You know, the funny thing about the 2015 Space Coast Marathon was that I came into it with a completely carefree, lackadaisical attitude, and that’s a real odd thing to have right before running 26.2 miles, in the heat, just for “fun”.
I also love the word “lackadaisical”, and I haven’t had an opportunity to use it in a blog before, ever, and now I’ve used it twice in the opening two sentences. So that should tide me over for like a decade or something.
Anyway, the 2015 Space Coast Marathon took place on the morning of November 29, 2015, and was of course held over at Florida’s “Space Coast” — the area right near Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, home to every major rocket and shuttle launch in American history, as well as the setting of the classic 60s sitcom “I Dream Of Jeannie” which, if you were watching it and of my generation, meant that you were either (1) home sick from school, (2) faking sickness to skip school, (3) cutting class, or (4) slowly becoming a man by watching Barbara Eden cavort about in attire that radiated a visual minuetto of daring 60s-esque come-hithertude. Your mileage may vary.
I had run the race the previous year, as my second marathon. Boy was I all nervous about it. I spent the bulk of six months training for that sucker. Slowly, sticking to a training plan, building up my miles, sweating it out in the summer months, pushing more and more as the day drew closer… and I didn’t hit my goal time. At first I beat myself up about it, but chalked up the experience as a positive one. I enjoyed the race, the atmosphere, and the entire experience, but I wanted to do better. Much better.
Cut to a year later, and here we are. I had run five marathons since last year’s Space Coast (Disney World, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Alaska, and Chicago) and over that time I’ve become more confident in my abilities to finish strong, and by “strong” I mean “not crapping out around mile 18-23 and shuffling like an apathetic gelatinous cube to the Finish Line”. My PR was 5:02. I wanted a sub-5. Let’s see what fate had in store…
Boots and I arrived in Cocoa Beach on Friday night, checking into the Hilton Oceanfront Hotel, which has now become our “go-to” lodging spot because everything about that hotel was awesome. Except maybe the parking, and even that was still “OK”. Consider this a hearty endorsement from your pals at Hokeyblog. Anyway, I woke up at 5:45 the next morning after having several running-related nightmares (“I forgot my bib!” “The race started without me!” “I haven’t trained!” “The medal is a shadow profile of Jim J. Bullock!”) I did what any sensible-minded person would do: I went out and ran a 4 mile shakeout run.
Roughly a mile and a half north up A1A was the “world-famous” 24-hour Ron Jon surf shop, so there was that:I looped around closer to the beach and found the Sandbar, our spot for post-race eats and bouts of drunken celebratory revelry last year: And heading south again, I found these testaments to a certain aforementioned TV show:
Finally I returned to the hotel, grabbed some Starbucks, and headed out to the beach to snag this amazing shot:Hate on Florida all you want. We can take it. We got *THIS*. Clear blue skies. 70 degrees. In NOVEMBER. Hah.
After a shower and complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel restaurant, Boots and I scooted over to the Expo over at the Radisson. Last year’s expo was nothing short of a disaster: long winding lines with no clear direction or start/finish points, confused runners and personnel, lack of organization, EXTREMELY crowded walkways, and of course waiting around for over 40 minutes in the shirt line only to find out that they never had any in my size to begin with, etc. Nightmare. I’m pleased to report that none of that was an issue this year. OK, the line to pay for merchandise didn’t exactly speed by — they could have used a couple more people working the registers, this was a half hour wait — but overall the process of picking up my bib, timing tag, shirt, and complimentary Moon Pie was extremely quick and efficient.
Here are some random expo pics:
Plus the money shot with our favorite MTV Moon Man:Afterward we had some time to kill before dinner, so Boots and I headed over to Cocoa Village to explore the extremely cool, funky, eclectic shops and cafes in the area. We focused on two specific vendors, starting with Caroline’s House of Records, where I ended up picking some buttkickin’ used vinyl from the likes of Jethro Tull, Yes, George Harrison, Wings, INXS, Jim Croce, and Genesis.
This was followed by an afternoon snack from Ossorio, a wonderful cafe we discovered last year.
I ended up getting a warm croissant, stuffed with brie, apples, and cranberries. It was so damn perfect, I bought a second for breakfast the following morning.
Later that afternoon we met up with Katarina, Ines, and Running Buddy Kristi for a beer on the Tiki deck at our hotel:It was a brief cocktail hour; our team dinner was at 5 PM over at Brano’s in Indian Harbour Beach, a good 20 minute drive away. While I’m usually averse to “fixed price menus for groups” — we had a disastrously bad experience in Alaska with that — I found the minestrone, lasagna, and cheesecake to be pretty good, especially for the price. So yay: another hearty endorsement.
You know the rest, of course; head back to the hotel, pop a Xanax, set the alarms for the next morning, pin on the bib, lay out the Flat Runner, tape up the ankles, get in bed by 8 and hopefully be passed out by 9. I’m glad to say everything went according to plan. The next morning’s 4AM alarm went off and I had a good 7 hours of sleep behind me. It was showtime.
I ate my croissant from Ossario, drank my Gatorade, and quickly shaved and geared up. The theme this year was simple; while last year we all ended up as redshirts, this year Kristi and I decided to continue to the tradition by joining the green team:Specifically, the Green Lantern Corps. That meant the shirt, the wristband, and the ring were all branded with that awesome GL logo. Everything else was just black and green running attire. I like to keep things simple, ya know?
Wait, where’s the ring? I can’t see the ring in that pic–The shuttle taking us to the Race Area arrived promptly and by 5 AM we were on our way to Cocoa Village. And by “shuttle” I mean “a big yellow school bus with no air conditioning”. Blerg. But it wasn’t a long ride, we were there by 5:20, which gave us a bit over an hour before race start (half marathoners took off at 6:00, marathoners at 6:30; the decision to give the half-marathoners that extra half hour of dark, cooler running instead of those runners who are out there twice as long is absolutely idiotic, and I still haven’t heard a decent explanation why). There were long lines waiting for the park bathrooms, which is where we met up with Kristi, Ines, Katarina, Francesca, and Shelia.
The rest of the time was spent waiting around with the rest of the crew. We had a good turnout this year: along with the aforementioned we also had both Joses, Richard, Marcela, Jeanne, Rosa, Mishele, Caroline, Stephenie, Ayenza, Bruce, Lisa, and many others. Boots had joined Mare, Robyn (The Megaphone Queen of South Florida), Monica, and Mishele’s daughters as part of our mobile cheer squad (I’d see them four times throughout the course).
Let’s take a look at the pre-race goings-on, shall we?
Along with our usual Start Area selfie:As well as Jose doing these quizzical disco kung-fu moves:
Soon we heard the National Anthem being sung and we knew it was time to line up in the corral. It’s your basic honor system — line up by or near the signs indicating the pace you’re planning on running. It was quite crowded on the narrow streets of Brevard Avenue, so we ended up somewhere a little ahead of where we should have been. It was as far back as we could have gone without a machete. Kristi, Katarina, and I lined up together. The countdown finally came: as per every year, the countdown is actually prerecorded launch audio from years past. Very, very awesome. With the roar of solid rocket fuel boosters, our time had come and we were off!
The 2015 Space Coast Marathon
Let’s take a look at the race course, as always courtesy of Google Maps and my trusty Garmin 920XT:
The course was a basic figure eight; two out-and-back courses, each 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 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.
Katarina kept on running as Kristi and I stuck to our 4:1 intervals, so for the first half of the race it was just the two of us. Initially, the weather was absolutely perfect: 64 degrees, breezy, cool, and generally fine running weather. But we knew it wasn’t for long; while we had some nice cloud cover as day broke, we were in the midst of a very warm race.
Still… what a view. The sun rising over the Indian River was simply magnificent, and those picture perfect southern houses on the west side provided ample opportunity for me to thank fellow runners around me for visiting my collection of winter homes. That got a few guffaws. A few. I need to sharpen my material.
And speaking of material, EGO BOOST OF THE DAY came quickly, when, just past Mile 1, a young runner ran up beside me and asked, “Excuse me… do you have a blog?”
I looked over at her, my face covered with “YES! THIS RULES!” expressiveness. “Sure do,” I replied.
