They say things come in threes, and apparently my summer holiday racing likes to conform to that pattern! Again like last July, my final Florida race was the Cool Summer Mornings 5K in Clermont, about 30-40 minutes north. I really enjoyed this race last year as it actually included some hills, the sort of terrain I’m used to, in an otherwise pancake-flat landscape and of my three post-injury performances last July, this one was actually my best. I hoped that this would be true of this year’s effort, particularly given my success placing 3rd in my category at the Run thru Hell the previous weekend. Furthermore, it was this race last year which fuelled my determination to come out here fully fit and win a prize. Technically I had ticked that box, but those who know me will attest to how competitive I am and this race was the one I really had my eye on, mainly because all of my family (seriously, ALL – mum, dad, sister and husband!) have won prizes here and the opportunity to win another prize was dangling like a carrot before me. I knew it would all come down to the standard of the field on the day and the quality of my own performance, but I could only control one of those. Time to zip up my mansuit and show Florida what I’m made of…
This race is the second in a series of four taking place once a month in the summer. “Cool”, as I noted last year, is somewhat of a relative term: yes, it is “cooler” here at stupid o’clock in the morning (each race in the series starts at 7:15am), but my idea of cool conditions tends to involve the necessity for sleeves or perhaps 3/4 running tights, whereas I arrived at Waterfront Park “dressed like a local” again in a crop top and short running skirt. I also decided to give my new sunglasses a whirl (I know you shouldn’t wear any new kit for a race, but it was “only” 5K so I knew it would be ok!).
Having parked the car, we went straight to packet pick-up where we collected our race numbers, chips, tech Tshirts and bags containing leaflets, vouchers and a sample of a painkiller. Following the pattern of last year, we returned unnecessary things to the car, pinned on our numbers, affixed our chips and headed off to join the queue for the toilet (not portaloos as the start/finish was in the park – luxury!).
Waterfront Park is a lovely location and ideal for this event as the lake means there can also be a triathlon which starts a little later than the 5K. I also learned that there is a Parkrun here every Saturday. Wouldn’t it be great to run next to this every week:
This year each race in the series has been given a theme. Being close to Independence Day, the theme for this particular race was “Americana”. There were participants dressed in red, white and blue, lots of flags, themed food for the post-race party and, after the race briefing, a playing of the Star-Spangled Banner (to the same reverential silence as on the 4th) before we were finally counted down to start racing.
Having checked the website before the event, I was fairly certain the route was the same as last July other than a slight change to the start line. I knew, then, that I would almost immediately be running uphill, back down towards the waterfront path then into a slightly steeper, longer hill (by Florida standards) before heading back down to the waterfront for the last mile or so. Since I’m more used to running up and down hills than the majority of runners round here, I actually knew that I would find the last mile by the waterfront, rather than the hills, the toughest. By this point I knew I would be likely to be VERY warm and this section of the route is directly into the sun. In the previous two races of this holiday I struggled in the last mile so this time I had a new plan – rather than try to drink out a cup on the move at the two water stations (which never really works!), walk through to get a decent drink, pour most of the water down my back and start running again. My thinking was that this method would help me to keep my mile splits even as I would regulate my temperature and (hopefully) not feel quite such a strong desire to slow down or stop.
So did it work? Let’s break it down.
The first thing to say is that this race is chip timed so I didn’t have to worry about my starting position, so long as I didn’t get stuck behind slower runners. As I made my way up the first hill I could see the front of the field stretching ahead of me and it looked like so many people. That said, it was hard to tell how many of them were likely to be in my category. I fell into a rhythm and just kept going. One thing I noticed was that rather than passing other runners going up the hills, I tended to pass them after the hill as the road levelled out and they had expended all their energy in the climb. I also passed a number of people heading downhill as I have been working on my downhill technique and was moving well rather than leaning back and putting on the brakes. Mile 1 in 8:30. If I could maintain that, I would have a decent finishing time.
Mile 2 had the greatest amount of climb before gradually coming back down to the waterfront. The last part of mile 2 joins the same path that runners will return on so for a short distance before the turnaround you can see the faster folk heading back. I high-fived Steve, but dad was too busy checking his watch to notice me! Mile 2 in 8:27 – looking good if I could just hold on for one more mile. The toughest mile.
