All In: Gasparilla Ultra Challenge

Once again I seem to have committed myself to a crazy event. Deciding to not focus solely on distance PRs this year, it only seemed appropriate to follow up a Ragnar Relay with something equally questionable in the sanity department.

Gasparilla is a local flavor event and one I’ve done several times between high school and now. The past few years I’ve just tackled the half marathon as I was generally chasing a PR. With the Gasparilla race weekend happening just two weeks after Ragnar, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. Thinking it over since I’ll be trying training methods centered around running several times in a 24 hour period, the decision seemed kind of obvious.

If I’m doing that training anyways, why not do a challenge? Gasparilla offers several “ultra” challenges for tackling different sets of races. Since I’m doing it, I’m going all in for the main one, the Michelob Ultra Challenge.

Mich-Ultra-ChallengeI’ll run the 15K and 5K on Saturday. Then follow it up with the half marathon and 8K on Sunday. For a total of 30.4 miles over two days.

Let’s be realistic. I just have to complete the races within the time limits; it doesn’t necessarily mean I need to race them all. That said, my plan is to attempt to race the two longer distances, the 15K and the half marathon, due to them being my stronger events. I’m more likely to place in my age group with those two than the shorter 5K and 8K. (And as such, get more bling.)

Being straightforward: the chance to collect 4 shirts, a jacket, and 5 medals was a big incentive. It’s almost like doing an ultra, but spreading out the running and getting more stuff out of it.

Though as I read that, it does seem like sort of skewed logic. Just means the next 6 weeks are going to be an adventure.

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Race Recap: 2013 Brandon 5K

Woot woot! That’s another PR under the belt for my 5K.

Official Time – 21:46

PhotoGrid_1386205949457Now I admit that 5Ks are a bit easier for me to PR because I run them so rarely. The last 5K I actually raced was over a year and a half ago. If I didn’t PR now, I’d be slightly worried (not really). But I managed by more than 45 seconds and took the top of my age group (not hard since most of them sleep in hehe).

Now I really like this particular race first because my running group puts it on. Second because it’s a small and local race. So there’s no crowded course and getting boxed in at a slower pace. Plus they do a half marathon as well and it’s the main draw. The 5K is more for slackers such as myself. I didn’t want to race halfs two weekends in a row and really did want to complete a 5K just so I could grab that faster PR.

The weather ended up being on our side with it overcast, foggy, and cool. There was even a bit of misting, though I couldn’t tell if that was from not quite rain or the fog. But it made the start and races pretty mild compared to some others. I placed myself near the front and ended up probably around 15 or 20 once we got out of the start rush.

Then I sort of settled in around a 7:00 pace and kept my eyes on the one girl ahead of me. I sort of know who she is and she’s fast – runs for her college and all – so I decided to settle a bit backwards of her and see what happens. Well she ended up taking it easier today and I could have entirely paced with her instead.

About the halfway point (this reminds me that 5Ks seem so short after aiming at halfs and full marathons), they had a water stop set up and some girls from the group were egging me on to catch her. I figured it was worth a try and so picked it up a bit to just start closing the gap. I managed to get closer and was probably only a few feet behind her when we passed the 3 mile point and the last push where she left me behind.

After chasing her for 1.5 miles I just didn’t have the staying power to match her kick in the last 0.1 mile or so. Still, I finished 2 seconds back from her to take 2nd place overall for the ladies in the 5K. That also gave me the age group win. Super pleased to have managed all that with a PR on the distance. I may not race them often now, but 5Ks give a bit of self-confidence since I run them so much faster now than I did in high school.

Race Recap: 2013 Women’s Running Half Marathon

Another PR!! So stoked!

Official Time – 1:36:02

That’s a new half marathon PR. And I broke it by more than 3 minutes! So super happy. Now onto the actual recap.

I'm in there. Somewhere.

I’m in there. Somewhere.

This is an awesome event that I love. It’s newer (only 5 years old here I think) and really targeted at the ladies (obviously) even though they definitely don’t discourage guys from taking part. It’s still sort of local and a little smaller even though it has picked up bigger sponsors. I ran it for the first time two years ago and set my then PR at the 2011 race. Last year I did the 5K instead since I had less than 2 months to train after physical therapy ended and I was cleared to run.

It’s a lovely course through St. Petersberg, going along the water and past Tropicana field. There aren’t really much in hills though there are quite a few turns, so it feels like a fast course to me (though it might not actually be one…). Only thing that throws me off on this course is you run on some sections of cobblestones, but they’re relatively short. The long one has a nice wide sidewalk you can jump onto.

Now I hadn’t run a half marathon since Gasparilla in March of 2012, before I was out for 6 months, and so I didn’t have a real gauge going into this race. What could I do? Sure, I’d run a 15K in March but I was in different shape then. And the Marine Corps Marathon went fantastic – but I know more about guessing your marathon finish time from a half, not a half time from a marathon. Can that even translate right? Since you can push harder on a half due to it being shorter.

Coming in with a PR that was 1:39 and knowing my physical condition was way better off MCM than it was off Miami last year, I decided to shoot high for a 1:35. That’s a 7:15 pace and I admit, I wasn’t sure if that was gonna be doable for me over 13.1 miles. But I was going to try.

Luckily there was a 1:35 pace group for this race. Even better is that members of my running group, the Brandon Running Association, were dragged into being the pacers. So it was someone I know! Josh, who is ridiculously fast, got stuck with a group of us and it was quite amusing. The temps were a little cooler, so that was perfect. It was even overcast so no hot sun beating down. However, it seems to make up for that the weather threw some crazy winds at us – some gusts made it feel like you had to tuck in behind someone to keep going.

The first mile was a bit slower than pace, but then we settled in and had an amusing time for the next few miles. I actually felt quite solid and like I could stay on that 7:15 pace. But then I started to feel the pace further along near mile 7. We’d been fighting the wind even more the last few miles and 8 ended up being slow. Not sure if it was the best choice, but I decided to try pushing ahead closer to a 7:00 pace in an attempt to still make 1:35.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do 7:00s. I kept it close to the 7:15 but from about mile 9 on you run on a wide open road. There’s nothing to slow the wind and so this is the area that I struggled the most. The threat of rain, though it ended up just being clouds, meant there weren’t as many spectators along this stretch until you get closer to the finish. Also, the size and targeting of the race means it’s generally not a super fast field. So I knew the runners were spread out this far in the front. The next girl ahead was probably a good 250 feet and the immediate runners behind me were from the pace group.

Not having runners to either pull me along or push me forward was unusual for me. I’ve done well, but I’ve never really been “fast.” Additionally, most races have a good mix of girls and guys running it, so even if I end up being faster of the females there’s plenty of guys to pace off of. The WHM is different and this is the first time my struggle had to happen knowing I was near the front of the race. It was weird, but I definitely think I came out better experienced from it.

So while I couldn’t do the 7:00s, I could do the 7:15s and brought myself into the finish. I couldn’t close the gap to the girl ahead, but did manage to put enough space that no one caught me. Finished strong with the last mile being my fastest at 7:02 (obviously I still had a little gas in the tank) and woohooo for a PR!! Even if I did need a little help walking away from the finish while I fished out my inhaler.

So the final tally. A new PR at 1:36:02. Placed 16th overall and 13th of the women. Took first in my age group by 4 minutes. We’re still waiting on the team results, but according to one of our spectator friends, the first 5 runners on our team came in under 1:39, so I’m pretty sure the team will take the win for the 3rd year in a row.

I am mad excited! While I didn’t hit the 1:35, I got damn close. Still set a sweet PR and now I can chase that 1:35 in the future. I couldn’t dream of a better half considering the shape I’m in and the great race I had at MCM. Now I had another! Me = happy.

The Post-Race Void

It’s interesting that we spend all those months of training looking forward to THE Race (caps intended). Especially as the mileage ramps up and the event itself is so close, yet still not quite there, where we want it to happen only so we can spend less time training. Finally, the weekend arrives and all the excitement is focused on having a good time and a great race.

Then suddenly, it’s done. The training is over. No more rearranging our days to get all the miles in. No more planning weekends around long runs. No more intensive mental preparations to make this race the one we’ll always remember (though truthfully, we’ll remember every single one).

You take the few days after off. Instead of running, they’re spent recapping with friends, responding to posts of congratulations, putting up pictures of our triumph, and basking in the glow of achievement. Then it’s time to reverse taper back into a semi-regular schedule. Training no longer, simply running because it’s what we enjoy.

End_of_the_Road_Wallpaper_y3v85Yet even then, it feels like there’s a hole. A gap in our existence. Without another big race on the horizon, we lack the purpose of the past many months. An empty void in our lives. A beautiful void (we’ve been waiting for this moment, for the training and the race to be done), but a void nonetheless. And it feels weird. I think “shouldn’t I be training for something? and “shouldn’t my days be consumed with my workouts and the end goal of a race?” It’s hard to re-adjust to the mentality where my life isn’t all consumed by this event somewhere in the near future that’s steadily getting closer, while never being quite close enough.

It seems weird, but I especially feel bereft after completing the Marine Corps Marathon. I met my goal! Not only did I break the time I set for myself of 3:40 so long ago, I went a step further and ran a Boston Qualifier time. While I did not believe I would never run one, I also didn’t really expect it to happen so soon. I sort of expected more years building up my race experience and improving my training before it happened. Now, I simply have to wait until next fall when registration for 2015 opens.

Luckily, not all is an empty void in my future. I’ve plans for a half marathon just before Thanksgiving. There’s high hopes in my mind coming off this marathon that I can go on to PR my half marathon time as well. Plus, somewhere in the next 2 months I hope to run a 5K as well in the hopes of another PR. (All that success going to my head.)

While that void has been in my mind, it’s been good to get back out and just run. Plus having smaller events and goals to run towards is helping me keep from becoming completely distracted.

MIA and Back Again

Hey everyone. I know I’ve been a bit MIA the last couple of weeks after National Running Day. Unfortunately, things got a little crazy as I prepped for attending a trade show in LA.

It was fun, but ridiculously tiring. And I think the exhaustion afterwards made my immune system weak because of course a cold got me. So I got to spend my time being sick while driving back to Florida. Luckily, I’m mostly settled in and feeling much better in time to officially start my training plan on Sunday.

I have a few posts in progress with some tips and just general writing fun. Thinking I’ll be posting my weekly training recaps up here too, as a way to chronicle the next 18 weeks.

Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15K

First race since November! And first race that was longer than a 5K since March 2012!

Finished my first 15K in 1:14:16.

I admit, this was a pretty awesome experience. The staging area and start were well set-up. Parking in downtown was kind of scary mostly because I didn’t realize how short of a walk it was to the start area. Barely went a half mile. Took off my warm hoodie and dropped my bag off at gear check before doing a couple small loops to warm up. It was pretty cool, high 40s, waiting to head into the corrals (the 5K started first at 6:45). Plus the sun was only just starting to rise, so I enjoyed my 1.14 mile warm up.

20130324_160718Space finally cleared up and I headed into the corrals. I was in corral J, which was the 2nd corral for the 15K. They started on time (7:35), which was great to see (I’d been hearing different about this race in other cities). Added to that, they stagger the corrals. So we started about 2 minutes after the first corral and that made it a bit more manageable and less crazy for the first mile.

Now I had been warned that this race was very hilly. I figured it’d be like the rest of the greater San Diego area, but I didn’t anticipate starting on an uphill. So we got to get a feel for how the rest of the course would go from the very beginning. Garmin registers about 3100 feet in elevation changes (that includes ups and downs). I will say that running out here for 2 months has totally prepared me for this. While the uphills were difficult, especially the very steep ones, I was able to keep pace through them and passed a lot of people on the uphill.

The original plan was to run the race by 5Ks, taking it easy the first two and then picking it up the last. However, going much faster than I originally thought had me just kind of going on feel. So instead of picking it up after crossing the 10K mark, I sort of started after mile 5. I will say that the first 7 miles seemed to be just uphill and flat sections. Downhill areas were small and limited. Though the guy with a sign that said “Downhill around the next corner. Yay!!” was hysterical.

The course goes through downtown San Diego and Balboa Park (known for the zoo and museums). The downtown area was was fun for the high rises and the areas between there and the park had residential areas where people sat on their front steps and cheered. One lady even hooked up some speakers to her iPod and played us music!

The sidelines were emptier than I’m used to as many of the races I’ve done are much higher profile (this is only the 2nd year the Hot Chocolate run has been to San Diego), as it’s a young race, but it made for a nice morning jaunt. I got to listen to the conversations around me and laugh hysterically at 3 marines randomly bursting into song (or at least yelling the lyrics)  of various songs along the course. The most hysterical was their rendition of ‘Living on a Prayer’ (Bon Jovi) when we finally found a downhill somewhere in mile 5.

20130324_090802Besides feeling the blisters forming on my feet, I felt good for this one. I wasn’t quite sure where the speed was coming from, but I just went with it. By the time we reached the 10K mark, I was ready to get moving and picked it up. Plus the 2 miles of nearly all downhills after mile 7 made it easy to pick off people who were getting tired.

I finished strong and only needed my inhaler after crossing the finish line. Though I admit to forgetting to stop my Garmin after crossing the finish line, so that time is a little off. The volunteers on course were awesome and the water stations were well setup and spread well to make it easy to grab a drink. I picked up water at 3 of the 4 and had no troubles. Plus it was just fun high fiving the volunteers as you went by.

20130324_090812Of course, one of my favorite parts was after the finish. Post race party! The DJ they brought in was pretty good. Plus we got our finisher’s mug with a feast.

Dark chocolate hot chocolate (the good stuff too), dark chocolate fondue, and snacks for dipping. I totally demolished the whole thing, along with a few waters. I can say that while this is a pricier race, the technical hoodie and experience made it well worth it. The event was managed well and I had no problems at any stage. So if you want to try something different, I suggest checking out the Hot Chocolate 15/5K. Below are just some of the running related details.

Finish time-1:14:16

First 5K-26:03

Last 10K-48:13

Miles Splits (based on watch time, not bib time, of 1:14:46)- 8:31, 8:03, 8:40, 8:28, 8:02, 7:49, 7:52, 7:52, 7:10

Placement- 12 in age group, 100 for the ladies, 241 overall

finisher