I wasn’t planning on running the Celebration Half Marathon again this year. For the last several months now, running has felt like a slog – I enjoy having run, but I do not enjoy running. I’ve struggled to drag myself out of the house to run in the morning in a way that I don’t struggle to do my other workouts. After a while, it begins to dawn that it might be time for a break, and so you stop signing up for races and you prepare for a break.
And then plans change.
Race afterglow is dangerous. After September’s Ragnar, the whole team was feeling that afterglow. We had just run 200-ish miles, and I guess we weren’t thinking clearly. We just spent a night in a proper bed (as opposed to a van seat), and had eaten barbecue and drunk beer the night before. Now, at breakfast, we were feeling good, and the conversation naturally turned to upcoming races. One of the teammates (I think it was Dottie – I blame Dottie) mentioned that the Celebration Half Marathon was a good race, and she planned to make it her “A” race this year and try for a PR. Then I mentioned that I had run the race last year and really liked it – good organization, good after-party, flat course (which was particularly appealing after the hills everybody had just hated). And then somebody said, “Hey, why don’t we all plan to come down and run that race?” And Dottie and I said our houses would be available to stay at and it is all a bit hazy but we left with an agreement (I thought) to get signed up for that race if at all possible and run it in January based probably out of my house.
Dottie was already signed up, and I came home and signed up immediately. I laid out my race plan and I started to run. Because I’m so familiar with the course, and because I can walk to the start line, much of the race stress that I feel before big races just doesn’t exist – I can relax into this one. But as we got closer to race day, it became clearer and clearer that I was the only one that had signed up after the Ragnar. Everybody bailed when the race afterglow faded. But the good news was that we were still going to get a visit from our friends – they were going to be here to cheer, even if they didn’t run.
I’ll take it.
Our friends Dave and Erin, with Marlee and Emma, came down from the DC area on Thursday before the race, and my sister-in-law Jessie came in later that day. On Saturday I smoked a bunch of ribs, and Dottie and her husband came over, and Michele was able to come by. That’s 7 out of 12 Ragnar runners – a legit reunion! It turned out that Dottie had an extra bib, and she somehow talked Marlee into using it to run the race even though she wasn’t trained at all. Youth, I guess. I had run over to the expo and picked up my stuff on Friday, so I told Marlee be ready to go at 6am and bailed on the party early.
I wasn’t trained well enough for this race. As I said at the beginning, I’ve been struggling lately to drag myself out the door for runs, and so I had not been doing an awful lot. Shorter runs – anything an hour or so or shorter – go great, and I feel really good. Anything longer than that just feels like a slog, and I’m beginning to believe life is too short for horrible slogs. I had managed two runs over 10 miles in the lead up, and felt OK-ish, and was mostly hoping for the race day boost to get me to a new PR.
Up at 4am like always, down with a bowl of oatmeal and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Out the door with Marlee at 6am – we met up with friend and fellow Celebration CrossFit member Jana walking over to the start line area, and then once there ran into another friend and fellow CCF member Florence. Joanne was there somewhere, too, though I didn’t run into her – and with Dottie also running, CCF was well represented. Last year the weather was awful – cold (for Florida – mid 40s) and raining. This year it went the other way – sunny and clear, and if anything warm and humid. The temperature got up to near 70 degrees, which was a much warmer day than we’d been having. And I’ll take that over cold and raining almost every time.
National anthem, 3-2-1, go, and we were off. Since I am very familiar with this course, and since I’ve gotten much faster over the last few weeks in general, my goal was to be smart about running the tangents on all of the early turns and try to hold a 10:30 pace for as long as I could, and then go gut out the last few miles. I’d asked my wife to bring me another peanut butter and jelly sandwich to where they were going to be cheering at mile #8 or so, and I would hydrate at water stops as needed.
The first mile of this race is in downtown Celebration and features several turns on city streets. Because of the early congestion, those turns really bog things down. Mile one is just about survival, but I managed to hit my tangents and bring it in at 10:29, right on goal pace. Things line out in miles two and three, with a good straight stretch near the golf course and an out-and-back in an area called North Village. I felt good, and was focused on trying to maintain pace – mile two was 10:12, mile three was 10:32. So far, so good – I didn’t jackrabbit out of the start was mostly maintaining goal pace.
Mile four winds around over by the local Disney offices and features what I believe to be a slight downhill most of the way. This is Central Florida, and this course is as flat as you would expect for Central Florida, but I always feel great on this section, so it must be one of those slight downhills. Mile five winds in behind the hospital in town, and my first planned hydration stop is right near the end of this mile, right at the beginning of the long two mile straight stretch. Mile four came in at 10:17, and Mile five at 10:56 with the hydration stop.
Then we turn down the main road coming into town. They close one lane for us to run on, and the local police work the intersections, so this is a place where you can settle into a pace and just go. These were by far my fastest miles last year, and they would be again this year. Mile six came in at 10:07, and mile seven at 10:08 – love the consistency. Right after the mile seven marker, we turn onto one of Celebration’s beautiful boardwalks and wind through the forest (read: swamp) to cut back over into the main part of town. Last year this area was treacherous because the boardwalk was slick with rain, but this year it was much more normal – though the winding and congestion slowed me down a bit and mile eight came in at 10:55.
