This would be my second “real” race of 2020. In a year so cut to pieces with pandemic related events, I had registered for a few other events that were cancelled or postponed. The Ft Lauderdale A1A Marathon in late January was the only other event I ran in for 2020.
Most years I am a pace runner at this great race. This year there were no pace teams provided to avoid “grouping,” which of course is the opposite of social distancing. I became a paid participant for the first time in 7-8 years. I completed an 8 week Hanson’s “abbreviated” Half Marathon training plan that had a 70 mile-per-week demand. I was coming off of two consecutive marathon training cycles of 60 and 75 weekly miles. I already had the base fitness, I was not injured, and ready to attempt a good half marathon for only my third time.
I had recommended this race to many of our local runners, many of whom had never been up to Cocoa Village for this event. Nicole and Fiona Foster, Judy and Natalie Lenderman, Daniel and Elisa Yinh, Jen and her daughter Kaitlyn were a few. Even with the Covid restrictions and changes, race management put a wonderful event forward, one that didn’t feel too awkward or scaled back. Well done, Running Zone!
I knew to arrive early in the village, as parking is tough on race morning. My South Course Half Marathon was to begin at 6:20 am, after the 6:00 am start of the North Course Half and full marathon event. Daniel, Aldo Virano, Jackie Guthart and Gary Walk were running the 26.2 course. We met up with many of our folks that also had been advised to arrive early and park close by.
My priority on race morning is making sure I have gone to the restroom enough times. The saying is, “Before the race I try to go to the bathroom as much as I can, and once it starts – I spend the rest of the race trying NOT to!” We did a 1/2 mile warmup run prior to our wave’s start, that and a few other porta potty stops had me ready to go. The rolling start allowed us to begin 5 minutes earlier than we were told, so at 6:15 runners for the South Course could begin. I didn’t want to be running zig-zag style among the masses, so although I wasn’t ready to go when the course opened, I quickly tapped my watch, got on the road and crossed the starting line.
Running on this course was very familiar to me. I have done the pace team leader duties and I knew the route was very favorable. You run to a turnaround point on River Road, then return. Easy! It’s a narrow road with great scenery to the east. The Indian River views are prominent and a reason that many people return to this event year after year. I started in the dark, running past Kaitlyn and Fiona who began their first mile very quickly. As I passed them I reminded each girl that they were going too fast… not a problem, they made the adjustment and slowed up.
At the end of the first mile my time was 6:34. Good I thought, I could adjust if necessary but I’d like to keep this pace going. I wasn’t thirsty, I drank a full 17 oz bottle of Maurten prior to the race, my first time ever for that. I had a bottle with me, same mixture, along with two Maurten gels in a pouch. I ran past Kristen’s house, her special “tree” had nice Christmas ornaments on it and they were nicely lit. She stood outside her home in a cheerleader outfit. I joked to a man running next to me, “This is a great running fantasy, a cheerleader on the course that knows my name!” A good laugh for both of us. I continued south at the same pace, the road was still dark. There were less water stops on the course this year, I ran by the first one and took a sealed water bottle from the second aid station. It was easy to open on the run and I swallowed a quick mouthful, tossed it in a trash can, and kept going. I was running among only a few people now. I could still see the flashing blue lights of the lead motorcycle ahead, that’s a good sign! I took a long sip of my Maurten drink and tried to send the mouthful down without swallowing air to avoid burping. (I think that worked.) I ran at the same steady pace thru miles 4 & 5. The sunrise lit the eastern sky and made for a nice sight as I followed the runners I could see ahead. I wasn’t catching up to them, but they weren’t increasing their gap on me, either. One guy wearing a loud pair Nike Alphafly shoes passed me at this point, I never saw him again or had another opportunity to pass him.
I kept thinking to myself about making it to the turnaround spot while running at the same pace, and then repeating that to get home to the finish. At the mile 6.5 turnaround, I saw three girls running ahead of me at approximately the same pace. Now things changed. I got to run north and see all of my friends on their way up. It’s really a good distraction to have that to concentrate on. I saw my mile split paces remain steady as I ticked off seeing my local runners. I knew the order that I thought I’d see them. Nicole came first and not too far back, that meant she was having a great run. Then Maureen, Fiona, Jen, and Kaitlyn. The sun was up by now and I was running as close to course tangents as I could. There are curves that I know I can run straight, this will allow me to avoid running any extra distance while the clock is ticking.
I was now really running alone, I could see one girl ahead. I ran in a very concentrated state, knowing I wanted each of my miles to be in the mid 6:30s, with no slowing or surging. Now I could see the tall condos along the waterfront ahead, I knew that was only 3/4 mile from the finish area. I had another mouthful of the Maurten drink from my “butt bottle” as some in my group call it. I thought about getting back to Kristen’s house and how I would be close enough to speed up once there. I ran through mile 10 thinking the familiar, “Only a 5k left to go.” Once at Kristen’s house, I saw her empty lawn chair where she was when I passed by heading out. I figured she knew – based on my goal time of approx 1:27, that I’d be by at a certain time. As I passed her driveway, I heard her run out of the front door saying, “You are too fast, I wasn’t ready for you!” I smiled and kept going, I knew ahead I had a long straightaway and the village to run through and I had to stay strong. I had no pain or points of concern as I raced north towards the amphitheater and boat launch park finish line area. I passed Aldo and Daniel in my 12th mile, they were in mile 14 of their marathon. Aldo was sweating and working hard, Daniel appeared to be more in control and he didn’t look as labored. Kristen popped up again on the course, emerging from a side street, having driven to catch me. She was a bit late for this “rendezvous” also, so she left her car on that side street and ran a direct route to catch me in the last mile.
I ran around the St Mark’s Church property, back into Cocoa Village, then turned along the final street leading into the finish area. I knew my time was going to be a PR, but I didn’t look down as I passed by “The Village Idiot” bar and Ray’s Pizza. I saw Kristen taking a few photos as I ran to the finish line feeling gassed and almost nauseous. A new best half time of 1:26:43 made the day a winner for me. Not optimal conditions for temp and humidity, but I made the race count. I kept the mid 6:30s pace and finished with a final mile of 6:24.