On Sunday, February 15th, 2015 I ran the Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon… and I did so with pleasure, since I’ve always had a fun history with this event. I first ran the Half Marathon back in February 2012 and PR’ed there. I loved everything about the race: the course, the organization, the lack of crowdedness, the spectators, the start and finish area, and so forth. I loved it so much, I returned the next year to run the 2013 Half Marathon, where with the wind chill it was in the upper 30s at the start and low 50s at the finish. And in true comically-tragic fashion, I was 48 seconds off my PR because of photo ops, a sudden inability to tie my shoelaces at a crucial moment, and pee. But I still loved it.
After taking 2014 off to taper for another race, I returned in 2015 to tackle the event again, only this time running the Full marathon — my fifth marathon. The Half and the Full share the exact same course for the first nine miles; right around the Winn Dixie on A1A north of Oakland Dr, the half runners do a turnaround onto Galt Drive and loop back to the Finish Line at Bahia Mar. In the past, I had always watched the marathoners continue northbound down A1A as I made the turnaround with ABSOLUTELY ZERO SADNESS OR LONGING. They always still had a seventeen mile ordeal to finish while I just had to do my simple four miles back to the Finish, where beers and burgers and chocolate milk aplenty were awaiting me with open arms. Suckers.
Then I became a marathoner and all that lazy smugness went to the Dickens…
So let’s just dive into this race and see what my take-away is, shall we? The best place to start off is with…
The Expo was being held in the Broward Convention Center, which was PERFECT for Boots and I because the Shock Pop Comic Con was also being held there that very same weekend. Ergo, there would be two types of people swarming the facility that weekend: runners and nerds. You don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to connect the dots on that one, given that your humble narrator is an obsessive member of both groups. Boots was easily more excited than I was; she had a scheduled photo op with both Ralph Macchio and C. Thomas Howell, two of her teenage crushes… especially after watching The Outsiders probably about a zillion times. As for me, I wanted a photo with Caity Lotz, the original “Black Canary” from Arrow, but she wasn’t doing candid pics and I wasn’t really interested in scheduling one for much later that afternoon. Rats. I banditted a picture of her anyhow, but I won’t share it here out of respect for her wishes. She’s mighty adorable up close and in person, though.
On the other hand, I *did* manage to grab this awesome one with Bobby and Cindy Brady:
I’m always the giant. Still, this was so worth the money. I absolutely loved watching The Brady Bunch growing up, and I still love catching it in reruns. “Bobby” (yes yes, Mike Lookinland, I know) remarked how I must have eaten all my vegetables as a kid, since I towered over both of them. I responded that I was their long lost Caribbean Brady cousin, whom they met on the special episode “A Very Brady Chanukah”. It got a huge laugh out of both of them. Score 1 for Millheiser!
Boots got her Outsiders picture too:
Ralph Macchio is 53 and simply doesn’t age — maybe he did make a deal with the Devil during the making of Crossroads — and was a lot taller than I thought he’d be.
Otherwise, it was a fun little con. I also managed to see Drea de Matteo, Robert Englund, Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), The Fat Guy from The Last American Virgin, freakin’ Billy Zabka!!!, Zack Galligan, Sylvester McCoy, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Julie Benz, and many others… but isn’t this a race review? Let’s get to the other expo…
The Race Expo was small but smartly organized. There was plenty of space in the ballroom and it never felt crowded, hectic, or crazy, despite the number of people inside. There were giving away 10th Anniversary Event posters at the door, which will grace the wall next to my desk as soon as I remember where I put it. After receiving my bib, shirt, and swag bag, we walked the floor for awhile, stopping at the Friends In Training table to say hi to Katarina, Hallie, and Veronica. After grabbing a free beer (Michelob Lime, which tasted as god-awful as you probably imagine it to) and enough free samples of soy and almond milk, organic corn chips, and power bars (as well as a tasty cheese quesadilla), we retreated back to Shock Pop for Boots’s photo op and then returned home to prep for the next day’s events.
I won’t even mention the utterly lousy late lunch/early dinner we had at Flanigan’s. I’ll assume they were having an off day or something. Ecch.
The alarm was ringing at 3AM, and we were promptly out of bed and raring to go. That’s how I’d like to describe “groggily rolling myself out of bed and crawling to the bathroom for morning ablutions”, so work with me here. A quick breakfast of oats and peanut butter, followed by grabbing all my gear and the usual “Why Am I Doing This??” lamentations, we left the house and met Kristi at the local Starbucks at a quarter after four. Our Friends In Training group picture was scheduled to occur around 5:30, so we figured we’d have plenty of time to get to downtown Fort Lauderdale. All I can say is that I’m glad we gave ourselves that cushion of extra time, because Broward Boulevard was PACKED with traffic and barely moving… even at that god-forsaken hour. Thankfully, we didn’t have to park at the Start Area; Boots dropped Kristi and I off (with enough time to spare) and went to park down near the Finish Line.
