On Sunday I debuted in the Half Marathon at the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa, FL. To get to the point, it was an amazing experience and I absolutely loved it! If you desire, feel free to skip straight to the race recap. Otherwise, I will also talk about the weekend and the events leading up to the race.
If you didn't already know, Kurt and I are living apart for a few months while I start my new job in Utah and while he finishes his PhD at Auburn. Being apart has been so tough, but knowing it is only for a short period of time has made it bearable. We wanted to plan some of the spring races around dates and places we could meet up and spend a weekend together. We have always loved traveling for races and often refer to these trips as our "race-cations"! We absolutely love it!
On Friday we both flew into Tampa and upon arrival to the hotel were immediately impressed with the hospitality of the elite coordinator Bill Orr. He was so good to us the whole weekend and we were so grateful to have worked with him!
We were also very impressed with Tampa, as neither of us had been. It was a very cool place with great weather, beautiful scenery, and a great vibe! On Saturday, we visited the race expo and walked around downtown Tampa. One of my best friends from Weber State, Sarah, happens to be living in Orlando right now, so she and her husband drove over and met us for the afternoon and dinner. We had such an awesome time catching up and talking about all the things we have done since running in college!
The night before the race, I had a lot of pre-race nerves. I don't usually get so nervous that early, but for some reason, I was. I think it was probably due to the fact that I had never raced a half marathon before. I didn't expect to be so nervous, especially because I have raced 4 marathons just fine, but I was. I also think I was nervous because I new there were several really good competitors that would be out there.
That night I didn't sleep well unfortunately, and it was an early morning! The race started at 6 am so I was up before 4! I had a little bit of food and mixed up my cranberry raspberry UCAN drink to sip on for the next hour or so. Then, we were shuttled to the starting area with the rest of the elite athletes. Like most pre-race mornings, there was the typical feelings of excitement, nerves, and focus. I love the intensity before races!
Kurt told me he just wanted me to go ahead and do my own thing for the warm-up and he would do his. That was just fine, each of us have different ways of preparing and focusing before the race. I ended up warming up with Esther and Clara, which I really enjoyed!
After the warm up, I went back to the elite tent to change into my racing flats, and do some strides. Before I knew it, it was time to be escorted to the starting line. As we began to walk over to the starting line, I realized I needed to use the restroom again. Not badly, but enough that I didn't want to worry about it during the race. I thought there would be one near the starting line, but I was wrong! Ahh!! Luckily the elite tent was not too far away so I sprinted back and used the porta-potty! It was a little hectic, but I made it back with plenty of time to spare!
Now to the fun part!
The gun went off and so did we! It was dark and I went out at a pace that felt very easy. I was not far behind the leaders and was sitting in 3rd place. It was early and I just wanted to tuck in and lock into a steady pace. Kurt and I came through the first mile about 6 seconds faster than the pace I had intended, but knew I would be fine. I could hold strong, especially for a half marathon. Kurt and I just locked in and stayed relaxed for the first few miles. Around mile 5, the chase pack was with us which included Esther, Jennifer, and Heather, along with a few men. We continued to crack away at a good pace and it was awesome to have a good pack.
The first 5 miles were around an island, followed by a small bridge (hardly a hill, more like a bump) where we would begin our 4 mile out and back portion that would make the final 8 miles of the race. We began our 4 miles out along Bayshore, and although it was still dark, there was a little sliver of light, making the bay a beautiful sight! However, I wasn't there to see the sights and quickly regained focus. In the far distance ahead, we could see the leader. We joked a little bit about the fact that she was not running the tangents at all! She had gone out quite fast and created a large gap, but she was not pulling away from us at this point, if anything, we were going the same pace. The second place runner, Lindsey, was starting to get closer as we reached the turn-around point.
At the turn-around point, we made a hairpin turn and were immediately greeted by a gusty headwind. It reminded me of my marathon in Philadelphia, but luckily it wasn't nearly as bad. However, I did start to fall back a little as Jen, Kurt, and Esther pulled away slightly. I was calm, and knew I would make it back up again; I wanted to maintain contact. After a good 200 meters of effort I was back in the pack.
As the miles began to tick by, Jen started to fall back slightly and it was now Kurt, Esther, and I. We could see Lindsey getting closer and closer. We all talked a little and decided we were definitely going to catch up to her. With a little over 2 miles to go, we did exactly that. We caught up to Lindsey, and she made a massive surge. We covered it, and she eventually fell back. A little bit later it was just the three of us again.
The last few miles were not comfortable, but I was more excited than ever! The headwind for the last 4 miles into the finish had slowed our paces by nearly 10 seconds per mile. Howeber, we were still cracking away, and I knew I was going to have a great debut time! I also knew that I was going to be top 3! The last mile and a half, Esther and I were back and forth battling it out. It was such a fun experience to race like that. Before the finish, there was a bridge and as we came around the corner, there was a start or finish line (I think for one of the other races that weekend) that was deceiving! I started to kick and soon realized that was not the finish! I tried to hold onto the kick, but Esther shortly thereafter took the lead. We went into the finish and I did my best to kick. I had a strong finish, but ended up in 3rd place (less than 4 seconds off of 2nd place).
It was bittersweet. I am thrilled with the result, and with it being my first race since Philly in November, I think it was a great rust-buster and debut half. However, I know that I want to work on my finishing, and racing to utilize my best strengths. It was also so awesome to race with Kurt, something we have never done before! We have done plenty of easy runs together, but have never actually done a workout or race together. It was a memory and experience I will always cherish! I am seriously so lucky to have him in my life :).
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. I had the opportunity to make new friendships and meet several of my heroes Meb Keflezighi, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Bill Rodgers (and had to try really hard to keep it cool). I also loved the opportunity to race with Kurt, and spend another "race-cation" together.
Tampa was good to us! I am grateful to those who made the race weekend possible, and to the wonderful Tampa community.
I am also grateful to my sponsor UCAN who helped me fuel properly for this race, and perform so well. Also thank you to Brooks Running for supporting my running endeavors. And lastly, thanks to all of YOU for your continual support! You all rock!