I jumped out of bed with excitement when the alarm rang at 4 AM and put on my running shorts, shirt, shoes, etc. The night before I had laced the race timer up in my left shoe and had pinned my number on my sports top. I went into the kitchen and made some toast. Around 4:30 I poked my head in to wake my best friend. “It’s time,” I said.
“I know, I heard various noises coming from your room,” Karen said.
She was right. After the alarm rang at four, I set my cell phone to ring at 4:20 and 4:30….just in case I could not get up. Karen stumbled out of bed – she is NOT a morning person, rather, one of those people who does not show up to work until 9:30 or 10:00 AM. I knew I was killing her more than I, but I loved her for getting out of bed to help me get to the starting line and cheer me on.
For Karen, the day would be cool but for the rest of us, we were more than happy to be running in 55 degree weather. I drove us down Long Boat Key past Saint Armand’s Circle, through Bird Key and over the Ringling Causeway bridge across Sarasota Bay into Sarasota and turned left on 41 North. About 5 miles up the road I followed a train of cars to a parking lot where I parked on the grass behind a large Ford truck. Two young guys were stretching and eating power bars. I chatted with them as I stripped out of my running pants and fleece top. These two crazies had just finished the Fort Lauderdale marathon two weeks ago, and while they talked about training for an Ironman this fall, I stretched and watched poor Karen get out of the car. We walked toward the starting line – about a quarter mile away. over 2400 runners would be running today; many were on line to go to the porta-potty – a place, I am happy to say I did not venture to before, during or even after the race. My body held up fine. The nerves were gone. I had trained. I was ready.
About 5:45 AM, under a few street lights and a crescent moon, we started to line up in our appropriate running areas. Since I planned on running a nine to 10-minute mile or less during the race, I put myself by the nine-minute slot. Behind me stood a triathlete and father of two, who I chatted up while Karen snapped a couple of photos. I also turned my attention to a mother and her 15-year-old daughter who were running together. I asked them if they knew about the rule regarding headphones – that none were allowed. They hadn’t read that rule and apparently neither had about 50% of the running pack. I ran to my bag which had my Ipod, and slipped it on. According to the race rules, you are not to run with headphones – a rule I learned was not enforced. I called to Karen who was carrying my things and pulled my Ipod out of my bag. I knew I could not really do this race without the music and was very psyched as I wired myself up. I clipped my Ipod on the inside instead of the outside of my shorts and put the wiring in my shirt as I always do. At a moments notice I could take the headphones off which I did at times during the race just to give my ears a break.
When the shotgun went off at 6:00 AM I was more than excited to get started. When you start a race in the dark, however, it’s very strange. We ran through a neighborhoods sans street lights – with only that crescent moon to light our way. Needless to say, we all look like a bunch a fish floundering out of water when we start. Consequently, I was very amused to learn that this race is called the “Grouper Run.”
I was running slowly the first mile because I was trying to make my way around the thousands of us who were vying for a position. I tripped over someone’s heel (how can one see in the dark!) and fell onto the palms of my hands. Fortunately, I bounced up so quickly I did not damage to my hands at all but they did sting. I also hit my left knee as I fell and I hobbled a few steps before thanking God that it was dark out and that hopefully, no one would recognize me later. Also, no one fell over me, I am happy to report.
Not surprisingly, my first mile split was at exactly 10 minutes. After the first mile, the field opens up and you get your pace. My second mile was an 8:45 so you can see how you can recover for lost time. My third mile was about a 9:20 and after that, I logged pretty consistent 9:20 to 9:40 miles. My splits at four and five miles were a minute faster than I had trained, which was great. I was extremely happy with my 7 mile split – a quick 1:03:55. Yippee for me.
At approximately 7:04 AM, after I passed mile 7, Christ Lamperski, a 26-year-old from Charlotte, NC, was less than 10 minutes away from winning the half with a finish time of 1:13.19. I passed him when he had already doubled back to the finish line as I made my ascent over the bay bridge.
Miles seven through nine were uneventful but Karen took a picture of me coming over the bridge at about mile 8.5 where I had passed Chris after he had doubled back. I ran up to mile 10 but realized that I was breaking down. I had my running gel at mile six and really soared over the bridge to and from Bird Key faster than I thought. As I rounded the corner that took the runners off of route 41 back into the neighborhood we ran through, I came upon my 10-mile split. I slowed down a little here and let the clock click away to 1:34 but increased my speed after walking a few seconds to stretch my hamstrings.
I bobbled around and walked through the drink stops for the last three miles. I needed a shot of gatorade just to give me a sugar boost to finish the last three miles. I did allow myself to walk a little bit, but never for more than about 20 seconds at a time. I grabbed a little cup of gummy bears at mile 11. Note to self – eat the gummy bears one at at time. Do NOT shove them all in your mouth and try to chew and swallow them. I chewed and chewed and chewed and chewed and just when I thought I’d just spit them out I thought twice about spitting out a rainbow array of mashed gummy bears and just swallowed the whole lot of them.
Between mile 12 and 13 I really ran out of steam. I allowed myself to walk for about a minute and at that time I caught up with a woman who I had a conversation with at mile five. She was one of a few I chatted with as we made our way to the finish line. I had a nice chat with one football player type looking guy who was just chugging along at a pretty consistent pace. I ran with him from miles nine to eleven. After mile eleven he noticed that we had 18 minutes to finish the race in less than two hours. He started to run a little faster so I forced myself to stay with him. At the eleven-mile water station I blew ahead of football guy, but at mile 12.4 or so I just died! I was way ahead of football guy or so I thought, but after I stopped to walk with the woman I met at mile five (who I dubbed pink girl), he must of passed me because pink girl and I caught up to him in the last stretch of the race. I told pink girl, who was walking when I noticed her, that I’d join her but that we had to start up again in a moment. We dragged each other to the finish line and crossed the line together.
In the last 30 feet to the finish line I heard Karen yell, “Go ALIX!” I was so excited she made it to the end to greet me. The triathlete I talked to at the beginning of the race came right over to me to ask me how the race went.
“I finished in 2:04, what about you?” I asked. (my actual finish time was 1:03:24)
“I finished at 1:55,” he said. We all talked a few minutes, shook hands, and parted ways. I soon discovered the massage tables. Man, that small rub down was fabulous. I reveled in the fact that I averaged about a 9:38 pace and was very proud. In the end I probably could have choked out a 2:02, possibly, but in the end I planned my race and raced my plan.
I want to dedicate this race not only to Karen, but to John and Jan Berlin. Jan, your good luck pin brought me the best of luck. To my in-laws, Dr. Don and Pat Shutello, thank you for your hospitality and support. To my family, Mark, Matt, and Dylan, thank you for your support too. I missed you and am glad to be home.
Read Channel ABC article at http://www.wwsb.com/Global/story.asp?S=7158540