I’ve been more relaxed the past few days than I was before the Seminole Stampede last week. Having broken 20 minutes took quite a bit of the pressure off. I felt good this morning, so I calculated my splits based on a 19:30 finish time and decided to just go for it.
The field is about 300 strong and I line up near the front. I’m not right on the line this time like I was last week and there are a few people up there who don’t belong there. I scoot up right behind a fast looking high school runner and wait for the start. We stand at the start line for several minutes and they don’t want us to cross the mats, so we can’t really run any strides off the front. It’s not a big deal since I’ve gone through a pretty solid warmup already. The temperature is cooler than last week, but it’s warming quickly now that the sun has risen.
The timer gives us a 15 second warning, then “on your marks” and the horn blows about a nanosecond after that. Last year at this race, I didn’t hear any of the warnings and was actually facing backward when the horn went off. This year, I’m surprised, but I’m ready. As expected, the young man in front of me flies off the line and I squirt out right behind him, putting me instantly ahead of some of the slower runners in the front of the start.
I’m running about fifth place as we jet down a long straightaway along Tampa Bay. It’s funny to be running along Tampa Bay on Bayshore Drive. I did that in the Gasparilla 5K in February – only that was in Tampa. Same bay. Same street name. Opposite shore. As we approach a right hand turn, I check my pace on the Garmin: 4:38 min/mile. I was shocked last week when it read in the low 5’s. Today, I’m not sure what to think. I back off quite a bit to what feels like a pretty easy pace. I glance down again and I’m running about 5:20 min/mile. Still too fast. We round the corner and face something rare in Florida races – a hill.
I’ve mentally prepared for the hill. Short steps, quick cadence and all that. It’s not incredibly steep, but it runs the course of about 5 city blocks. That translates to more than a quarter mile. I slow again, now at my planned pace of 6:16 min/mile, relax and focus on my breathing. A few people pass me on the way up, but I’m determined not to blow myself up on the hill. At the top we round a hairpin and instantly head back down. Here, we pass the one mile mark. I’m through in 6:00 flat.
A pretty stiff headwind blows off the bay as we head back down toward it, so the downhill portion of the run isn’t as much of a relief as I had expected. I’m starting to really feel the pace now and it’s still relatively early, so that’s not good. On the way down, I hear a “Go Daddy!” come from the other side of the course. It’s not a domain name registrar commercial, it’s my daughter running up the hill. I’m almost 2 minutes ahead of her.
I reach the bottom of the hill and slow the pace slightly. I need to recover a bit and I’ve got 16 seconds in the bank. I soon hear breathing coming up on my left shoulder. I press the pace again as we round a turn. The runner on my left shoulder sticks with me and we both start to close on the runner in front as we round a turn – part of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. We’re going quite a bit slower than the Indycars.
We round another hairpin turn and hit the two mile mark. I’m through in 12:12. It’s a slower mile than my first, but I’ve still put another 4 seconds in the bank on the 19:30 goal. I allow myself to slow just slightly and the runner on my shoulder runs by. I’m sucking serious wind, but I’m on Bayshore drive and I just have to follow this road back to the finish. The wind is blowing hard off the bay as we round the curve that leads to the final straightaway. Suddenly, I notice the runners in front of me taking a sharp right turn. The cones lead them there. The course goes right? This wasn’t on the map! So much for my “straight to the finish” mantra.
I take the right hand turn, unnerved by the change in plan. The wind has died down, but my breathing is all over the place. I make another hairpin, see someone on the other side starting to catch me from behind again, then make another sharp right back onto Bayshore Drive. That’s when the stitch develops. It’s fairly low on my right side. It’s not the worst location. The high ones are harder to get rid of, but this one is rapidly growing in painful intensity. I slow significantly. I contemplate walking it out, but I hold onto a 7:30ish pace. I focus on deep, even breaths in time with my steps. I forcefully blow the air out of my lungs, clenching my abs, then breathe in with my belly, stretching my diaphragm. I can hear the breathing behind me grow louder. The image of a car dying at a high rate of speed enters my head. It’s still moving forward, but slowing and I’m frantically turning the key in the ignition to get it started again…
Breathing behind is growing louder now.
Footsteps are fast approaching.
Vrrrrooooom. Just as the runner behind reaches my shoulder, the sharp, stabbing pain of the stitch dissipates into something much duller and far less painful. I breathe deep, lengthen my stride and accelerate like I was just baiting him to get closer so I could run away from him again. He’s clearly not expecting this (quite frankly, neither am I) and he cannot counter. I quickly leave him behind with 800 m to go.
Now I’m counting down in my head. I’m hurting, but the allure of the finish has taken over:
“The faster you run, the quicker you’re done” is my new mantra and I’m laying it all out now. In the distance, I can see the clock ticking away the seconds. I’ve lost a lot of time in the last mile, but 19:30 is still possible. I push hard, surging forward and watching each second tick off the clock. I know I’m going fast because the distance between me and the runner in front of me is rapidly shrinking. Somehow, the finish line seems to be getting further away, though. It’s going to be very close. I push my legs as hard as they’ll go, but cross the finish line in 19:34.
Afterward, I loop back around to see Alice finish. She passes by a few minutes later and crosses the line in 24:48 -not quite a PR, but under her goal of 25:00 for the race. I feel like crap. My head is pounding and every so often, I feel a little nauseous. After several minutes, I begin to feel better and I check out the results.
I finished 10th overall out of about 300 runners. I was 1st of 14 in my age division. Alice (a 6th grader) finished 2nd in her age group – behind a 4th grader from her own school. That’ll likely have a motivating effect in the coming weeks. When I originally scheduled the race, I targeted 19:45 as my goal. So, I did beat that and shaved 20 seconds off last week’s time. I do think I’m still well on target to break 19:15 in the Miles for Moffit race on May 9th.