27 January, 2014

Celebration Half Marathon Recap

Yesterday I ran my fifth half marathon.

A year ago, I still wasn't sure I could finish my first.  Every now and then, my reality surprises the crap out of me!

This was the inaugural year for the "Town of Celebration Marathon & Half Marathon," and I didn't find out about it until it was already sold out.  They ended up opening up more spots, and I jumped to register, despite the $100 price tag.  I figured that the money I'd save on a hotel would more than make up for the higher registration fees.

Going into this race, I felt strong, the weather was cool, and I was healthy.  I figured if I was going to meet any of my running goals in the next month, this was going to be my only chance (with Melbourne next weekend before my legs are recovered and Princess - with the on-ramp from Hell - the day after the Enchanted 10K).  I wanted to finish in under 3 hours, I hoped to maintain a 14 minute/mile pace, and I figured I could probably PR.  That's a lot of pressure to put on my chubby legs!

I had planned to wear this new long-sleeve running shirt I bought, and failed to re-check the weather in the last 24 hours before the race.  It was warmer than I had planned, and I really dressed wrong.  Luckily for me, Jackie (of the Orlando Half) had picked up her race bag that morning and loaned me her race shirt.  I think she saved my life!

Pre-Race, they had a zillion porta-potties near the start.  Unfortunately, the lines for the potties backed right up into the area runners were waiting to begin, so it was a little crazy right there.  If the National Anthem was performed, or if there were any sort of pre-race announcements, we couldn't hear them back where we were.  All of a sudden, we realized the race had started!

Funny signs like this one dotted one
long boring stretch of the course
The Course was really winding, and even though I stared at the map a bunch of times before the race I had no real clue where I was at any time.  There are advantages and disadvantages to that.  It was more of an adventure than you have on an out & back course, but a few times we'd catch glimpses of runners around corners and had no idea whether we were ahead of them or behind them.

A mile or two (ish?) of the course were on boardwalks over swampy areas.  These were my favorite parts of the course, despite the jagged corners and narrow pathways.  If Celebration wasn't 45 minutes from home, I'd enjoy doing my weekend runs there.

I never felt cramped by other runners, unsafe due to traffic on the roads (though I did think it was crazy that many roads weren't closed), or bored because there's a lot about Celebration that's interesting to look at.  However, I did feel lonely.  I was actually running the race with Jackie, so I wasn't really lonely.  But we were running through neighborhoods, and I was genuinely shocked that there weren't more people out cheering.  The race had a ton of volunteers, and they were wonderful as always, but I think the residents really didn't care.  And I think a race through neighborhoods should actually involve the neighbors.  Maybe it's just the people who live there (it is sort of like Stepford after all), or maybe the race organizers didn't try to engage the locals.  But that was the wet blanket of the day for me.

As far as volunteers go, my favorite one of the whole day was the little Boy Scout who handed me a cup of "fresh Gatorade, made with love," and then told me, "just today it's ok to be a litter bug."

My race was good.  I was able to maintain a pretty good pace most of the way.  I didn't touch my pouch of Craisins until after 9 miles in, and that definitely caused me to sag at that point.  I never saw anyone handing out Gu or other "fuel" shots, and I was looking for them from mile 6 to 10.  And throughout the whole race, I only skipped run intervals for water stops and once to eat a large handful of Craisins.  In the last 5k, usually the part where I feel dead, I surged and felt so strong I started pushing my run intervals faster.  I noticed I had less sore running muscles than walking muscles, and wished I had it in me to just run.
"am I really done?"

At the end, Jackie had a little more left in the tank than I did.  She passed a little girl with a portable PA system who told her that she could go get ice cream once she got her medal.  So when I passed the girl I asked her where the ice cream was and she pointed behind me to the restaurant I just passed, "but you have to get your medal first!!"  I usually don't appreciate precocious kids, but she made me laugh.  And then I jogged into the finish line with not even enough energy left to get my hands above my head.

Once we got our medals, we found ourselves in the after party, with punch cards good for one visit to various tents staffed by local restaurants.  I didn't hit all of the tents, because I took one bite of a watery-yet-slightly-low-tide lobster roll and decided that maybe a post-race banana isn't such a bad idea after all.  Also, what restaurateur thought "New England clam chowder is the perfect food for people who have just run 13 (or 26) miles?"  Maybe the other booths had better offerings, or maybe I was just not in the right mental spot for a mini food fest, but I didn't stay long and was happy to get home to leftover pasta and a bag of Skittles.

The Bad and the Ugly
- I already mentioned my two biggest issues, neither of which was the fault of the race organizers: lack of town support and disappointing offerings at the after party.
- I'm not a fan of the logo on the medal/shirt.  Having seen a photo of the medal in advance, I'm happy to say it's nicer in person.  But I continue to dislike white race shirts (as do most other female runners I know), and I especially don't like the weird green stripes on this one.  But it's soft, so maybe I'll sleep in it or wear it under long sleeves in cooler weather.
- There was no live runner tracking, and race results weren't posted on the website until this morning.  Because I was close to a PR but not really sure RunKeeper was accurate, I was irritated by the wait.

The Good
- The course was flat and picturesque, and because the organizers capped the race at around 2200 entries, it really wasn't crowded after the first mile or so.
- Having a run buddy! For me, it's always a blessing to have someone say snarky things to, or who says the things that you were thinking (I'm not sorry at all we laughed at the bare-bottomed woman pulling her pants back up as she came out of the woods)
- The after-party. These things aren't meant for me. When I finish a race, I want a shower and a nap more than anything else.  But I wasn't overwhelmed by crowds or loud music, which is generally what happens to me in those situations.
- The volunteers. Wow, they were plentiful and enthusiastic. I only had to pause to wait for Gatorade at one stop, and even then just for a few seconds.

Overall, for a first-time event, I think it's safe to say things went really well.  This race has a lot of the aspects I've enjoyed in other races, but I think I might wait a few years to try it again.  If the residents get behind it and they manage more of a street party atmosphere like I experienced on some stretches of Space Coast and Orlando, I think this race could easily become a local favorite.

My Race Stats:
Clock Time: 3:12:35
Chip Time: 3:09:19 **PR**
Pace: 14:27
Overall Place: 1347/1574
Division Place: 141/164

My Splits (according to RunKeeper, which also said this race was 13.65 miles long):
mile 1: 13:32 min/mi
mile 2: 13:28 min/mi
mile 3: 13:48 min/mi
mile 4: 13:16 min/mi
mile 5: 13:49 min/mi
mile 6: 14:03 min/mi
mile 7: 13:54 min/mi
mile 8: 14:22 min/mi
mile 9: 13:56 min/mi
mile 10: 14:09 min/mi
mile 11: 14:27 min/mi
mile 12: 12:42 min/mi!?!?
mile 13: 14:24 min/mi

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