At 5:00 this morning, my alarm started going off. I rolled over to make sure that my boyfriend heard it and was moving too. We had an hour to get ready and head out the door. While he jumped into the shower, I grabbed my favorite pre-race breakfast.
Once I was nourished and almost fully awake, it was time to get dressed. The weather ended up being much colder than originally forecasted so I made sure to layer up.
A few minutes after 6 AM, my boyfriend and I headed over to St. Petersburg, my hometown. At the Rock ‘n’ Roll Expo yesterday, we picked up some valuable information regarding the road closures and race course, which really helped us with our parking/drop off plan. Around 6:30, my boyfriend dropped me off at Ferg’s Sports Bar, which was open this morning for racers and spectators. Since it was so close to my starting corral location, I figured it would be the perfect place for me to stay warm (and use the bathroom) while waiting for the race to start.
At 7:15 AM, I decided it was time to brave the cold and head over to my corral. The weather was so NOT normal for Florida and I felt slightly underdressed. (Read: I REALLY need to find a pair of gloves I can run with and STAT!) Everyone in the corrals was huddling together trying to stay warm. The DJ was trying to play music to inspire people to move and dance around but that just wasn’t working.
Right at 7:30, the race started and we slowly started moving forward. At 7:41, Corral 9 (my corral) was released!
Mile 1: 10:53
The course started on 1st Ave. South right next to Tropicana Field, which is one of the many places I have worked and the place where I met my boyfriend. The course turned right onto 9th Street and made another right turn onto 4th Ave. South. I spent most of the first mile watching my pace on my Garmin. I wanted to avoid the burn out I experienced during the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. As I passed by the fire station, I waved to the firemen and secretly wished that I had one of their coats.
Mile 2: 10:46
The course continued on 4th Ave. South, which turned into 5th Ave. South, until it reached 20th Street. It was so cold that I ran right past the water stop. One of my thumbs was so cold, I was afraid that it was going to fall off! The course turned right onto 20th Street and then turned left back onto 1st Ave. South. I felt really strange running “the wrong way” on a one way street.
Mile 3: 10:43
After continuing along 1st Ave. South, the course turned right onto 29th Street and then right again onto Central Ave. heading towards the water. I knew this part of the course was going to be one of the longest stretched so I just stayed focused on my my pace and breathing. Surprisingly, I was feeling really good at this point. I wasn’t breathing heavy and my heart rate felt under control. When I saw my pace for at the 5K mark, I knew that I had the potential to set a new PR. I tried not to think about and to just stay focused on having fun.
Mile 4: 10:37
This was my fastest mile during the entire race. Why? Because it was literally a straight line down Central Ave. with no twists or turns. I passed Ferg’s and saw the spot where my boyfriend dropped me just a few hours ago. I saw the tail end of a gorgeous sunrise. Unfortunately, the rising sun didn’t help me warm up at all. My thumb finally thawed out and stopped hurting so I decided I should make sure to stop at every water stop from now on. At the end of Mile 4, I grabbed a cup of water and ate my first energy gel.
Mile 5: 10:44
The course continued down Central Ave before turning left onto 3rd Street. Again, I found myself going “the wrong way” towards the house I grew up in and the house my parents still in. Little did I know that my boyfriend was waiting at the corner of Central and 3rd.
I passed by the building my father spends 8 hours a day and where I used to spend my afternoons while I was in school.
Mile 6: 10:44
Once the course reached the USF St. Petersburg Campus, it made a right turn onto 5th Ave. South and then a left turn onto 4th Street. I passed by the hospital my sisters and I were born in so many years ago. I had such an overwhelming sense of nostalgia during this part of the course. I remembered driving along this street every day for many years and now here I was running a half marathon. My body was still feeling really good at this point. I felt strong and no where near a point of burning out. The further south I went, the more I realized I was going to be running up and over “Thrill Hill”.
