During the weekend of the Miami Half Marathon, Mary told me that she was running Gasparilla. Not just the half marathon; the Amber Challenge. The Michelob Ultra Amber Challenge consists of running the 15K & 5K on Saturday and Half Marathon on Sunday. Once I heard this, my eyes lit up brighter than a spotlight. I wanted in, but there were some logistics to figure out first. Mary had planned this weekend several months ago, along with Robin. They had reserved two rooms at Aloft Tampa Downtown, and the rates had since skyrocketed. The more important issue at hand was the Amber Challenge had sold out. Disappointed, I registered for the half marathon, and asked Pam’s sister Jen P. if I could stay with her Saturday night. Jen lives in St. Petersburg, which is about 30 minutes from the race. Just for the heck of it, I contacted the race officials and asked them to put me on a waiting list for the Amber Challenge, should someone decide to drop out at the last minute. I knew this was probably a long shot, but what did I have to lose? Literally one day later, the race officials notified me that there was in fact a cancellation, and the spot was mine! I was happier than a pig in slop. Only one small problem…where would I stay? Jen’s offer was for Saturday night only, as she had a prior commitment for Friday night. With less than two weeks before the event, and no real knowledge of the area, I went right to the source…Robin! I’ve known Robin for a few years now, and she is one of the sweetest, funniest, and outgoing people I’ve ever met (and maybe the only Jewish person in Ocala). The Turtles usually travel in packs, and stuff as many people in one room as they can (extremely cost effective). To my surprise and delight, she said that I could have the second room, since not as many folks actually committed to the weekend as first planned. With everything now falling into place, I told Mary she would have a running buddy for the entire Amber Challenge.
Running the full marathon at 5 Points of Life was probably not the best decision I’ve ever made. My Patella was so sore and swollen after the drive home from Gainesville, it was all I could do to walk without holding onto something. Factor in the natural soreness from not having run more than 13.1 miles in almost a year, I was truly a “hurtin’ Gator.” On top of all this, I developed a UTI, and had to call my brother Mark for an antibiotic. The soreness started to subside by Wednesday, and went out for a three-mile run on Thursday. Mary was hoping to get off work early on Friday, but Robin, Melissa, Sharon, and Judy did not expect to be in Tampa before 7pm. The expo at the Tampa Convention Center was open until 8pm, but I planned on leaving my house at 10am, which would put me in the hotel before noon…or so I thought. A fatal accident closed Interstate 75 for close to 6 hours! I took an alternate route, but apparently so did everyone else. I made it to the hotel nine hours later, emotionally and physically drained. I met the ladies at the expo with 45 minutes to spare, and the agony of the drive was now a thing of the past. The expo was not quite as big as the one in Miami, and not very crowded (thankfully). The race shirts were very nice, as well as the embroidered jacket we received for during the Amber Challenge. We grabbed some pizza for dinner, and went to bed pretty early.
The start time for the 15K on Saturday was 6:45am, and we all met up in the lobby at 6. Maybe one of the greatest things about the weekend was that the hotel was one-tenth of a mile from both the race start and from the convention center! It was 45 degrees as we made our way to the starting line, and I opted for a throwaway sweatshirt on top of my long-sleeve FIU shirt (making its inaugural race debut).
With two races under our belts, Mary and I met up with the ladies (and Chuck) at the post race celebration. Presented by Michelob ULTRA, the Q105 Post Race Celebration & Awards Presentation took place in Cotanchobee Park. There was lots of food, music and beer. Lots of beer! It was packed with runners, but very scenic. After consuming as much beer as we could (considering it wasn’t even 12 noon yet), we made our way to the famous Columbia Café for lunch (and sangria). I was having an absolute blast, but my patella was über swollen at this point. We made a quick trip to the expo, and then back to the hotel for a much needed power nap.
Melissa left Tampa to volunteer for the Disney Princess Half Marathon, and Jen G. drove into town to fill her spot. We met up with her for an early dinner at Jackson’s Bistro & Sushi Bar, conveniently located within walking distance of the hotel. The patella felt much better, but I had no idea how it would hold up on Sunday. In all the years I’ve been running, I can’t recall putting in this amount of mileage in back-to-back days. Since the ladies were not running on Sunday, they made their way to the hotel bar after dinner. Lisa, Mary, Chuck and I went upstairs for an early “lights out.”
The half marathon started at 6am on Sunday, which meant we would be running about 45 minutes before daylight. 6,305 runners lined up for this event, and once again I was impressed how organized this whole weekend went. It was about ten degrees warmer than Saturday, so no jacket was necessary for the start of the race. As we crossed the starting line, I was thrilled that my patella showed no ill effects from the day before. What I did not count on was my UTI going haywire! I had to find the bushes almost immediately, and probably “watered the lilies” close to 15 times during the race. I’ll spare you the details, but towards the end of the race, it was like ringing out a dry washcloth. It took me close to five miles to catch up to Mary; thankfully, I’m a little faster than her. The course itself was really pretty. We ran along legendary Bayshore Blvd., with beautiful homes on one side of the road, and the water on the other side. Mary wanted to do intervals, but I would have preferred to run the entire time (mostly because of my patella). Since I was stopping so much to find the nearest bushes, I ultimately ran the entire race in order to keep up with Mary. I could tell that she was running (and walking) a really strong pace, and it became apparent to me that she was finally going to capture that elusive PR she had been seeking. I could tell she was spent, but I offered up encouragement the entire time. When she crossed the finish line, she shattered her old PR by almost 12 minutes! The joy on her face was priceless. I would like to think I was a big influence on her performance, but she begged to differ. I don’t know, but two of her three best finishes in a half marathon came when she was running with me. Coincidence…I think not.
If you have never experienced Gasparilla, I highly recommend it. I’m already excited for next year.
KEEP TRACK OF MY RUNNING ON