I've been running all winter in Chiberia. The warmest temperature I've run in the last 6 months was 45 degrees. So running distance in Florida, I knew it could be a challenge.
Before I go any further, I want to make it perfectly clear...I'm NOT complaining about the weather here in Florida. Actually, today isn't so great--it's pouring rain. Regardless, I couldn't be happier to be away from the brutal cold weather we've had in Chicago.
This race was a challenge for me, more than any half I've ever run. When we train for a summer race, we usually have a transition from cold to hot. Midwesterners often complain there's no spring, that we go right from winter to summer. It may seem that way. But that simply isn't the truth. But that is what I did by coming to Florida.
I came to Florida in good shape, well prepared for my race. In spite of the grueling winter, I trained well. Running my fastest splits in years, I figured on running a strong half. But I had a nagging concern about the Florida weather.
Yesterday morning, I woke up to 72 degrees and 88% humidity. My heart sunk. I was happy to see the heavy cloud cover, knowing that in those conditions, the sun would be a killer. I ate my prerace breakfast of cheerios and orange juice, and headed to the race. I also drank a bottle of water, made a last minute visit to the portapotty, and headed to the starting line.
As we listened to the national anthem being sung--beautifully, I might add--people behind me continued to talk. A man shouted "shut the f*** up!" and everyone turned to stare. The offenders said something back and one of them charged at the man, fists at the ready. A woman stood between the men to keep them apart. As all this was going on, we moved to the starting line and the gun went off. A fight at a race? It was a first for me...
We began to run. My first mile went just how I planned, slow but steady. I planned on easing into my pace and running strong as the miles passed. This strategy was successful for me at my last couple of halfs, culminating in a finish time of 1:58 at my last half in November. Mentally, I envisioned my race and had set a goal for this one of sub 2:00.
The 4 mile marker came up and I was feeling the effects of the heat and humidity. I started to feel pretty bad, with heavy legs and a nagging side stitch that wouldn't subside. I told myself to push it to the next aid station where I could take a gel and drink more water. But my legs told me no, so I stopped to walk and catch my breath for a minute. I shook my head. I knew then that there would be no sub 2:00 finish time and started the mental game in my head. I checked my phone and there was a text from my friend Karen, wishing me luck. I texted her back, telling her how badly things were going. She sent me an encouraging message back. Her words spurred me on. I began to run again, and shortly after the 5 mile mark was an aid station. I took my gel and water and resumed the race.
I slogged on for a couple miles. The gel kicked in and my legs felt better. I picked up the pace, thinking that I was going to make up some time.
But noooooo. My breathing became ragged again, and I had to slow to a walk again at about mile 7. It was there that I recognized the voices inside my head, telling me how hard this was, that I couldn't do it, that I should just quit. I've learned over the years to tell those voices to stop. But feeling as bad as I did, it was tough. I made the decision then and there that I would finish this thing no matter what. I've never DNF'd a race and I wasn't about to start. This is a race I've wanted to do for 2 years and to leave empty handed simply wasn't an option. Heck, I even bought the official socks!
Mile 8 and the beach, with a view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. I stopped to take a selfie. I mean, at this point, did it matter? I started to run again. A woman that I kept passing and she kept passing me stopped suddenly and sat on the ground. She pulled her shoe off. I stopped to ask her if she was ok. She waved me on and I kept going.
Mile 9, another aid station, another gel and more water. I took my time. The paramedics were at this station and a stretcher was there. A little boy was laying on it, whining and crying. I laughed to the volunteer, "you'd think he was running this thing!". She laughed and told me she has always run it in the past but was so glad she didn't sign up this year. "The humidity is just terrible!" she said. Now that comment totally validated how I was feeling and gave me a push to continue on.
I continued down the path towards the fort (of Fort de Soto). I almost stopped to take pictures, but decided to keep going. There was a sign for bicycle rentals, and oh, how I wanted to do that! Meanwhile, I noticed a male runner in front of me wearing all white. He was completely sweaty and his outfit was transparent. Ewww! Already feeling really nauseous, I tried to get ahead of him. My sprint took too much energy and AGAIN! I slowed to a walk.
I'm not proud of all the swearing I did in my head. I'm really not much of a curser, but it was all I could do to hold it together. I kept running and walking. As did everyone around me. I kept seeing the guy in white, these 2 ladies wearing jerseys with a Canadian maple leaf on them, a non-descript guy wearing headphones, and the same woman I had offered to help earlier. Truly, my impromptu running group kept me going. Misery does love company!
Mile 11. I texted my husband to let him know where I was. I knew he would be waiting for me at the finish. Mile 12. I slowed to a walk again. The woman, who I had offered to help earlier, tapped me on the shoulder. "Come on," she said, "we've been pacing each other this whole race. Let's go in together."
And run in we did. That last mile, we talked like we were old friends. We could have been. She told me about her job and her training for the Alaska marathon this June. She has 3 sons in their 20s. A lifelong runner like me. A native Floridian, she told me these conditions were tough. Do you know how much better I felt when she told me that?
I spotted my husband and waved to him. He snapped a picture. "See you at the finish!" he called out.
Right before the last 100 yards, my partner slowed to a walk. "Go ahead," she said, "this was a training run for me. You've got this!"
I tried to sprint to the finish but my legs just wouldn't do it. I moved towards the finish line. They announced my name as I crossed and I got my medal. My husband was there, waiting. I bent over to catch my breath and was consumed with waves of nausea. I've never vomited at a race before and really didn't want to start now! Luckily it passed, and I got some chocolate milk. The beer was tempting but as bad as I felt, I didn't think it was a great idea.
My new friend, Carolyn, was sitting near the finish line. With her shoe off. Turns out she went paddleboarding the day before and cut her foot open. And ran 13.1 today. Now that's one tough mother runner! I handed her a chocolate milk and thanked her. And wished her luck on the Alaska marathon.
Every race is a new experience. And here's what I learned from this one: never underestimate the distance of a half marathon. It's still 13.1 miles. I trained for it. But the one thing I couldn't train for were the conditions. I've done a lot of halfs and this was my toughest.
Running isn't about the race. Running is about the journey and everything you learn along the way.