I have to say, in recent weeks it felt like my summer holiday was NEVER going to arrive, yet arrive it did and roughly 12 hours after stepping off the plane, I was on my way to the Winter Park area of downtown Orlando for the annual Hunter Vision Watermelon 5K fun run to mark American Independence Day! I took part in this event along with my family on the 4th of July last year so I had a good idea of what to expect in terms of atmosphere, however this year the race was starting in a different part of Winter Park therefore the route was completely different (not that it mattered as the whole area is pretty much pancake flat!)
Last year, my main worry at this event was the fact that I had barely run a step since my spring marathon due to injury so I wasn’t sure how much actual running I’d be able to do. This year, I had a quite different worry (aside from the fact that rocking up after a long-haul flight – and all the consequences of that such as dehydration and jet lag – was hardly ideal!). After 3 or 4 weeks of Metafit, I have been running well over short distances. My legs have been wanting to go faster than ever before and in general I’ve coped with the pace, but how would I manage in the heat? There’s a huge difference between running in the Scottish “summer” weather and the humidity of Florida in July (which I later discovered was 94% during this particular race!). To be honest, at this time of year in Florida nobody can realistically race any further than 5K and there are far fewer races than at other times of the year. One way organisers try to beat the heat is to have summer races start early and this was no exception, in fact there was a new earlier start time of 7am!
We (mum, dad, Steve and I) arrived nice and early to find the new start/finish area. People were in good spirits since it was a holiday and there were plenty of stands and things to look at. I, of course, went into my usual pre-race routine of visiting the portaloos (same the world over!), switching on my Garmin, checking my iPod and getting into position in good time. It being Independence Day, I was expecting the Star Spangled Banner and I had a recollection of the American flag being waved last year. I had been watching firefighters extending their ladder across the road where we would be running, and it was at this point that I realised this was to hang the flag from (it kind of reminded me of the Paris Marathon in 2010 when firefighters, or “les pompiers”, were all along the route in support of runners and hanging banners from their ladders).
After a few standard race announcements, the honouring of those who fought for freedom and the playing of the Star Spangled Banner on a trumpet (to reverential silence), it was time for approximately 4000 runners and walkers to set off. My experience last year taught me that nobody would be in a great hurry to get started and that a lot of people start a lot further forward than they should. I lined up next to the 8 min/mile marker, knowing that there was no way I could run at that pace in the Florida heat, but hoping it would give me a bit more room to get into a rhythm. Even so, I was about a half mile into the race before my shuffling turned into actual running. At this point I got a little carried away at stretching my legs and ran too fast, clocking 8:33 for the first mile when all that shuffling should really have made it more like 9 mins or more. This settled into 8:25 for the second mile as the route snaked through the well-groomed streets of Winter Park (probably still too fast for the conditions), however at this point the heat got the better of me. Having had no chance to acclimatise to the temperature properly, I was overheating and opted to walk through the water station, getting a good drink of water and pouring a lot of it down my back to try and cool down. My pace slowed right down in the last mile or so (9:39 – atrocious!), speeding up again as I turned past the 3 mile marker and into the 0.1 mile home straight at 7:52 to finish in 27:42 by my Garmin. Despite me feeling that I had run badly, I race 5K so rarely that this would actually be a PB (my previous PB from a properly measured race was in another Florida race in 2010 when I ran 28:56) but since this is a fun run with no official timing, I don’t really count the time as a PB.
Making my way through the finish chute, I felt like I actually was melting. My running vest was soaking (not sure if that was the water, excessive sweat or both!) and I’m sure my face was bright red! I clicked into autopilot and grabbed everything on offer – all finishers got a keyring/light thing as well as immediate access to a bottle of water and a cup of Gatorade. Dad and Steve were waiting there for me as they knew I would only be about 5 minutes or so behind them. Mum was walking the route so we headed back onto the grass being used as the “race village” to take advantage of the post-race refreshments while we waited. There was plenty of ice cold watermelon (of course) which is the most wonderful thing to have after a hot run and is brilliant for rehydration. I also had a sno-cone (mainly for the ice) and a smoothie (all free).
Once mum had finished and rehydrated, it was time for breakfast. On the first morning of a trip to the States I’m always STARVING as my body thinks it’s about lunchtime and I haven’t eaten. Add to that a race, albeit a short one, and the “all you care to eat” buffet at the Ponderosa was looking more and more appealing. I had 2 big plates whilst feeling amused that it was perfectly acceptable for us all to be sitting there in our race gear (now including race T-shirts) which I wouldn’t even consider doing at home!
After that, it was back to the house to clean up and sit by the pool (all race days should be like this!) although I couldn’t resist a couple of silly photos first!