 day challenge... but I've done these before and knew how to tackle back-to-backs. The number one rule is to start SLOW.

The first mile or so of the 10K is outside of the park, then you run through the park for a few miles, and finish with another mile or so outside of the park. It seriously went by in a blur. I think I can chalk that up to my frustration over my job situation. We finished in a respectable time, and I was happy... although, there really wasn't much post race nutrition available as there had been a fiasco with a recalled item in the snackbox. Oh well.

Gun: 2:01:01
Chip: 1:31:03
Pace: 14:39

On Day 2 (half-marathon day), my friend woke up with some serious stiffness from her fibromyalgia. And then combine that with her fears of being swept, and she was a jittery mess. I vaguely remember it being chilly at the start, but I don't much remember.We took a pre-race photo with other TMM runners, then chatted with them in the starting corrals. The plan was to start slow, and I told my friend to stick with me and I could keep her ahead of the balloon ladies and free of being swept. We started slow. REALLY REALLY SLOW.

We were already in the last corral, but toward the front of the pack in the corral, but we started just over 17 minutes per mile. The first couple of miles were once again on city streets, followed by 6 or 7 in the parks, then another few miles on city streets at the tail end. My friend immediately started to panic when she looked at her Garmin to see more than 17 minutes per mile... but I just told her to relax and trust my process. She was sore, so she didn't have much choice. By mile 1.5, we limbered up a little. I picked up the pace to bring us to just slightly over 16 minutes per mile. Then by the time we entered the parks, we were closing in on just under 16 minutes per mile average.

Once in the parks, I tuned out my own aches. I think that actually translated into tuning out a lot of the parks too. To be honest, the parts of the course that I remember the best were actually outside of the parks on the city streets. My friend was still in a lot of pain, so I pulled a few steps in front of her to help encourage her to keep pace in order to talk to me. It worked. by mile 7, although she was still in a lot of pain, out pace was closing in on 15:30 overall.

Around mile 8, we came across a fellow #Run3rd runner who was having a bad go of it. I encouraged her to pace with us, which she did. We exited the parks and were back on the streets of Anaheim and I realized I had a lot of gas left in the tank. Out of nowhere, I started pushing the pace even more. The 3 of us were single file along the median of the city streets, and we were suddenly flying past other runners who were struggling. I know we were a sight... I was barking out commands to them about being strong and ignoring the pain, one might have thought I was a drill sergeant in a previous life... and I looked at my Garmin and realized that our overall pace was dropping to 15:20, and realized that with close to 4 miles left, I could PR.

And then with the encouragement of my friends, I did something that I never thought that I would do.

I abandoned them.

I was going to chase that PR. And I was going to get it.

Everything was blur. I had 4 miles to get that PR that I had been chasing for almost 2 whole running seasons. I vaguely remember passing people that I knew and saying hi, but other than that, everything else was so far in the periphery I can't even begin to explain what was going through my mind.

I was shocked out of my blurred thinking about a half a mile before the finishline. I looked at my Garmin and saw that I had already registered 13.1 miles, and I had indeed broken my PR... at least according to my Garmin. And it was like the wind was just sucked right out of me as I realized that the finishline was still so far away. I was devastated. I wanted to do nothing more than cry and throw myself down on the ground and cry some more. I had gotten my PR, but it wouldn't count because the course was registering much longer than my watch.

this is actually a pic from day 1, see? shoes still here.
I crossed the finishline with tears in my eyes, frustrated but determined. Next time, I would get that PR. If I did it once, I could do it again.

And then I lost my shoes.

But that's a story for another time.

Half Marathon
Gun: 3:51:07
Chip: 3:18:46

Half Marathon #38
State #14

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Wings for Life - Ft Lauderdale, May 3, 2015

Wings for Life World Run is a fantastic global race event that I had been hearing about since early 2014. This race is different than most races because it happens at the exact same time at multiple places around the world. All runners line up at their respective start lines, the gun goes off, and runners begin racing the course. Not only are they racing themselves and the other competitors at their individual locations, but the runners in various cities are also racing against one another for a global champion. 30 minutes after the last starter crosses the finish line, the pace car starts to follow the pack. When the pace car passes the runner, they are officially out of the race.

