Saturday, February 28, 2015


This weekend came together so quickly, it still seems like a blur.  The Gasparilla Half Marathon is a race that everyone has run but me, figuratively speaking of course.  Both Jen and Pam have participated several times, as well as many of the other Turtles.  The common theme is that everyone loves the event, right down to the course, the medals, the shirts, and the crowds.  The history and name of this Tampa tradition traces back to the legendary antics of Jose Gaspar. The success of early invasions encouraged the creation of additional Gasparilla events, including the Gasparilla Distance Classic.  Since neither Jen nor Pam had entered this year, I didn’t hold out much hope in running the race until 2016.

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).

5,919 runners lined up for the race, and I was amazed how organized everything was.  Robin was having knee issues, so she was planning on doing a good deal of walking.  Melissa, Sharon and Judy would stick with her; Mary and I would run together.  Lisa and her boyfriend Chuck drove into town that morning, but their race speed is way out of our league.  About two miles in, I discarded the sweatshirt, and the patella was holding its own.  The course was a simple out-and-back, but the homes we ran past were beautiful.  The one thing I noticed, which would be a theme for the entire weekend, was how many photographers were on the course.  You would have thought we were running the Boston Marathon!  Of course Mary and I are not camera shy, and glammed it up every opportunity we had.  Once we crossed the finish line, there was little rest for the weary; the 5K would be starting shortly.

With 14,122 entrants (clearly making this the largest 5K I’ve participated in), it was impractical to have everyone wait for the 15K to end.  Instead, the runners started the race in strategic “waves,” beginning at 9am.  There were four different waves, each starting 15 minutes apart.  We were free to jump into any wave of our choice, but there were recommended finishing times for each wave.  Mary and I were the only runners in our group doing the Amber Challenge, so the other ladies (and Chuck) made their way to the post race celebration.  After several photos with our medal, and a quick trip to the restroom, Mary and I jumped into the second wave.  By this time, my patella was good and swollen.  Mary and I made the executive decision to walk most of the 5K, and preserve our energy for the half marathon on Sunday.  It was less painful for me to run than it was to walk, so I had to part ways with Mary for the last mile of the race.

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.

Robin, Sharon, Judy and Jen met us at the finish line, and joined in the celebration of a totally successful race (and party) weekend.  There was actually one more race waiting to start after we finished.  This was an 8K; part of the Ultra Challenge.  This was sold out as well, or I probably would have been stupid enough to run this instead of the Amber Challenge.  4,659 ran this race, for a grand total of 31,005 for all four races this weekend. My patella thanks the race committee for not letting me in.  I did see Andy, who was participating in the Ultra Challenge for the fourth year in a row.  We went back to the hotel right away, and I was on the road by 11:30am (hoping it would take considerably less time to get home than nine hours).

If you have never experienced Gasparilla, I highly recommend it.  I’m already excited for next year.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Remember when I said that if I were to run more marathons, I would like to try something new?  To quote the rock group Cinderella: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

This was shaping up to be the first year since 2007 that I had not completed a full marathon.  With a partially torn hamstring in October, and now suffering from Patellar Tracking Disorder, I had not run more than 15 miles at any one time since the summer.  The mind was willing, but I could not be certain that the body was able.  That being said, if there were ever a race I would want to gut out 26.2 miles, this was it.  My affection for this race has been well documented in past blog posts.  The race is first class, and so are the folks who work hard to put it on.  We apparently have a affection for one another, as 5 Points of Life follows my blog, and will often retweet my posts.  In making a sample chroma key project for my students, I selected the 5 Points of Life Marathon for my subject.  Needless to say, it was a big hit.

When Terri noticed that I had registered for the race, she asked if I had signed up for the full or the half.  I did the full with her and Elaine in 2013, and had a blast.  Terri has become significantly faster than me, so there would be no way I could keep up with her this year.  She was planning on running with Chuck, so the pace would not be as quick.  I still had a couple of weeks to decide, but my body would ultimately make the final choice.  Later on in the week, there was a cancellation in the Gasparilla Distance Classic, and I was able to enter the Amber Challenge (to be covered thoroughly in my next blog post).  The Amber Challenge involves running a 15K and a 5K on Saturday, followed by a half marathon on Sunday.  This made my decision for Gainesville an easy one…or was it?

Glenda drove up with me on Saturday, and I gave Terri a call from the car (hands-free of course).  I was planning on running the half marathon with both her and Chuck, as the race splits right around the 13 mile mark.  I don’t really remember how it happened, but in the blink of an eye, Terri convinced me to enter the full marathon!  From an emotional standpoint, I knew I could do it.  From a physical standpoint, I knew I could do it.  My big concern was the physical fallout after the race, and how much of a role it would play on my performance at Gasparilla.

Jen met us for lunch, and we then made our way to the expo.  When I went to “supersize” my entry, Elli greeted me (the 5 Points of Life Program Coordinator).  Both Glenda and Jen were stunned that she knew me by name, as well as some of the other folks at the expo.  They are fans of my blog, and I see Elli every year when I do the race.  I usually make a purchase at the expo, but it was Glenda who scored a pair of running shoes this year.  We then met Paula and Bill for an early Valentine’s Day dinner, and they were gracious enough to let us stay with them that night.

