Friday, February 26, 2016


Taking less than ten hours to get to Tampa was not the best thing that happened this weekend.

I had such a blast running this event last year, I was literally counting down the days until this year’s festivities.  I have to say, this is by far and away my favorite weekend for running.  With my knee seemingly in “remission,” the only thing I really had to decide was which races I was actually going to run.  I signed up for the Ultra Challenge, which consists of a 15K & 5K on Saturday, and the Half Marathon & 8K on Sunday.  My “medical team” had urged me to go easy, even though I had been running pain free for the past month.  During the drive up (which only took four hours this year), I made the decision that I would probably skip the 8K on Sunday.  The 5K on Saturday was still up in the air, but I would probably make that a game-time decision.  A bunch of the Turtles were coming over from Ocala, along with Jen, Mandy, and Tasha.  My long time friend Doug was coming from Titusville, and we would be sharing a room.  I made reservations at the Westin Tampa Habour Island really far in advance.  The parking was a breeze, and the view from our room wasn’t too shabby. Doug and I both made it in around the same time, and we walked over to the expo (literally right next door). The race shirts were very nice, and we got to take our picture with Tampa Bay Bucs (and former Florida Gator) wide receiver Louis Murphy.

Doug had a previous dinner engagement, so I decided to go back to the expo with Robin, Melissa, Judy, Stephanie, and Deb.  Once Jen, Mandy, Tasha and Beth (Tasha’s friend) joined us, it was now time for the big decision…where to eat.  Mandy wanted to dine at Jackson’s, since they were only staying one night.  Robin’s contingent was staying both nights, and we decided we would do Jackson’s on Saturday.  In our quest for Italian cuisine, we inadvertently ended up eating at the same place as last year (not that this was a bad thing).

The 15K on Saturday started at 7am, so we all met in the lobby at 6:30.  After a few photos, we made our way to the starting line.  There were 32,150 entrants for the entire weekend, with 6,332 runners for this race.  Everyone from our group was running the 15K, including Lisa and Chuck.  They drove in that morning, and we met up with them at the start.  Doug is still relatively new to running, and decided to keep up with a pace group.  Jen would be my running buddy for this race, and everyone else partnered up as well.  I felt really good during the run, and we even ran into a few giraffes.  It was 57 degrees at the start, and it warmed up pretty quickly.  Jen and I hadn’t run a race together for a long time, and it was fun to catch up (no pun intended).  As I crossed the finish line, the knee felt great, and I was at least going to walk the 5K.  After many more photos, I said goodbye to the ladies and made my way over to the start of the 5K.

With 14,057 entrants, the 5K was jammed packed to say the least.  This race starts in four waves, and it’s bumper-to-bumper for the first mile.  I decided to at least try and run in the beginning, but felt good enough to run the entire race.  After picking up my medal, I met everyone for a few cocktails, and then lunch at the Columbia CafĂ© Riverwalk (along with more cocktails).  Doug joined us, and you could have not asked for better weather or company.  I made a quick stop to the expo after lunch to register for the Clearwater Half Marathon next January.  They were having a half-off special, and Jen had already signed up.  The rest of the day consisted of nap…dinner…beddy-bye.

The half marathon on Sunday started at 6am, so it was an early rise-and-shine.  To be honest, I had no idea how I would feel when I woke up that morning.  For one thing, I had not run this kind of distance on back-to-back days since Gasparilla last year.  Additionally, how would my knee feel?  It’s been all-good recently, but would this race burst my bubble?  The first question was answered when I rolled out of bed.  I was not sore at all, including my knee.  Doug and I were the only two running this race, but the other ladies would be there at some point to support us.  6,558 runners took their mark, and we were off and running.  My knee could not have felt better.  I was so happy, and could only hope this would translate into a very enjoyable run.  However, I was really dragging.  I attributed this to the amount of mileage I was running this weekend, but this had to be the longest half marathon of my life.  Since I was running “lone-wolf,” I had my music with me.  Ironically, the song playing on my iPod as I crossed the finish line was “Whipping Post” by the Allman Brothers Band.  I made the executive decision to walk the entire 8K, as the ladies would be making their way back to Ocala.

Moving forward (again, no pun intended), I don’t think I will register for the 8K next year.  After finishing 13.1 miles, who wants to run another 5 miles?  Apparently a vast majority of the 5,203 entrants felt the same way, as many of them decided to walk.  I enjoyed taking in the sights, and grabbed some photos as well.  I met a new friend along the way (Jennifer) and we stayed together for the last two miles.  As I eventually crossed the finish line, I was ecstatic that my knee felt great, and the weekend was a complete success.

As I drove back home, what trip to Tampa would be complete without seeing the dreaded “I-75 closed ahead” sign?  I was able to dodge this bullet with minimal inconvenience, and made it home in less than ten hours.