Day two of Gasparilla was another memorable one! As is often the case in hot Florida races, the half marathon started well before the sun came up. I didn’t see Meb at the starting line, so I knew I was just going to go ‘easy’ today and enjoy the atmosphere. Perhaps thats a good thing, as my back was even worse than yesterday! After a solid first mile in the dark, I had to take a brief bathroom break. Getting started again afterwards was not fun. The pain was excruciating. I knew this wasn’t going to be a time I was proud of. The next five miles were rough, but when the 1:45 pace group caught up to me around halfway, I decided that was the perfect pace to hold. Even with the pain, I was pretty sure this was doable.
The second half of the race was on Bayshore again. Yes, it’s a beautiful place to run, but now on my third lap in just over 24 hours, it loses a bit of its appeal. It’s still a great run though… there’s actually a solid number of spectators cheering you on. Gasparilla is a very spectator friendly event. With all of the events going out and back down Bayshore, if you set up camp on the large grassy median, you are surrounded by runners to cheer for all day, both days! Turns out Meb opted not to run today… instead he was out there cheering for us. That was also pretty cool! So I trudged along with the 1:45 group. I’d like to get involved in pacing. I really do enjoy pushing my fellow runners to their best, even on days when I’m not at my best. This would be a perfect exercise to make sure that even on a ‘bad’ day, 1:45 was a reasonable group for me to run with. Yup, it hurt. But no, it didn’t stop me! With only a few miles left, the group caught up to one of the challenge runners. Clearly he wasn’t having his ideal day either. As I spoke with him about the challenge, he confided that he was seriously contemplating skipping on the last race. It took a little persuading, but in the end he decided to give it a go. Don’t worry about your speed I told him, just get to the finish! Well, at least at this point in the day he had nothing to worry about: as soon as the finish line was in sight, he had a much better kick than me. Three runs down…
Now came the worst part of the weekend. Sitting around doing nothing between the half and the 8K is guaranteed to cramp you up. I’ve never been able to get through this without some cramping. Perhaps I should just go and run another four miles in between next time just to keep myself busy. You know, because 30 miles for the weekend really isn’t enough already! I also would have loved to chow on the post race food, but with one more race left on my plate, that was just a tease too. As much as I love Gasparilla weekend, this is the one thing I wish could change. If only they had a two wave start on the 8K, with the first wave going a good 30 minutes before the second. Wishful thinking, and a lot of cramping!
Before I knew it though, that down time had passed. I was in pain and cramped. This was not going to be a fast race. I might as well play frogger again! So I started in the back, and slowly worked my way up. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. The back was manageable, and the cramps too! These were among my fastest miles of the weekend. Certainly nothing spectacular, but considering my difficulties all weekend, I was more than happy with it. Just past the three mile mark though, my plans changed: just in front of me two young boys went from a solid run to outright stopping. One of them was teasing his friend a bit about stopping, the other just didn’t want to run anymore. “Come on man, you got this!” I told him. “Run with me!” I slowed my pace significantly to let him draft behind me. I was his age once… you don’t have the mental part of running at your command when you are that young. From his responses, I knew he was fine. “Yes sir” he responded. From the simple fact that he responded, I knew he had plenty left in the tank. The only thing holding him back was himself. Now I could teach him an important lesson: that we are more capable than we often give ourselves credit for!
So we ran. I was in front, he was behind trudging along, grunting a bit because it hurt. But as I kept talking to him to distract him from the pain… “Yes sir.” “Yes sir” “Yes sir”. I knew he was fine. Had he responded with grunts and nods, then I would have been more concerned. Now his buddy (the one who had teased him about stopping), he called it quits himself and slowed to a walk. I tried to convince him to run with us, but he chose not to. So it was me and my new friend until the end. “We can slow as much as you want,” I told him “but we aren’t stopping!” I knew that as soon as he saw the finish line, I’d be left in the dust. Unsurprisingly, his pace picked up a bit right as the arch came into view. “Don’t let me hold you back! Great run!” I told him. While the pace had been anything but great for me, his success made it a great run! I crossed the line, collected my bling, and felt more accomplished than when I run a solid pace myself. Another memorable Gasparilla finish! Not literally carrying a girl across the finish line like the half a few years ago… but definitely a memorable run!
As I walked through the chute, I saw my new friend with his mom. “How’s he doing?” I asked. “I knew he had it in him!” She gave me a big hug and thank you. Turns out this had been his first ever long run without his father by his side. His father was in the military and as such couldn’t be there with him today. That certainly explained the young mans manners. It’s not often that you hear “Yes sir” these days! I suspect this race will be one that the both of us remember for years to come. Now it was finally time for the food and afterparty! Although I still had to position myself far from the stage and loud music, it was time to celebrate a successful race weekend with my friends from the 1K run club and elsewhere. This had been a great weekend: the running community had given so much to me, and I’d even had the opportunity to give back myself. I would sleep well tonight!