2010 Florida Gulf Beaches Holiday Halfathon

Unlike last week’s 5K, this race has been on the agenda for quite some time.  It’s slightly less than halfway through my Gasparilla training and I had meant it to be a measure of my fitness to this point.  Since I hadn’t completed (or even planned) many long runs up to this point, I originally thought 1:35:00 would be a good target time for this race.

During my 14 miler with Richie and Steve a few weeks ago, Richie thought that I was in much better shape than that and that 1:35:00 would be too slow.  I had a great week of training after that and I started to believe that 1:30:00 was feasible so the goal was reset to that.

I met Richie at his house at 5:40 am.  We drove to meet Bret at the finish where he left his car.  Bret hopped into Richie’s car and we drove to the start.  Once we arrived, Richie realized that he had forgotten to leave some gear in Bret’s car for after the race.  This threw him into a kind of mental tailspin that lasted for the next half hour as we gathered our race packets, numbers and chips.  He felt slightly better when I pointed out that the race directors had set up boxes to collect items to be sent to the finish, but he still managed to lose his number somewhere in the car.

Eventually, we were all situated and we ran a brief warmup before shedding our outer clothes and hitting the port a potties.  With about 700 participants (several of them walkers who got a 30 minute head start), the start line wasn’t all that crowded.  Bret and I worked our way in near the front and Richie joined us just after the national anthem.

An air horn signals the start and everyone is off.  Richie and Bret are shooting for a 1:25:00, so I let them go ahead and try to settle into a 6:45-6:50 pace.  When I ran 1:29:11 at Disney last year, I actually went out slow in the first mile (7:15).  I’m curious to see if I can actually PR by hitting my target pace from the beginning and running an even paced race.  A quick glance at my watch about a half mile in indicates a 6:30 pace so I ease up a bit, relax and try to just go with the flow of the crowd until things open up a bit.

I’m through the first mile in 6:45 and I can still clearly see Richie and Bret running side by side about 15-20 meters ahead.  Things are a bit strung  out as we make our way north along Gulf Blvd.  Some of the employees of businesses along the beach have come out to give us a muted cheer in the cold morning air.  The wind is fairly strong, but it’s currently a tailwind and thankfully it will be for most of the race.

I’m looking for 13:44 through the 2nd mile and pass the marker in 13:42.  I’m moving along fairly steadily, but something feels a little off.  I’m feeling the same strain I felt in the first 2 miles of Disney last year, but I’ve got a 20 mile wind at my back.  At Disney, I had an equally strong wind in my face (along with some sleet).  I’m running a faster pace, though, so I relax a little bit and stick with a group of about three guys.

I’m about 4 seconds slow through the 3 mile mark.  I remind myself that I was nearly 40 seconds slow through the 3 mile mark at Disney, but it still feels wrong for some reason.  I can still see Richie and Bret about 50 meters ahead and I can see that course taking a right turn.  I remove my gloves as I pass through a water station and grab a cup of water.  My mouth is dry and I’ve just realized how sweaty my hands are.  The water helps my mouth and I decide to just carry my gloves.

I head up the incline of a bridge and off the barrier island.  I take the incline easy and reach the 4 mile mark at the top.  I’m about 15 seconds slow through 4 miles.  The wind is now a cross wind, but I take advantage of the downward slope on the other side of the bridge to gain some ground on a few runners in front of me.  We head up a slight incline and pass the 5 mile mark.  I’m about 20 seconds slow now.

Shortly after the 5 mile mark, we make a right turn and head into the wind.  I don’t feel like I’m struggling too much in the wind, but my Garmin tells me that my pace is slow.  I’m finally gaining some ground on the 15 year old kid who’s been dangling about 10 meters in front of me most of the way.  As we approach a left turn, I surge forward and squeeze inside of him, holding my surge for about 30 seconds before I back off.

A few minutes later, I hear breathing behind me.  Determined not to let the kid pass me back, I speed up a little and the breathing gets more distant.  A minute later, it’s back and I don’t have another surge in me.  As the breathing comes up beside me, I realize that it’s not the kid, but rather an older woman.  She passes me slowly and I tuck in behind her, recovering slightly.  I soon feel better and surge past her again, feeling good enough to keep going and catch up with the tall guy who was 10 meters in front of her.

After a few seconds, I surge again and pass this guy, but the surge is short lived as I develop a stitch.  I hear the lady’s breathing creeping up on my left side again and she passes me as I try to get rid of the stitch.  I’m passed again by the tall guy who gives me some encouragement.  Just past the 6 mile mark, I walk with my hands in the air, trying to get rid of the stitch.

