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Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Pete Half Marathon Recap

by Meghann on February 12, 2012

Four months ago I decided to do something crazy. I set two major race goals for the upcoming year:

  1. Run a 1:45 half marathon
  2. Run a 3:55 full marathon

The goals were crazy because I took almost all of 2011 off from speed training. My previous 1/2 marathon PR was in November 2009 with a 1:52:51 finish time and I hadn’t run anything near that since then. Could I really shave over 7 minutes off of my previous PR?

The truth is, I wasn’t 100% sure. There were moments during training that I began to question my abilities and I told myself I would be happy with any finish time – new PR or not. I even registered for a back-up race just in case this one didn’t work out.

Even though I had my doubts, I never let them fully take over. I stuck with my plan, stayed positive, and continued to train with my 1:45 goal at the front of my mind.

And you know what? All that hard work paid off.

Official finish time: 1:45:39

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With a little faith and a good training plan, anything is possible. Trust me. :)

This morning was crazy. I’m not sure I truly believe it was all real yet.

The morning started like any other race morning, with a 4:23am wake-up call, large cup of hot tea, and an english muffin with almond butter, blueberries, and walnuts for the road.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll races are no strangers to angering people before or after their races. Just check out any of their Facebook walls and you’ll know what I mean. This was my fourth Rock ‘n’ Roll race and I’m honestly not sure I’ll be doing another one for a long while. There was nothing wrong with the race itself (I thought everything ran very smoothly today), but what they did before race day was what worried me.

A couple of months ago they sent out an email giving all of the St. Pete racers a heads up that they would be charging for parking at the race start. Charging for parking isn’t that big of a deal. I mean, yes, I sorta agree that it should be covered in our $$ race fee, but it wouldn’t be the first race I’ve paid to park for and it wouldn’t be my last.

However, the part that irritated me was not only were they charging $15 per car to park near the start, BUT they were also charging $5 PER PERSON for the shuttle from the finish line back to the start line (where your $15 parked car is waiting). I’ve run several races over the years and I’ve run several races where shuttles were needed to get to and from the start or finish line (even an RNR race) and I’ve never heard of them charging to use the shuttle. That’s the part that irritated me.

Luckily my friend Callie and her husband Nate live in St. Pete and know the area like the back of their hands. Callie was kind enough to invite a few of us over before the race so that Nate could graciously drop us off at the start and pick us up at the finish. We owe him. Big time.

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Katie, Callie, and Lloyd ( Callie’s Dad!) were all running their first 1/2 marathon (and they all rocked it!) While Mary had volunteered to help pace me for my PR attempt. This was a big race for all of us. :)

Of course, after being spoiled with the warmest winter Florida has experienced in years, the temps decided to drop crazy low overnight. Not only were the temps holding strong in the mid-30s, but the wind gusts were reaching 15+ mph. Needless to say we were all a bit chilly when we were dropped off a full hour before the start time. Low temps + high wind = flashbacks to the Disney marathon. Yikes.

It only took 5 to 10 minutes of shivering in the open air before Callie’s Dad discovered barricaded shelter from the wind in a dumpster alcove.

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Yes, we all huddled for warmth next to a dumpster. And it was awesome. ;)

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At 30 minutes ’til start, I said good-bye to my jacket (my biggest mistake was not bringing a proper throw away layer to hold on to until the start- huge mistake!), pulled on a plastic trash bag (many thanks to Callie for that lifesaver), and did a mile warm-up jog around the start area with Mary.

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Mary is currently training for the Nashville full marathon in April and, since she wanted to treat today as a casual paced long run (Mary is SUPER speedy), she offered to pace me towards my 1:45 goal. I was already planning to run with the 1:45 pace group (I ran with a pace group for my full PR and knew they were effective), but knew a friend would work just as well (if not better!).

We did lay out one rule before the start – no talking. When I run with friends, I tend to talk and talk. I knew if I wanted to reach my goal, I had to save my energy and just run. Plain and simple.

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I can’t say enough amazing things about Mary. Without her, there’s no way I would have finished in the time I did. She pushed me when I needed it and backed off when I needed to stay in my own zone. If you need a great pacer – Mary is your girl! :)

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We started in the second corral, which was surprisingly empty and not full at all. In fact, the whole race felt kind of empty – I believe this was the lowest turn out for a Rock ‘n’ Roll race I’ve experienced yet (they’re known for crowded races).

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At exactly 7:30am, all the corrals moved forward and the first corral was released. At exactly 7:31am it was corral 2’s turn.

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Ready or not – here goes nothing!

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We were right at the front when corral 2 was released, so the first mile was nice and wide open. It didn’t take long for our legs to kick into gear and we happily cruised out at a 7:30-ish pace.

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My initial thoughts were ‘this feels great!’ then I thought about how many times I’ve uttered that exact phrase when going out too fast at previous races and how much I always ended up regretting it later. I was not going to let that happen this time. We scaled it back a bit and found a happier pace in the mid 7:40 range.

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The first couple of miles were kind of a blur. There was nothing special about the course, visually, but it was flat and fast. I tried not to look at my pace and instead just focused on Mary’s back. Mary ran a foot or two in front of me the entire race. Her bright yellow shirt was my rabbit and I wasn’t letting it out of my sight.

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I took this race one 5K at a time.

After the first 5k I saw 24:16 pop-up on my watch and I knew my dream of reaching a PR during this race just became possible. It was cold, there was a strong headwind, and my lungs weren’t fans of breathing in the icy air, but my legs felt great and Mary’s yellow shirt was still holding strong in front of me. I could do this – I could finish under 1:52.

