The only reason I decided to run this race was because I was scheduled to run the Shark Bite Half Marathon in New Smyrna Beach last Sunday, but I made a game-day decision to bail out on that race because the forecast called for thunder showers, 25-35 mph winds, and 100% humidity for the start of the race. Any one of those factors would have been the kiss of death for me in a half marathon, but all three of them working together made it a no-brainer decision to stay home. I was angry and frustrated that Florida weather had thrown yet another wrench in my competitive distance running plans – this was the third time in the past five years that I had to decide not to run a half marathon race for which I had pre-registered because of absurd and unseasonable weather conditions. It’s a good thing that climate change isn’t real though, right? Anyway, my competitive energy needed an alternative outlet, so I immediately registered for this race scheduled for the following weekend.
I will start with “sunny” headlines that make today’s outing seem reasonably successful. I finished 166th of 1952 runners (top 8%) and finished 9th of 94 runners in my 50-54 age group (top 9%). My time of 24:54 for 5.2K (a 24:04 split for 5K) put me at a 7:42 pace per mile in some very inhospitably cold and windy conditions for today’s race. This time was 1:30 faster than my last 5K, which was a miserably hilly misadventure in Connecticut last June. And I turn 52 tomorrow (good karma given the Seasons 52 race title), so I can celebrate one more year of being slightly better than athletically irrelevant.
Now for the “cold and harsh” realities. I wasn’t ready for anything that this race threw my way today. First, my distance running training base wasn’t where it needed to be. 2015 was the lowest mileage year (840 miles) for me since moving to Florida in 2006. I had logged more than 1000 miles of training in all of my other years in the Sunshine State, with the last three years coming in at more than 1100. Second, the nature of my training was a far cry from what it should have been. I only did a handful of training runs all year at a sub-8:00 pace. Worse still, I have become a “fair weather fairy” with my training in the past year in that approximately 2/3 of my training was on the treadmill. Most days in Orlando in the past several months have been too hot, too humid, too cold, too windy, too rainy, too dark, etc. to inspire me to brave the elements. Here’s a friendly suggestion from my disgusted conscience: Just shut up and run (outside). You’re from New England, man – what’s wrong with you? Not surprisingly, I paid the price for my prima donna training habits in today’s race. I wasn’t prepared for the cold (in the 40s), the wind (gusts of up to 20 mph making the “feels like” temp in the 30s), and the unpleasant pounding on the uneven and unforgiving brick-lined streets that covered more than half of this course. I want my treadmill back. And can you do my nails and fix me a latte while I do my “workout” while watching TV?
It’s actually ironic how wimpy my running training had become in 2015 given how grueling my rowing training had been in that same year. The only positive feature of my training in 2015 was that I had joined the Orlando Rowing Club and had engaged in competitive rowing training and racing all year. (My business travel schedule this semester has caused me to take a temporary hiatus from competitive rowing, but I plan to return to it by late 2016 or early 2017.) We had practices at 5:00 a.m. and we would trudge through ankle-deep mud and wade in pitch-black water laden with water moccasin snakes to place the coach’s launch (motor boat) in the water, then do land workouts in the boathouse on ghastly hard concrete in some very cold temperatures, and then do demanding workouts on the water for 60-75 minutes, and come off the water completely exhausted before the sun rose. If I braved the elements to endure all of that on a regular basis in my rowing training in 2015 (not to mention the nagging blisters and sores on my hands and butt), I’m not sure how or why I became such a “spa runner” with my distance running training.
I huddled in my car for 30 minutes before the race in the dark, windy, and cold conditions, refusing to emerge until 10 minutes before the start. I was hoping that after the sun rose there would be some relief from the relentlessly windy and chilly conditions, but no such luck. Grimacing from the cold, I found my way to the start line, which was located about half a mile from my car. To give you a more accurate sense of how cold it was this morning, I was wearing a winter fleece hat instead of a racing cap, along with arm warmer sleeves and warm-up running pants on top of my racing shorts. All of this dorky attire stayed on my body for the entire race and I never felt warm at any point during the race. If you had told me that I would be running races in Florida sporting this kind of clothing, I would have never left New England. I have run more than 100 races in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. and I can count on two hands the number of times that I had to dress like this for a race. It’s just wrong.
I knew that today wasn’t going to be a banner day within the first mile of the race. A little kid who was about four feet tall was standing in front of me at the start. My pet peeve is when slow and/or small runners crowd the front of the starting line for races because I always have to bob and weave around them so I don’t trample them like a steamroller. This perky young lad with a seemingly overdeveloped sense of ambition turned to me before the start and asked, “Is this race 3.3 miles?” I gently corrected him and said, “No, it’s only 3.2 miles” and continued my response in my head by saying “Perhaps you just focus on finishing the race in one piece, pee wee, so you can have plenty of energy left to continue playing your video games and eating Doritos when you get home.” As it turns out, the little shit was for real and beat me by more than a minute in today’s race. He claimed first place by a 5-minute margin ahead of the second place finisher in the 10 and under age group. Shame on me for scoffing at the dreams of the next Olympic marathon qualifier to come out of Winter Park. But my skepticism was well founded. In my experience, almost all of the elementary school-aged boys who run 5ks crash and burn by the end of the first mile and are incurably annoying with the way that they start and stop all over the course. But this little whippersnapper was an inspiring exception to that general rule – good for him. I wanted to shake his hand after the race, but he was too occupied with eating the post-race donuts by the dozen.
Apart from the rude awakening of chasing the powered-by-donuts superhero in front of me in the first mile, I was treated to an even ruder awakening about half way into the first mile. The wind was horrific and the wind has a way of delivering unwanted items in your direction. Cupid appeared a few weeks early this year apparently because a runner in front of me was nice enough to blow a saliva-laden kiss my way which landed square on my kisser. I spent the next half mile wondering what kind of fatal disease I would contract from this unwanted smooch that I feverishly wiped off with my sleeve about 32 times in the span of 10 seconds until my lips were almost bleeding. And then my law professor mind kicked in for further distraction as I pondered whether this unwelcome gift could be considered a battery, reckless endangerment, or negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The race was over sooner than I knew it. I found myself holding back in the third mile when I should have started my kick because I just didn’t know if my fast-twitch muscles would respond when I summoned them due to my poor training. As I stormed toward the finish, I heard a faint and familiar voice say, “Go Professor Abate!” It was my faculty assistant, Celia, who is also a distance runner and, unlike me, is training the way a good distance runner should. She had just completed a 10-mile training run with her distance running group in Winter Park in those miserably cold and windy conditions and she was nice enough to look for me at the finish because she knew that I was running this race. While it was nice to have someone at the finish line to congratulate me for my lackluster effort, it was also a painful reminder of how far I have to go to get my mojo back in my distance racing in 2016. I used to regularly do long training runs in very unpleasant conditions just a few years ago and not think much of it, just like Celia did today. I need to jump start my training soon, but it will be challenging with my upcoming business travels to Australia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the U.K. in the next six weeks. In the meantime, perhaps I should eat more donuts.