With 18 months in the making, I waited a long time to run A1A Marathon. Chrissy and I set off after the Gasparilla Jr race for our long road trip down to sunny Ft Lauderdale. We arrived at the expo around 5:00 pm, which was just enough time to steal grab some free goodies and samples of beer and play around with the photo spots.
When I noticed piles of FuelStrips, I mistook them for sample packets and tried to steal one. At first I was scolded for my greediness because after mountains of granola sacks and boxes of tampons, it was easy to mistaken the FuelStrips as samples. After the incident, Zack and I became instant Instagram buddies and he tipped us off that the coveted FuelStrips would be offered on the course tomorrow.
Once we checked into the Hyatt Regency Pier 66, we decided to grab some essentials at Publix and eat dinner in the room. I just wanted to unwind and wine down and try to get some rest. Our 4:00 a.m. wake up call would come fast.
After arranging a late check out, we left the hotel and arrived at the start around 5:30. With several parking garages around the Downtown Ft Lauderdale district, we easily found a parking spot and made it to the start line just as the national anthem played.
The start line stood parallel to the Museum of Science and Discovery. The half marathon and marathon participants started together with lots of pace groups to help gauge where to stand. Although I had a goal to finish under 5 hours, I tried not to pay attention to the pace groups because they always stress me out when they pass me!
The first two miles led us along Las Olas Blvd through the streets of downtown Ft Lauderdale and for the first mile, we ran through a section that reminded me of Ybor City, clustered with two-story building with French accents, rod iron awnings like the buildings you find in New Orleans.
As we followed the course along, it would tease us with bridges in the distance, but we never crossed them. When we passed an art museum on Andrews Street, I feared running over the tall draw bridge adjacent to it, but we turned before we even reached it. We did, however, cross one small bridge but it was nothing like the Mama and the baby bridges of Sarasota.
The sun began to rise as we approached the beaches which offered a gorgeous backdrop along the sandy shore. We ran briefly along A1A and then turned into Birch State Park. In the park as we passed the five hour pace group, Chrissy informed me she needed to use the bathroom and since we were making such good time, she didn’t want me to wait for her. She advised me to go ahead and eventually she would catch up. I left Chrissy at the park restroom and ran solo for the remainder of the way.
I was truly making such great time and the race was flying by on this fast, flat beautiful beachside course. Before I knew it, I passed the half marathon and marathon split and watched several runners turn off to finish the half marathon, but I was still surrounded by other marathoners. In the opposite direction, the fastest runners were heading back to the finish already and I loved that I never felt alone on this course.
By the time I hit 12 miles, I needed a toilet in the worst way. At the first sign of a porta-potty, I detoured for a very quick bathroom break and even left my watch running to make sure I was quick. I only spent three minutes in there, but it was just long enough for Chrissy to pass me and I never knew it.
When I hit the half marathon mark, I was ecstatic with my progress and lack of pain. If I kept this pace up, I would finish well under 5 hours. And as I marveled at my marathon achievement, it seemed so minuscule next by Doctor Dribble’s amazing feat for charity.
The course led us further and further down A1A Blvd to Pompano Beach cluttered with condos and lots of water stations manned by happy volunteers. As we approached miles 15 – 16, the course teased us with another bridge that we never crossed. Instead, we turned into a more residential neighborhood full of people spectators handing out candies and water while they cheered for the runners.
I thought for sure I would see Chrissy again as the course looped and overlapped through the residential area, but I never did. I worried about her knee and IT-band troubles and wondered if she DNF. At mile 16, I was still feeling good about my performance and my overall finish time.
Around mile 19, I spotted the 5:00 pace group out of the corner of my eye. “Nooooooo! How can that be?!”
“Are you running ahead of pace?” I asked the 5:00 pace group leader.
“A little bit”, he replied. “What’s your goal?”
“To keep ahead of you! Honestly anything under five hours, but whenever I see pace group passing me, I become riddled with anxiety. I have not had the best experience with pace groups. I start to stress if I fall behind.”
“Well, you’re doing great!”
I paced with him for about a mile but I couldn’t keep up and of course, it broke my heart whether he was ahead of pace or not. At mile 20 with only 6.2 miles and an hour left to go, I watched the five hour pace group sign slowly slip away and I started to lose it.
My heel started to bother me. The heat started to bother me. Bad thoughts began to take over and I started to walk. Where the hell are the water stations? I thought they were every mile!
Things really started to get ugly between miles 21 to 23 as I dumped more and more water on my head and fanned myself in attempt to cool myself down and keep myself from crying. I even tried to clap away the sadness with Pharrell as he sang “Happy“. When the patrol officers noticed my random two-beat clapping and subtle sadness, they offered some kind words in attempt to lift my spirits. “You’re doing great! Keep it it!”
I loved that the cops were so cheery and supportive throughout the course. From the spectators to volunteers to the cops, everyone happily cheered for the runners along the way.
Even a beer station at mile 24 couldn’t help me. I felt as if I might puke if I drank beer. The people at the beer station were so happy to offer beer too, but I just couldn’t drink it and that made me even sadder.
Then, “Wake Me Up” by Avicii played on my MP3 player and I. LOST. IT. I mean, I seriously, lost it in a way I haven’t seen since Space Coast Marathon 2011. With my friend’s recent collapse and then my dad’s mini-stroke, I have had some real emotional rollercoasters lately but I always try to be a rock for everyone (my friends, my husband, my children, my sister and now my mom and dad) and this rock crumbled as an avalanche of emotion poured out of me. I sobbed on the course and started to hyperventilate. “Why am I here? Why am I doing this? What is this all for? What am I trying to prove? I want to go home! I want to hug my husband, my kids and my dad!”
“God, please wake me up when it’s all over.”
As I dumped on yet another cup of water on my head, the volunteers at that water station saw my struggles and reminded me “You got this.”
Yes, yes I do and then very next song to play was “Work B**tch by Britney Spears and the timing could not have been better. I shook off all that bad juju and worked it out to finish strong. After struggling with a 12:00 mm pace, I pushed it for the Publix mile and I ran a 9:15. People smiled and cheered as I ran by and it lifted me to the finish. I sprinted even faster and stronger for the last 0.2 miles until I crossed the finish line.
When I crossed, I cried, of course. Once I regained my composure, I looked up and saw Chrissy with her finisher medal. She hobbled over to me, hugged me and congratulated me on my finish, but really she takes the crab cake because she shaved 8 minutes off her previous PR from WDW marathon only a month ago.
“Great job, Tampa!” hollered the 5:00 pace group guy. “You did it!”
He was right. I did it. I earned a new marathon PR. My Garmin read 4:59 but my official chip time read 5:00:24. Regardless, I still shaved NINE MINUTES off my previous marathon time and finally hit a PB-PB (personal best post baby) which has taken years to do.
35/46 Age Group Div
Clock Time 5:03:55
Chip Time 5:00:24
Garmin Time 4:59:54
Ave Pace 11:28
Despite heel pain, changes with my body post baby and other motherhood hurdles, I finally came full circle to my level of athletic performance from five years ago. I don’t care what the clock, chip or Garmin says. I know how this feels and it doesn’t feel crabby at all.