This year, my goal is to do one race every month. The Disney Princess Half was my February race and the Gate River Run 15K was my March race, just two short weeks later. I wasn’t sure how my legs and hips would hold up for a 15K two weeks after a half, but the Gate River Run has a special place in my heart. I grew up in Jacksonville, where it is held and always loved the bridges. My dad used to work for the DOT when I was a little kid and one of his jobs there was to inspect and change the lights on the top of the bridges, which I thought was super cool. You get to (or have to depending on your perspective) run across two bridges during this race, the main street bridge at the beginning:
And the Hart bridge (familiarly known as the big green monster) at the end:
I ran this race back in 1998. It was the last race I ran before I had kids. I trained for it properly, ran it smart and finished in 1:31:59, a 9:53 minute mile pace. The weather was perfect, drizzly and cool. I remember running the whole way up the hart bridge (my only goal for the race was to run it and only walk the water stops) reaching the top and realizing I was going to accomplish my goal. It was one of my peak moments. Back then, only the first 1,000 finishers got a medal, and I wasn’t even in the top 1,000 women. So, I had unfinished business with this race. I wanted a medal. Happily, now the race gives medals to all finishers (yay!) so all I had to do was finish!
Fifteen years and two kids later, I decided to tackle this race again. I registered early, booked the host hotel so I wouldn’t have to deal with parking downtown, and set a goal to run the whole hart bridge again. After the Princess Half, my legs and hips felt surprisingly good. I took a week off of running to recover. My first run back, I did just three miles, but I did it fast because my toddler had turned off my intervals on my Garmin and I didn’t realize it for the first mile. I decided to just keep doing a straight run, stopping for a water fountain break each mile because it was a little warm. I did the 5k run in 30:00:07. That is very fast for me right now. I started getting fantasies of beating my 98 time on the River Run. The next day I got a sore throat, fever and stuffy nose. Oh no!
My teenager was sick while we were at Disney, then my toddler got it, then my mom, then my husband. I was the last man (woman) standing. I knew I was going to be able to shake it because I’m so healthy and take my vitamins and get acupuncture. Well, I was WRONG. I had a huge project due at work so I couldn’t stay home and rest, instead I had to work overtime. Time would clear this head cold, but the race was in less than a week. Wednesday and Thursday I felt like complete garbage. Friday my sinuses were still very congested, making my head hurt and eyes water, but I figured that the hotel and race were already paid for, so we should just drive up and visit family and friends and play it by ear on Saturday morning.
We got to the hotel and took the 70’s style school bus shuttle to the Expo. My mom and I were less than impressed, but my two year old thought the school bus was the highlight of the trip. He gets to take his brother to the bus stop every school day, but he’d never been on a school bus before.
The expo was a mess. They had a list of names and bib numbers on a wall. Unfortunately, if you registered with three names (first, middle and last), your name was listed by your middle name. Very strange (the race results are listed the same way). The bib lines were kind of long and moving slow. I found out why when the lady in front of me was picking up 6 bibs. Instead of having her go to each separate bib line (like at Disney) the race volunteers were getting all of them. Which was nice, but it wasn’t really set up for it, so it took a LONG time. I don’t know if it was the setup or the building or the vendors, but it seemed really seedy like a flea market. We hustled through, picked up a few quick freebies (nuun is nasty!) including an awesome Publix drawstring bag (anyone from the South just got a little jealous).
We took the toddler to two parks, then dinner with friends. My sinuses were a mess. Watering eyes, headache, just feeling pretty crappy. I kept saying I’d just walk the race if I felt bad or wouldn’t do it at all if I felt terrible, but we all knew it was a lie. I’m just too stubborn.
Saturday morning, I woke up with somewhat clearer sinuses but still feeling pretty sick (day four or five of a head cold). I don’t like taking cold medicine normally and I don’t take any medicine (except pepto) for running, so I was stuck with dealing with it. I got dressed in an awesome shirt from Raw Threads and a sparkletech skirt from SparkleSkirts and got on the school bus to go to the start. It was pretty chilly in the morning, but was forecast to warm up quickly with strong sunshine, so I just put on some $2.50 target knee socks with the toes cut out as arm warmers and headed out. I saw a lot of people with long sleeves, jackets and tights on and figured they might regret that in a couple of hours.
