Sunday, January 31, 2016

ING Miami Half Marathon 2016 Race Recap

Hey everyone, it's time for my first race recap of 2016!  My goal is to do a bit less of these than last year, because I am aiming to do less races than last year.  I want to focus more on the goals I have ahead of me and where I can use races to help me get there - I will - however, I don't want to just do races and spend money on them for the sake of doing them.  So, I'm being selective :)

I originally signed up for the Miami Half Marathon because I wanted to be a part of my friend Brick's first half marathon weekend.  She has been so supportive to me since we have become friends, and I knew how big this was for her, so I wanted to be there.  Plus, I've never been to Miami.  Plus, it's a new state for me to race in.  Plus, when I travel with Brick I end up doing crazy things and have a blast - so it was pretty much a no brainer!

After making the decision to go, a number of additional friends from the Movers and Pacers running group ended up signing up for the race in Miami and it ended up being an pretty big crowd all heading down for the run!  And then, when I was in Miami for work, I found out that my friend Dani was in town and convinced her to run too.  So it was, of course, a party.  I'll talk about the rest of the Miami weekend in another post, but here I will recap the run.

On Saturday night, I actually stayed over at Dani's parents condo before going to the race.  I opted for that choice since it was a very gracious offer, got to spend more time with her, got to sleep in my own bed, and of course, because I had been the one to convince her to change her flights and run!  I was a little bummed to not travel to the race in the morning with my friends, but it just seemed like a better option.

We got up in the morning and jumped in an Uber to head to the start of the race.  We had barely gotten very far when our Uber came to a standstill with traffic just not moving.  Where we were staying was on the full marathon course and they already had all of the roads closed.  It was honestly, the craziest pre-race setup I have ever seen.  They barely had any roads open and it seemed a lot of people struggled to get to the start of the race!

We bobbled back and forth trying to decide whether or not we should stick it out with the Uber driver or try and find a different way to get to the race start (walk? run? train?)  In fact, we actually jumped out of the car to leave and then changed our minds and raced back to get into the Uber again.  And then jumped out another time.  Clearly, Dani has the same problem as myself with indecision.

Once we made up our mind to take the train to the start of the race, it was smooth sailing!

One of the most hysterical things that I have to share happened while we were on that train too.  First off, Dani seems to think everything in Miami is free (we had an incident earlier in the week with taking "free" snacks from the hotel...) so we didn't pay tickets.  But besides that, once we got on the train, it was PACKED back to back, no personal space, with runners.  Everyone was heading to the race start and was decked out in their running gear, with throw away clothes, trying to keep warm and shake out legs, and get ready for the 6:00 a.m. start of the race.

And then there was one drunk guy.  Eating a full pizza. And it was hysterical.

He was so funny about it and I could not stop laughing.  I just picture being in this guys shoes: drunk, coming home from the night before, just wanting to be shameful and eat a pizza in your drunken stupor.  And then the train keeps filling up with people going to run a marathon.  It was so funny.

We arrived immediately at 6:00 a.m. and heard the first wave of the race be sent off.  I still needed to use the race's bag check (which I very rarely do at a race), wanted to find my friends, and then get to my wave.  Dani and I hugged bye so she could get to her corral, I followed the stream of people who were running AWAY from the race start, who were all carrying bags.  I checked my bag and then ran back to the start and called Brick.

I had been texting with her and she was in traffic as well getting to the race but had made it and had jumped into her race corral.  The race wave starts were corralled and set up like a big U.  I ran through the middle, past my corral of E searching for corral I to try and find Brick.  When I got there, she came out and found me and it was such a relief to see her!!  Seeing Brick before the start of the race was a huge priority for me because I knew how much this meant to her.  Getting to the race and figuring out where we needed to be was so hectic.  I was literally sprinting through the street to get to the bag check and then back through the corrals trying to find Brick's corral.

When I finally found her and gave her a hug, we both started crying.  I could tell her nerves were high, as were mine, with the chaos of getting to the start, and heck, races are emotional.  I was so glad I was able to find her and wish her luck.  We cried and hugged and I wished her good luck and told her she was going to do awesome and I'd see her at the finish.  She sent me off to find my corral, just as they were announcing that Wave E was moving forward to the start.

