The Pensacola Marathon Part Trois
by Steve Lipe
PRA Board of Directors
January began with anticipation of things to come and another good season of races and walking. We were looking forward to my daughter giving birth to our second granddaughter and I was going to be with her in Ohio to help. I flew out in mid January and, as was the case a year earlier, was greeted with cold and snow. I stayed until the second week of March and during those weeks it was the coldest and most accumulated snow in the Ohio area in the last 30 years.
When I was out there I developed some lower back issues and also caught a stomach virus. I still managed to go for walks on days when I could navigate the sidewalks. I did do two 5k races while there despite the conditions. The first was a race, sponsored by The Ohio State Medical department, and it was for women with heart disease. The temperature at race time was a balmy 9 degrees. By the time it was over the temp had peaked to 11 degrees.
The second 5k was the Arnold 5k. This is a yearly event held in Columbus and it is over several days culminating with two back-to-back 5k's on Saturday. The first race is a regular 5k and the race following is called the pump and run. Participants in this race lift weights and do exercises prior to the race and then do the 5k event. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the starter for this race.
The morning of this race I left the house in the pre-dawn hours, giving myself plenty of time to get downtown. As I was driving it started to snow. When I arrived at the venue the snow in the parking lot was 2-3 inches deep. The snow continued and by race time there was 4-5 inches of snow on the ground. The temperature was 28 degrees by then and along with the snow, there was a mixture of sleet (that's frozen rain for you southerners). By the time the race started the wind had shifted and was blowing directly in our faces and the driving sleet felt like needles hitting our skin. This continued for the first third of the race. By the finish, the sleet had stopped, but the snow was coming down much faster. When the second race had finished, participants were caked in snow and frozen ice.
Fast forward to being back in Pensacola. I was still experiencing some stomach and lower back issues. I also had a weight loss of 20 lbs. Over the next few months the stomach issues were resolved and after a series of injections, my back problems were fixed. I had continued to walk as best I could but the thought of doing another long distance event was the farthest thing from my mind.
The one positive in the community of runners and walkers is the enthusiasm they all share in the sport. Being around these people just makes you feel good about getting involved in whatever way you can. In my brief association with this group I have found that it's just not about doing an event, in total, it's everything leading up to, and including the race. I get much satisfaction with volunteering to help in any way I can. This also affords you the opportunity to get closer to the people involved and realize what it actually takes to put on an event. I take nothing for granted anymore when it comes to the dedication of the race directors and their volunteers. These people work tirelessly and deserve much more credit than they receive.
The first nine months of 2014 had basically gone by in a blur. Before I knew it the Pensacola Marathon was a mere six weeks away. I had to make a decision. Friends and family made that choice very easy for me and I started my training regime. I basically had to compress a 12-14 week training program into 6 weeks. I had still maintained the weight loss so I felt good about that and I did well with nutrition and hydration. Again, I agonized over what shoes and socks I would wear and if I would approach the race any differently than the previous two years. Six weeks went by in a blink and it was time.
The morning of the race was ideal weather. Again, I arrived an hour before the sun was up and did my usual nervous pacing, going over everything in my head, incessantly checking my pockets to make sure I had everything I needed, tying and re-tying my shoes so they were snug but not too tight, going to the porta potty at least 4 times and wondering if I would need to stop anywhere along the route. (I'm sure no one else goes thru this).
I started towards the back of the pack. I tried to stay as much as I could on the inside track in order to cut down on distance because over any race, a few extra steps can make a big difference. After going under the graffiti bridge, the 17th Avenue hill went better than ever and after turning onto Cervantes it was downhill to the first water station. After a gel tab and two cups of water I was streaking right along (well, streaking, as defined by walking pretty darn fast), and soon making the curve onto Scenic Highway. This is a good stretch and I kept to the middle of the road as best I could. There are areas where it slopes and this is hard on my ankles.
The second water station came up quicker than I thought and I knew it wasn't too much farther to a left turn onto Summit. I had purposely not weighted down my pockets with too much food stuff because I knew my wife, Heidi, was volunteering at the PRA water station and she had my second stage supplies. I went thru that station without changing my gait (horse term), and she handed me my supplies and additional hydration and I was revived once again.
This was close to the mid point of the race and I still felt strong. I knew the next oasis was manned by the Capt'n Fun Runners. They have all kinds of fun munchies and refreshments. I doubled down on gels and water and got ready for "The Hill". People always talk about this obstacle and I think they psyche themselves out when they approach it. It's a hill, there are others more daunting. I stood up as straight as I could, pumped my arms, and took short rapid steps...nailed it. A quick cup of water and I was gliding down 12th Ave, beneath the arching Oaks(I'm waxing poetic a bit), and then I was turning onto Texar. More gels and water and I was focused on the overpass on Texar. For the past three years there has been a group of high schoolers at the approach of the bridge playing drums, cheerleading and giving high fives to everyone. They are a great and tireless group of young adults.
Took the turn onto Palafox and knew I had just passed the 10 mile mark. As in the past, at this point, I started to become aware of an issue with my feet, particularly my right forefoot. It was burning and I knew it wasn't going to go away. I started to lose focus. I was feeling hungry, I wasn't aware of my pace/rhythm, I was now sweating more profusely...blood sugar was dropping. Being a Type 2 diabetic I knew I had to do something. I had a handful of peanut butter filled pretzels and gummy fish. All in the mouth at once and by the time I reached the next water station and downed three cups of water I was refreshed anew.
When I crossed Cervantes and started down Palafox I realized I was favoring my right foot and was doing a limp-like walk. This was slowing my pace, but when I crossed Garden Street I had adjusted and was back to my normal rhythm. Making the last left turn I know it was literally a matter of a few minutes before the finish. I had no idea what my time was, but I was hoping for something even close to my previous two half marathons.
There is something about seeing a finish line that always gives me a little extra burst of speed. Not sure where it comes from, but I always feel like I can just keep on going. In the chute I can hear people clapping and cheering and the announcer is talking, but nothing is really discernable.
I crossed the finish and then walked around for 20-30 minutes before I started to cool down, all the while hydrating and eating what I can. I got a quick massage and then checked the posted results. It was not quite as good as the previous year, but I still managed to do it under three hours. That has been my goal for all three of these races and I have been able to accomplish it each time.
Just out of curiosity I checked the prize table but was told I had not placed. I had not been aware the walking categories had been changed from the previous years. My satisfaction was finishing in approximately the prescribed time as I had in the past. I was basically racing against myself.
I had completed the series of three half marathon events and it was a feat I would have never thought possible for me. It was a personal triumph. As I said after every other race, I will never do another. Never say never, but I would have to be both physically and mentally prepared. Just remember..."never look back, you have already been there".