After Fridays’s Watermelon 5k, I’ve been feeling very doubtful about my running. The run left me feeling sore and the “grittiness” in the muscle was back, although that has been breaking down again thanks to Steve doing some massage treatments on it. My first instinct was to abandon this race altogether, however upon checking the results from last year’s race, I realised there were people who must have been walking, so decided to turn up. After all, I had paid a race entry so there was a tech Tshirt waiting for me and since Steve and dad would be racing, I didn’t want to miss out completely.
This was the 4th time we would take part in this race, but sadly I had no delusions about winning an age category prize like last year, all I was looking for this time was to get round in one piece without causing my injury to flare up. I was aiming to be slower than on Friday and was perfectly happy to walk if need be.
We set off around 6am to drive to Tampa’s Al Lopez park which now feels very familiar after our previous trips. This meant that we arrived with plenty of time to register and get organised before the 8am start. Although the race always takes place around the park, the route can change and I believe the “Hell” in the title may come from the fact that sometimes the route leaves the path to go through some rather swampy trails. That, and the fact that it’s incredibly humid, particularly in a tree-lined section next to a pond where the air just feels incredibly muggy and damp. However, from the route signage I could see as we arrived at the park, I thought it was going to be the same route as last year (1 big loop of the park and 1 shorter loop) which turned out to be the case.
Race registration is under one of the permanent park shelters which can be reserved for events like this:
At registration we get our race number and tech Tshirt then those who entered early enough are directed to another table to choose a pair of Boston Bill sunglasses which I think are worth about $25. We all got a pair of these last year and were lucky enough to qualify for another pair this year, which was another reason I was keen to go to the race – free running sunglasses!
We took our stuff back to the car, chose our shoes now that we knew the route and affixed our race numbers. I was going for the “local” look again with one of my crop tops:
Then there was just enough time for a toilet stop before heading over to the start line just behind the car park.
This is a much smaller race than the Watermelon 5k (the race limit is 300 but I think there was only about half that number of entrants this time) and as Steve and dad positioned themselves towards the front of the pack, I headed towards the back as I didn’t want to get in the way of any fast people! My plan was to try a slow jog, but landing on my heel rather than my forefoot as the problematic tibialis posterior wouldn’t have to work so hard then. I figured I would take some walk breaks (which I normally wouldn’t even consider in a 5k!) and simply aim not to be last.
The start of the race has an informal, intimate feel about it – a guy with a loud speaker announces how many minutes until the start, outlines the route and explains the timing system. There is no chip timing at this one, finishers are simply given a card with their position on it and they fill in the details of name, unofficial time, etc then place the card in the box for their age group. No card, no official time later!
As the race began, I set out at what can only be described as a “latter stages of a marathon” shuffle. It actually took quite a lot of concentration to run differently and make sure I didn’t overstride. My leg certainly felt much more comfortable than on Friday, but as a “running” style it felt heavy, awkward and slow to someone used to a lighter forefoot strike. I continued this slightly ungainly approach to the first mile marker, then had a short walk break on the section of the route which leaves the park for the surrounding sidewalk for about a quarter mile. By the time we re-entered the park, I was “running” again then took another couple of brief walk breaks in the muggy, humid section under the trees.
Having worried that I would be right at the back, I was reassured to find that I was constantly surrounded by others. Some were doing something similar to me, others were keeping up a steady jog. I was amused to find that even though I was shuffling along slowly, I was still passing others and there were plenty of people behind me.
Just before the 2 mile marker we’re back where we started and there’s a water station at 2 miles. I grabbed a cup of water and walked again while I drank it (then dutifully found a trash can for my empty cup!) before starting to “run” again. Steve was already finished by this point and was calling to me across the grass as I set off on the shorter loop to the finish so I waved to him as I passed by.
I was still able to “run” more comfortably than on Friday, but stuck to my plan of walk breaks to prevent causing another flare up and on a humid morning in Tampa this made things much more bearable.
One intriguing things I saw as I loped around past the edge of the park on the short loop was a guy out on the sidewalk running backwards. Yes, you read, that right, BACKWARDS! I watched him cover a fair distance so he must have been genuinely training for some kind of backwards running event but still, not an everyday occurrence for me!
I finished the race in 34:47, definitely a personal worst for 5k, but I was far from last and wasn’t hobbling when I finished so that was a bonus.
As I crossed the line I was handed my card to fill in then was given a carton of coconut water in peach and mango flavour. I’ve actually never tried coconut water before but have read that it’s a great natural electrolyte and I have to say, drinking it after that race was brilliant. I may not have worked terribly hard, but it was very humid nonetheless and I had been sweating. The coconut water left me feeling refreshed and hydrated so I might be tempted to try it again.
Coconut water in hand, I made my way back over to the shelter where there is always some post-race food. In the past this has been a barbecue (bear in mind that we’re talking about 9am!) but this time it was catered by a Greek restaurant and there was a selection of wraps (I had chicken), pots of rice pudding topped with cinnamon and a very sweet, sticky (but delicious!) pastry. There was also plenty of water, bananas and apples.
Before I ate though, I found Steve and dad who were sitting trying out some kind of electronic pain reliever. It was a bit like a TENS machine, but rather than attaching pads to the site of pain, the unit attached to a pair of sandals with electrodes on them and the electrical stimulation passed into the lower leg. The people demonstrating them claimed it would help muscle recovery post-run. I’m not sure how much I bought into their sales pitch, but Steve thought I might benefit from trying it out so I joined them for a shot. It felt a bit weird (not in a bad way) having the currents passing though my legs – like a tingling sensation but a bit stronger. The treatment lasted 15 minutes and my leg actually did feel better afterwards and it seemed to help it settle down after the run. I’ll not be rushing to buy a unit, but mum has a TENS machine so I might try that out to see if it makes a difference to my leg as I’ve reached the point where I’ll try anything to help it heal.
Finally, it was time for the prize giving. Irritatingly, I somehow contrived to come 4th in my age category (ok, so there were only 5 of us, but still!) so no prize for me as expected, but both Steve and dad won prizes which this year were branded water bottles:
Then we headed back to the car for the journey home, making sure to take some photos first (I had no prize to show off, so decided to point out my new sunglasses instead!):
I really enjoy this event which is well-organised and friendly. After 4 years I’m starting to recognise some faces. It’s disappointing that I wasn’t able to properly compete this year, but hopefully next year I’ll be back to claim one of those age category prizes!