A quick trip to the Porto-potties later, we headed over to the steps of the Science Museum for our group photo op:
It was plenty cold that morning; upper 40s with a light but cold breeze blowing. Even garbed head to toe in compression gear, I was shivering my tukhas off. Many of the smarter members of our crowd were rocking the Hefty bags. I should try that sometime. Anyway after some chatting around and more photos, we headed to the mass-start corral together, snapped some more selfies, and waited for the show to begin. A soulful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner on the saxomophone later, the race began promptly at 6 AM and our 26.2 mile adventure begun!
Here’s some start area pics for you to enjoy:
And as always, the minute I crossed that Start Line I already had to pee again. Sheesh almighty. Anyway, let’s take a gander at the course:
A fairly straightforward route, the race started in downtown Ft. Lauderdale and took us east down 2nd Street, curving onto Andrews and then further eastbound down Las Olas Blvd. Upon reaching A1A, it turned north for roughly a mile before detouring on Sunrise Blvd to take a full loop around Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. Exiting the park, the marathon course returned to A1A northbound and stayed there for 7.5 miles, passing through Lauderdale-By-The-Sea and Pompano Beach. The course then looped for 2 miles through a neighborhood just before the Hillsboro Beach area, and then returned to A1A, heading southbound for 9.5 miles to reach the Finish Line on southern edge of Fort Lauderdale Beach next to Bahia Mar.
Everything I remembered enjoying about the race was there in abundance. Here comes the cliche, but it was exactly as expected: fun, fast, and flat. Even though it felt a little more crowded than I remembered it from before, it never felt cramped, busy, or packed with unpassable wall-to-wall joggers/walkers. The weather was absolutely perfect: 48 degrees at the start with no humidity, no rain, and as the sun rose spectacularly over the Atlantic Ocean (we were running eastbound, so we were treated to a fantastic sunrise) there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. Perfection.
The best feeling you can get during any race experience is when you’re maintaining a steady, easy pace with a moderate energy expenditure, and yet you’re still moving quickly and easily. The mile markers seem to come at a rapid pace; the first ten miles really felt like nothing at all. Even the loop around the Hugh Taylor Park — perhaps the race’s only real bottleneck — went by quickly and smoothly. Plus there was plenty of entertainment on A1A — a big shout out to the steel drummer who was playing some Jimmy Buffet tunes as we passed. Maybe a bit of a beach stereotype, but it worked.
For the first seven miles, Cassandra, Kristi, Catty, and I mostly stayed together; we lost Mark and his incredibly filthy Hasher songs somewhere on Los Olas. There was also a bit of careful running on the northern end of Ft. Lauderdale Beach; they are still rebuilding that area from hurricane erosion damage and flooding from back in 2013, so the lanes became quite narrow at that point. It wasn’t narrow enough to significantly affect your overall run time, but it was still there nonetheless.
By the time we reached the turnaround past mile 9, Kristi and I were the only ones left running together. I was feeling so good at that point that it didn’t bother me in the slightest that I wasn’t turning to make the return trip to the Finish Line. Like clockwork, the previously semi-full running lanes turned into a peaceful, wide open expanse, and we kept moving on at a decent pace. I recently started taking Hammer Endurolytes during long runs; one right before activity, and then one every hour. This was my first race using them, and I could feel the difference. My energy barely flagged and the cramping and muscle pain was kept to a strong minimum.
Otherwise, it was a long haul up and down A1A. Thankfully, I knew the course — up to Lauderdale-By-The-Sea — like the back of my hand. We’ve trained there quite often over the past few years. The three miles between Pine Ave (just north of Commercial) and the loop around the neighborhood in north Pompano Beach were all new to me. Given the weather and temperature conditions we had, you couldn’t have picked a better time to explore new places. While it was starting to warm up a spell, it was still a reasonably cool, clear morning. I even managed to not embarrass Kristi TOO much when I started providing comic relief to some of the diners having brunch outside Sunshine Bagel and Bistro in Pompano. MAN what I would have given for a potato knish and a bagel with schmear…
Apropos of nothing, but my favorite comedic moment of the race was right around the 16.5 mile mark. The aid station was providing water, Gatorade, and Gu… but the volunteer kept calling it “Gooonie Goo-Goo”, which, if you’re familiar enough Eddie Murphy’s comedy routines circa 1983, then you know why it’s funny… #Gus
The run back to the Finish Line was a straight shot down A1A. The sun was higher in the sky, which meant the shadows off of the beachfront towers that had kept us so shaded and cool before, while still there for most of the rest of the race, were slowly receding from the sunlight. It was a bit hotter now, and the compression wear that kept me comfortable and warm in the early morning cold/cool temperatures now felt like a bit of overkill… which at that point, it certainly was. But while I felt warmer, I certainly wasn’t overheating. Between Pompano and Sunrise Blvd, there were nine hydration stations, which kept us going with plenty of water and Gatorade. Oh, yes, and “Goonie Goo-Goo”. Still, for the most part I was able to maintain a consistent pace. We ran the first mile at 11:08 and the 23rd mile at 11:05. I’ve never run a marathon with that level of consistency before, so I was pretty pleased with the results.
