You know, it always comes down to this eternally ponderous struggle: The Journey vs. the Destination. Wherein lies the biggest payoff?
That’s sort of the theme for today’s race review, and no, the video won’t be by Journey, because we’ve all had enough of that lately. And by “lately” I mean “since 1983″.
Anyway, let’s get down to it and talk about the 2014 Space Coast Marathon, which took place on the clear, breezy morning of November 30, 2014 in the ridiculously beautiful berg of Cocoa, Florida. Held in the shadow of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, the race prides itself on being the oldest marathon in all of Florida. This year marked the 43rd running of the race, which rather interestingly and coincidentally means this race is as old as I am! And let us also file that particular nugget of data into our Who Gives A Flying Flip drawer and move on.
The race is, of course, “space” themed, an ethos that is spread around the entire affair. You’ve got medals fashioned after actual NASA space shuttles, astronaut props, and lots of sci-fi and NASA-themed costumes and decorations. The event offers both a Half and Full Marathon option, allowing runners to test their mettle at both distances. And since the race is traditionally held on the last Sunday in November, it’s a “cooler” time of the year in Florida, which usually means it’s only slightly less smoldering than the surface of Mercury.
Now I’ll definitely be reviewing the pros and cons of the race, what I felt worked well and what needed some serious improvement, but before I do please allow me a bit of self-indulgence. I ran the Full Marathon which, for those of you keeping score, was my second 26.2-mile running event. My first was the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon which didn’t quite go as planned (to put it ever-so-gently). That was a long, dreadfully hot slog which wasn’t helped by an injury that reared its head around Mile 19. After the race I decided to stick to Half Marathons only, or what 9 out of 10 Lambada instructors call “Wussing the hell out”.
They left a spot for me in the front. Jerks.
Thankfully my running buddy Kristi helped talk me out of being such a great sissy and I registered for the Space Coast Marathon last February. That gave me a good nine months to really train for it. Oh sure, I was running 5Ks, 10Ks, and Halfs like they were going out of fashion, but training for a marathon is a Canoe for another Boat Show. That takes long hours of training, building up stamina, reinforcing your infrastructure to handle the system stress, watching your heart rate and VO2max and learning how to fuel and hydrate properly and all that really important garbage. If anyone’s curious about that process and my entire six month training regimen, you can read all about it here, here, and here.
I’ll make a super-long story blissfully short and simply say that I felt I trained the right way: a slow, steady, incremental build of mileage and lots and lots of long runs, including three 20+ mile runs in 8 weeks leading up to the race.
I felt I was ready.
Now let’s talk about the race, starting with none other than…
The race expo was held at the Radisson Resort in Cape Canaveral on Saturday, the day before the race. Boots and I left sunny Fort Lauderdale that morning and after 2.5 hours of driving we arrived around 1:30 PM. Kristi had texted me just as we arrived, warning me that the place was absolute pandemonium. She wasn’t kidding, either. It was elbow-to-elbow packed with runners, making navigating the area rather problematic.
Here’s a quick look at the festivities:
I was able to procure my bib and timing chip rather quickly, which was nice, because the line for the race shirt was four rows deep and completely unorganized. Nobody knew where to line up or which way to turn or even where specific sizes were being distributed at the volunteer tables. It was absolute chaos. Even worse, I was in line for nearly half an hour before I got to the front, at which point I was informed that they were completely out of my size (Men’s XXL). They were even out of Men’s XL as well (I fit into both, but I prefer a looser fit on tech shirts). Now here’s a serious gripe: was there any possible way someone could have informed us of this before or even during we were waiting in line? Looking at Facebook posts on the event website later on that evening, I was far from alone. They ran out of many other sizes, both Men’s and Women’s.
I emailed the organization and was assured that my shirt would be delivered to me within 30 days. I wasn’t too miffed about not receiving a shirt that very day; listen, crap happens, there are screw-ups and last minute FUBARs and all that. But given that registrations opened last February and sold out almost immediately (the Half, anyhow; the Full had a few spots open for months afterward), they knew exactly how many shirts they needed of each size for a long, LONG time. According to an email I received from the Event Manager, the men’s and women’s orders were reversed, as well as ensuing shipping delays and errors. So I’m not miffed about the shirt issue.
