This weekend I completed the Gasparilla Distance Classic Mich Ultra Challenge. I must first start by saying that I will most likely never do a challenge like this again. I genuinely did not enjoy myself on this challenge. This style of racing is not my bag, but I am glad to have participated and I’m proud of myself for what I accomplished. Now that the weekend is over, I can relax, brag about my accomplishment and hang up my new racing bling (my finisher medals).
Just to explain why I’m so exhausted, here is the breakdown of what I just put my poor body through.
The Mich Ultra Challenge consisted of running four races over the weekend. Saturday’s events consisted of the 15K (9.3 miles) followed by the 5K (3.1 miles) and Sunday’s events were the half marathon (13.1 miles) and the 8K (5 miles). The weekend totaled 30.5 miles, which is 12 miles more than I’ve ever ran in one weekend. So doing this challenge was not going to be a walk in the park, even though I had planned to “walk” part of the races.
Early Saturday morning, I arrived downtown, maneuvered through traffic and met up with a few thousand other runners preparing for the start of the 15k at 6:30 a.m. The weather was muggy and humid and the temperature was already entering the 70’s. Some guy on the loud speaker was barking announcements that sounded like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons. I struggled to make out any of his broadcast. It would have been nice to have had a more clarified speaker system to transmit the briefing towards the large crowd. Some time after gearing up and double knotting my shoe laces for the umpteen time, we were serenaded with the National Anthem (sung well for such an early morning) and then a loud BANG! signaled the start of the race.
The masses were then released onto the congested course (much like herding cattle), which only opened up after passing mile marker 1. The race course was an out and back that stretched along beautiful Bayshore Boulevard (which ordinarily looks like this).
I have ran this course several times so there was nothing new to see and not too many spectators at this wee hour in the morning. We did have a few dedicated groups that greeted us with signs and cheers. Much love to Hyde Park’s Lululemon Athletica for their creative signs and enthusiasm that was present for all four of the races that weekend.
I was excitedly pacing myself a little slower than my usual 9:30 with hopes that I could sustain my speed well into the weekend’s other three races. It was tough to hold back, but I did finish strong on my last two miles (I figured it was safe to haul ass for just a few miles). My chipped time was 1:38. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I made my way through the crowd towards where (I thought) the bananas, gatorade and finisher medals would be located. This part of the race logistics did not fair well with me. It was very difficult to find the volunteers with the post race snacks and liquids. I did get my finisher medal, but after a failed attempt to locate bananas, I decided to head upstairs to the expo to grab some of the yummy freebies that I knew would be available. Since I was limited on time before the 5k start, I had to hurry through and make a quick round through the booths. (I later discovered the post race treats on the other side of the convention center near the marina) After grabbing some power bars and granola from the expo vendors, I maneuvered through the foot traffic and made my way back towards the start line. I was directed through Morgan Street onto Brorein Ave into a crowd that I believed to be the 9:00 a.m. start wave. This was not so. (The attendant had directed me into the back of the second wave for the 5k) After a lot of confusion and a whole lot of waiting, I ended up completing the 5k with my husband and daughter during the Stroller Roll. (Thankfully, I still received credit towards the challenge with this race) A poopie diaper did delayed our start, but we eventually finished with a 0:43 time. We ran/walked while pushing our 15 month old in the BOB stroller. (Lots of fun for parents to participate in this event.)
After the race, we collected our family’s finisher medals and started walking towards the parking structure and our car for yet another diaper change. I was famished and desperately needed to stretch out my legs, so I did so in the parking garage while my husband loaded up our vehicle. We stopped at Panara Bread on the way home for some sandwiches and by the time we arrived home, I was ready for a shower and a nap. Unfortunately, I don’t nap very well (regardless of how tired I am). I literally laid in bed for 3 hours and meditated, but never got any REM. Thankfully, my husband took full reins on the baby duties that night and I was able to get to sleep around 9:30 p.m. to recharge for the next day’s races.
My alarm woke me up at 4:30 a.m. I shot right out of bed. There was no hesitation to dress, fuel up with my race ritual breakfast and coffee, and head out the door. I had prepared to beat the race traffic this morning, but much to my chagrin, I was met with the same amount of traffic as the previous morning. I parked in the same parking garage as the day before and then made my way down to the start line. The same guy was barking on the loud speaker and, again, I tried to hone in on what he was saying. I knew I had to be back at the start line before 9:00 a.m. to guarantee my entry to the 8k, so I was listening for any announcements that would possibly have precedence for runners in the challenge. I never heard anything specific so I just turned up my music and readied myself for the start.
6:10 a.m. We heard the same women sing the national anthem and then they released us again onto the course. This time we corralled onto Davis Island for the first 5 miles before routing back on to the same strip of Bayshore Blvd as the day before, where we looped another out-and-back and finished at the same finish line.
I felt pretty good at the start. I didn’t have any tightness or pain anywhere, so I decided to amp up and pace myself around a 10:00. This was a good pace for me for the half. I knew I was in no shape to PR, but I wanted to set a pace that could sustain throughout the race. I had absolutely no experience with challenges like this, so I didn’t have a clue how my body was going to respond.
Other than the fact that I had to pee like a race horse, I thought the first few miles went well. All the water I had consumed the day before and that morning was catching up to me. Right around the 3 mile mark, I spotted a port-o-potty off towards the side of the course. There wasn’t a line to enter, so I took a chance and quickly headed over there to relieve my bladder. I swung open the door and immediately gagged when I discovered feces all over the walls, sides and floor of the port-o-let. I instinctively sprinted away gagging and cursing under my breath as I caught back up with my pacers. I guess I was going to have to hold it.
