How hard are you willing to work to get where you are going? In the end, it really boils down to that. I wasn’t born to be an elite runner. I could never coast to victory. But I can, and will, outwork anyone to get to my finish line. Ask my high school cross country teammates… I’ll bust my ass day in and day out. I don’t care how much ‘better than me’ you happen to be. If you go easy, I’m gonna fly right by you. If you are willing to work too, then we’re both going places faster.
Todays Lake Minneola Half Marathon was both an exercise in that extra effort mentality, and a comical reminder that following blindly often doesn’t go well. A good race strategy always involves knowing the course. Taking the turns and tangents right, plus utilizing any hills and surface changes to your advantage can make the difference between a win or PR, and falling a bit short. I’ve been on both sides of that. Today I was on the wrong one… or should I say the long one.
With the main event (Boston) just eight days away, my strategy today was for a comfortable, steady run. Nothing elaborate. The forecast had been less than ideal, but we got a nice bonus of good weather. So I’d get to enjoy some really nice views of the lake. I’ll take that! I recognized some of the Central Florida regulars lined up at the front as being around my ability level and lined up with them. I certainly didn’t expect to win today, but keeping these guys in my sights would keep me right where I wanted to be.
The start for this course is just a bit further down the (paved) trail than the announcer and festivities, so when the national anthem started, it took a few lines before many of the racers realized what was going on and quieted down. After that, we were off. And my plans to run a comfortable pace went out the window. When the race announcer started off with a shout out to those headed to Boston and played Dropkick Murphy’s Shipping Up To Boston… I was pumped. So I decided to hang with the leads and see how I felt. I’d work a bit harder today than I intended, but I still had to be within reason. After all Boston was what mattered most. So I hung right behind for the first quick two mile loop, and got an extra boost when Sweet Caroline was cranking as we passed over the start line to begin the main loop around the lake. Boston gets me pumped. Boston is my strength. With that spark, I was actually right around PR pace for the first three miles.
After about 5K I pulled back a bit. My back flared up. It wasn’t worth risking next weekend to hold that pace, so I dropped back to the pace I had originally intended. Two miles later, there was now a significant gap between 1, 2 and me. A third runner floated by me. He looked strong, overall podium probably wasn’t happening today. I reigned in the urge to try and stay with him and instead just followed blindly. As he followed a sign pointing right away from the lake, I was just a couple dozen steps behind. As we took on a fairly challenging hill, I thought it a bit strange. I knew a bit about this course, and I didn’t recall this… but still I followed. We followed another sign, but the hill had slowed me, so now there was some distance between us plus another runner had caught me. Now on a straight away with the leads nowhere in sight…That made no sense, they shouldn’t be that far ahead. Our GPSs chimed, yet there was no mile marker. Sommer Sports always has their courses well marked…Ohh boy. As myself and the other runner are suddenly realizing we’ve gone quite a bit off course, a police car drives down the road announcing “Half Marathoners you’re going the wrong way!” We shout out ahead to our fearless wrong way leader, turn around and just like that placing well is no longer an option. Since at least a half dozen others had followed us, the top two were going to have a very commanding lead today!
Not to be deterred, I used that unplanned downhill and my frustration to pick the pace back up. As I retraced my steps, I looked closer at the signs. In my experience, Sommer Sports courses are well marked. They use double red arrows to point the way. Their logo is inside those arrows. The signs we followed were also entirely red, but just a single red arrow with a red logo underneath. The logo for a realtor. Apparently we were headed to an open house! Ha. After a nearly two mile detour I finally made it back to the lake. The red tape pointers that were present for all the other turns weren’t there. Why then hadn’t the police officer at the intersection corrected us? Well it turns out he knew the first guy to go off course (a local) and probably didn’t see his bib and thought he was doing his own workout as he often does in the area. I was right behind, so I was probably working out with him. Shortly thereafter, when the third guy followed us, he realized what was going on. He called out to the runner… who didn’t hear him because of his headphones. A few more followed as he radioed in what was going on. A true comedy of errors, and although the realtors signs were misleading, the fault was certainly our own. The course was marked, and properly mapped out. We just blindly followed somebody else signs. We got a bonus hill workout. Bravo!
Back on course, I held a solid pace most of the way. I had a slightly slower split as the course turned onto a paved trail, and the two leads (now miles ahead) flew by. It was a bit demoralizing, as I should have been right behind them. I wouldn’t let it stop me. Instead I accelerated back to my pace and continued my race. I got to 13.1 miles right about when I expected to (after adjusting for my back flare up around 5K). I slowed a tiny bit to laugh at the situation, then re-accelerated to a strong finish of my 14.75 mile ‘half marathon’. Since I’ll almost definitely never be racing 14.75 miles again, I even rang the PR bell!
I ran a bit more than I had bargained for today, so you better believe I enjoyed the pasta, rice and beans, chips, cookies and other post race chow. As the (tongue in cheek) winner of the Lake Minneola 14.75 miler: I earned that! Either way, I came out to have fun, and that was a success. I collected my bonus bling for doing both of the Sommer Sports halves this season and enjoyed the afterparty. I’ll be back at Waterfront Park, not to defend my 14.75 mile crown though.
So should I have cried because I didn’t get my third place overall? Nope, because I didn’t earn it. I went off course. I screwed up, and as a result someone else got there first. Had I been that other guy… honestly I would have reluctantly taken the award. In that scenario I wouldn’t feel like I earned it. By following blindly, today I definitely didn’t. Yup, I put in a little extra effort today. Yet I still finished top 20 overall and third in my age group. Despite the extra distance, I still kept my average pace right where I wanted it. I worked harder to get to that finish line, and it’s that extra effort that will continue to make me stronger. I don’t mind the extra work. Whatever is in front of me, I will grit through it. I will work harder. I will be stronger. Move my finish line? I’ll adjust, and still prevail. That’s how I roll… and run.