Just past mile eight we emerge from the boardwalk and get back onto the town streets – this happens right in front of a bridge that heads into a neighborhood called Artisan Park. We cross that bridge going into Artisan Park and then coming back out, so it is a great place for spectators – and that’s where my family and friends were, cheering us on. I’d asked my wife to bring me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and she gave me half of it as I ran by. I hit a water stop, and then tried to settle back in. I crossed the 15k split in 1:38.38, which was a PR by over two minutes … and I’d set that PR in this race last year, so I was on pace for a two minute PR here. Things felt pretty good.
And then I fell apart.
So I’m learning that just because I’m more fit, and just because I’m a bit lighter, and just because I can run faster farther – that doesn’t mean I can run faster for 13.1 miles. My speed is better, and my endurance is fine up to about an hour and a half of running. But past that hour and a half, I hit a wall, and hit it hard. Mile nine was fine (ish) at 11:04, but by the time I got back to where my family was and got the other half of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich I could tell that the last four miles was going to be a challenge. And they were a total slog. And my headphones died at about mile 10.5 … a total rookie mistake that didn’t help. Mile ten was 11:20, mile eleven was 11:46, and as I tried to hold on it became about just surviving.
Mile twelve, which is on the bike paths around town, I did in 11:38, which made me feel a little better. And then mile thirteen, which runs around behind Lakes Evalyn and Rianhard, was 11:47. Just before I hit mile thirteen, and right after the photographer that they have set up at Lakeside Park, something happened that had never really happened to me before – I cramped. Hard. My right calf squeezed so tight that I pulled up short and nearly fell down. It was bad enough that the people running around me all stopped and asked if I was OK. That’s an excruciating pain, and once it starts, it is very hard to make it let go. So I mostly walked the rest of the way in, gingerly trying to jog as much as I felt like I could.
I crossed the finish line in 2:22.59, one minute and seven seconds slower than last year, and therefore one minute and eight seconds off of a PR. My calf was still intermittently squeezing to the point I wanted to fall down, so I got my medal and limped around to get my banana and snacks. My family and friends were at the finish line cheering, which was cool, and I went around to cheer for Marlee. She did great – came in maybe 7 or 8 minutes behind me, on no training at all.
So – I didn’t train well for this. I hadn’t been running enough, especially my long runs. My last long run didn’t exactly go great. And I only did a 10-miler, and that two weeks out. And rather than resting with my feet up, I spent the day before cooking ribs and the night before playing cornhole and eating ribs. I wasn’t ready. But it is hard not to be disappointed when you miss out by a minute like that and feel so crappy at the end. I’d hoped for a better race. BUT – the after race party in Celebration is one of the best reasons to do this race in the first place. All of the local restaurants bring out booths and give out samples to the runners, and there is a beer tent and a mimosa tent and a general really good time. The day was beautiful – if a little warm – and so it didn’t take me long to get over it and enjoy living in Central Florida in late January.
I love this race. I like that it kind of feels like a normal run, just with a bunch of folks around – and I like that we’ve been in town long enough that I see a lot of people I know, both running the race and cheering from their yards or the parks. For a small race, it is incredibly well organized and features great SWAG and great amenities. My thought right now is that after the Dark Side races coming up I won’t be doing any hardcore running for a while, but I’m going to bet that I get into next fall and realize how much I like this one and sign up again next year. Hopefully I’ll see you there.
- I like peanut butter and jelly as part of breakfast and as re-fuel during the race. Feels more substantial than a gel or jelly beans, but goes down easier for me than a granola bar. I practiced with it on my long runs, and it seemed fine. Of course, the cramping makes me question the strategy.
- And, oh dear lord the cramping. My right calf didn’t quit seizing up for three days, and was incredibly sore for a solid week. That’s never happened before, and I have no idea what caused it. I’ll monitor, but I think it is time to learn about anti-cramp strategies.
- Having our family and friends come in made it feel like a big event weekend. It is always great to spend time with the Grants and Jessie, and seeing Dottie and Michele again was also very cool. The pre-race party, while I suspect not great for my running form, was a lot of fun to do.
- I went to the expo not long after it opened on Friday again, and again the line for bib pickup was very long. We clearly all show up at the same time. But the expo is nice, and while not huge probably bigger than you’d expect given the size of the race.
- Seriously, the food after is worth doing this all by itself. As much as I like the rest of this race, the after-race party takes it from good to great.
- Another year of awesome SWAG – the race shirt was another very nice Raw Threads shirt, we got the unique bib and the buff and all of the expo stuff again, and the big item this year was a big Sherpa blanket with the Celebration Marathon water tower logo on it. I am not into fuzzy Sherpa blankets, but this is a really nice one and my family loves it – so far it is getting used quite regularly. And, because this was the 5th anniversary race, the medals were awesome spinners that look great.
- Next Race: The Dark Side Challenge, April 21st & 22nd. This is the Star Wars Disney race – I’ll be running the 10k on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday.