Thursday, March 2, 2017

February Half: Gasparilla in Tampa

The take-away from half-marathon 2 of 12 for the year, the Gasparilla Half Marathon in Tampa: Mile markers are big fat liars. Always.

6,482 humans joined me in the dark early morning for the 6am start, wandering the streets of downtown Tampa, toward the starting line. And, is usually the case around a bunch of runners, these were super nice humans… everyone I saw was happy and cheerful and glad to be awake and walking around in the dark.
Sleepy? Maybe a little hungover?
The real question is why were the
photogs taking pictures this early

When the audio for the national anthem failed, the participants, unprompted, totally organically, started singing the anthem a cappella. It was NOT a particularly beautiful rendition, especially at that super high “rocket's red glare” bit, but insanely cool nonetheless. That’s the kind of people I was hanging around with. In the dark.

Once started, I could tell I was going out a bit fast. I was within myself, but it sure felt like I was going out a bit too fast.

Maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed that running in the dark feels A LOT faster than it really is? When my GPS blipped the Mile 1 alarm, I was WAY slow. S’ok, I thought, no worries… first mile is always a little wonky. Mile 2 will be better.

But it wasn’t. Still slow.

It was a little crowded. It was dark, really dark, like can’t-see-the-road-under-your-feet dark in some places. I’d flown in just the afternoon before, had a few margarita’s the night before. All or any of those could be slowing me down. Or maybe it just wasn’t my best day.

I saw the GF, who braved chilly* winds to watch for me at the only spot that had any spectators to speak of, just after the 5-mile mark. While collecting my high-five from her, and told her “I’m slow today.”

By then I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to run under 2-hours (my soft-goal for these races this year). Just not my day. I settled into a groove and tried to enjoy the scenery.

With some fuzzy recall of the course map and a little math, I realized that the rest of the race was 4 miles out, 4 miles back. I’m not a fan of out and back, but this one, along Bayshore, which (no surprise) was along the shore, of the bay, was gorgeous, especially at sunrise.

I saw Meb Keflezighi, US distance stud and 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist fly by, heading the other way on the back side of the out-and-back, in 3rd place. I yelled “Go Meb”, but he didn’t seem to notice. He did continue to go, though, so, who knows.

Key revelation: I’d hit every water stop up to 8 miles, and there had been a water stop pretty much every mile. If I kept this up, I was definitely going to pee my pants.

After the U-turn at 9 miles, I started back with the math, counting back from 2-hours, dividing my miles left. And, critically, I started doubting my GPS, which seemed to always think it was at a mile mark before the mile marker.

Ok, I know… mile markers are notoriously inaccurate, but these weren’t just dropped off from a truck that morning. There were lines painted on the street. Real lines, with labels. It REALLY looked like someone had actually measured this time, taken care to be accurate.

Plus, there have been plenty of times when my GPS watch has gone off the rails, seeming to be way long, or way short. (I usually blame it on a satellite signal bounce off a building.)

So, I started discounting the mile-by-mile alerts from the GPS and focusing on the markers. As you'll see, not my smartest move. Maybe it was the margaritas...

This lady did NOT want my photo taken

Those mile markers were telling me consistently that I wasn’t going to beat 2hrs . At 9 miles. And at 10 miles. And 11. I was running a decent pace, but I wasn’t going to make up the time I’d lost in those first few miles without pressing the pace.

And, I just wasn’t going to press. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t, not until I was strong enough to survive a “race” without injury. So, I cruised.

The scenery got even better on the return leg as the city was in view across the bay, and more importantly, was getting closer.

A little more math, because what else did I have to do, and I figured that if I was at mile 12 with 10 minutes to spare, I’d have a chance.

Mile 12 marker came... nope, 30 seconds over. Oh well… now I know for sure.

So, I just kept cruising, feeling just a little superior for not getting sucked into racing to a time.

Mile 13 marker: 1:59:00

Wait, what?!? I had a minute to cover 1/10th of a mile. How can that be?

Easy… Mile markers are big fat liars. Always.

I picked up the pace just a touch. Barely pressing, just a tad, for the last 60 seconds.

Checked the watch about half way… no problem… three quarters… yep, I can even back off a bit…

Don't you hate when they
get you checking your watch?

At the line I stopped my watch…. 1:59:58...

You’d think I’d thrust a fist into the air in triumph, right? After all, I’d just pulled "victory" from the clutches of defeat.

Nope, no fist in the air, not even a fist pump, nor a self-congratulatory "yes"... I started to laugh. I’m not talking a little chuckle to myself, I laughed out loud. People heard me. People looked at me.

I suppose I should have been thrilled, but I just wasn’t. Why?

Because in that exact moment it was clear to me how ridiculous that time was.

I beat 2 hours, my cruise-pace, minimum soft-goal, by 2 seconds.

Big fucking deal.

Don’t get me wrong… there are time barriers that are super important to us, that take us out of our comfort zones, that push us to new levels of fitness and confidence. For many, finishing a half in 2 hours is a huge accomplishment, and I get that.

People train hard and race hard to meet times, and that’s important to them. But let’s be real here… that’s not what this was. This was a cruise, and bad mile markers, and a slight change of pace over 58 seconds. For what? What does 2 seconds, over 2 hrs, finishing in the middle of the pack, mean?

If I’d finished in 2:00:02, would that have been any different? Really? Would it have been easier? Would I be less sore the next day?

If I’d had one less margarita on Saturday night, would I have run 1:59:56? Would that have felt different?

If someone had stumbled and I’d stopped to help, would a 2:00:15 be a bad result?

Race times are interesting, and, when looked at with a firm fuzzy-vision-inducing squint, can give you a rough idea as to how you are progressing, but let’s not obsess. Plus or minus two seconds, ten seconds, 30 seconds, over 13 miles, they’re all pretty much the same thing.

Post race snacks were plentiful. The GF walked me back to the room. We went to the post-race party, scarfed some BBQ. There were maybe 15 people there. I’m sure it filled out, but we had a beach, and more margaritas, to get to.

Next up, an oldie but a goodie, and close to home, the Sam Costa Half.

If you'd like to catch up on the year in halfs so far, here are links:

  1. Jan: runDisney StarWars half at Disneyland
Good running,

*”Chilly” is relative… it was way colder in Indiana

Indy top, Tampa bottom... duh...