Monday, March 2, 2009

Running Stupid: The Tampa Half Marathon

What do you do when you unexpectedly get a good race result? Sign up for another race the following weekend and try to do it again. The problem with that idea is that karma will surely throw roadblocks in your way. Or, as my friend Tracey, a psychologist, wrote on my Facebook page when she found out I was planning to do a second half marathon in consecutive weekends: "You're NUTS!" I'm sure she says that to all of her clients.

I traveled from Ft. Lauderdale to Clearwater on Friday to visit family. A running friend from Chicago, Linda, was in town to visit her Cousin and his wife. I had told her that the races compromising the Gasparilla Distance Classic (a 15K, Half Marathon and Marathon) were nice races because they all incorporated long stretches of waterfront along Bay Shore Drive just west of downtown Tampa. Linda was looking for a winter event to get away from the cold and snow covered streets of Chicago. She had pre-registered for the half marathon. My brother Dave & I decided to late register, not knowing whether our schedules would permit us to run. However, come Saturday, Dave & I committed to the race. I decide to run in part due to my unexpectedly good performance at the A1a Half Marathon the weekend before, a 1:41 result out of nowhere. I thought that perhaps it was possible for me to go below 1:40 for the first time in several years.

I had arranged to pick Linda up from her cousin's house at 4:15AM. My brother was to meet us a 4:30 AM sharp at my sister's house in Clearwater for the 45 minute drive to downtown Tampa. I wake at 3:45 AM, get out the door by 4:05 AM, and am back at my sister's house at 4:30 AM as planned. When I arrive: no Dave. I call him. He tells me he's on his way. I figure he's almost at our meeting point. We wait some more. I try re-dialing, but Dave's not picking up his cell phone. He finally shows up at about 4:50 AM. Dave explains that he couldn't find his running shorts he intended to wear and had to look all over to find them.

The delay made a big difference in trying to park. By the time we get to downtown Tampa with various streets closed for the marathon, all traffic is funneled onto one main street. After creeping along for 15 minutes, I tell Dave and Linda to leave me and get to the start area. I would park the car and try to find them at the start. It takes me about another 15 minutes to get parked. I start to jog to the start area and come across a set of 3 port-o-potties with lines about 6 people deep and decide I'd better use these facilities while I can. By the time I am second in line to use the potty, I hear the sound of the singing of the national anthem from the speakers at the starting line. "Not good," I think. Once the song is over, the race officials will start the race.

I quickly take care of business in the port-o-potty and jog over to the start area. The start area is on a two lane side street filled with runners. While I can see the starting line banner, there are several thousand people between me and the starting line. I try to work my way through the crowd before I note that the crowd is moving slowly forward, which means the race has started. Sure enough, everyone starts that slow in place jog we all do as we approach the starting mat. As I cross the starting line, I hear the race announcer state, "We are now 2 and a half minutes into the race." I realize I am way back in the field with slower runners, fun runners and walkers.

For the first 3 miles of the race, I'm spending extra effort and energy going left and right trying to find gaps in groups of runners doing 11 minute plus miles. My propensity is to go out fast in a 7:30 pace. I'm forced to take cuts where I can find them, surge through gaps between runners were I can, then slow down and look for anther gap. I pass my first pace group leader in the first mile. His sign reads "5:30," as in a 5 hour 30 minute marathon pace group leader. I groan. I'm in real trouble. At about the mile mark, we hit a narrow bridge leading from downtown Tampa over to Davis Island. The bottleneck forces me to an almost complete stop. There are no gaps between runners over this bridge, so I'm forced to slow to a 10 minute pace.

After the bridge, the crowd spreads out again over the 2 lane roads and I start the bob and weave, surge and slow up approach to get to a place where the runners are at my pace. At about mile 4, I come across Linda who is running about the pace I should be running. "I would like to strangle my brother with his running shorts," I say to Linda. "There is no way I can run this for a good time now." I realize I've been running like a scared gazelle being chased by a lion. All the cutting, surging and slowing have taken up valuable energy that I would need for a good race time.

I decide to try to calm myself down and run an even pace going forward. My slow first mile was made up in miles 2 through 4 so that my average per mile pace has averaged down to 8:01. OK, I decide, let's see if I can hit a 1:45. Linda is running slightly slower than I, so I pick up my pace slightly and move ahead.

The even strategy seems to work well for the next several miles. Around the 7 and a half mile mark, however, the course turns west along Bay Shore Drive. Unfortunately, winds of about 15 mph are blowing directly into us. This section of the race goes to about the 10 and a half mile mark. Thus, for 3 miles, I feel like a sail filled with wind. My pace slows substantially. At the turn around point, I feel the wind at my back and start picking up my pace to try to even out the time lost on the last 3 miles. The wind is so strong the discarded water cups from the drink stations are blowing down the road past me. I try to chase the cups to keep a faster pace.

At mile 12, race volunteers are passing out Mardi Gras beads. I decide that since my time goals are long gone, I might as well have fun. I take several of the offered beads and put them around my neck for the finish. As I cross the finish line, my watch time is 1:49:09. I get my medal and wait for Linda to cross in 1:52. We mutually complain about the wind and start to shiver in our mylar blankets due to the wind and a light rain that accompanies the passing cold front.

We go inside the Tampa Convention Center to get out of the bad weather. With all the lateral motion and surging in the first 4 miles, my left calf is feeling sore. I decide to pony up the $10 for a leg message to ward off any creeping soreness in the calf. As I come out of the message room, I get a call from brother Dave who finished in 2:07. He has made his way to the convention center also and we all meet back up. I decide that I had no reason to expect a fast race the week after a previous race and probably would not have run a sub 1:40 with the wind conditions. Thus, I decide to not mention my troubles at the race start to my brother. All is forgiven. We go back to the car, change and head out for breakfast.

Dave, Linda & Bill in sweaty mylar wraps.

My lesson learned is to appreciate a good result by itself. Don't push your luck by trying to repeat the effort too soon. Having run 3 half marathons in the last 5 weeks, I consider the winter half marathon season officially over. Now, I can switch my focus to the 2 Olympic Triathlons I've committed to for the Spring. Rest assured: they are not on consecutive weekends.


EuroWayne said...

Hey Bill...1:49 is nothing to be unhappy about, especially when it was only one week apart from your 1:41. Congrats...

Chloe said...

Great race report! Don't worry about your time - at least you had a good time! But tell me about the wind! It was KILLER this weekend!