The race started at 7am, and it was about 45 degrees when I met up with Terri, Bettie and Chuck.  This was just what the doctor ordered when you have not trained for a full marathon, and have concerns about your knee.  There were a total of 808 participants, with 140 running the full, and 668 running the half.  This was also the tenth anniversary of the race, which made the race shirts and the medals extra special and collectable.

As good as I felt physically running Clearwater, Miami and Melbourne, my good luck would not carry over to this race.  The adrenaline of running in Gainesville worked to my advantage, but my knee hurt right from the start.  It was not the kind of pain that would hinder my performance; it was still a nagging pain nevertheless.   Conversation with Terri and Chuck kept me distracted in a good way, as Chuck is a true fountain of information.  The first ten miles always seem to go by too quick, if you can imagine that.  The course is very scenic, especially if you bleed orange and blue.  Running through the Swap is a rush, followed by a trip down Fraternity Row, and past Lake Alice.  When we hit mile marker 13, there was no turning back.

I started a get a little tired around the 17-mile mark.  My legs were beginning to tighten up, and Chuck was slowing down as well.  It was now time to face my number one nemesis…Williston Road!  This year, I was determined to make this stretch of highway my bitch!  The wind was at our backs, and the temperature was now around 70 degrees.  As much as my knee was hurting, the support from Chuck and the volunteers made it go quicker than usual.  Making that right turn onto 34th Avenue, I knew I had conquered the beast.

The last five miles were very pleasant, but I received a tremendous surprise right at the end of the race (not counting the woman handing out beer at mile marker 25).  With about four-tenths of a mile to go, one of the volunteers shouted out to me “Thanks for coming, I love reading your blog.”  To say I felt like a rock star would be a major understatement.  I crossed the finish line both happy and sorry the race was over.  I can honestly say that these emotions are reserved only for this race.  Elli and Brite were both standing at the finish line with big smiles on their faces.  It was easy to see that they were proud of their hard work and dedication.  My knee was pretty swollen, and it wasn’t the easiest thing to walk to the car.  Was it worth the pain?  It’s Gainesville baby!

Thanks to everyone at 5 Points of Life for once again reminding me why I love running marathons so much.  As an added bonus, check out the photo below.  It's Elli and Mr. Salty!


Tuesday, February 3, 2015


As I embarked on my third half marathon in as many weeks, two thoughts were going through my mind: A race that I have not participated in before, and only a two-and-one-half hour drive to get to Melbourne.  Jen ran this race last year, and had nothing but great things to say about the experience.  I was unable to run with her, since it was scheduled the same day as the Miami Marathon.  There would be no conflict this year, and we both registered way in advance (along with Marlo).  My long-time friend Doug chose this race last year to run his first ever half marathon, and registered once again this year.  Throw in a fun bunch of Turtles, and now the weekend had all the signs of a truly great adventure.

I left my house around noon on Saturday, and drove straight to the Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront, the site of the expo.  After going to the expo in Miami, it’s safe to say that this one was a bit more “intimate.”  I did purchase a pair of TAC compression socks, as well as a RooSport magnetic pocket.  The shirts were just okay, but we got a hat as an added bonus.  I’m not a big fan of white tech shirts, and all of the artwork was on the back of the shirt (not a fan of that either).  Jen, Marlo and I checked into our hotel, and proceeded to make plans for dinner.  Jen selected the Island Pasta Company, and we rendezvoused with Angel, Jill, Niki, Angela, Doug, and his wife Mary.  The food was tremendous, and the service was even better.  After a quick detour to Starbucks, it was back to the hotel for an early curfew.

The race start time was 7:05am, and our hotel was very close to the venue.  I set my alarm for 5am, but woke up much earlier than that. It took us five minutes to get there, and parking was a breeze.  We met up with the gang for some pre-race photos, and made our way to the starting line.  There were a total of 1,356 participants running both the full and half marathons (226 for the full, and 1,130 for the half).  Since I would be “flying solo” for this race, I had a gut feeling that a PR could be in my future.  With my iPod and bluetooth headphones in place, I was ready to rock and roll (pun intended).

I got off to a quick start, and was feeling really good.  There was live music at almost every mile, which added to the excitement of the race.  With the exception of running over the bridge, the course was basically very flat.  It was about five degrees warmer than last week’s race in Miami, but it never got really hot.  I ran strong and steady the entire time, and knew it was going to be close to setting a new PR.  I was a little disappointed in the aesthetics of the course, but I think that my expectation level was probably too loftily.  I’m pretty sure Clearwater and Miami in back-to-back weeks set the bar too high.

With a little more than one mile to go, I knew that going back over the bridge was going to all but kill my chances for that elusive PR.  That being said, I crossed the finish line with my best time in over five years!  Needless to say, I was ecstatic with the results.  Doug missed his target time by three minutes, but was very satisfied with his performance.

The food and drink after the race was top notch.  It included beer, pizza, Dunkin Donuts, and Pollo Tropical.    Overall, I was very pleased with the event, and would definitely consider running this race again.