It was another sprint to figure out how to get around the U and into my corral, and literally once I got into the corral, walked for just a minute or two, and then went through the start.  My watch operated totally fine, found signal and turned on and before I knew it, I was running the Miami Half Marathon!
The sprinting around proved to be a great warm up because I felt loose and had adrenaline pumping through me.  More than anything else, I was concerned I could start out too fast so I checked my pace at the first mile markers and I seemed to be averaging a pretty good 9:00 minute mile, which I was happy with.  I didn't really have a goal for the race but wanted to try and be under 2:00 hours.  Or be 2:00 hours -ish.

Literally right out of the shoot of the race, we took a right turn and head onto the onramp of the bridge that connected Downtown Miami with Miami Beach.  I cut off the bigger portion of the picture that shows the full marathon course to just highlight the half marathon route.  As you can tell, the majority of the race takes place on bridges!

Miami itself is flat, but running on those bridges proved to be challenging with both the inclines of the bridges and then the crazy breeze coming off the water.  The race was the chilliest race it had been for ages for the Miami Marathon and the breeze was no help!

I actually warmed up pretty quickly once we started running and around mile 2 I thought about taking off my long sleeved shirt.  However, then the breeze hit and I very quickly thought, "Nope!"  I'd bought a cute new tank top to wear for the race but ended up running in an old Gobble Wobble long sleeved shirt that I actually had no intention of racing in when I had packed.  However, it got the job done!

I kept checking in with my pace every mile.  I tried to take a picture as the sun came up.  I kept reminding myself to take in the view because this was my "Florida" state race and to soak up all the Florida-ness of it.

 We ran by cruise ships and with water on either side of us as the sun came up and it was really pretty.

They had water stops every mile or so and I did what I always do in races and start drinking early.  I drank water and gatorade all throughout the race, alternating at every stop.  The miles at the beginning of the race seemed to go by really slow.  I knew from looking at the course map that the race was sort of divided into three portions... the bridges going over, Miami Beach, then the bridges going back.  I willed myself through the first bridge portion and then tried to enjoy the scenery throughout Miami Beach.

I had run down Ocean Drive a little the day before and knew a little how to judge the distance there, so I was continually calculating it in my mind.  I felt like at around mile 5 I could feel my pace dropping and I was a little nervous that I had gone out way too fast.  At around mile 3 I had been passed by the 1:55 pace team and I thought to myself, "Oh shit, I went out way too fast!"

I told myself to drop back pace a bit if I needed, and also knew that Brick's cheering crew would be along the course somewhere around mile 7 or so I estimated based off of where they were staying.  Knowing I was going to see them was TRULY a huge motivator.  I got a little concerned at one point I would miss them and tried to remind myself that it was okay, but I really was looking forward to seeing them and when I did pass them, it gave me such energy.

They had signs, were cheering for me, and our friend Deanna (who I had met when we went to Arizona) ran beside me for a while and got me so hyped up.  It was the perfect thing I needed as I turned to head back over the "hills" of the bridges.

Miles 8-9 really, really sucked.  The wind was bad over the bridges and there was nothing shielding it.  I thought back to the research and plan I had put together for Chicago Marathon and tried to draft off people.  I would duck behind crowds or individuals as much as possible rather than try to run on my own.  When there was a line of trees or bushes, I tried to run in its path to cut the break of the wind some.  They felt like they went on forever and I referred back to the mantra I used for my very first half marathon to "Pace the race. Survive the hills.  You'll finish this thing."

It's funny how much has changed since the first time those words motivated me through a race.

At mile 9, I told myself to get to the top of the hill. And then I told myself to get to mile 10 and it would be just a 5K left.  I told myself to think of mile 9-11 as warm up for the last two miles of the race and to pick up the pace for those last two miles.

My music cut out at the last couple miles which threw me off a little because I was actually very much enjoying the music on this race.

When I saw the 20K mark, I thought to myself, "OMG how far is a kilometer!?!" and it was almost right at 13 miles that the marathoners and half marathoners split off.  I wondered if any full marathoners every just decided "F this" and then cut over and just did the half.

