Continuing with our 2013-2014 Florida Storm Series coverage…
The 2013 Palm Beaches Marathon & Run Fest weekend went down on the weekend of December 6th, 2013. This was a pretty inclusive event, one that hosted 5K, 10K, Half and Full marathons; something for pretty much runners of every stripe. “Every stripe”… what an odd turn of words. It makes me think of that god-awful Fruit Stripe gum I used to chew as a kid. Three seconds of BLAMMO!-oversaturated sugary flavor followed by a whole lot of NOTHING. Ugh. I don’t chew gum anymore and I think it’s entirely because of Fruit Stripe. Was that thing on the packaging with the green, red, and yellow stripes supposed to be a horse or a zebra? The zebra would make sense, I suppose, but there was the chilling implication that the gum was manufactured from–
RIGHT. The race weekend. Let’s get to that.
Since I am, for the most part, temporarily retired from Full Marathons, I registered for the Half marathon on Sunday December 8th, and was particularly excited for this race for a host of reasons. Firstly, this was another group event with our running club, so there’d be plenty of buddies around for camaraderie and support. Secondly, this was a new race for me, and who doesn’t love running a new course? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the 13.1 Fort Lauderdale and A1A Fort Lauderdale races, but I’ve done them twice apiece now, and they’re almost the exact same route. And I run those streets every Saturday morning anyhow. So a change of scenery was much in order here. And finally, both the half and full marathons counted as a part of the Florida Storm Series — a five race series of events that started with the 13.1 Fort Lauderdale and continues in 2014 with the Miami Marathon, 13.1 Miami Beach, and Sarasota Half Marathon. If you do three, four, or all five of these races, you get extra bling. And every obsessive runner in the universe — which is pretty much all of them — knows what an allure THAT can be. It’s intoxicating!
Boots and I decided to get a room at the Hampton Inn (3 miles from the Start Line) so that we didn’t have to make a Sunday morning schlep up to West Palm. We drove up Saturday afternoon and made a beeline for the Race Expo, held at the Harriet Himmel Theater at CityPlace. It was a quick and easy process to get my bib and race shirt, but honestly it wasn’t much of an expo; there were barely a handful of vendors there, and if you were looking for last-minute race supplies the pickings were exceedingly slim. I had absent-mindedly left my compression calf sleeves and IT band wraps at home, and was looking to replace them there. No dice. I did see compression sleeves on sale at one vendor, but I wasn’t familiar with the brand and wasn’t too impressed with what I saw. If I had seen, say, Zensahs or CEPs, it would have been a different story. Nonetheless, we were in and out in no time at all and decided to carb up with some ice cream at Sloan’s. I overheard a bunch of runners getting information about where the closest running stores were in the area. That’s probably not the best thing to happen outside a Race Expo, but there you have it.
After a quick CVS run and dinner at Chili’s (I hadn’t eaten at Chili’s in YEARS; the club sandwich was actually decent), we made it back to the hotel room, where I popped my favorite sleepytime palindrome, chilled with some TV and then eventually passed out somewhere around the 9PM mark. Next morning the alarm chirped its happy song at 4:15AM and I bounded out of bed with all the vim and vigor of a well-rested and well-tanned Mandelbaum. I geared up, scarfed down a CLIF bar and some Gatorade, and just after 5AM Boots and I left our hotel and made our way down to the Start Line area.
Total travel time: about six minutes. I grossly overestimated how much traffic there was gonna be. Sheesh.
The upside from arriving so early was that we were able to utilize free street parking rather than a garage, which made it very convenient when we got to the Start area and I had realized I’d left my sunglasses in the car. Already it was quite buzzing with activity, so I hit the Porto-Potty line (which was sizable, even at that hour) and hung about chatting with our slowly growing group of FIT runners.
Eventually we took our group shots…
… and I even got to do this quizzical “Thinker”-esque thing right here:
The early morning weather was warm; it was about 72 degrees, but it extremely breezy. The Start area was right on Flagler and Banyan, in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach, right next to the Intracoastal. The temperatures were projected to to shoot up into the lower 80s by midday with a low chance of showers, which was another reason why I was glad not to be running the Full. Yikes. Around 6:15ish I made my way to the chute and hung out with Katarina, Jose, Indira, and Jeanne while waiting for the race to begin…
… and we ended up waiting a bit longer than we expected. Daylight was already breaking and 6:30 had come and gone, but the race still hadn’t begun. No one was quite sure what was going on (We never even heard the National Anthem, although I apparently it was sung around the 6:30 mark. That may be the case, but none of us heard one note of it). It was well past sunrise when the race finally started — sometime around the 6:55 mark. Sadly we lost out on over 20 minutes worth of cooler running temperatures. This most likely added a few minutes to our run time, but runners are darned plucky people. We’ll run it anyhow. Soon afterward we past the Start Line and we were off on our 13.1 mile adventure!