“I read your blog last night about this race!”
“Cool! What’s your name?”
“Awesome! You’re totally getting a shout-out!”
And there it is Jamie. Thanks for reading and for coming up to say hi! Right then and there I knew that was going to be a really good omen for the remaining 25 miles of the race. Or was it? Read on and find out…
Anyway, onward we went. I was on a high and feeling very strong and excited when we caught up with our cheering crew at Mile 4. Robyn was yelling excitingly into her megaphone, cheering us on, while Boots was there snapping tons of pics.
Otherwise, the schlep up to the turnaround at Mile 6 was easygoing, and plentifully stocked with hydration stations and porto potties. The usual level of awesome crowd support was out there, along with volunteers dressed in all sorts of costumes: Dr. Whos, Buzz Lightyears, Star Wars characters… speaking of which, one hydration station had two Princess Leias and a single Stormtrooper. The Leias were garbed in the traditional Episode IV attire: the long, white robe-like dresses and hair in cinnamon buns.
As I grabbed a water I asked, “Hey where’s the metal bikini?”
They smiled and laughed (probably faked, having heard this question 8 thousand times that morning alone), and said, “Oh, maybe next time!”
I pointed at the Stormtrooper. “I was talking to him.”
The Princesses blushed profusely and giggled. The Stormtrooper started hemming and hawing and stammering, and I ran on; my job was done there.
Since I was dressed up like a Green Lantern, I also made it a habit of reciting the Green Lantern Oath out loud any time somebody called me out by name. At the beginning of the race I did it with great dramatic flourish; by the end, I was barely able to mumble the thing. But if there was a kid cheering, I always made it a habit of trying to go larger than life with my recital. I’ll even forgive the woman who called me “The Flash”. I appreciated the cheering and enthusiasm, but come on, lady; The Flash doesn’t have a ring! (NERD ALERT: Yes he does; he stores his costume in it…)
If you haven’t guessed it by now, I really wasn’t stressing out about the race at all. I just ran and had a good time, stuck to my intervals, and didn’t worry about anything. Surprisingly, we were doing great pace. My goal was a sub-5-hour marathon. Things were looking very fruitful, thus far.
After the turnaround, we bumped into our Cheering Squad again. Kristi was a head of me, as I had to make a Porto stop about a half mile before and told her to keep running, that I’d catch up with her. I heard Robyn yell through her megaphone “Run, Green Lantern!” so I had to of course recite the oath as I zipped on by.
It was getting significantly hotter now. While we had intermittently cloud cover, the temps had shot up into the low 70s and rising. Thankfully the pace was holding up; we passed the 4:50 pacer and reached the halfway point just before 2:25. Alas, Kristi and I separated around this point as well. She wasn’t feeling it that day, but I knew I still had a really strong run inside me. I had to try.
The second half of the race was just as scenic, festive, and enjoyable as the first, but it’s still the second half of a marathon, meaning you’re starting to feel the strain of the race in terms of energy levels and body aches, and it became just THAT. MUCH. HOTTER. The sun was higher in the day, which meant the cloud cover was gone, and the shadows and shade were no longer in abundance. That is to be expected of course… and besides, we still had those killer views over the river.But here was the main problem with the second half: LOCAL DRIVERS ON THE COURSE. Listen, I get it people: it’s Sunday morning and you have places to go and the city isn’t going to stop you from getting in your car and driving on a marathon route, especially one in your local neighborhood.
But Good Lord… if I can run faster than you’re able to drive, STAY HOME. It was ruefully obnoxious and utterly unsafe. Plan ahead next time.
Back to the good parts of the race (of which there were plenty). Crowd support was still through the roof, and the course remained flat, fast, and scenic. Cheers to the local homeowner who brought back the Blue Moon Shooter Station from last year. It hit them up both ways, and was ever so grateful for the cold carb infusion. Then there were the spectators with spray hoses, ready to cool off overheated runners with some cool mist. And right before the turnaround (about mile 19.5), our Parrothead buddy was there with towels that had been soaking in ice-cold water for a long time. Absolute nirvana, it was.
Our Cheer Squad was waiting at Mile 17, with water and snacks and Robyn’s Megaphone rantings and Boots’s camera prowess. Here I am once more, later in the race:
And then of course before Mile 19, we had the return of This Woman Right Here:
The lawn signs from last year warning us not to blink were gone, but there she was nonetheless. Looking down upon us. From somewhere beyond. Causing many a runner to mess their Swiss Compression Shorts.
After the turnaround it was a straight 6.5 mile shot back to the Finish Line. My pace was pretty much steady and consistent until around Mile 23, at which point the combination of the heat (upper 70s now) and the muscle strain was starting to affect me. I’m pleased to say that, like Chicago, I never hit a Wall; my energy and determination remained strong. The mind, heart, and brain was willing; the legs had other plans. I was feeling it in my groin and hamstrings. Still, my pace only flagged by about 40 seconds per mile. I was still mostly on pace to hit my goal.
But those last three miles… believe you me, I was feeling them, even as I stuck to my intervals and kept moving. You could tell the race was taking its toll on people. I passed plenty of people slowly making their way, including one unfortunate runner who was passed out on the side of the road and had to be carted off via ambulance. Those were some tough running conditions, especially if you’re not a native Swamp Dweller (Floridian).
Nonetheless, we still had cheering spectators and killer on-course support, from both volunteers and locals. Pretty much anything you would need, it was there. Plenty of hydration stops (much-needed), GU stations, beer, pretzels, water, even a full-fledged BAR if you wanted a cocktail. And who doesn’t want some vodka concoction in the midst of marathon? It’s the thought that counts. I was actually short one GU gel, so being able to grab an extra one on-course was fantastic.
Finally the end was in sight. I was approaching Mile 26, the “Lunar Landing” area which was a stone walkway leading to the Finish Line in Cocoa Village. “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE, GO GREEN LANTERN!” yelled an enthusiastic young girl. So I smiled and gave the Oath my last, greatest performance:
In brightest day, in blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight
Let those who worship evil’s might
Beware my power: Green Lantern’s light!
I kid you not. That last one got a HUGE cheer from a group of spectators. And THAT sent me over the moon!! (See what I did there?)
I won’t say I poured it on and floored it to the Finish Line, but I finished the last 0.2 miles with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and energy. You can tell as I crossed the Finish Line with gusto, as captured by Boots!
My net time for this marathon? 4:52:24.
I did it! Pure happiness was flowing through my veins, even if I could barely stand. I didn’t care. I wanted 4:59:59. I beat that by 7 and a half minutes, and in some tough running conditions too. I maintained consistent pace for 23 miles, and only dipped slightly in the final three.
I ran (for me) a strong marathon. I’m pretty sure this was my proudest moment as a runner. I can’t imagine any post-race moment during which I felt happier.
Marcela was the first buddy I saw just after I finished, who greeted me with a great big hug and then asked me to go back to the Finish Line and pose heroically. I could barely stay upright. I then grabbed my awesome race medal, which was a huge slice of awesomesauce featuring the Space Shuttle Discovery. I’m now two years into my three-year Milky Way Challenge!
Boots was next, who was beyond enthusiastic and happy for me. She knew how much I wanted a good time on this race, and I beat my goal. I had to sit for a spell and she brought me some cold water, and we waited for the rest of our buddies to come in. Both Joses and Caroline had already finished, and soon afterward Katarina, Kristi, and Richard crossed The Finish as well. And that meant one thing and one thing only:
ALL YOU CAN DRINK BEER. ALL YOU CAN EAT PIZZA. AND LOTS OF IT.
Seriously, we grabbed our feast, staked a spot by the beer truck, and enjoyed every moment of our repast.
Classy, huh? Anyway, this was a triumphant race for me, but even if it weren’t I still would have enjoyed the 2015 Space Coast Marathon. Idiots in their cars on the race course and heat aside, I loved everything else about this race. Am I back in 2016? Bank on it. This is a fast, flat, fun race that, as our buddy Mishele can attest, makes for a great Boston Qualifier (way to go, buddy!) So yeah. Good time. Great race. And who else to provide the video but the original (and ONLY!) Spaceman himself: