Three weeks ago, I ran the Wine & Dine Half and had an amazing time (read about it here) but I didn’t meet my time goal of a sub 2:30 half. I wasn’t terribly disappointed because I knew I had the Space Coast Half on the calendar and had heard that it was a flat and fast course and I had targeted it as my best shot for making my time goal.
We spent an entire week at Disney for Thanksgiving, so my taper consisted of walking 8-10 miles every day, much of it with a 30 pound preschooler on “piggy-back”. I did get one 5 mile run in at Fort Wilderness (read about it here) on Thanksgiving, but most of the week was just hiking around the parks. I wasn’t sure how my legs would feel on race day, but I just had fun and hoped for the best.
We drove home on Friday, had Eli’s 3rd birthday party on Saturday morning and then I drove down to Cocoa at noon on Saturday to pick up my bib at the Expo. Whew, what a whirlwind.
It took three hours to drive down, so I got to the Expo at the NASA Visitor’s Center around 3pm. Parking was free, but it was very crowded, I think I picked a bad time to get there. I had to get a free ticket from a volunteer which got me through the turnstile. Security was tight, with a guard to look through any purses/packages and a metal detector to walk through.
Once I got inside the complex, I had to find a volunteer to look up my bib number and then I went inside the building to get my bib and packet. It was really crowded and not very organized inside. I think the fact that this is the first time the race sold out resulted in some unexpected issues, like the packet pickup craziness. They really needed a bigger space for packet pickup and the expo. There were some great vendors, but not as many as I had expected (I did win a t-shirt though!) and I wonder if that was because they ran out of space in the venue.
I got in and out pretty quickly but not before I drooled on the medals for the next five years (luckily they had them behind glass):
I guess I know what I’m doing the Sunday after Thanksgiving through 2017. I did manage to resist buying things in the NASA gift shop (oh the temptation!) and headed back to check in to my hotel, the Best Western Cocoa Inn which was mostly clean but in a kind of sketchy area and the room was a little musty. Let’s just say I chose not to walk barefoot in the room. The beds were fine and it was quiet enough and I didn’t have any issues, I think staying at Disney just spoiled me for regular cheaper hotels!
I did a quick trip to Target and had a solo dinner at Carraba’s (yummy!) which was doing a big business in spaghetti meals for runners. I made sure to figure out how to get the D-Tag on my shoe, this is the first race that has used that timing method, luckily there were very clear instructions and I must have done it right because my time did get recorded. Then early to bed for a 3:30 wake-up. I ended up sleeping pretty well and got up around 3am (I’m so worried about sleeping through a race start!), got ready to go and was on the bus before 4am.
I think we had a lot of early risers at our hotel because we filled the first bus early and were the first bus to get to the race site. I enjoyed walking around and looking at the finish line (with longing!)
I can’t let my loyal readers down by skipping the restroom report. There were two regular park restrooms and a whole line of port-a-potties. Even when the port-a-potties had no line, the regular restrooms had huge lines for the women’s rooms. I guess we just hate port-a-potties.
There were two staging areas, one for the marathoners and one for the half marathoners. There was a big screen up at the start area. Around 5:45, the half-marathon staging area was already very crowded. There were no official corrals, but there were pace signs so I lined up near the 11 minute mile pace sign.
Then, with 15 minutes to wait, I went to my mental “bad place” that seems to be pretty common for me while waiting for the start. I worry that I’ll get sick or injured or feel bad. I decide not to push myself because I know that if I go pretty slow I’ve got a great shot at finishing but that if I push it hard I might have a bad experience. I started thinking that maybe I shouldn’t try for a sub 2:30 time after all. I’m not sure why I get so nervous and full of self-doubt before every single big race, but at least I can recognize it for what it is now.
The National Anthem started and the speaker system kept going out on the lady who was singing, but in awesome runner fashion, the crowd just started belting it out along with her so whenever the sound cut out, the song kept going on. There was a guy in front of me who had to wipe his eyes right after the song which was just so sweet (I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who cries a little every time I hear it!). They did a shuttle launch on the big screen for the race start and then we were off.
The first few miles of a big race are hard for me, it’s crowded, I have a hard time finding my pace, I usually need a potty stop, I’m still in my worry-zone. Today was no exception, plus it felt hot and humid at the start even though the actual temperature wasn’t very high. But, I know that’s normal for me, so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, again and again.
The view was amazing. The course is a pretty flat out and back along the Indian River which is more like the intercoastal than a river. It was overcast, which I love for running, and once the sun came up, the breezes started kicking up which cooled it off nicely.
The neighborhood support wasn’t as huge as the Gate River Run, but it there were quite a few groups of locals handing out candy, donuts, cheers and high-fives along the course.
I sometimes dislike out and back courses because they can be boring, but the view was so beautiful on this race, the water on one side and fancy gorgeous homes on the other side, that it was just as enjoyable coming back after the turnaround. One thing I do like about out and back courses is that you get to see the front runners and the back of the packers so you can cheer both groups on. Here’s the course map:
Once we turned around and headed back, the breeze got a lot stronger. I heard a few people complaining about the headwind, but I thought it felt wonderful.
Each mile after the first 5k, I felt stronger and more confident and it shows in my pacing (ignore the last split, as usual I forgot to turn my Garmin off after going through the finish chute).
Just before the turnaround, I passed the 2:30 pacing group and never looked back. I had a crazy Gainesville moment, when I ran right up behind another runner who also works for the City who I didn’t even know was running this race. We chatted for a moment and then went our own paces.
There were lots of great costumes, my favorites were the Star Trek dresses and three runners with these awesome jet packs.
All the runners seemed to be very friendly and polite, even when the course got a little crowded. Once we were out of the first mile or two, it was spread out enough not to be a problem for the most part. There were LOTS of water and gatorade stops, and bunches of very helpful and friendly volunteers.
Before I knew it, I was running strong to the finish. I felt great and was so happy to finish in 2:21! My PR (set at W&D) was 2:36, so on top of finishing in under 2:30, I also took a full minute per mile off my pace! I’m really proud of myself for being brave enough to push myself on my pace (although I still had gas in my tank at the end which means I probably could have easily broken 2:20 with a little more self-confidence). And I got a great Space Coast beach towel and this gorgeous medal:
There were lots of free goodies after the race, pancakes, eggs, sodas, honest tea, juices, pizza, bananas, bagels and probably lots more that I didn’t see. It was a very nice and well organized post-race setup. I had some friendly runners take my photo: