Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sarasota Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 7th Edition 
144.1 miles raced in 2011
Race: Sarasota Half-Marathon
Place: Sarasota, FL       
Miles from home: 2386 miles
Weather: 53 degrees; darn near perfect if not for the occasional gusts of wind.

I went for a gorgeous run of mile repeats on a man-made causeway to a spit of an island called Howard Park.  Beautiful and warm sunshine crisped my skin while a cool breeze kept me from overheating.  The run was so wonderful that I thought about doing it the next day even though it was a 30 minute drive from my brother’s house where I was staying. Then a cold storm blew in, as is wont to do in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico and changed my plans.  This storm also significantly affected how well I would run on Sunday at the Sarasota Half Marathon in a positive way.

As I had the previous week prior to the 13.1 Miami Beach, this week I had done a book signing at various locations in the greater Sarasota area.  With no “expo” per se I was able to meet and great many runners who were interested in speaking but not enticed by magnetic holograms which somehow were supposed to help their balance.  The more runners I met, the more times I realized I was hardly the only one doing back to back half marathons.  I guess many Floridians were taking advantage of two top-notch races, taking place just two hours of driving apart, before the crushing heat and humidity of summer in South Florida set in. Everyone was raving about how nice the weather was going to be which, of course, made us all nervous as heck that the weather was going to turn bad.  However, aside from some forecasted wind, nothing looked poor about the next morning’s run whatsoever.

I finished a long day at the running store on the day before the race with a yummy beef lasagna to fuel me up properly for an attempt to run much faster than I had the previous week at the 13.1 Miami Beach. My fantastic friend Shannon was using this race as a tune-up for a marathon run the next weekend at Virginia Beach.  At dinner we were kindly interrupted by a group of people who asked if I was Novak Djokovic. While I can see the resemblance, I think I would have been flattered more by Brad Pitt.  Or maybe if I was depositing Djokovic’s paycheck, then I would be happy. Nevertheless, the good laugh ended a great day as we readied for the race the next morning.

Race Day:

As expected, slightly coolish temps and a slight wind greeted us as we left our hotel. After scouting out city streets prior to the race, I noticed a park about two blocks away from the start line which would allow for easy access to the madness prior to the race and the ability to get out even more easily afterward.  I had been told I could do a book signing after the race and I appreciated the opportunity but sometimes a runner just wants to finish the race and g home to a shower.  And by home I mean “another strange hotel”.  But it’ll do.
Lining up in the starting corral after giving a few encouraging words via the announcer Dave Ragsdale microphone, I noticed the runner who I had used to spur me on in the final miles of the half-marathon last weekend. We reintroduced ourselves and I wished Abidan the best of luck in avenging his loss! I gave some advice to a runner from Michigan named Brad, a youngster who heard my goal for the day was 1:23.  His was the same so we figured we would see a great deal of each other.

As the sole representative of the Achilles Track Club took off just a few minutes prior to the mass field, we all got a little more excited.  I was feeling good and thought that a 3 minute improvement in one week was entirely possible. But one never knows what will happen until they show up.  As I have said many times, you can’t get to the finish line if you don’t show up to the starting line.

Then the gun was fired.

First 7 miles: 6:26, 6:15, 6:17, 6:45, 6:30, 6:10, 6:28

The course was brand new this year taking runners down to the only bridge and therefore noticeable hill of the entire race would be on portions of miles 2-3 and again on 3-4 when we came back onto the mainland off of Lido Key.  Determined to heed my own advice for once and take the first mile “slow”, I found myself next to a familiar face. Heather Butcher ran near me in last year’s Sarasota Half and we had exchanged pleasantries a few times during that race. We did the same here and stated how the first mile can be ever-so-tricky as runners both experienced and new, try to find the right groove.   I noticed young Brad had put some distance between us so I tried to stay on his tail some.  He mentioned his strategy was to go out faster than the intended pace for the whole race. As he didn’t ask for my opinion on that (“It won’t work.”) I did not give it. I saw the first mile was definitely on the slow side, being almost half a minute slower than last week and decided to use the beginning of the first bridge to start my push.

I was stoked as all get out to run a solid mile uphill in the pace I did and my mile coming back down the bridge on the other side was even better.  The 6:17 is actually a much faster mile as I forgot to hit my watch until a few yards after the aid station. That, of course, means the 6:45 was even slower.  Why was it so slow? Well, for one, we had the bridge again to contend with.  Second, where in the HECK did that wind come from?!

After making the turn on Lido Key, runners were nearly stood up by a stiff breeze off the bay.  I hadn’t even felt a whisper of that pushing us along on the way over so either I am not attuned to my senses or it suddenly whipped up.  In either case, I knew the next mile would be rough and could see runners quickly huddling into packs with the lead runner of each pack taking the brunt of the fury of the wind.

Being a slightly larger runner (roughly 175 lbs) wind doesn’t blow me around as much as some of my wispy friends but I definitely am not a fan of it.  As we began to finally crest the hill I used my strongest suit- downhill running- to my advantage and quickly passed three or four tiring runners.  One I knew was on a relay team and another relayer (whom, if I am not mistaken, I had met the previous day at the book signing) stayed right on my heels.  Slightly poor racing etiquette to draft off of a runner doing twice your distance but oh well. In order to shake any lingering runners, I pushed very hard on the 6th mile and surprised myself with a 6:10. I felt that I still had a chance at 1:24 or under but I needed to get ready to hurt a little more than I wanted to.
After passing the relay exchange station and hitting the straightest portion of the entire course on Tamiami Trail, I began to plan my strategy.

To the Finish: 6:27, 6:20, 6:16, 6:23, 6:16, 6:09, :38

Getting to mile 8 was all I wanted to do.  I knew that was where the course began a twisting and turning nature and I would have to call on my reserves, not being the biggest fan of races which have a twisting and turning nature. I had passed another runner around mile 7 but he was not who I had in my sights.  A cluster of four runners lay about one minute in front of me.  The beauty of a long stretch of running is you can see your competitors in front of you.  The downside of being able to see these runners is that they often look far closer than they are.  I could see Abidan ahead of me leading a pack of runners and simultaneously wanted to both catch him and be proud of him for a fine showing this morning.  Behind me, all day, I had heard cheers for someone named “Rob.”  Obviously a local favorite, Rob had passed me somewhere around mile three right before the big wind kicked in.   When the leader whipped by us on the other side of the highway, minutes ahead of us already, I jokingly said, “Yeah, I guess I will let him win.”  He replied “Well, this is just a training run for me as tri season is just getting underway. No need to push myself too hard right now.” There was no joking in his voice and it seemed like h was simply trying to lay down the old runner’s lament of either too tired, too injured or not going to try at all today. So I separated myself from him and pulled ahead a little bit just to see he would do on this “training run”. (A later search would reveal that Rob was a well-qualified triathlete but probably not fast enough to call this pace we were doing a training run.)

However, as I passed mile 8 and made a 90 degree turn, there was Rob right on my heels. Soon, as we approached mile 9 two things hit me.  One, here was the bush where I had to make a pit stop the previous year during the very first mile to relieve myself.  Two, rob was going to pass me.  And pass me he did.  However, as he did, he said something to me which was the right amount of encouragement and the right tone of voice. 

“Let’s go get back into this race.” Giddy-up.

My next mile was the just about the fastest of the race so far and soon Rob and I would take turns leading for a block, make a turn and then the other would surge ahead.  Every turn presented a new leader and a new pace. As we continued to press onward, a third runner joined us.  He looked strikingly like a runner who had passed me at mile 7 last week but was not the same guy. Nonetheless, he soon began to push the pace and took Rob with him.  I was dropped.

With 18 turns between miles 9 and 12, I was spent.  There really is no real rhyme or reason to why these turns wear me down but they do. I fell back a solid ten or twenty yards and had “lost touch” with those in front of me. The group we had been chased was tantalizingly close but I wasn’t going to catch Rob, let alone that group.

Suddenly, the course hit the last stretch, nearly an entire mile of straight running.  With renewed vigor, I picked up the pace.  Within half of a mile I passed Rob. “Go get ‘em.” He said and nodded towards the runner in front of me.  “Not enough real estate,” I begrudgingly replied but was determined to give it a go nonetheless.

For the second time of this race, leaders of the race were running in the opposite direction of other runners behind them.  On the bridge you got a chance to see every single runner in the race as you raced in one direction and they streamed in another.  Here, runners in the latter half of the pack were approaching mile 7 and were loudly cheering for us as we ran by.  I gave up as much energy as I could spare to nod or flick a hand wave but I knew I did not have much.  I hope they know we heard and appreciated their cheers and would return them later on at the finish.

I pushed on but could feel a tightness in my stomach rising. I knew any harder and there might be some projectile problems. With not enough space to continue my surge, or energy to push harder, I eased off the throttle just a touch, let the runner in front of me have his moment and finished 14th overall in my second fastest half-marathon time ever in 1:23:27. (A far cry from my personal best of 1:20 but I rarely race these half distances). Rob finished behind me 4 seconds later.

Brad would not get the 1:23 he was hoping for but if I heard him correctly, the 1:24 he netted was a personal best. Abidan held on and even though places changed in the pack in front of me, he was able to stay in front of me by 25 seconds. Solid showing for Abidan.  With the winner, Elias Gonzales (whose time of 1:11 is just awesome) also finishing in front of me was one Atticus and one Zvonko which might be the greatest collection of first names in the top 15 of any race ever.

Heather would end up winning the entire women’s race in a very respectable time of 1:26:36 bettering her time from last year by 30 seconds. I congratulated her and she said “Weren’t you the guy running that obscene amount of miles last year?” I laughed and nodded.

Not too long after that Shannon came blazing in looking fresh as a daisy.  She nearly ran a half-marathon personal best while neither wearing a watch nor drinking from one single aid station and simply running by feel.  I think this bodes very well for her race in Virginia Beach!

Overall, this was a top-notch race. I mentioned I did not like the turns but that is a personal preference. Taking the bridge out of the latter miles and putting it closer to the front was definitely appreciated. When you finish 14th overall, the ad stations are almost always perfect.  I don’t say this to brag but rather to point out that some of the things other may or may not have a problem with later on are not ones I usually encounter. I can see where a few more volunteers could have been utilized at the aid stations but like closet space, you can never have enough volunteers. 

Brad asked me in the corral if the turns were properly marked.  I said with a new course I could not properly tell him yes or no, but they had been previously. Well, they were again this year with plenty of course marshals making sure every runner went where he needed to go.  I never once felt any trepidation as to where I was going. 

If they can order up this sort of weather every year, I cannot see me not attending and enjoying a beautiful run on the bay. And if you register prior to midnight Friday, it appears they are having some fantastic savings.

Hope to see you all again next year!


1L said...

Nice run, Dane! Amazing that the woman's winner ran 1:26 - when I ran my half PR (1:23), I was 4th in the Atlanta Half (1991). Remember the GA course is quite hilly, so I think you can build on those downhills, but alas, mile 12 has a tough climb. See you Friday.

Dane said...

Not sure it is amazing or not, 1L. You must simply race who shows up. Last year the winner for the women ran something close to 1:17.