Yup, as usual our summer trip to Florida is a bit of a racecation and somehow my favourite race rolled around again already! This year, however, it fell at the start of our trip rather than the end, so we weren’t sure how well acclimatised we would be (and I was hoping for an age group prize after being injured last year so wanted to run well!).
This would be our fourth time running the July race in the Cool Summer Mornings 5k series, however this year would be our first time on the new course. In the past, the route has started in Waterfront Park, Clermont and wound up and down the hills of the residential streets before finishing with a short out and back section along the waterfront. With the opening of a new trail, we would no longer leave the park and instead run out and back along the waterfront. This meant that not only would it be flat (I actually enjoyed the hills in the old route as it’s what I’m used to at home) but very likely feel warmer as I always found the last mile or so along the water pretty tough as it got hot and the beating sun ahead of us would be reflecting off the water. Combining that with the fact that the numbers for this race seem to keep on growing (around 250 in 2013 compared to nearer 500 now), and I knew I was going to have to work hard to pick up an age group prize!
Knowing the parking area would be busy due to the triathlon starting ahead of our race, we set off early to make sure we could get parked easily and were directed to a space on the grass along from the main park parking lot. Being early, we had plenty of time to collect our race packs, head back to the car to get organised then join the queue for the toilets. We also watched some of the triathletes getting ready to start.
After standing respectfully through the Star Spangled Banner and seeing the first couple of waves of swimmers get underway, we headed over towards the start area for our race. The theme for the event this year was ‘Military’ so there were lots of stars and stripes, as well as a number of people who had dressed for the occasion.
The race was due to start at 7:45am (a little later than in previous years) and there were plenty of announcements letting us know how much time we had until we would begin. As people began to gather, I found myself standing next to a runner wearing, of all things, a Dundee Road Runners vest! I couldn’t believe I was lining up next to somebody who probably lives less than half an hour away from me, so exchanged a few words before it was our turn for the Star Spangled Banner.
My new acquaintance and I wished each other luck, and then we were counted down and underway with the instruction that the course was clearly marked and the turnaround was “after the bridge”. Not being local this meant nothing to me, but since I wouldn’t be at the front I didn’t expect any difficulties.
I set off trying to settle into a suitable pace. Not being used to the heat and humidity, it’s harder to maintain a fast pace, so although my legs fancied starting out at an 8 minute mile, I knew this would be suicidal and pulled back a bit. Back in 2013 I won my age group (although in a much smaller field) and having checked the results from the June race this year, I thought that I could just about squeeze into third place if there was a similar field in the July race. I had been for a 5k run when I got up on the first day of my holiday and had found it tough after all the travelling, but that experience combined with the running drills Steve and I did the day before the race meant I was a little better acclimatised and being in a race situation meant I would work harder to keep going.
The trail was near enough flat with only one or two slight undulations. It was a good surface so as I ran along I observed the other runners around me. There were lots of kids, reminding me of Parkrun, and I could see runners stretching ahead of me but had no idea how many were behind. There was a water station around a mile or so in and in the heat I find it easiest to slow to a walk, take a sip from the cup (if I do that whilst running then I just about drown myself!) then pour most of it down the back of my neck to keep me cool. A little beyond this, the race leaders began to come back the other way so I could cheer them on. I waved to Steve, then my dad, and then it was my turn to cross the bridge (it was, indeed, very clear), turn around and head back the other way.
I was still maintaining a fairly steady pace but seemed to be playing cat and mouse with a couple of women near me. One was dressed in a Minnie Mouse running skirt (I want one!) and the other kept slowing then speeding up every time I passed her. I suspect she thought we were in the same age group and I wondered the same thing, but eventually I did pass her and stay ahead.
The return leg also gave me a chance to see all the runners behind me and there were just so many! Just after the turn I passed Captain America, which pleased me – it’s not every day you beat a superhero! I also saw the Marine Corp running together in formation, chanting all the way. It was pretty satisfying to be ahead of them! And of course, I was able to give my mum a wave as she powered through with the walkers. By this time, there were also triathletes on the run section so some of them were heading out too.
As expected, the last mile felt pretty tough. The already hot sun was getting hotter and now I was running straight into it. It was getting harder to maintain the pace but I was determined to do everything I could to win a prize so just kept on going. The beauty of an out and back course meant that I knew exactly where I was. I also knew that we would have to run back through the start line then veer off onto the grass for the final 0.1 or so to the finish (the 5k finish was the same as the tri finish). Steve was standing by the side of the course shouting at me to dig in, pump my arms and go for it. He called out that there were a couple of people behind me and there was no way I was letting someone beat me on the line, not even the couple of older guys just by me. Must be time for a sprint finish!
I crossed the line, stopped my watch, got my medal and water then had my chip taken from my shoe. The chip timing was really good this year as we could get a provisional print out of our times straight away. There was also a screen with the finish positions and times constantly scrolling through. Unfortunately, this wasn’t divided into categories so I would have to wait and see if I’d done enough to get a prize.
Since it was so warm, I made a bee line for the “cooling zone” so I could sit under the water mist and big fans for a couple of minutes and drink my water. On the way there one of the photographers stopped dad and I for a photo:
And on the way back the same photographer snapped Steve and I:
Apparently they they had both decided to wear blue that day 😉
Once mum finished, we went to get our food. Along the bottom of our race numbers (where there is often a baggage tag) there were 3 coupons: one for food, one for a beer (courtesy of a race sponsor) and one for raffle prizes. It may only have been about 8:30 am, but this was what I had:
By the time we had eaten, the results were posted. Steve was first in his category, dad took 2nd in his, and me? Well I did manage to squeeze into the 3rd place spot in my category. Mission accomplished! So we headed back to the pavilion for the prize giving, at which point we learned that there was free ice cream on offer as well. It was rude not to…
Prize giving took a while as there were loads of categories, but eventually it was my turn to get on the podium. The prizes this year were branded glasses.
My time was 25:58, putting me 65th overall (out of 452 finishers) and 20th female (out of 278, a field with a female majority!). Not only that, but there were just 7 seconds between me and the 4th place finisher in my category! And those women I had been playing cat and mouse with? In the categories either side of mine and both placed!
Prizes in hand, it was time to head back to the car to go home. After all that hard work we had earned some sun lounger time!
Numbers at this race may be increasing, but I still really like it. The organisation is really slick, particularly since there is a triathlon going on at the same time, the post-race food is excellent and there’s always decent race swag. I may only manage 1 out of the 4 in the series each year, but as far as I’m concerned it’s worth it.
Roll on next year!