Regular readers will know that every July Steve and I pack a few bits and pieces and head over to Florida for a couple of weeks. And despite several people, rather inexplicably, telling me to “try and not run too much” (???) while we’re away, we prefer to seize the chance for some early morning workouts before it gets too hot, followed by some serious sun lounger time. We also like to try and race a couple of 5ks and ever since 2012 the July race of the Cool Summer Mornings series has been a feature of our holiday plans. This year would be our second experience of the new route which was introduced last year (you can also read about our experiences in 2013 and 2014 on the previous route) and since I knew I was in better form than a year ago (based on parkrun performance) I was looking to beat last year’s time of 25:58 and, hopefully, win an age group prize.
Experience has taught us to set off early for this race, which takes place about half an hour away in Clermont. Our race was due to start at 7:35am, however there was also a triathlon and duathlon ahead of that, so we wanted to be there in plenty of time to get a parking space, collect our race packs and queue for the toilets. As it turned out, the car park was pretty busy but we got a space ok then walked over to packet pickup which is always really straightforward. Bib numbers are assigned alphabetically, so 4 out of the 5 of us (mum, dad, my sister, Steve and I) had consecutive numbers, making it really easy to collect them all together.
After collecting our race packs our usual routine is to head back to the car to get organised: pin on our race numbers, attach the timing chips to our shoes and gather up the various bits and bobs we would be taking with us. We then made our way back towards the start area via the toilets (which of course had a big queue!).
The races in this series are always themed and the July race tends to have a pretty patriotic theme. This year, it was First Responders (ie what we in the UK call the emergency services) so there were loads of first response personnel around supporting the event, including a massive fire truck with an American flag hanging from the extended ladders (this reminded me of how supportive the Paris fire fighters, or pompiers, are of the marathon each year). I took a few photos then began getting organised to run!
Dead on time, the race started and I set off. I was unsure what pace I would be running, as my only run in the Florida heat so far had been a couple of days earlier (the first morning after we arrived) and that was a slow paced run, more designed to help me to acclimatise and get my body into the right time zone than anything else. After a long haul flight with a super early wake up call, I wasn’t exactly at my best! So as I set off, I was surprised to find that I was moving at my usual parkrun pace from at home. At home, I can near enough maintain that for the whole 5k, but I knew that in hot conditions it would be a different story. That said, as we started the sun went behind a cloud, making the air feel a little cooler and when my watch alerted me to the fact that I had run a mile, I found I had covered it in 7:49 – new territory for my Florida running!
The course is an out and back along the waterfront trail, with the turn at around 1.5 miles. There is a water station at the one mile/two mile point, so I was able to grab a cup of water to pour down my back as I passed by (the cloud over the sun made a difference, but it wasn’t exactly like running in Scotland!). Shortly after this, I started to see the lead runners heading back and was able to high five Steve who was fairly far up the field. I also saw dad, who wasn’t that far ahead of me, but he was in a world of his own and missed my wave!
Once round the turn, it was back the way I had come. This is usually the part I find toughest as I’m heading into the sun, and of course it didn’t stay behind that cloud for the entire race!
As I began the return leg I was struck by how many runners seemed to be behind me, many just out for a sociable run/walk, many in fancy dress. I’ve found races in the US much more open to slower participants, particularly walkers, than in the UK (although parkrun caters for all). I somehow managed to miss my sister, but she says she waved at me (I guess I’m just like my dad sometimes!) but spotted my mum just as I reached the water station. After pouring another cup down my back, it was time to dig in. Mile two was a bit slower at 8:20 and I was really starting to feel warm!
The giant flag suspended over the finish chute by the fire truck meant that I could see where I was going for some time. I knew that I would have to run past the start line and veer right onto the grass to finish under the gantry. With about half a mile to go I could feel my body protesting – I was hot, tired and wanted to stop, but I also knew that I was on to achieve my target of beating last year’s time so cajoled my legs into carrying on. Mile three 8:24.
As I approached the turn onto the grass, I could hear Steve shouting at me about another runner behind me. Last year, I had something left in the tank to speed up, but this year I’d gone all out and really didn’t have anything else. I ran as hard as I could to the finish, crossed the line and stopped my watch. I had wondered if I might manage a sub-25, but it looked like I had just missed out on that. Still, I was DEFINITELY faster than last year by a huge margin so it was just a case of waiting for the chip times and seeing if it was enough for a prize.
I was given my medal by a nice police officer, collected a bottle of water then paused to double over and recover before returning my chip and making a bee line for the cooling tent.
Feeling cooler, Steve and I helped ourselves to a can of beetroot juice then took some photos before joining the queue for food. Like last year, there was a ticket attached to our race numbers to get food, but nobody took it from us. Funny the things you can manage to eat at 8:30am when you’ve been up for ages and run a race!
We also had a drinks ticket, so once we’d eaten we joined mum and dad in the queue for a beer then just hung around until the results were published. I got a print out of my provisional time – 25:02 – and was delighted to find that this put me in second place in my age group. I was even more pleased as I knew that prizes from this race are pretty quirky (my previous hauls have included a hand painted tile and a branded pint glass) and this year was no exception – they were fire engines and I REALLY wanted one!
It always takes a bit of time until the prize giving, and with so many age categories that itself can take a while (especially since dad would be one of the later categories and won his age group, as did Steve). Eventually, though, we were all set with a haul of three fire engines between the five of us so headed back to the car for the journey home.
Once back, I finally had a chance to investigate the contents of the goody bag I had been given at packet pickup: race Tshirt, Hammer gel, hydration tablets, teeny tiny towel and some leaflets. There was also some shaving gel and deodorant, which I gave to Steve. And of course, I had a pretty chunky medal and my fire engine!
I was also able to get a proper look at the results and learned that apart from being 2nd (out of 51) in my age category I was 13th female out of 334 and 44th overall out of 526 finishers. Pretty pleasing stats and, like last year, a race with more female than male participants which I find really interesting. This race continues to grow in number (well over 500 now) and there can be the odd hiccup, but overall I enjoy it.
Roll on 2017!