Today’s race was misty and nostalgic for a few reasons. First, the start and finish of the race were held at the University of North Florida (UNF) arena in Jacksonville. My son, Alek, and I worked out here regularly for many grueling speed work and distance training runs during his high school years, and it brings back fond memories of father-son camaraderie and sore muscles. Second, Alek’s high school graduation ceremony was held here last May, where he made us very proud in delivering an eloquent salutatorian speech. Third, this race’s theme, “Fly Me Back to the ‘80s,” brought me back to a special time many years ago when the music was awesome and my legs moved faster than they do today.
Not surprisingly, UNF students were well represented at this race. Many of these students were dressed in silly costumes that bore only a loose relationship to the ‘80s at best (perhaps they aren’t familiar with ‘80s music legends?) I thought about dressing up like Paul Stanley of Kiss for this festive occasion, but I think I’ll save the shock value of that outfit for Halloween. Besides, I wouldn’t want my makeup and lipstick to run from all that sweat (and I suspect that the leather pants and boots wouldn’t be conducive to a fast time). For additional visual guidance, click on this link: http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Concert-Poster-KISS-Posters_i8377453_.htm (Paul is the one on the far left)
As today’s race doubled back and passed by the start/finish area by the UNF arena in the first mile, the race organizers delivered on their race theme and had “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey blasting out of the speakers. That helped energize me to bob and weave past some “weekend warrior” college student runners so I could chase the more serious runners at the front of the pack.
Since I haven’t been training for shorter distances in the past year, my old legs didn’t respond well when I summoned them for additional speed. I ran a slow 7:15 first mile and it was then that I knew I was in for a long race. I held on as best I could through mile 2 (7:21) and braved too many turns in the course during the final mile. I picked off about a dozen runners in the last two miles, but the field was too thin at the top and I didn’t have too many runners in my immediate vicinity to help me push the pace. I gave everything I had in the final half mile, determined to break 23:00. I didn’t leave much of a comfort zone as I barreled across the finish line in a 22:59 (7:25 pace), which was slower than I would have liked in these excellent conditions (50 degrees and sunny).
Question: Which of the Following Best Describes My Race Outfit?
A. Too much neon green
B. WAY too much neon green
C. Pre-gaming for St. Patty’s Day
I’m definitely not getting faster with age, especially in shorter distances like the 5K, but at least I’m still in the ball park of where I was when I moved to Florida in 2006 (my first 5K that year was a 22:35). The good news is that my competition is slowing with age, too, so my less-than-stellar performance today was good enough to earn me first place in my 50-54 age division. I placed 39th of 344 runners in today’s race (Top 11%). All but five of the runners who finished ahead of me today were less than half my age (and much less knowledgeable about ‘80s music). I gleefully approached the awards table today with vibrant melodies from the Rolling Stones, U2, and Springsteen in my head that had filled the air at the finish area immediately prior to the awards ceremony.
The reason why there has been such a huge gap since my last blog entry (March 2013) is because the weather did not cooperate with me in the past year. I ran a miserably hilly and hot 5K in Connecticut last July (92 degrees), which I didn’t report on because I was too ashamed of my time. And then I dropped out at mile 5 of the St. Augustine Half Marathon in November because it was 70 degrees with 90% humidity, which was not conducive to running that distance at a fast pace. Then I had planned to redeem myself by running the Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon in December, but it was pouring rain, high humidity, and a threat of lightning that day, so I wised up and decided not to run at all.
I’m hopeful that today’s race is a sign of things to come after being betrayed by the weather for most of 2013. I ran another year of 1250 miles in 2013 (identical to 2012) and I’m feeling ready to compete in my favorite distance, the half marathon. I really enjoyed the Swamp House Half Marathon in Debary, FL last year. I ran a very strong time there (1:43) with the help of Alek’s pacing. I’m planning to run it again this year on March 2 (weather permitting), and hopefully I’ll bring home some more age group hardware for my efforts. http://www.swamphousehalfmarathon.com/ Alek is at college and won’t be there for this year’s race, so I will have to dig deep for an impressive outing. Stay tuned.