The Accidental Race for the Cure

After several months fighting pancreatic cancer, my grandfather passed away on Thursday.  Knowing I needed to catch a flight to St. Louis early in the afternoon, I woke up a little earlier than usual.  When I stepped out the door, it was not terribly hot, but the humidity was extremely high.  It felt like I was walking through a warm mist as I completed my warmup.  The air was eerily still and I encountered a few groups of people still winding down their Friday night.

I start my run slowly.  This is the first time I’ve run 9 miles, but I know from my previous ten mile run that a fast start can be murder.  My goal is an average pace of 10:30, but I’m confident from my strong finishes in all my runs this week that I can make up some lost time in the last two miles.  I work to maintain a pace between 11:30 and 12:00 minutes per mile during the first mile.  I succeed and cross the 1 mile mark in 11:35.  I feel no strain.  It’s like I walked the mile – perfect.

Still, I hold myself back.  I plan on running at this pace at least until the first water break 2.75 miles in.  I cross a bridge and approach Tampa Bay.  The familiar breeze kicks up in my face from the bay.  The head wind is annoying, but I know that mile 2’s head wind will become mile 8’s tail wind and I’d rather have it this way than the other way around.  As I approach the waterfront park, I begin to notice a lot more people than usual.  I cross the two mile mark in 22:30 – 1:30 off my goal.  I’m still feeling great.  The lost time is not a problem.

As I continue through the park, the “extra” people becomes a crowd.  They’re clogging the sidewalk,  so I have to weave through the grass and along parking lots to maintain my pace.  They’re all wearing pink.  Suddenly, I come upon a finish chute.  It had ballons, a time clock, champion chip mats and tall the other trappings of the finish line of a well organized race.  I start to realize that I’m in the middle of the Race for the Cure and the race course follows my training course.  I continue running and I’m joined by a few other people warming up for the race.  In that respect, I fit in pretty well.  I’m just not wearing pink and not wearing a number.  I pass booths, a rock climbing wall, inflatables, food, and thousands of people.  Finally, I reach the water fountain in about 29 minutes.

I take my drink of water and walk for a minute.  Then, I continue on into the throng of people.  I pass the starting line where a convertible ford mustang waits to pace the race leaders.  I weave around people on the sidewalk, slide off through the grass, then realize the street is closed to traffic, so I just run in the middle of the street.  I pass the 3 mile mark in 33:30 – 2 minutes slower than my goal.  That’s not bad.  I’ve got 6 miles to make up 2 minutes and I’m still feeling quite good.

I’m1/3 of the way through the run and I’ve let my mind go of the concept of holding back.  I won’t push myself just yet, but I’ll let my body fall into a rhythm and just go with that.  Finally, I push through the crowd and the sidewalk clears again.  I continue along my planned route, past the 1st water station of the race where volunteers are lining cups of water on the table.  I have no idea what time it is, no idea what time the race starts and the sudden realization that  as I turn around I may be running right into a massive crowd of people running right at me.  There’s really nothing I can do about it now, so I keep running.  I pass the 4 mile mark in 44:30.  I’ve lost another 30 seconds.  Still, I’m not worried.  I continue on with a steady rhythm. 

I continue running along the front of the St. Petersburg municipal airport toward the University of South Florida.  I run through the marine science complex, past the office that I haven’t been to in over 4 months, to the end of the penisula.  I round the peninsual and run back down the other side.  I’m more than halfway through this run now and still feeling well.  I stop at a water fountain on campus and take a quick drink.  I walk for a minute.

I continue back past the airport and cross the 5 mile mark in 55 minutes.  Despite my walk break, I’ve not lost any more time in the last mile.  I pass the water station again.  It looks as though the race hasn’t yet started.  In another mile and a half, I’ll be off the course.  I head back into the crowd of people.  For now, most of them are moving in the same direction as me.  Some are even running, so that helps.  I pass the 6 mile mark in just over 65 minutes.  I’ve gained 30 seconds back and I’m 2 minutes off my goal again.  I’m 2/3 of the way through the run and I decide to allow myself to gain some speed.

Unfortunately as I approach the starting line, the crowd has thickened considerably.  I stage is set up nearby and the mayor is speaking.  No one is moving.  I slowly weave my way through he crowd, having to stop on occassion with no free space to move.  Eventually, I break out near the water fountain.  I take a drink and walk for a minute.

I start running again with 4 minutes to go before the starting gun (according to what I’m hearing from the stage).  I pass a line of port a potties each with a line of people 15 deep.  Some of these people aren’t going to make the start.  The National Anthem begins to play.  I feel like I  should turn around and stop running, but I keep going.  I imagine myself winning the gold medal for the Olympic marathon.  My speed has pciked up somewhat.  I pass the 7 mile mark in 75:30.  I’ve made up for the recent walk, but I’m still 2 minutes behind my  goal pace.  With two miles to go, I erroneously calculate that I’ll need to run 9:00 minute miles to achieve my goal.  I speed up significantly, feeling a tough crosswind off the bay. 

Before long, I make a turn and the crosswind finally turns into the tail wind I’ve been waiting for over the last 5 miles.  I’m starting to feel tired now and I’m giving up on the hope of making my goal.  Then, I realize that my goal pace is 10:30 not 10:00 minute miles.  I only have to run the last 2 miles at 9:30 to achieve that goal.  I cross the bridge (which feels like a mountain) and run on with renewed hope.  I cross the 8 mile mark in 85 minutes.  I’ve pulled back a minute.  I’m damned tired, but I’ve got 9:30 to run the last mile and it feels like I can do it.

I weave my way through the neighborhood, taking deep breaths every 30 seconds or so.  I reach the final half mile.  It’s an uphill straightaway to the finish. I focus on the sidewalk in front of myand just concntrate on putting one foot in front of the other for the next four and a half minutes.  Glances at my Garmin tell me I’ve still got a chance.  Finally, I reach the 9 mile mark.  1:34:30.  Exactly 10:30 pace.

Planned workout

1 mile warmup

9 miles at 10:30 pace

1 mile cool down

Actual workout

1 mile warmup

9 miles at10:30 pace

1 mile cool down  


  1. They weren’t racing yet. They were all just standing there listening to the mayor….and they were invading my weekly long training run dammitt. LOL

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