Within seconds, I approach a park and I see runners coming out of the park.  The second runner I see is Richie.  He’s intent on the race and doesn’t notice me, but it’s enough to get me running again.  I’m soon passed by a young lady and I try to shadow her for a while.  I successfully do through the park and we pass the 7 mile mark together.  I’m 50 seconds slow through 7 miles.

We round a corner, head through a water station and onto the Pinellas Trail.  It’s a paved “Rails to Trails” project and I’ve run several training runs on this section so I’m very familiar with it.  We head up the incline of a pedestrian bridge and the girl gains some ground on me, but she’s cautious on the way back down and I fly down the incline with reckless abandon to make the gap up again.  Eventually, she pulls away, but I’m running a pretty good clip right now and we both pass tall guy again.

“Great job,” says tall guy as I pass him.  This time, I’m able to weakly thank him for his encouragement, but I’m sadly in no mood to talk.  I maintain my pace pretty well, though it’s certainly not fun and I’m still about 50 seconds slow through 9 miles.  I surge through a few intersections and quickly begin to reach the edges of my endurance.  My pace begins to slow rapidly and I’m almost 1:30 slow through 10 miles.  Finally, I walk again.

Tall guy passes me and gives me more words of encouragement.  I try to get my heart rate down and pull myself together.  It takes less than a minute and I’m off again, but this lasts less than a mile.  Shortly after reaching the 11 mile mark, I walk again.  I’ve stopped paying attention to my time and I think I’ve got a shot at 1:35:00, but I’m having trouble doing the math in my head and I really want to just be finished.  A 65 year old man (the eventual Grand Master winner) passes me and I convince myself to run again.

I cross another pedestrian bridge that’s quite familiar from my tempo run before Alice’s district cross country meet several weeks ago.  I know I’m near the finish and I focus on keeping my legs moving.  Finally, I reach the park and get a brief surge of energy as I run past a small crowd of volunteers manning a water station there.  I make a right turn and follow a path bordering a lake.  It’s the cross country course that Alice ran 4 times in the recently concluded season.

I make a left around the lake, pass the 12 mile mark and see that I’ve got very little chance of finishing in 1:35:00.  I make another left and turn into the wind, running along a gravel path that normally leads to the finish line of the cross country course.  I’m seriously struggling to maintain an 8 minute/mile pace and I think of how many times I’ve stood along that path yelling at Alice and her teammates to push hard to the finish.  I’m glad none of them are here to see me now.  I’m telling myself to suck it up and surge to the finish, but I can’t  get my legs to move any faster.

I mercifully reach the 13 mile mark and manage to turn my legs over a little more quickly through the finish.  I finish in a disappointing 1:36:47.

After grabbing some water, I had a look at the results that were already posted.  I saw that Drew (who I never spotted at the start) had finished 3rd in 1:16:30. Richie finished 13th (second masters) in 1:26:52 and Bret finished16th (3rd masters) in 1:27:30.  I grabbed my bag of stuff and ran into Richie and Drew.  We enjoyed the weather and drank a few beers while sharing race and training stories.

Shortly after the awards ceremony, the weather started to turn and we headed for the bus back to the start.  By that time, I had consumed enough beer to admit to Richie that I had walked a few times during the race.  This tipped off a ripfest that lasted the rest of the bus ride and had the people in the seats around us in stitches at my expense.  Sadly, there is no video of this event and my words here can’t possibly do it justice.

Back at Richie’s house, we disregarded common wisdom and enjoyed another beer in the hot tub as temperatures dipped into the low 50’s and a cold rain fell lightly on us.

In retrospect, perhaps I knew my own fitness better than I thought.  I think that if I had gone out with the goal of running a 1:35:00, I might have run 1:33 and change.  In any case, I’m lacking in endurance and will benefit from some 15-18 mile runs in the next couple of months.  It’s been a kick in the pants, but I’m still pretty confident I can accomplish a 1:25:00 at the end of February.

Categorized as Races


  1. this might make you feel worse, but its comforting to me to know that people as speedy as you take walking breaks. theres this misconception that walking is absolutely not allowed when youre trying to be a successful runner. no one ever admits they walk during a race or during a training run, so thank you for making me feel normal 🙂

    i know its a minute and change more than you wanted but its a great time.

  2. walk breaks?!? a 1:36 w/ walking is a great time. too bad for those side stitches.

    i see you’ve loosened up the blog-layout a bit. finally putting raffi to work! 😉

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