Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Clearwater Distance Classic Race Report

Digging out of this monstrous blizzard seems like a good time to reflect on my time spent in Florida last weekend!  Warning, this is going to be a picture-heavy post.  Of pictures of warm, sunny Florida.  Brace yourselves!

Last weekend I went to the Tampa area to go visit Jaimee.  We used to run together at lunch when she worked at Putnam, until she moved a couple years ago.  We decided to book my long weekend around a race, and set our sights on the Clearwater Distance Classic, but little did I know I'd go and sprain my ankle right before the trip!  I got there Friday afternoon, and after a quick stop at her house, she and her boyfriend James took me out sightseeing.  James is Welsh and works for the UK military, so I will hereby refer to him as James Bond.  They live in Tarpon Springs, a Greek fishing village.  We drove through there and then down to Clearwater, where we did some shopping, eating, and walking on the beach.

Meal #1: Grouper topped with crab meat, asparagus, and hollandaise sauce

Do these colors look unusually vibrant to you?  I thought so.  In fact, they probably thought I was high because I kept saying, "the sky is so blue!" and "everything is so bright!".

Saturday, Jaimee and I went for a short 2 mile run so that I could test my ankle (and running in the warmer weather).  It held up pretty well, so I decided running Sunday was a go.  I knew I wouldn't be racing because my ankle was still pretty swollen and tender, but just taking my time on a leisurely run.  After our run, we went up to Crystal River to go swimming with manatees with a tour group called Birds Underwater.  They have several tours daily and what we should have done was head out early on the 6am tour, but after a long day of traveling, I knew I wasn't going to be waking up too early Saturday morning.  When we got to Crystal River we really started regretting that decision though, because of all days, it just happened to be a Manatee Festival going on!  There were thousands of people all over the place, with tons of extra people and boats on the water.  Definitely not ideal conditions for seeing manatees, but despite all the extra traffic we did end up swimming with a bunch of them.  We had a really cool tour guide who found some hidden gems for us.  I was really hoping to interact with the manatees but most of them were sleeping so all we could do was watch them from a respectable distance.  It was a great experience though!

On our way back from Crystal River we stopped at a farm stand.  That might be my favorite thing about Florida... all the fresh fruit and farm stands!  Then we took a detour through Hudson, Florida, so that I could tell Mom I went to Hudson.  Reason being, that's where her horse Hudson came from.  We tried to find horse farms but all we could manage to find were golf courses.  After a long day of driving and swimming, we cleaned up and headed to Tarpon Springs for dinner.  Where, of all things, there was a craft festival going on.  We really seemed to have a knack for turning up at places at the most hectic times.  After about an hour we got into Hella's for dinner, which is a delicious Greek restaurant.  My pre-race dinner consisted of pita bread, hummus, and stuffed grape leaves.  I had no idea how this would turn out the next day, but didn't really care at the time!

Sunday morning we got up super early to head to Clearwater for the race.  It was still dark when we got there.  In fact, sunrise wasn't until about 7:20am, 15 minutes after the race started!  I had a mild heart attack when I saw the bridge we had to run over:

Although it wasn't very warm for Florida's standards (about 60 degrees at the start), that's tropical for me so I opted for a tee-shirt and shorts.  I was amazed at how many people were bundled up!  This is a unique race that offers many different distance options, everything from the 5K to the ultra marathon.  I'm glad we only signed up for the 5 miler, because anything over that I would've had to cancel.  James (Bond) was supposed to run the race with us but ended up being up all night with a sick dog, so he stayed back.

Pre-race photo
 With the exception of the 5k, all other distances started at the same time.  This was interesting because you really couldn't gauge your pace by those around you since they might have been running longer.  I started closer to the back than I should have, and got stuck in some seriously thick crowds at the beginning.  I worked my way around a lot of them, and by the time I got to the bridge I had room to breathe.  I brought my phone with me so that I would be forced to stop and take pictures and not worry about my slow pace.
Going up the bridge

Entering Clearwater Beach.
 We ran past the Clearwater Aquarium, which is apparently home to the dolphin with the prosthetic tale from the movie Dolphin Tale.

After going over the causeway, we went a short ways down a road before doing a U-turn and heading back.  By this time I was dripping sweat and really wishing for water stop.  My only complaint of the race is that the water stop didn't show up until mile 3.5.  On the return trip over the causeway we were treated to this gorgeous sunrise:

Just after taking this picture of the sunrise, we had to go back up and over the bridge, we seemed much bigger on the way back.  I kept telling myself it was okay if I wanted to walk, but my pride made me keep going forward.  In fact, I chanted this all the way up the hill:

In front of
The other
(left, right, left, right)
In front of
The other

My favorite part of the race had to be on the way back, we were running on a pedestrian walk way rather than the highway, and to get back down off the bridge onto ground level, we had to run down a tight spiral ramp, for at least two full rotations, maybe more.  It was really fun!  I wanted to take a picture of it but the tightness of the turns made visibility very limited and I didn't want to get nailed by a runner.  Back down to sea level, I ran straight into the finish where the announcer said my name and exclaimed, "all the way from Massachusetts!".

I was impressed that a 5 mile race handed out finisher medals, and even more impressed at the post-race feast!  There were tons of food, breakfast type snacks, coconut water, soda, and beer!  I don't ever hardly ever very often always drink beer for breakfast at 8am, but if I do, I make it a balanced breakfast with coconut water.

The post-race vibe was great.  An announcer kept the crowd excited, along with music, food, spectators, and vendors.  A stage was set up for a band but we didn't stick around long enough to hear it.  We left before awards, which stinks because Jaimee took 3rd in our age group!  I know I said I only had one complaint about this race but actually I have another.  This race awarded by gun time rather than chip time, which was unusual and strange to me especially with the mass start for all distances.  It didn't really impact me all that much because I had no intention of racing for an age group award, but it put Jaimee at a big disadvantage.  We started so far in the back that it took exactly two minutes to cross the start line.  If we had started closer to the front, Jaimee would have been in at least 2nd place.

After the race we headed back home and sobered up a bit with coffee in the hot tub.

Then James Bond took us out on his boat!  It wasn't great boat weather, 60's and cloudy, but who cares.  I'm on a boat in January in the Gulf of Mexico.  I win.

James keeps his boat in a marina, and I've never seen anything like it.  This brings valet service to a whole new level.

We had the cooler packed, the dog packed, and a few extra layers for the chilly ride.

 Boating is one of Warren's favorite things.

I know it looks like we were in Alaska, but it really wasn't cold once we stopped!  The sun even finally peeked out and it was comfortable.  Plus the beer helped.

James Bond and his partner Warren headed to the nearby island for a super secret mission.

Warren got the towel.

Action shot of me steering the boat near Honeymoon Island.  As you can see by the lack of wake, I wasn't actually steering it anywhere.

After boating we went to a local bar to watch the NFC Championship game.  Then headed home and watched the Patriots slaughter the Colts!

Monday was a perfect Florida day and we spent my last day, and all of my money, at Busch Gardens.  Sticker shock was an understatement.  $100 to walk in, $8 beers, and let's not even talk about how much it costs to feed the animals there.  Still, a fun time and great last day of my vacation.  And sticking to the theme of going places on the busiest possible day, we ended up at Busch Gardens on Martin Luther King Day, where schools were out and every teenager in Florida was at Busch Gardens.  Here's just a whole bunch of animal pictures:

$7 for that tiny cup of nectar!

We spent my last night in Florida in Palm Harbor, for a nice seafood meal and a little pub crawling.  Great end to a long weekend, and I can't wait to go back!

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