Since we last left our valiant runner [X the 3rd person] I ran no more training runs before the race. My legs were feeling grateful and stronger. On Friday morning I packed every cold weather combination of running clothes I own since I knew it would be cold but did not know how cold. So the suitcase was full. I left work an hour later than planned and went to the Track Shack to buy some Gu (plain) for the midpoint of the race. Then I went home to find my confirmation postcard with my registration number and check-in information. I was heading for Tampa by 230 and trying to forget work and thinking about the race ahead.
I knew I might have trouble when I got there because George W. Bush was stumping for his Social Security plan and had Tampa on his itinerary as the last stop after the inauguration speech. Sure as shooting he landed at Tampa Int'l just as I hit the end of I-4 in Tampa. Traffic was backed up. The radio said downtown streets were closed. Bridges were closed and the advisory was to stay away from downtown. Two problems: my hotel was downtown and the president's town hall meeting was in the Convention Center, the very same one I needed to get to to pick up my registration packet. Go to plan B.
I pulled off the interstate and wound my way through neighborhoods Rachel wouldn't like. I found 7th Street and cruised through the popular and scenic Ybor City on my meandering way downtown. Did I mention I had no idea where the hotel was? just a street address and no map.
I turned this way, then that way and was suddenly downtown where, to my surprise, I was on the street for the hotel, just 5 blocks away. I must be living right.
I pulled into the hotel, checked in and went to the room to unpack, watch W wrap up on TV and unwind. My hands were cold as was everything else so I did what any sensible person with time on his or her hands would do - I took a hot bath. I only take baths on special occasions (when I'm not home). It was just the ticket to warm me up. I looked at a map and figured I could maybe walk on down to the Convention Center (a mile away) and find a restaurant to eat at on the way back. W left town and the streets were clearing. I got dressed and started walking. I went past the race headquarters hotel (Hyatt) and got fired up seeing runners everywhere. You can tell runners; they seem to all dress the same and have similar physiques and that look.
At the convention center there was the most amazing expo I've ever seen. This Gasparilla Race is big time. There must have been 1,000 people wandering around, buying stuff and registering. I resisted the urge because the Track Shack GM in Orlando told me the annual sale in March will be HUGE and to wait until then.
I picked up my packet and wandered around. I saw Rachel's name on the roster of runners so knew she would be there. I almost left an encouraging note but couldn't find a pen.
I left the building worried about what I'd eat for dinner. I was a little nervous about my condition for the race. Had I run enough? Would the 4 days off hurt me? Did I have the stamina to go 15K? So, again, I got lucky. I found Hattrick's, a hockey themed Irish bar and restaurant. I bellied up to the bar, as difficult as that is for someone with no belly, but the lovely barmaids made sure I got up there :).
A beer? Sure. The runners next to me were having one. Oops. They were only doing the 5K. Oh well. Do you recommend anything on the menu? Yes; and may I suggest to any of you out there that the Shepherd's Pie at Hattrick's in Tampa is to die for - and to stoke you up well for a race.
I went back to the hotel after dinner and read through the race bag stuff. The obligatory T-shirt, pamphlets, nutrition bar samples, muscle pain samples, Gold Bond powder, coupons, etc. etc. I read the very well done racers' folder and plotted my race day. Uh oh. A stress builder. They gave me a ChampionChip that didn't match my race number tag. My tag matched my personal chip which I had with me but I was confused as to which one they expected me to wear. Now I had to be there earlier in the morning than I planned to clear that up.
I watched the Magic lose to Boston and went to bed with the alarm set for 530. I awoke at 400 and rolled around nervously for awhile then fell asleep about 500. At 530 I thought the world ended when that alarm went off! Ow. I knocked my water bottle off the side table reaching for the infernal clock.
I started eating the breakfast I brought with me: banana, 7-grain bagel, tomato juice and brewed some very good coffee. By 600 I'd eaten and determined the race was going to be chilly at 45 degrees according to the news station on the TV. What to wear? What to wear?
Running along the bay presents the probability of some wind off the water so that would make it colder. I settled on shorts, a tech long sleeve shirt under a polar-tec shirt, a cap and gloves.
My plan was working perfectly. I jogged down to the convention center to warm up. I went inside to check about my chip. There were runners inside the center staying warm, eating, talking tactics and stretching. Everywhere. It was cool. I cleared the chip issue up without a wait. Wear mine.
At 720 everybody piled out of the convention center warmth to be in cue for the start. Body heat all around me made it bearable. The men started in one location and the women in another. It made sense but seemed strange to me. We were to merge about a mile down the course.
The announcer said there were over 6,000 running the 15K. My biggest race! The gun sounded and everybody started walking. Somebody asked, "Why is it that everybody walks to the start line instead of running right away?" I thought of an answer but kept it to myself.
The first mile wasn't too clogged up and my time was 9.20. In my head I was planning to beat one hour thirty minutes so anything under 9.30 mile pace was working for me. We merged with the women and it was a little more congested and mile 2 was 9.21. Now we were running along Bayshore Boulevard where all the multi-million dollar homes sit with a lovely view of the water. Definitely good scenery as were many of the ladies running. My times improved. Mile 3 was done in 9.10. I started thinking I was going to crash later if I didn't pace myself. I started getting hot too. I was having negative thoughts but just kept plugging away trying to keep up with the woman in black tights, pink top and headphones. I traversed Mile 4 in 9.06. Boy, I was still feeling good too. There was a water stop manned by a local men's club and I don't mean the kind of club where men go to see women, if you know what I mean. The shirtless guy with the tight short blue jean shorts with cowhide fringe and matching boots was a trip. They all smiled affectionately as they handed out water. I stopped for water at 2 of every 3 stations throughout the race to stay hydrated and avoid cramps.
Well; the race is an out and back run so just before Mile 5 I pulled out one of my two Gu packs and started sucking on small amounts of action packed glucose gel. I passed the Mile 5 post with a 9.02 time. At Mile 6 my lap was 9.05 and I was catching back up to the gal in tights and pink shirt. As I sidled up on her left I said she'd been my pace car for about 4 miles and I encouraged her to stay with me. Her reply was that the headwind we were running into was hurting her speed. I was actually enjoying the wind because it was blowing through my shirt and drying me up and cooling me down. I was feeling good.
Mile 7 came and I was shocked to see I was under 9 minutes - 8.59 to be exact. I was only 2.3 miles from the finish. I felt good. I was hydrated. The Gu was working. I was passing people left and right. I remembered to run like my hips were carrying a bowl of water and that I couldn't spill the water. It helped me keep from pounding along, lengthened my stride a little and allowed me to run faster.
At Mile 8 the Polar lap timer said 8.54. This was unbelievable. I was starting to feel a little tightness in my calves but I could see the convention center straight ahead. The sun was shimmering on the bay to my right and I was going to have a good finish time. I was pumped.
Mile 9: Can you believe 8.44? The last .3 miles took another 2.46 and I was over the line in 1 hour 24.26 minutes. Wow.
Time to reload. Banana. Bagel. Gatorade. Smoothy. Water. Wander around and feel it. Incredible.
Then I hear my name. It's John from Casselberry with Pete from Winter Park. John has been egging me on to run a marathon for years and here he was for the 15K. We shared our race stories and times while heading for the post race party in the park along the river by the Forum. What a great race site. From the convention center to the course, the expo, the party, the crowd, we all vowed to come back next year and at least do the half marathon.
After the awards party we met up in Ybor City for Cuban sandwiches and beer. From there it was runner's high ride home. And here I am. I had to write it all down as soon as I could.
Good luck Rachel and Dawn tomorrow!
Thanks for listening.