They were doing corrals, but didn’t have anyone checking the non-seeded corrals. My corral had a warming up and restroom area in a nearby park which was awesome. The bathrooms were actual restrooms, not port-a-potties and the park was on the river, so it was relaxing. When it was time to go to the corral, I peeled off my sleeves and left them there. They sent off the elite runners and then the seeded corrals then it was my turn. It was slow going at first, but picked up as we neared the start line. Then things got a little weird. Our bib colors were tied to the corrals, so mine was grey/silver. The corral behind us was purple. Because they weren’t checking bibs to get into the corral, there were some purple bibs in the grey corral. You didn’t have to prove your time, so I figured no big deal. Well the race volunteers for some reason decided to stop the purple bib wearers AT the start line. Um, there are 22,000 runners, this is not a good idea. I was able to skirt around the stopped runners, but it was just crazy.
Unlike the Princess, and maybe because the race started later in the morning (8:30), I felt pretty good the first 5k. Too good probably because I was going a little fast for being so sick. It warmed up quickly! We ran through downtown Jacksonville for a while, went over the Main Street bridge which was cool, except for the part with the wide grating. Don’t look down through the grating, it is really disorienting!
After the bridge, you quickly get into the neighborhoods. Other than the bridges, this is the best part of the race for me. The neighborhoods treat it like a huge block party. People set up tents and tables and speakers and play music and give out treats to the runners while cheering them on. There were two groups giving out beer (gross!), there were also people giving away candy, donut holes, sausages, hot dogs, water and gatorade, and ice pops (my favorite and the only thing I took). There are bands along the course as well which are fun and people cheering all along the way. One group of kids were holding a hose setting up a cooling zone with spray you could run through which was perfect since it had gotten pretty hot and humid already. The spectators really make the race atmosphere awesome.
Around the 10k mark, I took a quick potty break. I think I’d over-hydrated since I was sick. It was hard to tell if I was feeling bad from being sick or from running. I saw a couple of people passed out on the side of the road being attended to by paramedics which kind of shook me up. Long distance running is such a mental challenge. Normally I can tune out the fear that I’ll collapse and die (all the non-runners shake their heads now and wonder why we crazy people do this) and focus on my training and push through it. Being sick and kind of fuzzy headed made it a lot harder, so I really went slower than I wanted to. On the other hand, because I was still pretty sick, it was probably faster than I should have gone. I’m still conflicted about it a week later.
Thankfully, I reached the on ramp of the hart bridge. Most people who run this race hate this bridge, but I love it. It represents a huge challenge near the end and I’m all about running the whole thing. I knew I was going to seriously get a personal worst on this race but at least I could run the hart bridge. I think I may have been the only person in my surrounding area to run it, it seemed like everyone was walking. This is where I saw the lady pushing a DOUBLE stroller. Not just a regular single stroller, but a freaking double stroller. I didn’t think they were even allowed and the course was so crowded, they shouldn’t have been.
I made it to the top! That medal was all downhill from there. Down the on ramp, around the bend and there was the finish line!
It’s funny, in my finish line photos, I’m the only woman in a big group of men. I think it makes me look like I finished faster than I did! My official chip time is 1:50:34, which is a personal worst on the 15k. But I got my medal!
The finish chute was a huge mess. It was super crowded and chaotic. I think it took 10 minutes of being herded like cattle (chute, corral, hmmmm) to actually get my medal. Then getting back to the expo to get the bus was even worse. I ended up forging my own route around the fenced expo area and found a break in the fence to get to the bus.
I felt like garbage, my head was full of snot, but I had accomplished my goal. As long as I didn’t drive the virus into my heart and die of a heart infection, it was worth it (yes, I am a webMD hypochondriac). A quick shower later we were in the car heading to Wendy’s for a double cheeseburger (apparently my new post race food) and to my aunt’s house for a quick visit on the way home.
So, was it worth it to race sick? Probably not for a non Disney race. I’m disappointed in my time. The medal is nice, but not Disney nice and they do the race every year. I am just now, one week later, starting to feel well again and I think running 9.3 miles sick contributed to the cold hanging on. On the other hand, my husband is still dealing with lingering congestion from this cold and he didn’t run so who knows.
I still have unfinished business with this race. In 2014 I want to finish it without walk intervals in under 1:30. See you next year, big green monster!