Let me tell you: sometimes a LITTLE bit goes a LONG way…
But the Expo logistics and coordination… that needs to be desperately improved for next year. There were way too many people in too small a space that I didn’t even bother visiting any of the vendors. There simply wasn’t any room to walk anywhere without annoyance and obstruction.
But I can definitely say this: I TOTALLY dug the complimentary Moon Pie!
After the Expo we went to check into our accommodations at the Comfort Inn (quick review: very clean, very comfortable, very 1950s) and met up with 75% of the Warrior Divas (Kristi, Ines, and Sandra) to check out the world famous 24-hour Ron Jon superstore next door and grab some snacks and decaf wonderment at Starbucks. The whole area was pure kitsch but damn if it wasn’t more than a little bit of fun and a great way to kill time before dinner.
Speaking of which, we met up with the rest of the FIT crew at Kelsey’s, an Italian restaurant next to the Radisson. The food was surprisingly good and the company even better. Afterward we bid everyone adieu, made our way back to the room, got the gear together and set our alarms for 3:15 the following morning.
Some scenes from the rest of the day:
By then it was time to take my favorite palindromic sleepy-time aid and I was out by 9 PM… which then leads us directly into
As usual, the dulcet Samsungy tones from my Galaxy S5 wrenched me from the arms of Morpheus and I had enough adrenaline coursing through my veins to hit the ground running. I scarfed down a bagel with cream cheese and few Chips Ahoy cookies to get that last bit of carbohydrates in, and quickly donned my race gear. Technically I was running as a Starfleet Officer. I was originally supposed to be a ’60s-era Klingon, a theme I quickly abandoned when I realized that there had to be some actual costume planning involved. Ain’t no one got time for that. So Kristi and I decided we were going to be Starfleet redshirts, albeit she in Communications and me in Engineering, lest anyone think we were going to wind up massacred in some landing party incident. I had a Starfleet pin which I ended up attaching to my Camelbak. And THAT, as they say, is a running costume, Hokeyboy style. Minimalism in theory and practice.
Boots and I caught up with Ines, Kristi, Sandra, and Mark in the lobby and we took the 4:15 shuttle over to the Start Area in Cocoa Village. Plenty of activity buzzing in the area, not the least of which was around one of the few non-porto-potty bathrooms open to runners. The line was off the chain. I had to use the facilities, and spotted a very short men’s room line. And for all appearances it should have been, if there hadn’t been only two stalls, and one gracious dude hadn’t decided to park himself in there for a good 20 minutes. Thanks buddy!
The plan was to make our way to the JumboTron near the Start Line for a 5:30 AM picture, but our group quickly got separated and barely anyone showed up for the photo op. In the midst of looking for people, I happened to bump into this Tall Drink o’ Water right here:
That’s right, this was a random encounter with my buddy Paula from Eat:Watch:Run. This was our first actual real meeting, although we technically met two years ago at the 2012 Disney Tower of Terror race, where she photobombed my Start Line selfie. A few days later I randomly came across her blog while looking for other race reviews, and commented on hers. She in turn read mine, and promptly outed herself as the photobomber in my pic. What are the odds? We chatted for a bit and then I quickly bid adieu, trying to find the group for our photo shots. Anyway, Paula’s fun people for sure; do yourself a huge favor and check out her blog if you’re into running, or food, or bunnies, or smart writing.
We finally managed to scrounge together what we could find of our buddies, and snapped a bunch of pics together. Eventually it was time to hit the Start Area, where Rich, Kristi, and I lined up somewhere around the 5:00-hour pacers. My dream was to do a 4:45, but I would have been happy with a 4:59:59. I just wanted to sub a 5-hour marathon. That was the goal.
Here are some pics of the Start Area:
The Half Marathon group took off at 6:00 AM. We full marathon types had a scheduled take-off at 6:30. Pre-flight fueling consisted of a Honey Stinger cookie at around 6:15. After a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, the countdown started with actual NASA audio and countdown footage projected on the screen. We were go for launch and at 6:30 we had lift-off. The 2014 Space Coast Marathon was underway.
