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Better than Advertised

February 20, 2012

2012 A1A Half Marathon

February 19, 2012
Bib Number: 2720
Overall Placement: 634 / 3014 (21%)
Age Group Placement: 38 / 262 (14.5%)
Gender Placement: 225 / 1669 (13.5%)
Chip Time: 1:56:05

As most runners do, Little G and I started watching the forecast for the race location about ten days out from our race. It did not look good. Even from that far out, we could tell that race day was probably going to be warm and humid. We weren’t surprised; late February can be very warm in south Florida, and by early March we’re fully into summertime heat–which explains why so many college kids come here on Spring Break.

This week, we knew for sure that we were in for a brutal race. Temperatures at the beginning of the week were mild as a cool front moved through the area, and I ran in my arm sleeves as late as Wednesday. But this late in the season, cool fronts don’t last long here, and the temperatures trended warmer and warmer on every forecast, peaking–you guessed it–on Sunday.

Little G and I talked briefly about our goals for the race. We both agreed that, of the half marathons we’ve faced this season, this was the one we had the least-defined time goals for. We had great reasoning for our desire to take it fairly easy. First of all, the weather would work against us. Secondly, we have Gasparilla, our true goal race, just two weeks away. If we pushed too hard for a good time in bad conditions, there was a good chance we’d hurt ourselves with not a lot of time to recover before the 30½ miles of racing of March 3 and 4.

We arrived at the race site at around 4:30, having left my house a few minutes after 3. We parked at the finish and took a shuttle to the start, where we hit the porta-potties, then found a convenient staircase so we could get off our feet until the start. We got into the corral with about twenty minutes to go til the start, and I already had to go to the bathroom. It’s a bad feeling, I have to say.

Before the start: We’re standing in the corral, and I know I have to go. But I know it’s hot–probably in the low 70s as we stand there–and I figure I might sweat enough on the course that it won’t be an issue later. I tell Little G I really don’t want to stop on the course, and she commiserates. We take a gel, shuck off the fleeces that I picked up at the thrift store a couple days ago, and get our Garmins ready.

Mile 1: This is the race where I ran my first half marathon, four years ago. All this time later, I still love this start, in front of the Museum of Discovery and Science. Coming out of the corral, we go under a giant United States flag, flying under the colors as they’re held aloft by a fire truck, and my heart swells as we drum forward. Little G and I have agreed to run with music, though we don’t usually, specifically because we have no time goals for the race. I hear the strains of my music fill my ears, and I’m glad I have it along for the ride as I see the crowd around me, all of us pushing forward. We make a slight turn and then are onto Las Olas, where light-wrapped trees greet us as we mark the end of the first mile, which I run in 8:50.

Mile 2: We’re continuing eastbound on Las Olas, and I’m watching Little G, who’s racing just in front of me. I’m thankful for what this means for my pace: for once, I didn’t go out too fast. To be honest, I’m also using her a little bit, allowing her to thread the needle for me as we work through the crowd, but I’m not talking to her so that I don’t pressure her to run with me. Besides, we’re both listening to music, and I don’t want to draw her focus away from her race. I stay a couple paces to her left, and just watch my own pace. Before long, though, I know I need to let her go. She’s starting to push closer to 8:30 or 8:20, and that’s too fast for me this early in the race. I know there’s a good chance I’ll catch her later, and if I don’t, that’s okay too. I watch a gap open up between us and finish this mile in  8:38.

Mile 3: I’ve slowed my pace to a more manageable rate, and I’m fighting with my earbud, which doesn’t want to stay in. I think it’s the humidity, which is making it act funny, and the sweat, which is already pouring into my ears. I’ve been pushing it back into my ear every once in a while, but I know I can’t do that for thirteen miles, and I finally pull out the one earbud I have in. Music isn’t worth the aggravation. We’re approaching the only hill we’ll face all day: the Las Olas Bridge. I know Little G is up ahead of me somewhere, and as we pull up onto the bridge, I hope she’s enjoying it as much as I am, that she’s powering up over it, then letting gravity to do its work as it pulls her down, down, down the hill. There’s been sparse crowd support in the early miles, but as we come down the big hill, we can hear the crowd for the first time, cow bells and cheering and someone with a horn. In spite of the bridge, which should have slowed me down, I finish this mile in 8:35, taking water and Endurolytes for the first time just at the 3-mile marker.

Mile 4: If I plan my calendar right, I get to run a semblance of this course twice: once in the fall, at the 13.1 Fort Lauderdale, and then again at this race. Both times, as we come off the Las Olas bridge, we take a turn northbound onto A1A, and is one of my favorite spots on the course. The energy from the crowd, plus the fact that we’ve just come off the bridge, combines to make my heart sing. We pass a band here, the first one we’ve seen, and we appreciate their encouragement in these tough early miles. I finish this mile in 8:42.

