Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Boston – it’s still personal.

As we remember the tragedy that struck a year ago today at the Boston Marathon, I took a few minutes this morning to reread what I wrote about it then and think about what’s changed for me since…

I assumed that I’d always have some fear for friends, family and even strangers who give up their time, sleep and a small fortune in poster board to cheer us on in races…  Indeed, I do worry for their safety, and I’m more appreciative than ever for their ongoing support.

My soon to be 12-year-old son, Leo, still worries about me… though the beauty and wonder of his particular age has caused the patina of fear to wear away some and seeing me return unscathed from a number of races seems to have eased his young mind quite a bit.

Last year, I speculated that I’d never again take my own relatively healthy limbs for granted…  Though I’m not always happy with their performance, yes, I value the use of my legs each and every day.

And yes, I have approached every. single. finish line. of the past year with my mind full of the victims of last year’s event.  My heart continues to squeeze hard through every last step of every race as I wish and hope that somehow, in some way, some of my strength will magically leave my body to help them.

What I hadn’t anticipated a year ago was how much more attentive I’d become not just in races, but in all public places.  I find myself acutely aware of things in my view that don’t look “right” – a person who stands out in a crowd for no reason I can articulate, an unattended backpack on a park bench, the parting of a theme park crowd for no apparent reason… I wouldn’t say I’m living in fear, but I sure am aware of my surroundings in a way I never was before.

I also never anticipated how incredibly connected I'd feel to the running community.  We're a tough, competitive bunch, we runners, but we have our tender spots and it's been amazing to see how we all pull together to support one another and protect our sport.  I am so very, very proud to be part of that.

Yes, a year later, Boston is still very much personal, and I suspect it always will be.  On this day, I join the worldwide running community in mourning the losses of that terrible day. 


…come April 21, I will watch with so many others as we runners take back the Boston Marathon and return it to an event that celebrates the magnificence of human strength and endurance.  In the end, no matter where we are, we are all #BostonStrong.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Race Recap: 2014 Florida Beach Halfathon

I'm taking a little break from running right now.  My long distance race season is over (because summer in Florida is freaking HOT, 'member?!) so it's a good opportunity to take some time to let things heal and recover.  Which I thought would translate into oodles of free time... nope. Life's been hectic!  So, yeah - I'm a little behind on blogging.  I have LOTS of ideas and several un-typed blog posts running circles in my head... I'm sure they'll come out eventually. 

Meanwhile, how 'bout a little recap of my final long-distance race of the season?!

On March 23, I ran the 2014 Florida Beach Halfathon - a 13.1-mile race over paved paths and roadways at the famous Ft. De Soto Beach.  This was basically a "local" race for me, albeit almost an hour form my home.  But with a 7am start, it was soooo nice to "sleep in" for a race instead of waking at Stupid-Early!

The Beach Halfathon is one of several annual races put on by Florida Gulf Beaches Road Races and I'll spare you some suspense: race director Chris Lauber puts on a mighty fine race!  Starting with packet pickup - we were given several different dates and locations over the two weeks before race day from which to pick up our bibs and swag.  That was so nice!  I was able to get my things from the St. Petersburg Fit2Run on a day that worked for my schedule, had a lovely chat with Chris about race day planning for meet-ups and spectators, and bought a handful of Clif Shots* for race day fueling.

Lotsa nice swag!

Race day arrived with a forecast of no rain, a high temp near 80, and a start temp of 65, with humidity around 85%... in other words, ideal Florida conditions!  I wish now that I'd thought to grab some pics of the race staging area - it was a nice set-up, with the start/finish line clearly marked, ample porta-potties available, and lots of tents with merchandise and food offerings.  An announcer provided us all with info on where to go and when, and I had ample time to meet up with a friend from my running group and make sure my mother (Gramma) and Leo were all set.  Yep, I actually managed to get my family to come cheer!  

I really had no idea what to expect of myself going into this race.  I felt good - really good, in fact - but hadn't run many miles since my #ALLtheraces Triple Crown weekend four weeks prior.  In fact, my longest distance between the Princess Half and Beach Halfathon was a whopping seven miles.  So I lined up toward the back of the pack, planned to do lots of walking over the first few miles, and see how things went.

My first few miles flew by, in part due to the lack of crowding and bottlenecking thanks to a total race field of around 1800 - less than the number of runners in just my corral at the Princess Half Marathon - and in part thanks to the lovely company of my running group friend. 

The first 3.1 miles of the course took us through a loop of old-growth oak trees, palmetto scrub, and past a small inlet of Tampa Bay.  This was also the course for the day's accompanying 5K race, which started 30 minutes after the half.  Given the slow pace I was keeping, I got to see the leaders of the 5K come whipping past at breakneck speed as we all looped back to the Start/Finish, at which the 5K folks ran through the Finish chute, and we halfathoners passed on by.  I'm not gonna lie - that's a little painful, running past the Finish, knowing you still have 10 miles to go.  But I knew the miles ahead would be pretty, so there was added motivation to keep going.  Plus, I saw Gramma and Leo there and got a nice high-5 from my boy!

I started adding more running to my miles and dropped my pace about half a minute per mile through mile seven.  I was still feeling great: strong, good energy, not at all overheated, thanks to the cloud cover.  And... well-fueled.  

(*This was my first race using Clif Shots as fuel.  After dealing with the heavy, bulky, mushy, crumbly mess a waist pack full of Fig Newtons made during the Princess Half, I decided to try some gel-based fuel and see if it would be better.  Know what?  It was!  MUCH better.  Clif Shots are tiny and lightweight; I easily stuffed four of 'em in my waist pouch, one in the little elastic loop of my Fitletic phone armband, plus one Hammer gel in the back pocket of my running skirt.  It's virtually impossible for me to store glucose - in response to sugar in its system, my body overproduces insulin, which "eats" the sugars and leaves me hypoglycemic.  So I pretty much have to fuel constantly through a long run to keep things stable.   A Clif Shot every 45 minutes was just about perfect to keep me going, and the chocolate flavor was tasty!  The Hammer gel in banana flavor?  Worked just as well... but BLECH!  Not tasty.  At all.  I'll stick with Clif Shots, TYVM.)

Feeling pretty darned good at the halfway point, I decided to see what I could do about a PR.

While taking pics.  

My view, miles 5 through 11...
The Sunshine Skyway off in the distance...
The Fort... of Fort De Soto.

The course was essentially a giant out-and-back job, so the view didn't change much; the water just shifted from my right side to my left.  What did change was the cloud cover - long about mile 9 or 10, the sun came out.  And I quickly realized the path we were running had no shade.  It was rough - I was tiring by that point and the sun didn't help.  But I looked at my Garmin and did some quick math (okay, not so quick - it may or may not have taken me a mile and a half to figure this...) and saw that I was well within reach of meeting my goal of a sub-3:15:00 finish... and it was quite possible, if I stayed on pace, I could turn out my fantasy goal of a sub-3:00:00 finish.  


So I dug deep, ate another gel, and picked up the pace.  And it was great!  Until mile 12.  When the tell-tale stabbing pain of IT Band syndrome showed up in my left knee.  And... my right.  Both freaking sides?!  Yes, both freaking sides.  Knowing I had no further long races to get through after that one, I tried to run through it as much as I could, but - man!  There's just no running through that kind of pain.  I walked as fast as I could, ran a few steps here and there, and...


My official time?  3:02:28.  Missed my fantasy goal by two minutes, 28 seconds.  I'm not remotely sad about that, though.  Firstly, because I never expected to even come close.  Secondly, because knocking more than 20 minutes off my previous best half-marathon time is pretty damned exciting.

And thirdly... because it turns out I'm not as into my finish times as I once thought.  Sure, it's always great to get a new PR; it shows that all of your hard work and effort accomplished something concrete.  But what it doesn't show is the joy I experience through the simple act of running.  A finish time doesn't begin to represent the times spent talking with fellow runners about our training, our gear, our goals.  And it sure doesn't illustrate the mega-balancing act performed by a single parent trying to keep up with work, parenting and training.  

Yet, those were the things foremost in my mind as I crossed the Finish and ran over to Leo and Gramma for big hugs.  Though I remembered to stop my Garmin, I didn't even look at my time for quite a while.  I knew it was a PR of some sort, and I was just fine with that knowledge.

After cheering my friend through the Finish, I grabbed some water, a Coke, a bagel, a little pasta, and a beer (seriously - FL Road Races puts on quite a spread!), and reveled in the glory of having finished my third half-marathon in three months.  Later, we explored the fort before heading home.

View from the roof of Fort De Soto

I highly recommend the Florida Beach Halfathon - or any of the other races offered by Florida Gulf Beaches Road Races!  It was so well-organized, well-run and very, very fun, while also feeling very relaxed.  It was a great race for the speedsters and the slow folks alike, with plenty of pre-race, on-course, and post-race resources available to all.  And the location was just gorgeous, as you can see.  I'll be back, for sure!