Mile 7: 10:50
The course continued along 4th Street before making a left turn onto 21st Ave. South followed by another left back onto 3rd Street. Once I was on 3rd Street, I could see “Thrill Hill”, which is one of those bridges that feels more like a speed bump on steroids. It is one of those bridges that causes your stomach to drop when you drove over it. Surprisingly, the hill wasn’t nearly as bad as I though it would be.
Mile 8: 11:01
As the course continued north along 3rd Street, I passed the beautiful USF St. Petersburg Campus., which is located right along Tampa Bay. It is the campus my parents went to for college and where I took several classes. My father used to work on this campus. As I ran past it, I remembered the many weekends I used to spend here with him while he would be working.
The course made a right turn at 5th Ave. South and headed towards the new Salvador Dali Museum. As it continued around what used to be the Bayfront Center, memories of coming to see the elephants from the circus with my father came flooding into my head. This area of the course was lined with the signs from the Team in Training folks and my thoughts turned to my two beloved aunts who lost their battles with cancer.
Mile 9: 11:32
The course continued along Bayshore Drive towards the St. Pete Pier. I started to struggle at this point and I realized that I was going to need to take some walking breaks at the water stops if I was going to finish strong. As I passed by Al Lang Field where I used to watch minor league baseball games with my father, I saw another water stop. I grabbed a cup and ate another energy gel. I walked a little longer through this water stop before I started running again. As I turned right onto 2nd Ave. South, I realized that I was past the halfway point and I continued running towards the Pier.
Mile 10: 11:11
Once I reached the Pier, I ran around the back side and started making my way back down 2nd Ave. South. After what seem liked forever, the course turned right onto Bayshore Drive and headed towards the Vinoy. I grabbed another cup of water at the water stop but didn’t take an energy gel. I am personally not a huge fan of GU, which is why I made sure to bring my own Clif Shots.
Mile 11: 11:21
When I passed the Mile 10 marker, I knew I only had a 5K left. I tried to remind myself that I was almost done and that a 5K was nothing. I glanced down at my Garmin and knew I was going to be close to a PR as long as I could just hold on. Unfortunately, my legs were fading fast and I wasn’t sure if they had a 5K left in them. The course turned right onto 5th Ave. North and I focused on not breaking my ankles on the brick road. As I wound through the parking lot of North Shore Pool, I remembered the many summers I spent there learning how to swim. Eventually, the course ended up on Beach Drive.
Mile 12: 11:59
This was the hardest (and slowest) mile of the entire course. I was losing energy and my quads were screaming at me to stop running. I took another long walking break at the water stop along Beach Drive. Then I made a left onto Coffee Pot Blvd. before making a right onto Snell Isle Blvd. There was another bridge that I had to go over (twice) along Snell Isle Blvd. The first time was on my way to the Vinoy’s Golf Course. This bridge took a lot more out of me than “Thrill Hill” did. I managed to hold on strong though. I took another extended walking break (without a water stop).
Mile 13: 11:11
The course turned around at the golf course and headed back over the bridge. I turned right back onto Coffee Pot Blvd. and followed it around to North Shore Drive. I was finally in the home stretch. I could see the finish line and I knew I was going to make it. When I glanced down at my Garmin, I realized that I was either going to set a new PR or I was going to come very close to it. As I entered the finish chute, I tried to kick it into high gear. I wanted to finish strong and I was really hoping for that new PR.
Halfway down, I saw my boyfriend and he was smiling at me so broadly that all I could do was smile back and push harder. The finish chute felt like it went on forever but I knew I could do it. When I finally crossed the finish line, my Garmin read 2:25:23, which is 15 seconds slower than my PR. I was SO close yet so far from setting a new PR.
Official Time: 2:25:19
After I got my medal, space blanket and food, I went in search of my boyfriend. I found him over by the stage enjoying the Flo Rida concert. We hung around the park until the end of the concert.
For me, this race wasn’t about the live music every mile or the post-race concert. For me, this race was about doing something I truly love in the city I grew up in. Coming within 12 second of a new PR was just icing on the cake!