Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Race Recap: A1A Marathon

Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon!

Round about 6 months back, someone reached out to me on Twitter about a “Running Cruise”. Big group, meeting in Fort Lauderdale, run the A1A Marathon, and then get on the Regal Princess, cruise the islands, with shorter 5 and 10k runs at the island stops.

What could be better then that? Already planning on the San Luis Obisbo Marathon in April, I figured, what the f*ck. I’ll be training, I’ll ramp up sooner, and this should be a total blast.

Left work a few days early and headed to Lauderdale.  Good chance to see my father and not be arriving last minute for the race. No way I’ll ever want to sleep on that single bed in my dad’s guest room again, but that’s another story.

Having lived in Broward near Lauderdale for 10 years, it was with no small sense of déjà vu that I headed over to the hotel. Broward Blvd and the Broward Center, Las Olas, A1A, the beach and hotels, all were places that I’d spent quite a bit of time, but hadn’t really been too in a decade.

The hotels haven’t changed. Still over priced and under serviced. Still poorly maintained and barely adequate. If you want a great vacation experience with healthy food and wonderful service, Fort Lauderdale Beach is not the place to look. But I just wanted a room near the finish line so I could collapse and shower after the run. Baia Mar checked that box. Found the room, found some food (a poor excuse for fish tacos) and got my gear laid out and got some sleep Saturday night.

Sunday morning came right away, and like all race days, you’re up an hour before the alarm goes off at 4am. As the finish line was being set out front of the hotel, we all waited in line for the shuttle bus to the start line over on the other side of the intracoastal. I got their early enough that I only had to wait for one batch of busses. Others who were just a little later on told of really really long lines, and arriving at the start right at the gun.

Got to the start line and searched out the 4:45 pace group. Figured that was my best bet, and it was lead by an amazing lady named Maria. The A1A Marathon was her 300th, and between her stories and the bunny ears, I kinda thought it could be a great distraction for the later stages in the race. One note. Don’t count on getting to a porta potty at the A1A. There were all of like 20 of them for 5000 people at the start line.

So the gun went off right on time at 6, and our little 4:45 group crossed the start about 5 minutes after the gun. Heading east, we crossed back over the intracoastal just as the sun was rising and turned north up A1A along the beach. Maria and the group were everything I’d hoped, and the first few miles flew by almost unnoticed.

The only real challenge with the A1A marathon is the combo start for the full and half. The first 6 or 8 miles are pretty congested, and even at my slow pace I had to dodge traffic quite a bit in the beginning. As a result, maybe 6 miles in I saw a crease in the traffic and pulled a little ahead of my 4:45 pace group to get into clean air. The quicker pace felt pretty good, and I planned on keeping it up a mile or two and then drifting back to the group.

Well, that didn’t happen. Maybe the extra training I had done, maybe the flat course, maybe just the cool temps and the familiar landscape, I just kept on moving. By mile 8 I’d lost site of the 4:45 group behind me and was ticking off miles more in the 10:20 to 10:30 range. The Half Marathoners split off right around there and those of us in the full had the road to ourselves.

Splitting away from the beach, we tracked our way up through the familiar streets and neigborhoods. Past Oakalnd Park Blvd and Commercial, past the bars and restaurants, the retirees and vacationers. By the 13.1 point, I was pacing closer to 10:00/mile. Having only half way to go, I experimented with the pace a bit and picked it up towards 9:45 splits. This took me most of the way to the tour of the neighborhoods of North Lauderdale as we looped around and headed back south down the beach, less then 10 miles to go.

One of the really nice things about the A1A are the volunteers. Every hydration station and aid station was well staffed. Everyone was smiling, every one had a choice of water or Gatorade, quite a few had Cliff shots or a treat. For me the Gatorade went in and the water went over my head. It was not so cool anymore by 8:30 or 9AM.

The next 4 or 5 miles went really quickly, the wide flat track we were on didn’t give much resistance and as I passed 3 hours, I had a really good feeling I could kill my best time. My splits were drifting down into the 9:30 range, pretty much unheard of in my world!

The last 10K along the beach was hot.  Out of the shade, with the Atlantic Ocean on our left, and the hotels rising again on our right. It’s a great feeling when you’re that late in the race, still feeling pretty strong, keeping your splits consistent and knowing you’ve got a great shot at a PR.

The last mile or two the crowd grew, and the other finishers were gathering to rest, re count and cheer on the remaining runners. I got to the finish in one piece, looked at the clock, and was almost shocked. Pretty close to negative splits through the race, at least until mile 20, and then I gave a little back. Still 4:25 is 19 minutes of my previous best, and not something I would have expected to run!

Boring Details:

Official Time: 4:25:23
Official Pace: 10:08
Official Place: 409
Age Group: 32/52