The alarm rang at 2:30 a.m. (why did I even bother going to bed?), rudely disrupting my brief and blissful slumber on a freezing cold night. And I’m not talking “freezing” by wimpy Florida standards. I’m talking freezing as in freezing. Temps had dipped below freezing overnight with no sign of relief for the first several hours of the day. Great. It’s pitch dark, freezing cold, and now I’m about to drive 90 minutes to the Swamp House Half Marathon start so I can run 13.1 miles in these conditions (and pay for that opportunity). Have I officially lost my mind (again)? These conditions reminded me of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro – huddling in our tent to ward off the cold (without much success) during a sleepless night only to get dragged out of our tent for an all-night assault on the summit. I felt that familiar pre-execution dread envelope me again as I loaded the car with my race day supplies and my trusty sidekick and pacer, Alek, who looked like he was still dreaming as he slumped into the car. My only travel companions driving to the race at that insane hour of 4:00 a.m. were the light of the moon and the bright oncoming headlights of trucks in the Northbound lane of I-95 (because Alek was fast asleep shortly after we got moving).
The race started almost on schedule at about 7:00 a.m. as hundreds of frozen Floridians toed the start line. This course was challenging by Florida standards (not pancake flat) and I ran it aggressively, working the downhill segments to my advantage. I felt very comfortable in the crisp air and settled into a comfortable 7:48 pace for the first five miles. My splits for the three miles that featured some downhill stretches were in the 7:35-7:40 range. But hills always take their toll on my legs, even when running down hill, and I really felt that unpleasant aftershock in my quads in the last three miles of the race, which were primarily flat. I held on with a 7:58 pace for mile 13, though, which was faster than many of my recent half marathons (including Space Coast), when I have crashed and burned in the last few miles with splits at 8:15 or higher.
The race organizers bill this race as the best post-race party, featuring lots of beer. The small town and friendly atmosphere was refreshing and the race was well organized with nice amenities (great technical race shirt and decent post-race food). But drink beer after a race at 8:00 in the morning?? Never. It’s like a death wish. First, I hate the taste of beer and I would probably puke if I had any with my chronic post-race sour stomach. Second, I am always severely dehydrated after my races, so the last thing I need is a diuretic to exacerbate my compromised state. Third, studies have shown that beer is probably the worst thing to drink after a race because it can delay your body’s ability to recover as soon as possible from your efforts and may strain your heart when it is already in a taxed state. But I suppose that people doing stupid, self-destructive things is a good form of population control for this overcrowded planet. But who am I to talk about stupid, self-destructive actions? I was the one who woke up at 2:30 a.m. to drive 3 hours round trip on a Sunday morning, to run 13.1 miles in freezing cold weather at the end of a two-week stretch when I was in the air more than I was on the ground with speaking engagements at conferences in NYC and Kansas, and when I wasn’t flying, I was trapped in a car with 15+ hours per week of commuting. Hardly a recipe for success or health, especially with the toxic quantities of coffee I have consumed lately to get me through all of these commitments. The only post-race “festivities” that I was looking for after today’s race (and after most races for that matter) was a hot shower and my bed for a decadent post-race nap.
I finished 74th of 796 runners today (Top 9%) in a time of 1:43:07 (7:52 pace), which was a full minute faster than my time at the Space Coast Half Marathon in November. The half marathon is probably my most competitive distance, and today’s race was my landmark 30th career half marathon. I have run about half of those 30 races since moving to Florida in 2006 and today’s effort was my 4th best half marathon time since 2006 (and it was within approximately 30 seconds of my 2nd and 3rd best times). Rest assured that there were no 8-year-old girls anywhere near me in today’s race. Alek’s pacing services were indispensable in those last 4 miles, which is when I always start to unravel in half marathons. I just focused on staying with him and fought hard to keep my head from reminding myself about how much pain and discomfort I was experiencing (compounded by a nasty cold headwind for most of the last 4 miles). Alek would grunt something unintelligible at me and point to a spot behind him to indicate that’s where I needed to be, even though my legs could rarely take me there. Alek promptly ditched me at mile 12 so he could run the last mile at a 6:30 pace and get a decent workout on the day. I held up pretty well on my own for the last mile mile and picked off three or four runners as I closed in on the finish.
I was very pleased with my performance overall and felt that I ran a smart and strong race, but Coach Alek had a different view. He bombarded me with “constructive criticism” (read: daggers) after the race: “You’re running form is terrible,” “You slowed down too much in the last four miles,” “You need to control your breathing,” “You didn’t even try to stay with those runners who passed you late in the race,” “You were too aggressive in the first five miles,” and “You race like you train – like a weekend warrior.” With “tough love” like this from your family members, who needs enemies?
Here’s a You Tube video that previews the course that I ran on this frigid day in Florida through the back roads of the “real Florida,” as the race organizers like to call it:
The Swamp House Half Marathon in DeBary, FL is a quaint and enjoyable course overall and I would definitely do it again, especially since it will be a “local” race for me when I move to Orlando in August. My next half marathon will likely be the Orlando Half Marathon in December. It will be nice to roll out of bed and be at the start line a few minutes later for a change. My next race this spring will likely be the St. Patty’s Day 5K in Jacksonville on March 17. It’s time for redemption after the disappointing outing at Pirates 5K. Stay tuned and stay warm.