This race was a last-minute decision for us, but we decided to embrace race season because the heat of summer (and the lack of races) is just around the corner. Not to mention we were planning a 10-miler for today anyway.
I signed up last week, the day before online registration ended. Ginger, however, wasn’t so lucky. That made for an especially early morning this morning that ended up being to our advantage.
We’d heard two perspectives on this race: that is was absolute mayhem and totally packed, and that it’s one of the best, most fun races in the area. I concur on both, sorta.
When I went to bed Friday night, I had the start of the cold my entire family has been plagued with over the past month. Scratchy, sore throat; chest congestion and coughing fits. I knew Saturday was going to be rougher than I’d like it to be – and I was right. Today (Sunday), I’m feeling even worse.
Ginger picked me up on Saturday morning at 5:30 am so that we could arrive in time to park, register and check her bag. We found a tiny, free parking lot off Platt street (unsanctioned but full of runners) and snagged the last spot. Pretty great start to the day, considering we were planning on paying $10 to park in a ramp and deal with the traffic around the convention center.
We were happy it was warm so we didn’t have to carry long sleeves – but it was already way too muggy for a comfortable long run. Humidity: literally 100%. (Note: when the dew point one degree lower than the temperature, you’ve got as much moisture in the air as physically possible before it falls as dew.)
We followed the crowd over the Platt Street bridge and under the convention center and then into the expo hall, where Ginger was able to register. We were surprised to see so many of the expo booths already open and schlepping their wares – but there were customers lining up for a new headband or a few more samples of 5 Hour Energy.
Ginger got her shirt and bag, and then we were able to check it downstairs. No waiting for anything so far, despite the thousands of runners walking around. Smooth sailing.
We exited the convention center and made our way to the starting line. There were some great costumes – some folks run this race as a fun-run and ham it up. Made for an interesting corral.
We settled into the open-start lineup alongside the 9:30 pacer. We thought (erroneously) that since we were both running our 6′s and 7′s at a 9:15-9:30 pace, we could keep it up for 9.3. No problem, right?
Check out that confidence! We’re ready. But we’re early, so we’ve got 20 minutes to hang out and enjoy the pre-race starting line activities (which include but are not limited to overhearing inappropriate conversations, snickering at overambitious 4-race challengers, and talking about Ginger’s GI issues, as usual).
The starting line was directly under another bridge, so some spectators were able to watch from above. Pretty cool!
They started the wheelchair racers first, then the dozen or so guys who’d run every single Gasparilla Distance race for the entire 35 years they’ve been running it (longer than I’ve been alive!). I wonder what it was like for them to have the entire course to themselves (for five minutes, anyway!).
When they finally started the rest of the racers, the announcer began counting up - and laughing as seconds then minutes passed before we even started walking toward the start line. We got a good chuckle out of “58 … 59 … yes, one minute has passed since the race started.” We actually crossed the start line around the 1:45 mark, and I started my Nike+ right then.
And here’s where we erred. We kept up with the 9:30 pacer. Right with the 9:30 pacer – even though I knew by 2 miles that he was pushing way too fast (we ran the first 2 miles under 9:00). We are usually chatting the entire run during our long runs and weren’t able to do so – Ginger even had her headphones in which means she’s working hard and focusing.
And then the sun unleashed. By mile 4, we were both taking water at the pitstop and struggling to maintain our pace. By mile 5, we knew we’d need to dial it back a few notches. We walked a few steps through that water stop, and when we resumed, we started back at our pace. Or, what we thought was our pace. We were still only a little ways behind the 9:30 pacer and actually watched him for the next couple miles. Our paces were reading right around 9:25-9:35, so we were still running quickly.
Around mile 6, I was happy to see a guy handing out Krispy Kreme donuts. Score! Better than gels or blocks, in my opinion. I scarfed a half of one and grabbed more water.
The entire race is an out-and-back down Bayshore Boulevard, a picturesque waterfront 6-lane road. It’s gorgeous, but unforgiving in the way of shade or protection from the wind – and there was plenty of both. The return was along the completely unprotected side of the road, with the hot sun (nearing 80 at this point) beaming down on us. I’d brought my sunglasses but was sweating so much they didn’t want to stay in place on my nose, so they ended up on my head for the entire race.
My point is: it was hot. Not unfamiliar hot, but the heat combined with our too-fast pace and my increasing chest congestion meant I was pushing hard through those last few miles. I walked a bit at mile 7, and again at mile 8. Ginger obviously kept truckin, but I kept her in my sight through the finish line.
The finish chute was interesting because we passed the starting line with still 0.3 miles remaining. That last 0.3 seemed like forever - I kept expecting the finish line to be just past that MarathonPhoto guy. Just around this bend. Just under that bridge. When it finally appeared, and I watched Ginger cross it, I knew we’d done well enough to be proud of our times even though I’d had to walk a bit (I sort of came to understand the whole Galloway method and how it can still result in decent pace times, albeit unintentionally).
The finish chute was well organized but I really, really wish that race organizers would understand ONE THING: we would love some cold water. Not just water. Cold water. I would rather have a cold bottle of water after a hot race than 200 bottles of lukewarm water or Gatorade.
We chugged water, grabbed our awesome medals, and made our way through all of the goody lines. It was a nice break from the sun to house the line under the convention center.
Smoothies FTW. Hands down the best goody in the finish chute.
And to end it all, Dole fruit snacks from Publix and black beans from Columbia Restaurant. A perfect blend of protein and carbs, in my opinion. Delicious!
We walked into the convention center and ran smack into a well-orchestrated (church?) flash mob.
And into some other runner friends. Well friends first, but they’re also runners. You know what I mean.
And with that, our race was finished. We started making our way back to the car and crossed the 5K starting line. We couldn’t imagine starting another 3 miles in the sun but all of those runners looked so energized and ready!
On our walk back, we passed in front of the Four Green Fields pub – and their front porch was loaded with 15k finishers enjoying icy cold beers. Of course, we had to stop and enjoy the post-race revelry. This is what we’d been looking for all along. Beans schmeans. This is the best part of waking up (at 5 am).
We also got to chat with some awesome runners who’d run in monkey costumes (and had beer delivered at every mile – seriously!). They were hilarious.
We really enjoyed the run; it was well organized and a beautiful course, albeit hot. Ironically, today’s weather dropped 20 degrees and the half-marathoners were able to enjoy 55-degrees. Ideal. We just never know at this time of year.
And after all, I’m just happy to have another medal for my collection.