Last year while in St. John I decided on the spur of the moment to give a 38th birthday present to my body, running in the island's "Turkey Day 5K" on Thanksgiving morning (also my birthday). It was my first organized run (not counting the very
informal Black Rock City 5k!), and it was rather exciting (and a bit intimidating) to run in an event with 70+ other runners.
At the time running a full 5k was a challenge. A year earlier, before Cherie had introduced me to the Couch-To-5K training program, it would have seemed a laughable impossibility.
A few months later, I was actually up for the challenge of running St. John's notorious 8 Tuff Miles
race up and over the island we were living on. It was the greatest physical challenge of my life, and an incredible experience
Over the chaos of the past six months adapting to bus life, I hadn't kept up much with running... Just enough to know that I was still able to handle a 5K without too much trouble, and perhaps a long slow 10K too.
But I was certainly feeling out of practice, and heavier too.
Now that we are stopped in FL for a while, it seemed like a good time to get back into shape, and back into running.
Just over a week ago I found a calendar of local running events, thinking that perhaps I might find another Thanksgiving morning run, and maybe this year conquer an organized 10K as a birthday challenge to myself.
But instead of a simple Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, I found that the biggest event of the local running calendar was just 8 days away - the 40th Annual Space Coast Marathon & Half-Marathon
After having proven to myself that I could do "8 Tuff Miles", the idea of a half marathon seemed at least conceivable - and I had started contemplating perhaps entering the Disney Half Marathon in January. But that was well over a month away, and this was barely over a week. Was I up for it, having not trained?
When I told Cherie about my idea for a 39th birthday gift to my body, she encouraged me. And when we determined that the event was walker compatible, she then surprised me by saying that she was up for entering as well.
Yep, we are both slightly crazy.
Last Sunday late afternoon we went out and each did 10K (her walking, me running) to prove to ourselves we were up for it. We were - and I surprised myself by actually managing my fastest ever 10K time with a 6.44 mile run at a 12'05"/mi pace.
So Monday morning, we both registered.
We were going to do a half marathon! 13.1 miles!! And it was less than a week away!!!
Thursday (Thanksgiving) morning I set out to do another training run, and this time I ran an entire half-of-a-half-marathon, doing 6.63 miles at a new record paces of 11'55"/mi. It was exhausting, but I did it.
I figured if I could run the first half on Sunday and then walk the rest, I'd be happy. My reach goal would be to run the entire thing, but I wasn't really planning on it. That was just so far beyond anything I had ever done before...
Particularly when a bruise on my foot started to act up Friday and Saturday - leaving me hobbling and wondering whether I might be able to finish the race at all. Perhaps two 10K's in such a short span of time was too much training too fast.Sunday Morning:
The worst thing about running events is getting up well before dawn.
Our 4:15AM alarm and the double backups did their job, and we managed a groggy yet nervous 30 min drive up to the starting line in Cocoa Village. Despite being well before dawn, the entire area was mobbed with people, and the closest parking we found was blocks away.
We ran into an old friend of Cherie's, and together we all lined up towards the rear of the crowd with all the walkers. Though I was intending to keep a faster pace (you line up according to your hoped for finishing time), I wanted to start the race together.
This was a big event - over 900 registered for the marathon, and over 2,000 registered for the half. It was by far a much bigger production than the 880 that ran 8 Tuff Miles. We were swimming in a sea of people, some of them running in costume even.
Being the "Space Coast Marathon", of course the race started with a countdown, with a shuttle launch video synchronized onto the jumbotron over the starting line.
It was so far away, we could barely see it.
And by the time our section of crowd actually shuffled to cross the starting line to begin the race, I'm sure the shuttle was in orbit. It took nearly 7 minutes!Course Description:
"This is one of the most unique running and walking events in the country! As our race is held within the shadow of the Kennedy Space Center, the entire event revolves around a space theme sure to delight and energize our participants. Experience one of the most beautiful waterfront courses on the east coast. 14 “space” themed aid stations along a partially shaded mostly flat course. A USATF certified course and a great Boston qualifier!"My Race Experience...
On a map, the race route looks extremely dull, with barely a curve and the entire route is essentially completely flat. The marathoners run north 6.5 miles, turn around, run south 13 miles, then turn north again and run back 6.5 miles. The half-marathoners are running the same course, only they start off heading south. Everyone starts and finishes together.
But the entire route is right along the waterfront, in front of beautiful homes and with lots of lush vegetation and trees everywhere.
It was absolutely gorgeous to watch the sun slowly rise over the water as I swam downstream in a flowing river of people. There was a strong breeze, but it was always from the side making it refreshing. And there was very little direct sunlight - the day was nicely overcast, and much of the course was shaded too.
It really was a stupendously beautiful course to run.
I was very pleased to discover that my bruised foot didn't seem to bother me while running. It hurt to walk, but not to run - lucky me!
I had been contemplating going for speed, and trying to set a new personal best for the first half of the race. But, well, this is a marathon after all. So instead I focused on keeping my pace as steady and consistent as I could - mostly avoiding the temptation to sprint when my favorite run-fast songs played.
It worked. And... I actually managed to RUN the ENTIRE race!
To keep myself motivated, I kept mentally breaking the race into chunks... The first 5K I knew I could do. During the next 5K I saw the police motorcycle escort for the half marathon leader (he finished in 1hr 17min!) heading the other way, and it was inspiring to start watching the ever increasing stream of elite runners flowing back towards the finish.