Mile 5: We make a left hand turn, through a tunnel of high-energy spectators, and into Birch State Park. This is a change in the course since the last time we ran it, when we ran through the park at the end of the race. As we run into the park, I make my first strategic mistake, passing a bank of porta potties. But I do know enough to take water from the aid station, knowing how hot and humid it is. I reflect on how different we are, running this race, than running Miami three weeks ago. That crowd was chatty, downright loquacious. But the A1A crowd is quiet, completely sapped of conversation. I figure it’s partly the heat and partly the fact that with a much smaller field of runners, this crowd is much more likely to be taking this race seriously. I join the silence. 8:46.

Mile 6: Spectators aren’t allowed in the park, so it’s just us. We’re not talking, so we’re listening to each other’s breathing. Someone in the pack is struggling to cough something up, and I take a short stretch at sub-8 pace, trying to get away from her. This runs me just behind my favorite kind of sweaty, stinky runner, and I find myself trying to get around him. I take a deep breath and try to find my rhythm again. I can’t avoid other runners all day, and the road is wide enough for all of us. As my head clears, I know I’m making hydration decisions based on my bladder, and I realize I’m going to have to stop or risk not fueling well. The porta potties I passed earlier were at the entrance of the park, so I’ll pass them again on the way out, and I decide to stop then. But as we come up on the park exit, I know I’m going to be in trouble: a steady crowd of runners is streaming into the park behind us. This is the thickest pack of runners, and the slower runners are here. I realize there’s a good chance there’ll be a line now, and sure enough, when I get to the port-o-lets and stop, I’m third in line. I ask the runners ahead of me if they remember from the map when the next potty stop is, and one of them tells me it’s at mile 6. I know we’re already past the 6.5-mark, so that can’t be right. I’ve waited for almost a minute when I duck back into the pack, frustrated. 9:07.

Mile 7: Thankfully, the next porta potty stop is just out of the park, just past the next mile marker. There is no line, and I duck into it, immediately realizing I have hit a runner’s milestone: this is the foulest portable toilet I have ever had the misfortune to step into. I try not to retch as I do what I need to do, and get out as quickly as possible. I had taken a gel and water at mile 5, and I take water and Endurolytes here. I know I lost time stopping for the bathroom not once, but twice, and am concentrating on not trying to make up the time, but just returning to my steady comfortable pace. This mile, straight north on A1A, is one of the longest of the race. Though we’re running along the ocean, it feels long, and though one of my neighbors turns to her partner and says, “More than halfway there!” I find no comfort in that knowledge. 10:20.

Mile 8: We’re starting the turn inland, which I’m delighted about. Little G looked at the course map, and it looks like the turnaround is at about 8.5. That turning point is a carrot before me right now. I was passed by the leaders as I was running up A1A at about mile 7, and am now enjoying being passed by the age groupers. As we approach the mile-8 marker, I see a water station ahead, and I tuck two Endurolytes into my cheek, anticipating taking a cup of water to swallow them when I get to the water station. Alas, the station is only giving water to the runners on the right side of the course, and I run on like an endurance chipmunk, salt caplets in cheek. As I run on, waiting for the turn that never comes, I inwardly berate whoever was responsible for drawing the course map. I finish this mile in 8:47.

Mile 9: A small Hispanic runner and I have been keeping pace together most of the race, and I’ve enjoyed pacing off of him. But he’s starting to push an 8:15 pace, and I know it’s too early for me to push that hard. I let him go. As we approach the water station that I couldn’t reach earlier, I take water and a second gel. Just past this aid station, a random homeowner is also handing out bananas and lukewarm beer. Really? 8:32.

Mile 10: In most of my races, I start doing math at this point, allowing myself, for the first time, to look at the clock and calculate what my finish time might be: whatever’s on the clock plus 28 minutes or so if I can hold a nine-minute pace, plus 25 minutes if I can hold eight-minute pace. But today, I promise myself I won’t do that. I have no time goal for this race, and I really just want to run by feel. I know I have a 5k to go, so I want to start pushing, but I want to die at mile 13, not 11. Indeed, I do struggle in this mile, and the clock tells the story: save my potty miles, this is my slowest mile of the day, coming in at 9:11.

Mile 11: We’ve hit A1A again, and the ocean is on our left. The sun is up now, and I throw my sunglasses on: it’s time to get fierce. I see the many runners on our right, still going outbound, and catch a few marathon bibs. Those runners still have twenty miles to go. On a day like today, with temperatures climbing, that’s no small order, and I pray for them silently. I’m concentrating on hydrating well, taking water at almost every aid station, and pushing the Endurolytes as steadily as I’m pushing my pace. 8:33.

Mile 12: It’s time to go. All around me, runners are struggling, but two young women are running together, easily, one wearing a NY Athletic Club tank. As we passed the last mile marker, they were doing the math and noting that they were sub-10-minute mile pace. Sub-10? We’re sub-9! I love that they had no idea how fast they’d be on the day. I love that they’re running easy enough, even this late in the race, that they can still talk. I begin to pace off them, staying slightly behind them as we run. They have a steady, predictable pace, running without surges. We’re coming up on my short Hispanic runner, who tries to hold pace with us but eventually falls back. We finish this mile together in 8:26. I know I’m pushing the pace, but I’m comfortable with my push.

Mile 13: As we come closer to the close of the race, I remember how much I don’t like the finish here, and I start muttering inwardly. But spectators are faithfully cheering for us, and I try to remember not to be bitterly angry when they tell me I’m almost there–it’s not their fault I’ve almost run myself into the ground. I’ve run around my NYC girls, and I’ve caught up to Little G. I consider running with her, or challenging her to a race, but to be honest, I don’t have the breath or energy to do it, and I don’t know what she has left in the tank. I pass her without comment instead, without even a passing glance–yes, this is the kind of training partner I am. I keep picking out tow ropes, allowing them to draw me closer little by little because my legs feel utterly finished. Then, up ahead, I see a purple tutu, and I groan inwardly. Something in me refuses to be beaten by a woman wearing a tutu. I push to make a pass, and as I leave her behind, I know that wasn’t a clean pass. I am so tired and spent that there is every possibility all I’ve done is fuel Purple Tutu for a late-lace surge; she might very well pass me back, and if she does, I’ve got nothing left to respond with. I mentally scold myself for my immaturity, finishing the mile in 8:16.

the last .2, according to Garmie: I can finally, kind of, see the finish: at this race, the finish is hidden behind an s-curve, so that as you approach it, you literally have to be upon it to see it, which makes those calls of “you’re almost there” all the more maddening. As I pass the 13-mile marker and still can’t see the finish, I’m convinced that (a) I’m going to throw up; (b) my legs are going to seize up and quit; (c) purple tutu is going to smoke me right at the finish; (d) I’ll pass out and wake up in the hospital, medal-less, having failed at the six in six quest. Instead, I run into the finish at 7:23 pace, pushing through the volunteers who are handing out medals, bend my head for the last one, and grab two waters, deeply desirous of putting my head in the icy vat instead.

Little G crosses the line about 45 seconds behind me, as spent as I am, unable to speak, and we walk together to the car.

Unfortunately, not being familiar with the course, we not only parked at the finish, we parked on the finish, literally on the race course, so we immediately knew we weren’t going to leave until the race was over–the course was due to close at 12 noon, or six hours after gun time. We changed our shoes, grabbed a change of clothes, and went to check our results. After a great breakfast, we cheered in the marathoners on the last half-mile of the course, getting to see everyone who finished between three-and-a-half and six hours. It was, actually, a great finish to our own race, and we might do that more often.

Twenty-four hours post race, I’m not too sore, and am planning an easy return to running. Gasparilla is just twelve days away, and all our training has been for this one event. I am amused at my finish at this race, considering how warm it was; why didn’t I do this well at Miami? I am reminded that racing is about mind as well as the course and course conditions–my head just wasn’t in gear when I ran in Miami, and I paid for it. By contrast, I was dreading an absolutely awful race at A1A, and I got a much better result than the conditions had led me to expect. I’m thankful for a good race to get ready for my last challenge of the season and the reminder that no matter the weather, I can make the best of it.

A final note about the weather: when we started, the air temperature was 72 degrees, with 91% humidity. Those 4-hour finishers we were cheering on faced temperatures of 80 degrees, with a heat index of 83. For them, the winds had picked up, and they also had to contend with winds of 10mph, gusting to 18. As for the six-hour finishers, they were finishing up at noon, so they faced constant breezes of 12 mph, gusting to 22. As for their temperatures, their air temperature was 84. Let me just say, facing 26.2 in South Florida is not for the weak. My heartfelt admiration to all of you who conquered that race yesterday. You are all rock stars in my book.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2012 9:57 am

    Funny that you accidentally parked on the course! But that would definitely be fun to relax and watch people finish. Glad you both felt good after the race so you could sit around (not feeling nauseous or anything). Congrats!

  2. the Ringmaster permalink*
    February 26, 2012 4:57 pm

    Completely an accident, but so glad we did it! I hope we remember to do it again!

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