The end was a bit wind-y with a number of cuts and corners.  I almost tripped over someone but I was trying to charge to the finish.  Despite how hard it had felt in the past few miles, I had seen from my watch that I had done a few sub-9 minute miles and could tell from the clocks along the course that I was still averaging around a 9-minute mile.  I felt like I would be pretty close to 2:00 hours if not under it.  I wasn't thinking of PRing, I was just thinking of finishing and I avoided looking at my watch those last miles to see what my overall time was, but just checked my pace every now and then.  Then not at all the last 2 miles and just went hard.

There is nothing better than seeing the finish line arch during a race.  I love when that thing comes into my line of sight.

Finishing felt amazing. I stopped by watch right away and saw that I had finished in the 1:57s!! I was thrilled, but also trying to catch my breath.  My chest felt very dry and like I was going to wheeze or have a coughing fit.  You know that feeling when you breathe in and it just feels super raw and dry and raspy?  I knew I needed water, but otherwise I felt good.  I wanted to get a picture of the finish line, but my phone had locked out so I waited around for 2 minutes before continuing down the finishers shoot.  I should have just kept walking because the pictures were terrible haha

I got water, my medal (WHICH IS AMAZING), the snacks that they had (WHICH SUCKED), and then left.  The snacks were a struggle.  Legit, who wants a pile of green bananas?

The water was amazing though.  As was the fact that I had the foresight to check a bag with the bag check.  I did that because I knew that I was going to finish the race a bit of a ways ahead of my friends and that I would probably get cold standing around sweaty.  So I checked a bag with a sweatshirt, which was a blessing to be able to put on because I was quite chilly (and sweaty.)

After getting out of the finishers shoot, using the Porta Potty (which, let's just say was the WORST race porta potty experience I have ever had), and getting my bag from bag check, I made my way to the finish line to look for my friends to finish.  I tried to estimate based off of when I thought they'd have started (everyone was in different waves) and when they would finish.

I saw both Shawn and Brick cross the finish line (at different times) and the sights of them running through the finish with their arms in the air of their first half marathons... not gonna lie, I cried again.

While I was waiting for people to finish, I also looked up my time from the Publix Marathon last year, as well as looked up my official finish time for this race.  I realized that I actually got a personal best time in the race - by 4 seconds!  Not a massive PR, but on a race that I set out to just wing, I will take it for sure!!  The time also put me as 3118/14463 overall (top 78%) and 861/7457 women (top 88%) as well as 138/952 in my age group (top 86%)

After I saw Shawn and Brick finish, there started to be critical mass coming across from our group of friends so we picked a meeting point and all started to gather.  It was great to see everyone so happy from their accomplishments and we hung around for quite a while enjoying the post race festivities. First half marathons are such an amazing accomplishment and I was SO proud of my friends.

There were beers, rice and beans, and lots of music and dancing.  It was chilly, so I kept dancing to keep moving and also basked in the sunlight whenever I could.  My friends and I love our pictures, so we had quite the photo shoot as well.  Which I love, always :)

More people kept finishing so we kept having to take more pictures.

Eventually everyone made their way to the finish, including the two in our group who did the FULL marathon!  It was an exciting day for everyone and I loved that the weather was nice enough to stick around the race for a while and just hang out and enjoy.  Post race celebrations can be a blast.  I remember after the San Francisco Half Marathon, we had a ton of fun hanging on the grass and drinking beer and making friends.  That's what all races should be like!!  However, eventually we needed to make our way home so we waddled out of there, grabbed an Uber where we could (of course cheering for all the marathoners as they finished) and made our way back.  We snapped an impromptu picture as we crossed a bridge that ended up being a favorite of all of ours.

It was three of the people in the picture's first half marathon and I was so glad I was at this race for them, and for Brick, and to check the box for myself as my first race in 2016 and my first race in Florida!!

