Monday, February 18, 2019

A1A Half Marathon 2019

My memory is playing tricks on me, and that's one reason I'm grateful for this blog. Although I've run some iteration of the A1A race five years in a row now, I really thought I had run the half three times before this weekend's race - twice alone and once with Elizabeth. As it turns out, this year was only the second time I've run it alone, and my third time running it total.
In 2015 I ran the half for the first time. In 2016 I ran the full, choosing it because I remembered loving the half course so much every time I ran it...which I guess was just one time. In 2017 I ran the half with Elizabeth. In 2018 I ran the 5k. And now, this past weekend, I ran the half again.
The reason this has been on my mind is because I feel like I have a strong connection to this race, but I've kind of manufactured some memories of it that aren't entirely accurate. I knew, for example, that I once ran the half with a bad cold and surprised myself with my results; I didn't realize, though, that that happened the first year I ever ran it, in 2015.

I was thinking about this because I went into this year's race with a bad cold and some doubts about how I'd feel on race day. Luckily, the worst of my symptoms began to clear up by Friday and by Sunday I was breathing easy, and finally coughing up some nasty junk.

On the Friday before the race, we drove down to Boynton to see my sister and Gordon, who just got engaged. We enjoyed a late dinner with them and spent the night there. On Saturday, we headed down to Fort Lauderdale. As usual, the plan was to meet up with Oden, whose house we'd be staying at again, then grab lunch and hit the expo.
This year I signed "I'm back, baby!"
I'm not sure what it was, but the expo felt less exciting this year. Maybe I'm a little out of practice with big races or was starting to feel nervous, but the crowds and vendors had my hackles up, and I was happy to just get my bib, do a quick tour of the booths, and get out.
I took an unscheduled nap on Oden's couch before we went out to Glitch (a video game bar) for a couple hours and then grabbed sushi for dinner. I'm really loving these video game bars; I wish we had one near us!
Playing some classic Mario Kart. We also played on the new Nintendo Switch and it was really fun!
I went to bed around 10pm feeling fairly anxiety-free and slept like the dead.

Race day dawned early. I was up at 4am and avoided checking the weather. I knew it was going to be warm and humid. There was no point in worrying about it. I still hadn't chosen my full race outfit because of the forecast, but I had options. I had my usual breakfast (GF oatmeal with PB2 and honey, plus some coffee and a glass of water with Emergen-C mixed in) and got dressed. Matt and I left Oden's at 5am for the short drive to the start.
During the drive, my anxiety built. I was suddenly so nervous I was shaking. It wasn't just anticipatory anxiety; I was terrified. I couldn't pinpoint exactly where the fear was coming from; I was sure I'd be able to finish this race, and I truly didn't have a goal beyond that. Maybe it was the knowledge that there was a lot riding on it. It was going to serve as proof that I'm fully recovered from CECS. Maybe that pressure just got into my head.

Weirdly, once we got to the corrals, I felt better. This was familiar. I used the porta-potty, took some pictures, and got right back in line to use it again. I made the rash (but smart) decision to strip off my tank top. I was already warm! I didn't want to carry it with me the entire race.
I was self-conscious about running shirtless, but I also knew no one would care and it would give me a better chance at having a successful race. Then, Matt walked with me up to the 10:00 pacing area and prepared to leave.
My #1 fan
His plan was to go back to the house before the starting gun to drop off the car; then, he and Oden would ride bikes (well, the One Wheel in Matt's case) up to miles 4/6.5/11 to wait for me. So, I stood in the corral alone and put on my music. Talia by King Princess came on. I closed my eyes and started to focus.
Zoning in.
When I opened them, I had a feeling Matt was still nearby. I looked up, and there he was. He snapped one last picture, waved, and disappeared into the crowd.
This race is huge, so the start is pretty anti-climatic. After the gun, I walked with the rest of the crowd until we finally reached the start line, about 3 minutes later. Then, I started running.

The moment I crossed the start line and began to run, I was overcome with emotion. I immediately felt really good and steady; all my fears and doubts and overthinking stopped. I just felt wonderful. I'd been counting on this race to make me feel like the whole CECS "journey" is at an end, and I was hyperaware that the first step of this race meant I was finally, finally, in the last moments of that damn chapter of my running story. In a couple hours, two years of struggle would be behind me.

I held back tears for the entire first mile.
The spot where Matt and Oden planned to set up shop. I would pass them three times on the course if they stayed in that area.
For the first three miles, until we reached the Las Olas bridge to A1A, I felt good, but already warm. For perspective, during training I was doing my long runs at 7am in high-50s, not breaking a sweat until at least an hour in. On race day, we began at 6am in 68 degrees and I was sweating by mile two. I was glad I ditched my top and kept reminding myself to just enjoy the run and not get in my head about the weather.
Heat and humidity aren't things I can control. There was no point in worrying about them anymore.
This race has amazing views!
Around mile 3.5, I remembered it was going to get sunny eventually and that I had forgotten to put sunscreen on my tattoo. I texted Matt, knowing I was planning to see him around mile 4. Sure enough, he and Oden were there waiting when I reached our first spectating point. I grabbed Matt's sunscreen, slapped it on, dropped the bottle near a cone, and kept going.
Around mile 6.5
My pace and GPS seemed to do something wonky in the nature preserve from miles 4-6, and I think I ended up wasting some energy there I should have conserved when I focused too much on what my watch read rather than how my legs and lungs felt, because shortly after I saw Matt and Oden again, things started to feel tough. I began eating my Gu at mile 7 and knew immediately I'd picked the wrong flavor for the day. Chocolate was just too much. I kept nibbling it until about mile 9, then ditched it at a water stop and made my first critical mistake of the race.

I grabbed a cup of water.

I had completed every long run of training without water. I was really well hydrated and had taken salt before the start. I didn't need water, but wanted to rinse my mouth. I should have just popped in my second piece of gum. The minute I slowed down to take a drink, I knew getting back into a rhythm would be tough; the mental seal was broken.
I took a second cup to pour over my head. At this point the sun was well up, but we were mostly in shade from buildings along the road. It was around mile 10 that those buildings clear because you're running along the beach again, and that was when things really got hot.

Between miles 10 and 13 I took a few short walk breaks and had some more water. I stole some ice from an open bag at one of the stops. I never felt bad about walking; again, I didn't have a real goal in mind. I saw the 2:15 pacer pass me but she stayed within view, so I had an idea that even if my GPS had gotten screwy in the nature preserve, I was still setting a good overall pace. My lower legs felt a little stiff in a very this is tough work why are we doing this kind of way, but not in a we are rocks that can't be run through and you're having a recurrence of compartment syndrome way.
My goal for this race was to run with joy and finish with a smile on my face. I admit there were times on the course that I lost the joy, but that's part of racing, I think. It's hard in the final miles of a tough race to keep gratitude at the forefront of your mind.
I saw Matt and Oden once more at mile 11ish and then watched them zoom by toward the finish line to meet me there. I kept plugging away. I admit I wasn't enjoying myself at this point. I was hot and achey and ready to be done. I remember thinking that I had zero interest in running a full marathon anytime soon. I had forgotten how tough long distance races can be!
Around mile 11
Finally, I entered the last turn to the finish line. I tried to urge my legs to pick up the pace, but I was totally depleted. The finish line has two arches, one at mile 12.9 and then the final one at 13.1.
As I came up on the final arch, I spotted Matt and Oden, and then saw Steph waving next to them. I found the smile I'd been looking for. I thought about the vascular surgeon who told me I should just find another sport. I sneered at him in my head. Never run again my ass I thought, and managed one final push.
Coming toward the finish
My time was 2:17:31. I had been on track for a PR in the first half of the course, but couldn't maintain that performance through the latter half. Still, I set a personal course record and ran with joy, and that's what I wanted from this race.
I was honestly too exhausted to feel many emotions right there at the finish. I was in a weird tunnel-vision headspace, and the bigger picture of the finish's significance had faded away to be replaced by my more immediate needs: to get water and sit down.
Soon after finding my wonderful cheer squad and taking pictures, things started to set in. I relived the highlights of the race in my head. I remembered the emotion at the start line. I felt the joy come back.
Honestly the prettiest medal I have, I think!
Best sister ever!
I have the BEST cheer squad! I do not take it for granted that they get up early every year to make this race special for me!
After a shower, we ended our celebration with brunch at our usual post-A1A spot.
Blueberry pancakes, eggs, bacon, hash browns...just what I wanted!
I am ready now to take some time to rest and be patient in deciding on my next running goal. Right now, it feels good to not have a whole batch of races lined up for spring. I want to bask in this moment and take my time deciding what comes next.
I'll finish this post by thanking everyone who has been following my training and cheering me on the last few months. It's been a long road, and I couldn't have done it alone. I love the running community!


  1. Amazing!!!!! I felt for you and everyone else when I walked out my door in the morning and felt the heat and humidity hit me. Miles 11-13 of this course aren’t just hard they are BRUTAL on days when the sun is out because there is absolutely no where to hide from it. During the relay when I hit those miles I wondered why I ever choose to run any race along A1A haha!

    YOU did so amazing and make it look easy! You said this was a course PR for you too right? Incredible!

    1. Sometimes, I honestly wonder why I love this race so much. The end is ALWAYS so, so tough!

      This was a course PR by about 40 seconds, but I'm counting it! I really think having a sort of blase attitude about the race, and knowing it would happen and that nothing else mattered, made it easy to just power through and keep going!

  2. Congratulations Ali!! I felt the emotion as if I was out there running with you! You had a great race and looked so strong! I look forward to seeing what's next!

  3. So many things...

    Congrats to your sis and Gordon!
    I do NOT like expos! Ever.
    I never even HEARD of video game bars! Can you eat mostly any sushi? Prob not the fried stuff?
    I'm glad you were confident to not wear a shirt.

    Congrats on a course PR!!! I am so glad your race experience was awesome! You worked so hard. :) Mentally and physically. You deserve this. :)

    1. Video game bars seem to be the new thing in Ft. Lauderdale! Matt and I were saying it would be a fun business venture. Basically these bars buy old arcade games (I played Frogger at Glitch, and Donkey Kong, and Pacman!) and they also get old TVs and set up old home systems like Nintendo 64 etc. So people get drinks and play the games. It's so fun!

      I can't have fried stuff or fake crab. I prefer raw sushi anyway. I love raw salmon and tuna.

      Thank you...the race was really great :)

  4. Thanks, Karen! It was a really good race, and I'm happy with it!