100% of the entry fee goes toward spinal cord research, and who doesn't love charitable giving like that? Sign me up!

On race morning, there was a much larger turnout than I had anticipated. It was already late in the season, so I figured many people would rather not deal with the heat and humidity... but I was wrong.There were SO MANY PEOPLE there!

Right away though, I knew my heart wasn't really in it. I was struggling to get going right out of the gate, and I knew this would be one of those days where I would need at least 2-3 miles of running just to warm up and shake out the normal aches and pains that I struggle with when running. Being a slowpoke, I knew that the likelihood that I would even have that opportunity before being pulled by the catcher car was slim to none. And from there, I was discouraged right off the bat, and couldn't seem to get out of my own way.

So I adopted the attitude that my friend Mel has tried to instill me. Each time I was within 5 feet of the person in front of me, my goal was just to slowly but surely pull up to them and overtake them. focusing on just getting in front of the next person (over and over again) helps to distract me from the larger picture that gets me discouraged in the first place. I don't know if I'm even explaining that right.

Anyway, I'm horrible at math, but they provided us with a little calculator online to tell us approximately how far we would be able to travel before we were officially out of the race. Being a slowpoke, I really didn't anticipate being able to go much more than 2 miles or so before the catcher car caught up with me and ended my race. I was surprised when I hit 2 miles.

Then I hit 3 miles, and I was equally surprised. I had finally shaken off the morning aches and pains. I was settling into my rhythm, and while I knew that the catcher car was right behind me, I forced myself to go one step at a time and overtake the next person. Then the next. I was picking up speed. I was feeling good. My lungs were feeling excellent. I was a beautiful day to be out for a run, it was a beautiful day to be alive!

Around 3.5 miles I started to hear a commotion in the not so far distance behind me. I peeked over my shoulder and saw people behind picking up their pace, sprinting toward me. I knew the catcher car was on its was toward me. I still had a lot of energy in the tank, and I kicked it into overdrive.

Officially I made it 3.62 miles in 51.39. My pace was 14:15. I still had energy leftover, and I am certain that had I been afforded another few minutes out there on the course, I would have pulled an even faster pace.

This race was fantastic. I can't emphasize this enough. I was really satisfied with the support (although the logistics of catching the bus back to the start line area and the afterparty left a lot to be desired). I was so satisfied that while I was at the afterparty, I signed up for next year. And next year, on May 8, 2016, I am sure that I will make it farther.

For more information about this event, please visit their website here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Angel Flight SE 5k - May 2, 2015

I'm not really one for the 5k distance, but I knew that I need to get some of my running mojo back after being hit by a car during my previous half marathon, and then my first ultra marathon 50k distance race. I had a big race weekend in California coming up with my friend, and I needed to make sure that I kept the running mojo flowing freely.

I hadn't intended to sign up for a 5k, and considering that I am essentially a "bling whore" at heart, I never really intended to sign up for a 5k that didn't provide runners with any kind of medal at the end. Yes, I like my medals, sue me.

But I saw this race on active, and this was essentially a benefit for a non-profit that I could stand behind. The beneficiary of this race is Angel Flight Southeast, a volunteer pilot organization of more than 650 volunteer pilots who utilize their own aircraft, fuel and time to provide free air transportation to medical facilities for citizens who are financially distressed or otherwise unable to travel on public transportation. Angel Flight Southeast also coordinates missions to fly organ transplant candidates, people involved in clinical trials, chemotherapy or other repetitive treatment, victims of abuse seeking relocation, families receiving help from Ronald McDonald Houses, Shriners Hospitals and many other charities, disabled or sick children to special summer camp programs, and for many other humanitarian reasons. Angel Flight Southeast coordinates an average of 3,000 missions per year with its group of all volunteer pilots. 

Who wouldn't see a fundraiser for such an amazing organization and jump to stand behind them?
The 5k itself was held at a small private airport just north of Ft. Lauderdale. It was already the tail end of the running season in S. Florida so the turnout wasn't that great, plus the organizers didn't publicize the race the way that they should have, so the race was a really small event. 

The race started on one of the runways, ran down the perimeter road, then back into the main area of the aiport. We ran the last 2 miles on the runway and then through the hangars. Many of the private plane owners and helicopter owners were out, and we were watching them take off and do touch and goes throughout the entire race, so that was definitely cool. On the downside, there was absolutely no shade on the course, and we were on hot tarmac the entire time... and the smell of jet fuel.

