13th Annual Florida Holiday Halfathon – Madeira Beach, FL – December 14, 2014

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So the countdown is officially on!! The completion of this race was Half Marathon #13 in my goal to complete 14 Half Marathons in 2014! I’m really ready to be finished too! While I’ve had a great time seeing tons of people I know, and I’ve received so much support that it’s been amazing, I’m ready to be finished. God has been by my side and under my feet – He has carried me, pulled me, pushed me, dragged me and gotten me over all those finish lines and I’m so very grateful! I won’t get too carried away here since I still have that one more race to go……

Anyway….. this race is another one of those “starfish” races – meaning one in the four-race series put on by Chris Lauber at Florida Road Races with the cute starfish medal designed by his lovely wife, Rya Lauber.

While I’ve done several of the Florida Road Races, it wasn’t until last year that I participated in this particular race, the Florida Holiday Halfathon. I have to admit that while I love doing new races and meeting new people, it’s always nice to do a race I’ve done before since I’m aware of the nuances that make it different than other races. In particular, I was aware that this race included a bridge – not like Clearwater or anything – but a bridge nonetheless.  The race also included two pedestrian “ramps” on the Pinellas Trailway that I remember caused me a lot of difficulty last year. I was hoping that I had healed enough over the course of this year that those three obstacles wouldn’t cause me any trouble this year.

The night before the race, as usual, I put out my “flat Debi” and tried to get some sleep. I had all my race “gear” together (or so I thought). I couldn’t get to sleep the night before – nothing new there. I turned the television off at about 11:15pm and forced myself to shut down and sleep.

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Due to the fact that this race is about an hour and a half from my house, we set the alarm for 4am to allow a snooze cycle or two before leaving the house. Since the race was to start at 7:05am, we wanted to get there by 6:30am so I could pick up my bib, shirt and race packet. I was preregistered, so I wasn’t worried about anything because I knew last year it was very easy at the pre-race packet pickup held race morning in the Madeira Beach Municipal Building. We arrived right as scheduled, but unfortunately, this year they had run out of certain sized shirts, including the Women’s XL I had pre-ordered, so I had to take a Men’s Large. No biggie there; I’ll live.

As usual, there was already a big line formed for the women’s restroom.  We had just driven an hour and a half to get to this race, so my only option was to line up for one of the portable facilities outside. Last year I had enough time to dash over to the local 7-11, but not this year. With the number of runners participating this year, the parking was difficult and it just seemed smarter to stick around the start line so I held my breath and dashed in.

This race course is not an “out and back,” which means it starts in one place and ends in another instead of finishing in the same location as the start.  I headed over toward the start line and saw a few people I knew so I kept myself busy chatting until the race was ready to start. I knew I would be starting with the walkers, since anyone finishing in 3 hours or more was to begin with the walkers.  Last year I got all bent out of shape about that, but this year, I was just fine about it. I had programmed my Garmin to try and do a one minute walk/one minute run cycle, although I had never actually done that for 13.1 miles.  It lasted for four miles before I started ad libbing the run/walk cycle to meet my needs.

We headed down Gulf Boulevard from Madeira Beach through to Redington Beach, North Redington Beach, Redington Shores and Indian Shores. There was no wind like last year, so I was very grateful. I knew that somewhere after the 3 mile mark, we would be heading off Gulf Boulevard, up and across a bridge taking us off the barrier island. The incline was steep for me but I know I wasn’t struggling in pain like last year. I took it slow and just kept moving until I knew I was at the top and then began heading down the other side. I was so glad to have made it, knowing that the next several miles were going to be flat.

I didn’t remember going through the neighborhoods last year like we did this year, but what I did know was that I needed a restroom …… FAST.  It wasn’t happening and I was getting nervous, but then I saw a portable unit sitting near a house under construction.  I bolted right over and made it.  Just. In. Time.

Then I got to that part where I knew we would be going onto the Pinellas Trail. I moved around the little lake and followed the path to the actual trail.  I was very happy there – blacktop, no concrete, no wind, just kept moving forward.  The seam on the formerly-cute-but-now-stupid elf socks I was wearing were tearing into each of the toes on my left foot to the point where it was burning.  What was I thinking when I didn’t try on those socks until the morning of the race? Ugh!

I kept moving on the trail and my friend, Robin, from Venice came up while I was walking. We talked for a bit – she’s having some really tough “life” stuff going on right now – and when she ran ahead, I actually had a lump in my throat and was nearly in tears feeling her pain. Anyone reading this: please keep Robin and her family in your prayers.

As I approached the first pedestrian bridge on the trail, I was okay with it because I knew there was only one other elevated area and then I’d be done with the race.  On the second pedestrian bridge, I’ll admit I had to hold on to the handrail for a bit, but I got it done. I usually have one of those gels with me for the second half of my race, but due to lack of proper planning of my “gear” for this race I had none. Call it my imagination or maybe my own paranoia, but I started feeling faint and wobbly, I was afraid I was going to faint at about mile 11 or 12. (As an Ambassador for BOOM energy gels, I’m a little disappointed in myself for forgetting this very important part of my “gear”.)

I don’t know how it happened, but the workout I set on my Garmin ended.  I have no idea what I did wrong – I still haven’t looked at it to find out what happened.  All I know is that it felt exactly the same as last year where my Garmin workout (the run/walk plan I set up) ended even though the half marathon wasn’t over! No clue what is up with that!!

At about this time, the wireless headphones I was using – new Yurbuds called “Leap” – started repeating songs, skipping songs, making the volume go up and down, flickering in and out, and just going crazy. I took them of and looked at them but they looked fine so I put them back on. They still kept acting crazy so I decided it would be okay to listen to Miranda Lambert singing “Bathroom Sink” over and over and over and over and over and…. well, you get it.

So I came out of the Pinellas Trail, and headed through the parking lot area, and out towards the lake. I saw Jane in the parking lot.  She wanted to take my picture but by then those headphones had made me crazy and I almost threw them at her and told her they were going to be returned!!

I came around the backside of the lake and I knew there would be a slight incline and then a photographer and sure enough, that’s exactly how it was. I tried to run to give him something to take a picture of and of course, I got a cramp in my thigh LOL! Wonder how that picture will turn out!

When I saw the mile marker for 13, I knew this one was in the books, so I was able to buckle down and run through the finish. I love how complete strangers yell out encouraging me to finish big. Jane was right there and helped me get over to a picnic bench. I had to sit down for a second.  I got a picture near the finish line, saw the line for the food was crazy long and since I knew our football team was on at 1pm, we opted to head home so we could make kick off.

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As you can probably tell from the photo, I couldn’t bring myself to wear the Santa hat – didn’t want my hair to be messed up at the finish line!

Later I read on Facebook where someone got lost near the end of the race. I’m not quite sure how that could have happened, because for me, the pathway was clearly marked, there were mile markers at every mile, and there seemed to be plenty of volunteers.  Thank you, Chris and Rya Lauber for another fantastic event, and for another big fat medal for my wall!

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