Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Holiday Halfathon Recap...
25 Days until Disney Marathon...
I am not ready.
I'm aware that I'm not ready, but last Sunday's 8th Annual Florida Gulf Beaches Holiday Halfathon (Half Marathon) was reality knocking on the door. Overall it was a great weekend. I got to see the west coast of Florida, a coastline I've only seen a handful of times. There were no waves, but that's expected. I met up with the Dietitian and seven of her female runner friends the night before at the packet pickup, which I have to say was way more exciting than the Daytona Half Marathon "expo" since Brooks was there, and we all ate dinner at a hotel restaurant on the beach right after sunset. It was interesting seeing every one's dinner choice. How often do you go out on a Saturday night and eat at a table of nine at a nice restaurant and the entire table orders water? I felt like I was surrounded by "speed" and it was great!
Jump to 6 a.m. Sunday morning. The group meets in the lobby of the hotel. Two of the girls are drinking Rockstar Low Carb Energy drinks. Amazing. Maybe I should try this before a race? Since our hotel is at the finish line we decide to all pile into my pickup truck and only take one vehicle to the start line 13.1 miles away. Five of the girls jump at the opportunity to ride in the back of the truck and the Dietitian and another jump in the warm cab. As I drive up to the starting area I think about the massive amount of estrogen-packed running speed I am delivering all in one small pickup truck! We get our chips, use the bathrooms, stretch, warm up, drink more water (some drink more Rockstar) and before I know it the race is about to begin.
The horn blows. 1,099 runners slowly advance across the start line each finding their own pace. The air temperature is 79 degrees and visibility is down to about 100 feet as there is a heavy fog. The group is split up from the beginning. The Dietitian and another runner start near the front while most of the girls start in the middle. I start back from the middle and on the edge. My only goal for this race is to NOT make my Achilles tendon worse. It's been several weeks with no pain. I can still feel a small lump in my Achilles, but my doctor says it could be scar tissue since it is not painful. If I can finish this race today and manage NOT to re-aggravate the tendon like I did at the Daytona Half Marathon it will be a huge boost of confidence for the Disney Marathon.
Mile one flies by and I never see the mile marker. At mile two I check my time and I'm pacing under a 9-minute mile. This is faster than I want to be running. Part of my plan is to experiment with taking a few intentional walking breaks early on to try and keep my leg muscles from fatiguing too early and allowing me to finish strong. During Daytona I ran super slow intentionally allowing many runners to pass me for the first half of the race and then I ran faster each mile to the finish line. For that race I had only taken three weeks off from running, thought my Achilles was healed and it wasn't. In this race, it's been 41 days since Daytona and I've only done short distance runs (4-miles at the longest) since.
Mile three comes and goes and I'm still running at around an 8:30 pace according to my sometimes not-up-to-par math skills. I consider walking, but I'm feeling so damn good that it just seems ridiculous to walk. I'm usually pretty good at pacing myself for whatever distance I'm aiming for so I decide to trust my gut and continue on running to run. I stop looking at my watch until mile six. At this point my amazing math skills tell me that at my current rate I'll shatter the 2-hour mark, beat my Daytona (also my Half Marathon PR) time and not seem insanely slow as all of the group is ahead of me and I haven't seen them since the start. Then I start thinking about how much it will suck to injure myself today and not be able to run Disney at all? I continue on because.... well.... I'm stubborn.
At mile 8 I feel something new. It's a painful stabbing feeling on both sides of my ribs up high almost under my arms. With each breath I take I feel like someone is punching me in the ribs. This is a new cramp I have not felt before. The fog has not lifted and the temperature is now in the 80s. I'm sweating like crazy and decide to take a GU and walk at the aid station I'm approaching. The cramps just won't seem to go away as I stretch and continue on walking at a fast pace. I feel that 2-hour Half Marathon barrier slipping away, but at this point I'm more concerned about getting these cramps to go away. This is the worst part of the entire race. I walk for what seems like an eternity. By my guess, somewhere around mile 8.75 a speedwalker passes me. The official start time for walkers was 35 minutes before runners and I passed most walkers miles ago. I immediately think about the Snickers commerical with Mr. T yelling at a speedwalker and say to myself, "Oh hell no! I am not getting passed by a speedwalker!"
I start to run again, pass the speedwalker (who never passed me again) and continue on for another couple miles until exhaustion causes me to stop and walk again. This time I'm somewhere after mile 10. I tell myself I'll allow for a walk break for one minute after each of the remaining miles. This seems like a logical compromise at the time. The problems I'm experiencing seem to be more muscle related than general endurance. Having an Achilles tendon injury since the end of September has seriously taken a toll on my leg muscles. I've managed to stay in shape by other activities (Surfing, yoga, bicycling, etc.) but I've lost the strength in my legs I had while I was training each week. Each time I walk it becomes harder and harder to start running again. So much for my brilliant "walking" plan!
Finally mile 12 comes along. I check my watch and realize I'm not even going to beat my Daytona Half time. This sucks. I remind myself that my Achilles does not hurt right now and that seems like the one thing I have going for me. The final mile and a half does a huge loop around a lake. Part of the course goes through a disc golf course. I wasn't aware I was running through a disc golf course until I felt a sharp pain in my right hamstring. When I realized it was not muscle pain a nearby runner says, "well, that adds insult to injury." I had been hit by a disc in the back of my leg. No one yelled "fore" or even "hey dude, look out." I stopped and started to walk. I considered throwing the disc into the lake, but that would take too much energy. I have a friendly conversation with the runner that saw the disc violation and then attempt to run again. We can see the finish line. I hear my name being yelled and I can see the Dietitian up ahead. She has walked back from the finish line to cheer me on. She runs the last quarter mile with me and it helps. I cross the finish line and we immediately put ice on my Achilles tendon and my calves, which felt like someone was stabbing with a knife on each step of the last tenth mile.
I'm a mess. My official time was 2:27:55. Absolutely horrible, but at the same time humbling. All of the seven girls finished way ahead of me. They were all amazing. The Dietitian got second in her age division. Another girl made a PR and another finished her first Half Marathon having never run further than 7 miles. Someone mentions free beer and it sounds to me like free medicine. I down a beer and immediately start feeling better. On the bright side, my Achilles tendon is not worse and appears to be unchanged. If I can get one or two more long runs in during the next 25 days before Disney, I might actually have a shot at finishing. I would not have finished a marathon on Sunday. So much of running, like surfing, is based on experience; knowing your body, how to pace yourself, prepare and finish. I've got some serious work to do in the next few weeks!
As or the Holiday Halfathon course I would say it was an "ok" race. The race coordinators need to have at least one more water/aid station. Toward the end of the race I needed water really bad and I wanted to take my last GU. It was at least 2 miles before that water station finally came. At one point it appeared as if an aid station was ahead, but turned out only to be a few volunteers handing out orange slices. If you're going to have a station for orange slices you might as well have water too, right??? The course was flat and fast. There was one small bridge to run across and the only other hills were several sidewalk overpasses. A majority of the race was a long straight bike/running path that was somewhat boring. The food, beer, drinks, snacks and entertainment at the finish line were great. However, there was no more water at the finish line when I arrived and I had to walk to the food tent to find water. I will probably not be running this race again as there are too many other races yet to be run and for me to come back and run it again it has to be extraordinary.
Oh and in case your wondering after seeing that first picture, I did not run the entire race with the Santa hat. I chucked it into a trash can at mile 2 because it was too damn hot! Most of the girls ran with jingle bells on their shoes. I thought this was awesome! The Dietitian even told me a guy told her during the race that he was pacing to her jingle. Ha!