Race InfoLocation: Islamorada, Florida
Date: Sunday, December 11th, 2016
Pacing Group: 2:15
Distances: Half Marathon, 10k, Beer Mile
Winter sucks. The windchill was 5 °F Thursday morning in Cincinnati when I went in to work. Snow was coming over the next few days. Ohio must have known when I was leaving for vacation, because it was back up above freezing by the time I returned Monday afternoon.
I flew into Miami on Friday and took the Keys Shuttle from the airport into Islamorada. The shuttle was cost effective, but the pickup times seemed to be more of estimates. My flight from Atlanta was delayed and I missed the 3 PM shuttle by minutes. The next shuttle was scheduled to arrive at 5 PM, but showed up past 5:30 PM. Ironically, the shuttle to take me back to the Miami airport showed up 25 minutes early, arriving at 4:20 AM Monday morning when it was scheduled for 4:45 AM. I didn’t have time to make breakfast before I left because of that. Bummer.
I stayed at Harbor Lights Motel which was 0.7 miles from the start at the Postcard Inn. It was 2.9 miles away from Saturday’s packet pickup. I didn’t have high expectations for this motel, but it ended up being pretty decent and the pool area was nice. And we saw some iguanas!
My alarm went off at 5 AM. Breakfast consisted of some maple brown sugar oatmeal with fresh local coconut in it. I was supposed to meet my pace group at 6 AM so I left my hotel at 5:45 AM to run over. It had been raining non-stop since the prior night and the trail next to the highway was flooded. It was pitch dark so I was relying on light from passing cars to avoid puddles when possible. I was almost there and realized that I forgot my bib. Luckily it was a quick run back. I met my pace group and we snapped a quick group photo before the race.
Next stop was finding a bathroom. I hadn’t seen any. Some local shops were open but had lines out the door for a single bathroom. I knew there had to be bathrooms on the beach but I was walking in circles and getting lost. I ended up making my way back to the start line to ask course officials. On the way some people asked me from the balcony of their hotel where the start was. I let them know and asked them where the bathrooms on the beach were (because if they were staying there they might know!). They said that they weren’t sure, but I could use the bathroom in their hotel room. Runners are way too friendly. Thank goodness for this nice couple because it was now close to 6:45 when I was supposed to line up with my pacing sign.
The start went by quickly. I was trying to be social and inform those around me of my pacing strategy. It was rainy with gusts of 30 MPH, but the course was mostly flat so I wanted to maintain an even pace. A few days before the race I was switched from the 2:00 pacer to the 2:15 pacer. Being that this was my first time pacing, this made me nervous as I was much more comfortable running a 2:00 pace. I was nervous because so many others were going to be relying on me, and I had to finish within 2:14-2:15. I started the race and settled into pace. The 10k and half marathon races both started together. I didn’t have a large group running with me, but I still tried to be helpful and informative when I could be. Mostly just people asking what pace per mile 2:15 was, and then quickly passing me after I told them.
The rain had stopped just in time for the start, but started again a few miles into the race. The wind made it difficult to keep an even pace per mile, as it was always either pushing you backward or forward, but was never at your side. There wasn’t much shelter from the wind, but the interior roads were slightly better than the main highway. The highway had a large enough shoulder that the race could easily use the road without need for any road closures. I’m sure the locals were happy about that. My sign was on a wooden stick that would bend in the wind, so I had to improvise and try not to stab other runners when I needed to lower the sign due to wind.
The course headed south for about 5 kilometers before turning around to bring the 10k runners back to the finish. From here the half marathoners ran past the turn off to the finish to head north, just past my motel, before heading south to complete part of the 10k course once more. Passing the start twice might have made it tempting for many runners to turn in early, especially considering the weather. The course was changed a month or so before the race. I don’t think they ever announced an official reason for the course change, but they did note that the course change cut down on some of the winds. With the weather that showed up Sunday, I don’t think there were any complaints.
I was keeping a pretty even pace for the second half, but was running essentially by myself. There were a few racers that I passed back and forth, some using the run/walk method. The biggest thing I noticed during the race was that almost everyone around me had headphones on. When I’m racing I’m only focused on myself, so I wasn’t sure if this was normal or not. I would call out the time we had for each mile and how we were doing on pace but for the most part I was talking to myself. The cone mile markers were severely off and started psyching me out. The half marathon mile markers (yellow cones) made it seem like we were going to be 0.6 miles short, but the 10k markers made it seem like the course was going to be 0.2 miles long. I had no idea what to believe and it really messed with me the last few miles as it made me question my pace. I just decided to ignore the cones and hope for the best. I had been running through puddles and avoiding detours to keep my distance as close to accurate as possible for pacing purposes.
s I finished up my last few miles, I passed a few runners who were out of fuel. Everyone seemed to get a second wind when they saw me coming up beside them. I began to pass one lady with less than a half mile to go that I had seen on and off throughout the race. We were crossing whale bridge with a strong headwind and I shouted “Great job! Keep it up!” Half paying attention, she responded, “Thanks, you too.” She suddenly realized I was a pacer and corrected herself, “Wait no F*** YOU!” She sped past me and I never caught back up with her.
Following my watch ended up being a smart idea. When I crossed the finish my watch read 2:14:31, for 13.07 miles, which was exactly on pace at 10:18 per mile. My clock time was 2:15 almost to the second. I needed to finish within a minute but not a second over. I was very happy with how it turned out.
After I finished I was overwhelmed with all the runners who thanked me. Most of the race I had felt like I was running alone, and talking to myself because most around me had headphones in. Runners came and went, and I never had a solid group that I’m used to seeing in larger races. At least 10 runners came up to me separately to thank me for keeping an even pace during the race and pushing them at the end. The girl who cussed me out came to thank me/apologize, but I told her there were no hard feelings and that it was part of the job description. Secretly, I was thankful that I survived my first time pacing. Needless to say, I am ecstatic to become more involved in the pacing community.
Read about my 2nd Time Pacing at the Cedar Point Half Marathon, Part of the Run and Race Series.