Let me be completely honest: I signed up for this year’s Gasparilla half marathon only because of the big, shiny, badass medal. After last year’s half I said no, I’m ok, one is enough. But then the medal design was revealed on FB and I immediately plopped down $95 bucks to run it again. Call me a pushover.
Also – who gets up on a Sunday at 4 a.m. (on her birthday no less!) to run a half marathon? This girl!
And – despite a few flaws/hiccups in my race preparation, it turned out to be a good race for me, and I’m proud of my accomplishment.
At some point about two weeks ago, my left hip area started to bother me. Initially, the pain/discomfort was confined to the very top portion of the TFL; kinda where the muscle or tendon attaches to the hip bone. After ignoring it for a few days (I’m really good at that) it started to travel down the side of my leg, resembling the beginnings of ITBS. Great, I thought, that again? But no, that was not it. After foam rolling for a while the discomfort started to settle in the left hip, stretching from the top of the TFL to the hip flexor area. During the day when I’d sit at work for hours and hours, the muscles would get tight and it would take me several walking breaks to loosen up. Having learned from previous experiences I reduced my mileage and went from running five days a week to three. I really wanted to run this race; not just because of that shiny medal, but also because I really did not want to lose the $95!! I knew that even if I had to walk the race, I’d end up with that medal around my neck. And that was good enough for me.
Race day rolled around. I arrived in Tampa early to park close to the convention center and gathered my “stuff” from the trunk of my car. Within 10 seconds of looking for my sports armband I remembered that I had taken it out to wash it, but forgot to put it back in the trunk. Great! I had no way of stashing my phone or my car key, because I had no armband and my pants had no pockets. What I did have was a pair of arm warmers and a very small ziplock bag, so I tucked the key (wrapped in the bag) into my sports bra and jerry-rigged the arm warmer to hold my phone on my lower arm where I could reach it easily. Phew, crisis averted.
I stashed my Chia bar (intended for breakfast) and Vanilla GU gels into my bag, grabbed my Nuun Vitamin water, and made my way to the convention center for bag check. Nobody was in line (yay!!) and I was so concerned about tinkering with my armband and worrying if my phone would really be secure during the upcoming 13.1 miles that I just handed over the bag and walked off. I stretched, used the bathroom one last time, and headed to the start. As I was standing there, fairly close to the front of the line, I was quite proud of myself. I had managed to turn an arm warmer into a phone holding device, which allowed me to rock out to my favorite tunes while hammering away at the miles. The national anthem was sung, and we were only minutes away from taking off.
Then, I remembered.
I had taken neither the Chia bar nor the GU from my bag prior to handing it over at gear check. Fantastic. Congratulations, Alex, you’re now also running on an empty stomach and you do not have any GU for race nutrition. What is wrong with you??? I have a fairly strong stomach, but there’s only one thing that agrees with me in regards to in-race nutrition, and that’s GU. I’ve tried them all: Honey Stinger, Gatorade, Hammer, Cliff Shots, etc., etc.. Can’t do it. Think about the worst bloating you ever had……and I’ll spare you the rest. It’s either GU or it’s nothing. Well, it seemed that it’d be nothing for me that day.
So we start at 6 a.m. in the dark and make our way to Davis Island for the first 5 miles of the course. It’s awfully congested over the first mile, and my Garmin clocks me in at just over 11 minutes. Fine, that was supposed to be the slow warm-up anyway, and I knew that I would have to slow down eventually once the hip would start aching. Mile two, three, and four got progressively faster, and even though I felt fine I worried that I’d peter out before the half way mark because I had not trained properly for this distance.
After mile five I realized that drinking water alone would not help me finish this race, so I started to switch to Gatorade at the aid stations. Gatorade. The stuff I typically don’t drink because it doesn’t sit well with me. I also took one Gatorade energy gel, because now I was getting hungry and I needed some form of energy.
With Sunrise just to our left we traveled along beautiful Bayshore Blvd to mile nine and turned around for the way home just after that. I realized that despite having taken almost no walking breaks and running a faster than planned pace, my hip was feeling ok (the occasional tightness notwithstanding.) I managed to smile at some of the race photographers (there seemed to be more on the course than the last few years), but I also wondered how many of those pictures would turn out to be acceptable to me. You know that meme:
“Waited 7 days for race photos……liked NONE of them”. Ugh….
The race got tough for me around mile 10. I had managed an average pace of about 10 minutes per mile, which was faster than I thought I’d be able to run. But now mental fatigue was starting to get to me, almost as much as physical. Still, the hip was feeling ok, which gave me the confidence to push ahead, attempting to keep the pace steady and not give in to the desire to walk. I passed one runner, then another. I saw two fellow runner friends, waved, then passed them too. I took one short walk break to chug some water at the last aid station, then cranked the volume up on my headset and forged ahead, crossing the finish line at 2:14:36.
I was exhausted but totally ecstatic. My one and only goal had been to finish just a bit faster than last year’s 2:22. Considering the hip issue and lack of training miles I thought that might not happen, and to see my finish time on my Garmin made me realize that the effort had been worth it. And that medal!!
Oh, and my tummy? Well, GU is and remains my go-to race gel. Gatorade is not, let’s leave it at that.
If you find yourself wondering if you should run this race I’d say YES, run this race. The expo is big, the event is superbly organized, there are multiple post-race, Gasparilla-themed photo ops:
If you’re lucky, like a lot of runners are (not me), you’ll even get to high-five Meb on the course or take a selfie with him somewhere. And if the 2019 medal is as gorgeous as this year’s, I could be convinced to run the Gasparilla half marathon once more….