As usual, I already had to pee again…
Let’s take a look at the race course, as always courtesy of Google Maps and my Garmin:
Bick to encliggen.
The course was a basic figure eight; two out-and-back courses, each about a half-marathon in distance, with the Cocoa Village Start/Finish Area right in the center. The entirety of the course is adjacent to the Indian River, providing a host beautiful views along the shore and clear, cool breezes aplenty.The marathon initially took us winding north on Indian River Drive, with the first turn-around of the day located past Indian Trail between miles 6 and 7. We then proceeded back down Indian River Drive, passing the Start Line around the midway point of the marathon. We then proceeded another 6 miles and change southbound on Rockledge Drive, with a turn-around at Mile 20 in the Oakledge Park neighborhood. At that point it was just a clear southbound drive until we reached the Finish Line at Riverfront Park.
I thought the course was flat, scenic, mostly (but not entirely) shaded and rather lovely, to be honest. Some of the views were rather spectacular. I didn’t catch any myself, but others were remarking about all the dolphins they spotted leaping about in the Indian River. Many of the homes along the shoreline were particularly beautiful, featuring remarkably well-manicured lawns, gardens, and other such architectural/landscape wonders to behold. And other parts of the run were… fairly mundane. Look it can’t all be 26.2 miles of Howard Roarke’ian wonderment. For what it was worth, the signal-to-noise ratio of this race was really substantial. There was much to appreciate on the course.
Here’s our Marathon crew as we were just starting the race:
On the other hand, an out-and-back course is usually pretty fine for a half-marathon. Even a double-out-and-back is agreeable at that distance. But a double-out-and-back for 26.2 miles can get pretty, pretty demoralizing out there. There wasn’t a whole lot of variation of scenery and topography, along with the prescient knowledge that everything you pass once, you’re gonna by pass again on the way back. That’s just the nature of the business, and we all knew it going in. But it didn’t make the mental game any easier, that’s for sure.
But enough whining. Let’s get to the good stuff! Rich, Kristi, and I took off at a moderate, long-run pace with 4:1 intervals that we planned on sticking with for the entirety of the run. Temperature wise it was very pleasant, but not as cool as I really hoped it would be. It was definitely a clear, comfortable morning, right about 63ish degrees at the Start. However, with minimal cloud cover temperatures rose fairly quickly. It was 75 degrees by race end, but thankfully with blissfully minimal humidity.
What made the race much more fun was when we were quickly joined by our buddies Mark and Sheri, and the five of us stayed together for a good 16 miles of the race! By Mile 3 we had established a solid running pace and had a great vibe going, which meant it was the perfect time for me to activate my iFrogz Tadpole wireless speaker and hit the tunes. And what was the first song that came up? Here’s a hint:
I can’t believe it, myself…
A few weeks ago, Kristi and began devising an Ultimate! Heroic! Space! Movie! TV!-themed playlist for the run, and this tune was a natural fit. Once those sweet, soothing Yacht Rocky tones started booming out, the five of us started singing out together. By the time we got to the chorus, I think we had about two dozen runners singing out loud in unison along with Joey Scarbury. More than a few people were singing out the George Costanza Answering Machine Message variant. No matter. This became one of those Great Running Moments I’ll always remember and cherish, because I’m utterly cheeseball like that.
Here’s where I’m also going to give a ginormous shout-out for all the crowd support out there. I’m not talking about just from the race volunteers — I’ll get to them in a minute — but I’m talking about the entire Space Coast-area community, who were out there cheering for us by the boatloads. Many of them in full costume, including one rather not-unattractive blonde in full-on Barbara Eden Jeannie attire. I never saw so many male runners nearly collide into each other. But there were also people out on their lawns with signs, hoses, BOOZE (more on that in a minute), dogs (LOTS of excited puppies!), all of them cheering us on. It was a staggering amount of community support, and every last bit of that was welcome.
By around Mile 10 we were still feeling strong. Up until then none of it really felt like much effort at all, and we were ahead of the 5:00-hour pace group. But it was quickly getting warmer, and we were feeling it. Rich, Kristi, and I stopped for a porto break around Mile 11 and we lost Mark and Sheri for a bit. We caught up with them later on, thankfully, but I was a bit bummed when my speaker lost juice at around the 2 hour point… right in the middle of C.W. McCall’s epic heroic masterpiece Convoy. Bah phooey!
