Like cats, runners can be creatures of habit. We like the same routes, the same kit and the same races – even the races that go badly are often returned to in order to lay that particular demon to rest. I guess it’s for this reason that my summer blogging seems to be reporting on the same races as this time last year (it helps that my summer holiday to Florida has once more coincided with these particular races!) as I felt I had unfinished business – the belief that I could win an age category prize in a race. Challenge extended!
Just like last year the Run Thru Hell 5K inTampa fell on the Sunday after Independence Day, giving me just 3 days to try and acclimatise a bit to the heat and humidity. Also like last year, the race at Al Lopez Park started at 8am when the mercury would be starting its rapid climb. Being nearer to the coast and in a park surrounded by (rather swampy) trails makes the air feel a bit damper here. Not the greatest running conditions!
Dad, Steve and I set off sharp for our 1 hour drive to Tampa. On arrival we had to register and collect our race Tshirts (handing these out in advance seems to be fairly standard in the US from my experience) and were then directed to a short queue to collect our other booty – sunglasses! I remembered from my online registration that the first 150 to sign up would get a pair of Boston Bill sunglasses worth $25 (about £16-£17) and the next 150 would get a pair of running socks of lesser value. Since the race limit was 300, this meant that everybody would get something. I think I paid $20 (about £13) to enter so this race was great value as the Tshirt itself was worth $20 then there was the added bonus of the sunglasses and the unbelievable post-race spread – a barbecue!
But enough about race booty (important as it is) this is supposed to be a race report…!
I previously entered this race in 2010 and 2012 but the route always remains a bit of a mystery. In 2010 it included a delightful yomp through a muddy trail (the amount of mud directly related to the amount of rainfall in the days before) but in 2012 the trail section was cut due to the effects of a storm just before we arrived. This year, there was quite a lot of rain just before our arrival as well as some showers in the first couple of days (and I mean Florida showers, not a bit of Scottish drizzle!) so I fully expected to be wading through a knee-deep swamp. I actually wore an old pair of trail shoes, laces tied tight and looped around my ankles so they would still be attached to me if they were to come off in the swamp. I even decided to dress like a local for this one in a crop top with my race number pinned to my (old in case of muddy swamp) shorts. Not sure I’d be brave enough to try that at home!
There was no route information at registration, however the race clock was being set up on the path around where the race finished in 2010 (in 2012 the altered route finished on the grass). Given the sodden state of the grass around the registration area, I thought we were in for a pretty muddy race, but I was wrong. This year the trail was deemed to be too swampy (I didn’t know TOO swampy was possible, but this was probably a health & safety based decision as this race is organised by a local running club and they certainly don’t want any injuries on their hands). We were directed to a completely different starting area in the car park rather than on the path (probably because there was more space) and learned that the route would be pretty much as it was last year – one long loop of the park including the surrounding sidewalk and one smaller loop inside the park to the finish line.
Steve made his way towards the front and I lined up in the middle a bit behind dad (I knew he would set off like a bat out of a hell and there was no way I was going to try and keep up!). To the all-too-familiar chorus of a couple of hundred Garmins starting, we were off.
The first part of the route was slightly downhill, evening out as we made our way around a bend and heading out of the park around the 1 mile mark. At 8:20 for the first mile, I knew I had once more gone out too quickly for the conditions. The route then looped around the outside of the park and brought us back in to where we started towards the 2 mile mark (8:30 for mile 2) and finally the last small loop inside the park. Once more, I struggled with overheating in the last mile and had to slow right down practically to a walk in order to drink properly and try to cool down a bit so clocked 9:08 for mile 3. I did pick up the pace again as I got within sight of the finish and ran the last 0.1 at 7:21 pace, to finish in a fairly respectable 26:44, almost a minute quicker than the Watermelon 5K on Thursday and officially a 5K PB.
So far so good. In 2010 I completed the route in 28:56 which has remained my PB since as I race 5K so rarely. In 2012 I was just returning to running after an extended injury break and took 32:03(!) making me 6th in my age group, 59th female and 202nd overall. Last year I wasn’t bothered by this, but I desperately wanted to do better this time around.
This race is not chip timed and the organisers use an interesting system I’ve never come across anywhere else. When runners cross the finish line they are handed a numbered card which lets organisers know the order of the finishers. These cards are then filled out with details of name, town/club and time (you note your own time as you cross the line or, in most cases, use a Garmin). These cards are then put in the appropriate box for your gender and age category. All of the times are recorded independently (so there’s no point lying!) but the cards are used to help organise the prizes. A quick check of my box as I filled out my card revealed only one other card in there so far. Encouraging, but I also knew that there could be others in my category finished who just hadn’t completed their card yet.
Card filled out, it was time for a bit of post-race refreshment, starting with water and lots of it. Dad and Steve dug into the barbecue (there were hot dogs, burgers and chicken) but I preferred to stick with watermelon, ice poles and a packet of crisps to replace the salts I’d lost. I also took an apple to eat later on.
Finally, the prize giving began. The age category prizes are issued from oldest to youngest so dad’s category came up first – 3rd in his age group. Next was Steve – runner-up in his age group. And then me. I knew I wouldn’t be first and unfortunately I wasn’t second either. Fingers firmly crossed, I listened to the 3rd place runner being read out…it was me! I FINALLY won a prize at a race and crossed off one of my summer race goals!
I later learned that I was 19th female and 93rd overall. Much better!
Prize giving over, I practically skipped to the car to take a couple of photos before the journey home (note my “running like a local” kit choice!):
That left nothing more to do than a quick phone call to mum for a Wimbledon final update (the match started at 9am Florida time) then straight home to watch Andy Murray’s victory. All I can say is it’s a good thing I wasn’t covered in mud from the race as I couldn’t tear myself away from the tv and had to watch the last 2 sets still in my sweaty running kit and sitting on a towel! I hope my fellow Scot appreciated my sacrifice!
I finished my day lounging by the pool with my book, content with my racing efforts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I could get used to this!