I highly recommend this race, if for nothing else but this medal.  I do think parts of the setup start and finish were a little confusing.  But the expo was fantastic, the course was pretty, and the post race festivities were good.  THEN THESE MEDALS.  Everyone's medal is colored in a different way and I asked when they were handing them out if I could choose which one I wanted, but they just handed me one.  Some people were trading at the end, but I couldn't trade mine. The medal I was given was the medal that I was given and despite the fact some of the other color combinations I liked better, I wouldn't have seen it as my medal.

The colors that I got don't even matter, it is just so beautiful.  It is made of a few circles that all rotate, there is a map of the US on the back with a little diamond over Miami, and the ribbon is just insanely pretty.  I am fully obsessed with this Miami Half Marathon medal and wish I could just wear it as a piece of jewelry/necklace.

Anyways, here is the data from my race.  I was really happy with the splits when I saw them and was surprised at how I did even when I felt like my pace was dropping.  And how consistent my pace was from mile to mile at some points. Another point of pride is that I was able to get down to 8:20 at mile 13 and run that as my fastest mile in the race! I am hoping to keep working hard and be able to bring my half marathon time down even more at some point in the future.  I was not expecting a PR at this race, so that was an awesome surprise!

And that's a wrap on Miami 2016 everybody!! 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Miami weekend recap - places to go, see and eat

Hey guys, thank you all so much for your kind words and comments and shares and links to the post I wrote earlier this week about Bruce.  It has been amazing to hear others share memories, see efforts come up to start memorial funds, and just spend some time thinking back to my high school swimming days.  To be honest, the post was one of those that makes me feel a bit nervous to hit "Publish" on and everyone's reactions meant a lot to me.  One of the reasons I keep writing here for year after year is because those times when my words resonate with someone out there, really mean a lot to me.  And it was apparent that some of what I wrote hit home with others.  I can't wait until next time I am home to dig through some pictures of the old swim days and I've also gotta say that I kicked my own butt in the pool this week thinking back on Bruce.  I also cried into my goggles a couple times, but let's not pay attention to that.

When we last left off, I had just finished up the work portion of my trip to Miami and was with friends.  Well, I am back in Atlanta now (and have been since Monday) but wanted to share a little about what I did while I was in Miami - some of the fun stuff!  Basically the first half of the week I was there I didn't really leave the hotel complex where we were having our meetings.

However, Thursday night we went and checked out Little Havana and went to a place called Ball and Chain that was - a blast!  They had great salsa music, an awesome outdoor area, and multiple bars.  If anyone is looking for a great location in Miami to go out for some salsa and fun times, I highly recommend Ball and Chain.

Friday morning I checked out from my work obligations and went and met up with Brick and her group of friends who had traveled to Miami for the weekend and to see her run the race!  One of the girls is Brick's friend from home who I had gone to Arizona with, and some Atlanta friends.  The weather was pretty crappy on Friday - cold and rainy - but we made our first stop of the day at the race expo, which was actually really amazing.

You all know my philosophy on race expos is to take as many pictures as possible.  ESPECIALLY if it is your first marathon.  So we explored the expo quite a bit and stopped for every photo opportunity we could find.

Oh yeah, and we did some of that stuff that we are supposed to actually do at the expo like pick up your bib numbers.

I was also tempted to do a bit of shopping because the RUNNING expo was actually filled with TRIATHLON booths.  There was so much gear, backs, biking equipment, tri kits, wet suits, etc. and it is all things that I wanted to look more at and explore, but being in Miami and having friends waiting on me and having to fly back home - I just wasn't in the right mood to check it all out.

Following the expo we took another rainy ride over to a restaurant we'd heard was known for Cuban food called Versailles for lunch.  I had a way too sweet margarita and a Cuban sandwich (which I de-Cubanized by asking for no mustard and no pickles.)  The food was okay, but not great.  It got the job done.  I don't know if it is a place I would rush back to if I were visiting Miami though - although it was packed, even at an odd lunch hour on a Friday, so it seems to be really popular!

Following lunch, I went to meet up with the group that I was sharing a place to stay with and connect with them for a bit.  We got some dinner and then met back up on Ocean Drive with Brick's group for a drink or two.  Walking Ocean Drive is an activity on its own - every place has giant drinks, is ushering you into restaurants like they do in major tourist places, and there is just visual stimulation everywhere.

