12th Annual Florida Holiday Halfathon – Madeira Beach, FL – December 15, 2013

As most runners know, this race is part of a four-race series and if a runner does all four events, there is actually additional BLING!!! I have already completed the Halloween Halfathon and have now completed the Holiday Halfathon, so as long as I complete the January and March races, I will be getting the EXTRA BLING, and we all know how much I love that.

We checked the weather the day before the race because we believed it might be raining when we woke up. I barely slept the night before this race, having gone to bed later than I had hoped to and waking up nearly every hour on the hour (as is my usual habit the night before a race). I was really glad to know that I had set out all of my race “gear” and clothing the night before the race, so I was ready very quickly that morning. Since it wasn’t raining, we headed out sometime before 5am. When we got a little past the Skyway bridge, there was lightning and thunder so we were a little worried the race would be cancelled, but didn’t want to miss out in case the weather passed so we went ahead and went to the race.

madeira-beach-florida When we arrived at the Madeira Beach City Hall, the rain had already stopped and the runners were already bustling around getting their race bibs, chips, bags and shirts. There was already quite the line formed for the women’s restroom and since I had just driven an hour and a half to get to this race, we opted to drive down the road a bit and stop at the 24-hour 7-11, which was an EXTREMELY fantastic idea. Having made that pit stop, we went back to the city hall area to wait.

This race course was not an “out and back,” meaning it started in one place and ended in another instead of finishing in the same location as the start, so Jane dropped me off and drove over to where the finish would be located. I saw a couple of familiar faces and was happy to chat while waiting for the race to start. While standing near the start area, I heard someone on the loud speaker state that walkers would be released to begin a half hour before the runners.

While I consider myself a runner and not a walker, I am still moving very slowly and my pace is very slow, so when they defined “walker” as anyone finishing in 3 hours or more, I swallowed my pride and got ready to start with the walkers since 3 hours was actually my goal. I had programmed my Garmin the night before so that I would do a timed run/walk during the whole race. The good news: I would be able to shave about 20 minutes off the finish time of my race if I could stick to this run/walk sequence. The bad news: I hadn’t even tested the times that I set to see if I could stick to them, and as soon as the race began I realized I could not. There was a whole lot of beeping going on around me and I was moving at my own pace – running when I could and walking when I had to.

We traveled down the first portion of the race on Gulf Boulevard from Madeira Beach through to Redington Beach, North Redington Beach, Redington Shores and Indian Shores. The wind was so strong and head-on that I felt like I was slowed down just by the fact that I could barely move forward. I kept with the run/walk intervals as much as I could and hoped that I was doing okay. Since the Garmin was set for these run/walk intervals as a “workout,” I couldn’t see how far I had gone and what the pace was; it was only showing the run/walk sequence information. (I didn’t even realize until much later in the race, that if I swiped the face of the watch I could actually see my overall pace, the total time and how far I had gone – the things I WANTED to see all along.)

Somewhere after the 3 mile mark, we veered off Gulf Boulevard and had to run up a bridge that would take us off the barrier island. The incline is pretty serious for me, so I just walked up it as best as I could. With each step as I neared the top of the incline, I could feel the pressure on my pelvis/hip area and it wasn’t fun. Finally, I got to the center of the bridge and began to take advantage of the downward slope of the bridge, very carefully running until I came down the bridge. Despite that downward slope the race course continued on a slight incline until we hit the 5 mile mark. I then saw runners coming out of a park entryway and I was thinking I would be going in but race volunteers directed me to go past them. It was then that I realized I was going to have to go around the park and then down the Pinellas Trail, which is a very nice blacktop paved “Rails to Trails” project.

As I was going around the park, I pulled out my earphones to chat with a lady who pointed out that her bib number was 63 and that she was 63 years old. For some reason I immediately glanced at my bib and remember that it says 61, which is my date of birth. For some reason, I felt compelled to tell this lady that I wasn’t 61 years old, but instead it was the year I was born. She chuckled about it, and then we got back to business. I put my earphone back in as I realized the wind had stopped hitting me head on, so I began to run/walk with more consistency and I was passing some of the people that I felt I had been following for miles.

Following the 7 mile mark, my stomach dropped as I realized we were approaching a pedestrian bridge on the trail – and to me that translated to ANOTHER steep incline. While this incline was not as far as the bridge off the barrier island, it was definitely just as steep, if not more steep. I held on to the rail with one hand and my hip/pelvis area with my other hand and walked, very slowly walked, up feeling every step I took. When I got to the top I was thinking I’d run back down, but by now my pelvis area was hurting and I figured I’d just coddle it a little as I went back down the hill. When I got to the bottom, I felt a little better, so I resumed the run/walk sequence.

I continued run/walking and I was actually feeling pretty good for the distance. I saw the 8 mile marker and then 9 mile marker, and then by the 10 mile marker, I was thinking all I wanted at that moment was for the event to be finished. My shoes felt like concrete blocks and I felt like I couldn’t lift my legs high enough to call it running. For some crazy reason I started becoming embarrassed about my “form” as if I even had a form! Lucky me, after I passed the 11 mile mark, I encountered yet another pedestrian bridge to cross. I again held on to the rail and by this bridge, I was dragging my left leg up with each step and wincing as the pelvis/hip area reminded me repeatedly that I am not good with inclines, but I didn’t stop and just kept powering through. I got over the pedestrian bridge and actually jogged down the other side in a burst of energy.

At this point in the race, I started to do my “near end of race countdown” which translates to doing a bunch of irrational and irrelevant calculations in my head about how far I’ve gone, how far I need to go, how much time it will take, etc. By this point I had figured out the information on my Garmin was available to me with a swipe of my finger so I had even more numbers available to roll around in my head without making any sense. All this alleged “math” helped me forget where I was in the race and the next thing I knew, my Garmin beeped and informed me that I had just done my fastest mile of the race, at 12:55!! Go figure. Right after that, my Garmin zeroed out on its own and flashed “save workout”. I hit “save” and then I immediately pushed the “start” button again and it started timing again, beginning with zero. I then realized by all my whacky calculations that there would be no way to finish at 3 hours.

I was passing a water stop and saw where I was going to have to swerve around onto a sidewalk and then go all the way around a lake before crossing the finish line. It was at this point that I saw Jane walking from the parking lot and I guessed she was going to the finish line to cheer me on. I waved to her and just kept going. The lake itself looked like it was the distance of a half marathon. I came off the sidewalk to find that I had to run in gravel and within ten seconds of being on the gravel, I tripped on a tree root but fortunately, did not fall. I saw that there was some sort of flying disc contest going on – not quite Frisbees but something like that – so I decided it was probably best if I watch where I’m walking and gave up the hopes of a decent finish time. I figured if I was lucky and could get through this difficult gravel and uneven path for the last mile, I might be able to tie my time from the Halloween Halfathon.

As I came around the backside of the lake, there was yet another incline and guess what’s at the top of the incline? Yep, the photographer waiting for me to stop walking and begin running so he can get some sort of action. I buckled down and began begin running, I almost tripped but was able to catch myself and somehow I found a way to smile for the camera. (We will see how that race photo comes out!) As soon as I passed the photo op, I went back to walking; all the while realizing I was on yet another gradual incline to the finish line. I got to the 13 mile mark and I saw Jane to the left chatting on her cell phone. She waved and I waved back. I came around the corner and saw all the spectators cheering everyone all the way down and they were holding cameras, signs, flowers and balloons near the finish line. Somehow I dig deep and find the strength to start running and keep running until I crossed the finish line.

I looked around for Jane but I didn’t see her, so I went ahead and received my medal and let them cut the timer chip of my foot. I moved up to the side gasping to breathe because of the whopping one-tenth of a mile run to the finish line. I then saw Jane walking over, so I headed towards her side and we went into the area where the food is being served. Because this race wasn’t an “out and back,” I didn’t have my phone for post-race pics, but Jane did take a photo for me with the race director, Chris, as Santa. After the picture, I headed toward the food, got a plate and sat down to eat.

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The pasta was fabulous and oddly enough, I had a Sprite too. Everything was great but I was definitely ready to get on the road. I ran into a few friends in the park on my way back to the car, and I was glad to have a chance to see them and chat a minute. We left the race, I changed my shirt, and we stopped at Ellenton Prime Outlets for some quick shopping, and then headed home for a nap.

All in all, the race was very well set up, the pathway was clearly marked, there were mile markers at every mile, there was plenty of water/Gatorade at every stop, there seemed to be plenty of volunteers and as always, Chris Lauber put on yet another fantastic event, not to mention the big fat bling I walked away wearing!!!

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