Friday, March 2, 2018

GASPARILLA DISTANCE CLASSIC – February 24 & 25, 2018

My favorite race weekend had finally arrived.

Going into my third half marathon in a row, the excitement known as Gasparilla was upon us.  My only concern was how my knee would hold up on back-to-back days of races.  It had been fine the prior weeks, but you never know about these things.  Doug would be joining us again this year, but not the fabulous ladies of Ocala (we banned Doug from our room because of the snoring fiasco from last year).  They all had prior commitments, but I was sure it would just open up the floodgates to create new shenanigans.

We met Doug at the hotel around 3pm, and made our way over to the expo.  As silly as this may sound, I really look forward to seeing the race shirts for the first time at the expo (some races show them to you prior to the race weekend).  They are always spectacular, and did not disappoint again this year.  They went in a different direction for the challenge jackets, as it was more of a raincoat than a windbreaker.  Nevertheless, it was very nice, and the colors weren’t too shabby (orange and blue).  Spoiler alert…I did not buy a jacket from the official merchandise booth!  I know that’s shocking, but it looked too similar to last year’s model.  This is a very nice expo, and I was able to pick up some accessories.  We later got together with some of Doug’s friends at Fergs Live, which is right across the street from the hockey arena.  It was not crowded at all; I wish we knew about this place three years ago!  A quick stop back to the expo after dinner, and then lights-out for our big day tomorrow.

Here are the numbers for the weekend:
15K:       6,511
5K:         13,206
Half:       6,303
8K:         5,524
Total:     31,544 (around 400 less than last year).

The three of us signed up for the Amber Challenge, which is everything except the 8K.  We met up with Terri at the starting line, which was a very pleasant surprise.  She agreed to run with us during the 15K, but I don’t know that she truly knew what she had signed up for (I have become progressively slower, and then there are all the visits to the bushes).  Lindsey was going to run by herself, and Doug was sticking it out with me.  I made my first bathroom trip around two miles into the race; that was the last I saw of Terri  😎.  It was extremely hot and humid, but the conversation helped us overcome the “swap-like” conditions.  Around the four-mile mark, we decided to do 3 x 1 intervals.  This really helped, even though my knee was feeling great.

Once the race was over, Doug told us he would not be running in the 5K.  He had some free money at the Hard Rock Casino, and would be gambling instead.  Lindsey and I walked the 5K, which seemed to take forever.  We grabbed our celebratory beer at the “after party,” and went back to the hotel room to shower.


I received a message from Erin, whom I’ve known since fourth grade.  She lives in Tampa, and wanted to meet us for lunch.  This was very exciting, since I hadn’t seen her since our last high school reunion.  Once Doug came back, we met Erin and her daughter at Columbia Restaurant, which is a mainstay of Gasparilla race weekend.  It was fun catching up, and Erin’s daughter was truly a breath of fresh air.  We took them to the expo after lunch for some free ice cream samples, which really hit the spot.  After we said our goodbyes, it was now down to business…nap time!  We were out for a pretty long time, so we ate supper in the hotel.  The service was very slow, but they made amends by giving us our food for free.  Despite our extended slumber, we had no trouble falling asleep right away.

The half marathon started at 6am, which was an hour earlier than Saturday’s 15K.  This was a good idea, as it was going to be another scorcher.  Lindsey was going to run with me, and Doug wanted to try and stay with one of the pace groups.  Lindsey and I had predetermined that we would run 3 x 1 intervals, but she could take off anytime she became bored. Once the race started, I was pleasantly surprised how good I felt (it must have been the nap).  No pain at all in the knee, and bathroom breaks were at a minimum.  There was a good amount of cloud cover before the sun came up, but that was short-lived.  This may have been the hottest half marathon I’ve ever run (85° when all was said and done).  We saw fellow “Turtles” Amy, Debbie, and Liza early on, which is always an added bonus to any race.  Lindsey left me at the nine-mile mark, and I was dripping like a faucet.  As I crossed the finish line, I could not get over just how good my knee felt.  Not even one twinge the entire weekend.  Of course the medals were first-rate, as I mugged for as many photos as possible.  Walking over to the food area, we saw many runners holding bunches of bananas.  Our initial reaction was why so many?  It became obvious, as some very overzealous volunteers were giving them out that way.  I felt like a schnorrer walking back to the hotel.


This Gasparilla Distance Classic traditionally coincides with Disney Princess.  I would like to give that race a shot, but I can’t imagine giving up my annual trip to Tampa.  This is why I run!



Tuesday, February 20, 2018

5 POINTS OF LIFE HALF MARATHON - February 18, 2018

“The second part of the “Reunion Tour” brings me back to my happy place.

It had been two years since I’ve participated in this race, since scheduling issues put it up against Gasparilla.  Lindsey had Jacqui’s wedding, so I would be making the drive up to Gainesville by myself. I booked a room at the Hilton University of Florida, which is literally right across the street from the start of the race.  I obviously could have stayed with Jen (or Paula and Bill), but I’ve never had a good enough excuse to stay at this hotel.  I drove up Saturday morning, and met Jen and Mary at the Hilton.  They were not running in the race, but they were kind enough to meet me for lunch.  The expo was right next door, so I picked up my race packet before we stuffed our faces.  I will say one thing about this event…the design for the shirts and the medals are always very creative.  Unfortunately, the quality is always lacking just a bit; it is understandable.  With 653 participants (77 for the marathon, and 653 for the half marathon), they would probably be financially hard-pressed to do something on a more grandiose scale; I am certainly not complaining.  We met Mary’s son and daughter-in-law at the restaurant (both very nice), and then did a bit of shopping at the UF Bookstore.  I picked up a sub at Publix for supper, and stayed in for a night of college basketball.  Not having to get up super early was certainly a benefit of staying so close.

Making my way to the starting line, I spotted Terri, Tara, and Debbie.  It was nice to see some familiar faces, even though we would not be running together (they are all faster than me).  The temperature was around 67°, which was about 8° warmer than originally predicted.  Once we started, I knew it was going to be a great event.  As I’ve mentioned countless times before in this blog, I LOVE THIS RACE!  Being in Gainesville really gets my adrenaline going, and the knee could not have felt better.  I was originally going to do intervals, but scrapped the mission way before the gun even sounded.  I really took the time to soak in each and every mile, which made those enormous hills more bearable.  I met some really nice folks along the way, and the crowd support was not bad at all.

It was all smiles crossing the finish line, and I’m always impressed with the post-race food assortment.  After a brief walk back to the hotel, I was on the road.  This is a first-class event (Ocala should take notes).

This was my eighth time participating in this race; I hope there are at least eight more opportunities.

Friday, February 16, 2018

26.2 WITH DONNA HALF MARATHON - February 11. 2018

The “Reunion Tour” kicks off with half marathon #50.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I have not been able to participate in this race since 2012.  If you are a loyal follower of this blog, you know it was around 18° when the race started (and it never really warmed up) when I last ran in Jacksonville.  Once I signed up for this year’s event, it seemed as if everyone else followed suit.  I’m not saying I’m a trendsetter, but it was quite a coincidence.  Mary’s sister was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and she was running the full marathon in her honor.  She also formed two relay teams, so she would have lots of company throughout the race (both Pam and Elaine would be joining the party as well).  Since it was apparent that all of the cold weather had made its way out of Florida, we could expect some tropical conditions during the race.

I picked up Lindsey from work on Friday afternoon, and arrived at Cyndy and Al’s house around 8pm.  Elaine drive down from North Carolina, but she was staying too far away to meet up for dinner.  We ate at Bento (of course), and spent the rest of the evening watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

Saturday morning, we met up with Pam, Elaine, Mary, Tara, Haidee, and the rest of the Turtles at the expo.  The race shirt was extremely nice (long sleeve), but the expo was sub-par. They had some official race merchandise, but only with the breast cancer ribbon; not the race name.  As we parted ways with the ladies, Cyndy and Al took us to the Mossfire Grill for lunch. The food was very good, and we were joined by Lindsey’s friend Jordan.  He works for the city of Jacksonville during many events, and the two of them have been friends since there were “tweens.”  We walked around one of the parks after that, ordered in pizza for supper, and went to bed before 11pm.

The race route had changed since the last time I participated.  The DONNA Full Marathon, Half Marathon and Marathon Relay events now start at ATP Tour Blvd. in Ponte Vedra Beach. The official race finish, and the finish of breast cancer, is at Mayo Clinic.  Al graciously volunteered to drop us off and pick us up for the event.  We got to the start around 6am, and immediately met up with everyone.  There were two unexpected surprises for this race: Jill came down from Georgia to participate, and Pam would be running the full with Mary.  Pam had not trained for a full marathon at all, but wanted to give Mary support, in what could only be described as a totally selfless gesture.

As 3,423 runners made their way to the start (722 for the full; 2,701 for the half), the temperature was now 67°.  The race started in waves, but it only took us about ten minutes to get going. If you care at all about four beautiful beach communities in Northeast Florida along historic coastal A1A, then this is the race for you.  The crowd support was fantastic, with many of the residents setting up tables outside of their homes.  They were offering everything from water, Gatorade, and Jell-O shots, to words of encouragement.  Despite the fact that my knee felt good (and I had lots of energy), I seemed to be running in slow motion.  Mary and her squad caught up to us two miles into the race, so we ran with them for the next few miles.  They were doing 2 x 1 intervals, and it allowed me to keep pace with everyone.  Once we got to the point where we split up (the full marathoners went straight and the half marathoners turned), Lindsey took off on her own.  I continued to run my sluggish pace, but was truly enjoying myself.  The last three miles were over the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge, and I ran the entire time (except the uphill parts).  I crossed the finish line very strong, and met up with Lindsey, Jordan, Cyndy, and Al for some post-race celebration.  In a move that had us all scratching our heads, there was free beer for everyone; you needed a drink ticket for water and soda.  After packing and showering, we had lunch at the Flying Iguana in Neptune Beach.

On the drive home, Elaine called us to report that Mary and Pam had finished the race.  They had to walk the last few miles, but no physical ailments were reported.  At the end of the day, smiling faces, pride, and no regrets.

The “Reunion Tour” continues next week, as this young man returns to the promised land.

Friday, February 2, 2018

MIAMI HALF MARATHON - January 28, 2018

Miami “Not-So” Famous.

To the best of my recollection, this was the eighth time I’ve participated in this event.  With the exception of two years ago, I have always had to pleasure of running with at least one guest “celebrity” from out of town.    This year would be no different, as I picked up Elaine from the airport on Friday morning.  Unfortunately, some of the enthusiasm would fade, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

We went straight to Runner’s Depot from the airport. They were putting on their own “mini” expo, with everything 20% off.  I purchased a pair of running shorts, which will be proudly featured in my race photos.  I asked Renee if we could take the early bus down to the expo on Saturday around 10am, and come home on the late bus at 4:30pm.  She was very willing to accommodate us, and would let me know later that day.  We met Glenda and Joyce for lunch, and got the word from Renee that it was a go.  Yay…I wouldn’t have to drive to Miami two consecutive days!

After the debacle last year at Marlins Park, the expo was moved back to Mana Wynwood.  Rachel had never been to Wynwood, and wanted to spend the day with us for food, fun, shopping, and photography.  The expo was pretty crowed when we got there, but it was fun being able to take our time, and look through all of the merchandise.  For some reason, Lindsey and I were put in the last corral, but we were able to straighten it out and move ahead a little bit.  Since most of the corrals were already at capacity, we were only able to go from corral “K” to corral “J.”

After our shopping spree (which included a jacket, a hat, and a shirt), we grabbed lunch at the Wynwood Diner.  I must say, the “Brioche French Toast” was the best French toast ever!  It was now time to visit the Wynwood Walls. The Wynwood Walls was conceived by the renowned community revitalizer and placemaker, the late Tony Goldman in 2009. He was looking for something big to transform the warehouse district of Wynwood, and he arrived at a simple idea: “Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, would be my giant canvases to bring to them the greatest street art ever seen in one place.” Starting with the 25th–26th Street complex of six separate buildings, his goal was to create a center where people could gravitate to and explore, and to develop the area’s pedestrian potential.  At this point, I became Rachel’s personal photographer, and was able to capture the beauty of both her and the walls.  Once we arrived home, it was an early dinner, and an even earlier bedtime, in anticipation for the big day tomorrow.