You see, the thing about a 5K race is that it’s actually quite hard. It may “only” be 3.1 miles, but it’s 3.1 miles of hard, uncomfortable running. In a longer run it takes me around 3 miles to really settle in and feel comfortable, so this is basically a race of discomfort and pushing myself. Running into the sun along the waterfront for the last mile was tough. I was feeling the heat, breathing hard and every part of me was screaming to stop. But I could see the finish in the distance. All I had to do was hang on. It was time for mind games: just half a mile to go, not even 5 minutes of running, you can keep going for 5 minutes. Suck it up buttercup.
So I did. I sucked it up and kept pushing.
I found myself running just behind another woman. I don’t know why, but I suddenly felt convinced that she was in my category and couldn’t let her beat me, after all I’d never forgive myself if she was in 3rd place and I missed out at the last minute. Unsure of how much she had left, I decided not to pass her just yet but stay on her shoulder, prepared to race it out for the line. As it turned out, she was tired and slowed slightly so I glided past, hoping she wasn’t going to outsprint me at the end! My Garmin bleeped to tell me I had run mile 3 in 8:27. Pretty even splits!
As I was directed off the path onto the grass for the finish, I caught a glimpse of the race clock: 25:40. Could I get this done in under 26 minutes? Completely forgetting the chip timing, I put my foot down and went for it with everything I had left. A quick glance over my shoulder showed my “rival” still behind me but I thought I had enough distance on her. Just as I decided this, I became aware of the announcer calling the names of the runners approaching the finish. I could hear full names and hometowns being read out, but when it was my turn just my first name before the first name of the next runner behind me. She must be close! I powered over the line, grabbed my medal from an outstretched hand (just about managing to gasp a thank you!) then stopped my watch as my chip was being cut from my shoes. 25:56. Another PB for sure! Nothing more I could do but wait for the results to be posted and see if I could nudge into the prizes.
I gratefully received a bottle of water and stumbled towards Steve. I was dripping wet and exhausted, but I had run 50-55 seconds faster than I had just 6 days before when I got a PB in Tampa. Incredible! Even more incredible, when I connected my Garmin to the computer later that day, I learned that this time the humidity had been 100% (yes, 100%! Surely that’s swimming not running?!?!) and there had been absolutely no wind at all. Brutal!
There was a while to wait until the results were posted and the prizegiving got underway, but there was plenty to occupy me. I rehydrated with water and watermelon, nibbled on some pretzels to replace the salts I had lost and watched incredulously as others tucked into hot dogs, ice cream and apple pie when it wasn’t even 8am yet!
There were also plenty of fun photo opportunities, starting with a couple of variations on my standard medal shot:
And a celebratory picture with “the president” 😉
We also got chatting to the guy who had won the race. Unbelievably, he too was on holiday from Scotland. Even more unbelievably, he runs for the club my dad was a member of in his late teens/ early twenties. Walt Disney was right, it really IS a small world after all!
At long last, there was some activity around the board where the results were being displayed. Dad made it through the crowds first and we all hung about expectantly until he emerged.
“Congratulations, you’re a winner!”
“Really? So was I 2nd or 3rd then?”
“No Allison, you WON your category!”
Hardly daring to believe it, I wormed my way in to confirm, and there was my name at the top of a list of around 20 others in the category with a chip time of 25:51. I really had won (and the “rival” I had been so intent on beating WAS in my category. She finished in 2nd place, 3 seconds behind me!). 1st in my category, 8th female and 41st overall. A big pat on the back for me!
Rather than plaques, the prizes this time were beautiful hand-painted ceramic tiles matched to the race theme.
After collecting their tiles, prizewinners in each category were asked to stand on a podium for photos. Sadly the 3rd placed runner in my category wasn’t there, but I had a prize, a medal and a podium – probably the closest to an Olympic moment I’ll ever have!
Which only left one thing to do before heading home – a family picture. Why? Because this time, all four of us won a prize. A successful day all round!
To be honest, this is probably one of my greatest running moments so far. Nothing can ever beat the first time I crossed a marathon finish line, but the first time I won an age group really is special. I’ve had a string of injuries over the last couple of years and at my lowest points thought I might have to give up running altogether or stick to plodding slowly around a short distance. I’ve worked incredibly hard over the past few months and my racing this holiday has given me something tangible to show for it. It’s also fuelled my running mojo even more: if I can run 25:51 in the Florida heat and humidity, what might my time be in the Scottish weather I’m accustomed to? There’s a good chance I’ll enter a 5K race at home before the summer is over in order to find out. But in the meantime, I’m a very happy Running Princess and the smile is still plastered to my face!