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After the 10k mark, I looked down and saw something I wasn’t expecting. I saw a time that was faster than my previous 10k PR of 49:34.

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47:52? Did I really just run that? Did I just accidentally achieve a 10K PR in a middle of a half marathon? Whoa. Maybe that 1:45 isn’t just a pipe dream today. Heck, it could easily be a possibility.

It was that moment when I passed the 10k mark that something clicked with me. It was that moment that this race really became a race to me. If I could just keep this up for another 7 or so miles, than maybe – just maybe – I would reach 1:45. Game on.

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I would love to say there was this huge burst of energy where I took off and finished at goal without any problems, but that would be a lie – a big, big lie. It didn’t get any easier after the 10k mark. I think it got harder. But my determination grew stronger and keeping pace became my main focus. I needed to keep my head in the game, dig down deep, and just push myself.

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I kept a countdown in my head. Only 7 more miles to go… 6 more miles… 5 more miles…

The 1:45 pace group came up from behind us and passed us without much effort. I looked at my Garmin, watched them pass, and thought to myself that there was no way they were holding 8:00 min/miles – they were going way too fast! Thank goodness for Mary, I think I would have killed myself (and given up way sooner!) if I had tried to stay with them.

Just before mile 8 we turned onto the St. Pete pier.

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The sun was shining, the sky was a gorgeous crystal clear blue, and the view out to the ocean was picture perfect. Some people hate running the pier because it’s such a long out and back, but I didn’t mind it. The view was too beautiful to complain.

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However, the wind on the pier was awful. Actually the wind during the whole race was horrible. I wore a pair of pink arm warmers my sister gave me for Christmas and cheap Target gloves thinking I could pull the sleeves down or toss the gloves when I got warm, but that never happened. I saw Mary hand her gloves over to her family at one point and I thought she was crazy. My hands were content in the gloves, but I knew they would turn to ice as soon as I ditched them

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Mile 10 came right after the bridge and I couldn’t believe it when I saw a time that was faster than my previous 15k (a distance that is ,7 shorter) PR of 1:20:31.

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Holy crap! This is it! Just one more 5k and I’m done!

But, of course, it wasn’t that easy.

The last 3.1 stretch was horrible. It was a straight out and back that felt like the longest out and back of my life. I could see the bridge in the distance that we had to go over, I could see the hotel that we had to turn around at, I could see the turn-around loop that went on forever, and I could see the 1:45 pace flag bright and shiny in the distance. So close, yet so far!

I was ready to give up – my body was ready to give up – but Mary wouldn’t let me. After being quiet for almost the entire race, she turned around and told me to keep pushing myself – I was almost there. I tried to say something back, but I couldn’t – all I could do was grunt and nod.

Where was that finish line? I knew it was close. I refused to look at my watch, if I was far off from goal, I didn’t want to know it. I just wanted to be finished and be happy with that.

When the finish line did come into view Mary look at me and said ‘you have 3 minutes – 3 minutes to cross that finish line. You. Can. Do. This.’

I looked at my watch. She was right – the finish line was right there and I had 3 minutes until my watch hit 1:45. I had two choices: I could go at my current pace and be happy with a 1:47 or so finish OR I give it all I had and finish in 1:45.

I chose to give it all I had.

I push, I screamed, and kept my eye on the prize. 1:45 was mine.

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Boom! I DID IT!

As soon as I crossed the finish line, a huge surge of emotions went through me. I wanted to cry, give Mary a huge hug, and catch my breath all at the same time. That feeling of accomplishment was incredible.

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Looks like we ended up catching up with the 1:45 guy after all. ;)

After the shock wore off, the cold began to set in. We collected our mylar blankets, grabbed some food and made out way out the finish chute.

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Mary was my rock the entire race, there’s no way I could have done this without her. Mary – Thank you for never letting me give up and believing I could do this. You are amazing!

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Woo hoo!!!

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We found Mary’s family and made our way back to the finish line to see if we could spot any of our friends rocking their own finish. And, without even meaning to, we accidentally stumbled upon the Flo Rida concert going on at the main stage.

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I’m soooo not a music buff by any means. If you would have asked me yesterday to name a Flo Rida song, I would have struggled to come up with one. So when he started performing – and I recognized song after song – I even surprised myself.

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He basically performed my entire running playlist and it was awesome! Not only were the songs great, but he really knew how to pump the crowd up. It didn’t take us long to start waving our hands in the air and jumping around with the best of them

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At one point he began singing the ‘Apple bottom jeans’ song (which I had no idea was his) and suddenly stopped not even a quarter of the way through it. He claimed the song needed girls and asked the crowd if there were any girls who were willing to ‘drop it low’ on the stage. Without even thinking, I began jumping up and down, waving my hands in the air. He pointed to the groups of girls I was standing in and told us to come on up.

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And THAT is how I ended up on stage with Flo Rida

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And ‘dropped it low’ in front of a crowd of thousands

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So much fun! :)

Shorty after I got off the stage, we found the rest of our group.

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Katie, Lloyd, and Callie all finished their first 1/2 marathons with HUGE grins on their faces. (Check out Callie’s experience on her blog!)

There was no waiting around after that – it was cold and we had brunch reservations to get to!

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My favorite post-race breakfast: blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon and fresh fruit.

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Consider that plate devoured. :)

I think I’m still high on my runner’s high. Today was a good day for racing. :)

CONGRATS to all of the other racers this morning! Way to stick it out in the cold and wind – that deserves a special medal all on its own. ;)

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