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.
1 mile warmup
9 miles at 10:30 pace
1 mile cool down
1 mile warmup
9 miles at10:30 pace
1 mile cool down