We checked out Mango's - which has some great live entertainment, and then also got a drink at Wet Willie's before heading back to go to sleep.

By this point in time, even though it wasn't a super late night, I was exhausted.  We got up in the morning to join what was supposed to be a big group shake out run, but turned into a run on my own.  I did a 15 minute jog with some sprints mixed in to shake out and loosen up my legs after a lot of doing nothing throughout the week.

It was my only time on the beach while in Miami, as the temperatures didn't really allow for anything more than just walking the beach in running clothes.  At least it was sunny on Saturday unlike Friday when it rained all day!

Later in the afternoon we went out to Gator Park in the afternoon and I ended up having to buy a "Gator Park outfit" as I called it, because I was so chilly.  This was another activity I highly recommend, even though we didn't really see an gators in the wild while we were there (it was cold!)

For about $45 a person, we had a van pick us up and drop us off from where we were staying and drive us about 45 minutes outside of Miami to the Everglades to Gator Park.  We were able take an air boat ride throughout the swamps, which as I mentioned, was uneventful on the gator spotting front, but was very cool and a ton of fun.

Following that, we got to see an animal show and get to hold a little baby gator as well!  This little guy's name was Larry and it was very bizarre to hold an ACTUAL DINOSAUR.  Okay, at least that's what I felt like I was doing.

Following the gator expedition, there was some pizza for dinner and some relaxing.  It was getting down to crunch time before the marathon!

I met up with Dani, we grabbed a drink off of Lincoln Road in Miami Beach and then head back to go to bed before the race! Sunday morning was the main event half marathon, and I will write a full recap of that like I usually do - but I was super happy with how I did and how my friends did. Everyone killed it!!!

We celebrated post race by going to a restaurant called the Burger and Beer joint in Miami Beach that did have amazing burgers and beer - but terrible service.  Like, for real, TERRIBLE service.  We had to complain the manager.  The service at the restaurant was almost as bad as how the Patriots played in the playoff game that I made us all watch.  It was a disappointing evening on that front despite the delicious food and the fact that we met "Doctor Dribble" a guy who dribbles basketballs while he runs marathons.  Also, this place had the most amazing onion rings in existance.

Of course, the day of a race means automatic wearing of the race shirt and of the medals - which are the best medals I've ever received at a race, so I was more than happy to show off that bad boy!

Even as the night continued - to Sugar Factory (amazing name) on Ocean Drive for frozen ice drinks, we continued to rock those medals.

My Sunday evening was long and a bit hectic because my friends were hanging out in two separate groups and I wanted to be able to see and celebrate with everyone.  I ended up Ubering all over the city of Miami but it was great because I was able to have a lot of fun and get in a lot of quality celebrations with all the first time marathons.  And celebrate my PR!

My evening ended at a really cool outdoor bar in the Art Deco part of Miami called Brick House or Brick Yard or something like that.  Our crew were the main people on the dance floor and my friend Shawn and I had a lot of fun just being silly and dancing like nobody was watching. 

I've become a bit of an old lady in my years and couldn't keep up with the youngin's in the crowd so I called it a night earlier than the rest of the group and went home after this location, getting a good night's sleep before my flight in the morning back to Atlanta.

It was a great weekend in Miami and I am glad that I got to see so many different parts of the city.  I was really surprised at how diverse it is and how much Spanish really does rule the city.  Every employee at any restaurant, store, shop, etc. that I went to spoke Spanish, as did anyone that I encountered on the streets it seemed.  Half the race I think was Latino/Latina and that part of the culture is way more prevalant in Miami than I realized.  It was neat to see and I would love to explore more of the Miami cultural side.

As for the party side... I am good.  Everything was SO expensive and just a bit not my style.  It was very fake/Vegas-y and I am not super into that scene.  I loved exploring it for the weekend and always like being by the water, but I don't know that it would necessarily be a top destination for me to travel to again in the future.  I also joked that for some reason when I travel with Brick I always end up doing ridiculous things like riding horses, hot air balloons, or now holding alligators!

Despite it not being my favorite, I totally think that Miami is an absolute must see city in the U.S. though!!  There is nowhere like it that I have seen within the United States!