Mile marker 4 came and passed quick enough and along with it appeared a row of three port-o-pottys. There was only a few guys in line and I was really starting to worry I might spring a leak if I didn’t empty my bladder soon, so I went ahead and took a place in line. (I really despise the fact that nature has to call during the course of a race) I waited for what felt like 5 minutes before the claustrophobic portable potty became available for my use. I quickly did my business and got back on the course. I had lost too much time waiting in line to pee so I had to make it up while I still had some juice left in me. I ate a sports chew, kicked my pace up to 5k speed and began weaving through runners trying to catch back up to my 10:00 pacer. I reached the bridge connecting Davis Island with Bayshore Boulevard just as the course began to narrow and the runners bottlenecked. I was forced to slow down and became flustered with the congestion of runners. I decided to pop up on the curb (on the bridge) to gain some distance. This worked for the length of the bridge, but I had to get back on the road once we reached the end due to the curve in the bridge connecting to the roadway. Once back on the main drag of road, I was able to gain speed again and begin looking for the pacers. After a mile or so, I became winded; I spotted the 11:00 pacer up ahead and decided to hang back and take my lose. The thought of the 8k filled my head with so much doubt and denial. Had this been my final race, I would have pushed harder through to make up more time, but as it stood, I was seriously doubting my legs had it in them.
The course rounded the turnaround point after the 9 mile mark at Gandy Blvd and I began making my way back towards the finish line. I attempted to regain speed again, but was just disappointed when cramping in my right calf slowed me back down. A few more chews, some walking and a couple water stations later, I found my groove back, in the form of a new running partner. She asked if I minded if she kept pace with me, and I welcomed her to do so. Truth be told, I needed someone to keep me honest. I was loosing steam and fading quick. She told me this was her first half marathon and I immediately decided that I wasn’t gonna let her down. Her and I ran those last few miles together, side by side. And once that finish line was in sight, we amped up our speed and finished strong. I found my finisher photo on the Marathonfoto website a few days later; it shows us leaping over the finish line in almost complete unison.
We parted ways after the finish and I headed toward the start line again to line up for the 8k. I grabbed a few bottled waters and found a grassy area to stretch while I waited for the corals to line up. Before I was ready, the same woman began singing the national anthem again and we were forced to huddle inside the gates awaiting the start. I located some friends of mine and chatted with them while we waited. I had to pee again! But I wasn’t getting out of the corral. This race was my final haul. I was just going to hold it until I was done, for good.
The race began at 9:01 a.m. I found the 10:00 pacer and stuck near his side. I did not want to delay my finish by any additional time, so I wasn’t letting him out of my sight. Just like the three races before, the first mile was overcrowded and forced the runners to contain their speed, myself included. I attempted to pass a few times on the shoulder, but was unsuccessfully forced back into the masses.
My iphone rang right before the 2 mile marker, so I answered it. (With my earbuds still in my ears and the mic on the headphone cord) My husband and daughter were trying to locate me on the course, but were just a little late reaching the cross street. I had already passed their location. So we agreed just to meet at the finish. It felt funny talking on my phone while the runners all around me were staring back at me like an idiot. I never broke my stride or slowed during our conversation, but it did give me a little more push towards the finish. I kept a decent pace through the 3 mile mark but completely hit a wall shortly after. My calf was cramping again and I still had to pee. So I pulled over at the next potty stop and stretched it out while I waited in line for the port-o-potty. Those last two miles seemed to last forever. I ran/walked until I spotted my husband, daughter and neighbors close to the finish. My daughter gave me a nice boost once I saw her asking for me.
I finished in just under an hour and immediately worked my way towards the convention center where I knew (for real this time) a few snacks and beverages were waiting for race finishers. My supporters followed through with me and we all copped a squat inside the convention center where I stretched and cooled down. Thankfully, my friend is a physical therapist and volunteered her services to stretch out my legs for me.
Overall, I had a great time and will definitely be back to participate next year in the festivities. I won’t be doing another challenge, but I will definitely run a Gasparilla race again. Of course, there are always a few things about a race that can make the experience more enjoyable.
These are my thoughts and suggestions:
- Thin out the starting corrals. It would be super nice to not have to bob and weave for the first mile of the races. Having ran all four of the distance races, I know first hand that each of them need to be spread out into more than just two waves.
- Make sure post race refreshments and snacks are easy to locate. Nothing was more frustrating to me about the weekend.
- Make pre-race/starting line announcements audible for all racers. Not just the participants in the front of the corrals.
- A half dozen extra port-o-lets would accommodate nicely on the race course.
And these are my high praises:
- Keep up the nice work with the expo. I am always impressed with the organization and layout of the Gasparilla expo. Also, the vendors are top notch and I love the Publix freebies.
- Cold wash cloths were a great touch at the finish line. Volunteers handed out cold wash cloths as we crossed through the finish line as a nice refresher. I highly suggest these for any race during the warmer months.
- Finisher Medals are some of the best. I am especially fond of the skull and bones half marathon medal. My Ultra Challenge medal is pretty big and heavy too.
- The misters(sprinklers) on the course are a welcomed refresher. (Even though this is February, it is still Florida and it’s HOT!)
If you live near the Bay area, I highly recommend this race series. It’s a little warmer weather than most like for race conditions, but otherwise, the festivities are a definite good time. Save the date on your calendar for next year. I’ll be back and would love you to join me!