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Water, Water Everywhere (And Not a Drop to Drink)

December 29, 2013

Classics by the Sea 2013

December 14, 2013
Bib Number: 572
Overall Placement: 79 / 332 (23.8%)
Age Group Placement: 7 / 35 (20%)
Gender Placement: 24 / 200 (12%)
Chip Time: 51:16.20

Little G and I had agreed to run this race immediately after cancelling our plans to run the 2014 Tallahassee Marathon, figuring if we weren’t going to run long we could run short and fast. Coach Will tweaked our schedule with that idea, so our speedwork and long runs were preparing us to run this as our last short-distance race of the season before turning our attention to double long runs in preparation for the race-a-palooza that is the Michelob Ultra Challenge at the Gasparilla Distance Classic.

Unfortunately, the day of the race turned out to be the hottest day of the week. (Honestly, is anyone even surprised anymore? Skip getting your copy of the farmers’ almanac next year; just get a copy of my racing schedule.) The forecast high was in the low 80s, and by the time we showed up for the race it was in the mid 70s, and, naturally, since we’d be running on the waterfront, also windy, and threatening rain. The conditions meant I had picked one of my lightest tanks, but not one that would leave me running completely see-through in case of bad weather, and that in spite of the wind I was also wearing a hat, because I have a well-documented hate for rainwater on my face when I run.

The Boss, Little G, and I pulled into the race site about an hour before gun time, and split up immediately. Little G and I headed for the bathrooms. (We lost the Boss almost immediately.) It was sprinkling when we got out, so we headed for one of the beach pavilions, from where we checked out the crowd and monitored the start of the children’s mile race before heading out for an abbreviated warm-up. The weather was tough to call; with the clouds shifting in the distance, it wasn’t easy to tell whether the storm would pass over us or not. Little G wanted to find the Boss to leave her cap, but he wasn’t easily found in the crowd. In the end, as we lined up in the chute, we were both still wearing our Nike hats.

Mile 1. The gun goes off and so do we. There’s a large group of yellow-shirted kids running the 5k, and, as usual, they’re doing the start-stop running that’s so typical of kids who run. I wonder where their coaches are, and how many times they’ve been told to run at an even pace. We go around the turn towards the waterfront road and start the slight rise that is my least favorite part of this course, and my breathing begins to rise. I tell myself it’s just the hill, making me work hard, and refuse to back down. As I run, I check my pace, noting that it’s on track with what I’d planned, and wondering if I can hold this effort in the heat. I wonder absently at what point of the course I’ll be passed by my friend Kyle from church–based on our conversations and his past training, I knew he’d probably be running at or better than my current pace. Sure enough, within a minute or two of that thought, Kyle is on my shoulder. I fist-bump him, but we don’t speak. I am proud as Kyle passes me without a word. I see him moving through the crowd smoothly in his red Brooks, and consciously refuse to chase him. I know he’s running half the distance I am, and I am determined to run this one smart. As it is, this pace feels tough, but I’m trying to do the wise thing and not judge a run by the first mile. 8:13.53.

Mile 2. I’m happy with my pace–I’d hoped to run this one at about 8:15 pace–but I’m wondering how smart it is not to adjust for heat. It’s pretty hot, about 77 degrees, and I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep this up, and whether I’ll end up walking on the back half of this course, like I did in the marathon. This is already how this race feels–like a suicidally fast pace. But I remember my decision, then: how wonderfully fierce and good it felt to run with abandon, throwing caution to the wind. I run on. And if I die, I die. I know half of the crowd will leave us at the 5k turnaround; I figure the thinning crowd will clear the field and give me more room to maneuver. Just before the turnaround, we also get water. I pour some over my head, call out some encouragement to Kyle, just a few yards in front of me, and keep moving. Having lost a few hundred runners, the wind is now flying at us, and I feel my pace slow. I groan inwardly, but keep moving, trying to keep my goal pace in sight without expending more effort than I have to. 8:21.48.

Mile 3. The wind is even worse as we move toward the 10k turnaround. The road seems neverending. I look at Garmie, thinking we must be close to the end of this straightaway, only to realize we’ve only moved one-third of a mile past the second mile marker. How is that even possible? I’m tempted to tap the screen to make sure it’s not dead but I don’t want to expend the energy. This wind is taking so much out of me . . . From behind me, I see someone moving to pass, and I move slightly to the left to make room. “You don’t have to move for me,” she says kindly. “Honestly,” I say. “If you’ll break the wind for me, you can go right ahead.” Instead, though, she moves swiftly ahead as if there is no wind at all. Though most of us in the crowd are struggling, within a few minutes she is far ahead of me. So much for drafting. A few yards in front of me, on the right side of the course, is a woman with a low French braid. I lost to her in the last few yards of the Run 4 the Pies as she outkicked me. I notice she’s running smoothly and evenly. I keep her in my sights as we approach the turn. 8:29.87.

Mile 4. As we turn, I’m trying to stay focused on not picking up the pace. It’s a long way home, and I feel pretty spent already. I’m relieved to find that, as I’d hoped, the wind does feel like it’s not pushing against us quite as much as we run northward. I’m noticing that, around me, other runners seem just as tired as I feel. No one is talking; for many of us, our form has suffered because of the wind; we’re slumping, and thirsty. Because the water stop was set up just before the turn, the volunteers only got to some of us as we made the turn–the rest of us run on in the unseasonable December heat, mocked by the vastness of the ocean. Since I didn’t get any water, I have to find a way to trick myself into feeling cooler, and promise myself I’ll take my hat off at the next mile marker. It’s a mental trick, but gives me something to look forward to. I notice I’m beginning to pass a few spent runners but figures it means nothing. We’re all exhausted, and our pace is probably trashed. Braid Girl is moving with me. 8:19.78.

Mile 5. I lose the hat and feel much lighter as I tuck it into my waistband. As I begin to pass more people, Braid Girl and I begin to run together wordlessly, pacing each other as we gradually begin to run faster. I’m partly running just to get water–I’m painfully thirsty now, and though I think I can keep running until the race’s finish, I know this one is going to hurt. As we approach the final water stop, we talk briefly to coordinate our stop, then resume running together. One of the local elites, already on his way home on his bike, cheers us on. I start focusing more on trying to move through the crowd. 8:17.

Mile 6. Now that we’re this close to the finish, I begin to turn my attention to Braid Girl as a competitor. She’s likely in my age group, after all, and I know her kick. I reason that this is a longer distance than I’ve seen her at, and the last time we raced each other, on Thanksgiving Day, conditions were vastly different, so I have no way of knowing what she’ll have in her legs on this day. I realize I can’t control her finish, only my own. I resolve to put her out of my mind and finish this race the way I always do–by reeling people in, one at a time. I start steadily pushing the pace and moving through the crowd. I am amazed at the speed in my own legs, on a day when my pace felt so frantic from mile 1. 8:05.09.

Last quarter-mile. Going down the hill toward the park, I’m trying to watch my feet but also choose my course carefully as I wind through the runners in front of me. I’ve lost track of Braid Girl, but I’m working on the assumption that she’s behind me and is coming fast. As I run into the park, a male runner in front of me says, “Oh, no, you don’t,” to which I reply, “Buddy, you’re not in my age group.” He fades. On my right, I think I hear the Boss, and Kyle and his wife Shelly, long having finished the 5k, calling my name. I finish at a sprint, and end up having to go back to claim my finisher’s medal. 1:44.60, or 6:43-ish pace.

Though the time doesn’t represent a PR, I’m satisfied with my time, mostly because of the quality of my running, and how hard I ran in spite of the brutal heat at one of my least-favorite distances in running. When all was said and done, I was the only one in our small pack that didn’t place in her age group. I was thrilled for Kyle and Shelly, who are just starting out as distance runners, but who are dogged competitors and fiercely determined. For little G and me, this race represents an end to our short-race season as we turn to preparation for the hard mileage of February’s Gasparilla Distance Classic.

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