Here’s where I will gripe for a little about something not controllable by the race itself: bicyclists and pedestrians riding and walking on the course. Just don’t. You have a dedicated lane and/or sidewalks to use. USE THEM. I had to play endless games of “Chicken” with jerky cyclists who decided that THEY deserved to ride wherever they wanted, even if that meant riding against traffic, and that traffic consisted of runners on a marathon. More than one of them gave me a nasty look when I wouldn’t budge. Since this is a Family Blog (HAH!) I will refrain from posting was I shouted back in response. My Mom might be reading this.
Also: if you have a friend or family member running a marathon, don’t get on your bike, get on the course, and ride slowly next to them. I saw several of these biking buddies suddenly steering out of the way of various runners — going either direction — and they are taking up space on the course. If you want to cheer and encourage your friends and family on, do so from the sidelines.
Moving on… the 3-mile stretch that concludes the race is pretty much entirely adjacent to Fort Lauderdale Beach. A quick look to your left and you’re gazing upon nothing but sand, ocean, ships, and sunbathers. There is also no cover whatsoever, which meant sun and heat. While I was able to keep that 24th mile at a consistent pace, miles 25 and 26 slowed me down a tad. The 25th mile was a little rough, but I managed to run the last mile without stopping at all. I found it easier to run slower and continuously than continue with my 4:1 intervals. The bands, DJs, and entertainment on the course helped a lot; the cheering spectators and friends helped even more. My buddy Denise was chilling at a cafe and saw me coming and ran out to give me THE BIGGEST HUG ever, and boy oh boy did I need it! I also got cheers from Robyn, Jenny, Veronica, Kevin, and so many others I’m forgetting right now.
Boots was snapping pictures around A1A and Las Olas and captured these awesome action snapshots:
So I was feeling pretty great by the time I pulled into the Bahia Mar-area parking lot by the Finish. There were so many people cheering and clapping, it really helped me pull through. There was a group of girls singing and dancing and I pumped my fist along with them, which absolutely energized my spirit. I saw more friends there, high-fived them all, even the ones I didn’t know, and as I passed them I high-tailed it to the Finish Line as best as I could. I was almost done. And I was about to PR. Bring it.
I crossed the Finish Line at 5:03:32… a good seven minutes faster than my previous PR. While I was sore and tired, I finished without feeling injured or with any significant pain whatsoever. Granted I was exhausted and needed some time in the tent shade to cool down a bit with some water and Gatorade, but I felt pretty good otherwise. After grabbing my medal (which is ginormously huge and a little bit… tacky, I’m afraid) I met up with Kristi at the aforementioned tent –she finished a few minutes ahead of me — and Boots caught up with us afterward. We had brought a 12 pack of Shock Tops with us in a portable cooler, and pretty soon we had those suckers open and emptied. Cassandra and her boyfriend Jared came by and we chatted with beers for awhile. It suddenly didn’t seem so hot anymore; it was an absolutely perfect day on the beach.
The Finish Area had tons of trucks, vendors, hot food, cold drinks, and other amenities available to runners. Apparently they had run out of beer at some point, but since we had brought our own (and the beer they provided was of a brand I do not particularly care for, and we’ll leave it at that) it rattled us not at all. After resting, eating, drinking, and hanging out happily for nearly an hour, we trekked back to our car, which was parked on the corner of Las Olas and A1A, and quickly left dodge for an awesome grilled-cheese and soup lunch at Lester’s Diner.
I’ve run this event three times, although this was my first time doing the marathon, and I’ve got nothing but love for it. The Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon was held in perfect conditions on a beautiful day. Of course, hitting a PR on a race certainly adds a deeper level of appreciation to the proceedings, but even if I hadn’t I still would have had a great time. I don’t really have anything in terms of criticisms or nitpicks; everything from the Expo to the Finish Area was very well organized and ran very smoothly (from a participant’s perspective, anyhow). Since this will be my last full marathon until I schlep up to Alaska in four months, I’m glad the experience was so entirely positive. Way to knock it out of the park, guys. Here’s the video, and stay gold, Ponyboy: