I arrived mid-afternoon and went directly to the Expo for my one hour shift. Since the race this year was now two half marathons plus a full marathon, there were many more people in the Expo and in the surrounding parking lots. Crowded! I found my pacing shirt and stick easily, and began to speak with the runners about our basic service and the race in general. It’s always fun to work at the Expo and help calm some of the nerves for the folks we will see tomorrow morning.
Our dinner at Kelsey’s was good, this is a very popular spot at 6:30 pm when we get around to dinner. Perhaps starting right when the Expo closes (5:15 pm) since there’s not much break down to our pacing booth. Maybe this would get us in and out as a large group a bit quicker than waiting till after 6 PM to seat over 20 people. They’re never ready for us.
On race morning I arrived very early figuring I would have to decipher a new start and/or finish area. The start area was on the same street but the street was roped off down the middle separating the north and south courses. The team picture was easy, then I assembled in chronological order with the other Pacers to begin attracting a group of runners. Most of my runners were new to the half marathon distance, others I would meet on the course were more experienced and trying to achieve a personal best time at my pace of 1:45 or an eight-minute mile.
In my group, I had Mike, Chris, Kelly, Kyle, Judy, Ed, and Zachariah. Zechariah was a 13-year-old running his fifth or sixth half marathon. His mom was with him and explained they needed special permission for him to enter the race is young as he was. I had a few folks I knew from South Florida starting out between my group and the 1:50 pacer behind me. Our race start was smooth for the South course, we ran straight for about 200 m then turned left and already our road was clear to run right in the middle without a crowd of slower runners in front. In a very short time, we were on River Road heading south. Our first mile was done in 8:12, we had a slight breeze in our face, and things were looking very good for our group. I didn’t have a very talkative group so I kept the chatter going telling them what we would expect ahead and how to properly take the water while still running at the aid stations. This works well, young Zachariah was right next to me breathing hard to keep our pace. I don’t know what brand shoes he wore, but they were very loud – almost as if they had plastic soles on the bottom. We wound our way through the first 3 miles greeting the fans and spectators we saw in front of their homes. By the fourth mile, we had put ourselves right on our goal pace time.
During the middle miles (five through seven) our group picked up some new runners and lost some off the back. Judy and Ed ran strong next to me as Zachariah faded by mile 6. We also picked up a very popular local gal with an Australian accent. She knew many of the other runners once the leaders and faster groups hit the turnaround and were running back at us. Her PR was 1:49 so finishing with me today was her goal. Ed moved a little bit ahead and ran about 50 m in front of our group. We were on our goal pace at the turnaround and now running back North with daylight on the road.
We had some good laughs at the two ”liquor bars” set up on residents driveways. Neither myself nor any of my runners opted for a tequila shot or Mimosa. I ran with the Australian gal and two or three others very close behind hanging on at mile eight. The South course does have curves and as long as we could run tangents without interfering with other oncoming runners, we did. I explained the benefits of this to my group. Once we got to mile 10, we were on target for the slightly below 1:45 finish. Now even the Australian lady began to fade back and I was catching up to Ed. He was in good shape and running strong, he wanted to beat a 1:46 time – so his goal was to finish ahead of me or at the very least right with me. He had good form and I encouraged him to stay with me until we had less than a mile left to go. The finish line was a bit further than the traditional older amphitheater site, so when we came down the final slope and onto the long straightaway leading into Cocoa Village, he sped up and ran ahead. I recognized a female runner in front of me, Nimia González. I ran up next to her and told her to hang on and run right with me. She was happy to see someone she knew from West Palm Beach! She said she was very tired. I explained how close we were within 1.5 miles to the finish and how she definitely was strong enough to stay with me. I also ran by an older gentleman with a red singlet and graying hair. I encouraged him to join us – he tried for about a quarter of a mile, then he fell off our eight-minute pace. As we went through Cocoa Village, Nimia and I recognized and waved at a few runners from our area that had already finished their half marathon on the North course. I think this distraction helped her because we were only one right turn away from the final straightaway and the park with the finish line. I saw Mike up ahead making his finish ahead of me – that’s a PR! Nimia sprinted ahead and also finished slightly ahead of me. She met me at the finish line along with her boyfriend to thank me for not allowing her to walk that last mile. I crossed in 1:44:33.
It was an odd weather day, with fog and high humidity throughout our half marathon. The normally amazing views on River Rd were muted by the low clouds. Some on the South Course said they saw dolphins, I told my group to look but no sightings this year. As for the older gentleman with the red singlet – I watched him stand on the podium as a winner of the 75 to 79 age group with a time of 1:45:33! Mr. John Ouweleen.
I believe the race management did a good job of incorporating the North Course as an additional half marathon. We had fewer people in front of us, which also can be attributed to me doing the 1:45 group vs 1:55 in prior years. The after party wasn’t as lively due to the damp weather and inability to use the big amphitheater lawn.
Working with the other pacers was easy – We gave rides to Jessica M. to and from dinner and transferring the sticks was easy. Marcela and I made a plan for the banner and sticks to make it to Palm Beach a week later. This event will always grow with now two options for the popular half marathon!
Finish Line with Ed and Nimia…
Nimia, John Ouweleen, Cecelio (Nimia’s boyfriend)…