We passed the halfway mark at around the 2:30 mark, which meant we were still on pace for a 5-hour marathon, but we had to maintain pace. It was rather surreal to pass the Start Line for a second time as we started the second out-and-back of the course. The early morning darkness really didn’t provide a good view of Cocoa Village, which I now discovered to be a rather quaint, charming, scenic area. But no time for love, Dr. Jones! Keep running!
Here are a pair of cool mid-race shots:
By now it was easily established that Kristi was setting the pace for our group, so the rest of us followed her lead. The girl simply never flagged and remained consistently energetic throughout. Sadly we lost Sheri around Mile 16ish; her presence was deeply missed, but we soldiered on (she definitely finished strong, so no worries!). We were now heading south down Rockledge Drive, and this leg of the race was a bit more fun in a lot of ways. How so you may ask? Well for starters:
1) One homeowner set up a Blue Moon shooter station on his driveway! He was offering free shots of Blue Moon ale to all runners, and we simply had to partake. Kristi, Rich, Mark, and I grabbed a small cup and toasted to our awesome team of Red Shirts, downed the shot, and moved on. It was awesome! He even had pretzel sticks for the taking, although I’m not a pretzel guy by any stretch of the imagination.
2) Another homeowner had nearly a full bar setup for anyone who wanted a mid-race cocktail. Now what could go better at, say, Mile 18 of a 26 mile journey than a nice, spicy, tummy-disruptive Bloody Mary, right?? OK maybe not for me, but hell if I were so inclined I probably would have loved a cocktail break. In retrospect, maybe it might have helped? Perhaps? Hmm…
3) And then there was This Creepy House With The Woman In The Window Right Here…
OK what the effing eff?? This was all kinds of freakishly terrifying. And awesome. If she moved, the race would have been over for me right then and there.
At this point let me take a moment to absolutely praise the quality of the hydration and aid stations. Quite frankly, I’ve never been on a race so well staffed. There were 25 (!) hydration stations on the course, with plenty of volunteers ready to hand out cups of water and Gatorade. They were also regularly handing out Gu gels every 3 or 4 miles. Space Coast had you covered from start to finish with hydration and fuel. I wore my Camelbak with 50 ounces of water and had plenty of CLIF Blocks, but I took advantage of the abundance of Gatorade and Gu whenever I could, while splashing cold water on my head, face, and arms at regular intervals.
And to whomever it was at around Mile 20 with the big tube of ice water filled with complimentary towels for runners? You’re doing GOD’S work! Whichever God you believe in! Or don’t! All good!
My energy levels were pretty even throughout the entirety of the race, but I can’t say the same for my muscle aches and cramps. I dropped back from the group right around mile 23.5. I was feeling real soreness in my hips but especially in my left hamstring. After one of our walk intervals ended, the group picked back up to running and I continued walking for another minute. I was in a LOT of pain. I couldn’t run for more than 45 seconds without feeling it, so I decided to take an extended 5 minute walk break and loosen it out for a spell. When I started running again it felt better but I couldn’t really stay running for more than 2-3 minutes before needing another 2-3 minutes of walking. I was pretty bummed out by this, knowing that my 5-hour goal was shot.
But I was also philosophical about it, too. I usually hit the Wall anytime around mile 18-20, but that day I had made it to 23.5 in some fairly warm weather. Not that the knowledge of that exactly cheered me up — I “may” have been swearing up a storm at myself for awhile — but the logical side of my brain knew that I had still done well for myself.
A funny happened around the time I hit…
The Last Mile!
Some bloated, out-of-shape dillweed (not a runner) on the side of the road was talking loudly into his cellphone, in a voice I’m pretty sure half the population of Ceti Alpha V could hear. I wasn’t paying much attention to him until I heard him say:
“WHAT? NO NO, NOT MANY PEOPLE LEFT, JUST A BUNCH OF WALKERS AND ALSO-RANS…”
Ho boy. This is when your tall, goofball, friendly neighborhood Hokeyboy loses hit cool. I yelled back:
“HEY A**HOLE YOU EVER TRY RUNNING A MARATHON IN THIS HEAT? NO? THEN SHUT THE F*** UP!”
Yeah. NOT the most mature of outbursts. Not by a long shot. But MAN it felt good. He looked up from his phone with a look of utter bemusement. I extended him the standard middle-finger salute. He glared at me. I continued on my way.
Never diss a runner during a race. Never crap on anyone because they’re walking. You’re dealing with people who regularly get up at 2 in the morning and physically punish their bodies. For hours. FOR FUN!
But I will say this: that D-bag gave me all the motivation I needed to pick up my feet and finish that damn race. I wasn’t exactly setting any land speed records at that point, but I was freakin’ moving. I hit mile 26 and made my way into the Riverfront Park walkway. Boots caught me and captured a few awesome running snapshots. She could tell by the look on my face that I was hurting, but I was determined to cross that Finish Line as strong as I could. I also managed to high-five my friends Marcela and Vivian who were cheering me on, and as I turned the corner and saw that Finish Line I gave it my all… which really wasn’t much, but I managed to cross that Finish without looking like 45 pounds of lumpy potato salad in a 20 pound bag.
Total time: 5.10.56. That would make this race a PR, even if it didn’t feel like one. But I was still 18 minutes faster than my last marathon, so I’ll take it. Bear in mind, I was nowhere NEAR this mature about it at the time. I was utterly hyper-critical and near despondent, as I always am when I’m at my self-competitive worst. I started with the whole, “I didn’t train in the South Florida heat, humidity, and swill all summer long and sacrificed my Friday nights for early morning long runs, just for a 5.10 marathon!!” I quickly got over it. If I hadn’t trained that hard, I would have done much, much worse. It took awhile, but I was good with it.
Rich and Kristi finished at 5:01, and Mark at 5:05, which meant that Rich, Mark, and I had all PR’ed. Kristi was a bit let-down that she was 2 minutes off her PR, but what she got in return were a legion of new admiring fans. She basically led our expedition, kept us going, and brought three dopey red-shirted dudes into PRville. I think the three of us were, in return, more than a little bit grateful:
Celebrating our fearless leader!
After receiving my medal and awesome new official race towel, only two words were ringing true to me: PIZZA and BEER. We walked over to the pizza stand where they were distributing complimentary slices of cheese and pepperoni from pizza boxes to all runners. I waited patiently for my turn and then asked the volunteer how many slices I could “legally” take with me.
He handed me an entire box of pepperoni pizza. God’s work, once again.
We staked out a spot where we could sit in shade, and then it was time for beer. At the beer line I managed to bump into Robert and Phill from the Mickey Milers Running Team, two members who I knew well from online but had never met face-to-face before. It was a fine how-do-you-do indeed. We chatted for a little bit, then I double-fisted two beers and headed back to our encampment to join in on our group feast. Afterward we met up with the rest of our FIT buddies and posed for a ton of pics, many of which I’ll gladly share with you now:
So overall, I walked away from the 2014 Space Coast Marathon with a pretty positive feeling. Sure the Expo was a mess, and I’m still not entirely crazy about a Double-Out-And-Back course. I also think the Full Marathon runners should go first, and THEN the half runners. We’re simply out there much longer, so the less time in the sun, the better. But I have nothing, nothing but praise for the volunteers, the hydration stations, the community support, the scenic views along the Indian River (with a knockout sunrise), the costumes, the festive Finish Area, the overall feeling of camaraderie, and the experience I had spending all those miles with Rich, Kristi, Mark, and Sheri, having an utterly memorable and totally fun time running together. This is pretty much why we do what we do. That and the bling, pizza, and beer. Oh, and a beach towel. Righteous.
So to go back to the original question I posited at the start of this WAY overlong race review: forget about it — ’twas entirely rhetorical. It’s never the Destination. Every single time, it’s the Journey that makes the sky blue, the grass green, and fried chicken taste so good. So while here’s to a new PR and a now two-timer marathoner, here’s also to a most buttkickin’ journey along the way! And of course, here’s the video (not like it was any kind of surprise or anything):