13.1 miles (Pacing the 1:55 group) Today’s race had good temps and a nicely done start area. This was my first time at this event. Thanks to Pacer Kristen, we parked nearby and had no issues getting to the team photo and lineup on time. I met a few of my runners and discussed the course, their goals, shoe tying, water station strategy and the good conditions we had waiting for us. Of note were a young couple, Matthew and Carrie. They had previous PRs of 2:03 and 2:05 and were excited to try for the 1:55. Also chatty were Kissell, Lyndsey, Steve and Bob. They laughed at my jokes, therefore I knew we’d either have a good group – or they were delusional!
A nice space-themed blast off start and we were in two turns running on the river road that comprised 95% of today’s course. Our first mile was done in a 9:15/min pace, ok considering it was a two-lane road with plenty of people scattered in both lanes vying for position. I had told the group we would be slower in the beginning and we’d chip away at the small deficit and be on pace in the early miles. This proved true, at mile two I was 19 seconds off the goal wristband time, at 3 miles we were 11 seconds off, at 4 miles within 3 seconds of the 8:44 pace guidelines. We now enjoyed a less crowded street since we could still run both lanes and slower folks had drifted behind us. A few more runners (some with music) joined our group, I think I got most of their names – Lori, Don, Sylvia, Miriam and Pauline. We now had a nice stretch of road open to us, curving and right on the water.
The sunrise made it easier for us to see the pavement and where the aid stations were ahead of us. I always try to call out what I see left side and right side as far as hydration and porta potties. I let the group know I’ll be keeping pace mostly through the aid stations, they will see me in the middle of the road. I caution them not to zip right back up to me, they can stretch out catching me over 400-600 meters. We talk about how to drink on the run and what I use for chews and salt pills as a Florida runner exposed to plenty of humidity. We are on proper pace to the turnaround, which is comprised of two people in lawn chairs telling us to run across the grass between two trees. No chip mat?
We have lost a few runners that linked onto our group, one girl that was small in height and really sweating hard for being at mile 6-7. I believe at mile 8 we had slowed running through the previous aid station to 10 seconds behind, but I didn’t announce it to my runners. I kept distracting them with stories about Boston Marathon 2013 and 2014 plus asking who had traveled the farthest to run today, etc. I explain how people employ using longer strides and/or quicker turnover to vary what their legs experience over the distance of a half or full marathon. I ask our group about marathons, one guy had completed Ironman Florida just three weeks ago, and another had done a full several years ago.
We make the next two mile splits back on the goal pace, according to my wristband we are doing well. My Garmin watch didn’t charge properly, I borrowed my son’s watch and was challenged to see the small numbers in the earlier, darker miles. It certainly isn’t because I’m getting older, that’s for sure. At mile 10 I announce we have to do the same 5k that we did in the beginning, easy to do if it was the only distance we had for the day. As we cross mile 11 I’m now running down the only hill on the course according to one of our girls – approximately 6 feet of elevation change! I keep talking positive about each person keeping me in sight even if they feel sore or tired, because we are very close now and right on schedule. Once we are approaching mile 12, I now count off approximate distances in terms of laps around a high school track. I feel anyone can gut out running 4-6 laps around a football field if they resort to thinking they only need to go a bit further. My group has a core of 5 runners now, but the rest are within sight as I look back from the last aid station. Lyndsey explains we do not finish where we started, we run just past the only large building we see, into the park and almost to the Intracoastal bridge. IN the park we have music, fan support, and a winding semicircular walkway that passes restroom, picnic areas and under some shelters. I really don’t know where the finish is, some of my group dashes ahead because apparently they do! I stutter step at the 13 mile mark to let Miriam get close to me and I encourage her to keep it going, we are within 100m of the finish. I cross and see my watch display that I am only 4 seconds over the 1:54:30 time goal – I am surprised to see I got that close. Plenty of my runners thank me at the finish, three groups take photos right as we get our towels, this was a good day. Unlike pacing the full 26.2 distance, I had a majority of my people stay with me or close enough to be very satisfied pacing below 2 hours. I later learn through Kristen that her friend Steve and I both came within one second of the goal time – even more unbelievable!