I’ve been doing a lot of races “for fun” lately.
Yes yes, I know every race is “fun” on some level, but for the hardcore racing devotees reading this words, you know exactly to that which I am referring: stiffening your mental reserve, tensing your body like a coiled metal spring at the Start Line, and working like a precise piece of fine-tuned machinery as you dig deep into your arsenal of training, knowledge, and experience to push yourself to your physical and mental limits, in order to achieve some measure of victory and success. Or solace, perhaps, if you fall flat on your face.
So yeah. Racing for “fun”? I love it. The Zoo Run 5K, Wine & Dine Half Marathon, Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5K, Miami Beach Halloween Half Marathon, the Tunnel 2 Towers 5K… all laid back and very enjoyable experiences with good friends and cold beer and camaraderie and all that cool stuff.
But the 2015 Michelob Ultra Fort Lauderdale 13.1 half marathon? You better believe me when I say I wanted to beat the crap out of that race like it owed me money or something.
The Ft. Lauderdale 13.1 and I have a unique relationship. The race mostly takes places on A1A and Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, which is my home territory. I train there constantly with my run club as well as on my own, and every last square inch of those roads is inscribed into my Core Memories (I watched Inside Out again last night. There’s a monument to Ft. Lauderdale Beach on Running Island. But anyway…). Passing a storefront, a traffic sign, an overpass, or even a beach shower, I know exactly where I am and how far away I am from any waypoint on the course. It’s a psychological advantage and one I exploit to its fullest.
Plus this was my third time running the race. The first time was in 2012, where I achieved what I consider to be my first “real” PR of 2:07:03, which was seven minutes faster than my previous best time. I was so stoked that I came back in 2013 to reclaim my past glory after some debilitating health issues. I also went out with some high school buddies the Friday night before the race, and probably engaged in far too much spirited libations than I should have. It was a disaster. 2:23:06. Yikes.
But here it was, the morning of Sunday, November 15, 2015, and I had returned to not only run the race, but to really run the race. Give it my all. Shoot for a PR. Hit it with everything I had and see what I could make of it. I felt as light and as strong on my feet as I ever had since I started running, so to say my attitude going in was extremely positive and determined would be a tad minimizing.
The Start Line was located off of SW 1st Avenue and Broward Boulevard, in the heart of downtown Ft. Lauderdale. Boots dropped me off around 5:40; the race started at 6:30, but FIT was having our group pic at 6:00, and I expected heavier traffic than there actually was. No biggie. I hit the Portos (PRP successful) and met the team, chatted, socialized, took the requisite selfies and area pics, and lined up for the race as Go-Time approached. Of course we had to have the Start Line selfie. Notice the French flag was on display as well. Given the events that occurred that weekend, this was a nice tribute.
I stood next to Coach Joe, who was pacing the 2:00 runners. My current PR was 2:06:04, so I wanted to see if I could come within striking distance of the two-hour mark. I didn’t harbor any ideas of busting through that much-prized barrier, but I figured even if I came close, I could still PR. Maybe. Either way, I was itching to run. After an excellent rendition of the National Anthem came the disabled athletes start, followed by the race proper around 6:35 AM. I popped in my ear buds, dialed up my Zombies, Run! for the race: “Veronica” (Season 3, Mission 15), and at 6:36 AM I crossed the Start Line and began my journey.
Here’s a look at the race course, courtesy of my adoring Garmin 920 XT watch and Google Maps:
The course was revised for this year. After taking off the Start Line, the course did its usual loop onto Federal heading southbound. Emerging from the Kinney Tunnel, we turned east on Ponce De Leon Drive to take a scenic detour through the hoity-toity neighborhoods adjacent to Tarpon River. Reaching Federal again around Mile 4, we turned west on SE 6th street, north on Andrews, and then turning eastbound at Las Olas (with a brief detour on New River Drive) all the way down to A1A. From there it was a northbound jaunt to the Mile 10 turnaround just past NE 25th ST. From there it was just a 3 mile shot back down A1A to the Finish Line, just north of Bahia Mar on Ft. Lauderdale Beach.
The race was definitely a challenge that day, and this was entirely due to the elements. At race start it was already 79 degrees, overcast, and humid, and while no rain fell during the race, I would have been more than a little appreciative had a little rainfall made an appearance at the beginning of the race. For the first 4.5 miles, the weather felt still, hot, sticky, and very uncomfortable. I was worried there would be simply no break in these muggy, thick, steamy conditions.
Then we turned eastbound onto Las Olas 4.5 miles into the race…
OH. MY. JEBUS.
At first I was entirely thankful for the strong breeze. It broke up the mugginess, cooled us down, and was greeted as a Conquering Hero to us steaming racing hordes. Before turning onto Las Olas, we had to cross the Tarpon River by heading over the Andrews Avenue Bridge, and for some reason people were actually starting to bitch about having to traverse up a bridge right then and there. “Don’t worry, there’s only one more bridge after this one,” I cheerfully replied to the crowd, which almost landed me a snowball in the face, which was weird, because there was no snow in Ft. Lauderdale that morning (and never has been any, ever, but never mind that). Yes, things were feeling rough early in the race. But once you felt that cool breeze on Las Olas? Oh that was beyond a joy of joys!
And then you realized you actually had to run into up to 35 MPH winds… head first.
And then the real race started.
I ran the first three miles straight through and then settled into 7:1 intervals for the remainder of the race. I felt strong, steady, and consistent, but the heavy winds presented a major challenge that day. You simply had to exert that much harder to keep pace going, and boy was I feeling it. While I was averaging just over 9 minute miles for the first half of the race, the second half (east Las Olas and A1A) averaged in the high 9’s or low 10’s. The closer we got to the beach, the stronger the winds got. And we still had half the race to go.
I was still having a good time. If every race were easy then what would be the point, exactly?
Turning north onto Las Olas I found Boots stationed at her usual spot by Beach Place, where she captured some action snapshots:
I smiled, waved, and called out to her, “Holy crap, this is hard!”
On A1A you could see the surf raising high and crashing hard, and for a few seconds I was worried my bib was going to go flying off its safety-pin bearings. That aside, it was a fairly straightforward shot up A1A. We passed the usual cheerleaders, spectators, DJs, live bands, and well-staffed hydration stops on the way up to and back from the Mile 10 Turnaround. I stuck to my 7:1 intervals and felt strong with them; so much so that I abandoned them around Mile 11 and ran the rest of the race straight through. I felt like I could have abandoned the intervals earlier, but I didn’t know how strong a challenge the winds would pose as we turned southbound, especially once we left the cover of the hotels and condo buildings that blocked much of the wind for the 2 miles around the Turnaround point.
Turns out, they blocked a LOT. Those last two miles were tough. I dug in and pushed hard, as it was not unnoticed by me that I was heading towards a PR if I was able to maintain pace.
By the way, a shout out to my favorite spectator of the day: a woman with a bowl full of treats (looked like Twizzlers, but I didn’t stop to notice) and a sign that read something along the lines of: “Your Mama taught you to never to take candy from strangers! So hello, my name is Heather…” I think it was Heather. I have the memory of a sieve.
On the less cheery side, I started to feel some tightening in my lower left quad around this point. While it didn’t exactly hurt and wasn’t causing any noticeable pain, I definitely felt it throbbing hard. If it were actual pain that I was feeling, I probably would have eased off the throttle a bit. But I was less than 2 miles from the Finish, and on the threshold of a new PR. I had to keep pushing onward. Bragging rights were on the line.
Just before Mile 13 I caught Boots again, standing with my friends Rich, Mare, and Hallie. More action snapshots were to be had:
I could see the Finish Line. I instinctively checked my Garmin. I was close, very close to my PR of 2:06:04. I poured on every last bit of energy I had and floored it as best I could, throbbing quadricep and roaring winds and tired body/depleted energy be damned. Gunning it, I made it to the Finish Line as fast as I could.
Final recorded Chip Time?
I missed my PR by two freakin’ seconds!
Well look, what can you do? Those were tough conditions out there. I reminded myself that there were even stronger winds at last year’s 2014 Avengers Half Marathon, and I came in two seconds faster. Of course, during that race it was also 25 degrees cooler with zero humidity. So despite that rather forced grumpy face up there, I was OK with this. Two seconds over 13.1 miles is statistically meaningless. Crowds, elevation changes, temperature, weather, sharp turns, any number of factors change the tenor between races.
But two seconds… MAN!
Well, I’m not complaining. It was a tough race that day, very hot, humid, and windy, and I still managed to run my 2nd-fastest half-marathon out of 29 total. I’ll take it.
I walked over to the Beer Garden to get my free (you get what you pay for) Michelob Ultra, which was served cold and delivered in a handy tote bag. Beer in a bag. My God…
After that, I grabbed some chow from the food line, including some chicken, rice, and beans from Pollo Tropical. It was warm and tasty and filling, but the line moved ever-so-slowly as the mental midgets ahead of me didn’t understand that ALL they had was white rice, black beans, and chicken. No pork. No lettuce. No red beans. No veggie option (unless you didn’t want chicken, which was fine). You would think people were trying to refinance their mortgages or something, the time they were taking. Moving on, there were also cookies, muffins, bagels, oranges, bananas, granola bars, the works. I packed some goodies into my tote bag and waddled over where Boots, Rich, Mare, and Hallie were waiting.
We cheered the remainder of our friends in for the next 40 minutes and change, and then decided that hunger needs trumped cheering needs, so we met Rich and Mare over at Dixie Tracks Cafe for probably some of the best breakfast noms available in the South Florida area. I had my usual favorite, the Junkyard Waffle:
For the uninitiated, this consists of two fried eggs, spicy sausage, crispy bacon, country ham, roasted potatoes, and gravy. Do not judge me. I ran 13.1 miles for this. I’ll take this for my two seconds any day of the week.
So all in all the 2015 Michelob Ultra Fort Lauderdale 13.1 had its share of weather challenges (hot, humid, and VERY windy) but it’s still one of the best local races in the South Florida area. It’s a small, mostly flat, and very fast race (usually), and the course changes to the first several miles made for a nice addition to the race. Cool after-party too, even if you are, shall we say, not the biggest fan of Michelob Ultra as your post-race libations. No matter. If you’re a local, snowbird, or just happen to be in the area, this race is worth your time. And here, at long last, is the video: