Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yes, I Ran the Women's Half Marathon...

Sunday, November 21, 2010 - There's a good reason I ran in the Women's Half Marathon...I was there to support my Saturday running group friends. I started the day at 5am when I left my house to drive to St. Pete and to meet up with Merle and the group in the photo above. We walked to the start a few blocks away and once we arrived, it was a sea of pink shirts. Merle wisely chose yellow shirts for the team and this made it much easier to pick out the group.

We entered the start corral and I was politely informed that men had to start in corral 4. It is a women's race after all, so I said goodbye to Merle and the corral 2 group and headed back. I was pleased to find the rest of the group right when I entered corral 4. Robby, Michele, Anielka (Annie), Sara and Sandy were ready to run and a few minutes later, we were off.

Sara and Robby took off and within a mile, we lost them in the crowd up ahead. Michele, Sandy, Annie and I ran together for about 2 miles using the Galloway walk/run method until Annie decided to run without the walk breaks and we ran out ahead. Annie and I had a nice run together and kept a nice steady pace. She was running strong and ultimately at about the 6 mile mark, Annie took off on her own and I re-grouped with Sandy and Michele.

Michele had been training to do her first half marathon at this race and was doing really well. She'd built up her mileage and was stronger each time we ran together. Unfortunately, she developed a injury in her foot and her doctor sidelined her with a very stylish boot to stabilize her foot and to help her heal. On her road to recovery, she took up Spinning 3 times a week and slowly came back to running as the doctor permitted. I was so pleased she was there, but I figured she might need some distraction and encouragement along the way. Sandy, on the other hand, rode 65 miles in a cycling event on Saturday and sheepishly admitted that she hadn't been running much.

Michele and Sandy were doing great and running strong as the route took us out to the end of the Pier and back and up the street towards Tropicana Field (where the Rays play). According to Michele, it was about mile 10 when her calf muscles started to complain loudly and we stopped for a stretch break. Sandy and Michele did their best to push over this street sign, but it held firm as they stretched and we kept going. This was also the point in the race where it turned from simply a physical event, to a test of mental toughness.

Sandy and I turned up the distraction factor and encouraged Michele to keep it up. I once heard that there are 2 universal lies told during races..."you're looking good" and "you're almost there". Sandy and I didn't lie as such, but we simply used these same phrases to encourage Michele, reaffirm how good we all looked and to comment on the relative nearness of the finish line. We were, after all, only a 5k away from the finish line.

One cool thing about this race course is that you get to run inside of the air conditioned Tropicana Field baseball stadium at about mile 11. That was a fun distraction and the soft, indoor, artificial turf felt great as we made our way around the bases and across the outfield. Michele and Sandy liked it too and showed their appreciation for the camera. We were almost there (I'm not lying) with only 2 miles left to go. Michele shared that her calves were on fire and I looked and confirmed there was no combustion and told her she needed to tell her calves to "shut up!" so she could continue on and finish her first half. We kept running, taking an occasional stretch break and sometimes extending the walk breaks, but we kept moving forward.

Michele was determined to finish strong and Sandy and I reminded her that every step she took was a new longest run. She was doing great as we came to the final turn and a guy with a bullhorn announced that we "looked good" and that it was only .3 miles to the finish. We rounded the corner and the finish line was a bit further up the road and I heard the disappointment in Michele's voice when she saw the additional distance. I thought she was going to walk, but she kept going strong. Michele was fighting through the pain and all the negative messages her muscles were sending to her brain, but she kept on going. Just to show her calves who's boss, she picked up the pace and ran hard into the finish.

Michele won the mental battle today and achieved her goal of running a half marathon. Congratulations Michele! Sandy also earned an award as "Best Supporting Distracter".

Merle, thanks for organizing and nice race! Sara, thanks for getting Michele into running in the first place...way to go. Annie, thanks for coming up to do the race, it was great to see you again. Tracy, you smoked the course today! Congratulations to everyone who did the race today and helped raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society ("Go Team!").

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ironman 70.3 Championships - Volunteer Anyone?

Saturday, November 13 was the Ironman 70.3 World Championship race in Clearwater, FL and for the third time I saw the race from the vantage point of a volunteer. The first year, I was a "bike catcher" and for the last 2 years, I worked at an aid station on the run course.

Joe, our fearless volunteer leader and Ironman triathlete, did a great job organizing the chaos and we had a very successful day supporting the athletes with water, sports drinks, bars, gels, bananas, oranges, sponges and a huge helping of encouragement. I started the day at the swim start where I saw the pros speed through the calm water and exit the 1.2 mile swim in under 25 minutes.

By the time they hit our aid station, they'd biked 56 miles and run over 4 miles of their 13.1 mile journey. They run 2 loops, so we got to see them again before they headed back over the memorial causeway to Clearwater Beach for the finish. It was a fun day marked by plenty of sticky pink sports drink (Perform, not Gatorade) and the best of the best from across the world competing in this race.

I was even able to see my friend and co-worker, Larry, compete in the race and caught this blurry picture of him on his second loop of the run. Congratulations to the athletes who made it through the day and to the great volunteers I worked with that made it so enjoyable.