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Gasparilla Race Report

This post is embarrassingly late--even for me, but for the sake of finishing things, here is my race report from the Gasparilla Distance Classic weekend.

When I posted my running-related resolutions earlier this year, I noted that I wanted to volunteer at a race. So I signed up to help on the first day of races, Saturday. The races for this day included a 15K and a 5K. I knew quite a few friends who would be finishing both of these races, so I decided to volunteer handing out medals to finishers. As an individual volunteer, I realized I was quite the oddball, as most volunteers in this section were groups of high school students fulfilling community service requirements. If I thought I was tolerant of teenage group behaviors, I overestimated myself. These kids were not runners, and most of them didn't understand what events were actually taking place. One kid asked me, "So what does this walk benefit, anyway?" Other kids were flinging the medals around while we waited for signs of the first finishers to come through. I will give credit to the kids for cheering on the finishers, although they mostly wanted a reason to be loud and cute. I designated myself the congratulations committee, standing at the back of the line of medal hander-outers, offering a sincere congratulations to each runner who passed through. Most of them didn't notice (I doubted I would have, either, if I were the runner), but some did, and those moments were fulfilling. Those and the ones in which I got to actually medal my friends who came through. I was excited and honored to actually place the medals around their necks--which we were instructed not to do for reasons of time, and probably personal space. And I actually got reprimanded by a volunteer organizer for chatting with one friend about his race experience. And I thought we were there for the runners...

Saturday had its own set of rewards for me, personally, but for the runners, it was hot as Hades, as one friend commented. Once the sun came up and illuminated Bayshore, there was no escaping the intense rays beating down on runners, who were completely exposed to the sky. The 15K finishers had it bad enough, but 5K runners didn't even start their race until 9:30am. That's toasty. And while technically I was supposed to stay through both races to fulfill my volunteer post, I was getting pretty heated myself, and I was starting to ache from standing around since 5:30am. I wanted to preserve myself for my own race the next morning. So I waited for the first round of 5K finishers to come through, and then I bailed, leaving the medals in the hands of the youths.

I tried to relax the rest of the day, mentally preparing for my half marathon the next morning. I had been closely watching the weather reports, which predicted a 70% chance of thunder storms throughout the early morning, including during our race time. I was a bit nervous about this, but I knew it was something completely out of my control. I did, however, let my family know that they may not want to come watch me finish after all, as they'd likely be standing around in the rain. So they heeded my warning and wished me well.

I ate my favorite pre-race dinner of tofu and vegetables in peanut sauce with Jasmine rice from my local Thai restaurant. (It hasn't failed me yet; i.e., my stomach hasn't gotten upset from it the next morning.) I set out my outfit, bib, peanut butter power bar and peanut butter GU pack (yes, you're sensing a theme), and anything else I wanted to have with me in my car. I went to bed as early as I could--but I don't fret over my pre-race bedtime like I used to. I just accept the fact that I may not get a lot of sleep--and this actually helps me sleep better. 

My 4:30am alarm went off, and I lay in bed a bit longer until the next alarm went off, five minutes later (I set five alarms, five minutes apart. It's sad, I know.). One thing I was feeling a little anxious about was parking. So I took a quick shower, dressed myself, bibbed myself, drank some water, grabbed my bag, and stepped outside into the whipping, whirring wind. I could tell that it had rained overnight from the wet surfaces and the lingering smell of a storm in the air. I made it to the parking lot of Four Green Fields with plenty of spaces to spare. I was to meet my friend Josh there at around 5:15. He arrived shortly after I did, and we found another friend in the parking lot to chat with while we waited to see what Mother Nature had in store for us. The temperature was cool--that as one positive; but I began to feel random, fat raindrops splatting down on me from seemingly nowhere. Those drops became less random and more frequent, and all of sudden we were standing in a torrential downpour. Josh and I ran to my car to take cover. We dried off as best we could with the one towel I had packed, but our clothes were soaked. The cooler temperature was no longer a blessing against our wet bodies. On top of that, the gusts of wind seemed to have blown all available allergens up my nose. I was wet, cold, sneezing, and miserable. At that moment I seriously doubted my ability to race. Luckily Josh kept a positive attitude and assured me the race would go on and we would be fine. When the downpour calmed to a drizzle, we decided to make our way to the start line, as the race would begin in about 20 minutes. 

This period of waiting is my least favorite part of a race. We have to pack ourselves in to the starting "corale," which leaves little room to move around and stretch or warm up. Plus, I was still grumpy about being wet and cold. The race this year had two start waves that were five minutes apart. This new feature was added to alleviate one of the more significant problems with this particular race route--the funneling of runners onto the Davis Island bridge, which inevitably slows runners' paces. I started with the second wave (of slower runners), and almost as soon as we began, the rain stopped. We were left with cool weather and a constant breeze. It was actually quite perfect, for me. 

I really wanted to PR this race. I had been chasing my initial half-marathon time of 2:08 for over two years, and it was past time I beat it. I decided to follow a pacer who was running a 9:30 minute per mile pace, which would have had me finishing around 2:07. I've never run with a pace group before, but I found it helpful for the first five or so miles. After that, I felt the pacer was running a little ahead of pace, and I was concerned about overrunning, so I dropped back a bit, but I kept him in sight. I also wasn't crazy about the chit-chat and call-and-response babble that occurred in the pace group, but I could see how it was useful for other runners. I, however, can't talk when I'm racing, and I don't want to feel obligated to.

After making it off of Davis Island and onto Bayshore, I felt good and relieved. I knew it was just straight out and straight back from there--a route I had run probably a hundred times before. Around the seven-mile mark, I could see my faster friends on the other side of Bayshore who had already made the turnaround. I grew very excited and moved closer to the median so I could call their names and cheer them on. Seeing them gave me new energy, and I was able to not only meet back up with the pacer, but pass him. After a quick drink of water, my peanut butter GU, and the turnaround, I was feeling fabulous. The temperature had actually gone down during the race, which was perfect for the runners, whose body temperatures had gone up. The one drawback to this portion of the race was the wind. It was still pretty wicked and would pick up in gusts, plus it was now mostly a headwind. But there was relief to be had when we ran past the tall condos along Bayshore; in between the buildings is when I would lean into the wind and bury my head down, as if to plow through it. It seemed to work, as I maintained my pace, which was keeping steady around 9:22. With only a few more miles to go, I felt confident I would PR. I was so enthralled at this prospect that I dug deep and ran even faster. My finish at this race was the happiest finish I think I've ever had. My official chip time was 2:02:53. And as my watch indicates below, I ran over by .14 miles (I'm working on this). I PR'd by over five minutes! What's more, I maintained an average pace of 9:17! I was (and still am, months later) ecstatic about my performance.

The drawback to doing this well, though, is that I now have a faster PR to beat. But I won't have to worry about that for some time. As the spring and summer months bring more heat and humidity, my pace will slow. I'll focus on getting stronger and warding off injury. My next big, big race is the Marine Corps Marathon in October. I'm lucky to have a good group of friends to train with over the summer, and I have a feeling we'll all be working to keep each other motivated and sane through the long runs.


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