Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gasparilla Marathon, Tampa FL (2/28/10)

My brother and his family moved from Boston to Florida in 2009, so I thought that the 2010 Gasparilla Marathon in Tampa, FL was a perfect excuse for a visit. Soon after I registered for the marathon I learned that 2010 would be their last marathon (they are keeping the 5K, 15K, and half marathon). I am very glad it all worked out, as this was an amazing marathon and I am glad I didn’t miss it. It really is a shame that they are retiring the marathon! I talked to some of the folks representing the Gasparilla Marathon at the Boston Marathon Expo, and they said to “stay tuned” so maybe the marathon is not gone after all!!!

This was my first flight alone in 20 years, and I had only taken 2 trips between 1990 and 2008, so the flight itself was my biggest worry. I had completed my marathon training program so I knew I would finish the marathon somehow. Getting through the flight was another thing. Much to my surprise, I did really well on the flight. I didn’t even need to utilize all of my tricks and rituals. I must say, though, that the medication I takes makes all the difference!!

I arrived early Friday afternoon, and my sister-in-law picked me up and took me to the expo. It was quite a large expo for a smaller marathon, and I was very impressed. What I had learned earlier that week was that Bart Yasso was going to be at the expo! Bart works for Runner’s World magazine and has been called the “mayor of running in the USA.” He has run over 1,000 races, hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro, run the Death Valley race, and so many other crazy things. Needless to say, he’s one of my heroes! I first met Bart in November of 2009 at the NYC Marathon Expo, where I bought his book “Life on the Run” and he signed it. The same day I met him, I “friended” him on Facebook, and we are now Facebook buddies. So this would be my second time seeing Bart in person. We couldn’t stay long at the expo on Friday as we had to get back to pick up my nephew from school, but I knew I’d see Bart the next day.

On Saturday, my brother drove me to Tampa. I checked in at the hotel and then headed over to the expo. I knew Bart was giving a seminar at a particular time. I got a chance to talk to him briefly before his seminar, and got another picture taken with him (first one was in NYC). And I had him add “Gasparilla 2010” underneath his signature on his book. I figure that every time I see him at a marathon I will have him add the location of the marathon. I can’t wait to see how many times I get to see him! (the 3rd time ended up being in Boston in April).

My biggest concern for my Florida marathon was the weather; I had been afraid that after training in the cold New England winter I would face a hot and sunny day. In fact, I took 8 weeks’ worth of hot yoga classes just to acclimate to exercising in the heat! Turns out my worst fear did not come true. We started at 6:00am (yes, in the morning!!) and it was in the upper 40s. I don’t think it even got into the 60s by the time I finished. It did get a bit sunny, but there were a few clouds, too. I lucked out big time!!!

I was also a little concerned (though not really worried) about starting at 6:00 in the morning, as I am NOT a morning person. However, the interesting thing about starting in the dark was that we got to see an awesome view of the moon. And we got to see the sun rise! However, I still wouldn’t choose such an early start. But I tried to make the most of it.

I ran relatively conservatively for the first half, which is usually my strategy. The first half was somewhat crowded as we had about 8,000 half marathoners running along with us. Once they split off, it was much more manageable. I met up with a bunch of runners from the Bradenton Running Club (which is where my brother now lives) and ran with them for several miles. One of them included a 70+ year old man and I was having trouble keeping up with him.  I eventually let them go when I slowed down at a water stop and they plowed ahead. Soon after this I noticed that I was not far behind the 5 hour pacing group. I usually finish my marathons in just under 5 hours, so I figured if I could stick with them I was doing okay. Eventually, somewhere in a park around mile 18-ish, I was able to pass them. I wasn’t intentionally trying to pass them but I felt good so it just kind of happened.

There were a fair number of spectators along the course, especially the last 4 miles or so, as we were on a fairly major road along the ocean. I could see and hear a huge group of people in white shirts at mile 24. Turns out that they were an organized group from a local school or community center. THEY ROCKED! They were so loud and so energetic, and they really kept me going.

I noticed on my watch that I would have no problem getting in under 5 hours. In fact, around mile 24 or 25 I realized that it was remotely possible that I’d get a personal record (PR). My PR was 4:52-something in 2008 at the Clarence DeMar Marathon in Keene, NH. I pushed as hard as I could in Tampa and finished in 4:53-something. Just a minute off my PR! Surely I could have made up that time somewhere, but no worries. I was really happy with my effort and very surprised that I did so well in Florida.

My brother, sister-in-law and nephew were there for me along the course. We had pre-arranged where they would be, and the “first stop” was around mile 14. I saw my brother and sister-in-law as I approached, and they she disappeared. She went to get my nephew in the car. When I got to that spot I saw her trying to get my nephew out of the car. He wouldn’t budge! I kept calling his name and she finally told me he wasn’t getting out (I later told my nephew that if I had not wasted so much time waiting for him to get out of the car I would have had a PR!). At the next stop, he was visible, and was wearing his pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt. Clearly he had gotten up extra early to make it to Tampa. I was glad he was there, even if he was a little grumpy. 

I got to see them as I entered a park around mile 18 and then when I exited the park around mile 20. That was really cool! They were kind enough to carry some of the supplies I needed, like salt pills and GU packets. When I run a marathon alone I have to carry all of this stuff with me so it’s definitely nice to have someone there to hand me my supplies. I saw my family one more time towards the end, but that part is a bit of a blur as my brain always turns to mush at the end of a marathon.

When I finished I saw that they had run out of the REALLY cool medals with a wildly colorful ribbon. One high-school aged volunteer kindly took me to a secret stash after I expressed my disappointment and I was extremely grateful. Then the official photographer asked me to pose with my medal. Believe it or not, this was the first marathon I’d run where they did that. It turned out to by one of my best pictures of the bunch; my smile was a mile long!

The post-race food was excellent (salad, rice, fruit, bread, etc.). While I was waiting in the food line, two women in front of me asked me to take their picture with their phone. My brain was so mushy that I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Many long distance runners can probably relate to me. When I finish a marathon, my brain is completely drained as I used all of my mental energy on the marathon. I often can’t answer simple questions or even process what people are saying.

I walked to get my bag and then asked a stranger to take a couple of pictures of me. I walked back to the hotel, where I had arranged a late check-out. There I put my legs in the cool pool water and then took a shower. My brother and his family then arrived to pick me up. We took a family photo in front of the hotel, and then when we got back to their house in Bradenton I put my legs in the pool again.

Marathon #10 and state #8 down! I loved this race!!!!! I am so lucky that almost all of my marathons have been awesome races! It would be so hard for me to rank them, as there were so many pros and cons to each of them. If absolutely forced, I would say:

Boston (in a class by itself; can’t rank it)
1. Steamtown (Scranton, PA)
2. Gasparilla (Tampa, FL)
3. Vermont City (Burlington, VT)
4. Clarence DeMar (Keene, NH)
5. Amica Breakers (Newport, RI)
6. Mystic (Mystic, CT)
7. New Jersey Marathon (Long Branch, NJ)
8. Hartford (Hartford, CT)

Since the Gasparilla I have run the Earth Day Challenge and I’d probably put it in between Gasparilla and Vermont City.

P.S. I forgot to mention the AWESOME swag we got at the Gasparilla Marathon: turquoise long-sleeved coolmax shirt with embroidery on upper back (skull/cross bones), towel, hat, tote bag, another bag from Publix, and tattoos. Woo hoo!

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