We arrived in our usual parking spot around 4am; the temperature was a delightful 65 degrees.  Elaine was running the full, and was in one corral ahead of us.  16,585 runners entered this race (13,732 for the half, and 2,853 for the full), which was around 500 less than last year.  Lindsey wanted to run by herself and try to PR.  Translated..."You're too slow for me."  Once the gun sounded, it took about 45 minutes for us to start the race.

I felt really good, and the peeing was kept to the minimum.  I had no pain in my knee at the start, so it actually felt okay to run up the bridge.  I caught up with Amy and her friend Yvonne around the four mile mark, as we were making the turn to run on South Beach.  Even though I was running pain free, my pace was unusually slow…even for me.  I was a little disappointed, but I’ll take it over a swollen knee anytime.  I started to feel a bit tired around nine miles into the race, but I think it was because of the heat (it was now around 74°) more than anything else.  Considering my last race was 32°, you could probably consider this a heat wave.  With two miles left to go, I caught up again with Amy & Yvonne.  They were walking, so I assumed they were doing intervals.  Amy told me that Yvonne was having major IT band pain, and she could not run.  Since my time was shot to hell at this point anyway, I decided to be a Good Samaritan and stay with them.  Amy and I had a really good conversation, but we really felt bad for Yvonne.  With one-half mile left, I decided to run it in for the cheesy photo-opp.  Lindsey met me at the finish line, and was grinning ear-to-ear.  It didn’t take a psychic to figure out she must have set a PR.  The post-race food was very good, not to mention the medals.

 We walked back to the car, changed into dry clothes, and met Elaine as she crossed the finish line.  She was not happy at all with her finishing time, but it certainly wasn’t terrible by my standards.  All excuses aside, it was 25° when she left North Carolina.  I took Elaine to the airport later that night, and another successful Miami run was in the books.  Of course, she would be signing up next year.

At this point, I would be ending the blog with a clever line or two.  However, there would be a very disturbing set of events that would forever put an asterisk on this race.

Later that night, Lindsey and I were looking online at our race photos.  For some reason, we could not pull up anything on Elaine.  Not even her finishing time.  We let her know; she thought it was odd as well. Elaine called me on Monday, and was beside herself.  She received an email back from the President/CEO saying:

Hi Elaine, Determined by multiple points on the course and unrealistic paces in your time you were disqualified.


The same Elaine who gave a homeless person sleeping outside the parking garage $10 earlier that morning?  Elaine is one of the most law-abiding citizens you will ever meet.  In fact, when the two of us ran this race back in 2014, they prematurely closed the Rickenbacker Causeway. This would have knocked two miles off of the race.  The two of us looked at each other and said we are not taking a medal for a full marathon if we do not run 26.2 miles.  We then proceeded to make up our own route to get the extra mileage in.  Yeah…that Elaine.

Her response was brief, and to the point:

Dear Josh:
Please see the 3 attachments.  The first one shows my start time and overall finish as well as the course.  The next two pictures are my laps, mile by mile.  As you can clearly see I did not deviate from the course.  I would like a full explanation as to why I was disqualified as well as a full refund.  This is not acceptable.  I look forward to hearing from you in the morning.
Sincerely, Elaine Trettel (who does not cheat)

If I just looked at the mile-by-mile times (not knowing it was Elaine), I would think the runner probably stated out too fast, and ran out of steam towards the end.  Of course, Elaine stopped to shoot (and post) several videos & photos throughout the race.  I held off publishing this blog until the final verdict was in:

Hey Elaine,
All is updated. It wasn't my call the RD had you out. But now you are back in because of this data! Thanks for supplying that.
Best Regards, Josh Stern President/CEO

In the end, the “good guys” always prevail!