Race Review: 2017 Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Half Marathon (2/19/2017), or: “Lord, leave me if you can…”

The 2017 Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Half Marathon!

That’s a cheap writing trick, isn’t it? If you can’t come up with a suitable opening line to act as a “hook” to attract the “attention” of your “readers”, you simply list the subject of your presentation with a great big exclamation point at the end of it… and all of the sudden your entire post seems immediate, relevant, important, and unmistakably beau monde in a faux monde blogosphere. Ta-dah! How’d I do?

What a perfectly odd introduction.

Let us continue traversing into our race recap with a quick trip through the Universal Perspective Vortex: I happen to really enjoy this race. It was my third half marathon, all the way back in February of 2012. I enjoyed it so much, I returned to race it in 2013. I upgraded to running the Full Marathon, first in 2015 and again in 2016. Running it again in 2017 marked my fifth return to that Start Line in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and I couldn’t wait to hit my home territory once again.

With one crucial, critical element differentiating 2017 from all those other years, and that of course was the weather. In 2012 and 2016, the temperatures were cool, comfortable, and breezy. In 2013 and 2015, it was freakin’ cold (for South Florida, anyhow); cold enough to put on some compression wear for the race. Either way, all those years featured amazing weather that engendered optimal running conditions.

But in 2017? Hot and humid, baby. Welcome to South Florida.

After running the 2017 Walt Disney World Marathon, I decided to limit my races to halfs until the upcoming Big Sur Marathon in April 2017. This was for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I wanted to focus on a slow build to April while dealing with some hip tendinitis and trying to slim down some more. When I made up my mind to return to the Publix A1A Fort Lauderdale races, I signed up for the Half without any reservation. It’s a fun event, and it would make for a fine training run.

And then when I saw the weather forecast for race day — boy oh boy, did I make the right decision. The forecast called for a race day low of 70 and highs in the 80s. Yikes. No regrets on that call.

Anyway, weather, schmeather, pants of pleather, let’s go right into our review of the event — and the various controversies contained therein — starting with a little ditty we’d just love to call:

The Expo

The Expo was held on Friday and Saturday before the race at the Broward Convention Center. I hit up the Expo Friday night after work, meeting Awesome Running Buddy Kristi there to pick up our bibs and soak up all the Expo activity (read: schnorr around for lots of free stuff).

Friday night is always the better time to come. All the vendors are there, but it’s much less crowded and much easier to take the time to enjoy everything. And boy howdy did we enjoy as much as we could. Free beer samples, margaritas, tortillas, frozen yogurt bars, french bread in olive oil, power bars, juices, etc. Plus the usual local vendors, national brands, running clubs, race promoters both national and international, and so forth.

Plus you get to see your name on a car:

Unless you’re Kristi and yours get swallowed up by a headlight:

But you do get to pose in photos with beautiful women (seriously you single guys: JOIN A RUN CLUB!)

And do mildly subversive things like degrade the spirit of pointless hashtag walls, like I did right here:

Anyway enough of that nonsense. I left the expo after we had our fill of pointless shenanigans, so let’s fast forward all the way to early Sunday morning, or a darling little bauble of bodacious boomasticity we’d be tickled pink to call:

Race Day

Boots and I woke at 3:30 AM that morning. I was able to get a reasonable amount of uninterrupted sleep, so I’ll take that as a victory. After showering, shaving, changing, and a few dozen mild race morning anxiety attacks we were out the door and met up with Kristi at 4:30 to drive downtown. Boots dropped Kristi and me off near the Start Line around 5:00 AM and went off to park at the Finish Line and plant herself at a prime photo-taking spot on A1A around Mile 3.

We met our running buddies from Friends In Training and Hollywood Run Club around the Science Museum steps, and stopped to chat, hobnob, and snap endless photos, like these here:

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It was already feeling entirely too warm. We’re talking mid-70s and fairly humid. Not quite summertime levels of sweltering early morning misery; not even close, really. But it was warm and humid enough to know that hydration was going to be critical for this race. I grabbed a few cups of water from a water table, popped a pre-race Gu packet for some energy and electrolytes, hit up the Porto-Potty line for the ceremonial PRP, and skittled into the start chute in preparation for the race.

One thing I did notice was that the race seemed a LOT more crowded this year than ever before. Afterward I looked up the results and found out my suspicions were correct. There were over a thousand more runners racing the half in 2017 than there were the last time I ran it in 2013. I hope this is attributed to the race’s growing popularity, because it’s a pretty swell event. Anyway, here’s a look at some of the race crowds, starting with a look ahead of us:

And behind:

And a pic of Kristi, Katarina, and myself waiting to start:

Anyway after a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, the countdown commenced and the race began in proper. I punched up my “HEROIC THEMES” Spotify playlist, clicked my Garmin, and crossed the Start Line at 6:03 AM. My race had begun!

The 2017 Publix A1A Fort Lauderdale Half Marathon!

Let’s take a look at the race course, courtesy of the Fine Fellows at Google Maps and my revered Garmin 920XT watch:

The race course began in downtown Fort Lauderdale on the corner of SW 5th Avenue and 2nd Street, and continues east down 2nd street, over the train tracks past Moffat Avenue (more on that in a moment), curving onto Andrews and then onto Las Olas Boulevard. About two and half miles are spent running down Las Olas, over the Intracoastal bridge and onto the magical corridor of A1A itself. With stunning sunrise views on your right, you travel north on A1A until Sunrise Boulevard around Mile 4. There you take a brief 2 mile detour by cruising the loop through Hugh Taylor Birch Park. Exiting the park, you return to A1A around the 10K point and continue 2.5 miles northbound until the turnaround at Galt Avenue. From there it is a 4 mile return southbound on A1A, with the Finish Line located at South Beach Park on Seabreeze Boulevard.

It behooves me to mention that I made for a quick start, located near the relative front of the chute and taking off at a reasonable pace. I can’t say the same for half the runners running that morning. Within bare moments after race start, a freight train crossed 2nd Street past Moffat Avenue, stranding thousands of runners as it interminably blocked passage down the race course for twenty minutes.

I can’t imagine how annoying this must have been for these runners. You cross that start line with momentum and energy and excitement and then… a dead stop three blocks later that lasts for 20 minutes. In the end though, it’s just “One Of Those Things”. Luckily, all was not lost. All runners were herded back to the race start and were allowed to begin the race again with a new start time.

But how did this happen? As it turned out, the train dispatch ignored the race directives and allowed the train to pass through without a care. That’s South Florida for you.

Meanwhile, unaware of the happenings back in the Start Area, I continued my race down Las Olas. I had no aspirations for this run; it was “just” a training run for me, so all the pressures of achieving any kind of pace, time, or PR were nonexistent. By Mile 1, I knew I made the right choice on taking it easy. It was pretty sweltering, and I’m a native South Floridian used to such humidity. I’ve run in much, much worse, but I knew better than to push for any kind of time or pace. Being completely drenched with sweat after the first half-mile is a pretty good indicator to slow the heck down.

At least the scenery was nice. Las Olas Boulevard was its usual charming self, with spectators lining the charming shops, cafes, and buildings that make up this portion of the race. As we headed closer to the beach on Las Olas, the spectators became more frequent, especially as we ran over the bridge that took us to the beach itself. The sun was beginning to rise over the Atlantic as the roar of the crowds became louder as we turned onto A1A, the sunrise, sand, and water to our right and the beachfront excitement of bars, nightclubs, and parks to our left.

And there was Boots, hanging with our buddy Mare, snapping pics at around the Mile 3 mark:

The half hour between the hint of daybreak and full on sunrise is the best time to run on a humid morning; the sun burns off much of the oppressive humidity, without the full on heat of daylight. I spent most of that period heading to and through Hugh Taylor Birch Park. I really enjoy the park section of the race, but it was here that I had my moment where I Lost. My. Shit.

And it has to do with Pace Groups.

I’m not talking about the Pacers themselves. They do amazing jobs and I have zero problem with the work they do keeping runners on pace to make a specific run time. No, I’m taking about the Runners who run with them. Specifically those who form a running wall around the pacer. I’m not kidding. I run intervals and I kept leap-frogging with the 2:15 group. It was almost impossible to pass them sometimes, as Runners would flank the Pacer three or four on each side, essentially forming a blockade that was difficult to pass. By the time we got to the park, I had lost my patience. The paths through the park are much narrower than the roads, and the 2:15 Pace Group took up the entire path, forcing runners to pass them in the dirt, grass, or gravel — where your footing isn’t secure. I saw two people eat it trying to pass off the paved pathways.

As I ran past them, I said in a VERY stern tone “Don’t form a wall around the pacer, it makes it difficult for others to pass. Please be courteous to other runners.” A bunch of them yelled something back at me, but I couldn’t hear any of it because of the music coming through my earbuds. That’s probably for the best. I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant. I leap-frogged with them a few more times during the race, but I think… I HOPE… they got the hint.

People, for the last freakin’ time: DON’T CROWD THE PACER. Don’t form a wall, don’t clog the roads, don’t be a tool. You can keep pace behind them; pacers generally run a little faster than their posted time, so even if you’re 30 seconds behind them you’re still going to make pace.

Phew… OK back to the race. Exiting the park, I felt the full furnace of morning weather. It was after 7:00 AM and it felt like a solid 80 degrees. The humidity was gone, replaced with pure Florida heat. It didn’t feel debilitating, but it was definitely hot enough, and the beach segment of A1A has no shade whatsoever. That’s when you simply have to buckle in and run. Admittedly, the sun blazing over the Atlantic as ocean waves crash into the shore affords you a calming view of joyful serenity as you’re cooking, but that’s show-biz!

Passing the beach section of A1A, to the Turn-around at Galt Avenue, and back again to the beach, you spend roughly three miles surrounded by towering condos and office buildings, providing plenty of shade that made the morning heat much more bearable. The locals were out in abundance, offering fruit, water, snacks, and beer. You pretty much know what I #RUNFOR, and that beer shot was quite zesty! I might have grabbed a second or third helping, because that’s how I roll. Otherwise it was a pleasant out-and-back. I had ZERO envy but TOTAL admiration for the Full Marathoners who continued north on A1A as we turned around. I would have totally wussed out and stuck to the half. Because sometimes that’s how I roll too. What a sissy.

Heading south, I was able to high-five all my buddies behind me, many of whom were delayed by the train. Getting support from friends during a hot, trying run provides much-needed emotional power boosts. I was surprised by the sheer amount of runners still exiting the park, not having known about the train delay, but otherwise I ran straight down A1A towards the Finish Line. The lack of shade made things difficult, but not impossible. As much as I didn’t care for them, I was used to these running conditions. Unfortunately I noticed several runners overcome by the heat, sprawled out and being attended to on the A1A sidewalks.

Boots caught me just before Mile 13 as I entered South Beach Park, with the Finish Line in site, and captured these amazing action snapshots:

From there it was a straight shot to the Finish Line. The race pulled a bit of a gotcha, erecting a giant inflatable Publix arch over the course that many confused for the actual Finish Line itself. It was actually plenty amusing to watch after I had finished. People were giving it their all, reaching the arch, throwing up their arms, slowing down to a walk… and then realizing they still had another tenth of a mile to go, frantically starting their run up again in mild annoyance.

I finished my race in 2:15:48, which was OK for a training run in sweltering heat. It felt like a good 85 degrees at race finish. The humidity was low and there was a nice ocean breeze, but make no mistake: it was HOT! Once I was done, I needed to get some food and hydration into me and rest in the shade for a while. I quickly grabbed my medal, which featured a pretty buttkickin’ Manta Ray design:

Then it was food and drink time. They had tubs of ice-cold chocolate milk, which is only the second greatest post-race recovery drink ever, and I quickly downed a quart and grabbed another. There was water, Muscle Milk, bagels, cookies, power bars, tortillas, frozen yogurt pops, rice, beans, chicken, burgers, and of course “beer” in the form of the watery blecch of Michelob Ultra. But I needn’t have worried. Boots and I came prepared. I met up with my friends Richard, Mare, Kristi, Emily, Kelly, Sean, Caroline, Ayenza, Jose, Mishele, Iris, Katarina, and many others in a shaded area near the Finish line, where we cracked open our cooler, stocked with Shock Top Pretzel Wheat Beers, Buttery Nipple shots, and a single Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale I brought for myself.

This was the best way to celebrate after a half!

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So before I end this review, I’d like to say something about:

The Race Cheater What Cheated At The Race

This has been covered a lot by international press. You can read everything you need to know by clicking here. I won’t mention the person by name, because she doesn’t deserve the attention, but I will express some minor admiration that, at the 2016 NYC Half Marathon, she was able to more successfully transform herself into a black guy than C. Thomas Howell in Soul Man.

Me Jane?


Rude, selfish, entitled, and patently unsafe. Hooray?

Anyway, despite heat, freight trains, pacer group walls, cheaters, and scooters, I had a pretty great time at the 2017 Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Half Marathon. It still remains my favorite South Florida half marathon; the race organizers go all out to provide a high quality, really fun, totally enjoyable event. OK so maybe if the temperature were about 15 degrees less it would have been perfect, but you can’t control Mother Nature. Where’s the use in complaining?? It’s over there, in a lockbox. Let’s keep it in there. Anyway, if you’re a local runner, this is a must-attend event. If you’re planning a travel race to South Florida, this is a great one to consider. Keep that in mind for next February. Anyway, thanks for stopping by my little cubble hole of the blogosphere. Here’s the video:

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