There was a water station roughly every mile, and some of them were decorated quite cleverly, and all were staffed with very enthusiastic volunteers. One had a band setup (on break both times I passed, sadly), and the one near the turnaround point was a big Parrothead themed party underway.
I really enjoyed running past a marching band performing.
Once I reached the turnaround and started heading back the other way, during the next third of the race I started keeping an eye out for Cherie. We found each other and snagged a kiss over the centerline. Awesome!
Once I crossed the 8-mile point I was in virgin territory, having never run this far before. But I was feeling great.
The marathoners were now flowing steadily the other direction, and the lead (who finished the marathon in 2:37!) had just passed me with his police motorcycle escort. I liked having both races overlapping - it kept things interesting, and it was inspiring to see the more experienced runners both going and coming. I was really impressed with the official pace runners, who were running holding up signs with their target finishing times so that others could match them.
Near mile 10, I started to get excited. Actually running the entire race seemed possible now.
It was around this point that a woman ran up beside me and signaled me to flash her.
I pulled off my earphones, and she explained that she had seen me pick up my pace from a mid 12 min/mile pace to well under 11 min/mile, and that she thought I was overheating. She told me to lift up my shirt to cool down, and to run with my hands over my head a while.
When I told her I had never run this far before, she coached me some, and told me it was very late in a race to change pace so substantially. I tried to explain that it is impossible to not sprint when "Kickstart My Heart" comes on, but ultimately I thanked her for her coaching, and settled back into a steady pace.
Mile 11 and 12 seemed to get ever longer, and I was starting to feel tired, sore, and hungry. But overall, not too bad. The 13th mile seemed to last forever, but then at last the end was in sight!And then the finish!
The finish involves running a circular route around the park, lined with spectators.
As soon as I cross the finish line, a gauntlet of volunteers handed me a (very hefty!) finisher's medal, a commemorative beach towel, a commemorative patch, and a soaking wet rag to cool off with. At that moment, the rag was my favorite thing ever.
The nearby jugs full of ice cold water were my next favorite.
Once I caught my breath, a woman came up and asked me what it was like running in Vibram Five Fingers. I told her I loved them - they really are incredible to run in. When I told her that this had been my first Half Marathon, and that it was my 39th birthday gift to my body - she told me she had run her first full marathon for her 40th, and asked if I was planning that.
Uhm, I hadn't even been planning a half marathon 8 days ago!!!
But... Well, at least the thought of a marathon seems imaginable now. But not right now. At the moment, I'm more concerned with the thought of cooling off and with finding some of the free pizza and pancakes waiting for finishers in the park.
I texted Cherie to let her know I was done, and checked in on her location via our iPhone's Friend Finder. It looked like she was doing fabulously, and she messaged back that she was "Nearing mile 11!"
I grabbed some food and rested a while, and when it looked like Cherie was getting close I managed to stand up (owww!) and started walking back along the course her way.
At this point, a couple runs past towards the finish holding hands, and one of them turns towards me and exclaims "Hey, Technomadia!" as they go by. I only got the briefest glimpse of them (and mostly from behind), but I was shocked to be recognized in a crowd by someone running past who was just finishing a 13.1 mile run. Who was it?? A blog reader? I still have no idea!
I positioned myself at the end of the street before the final turn towards the finish line, and kept up watch for Cherie. Soon I saw her, and I managed to grab another smooch as she came around the corner. I cut her off again at the 13 mile flag at the entrance to the final spiral, and then cut across the park to be there for her as she crossed the finish line - totally rocking it and with a huge smile on her face.Afterwards...
We found a shady spot in the park, and Cherie showed me the Texas-sized blisters on her heels. It was as if she were trying to grow her own fluid-filled gel cushion inserts! Ouch!!!
I let her rest her sore feet, and went off to fetch her a plate of eggs and some Natalie's OJ (yumm!!).
We rested together for a while, and then hobbled the many blocks to where we had left the car. It seemed a much shorter distance five hours ago!
We came home and napped, showered, and then had to clean house... We were having an "open bus" that afternoon, with Cherie's folks and various friends coming over to see our new home on wheels. We didn't have much chance to rest, but we had an awesome time being social and showing off our bus.
What a long day!!!The Results:
Looking at the official results
, I finished 1,652nd out of 2,186 competitors. My official finishing time was 2:49:50, with an average pace of 12:58/mile. I ran the first 5K in 36:57, 10K in 1:15:22, and 15K in 1:56:32. In my division (male, 35 - 39) I was 97th out of 110.
But the important thing was that I had accomplished my goal of finishing, and not only finished, but actually ran the entire way. Wow. I still can hardly believe it.
Looking at my GPS log afterwards - I am amazed at how steady I managed to be, slowing down somewhat in the end, but overall performing amazingly consistently.
If I had sprinted more, I don't think I would have been able to run the whole thing. It's probably a good thing that the woman near mile 11 asked me to flash...
The race was a very different sort of challenge than 8 Tuff Miles. Obviously, the 1,000 ft mountain in the middle of it made each of the Tuff miles much much tougher (both up and down), but there were substantially more miles to deal with here.
I am thrilled to have conquered both challenges this year, and actually excited about taking on another half marathon sometime during the coming year - ideally with a bit more training time next time!
As for a marathon on my 40th birthday....
Uhm, ask me again in 50 weeks or so!