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Race #3: 2010 Gasparilla Distance Classic Half Marathon

March 3, 2010

Gasparilla Distance Classic Half Marathon
Bib Number: 875
Overall Placement: 1036 / 3903 (26.5%)
Age Group Placement: 67 / 391 (17.1%)
Gender Placement: 340 / 2134 (15.9%)
Chip Time: 1:56:48

After a good night’s sleep, I was up and getting dressed at 3:45. With 13.1 miles at stake, I wanted to get down to the start line with more time than the day before, and the races also started earlier–both the marathon and the half would start at 6.

I got to the start area about an hour before gun time. I didn’t want to run to warm up. I don’t usually run at all the day before a race, and on this day I’d already run 12 miles the day before. But I walked around a lot, downed some water and a gel, and tried to stay warm.

It was cool again, probably in the mid-40s at gun time, and though I’d asked the Boss to stop by the circle store (aka Target) so I could pick up some tights, I decided not to wear them. Though I’ve worn their tights before, I didn’t want to take the chance that they would fit funny or chafe in odd places. There’s a reason for the running rule Nothing new on race day, and I intended to live by it.

So it was my little black skirt, pink long and lean tank, and long-sleeve pink Reebok tee that waited with me at the start line, along with a pullover fleece I’d found for $2 at Goodwill.

After my second porta-potty visit, I saw the line of pacers heading down from the convention center. It was a beautiful sight, one long line of people who looked commanding and assured as they carried their balloon-festooned poles.

I found the 9:10 pace group, which would finish the half in 2 hours. I listened to as much as his prep talk as I could overhear, but I knew this was probably the largest pace group and it was hard to listen in. I talked a little to a woman who was running her first race after the birth of her baby.

Then, the gun went off, and we were running. This race always feels really crowded at the start, and as we went over the bridge to Davis Islands it got even tighter. We struggled to reach and hold our 9:10 pace; mile 1 came in, according to Garmin, closer to 10 minutes even. But we picked up the pace as the crowd thinned out, and mile 2 came in at 9:05. At mile 3 we were still trying to make up time, I guess, because we finished it in 8:30.

I stopped here to take off my long-sleeve. I’d hoped to wait til the turnaround but I felt really hot from exertion, and I decided not to put it off. Not being the most coordinated runner, I had to stop to do it, and I lost the group, so I spent the next mile or two catching up, and running at 8:30 pace to do it.

When I finally caught the group and settled into running with them, I realized my pace wasn’t dropping very much, and it was also really crowded trying to run with that group. I made the sudden decision to leave them, and just before the return trip over the bridge, I hopped a curb and went around that big 2-hour pace group. It just wasn’t working for me that day.

I finished mile 6 in 8:40, mile 7 in 8:32. At this point in the race we passed the finish line, and it was so fantastic to run into the small lane they’d made for us to avoid the finish mats and run into a tunnel of people, all cheering for us. We made a left turn near the convention center, where volunteers and signs separated half marathoners from marathoners, and just after the 7-mile mark we split up–the marathoners heading into the city while those of us with the shorter mileage headed back toward Bayshore.

Here, returning to the street where I’d done my races the day before, I started to really feel my legs. That 8:30 pace, which had felt difficult but sustainable in the early miles, became impossible to sustain, and mile 8 came in at 8:44. But taking my first gel here helped, and I took mile 9 back at 8:30 pace.

The turnaround in this race is at mile 10, where you make a u-turn and head north for the final 3.1-mile straightaway. It felt like that 10-mile marker never came; I kept pushing but my legs were complaining all the time. Mile 10 at 8:48.

For the last three miles my race was quite difficult. I was hitting every water station and walking longer than I wanted to, just to take the chance to recover. I even took an orange wedge at mile 11 or so, desperate for any form of energy available to me. I knew I was slowing down, and the most frustrating part about it was knowing this is my specialty when I race–letting everything out in the last portion of the race and flying into the finish.

Most races, I’m conscious of everyone else slowing down, and I’m deliberately picking them off as I wind my way to the finish. This time, I was just trying to stay with people and not get left behind. I was nearing a 9-minute pace, and struggling to do it.

When the 13-mile sign came, I knew I could use my afterburners–mainly fueled, at this point, by the certainty of completing the Challenge and not having to run the next day. I passed a few people as we ran into the wall of spectators and into the finish.

It was without question the longest half marathon of my life. I didn’t know 13.1 miles could feel so exhausting, so tiring, so absolutely impossible to conquer.

But conquer I did, and I met another of my goals–not to log a personal worst at my favorite distance. My time of 1:56 is still six minutes short of my time at my first outing.

This time, I didn’t get passed by a costumed character, though–and this is worse, I think–I did get soundly beaten by a man running with a full-size American flag unfurled behind him. In spite of my humiliation at losing to someone who was basically running with a wind chute, it made a beautiful sight to see that gorgeous, bright flag waving in the wind as I looked out over the bay, especially with the beautiful, clear day God provided for my race that day.

I’ll come back to share concluding thoughts about the weekend as a whole, but let me just say, I did it!

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