Here’s an overview of the entire course, courtesy of my Zombies, Run! 20K mission:
You can see the official race map by clicking here. It was mostly an up-and-back, down-and-back course, with a loops at the northern end. We ran north up Flagler for nearly two miles, turning left on 26th street, then north on a side street through a residential neighborhood to 35th, where we looped back to Flagler. Once back on Flagler we continued north and looped again at 56th St., turning around at 57th St. and making our way back south on Flagler. We continued south, passing the Start Line on Banyan and the Finish Line at Clematis at the 8.75 mile mark. The course continued south on Flagler all the way down into a residential area, where we reached the turnaround at Monroe Drive at 10.5 miles and returned north on Flagler to the Finish Line.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints that the Palm Beach Marathon course is “boring”. I haven’t run the Full so I have no opinion there, but as far as the Half is concerned I had zero problems with it whatsoever. While long straightaways can seem monotonous, at least it they were up-and-back in both directions, both north and south on Flagler. Furthermore the majority of the course occurs north of the Start/Finish area, where the route takes us through two neighborhood loops. The view was definitely scenic, affording nice views of the Intracoastal for almost the entirety of the run. I found the course no more (or less) dull than, say, running on A1A during any of the various Fort Lauderdale runs I’ve done (the 13.1, A1A, etc.) Even the celebrated Disney runs, which I mostly adore, have long, dull stretches that are much less interesting (World Drive or the Osceola Parkway, for example).
So to tell the truth, I liked the course just fine. As I said earlier, it was new to me, but it was fast, flat, and friendly. There were plenty of spectators out; more than I’ve ever seen at a race that size (there were about 2850 runners out there, with 2215 of them running the half), so there was definitely plenty of spirit and energy throughout. Plus it afforded spectators, friends, and family to see their runners off at the Start, cheer them on at the Middle, and see them at the Finish without having to move about all that much.
My experience during the race was pretty positive. As I’ve mentioned in recent race reviews, my time has slowed down dramatically over the past year. After hitting a high of 2:07:51 at the Publix A1A in February, I’ve since dropped to 2:27 at the Disneyland Half, 2:25 at the Miami Beach Halloween Half, and 2:23 at the 13.1 Fort Lauderdale. Slow, but steady improvement. I made it my goal to break through the 2:20 threshold at the Palm Beaches Half. I even set up a pace schedule that would start slow and give me a strong negative split (hopefully).
The first 2/3rds of the race was an extremely joyful, energetic, and enjoyable experience. My goal was to start out with a 10:26 minute/mile and then increase the pace by 2 seconds every mile (10:24, 10:22, etc.) At this pace, I’d easily score a 2:15 run time, which means taking exhausation or heat or anything into account that would slow me down, I could hit my 2:20 goal. I went out trying to keep my pace reasonable and easy, but somehow managed to do the first mile in 9:57. I consciously made the effort to lower my pace and go slow and easy, but between the early morning cool breeze, low morning humidity (by South FL standards), long shadows and good camaraderie with fellow runners (Indira, Jeanne, Katarina, Jose, and I managed to stay together for the first five miles) my pace maintained at the 10:00 mark. It felt like I was lightly jogging at best,but my mile splits continued at 10:04, 9:50, 10:05, and 10:02 for the first five miles. I felt pretty great during that time. No soreness, no exhaustion, and plenty of energy. I really felt like I was going to be able to keep this pace up for the entirety of the race, because it didn’t feel like that strenuous of an effort.
Those first “easy” five miles took us through the northern portion of the course, up Flagler and through residential areas. The weather, while warm, still felt cool and unoppressive. The second five-mile stretch was a clear shot south down Flagler. My pace on this part of the race dropped a bit: 10:16, 10:14, 10:21, 10:34, and 10:33. So much for my negative split! Still, I was making good time. At the 8.75 mile mark I was projected to run a 2:13 total race. I was well within my 2:20 goal! Anyway, we were steadily moving southward. There wasn’t much in terms of on-course entertainment. While there were plenty of cheering spectators and well-stocked (and well-manned) hydration stations, the only real entertainment I remembered was around the Start/Finish line area from a very excitable DJ. To be honest though, I don’t pay much attention to that sort of stuff while I’m racing; my headphones go in, and the rest of the world goes away while I concentrate on the race.
I passed Boots around the nine mile mark and she managed to capture these amazing action snapshots:
So now we’re 10 miles into the race. Ten miles in mostly reasonable weather. Hotter than normal, but still easily manageable for us southern Florida types. While the sun was getting higher, it was still mostly blocked by cloud cover, so we were mostly shaded and cool. My time for the first 10 miles was 1 hour, 42 minutes. If I could find gas in the tank to try and maintain a 10 minute mile for the remaining 3.1 miles, I could put this race away at 2:13. Allowing for some late-race exhaustion, hitting a 2:15 time was definitely a reasonable goal. I was getting excited for this! A 2:15 time would put me back in the game, baby! Right? RIGHT??
Let me introduce you to this fine fellow:
Like clockwork, the sun burst through the cloud cover with a vengeance at Mile 10 and began its oppressive assault against all the runners on Flagler. Any friendly, accommodating shade on the course was obliterated. Temperatures jumped from a breezy, comfortable 75 degrees to a seemingly furnace-like 82 almost immediately. The air going into my lungs felt much hotter, the sweat on my body heavy and uncomfortable. The change in temperature and ensuing wall of heat had an immediate effect on me.
Let’s put it this way: the ninth mile took me 10:33 to complete. The tenth? 11:33. A full minute longer.
At this point, my easy steady run transmogrified into a Zombie Shuffle; the type where you’re physically making running-like movements but you feel like you’re barely moving past a crawl. I had no choice but to drop my pace and continue, but I kept up with my 10:1 intervals throughout the remainder of the race. By the time we got to the residential area and the Monroe Drive turnaround I was feeling drained but still determined. This area was slightly more shaded than Flagler, which was a briefly welcome respite but we were soon heading north again, on the roughly 2.5 mile trek to the Finish Line.
The Sun-Sentinel later reported that over 50 people had to be treated at medical tents at the end of the race, which was double the amount last year. Even the winner of the Marathon collapsed at the Finish Line from the heat. I’m used to running in warmer temperatures (one of the few benefits of being a tropical lizard) and never felt anything deleterious other than just being hot and drained. For people used to running in cooler/colder/tundra weather, I can’t imagine what this must have felt like.
Other than the heat, it was a straightforward run back to the Finish Line. A slower run, but a steady one. I averaged about 11:30 during the last three miles, and was pretty sure I was incapable of going any faster than that. Hitting 2:15 was impossible now, but maybe, just maybe, I’d still make my 2:20 goal. That motivated me to keep pushing on. Boots was there about a quarter-mile from the Finish, and grabbed this pic:
Yeah I’m looking pretty beat and fried, and I was, but since I was almost done I had no issues with that last mile. I made my way northbound, between two huge clusters of cheering crowds as I made my way across the Finish Line, fingers to the sky. I stopped my Garmin and looked at the Final Verdict. How’d I do?
I did it — I hit my goal! A year ago I would have been cursing myself in a manner that would make an Appalachian Drill Instructor blush like an animated Japanese schoolgirl for running a Half in anything less than 2:15; hell, I beat myself up 10 months ago for a time of 2:07:51 because I had the nerve and shameless temerity to stop for a bathroom break and tie my shoes. As runners we’re insanely competitive with ourselves and can get utterly disappointed at results for which others would loudly and appreciatively beg and plead. If I could take anything away from this race, it’s that the running journey is a fluid, capricious one, and that we need to temper our expectations accordingly. So a 2:19:28 half marathon race time felt like a freakin’ happy miracle to me.
Working through the chute I got my medal… and was a bit taken aback that the volunteers refused to “knight” me with it. You had to put it on yourself. Bah! I made my way down the chute, grabbed some water and headed out to stretch in the grass. I bumped into fellow running buddies, some of which had PR’ed, while others had a struggle that slowed them down, but most people I spoke with seemed to really enjoy the experience, the heat be damned. Later on in the morning, clouds and rain had rolled in, drenching the remaining Half and Full marathoners. I’m sure that was a much welcome break from the heat and nice cooldown… until it stopped and the sun came out in full humidity-bearing force again. Yikes.
We left and went back to the hotel, where I showered and change before the mandatory 11AM checkout. Speaking of which, I’m only going to say this one time: DO NOT BY ANY MEANS EVER STAY AT THE WEST PALM BEACH AIRPORT HAMPTON INN. The rates, cleanliness, and overall accommodations were fine; the attitude of the staff was not. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. PM me if you want more details. Anyway, after a shower and a change, Boots and I drove back to Clematis for a victory lunch at the much-beloved Rocco’s Tacos, where we started off with some spicy Table Guac and I indulged in my favorite Oaxaca platter (chile rellenos, grilled chorizo, and a substitued carne asado soft taco) and two servings of Hussongs Reposado, my favorite tequila. Sarah and Puneet joined us, followed by the many more from our FIT crew including Jose, Katarina, Rosa, Cassandra, Stephanie, and others, and we had a big celebratory party going on!
Overall I found the 2013 Palm Beaches Marathon & Run Fest to be a really great event. Naturally they couldn’t control the weather, and the 20+ minute delay was a bit unfortunate, but I have no complaints about the race, the course, the amenities, or anything else really. It was a fun event, a fast, flat course, and a mostly beautiful day (if a suddenly very hot and eventually quite humid one!) I’m now officially Cat-2 on the 2013-2014 Florida Storm Series. By the time I finish the next one in the event, I’ll earn my first piece of extra bling in the form of the Cat-3 medal. Bring it! And here’s the rather obvious (but inimitably awesome) video: