Wednesday, November 16, 2011

13.1 Fort Lauderdale Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 40th Edition 
591.4 miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: 13.1 Fort Lauderdale
Place: Fort Lauderdale, FL
Miles from home:  2512 miles
Weather: 70s; sunny; windy

As I continue to try to get back into even reasonable shape I can say with absolute honestly that the thought never once crossed my mind to drop from the full marathon to the 13.1 distance this past weekend in Fort Lauderdale.  Of course, the vast majority of that decision was based on the fact that the 13.1 series celebrates the “half” marathon and there is no 26.2 mile counterpart. Details, details.

I was excited to be competing in not only my 40th race of the year but my 50th lifetime half-marathon in Fort Lauderdale.  I have come to expect to not necessarily run well on races that mark milestones as milestones alone do not make up for a lack of training. Nor do they instantly heal soreness or partial injuries.  However, simply being here made me extremely happy.

This was my first trip to South Florida since this March and was one I was very much looking forward to. On top of the wonderful events which would be taking place I would also get to see my friend Stephanie for the first time since she had been in a horrific accident while riding her bicycle on a training ride. Undergoing numerous brain surgeries, there was great uncertainty as to whether she would ever be even close to the same person again when and if she recovered. Fortunately, while she is still recovering, it seems like she may be the same quick-witted, kind soul with the brain that put her in Stanford in the first place. Spending time seeing her first-hand was simply fantastic.

Another wonderful addition to this trip was how I partnered with Dave Scott, the RD of not only this race but the Miami Marathon on a trip to a variety of middle schools.  As part of the Run For Something Better program, Dave, his crew and I went to 4 schools where we spoke to over 1700 students about making the right choices in education, exercise and healthy eating habits.  The questions I received after I gave my talk were stupendous.  Some wanted to know where I got my Julbo sunglasses, others were curious if I preferred grain-fed or grass-fed (actually grass-finished) beef and some were curious simply what was the worst weather I have ever run in. Regardless of their questions, I came away from these school speeches with a great idea that I plan to implementing as soon as possible to get to the grass roots of making our nation more fit.

Working with the Florida Beef Council for this event I was able, as I have all year meet people with varying opinions (some extremely ill-informed) on nutrition.  Also ran into a nice couple who I had previously met at a few previous races who were curious why I was on the “beef bandwagon”.  I asked why the negative connotation and as I have found in so many ways and in so many places, people often do not think of the connotations of what may happen if the person who they might have a problem with is not a shrinking violet.  I never have been and never will be politically correct and I assuredly have no problem questioning people when they question me.  When I was told that they had enjoyed reading my blog until I became the Spokes Runner for Beef and now no longer read me, I said that is unfortunate as I an informative and funny as hell. They laughed at this but I wonder if they will read again. If they don’t well, that is their own loss. Simply ignoring the other side of an issue most assuredly does not make you more informed, nor does it kill the truth that lies in the other side.

Race Day:

My goal for this race was to push the first few miles relatively hard to test out my Achilles and then back off for the middle miles. I had hoped that even with backing off I might be able to eke out a 1:26 or so.  When I stepped out my hotel and felt the heat and humidity, I knew the likelihood of that was rather slim.

Of course, heat and humidity are very relative. My Floridian friends had mentioned how cool and pleasant the running weather was while I was lamenting the sweat which permeated my brow by simply stepping outside.  Likewise, when I was told of a swimming event on the Saturday before the half-marathon on Sunday, I followed their advice and purchased some longer swimming shorts to compete in the race (having brought now with me to begin with).  When I dipped into the water for the 1.2 mile (ish) swim in the extremely choppy Atlantic, I found that what the natives found to be cold water was nearly bath water to me.  I was more than pleased I had not donned a wetsuit or long sleeve shirt as I thought might be necessary.  Regardless, swimming in my first ever ocean event, I was pleased to be able to swim right round 30 minutes flat and place 6th overall in this small fundraising event. I wondered if the effort would have any effect on my overall half-marathon performance but realized the humidity would be far more detrimental.

A rousing sax performance of the national anthem was soon followed by the lone wheelchair participant hitting the streets of Fort Lauderdale.  We would soon be following suit.

First 3 miles: 6:20, 6:20, 6:47

My goal for this race was to push the first few miles relatively hard to test out my Achilles and then back off for the middle miles. I had hoped that even with backing off I might be able to eke out a 1:26 or so.  When I passed through the third mile after just one of two “hills” on the course virtually on pace, I thought perhaps I could. The hill I mention was a tunnel under one of the roads above. In the tunnel a steel drum (and some other instrument I could not immediately recognize) being played by someone reverberated throughout.  It was just the wake-up call I needed as I was still quite sleepy.

Onto mile 6: 6:45, 6:53, 6:53

In front or around me were no less than 3 or four women who seemed quite determine to pass each other, fall back, and then pass again, all in a random fashion.  In what I thought might be a repeat of the run town Half Marathon I ran two weeks prior, I felt I might have a front seat action to the games we play when we are racing for the top spots. I was thoroughly enjoying this cat and mouse game the ladies were playing and felt more than content to sit back and enjoy.

The biggest hill of the course was the only bridge we crossed taking us over the Seven Isles of the harbor and onto the road touching the beach.  We got a glimpse of the sign signifying the 100th anniversary of the city of Fort Lauderdale and immediately turned left. Here, we were teasingly given glimpses of the 5k runners as they headed home to the finish. In a marathon, when you are tired, you hate the half-marathoners.  In a 13.1 race, you seethe at the 5kers.  It is all relative.

Right before the 6th mile ended, a Facebook friend who I got to converse with at length the previous day at the expo popped up beside me. Matthew was his name and he had designs on running approximately the same time as me.  We quickly fell into a groove and began conversing.

Going to mile 10: 7:19, 7:06, 6:41, 6:57

The wind which ad whipped the living bejesus out of me in the surf of the previous day’s swim was still presently and quite gusty. Even though the conversation with Matthew slowed us both a touch I knew it was the wind in our face which was doing most of the damage.  That being said, after two miles that were a little slower than I had hoped to run, even with the mindset being to take it easy, Matthew and I picked up the pace.  Part of it was from our desire to have better times, and part of it was from seeing the eventual winner,  Jordan Desilets (another chap I got to speak to the previous day who told me then he was going for the course record) flying by at a pace which was quite humbling and made us feel a tad inadequate.

As we pushed forward, I told my plan to Matthew about hitting the 9th mile and beginning to turn it on, if there was any “it” left to turn “on”.  I also pointed out the female battle going on in front of us and we both made wagers on who might move forward and who might fade.  Matthew told me that he grew up just a few blocks from one of the places the course touched which prompted me to reply “Tough life.”

Around the 9th mile, we had a quick little turnaround approaching in front of us. Right about that time a pack of about 4 or 5 guys appeared out of nowhere. I mentioned that the turn was tight and there was no need to fight over a second or two here, risking injuring, especially since we were all battling it out for that coveted 37th overall spot.  This got a laugh. As I made the turn, running just a touch ahead of the others to create less congestion and also taking a wide turn in the process hoping they would follow suit and avoid entanglements, I lost touch with Matthew.

Heading home: 6:44, 7:05, 6:36, :42

One of my favorite experiences of an out and back, like the final 3 plus miles of this course is, remains in being able to see so many of the other competitors. While it is hard to pick out individuals from the masses, especially if you are actually racing, being able to at least get an idea of what the masses look like and seeing their own personal struggles and triumphs is wonderful.  I am sometimes able to see people before they see me in this fashion but it is usually the other way around. I can only hope that when they say hi, that isn’t the time I look like I am going to puke.  I also hope that if I am lost in thought they don’t think I am rude when I am not super quick with a response!

On this return trip, it felt like the wind had shifted ever so slightly.  Instead of being directly behind us as it should be, it was blowing a touch to the side. While not as advantageous to helping propel a runner, it was at least cooling.  I was absolutely drenched in sweat and I could tell those who were used to much warm weather as they all looked blissfully dry.

When my 11th mile was nowhere near what I had been hoping for when I felt I had picked it up ( I had passed about 7 or 8 runners) I realized there was absolutely no need to kill myself for a time that was 8 minutes slower than my PR.  Then my 12th mile was way too slow for even my ego to take so I squashed the plans of running easy in the last 1.1 miles and began to pick it up.  We re-passed the 100th Anniversary sign and could hear the tropical music being played at the finish line ahead.

I began thinking about what an experience this running world has already been for me. When I finished 39th overall in a time of 1:29:12, I completed my 50th lifetime 13.1 race with an average of 1:29:43. Matthew had actually slipped by me somewhere around the turn around and had a stellar last tune-up before an upcoming marathon. Tons of friends ran new personal bests and I saw happy faces everywhere.  With a party on the beach afterward there were very few unhappy people.

The irony of those 50 is that 35 of them have come in just the past 1.5 years.  As much as I love the 13.1 distance I simply do not run it that much (relatively speaking, of course- given I have 135 marathons under my belt.) I foresee me continuing to run more of these half marathons, especially as triathlons become more and more a part of my life. The necessity to become fixated on the marathon distance has never been something I felt the need for.  Do not get me wrong- I love the marathon.  It is fantastic and my conquering of 52 of them in 2006 is why I even get to be in so many places talking about it today.  But I do love challenging myself in new ways and plan on doing so until I run out of ways of doing so.

I am pretty sure I will run out of money or time on Earth before that happens.

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