All in all, it was an excellent event. I went out there, I performed my best (all things considered), and I was met by puppies at the finishline... It wasn't a pr, but it was close! And considering that heat and humidity? I couldn't really expect much more than what I got. Did I mention the puppies?

Chip: 43:14.7
Pace: 13:36/ Mile
OA: 118/124
30-34F: 8/9

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Miami Half Marathon - January 25, 2015

For the past 2 years, I have done the Miami Half Marathon. I have to say that this race really ranks up there in my top favorite race courses, and it isn't just because it feels like it is right in my backyard. I love the festivities, I love that there are 35k+ runners at the event (yet it never feels anywhere near that crowded, and certainly doesn't feel as crowded as Disney races which boast the same attendance). And while the Miami Half Marathon is one of my favorite races, we seem to have a love/hate relationship.

In 2013, Miami was my second ever half marathon, it was a week after my first half marathon and would qualify me for half fanatics. I didn't eat a banana before the race, and around mile 10, I got a calf cramp that sent me straight to the ground and almost put me out of commission for the duration of the race. But I still finished with a smile on my face.

In 2014, Miami was my 17th half marathon. I walked almost the entire race because I was in the midst of the horrible foot issue that dominated the greater part of 2 years. It rained on my proverbial parade (and the actual race), and at mile 11, due to a very late start for all corrals, I happened to get stuck behind a drawbridge that was in the upright position for 7-8 minutes. I barely finished that race because my muscles cooled down too much and I could not get motivated again for the last 2 miles. Although they ran out of finisher medals, I finished the race with a huge smile on my face, and vowed to be back.

Obligatory pre-race picture with Seth
In 2015, I planned to go back to this race and finally complete Miami without complications. Complications seem to be the story of my life, so I knew that the likelihood of this happening would be slim to none, but I wanted to go and give it my best.

The morning of the race was cold, but that's really to be expected for that specific race. I started the race with space blankets on to keep me warm, but the first 3/4 of a mile or so through downtown before hitting the MacArthur Causeway had me sweating. I stripped my blanket and immediately regretted it as I climbed the causeway. The wind was whipping across the bridge, and I quickly caught a chill. Thankfully, others had already stripped off layers of clothing so I could grab a sweater (which I could strip again later and would still be donated). As soon as I put on the extra sweater, I felt my tension dissipating and my muscles loosening up. I knew that this was going to be a good race and by the time I reached Miami Beach at mile 4, I knew that I was on track to have one of my best half marathon runs to date.

With Seth, just after finishing
I try not to count my chickens before they hatch during a race, but I couldn't help but get excited when I was looking down at my GPS and realizing that I was pacing faster than I ever had before. I'm no math guru, but when I finally figured out my projected pace, I realized that by mile 6 I was on pace to PR by close to 10 minutes. I ran into my friend Adam who is a coach for the local team in training chapter, and even he recognized how much faster than normal I was pacing. With every step, I tried to reign in the excitement, but I couldn't help myself. I felt myself picking up pace even more, pushing each stride. I felt my lungs burning and my muscles screaming.

And obviously, that leads me to the part right before mile marker 8, where I got started with horrible exercise induced abdominal cramping. The cramping was so bad that no amount of lamaze style recovery breathing was going to get them to subside. I was doubled over in pain at one point, and Adam showed up again out of nowhere checking in on me. I felt like a fool. I had no real reason to push it that hard. I was already running faster than normal, I was already on track... but my brain wouldn't let me accept good enough with where I was at... I forced this on myself by pushing further and faster and harder than normal.

It took me just over a mile of walking (and stopping every 50 yards or so) to get the cramping to subside. but by the time that it did, my dream of a PR was out the window. My mood was shot. I couldn't motivate myself to run anymore, and wound up finishing at a nice brisk walking pace. But I finished.

This was half marathon #33, and I finished with a smile on my face.

And hey, if I want to shoot for a PR at Miami again, there's always next year!

Gun - 4:05:05
Chip - 3:29:11
OA - 12549/13,155
Sex - 6,303/6,760
AG 1,047/1,081