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!

Friday, January 16, 2015


My favorite thing about flying is using the on-board WiFi.  Sure sometimes it's a bit spotty but really, I'm cruising along at 470 mph, 38,000 feet above sea level, watching episodes of Drunk History, Facebooking, and reading my Kindle.  I can't complain, even if the signal is a tad bit slow.  Which reminds me, if you've never seen it, check out this hilarious video of Louis CK's take on flying.  (NSFW! {Not suitable for work} [or for people that don't like swears]).

So I figured while I'm here on my magical air ride to sunny Florida, I'd give a quick ankle update.  First of all, thank you to everyone who expressed concern and followed up with me to see how the ankle was doing.  I will tell you this: Kids, don't do what I do.  I'm thinking that not going to the doctor was probably the wrong choice, although I seem to be doing okay now.  I had really been on the fence about seeing a doctor because it did seem like more than just an ankle sprain.

On Saturday, 8 days after the injury, I tried running.  I had been walking okay, and even though the ankle was still swollen and tender, I wanted to see if I even had a small chance of being able to race this weekend. I did a very slow walk/jog 1 mile.  While running it honestly wasn't that bad.  A little tender, and my ankle is definitely unstable, but not horrible.  After sitting for about an hour I went to stand up and it killed!  Ouch!  So, I waited a few more days, and then tried another run on Tuesday.  By this time the ankle was less swollen and tender.  I wrapped it up well, ran 2 slow miles on the treadmill, and immediately iced it after.  No problem!  Wednesday I did the the same, a little faster, and without ice.  It definitely seems to be getting better, although it's very unstable feeling and especially tender when I do any "pushing off" motion.  Looks like hills and trails are out of the question!

I know you're probably wondering why I don't just leave it alone, but for me, this is leaving it alone!  Just a couple of runs and a bit of cycling is all I have done in the last couple weeks, and I really wanted to see if I had any shot of running my 5 mile race this weekend.  Based on my last couple days I'd say I have a good shot.  I'll just take it easy, walk if I have to, and enjoy being in Florida!  My trip is much more than just running the Clearwater Distance Classic anyways.  Apparently we're going to be swimming with manatees and maybe going on a dolphin tour!

As much as I don't like trudging to the airport at 5am, the view is pretty awesome flying south, when you're sitting on the left side of the plane!

The only draw back is that the sun is reeeally hot and I feel like a bug under a microscope sitting next to the window.

Stay tuned for more updates from Florida, where I will do my best to take a selfie with a manatee!!

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015: End of my injury-free streak

Well, here's how my new year started.  I was planning on doing a 2014 recap blog post, either a "top 10" or a "best of" or something along those lines.  I had loose ideas in my head.  I planned to highlight my 365 days of being uninjured as my biggest accomplishment.  2014 had started off with the New Year's 5K, and my bib # 180 was my symbol of things to come.  I had high hopes for 2014, wishing for a complete "180" of my recent string of injury plagued years.  And it worked!  2014 was a really solid year for me.  Maybe my overall mileage wasn't too high, but I managed to squeeze in a marathon (you know, that one that ends in Boston!), a half iron triathlon, and lots of cross training and horseback riding.

I thought of these accomplishments this year on New Year's, when I went back and ran the same race about 40 seconds faster even though I was "taking it easy".  That's a testament of a good year of training!

I was also very inspired by friend and club member Cort, who did a 365 day run streak in 2014.  I wondered, could I do something like that?  Realistically probably not, because I'm a well documented commitment-phobe, not to mention lazy.  But, if I couldn't commit to 365 days, I wonder how long I could keep a streak going?  So on January 2, I went for a run.  I figured, what better time to start an informal streak than the beginning of the year.  I wouldn't tell anyone.  I wouldn't make a big thing about it and then be subject to pressure and nay-sayers.  I'd just silently see how far I could make the streak.

The answer was 2.  Or, 1.5 really.  I ran 1.5 times before my run streak ended on a trail 3/4 of a mile from home, with me screaming and thrashing about like a lunatic in the pine grove.  Proof:

I was pretty bummed out about this.  I have been haunting poor Julia for a good 4 months to run with me.  She finally was able to squeeze in an hour during my lunch break on a day I happened to be working from home, and we decided to go for a super easy trail run and just chit chat and catch up on life.  We were having such a great time, until this happened.  Later when I told my mother about what happened, she said, "poor Julia, she must have been so upset".  Ummm, I think I was probably a little more upset!  

After several minutes of me crying on the ground, Julia gingerly peeked at my ankle.  It was bad.  Immediately swollen and purple.  I was blacking out from the pain and was overcome with nausea, but finally I got to my feet.  We were thinking of ways I could get extracted from the trail, but eventually I was able to put some weight on my foot and declared I was able to walk home.  It was a slow, painful, chilly walk back but we tried to think positive.  I could bear weight on it, so it's not broken, right?

I spent the rest of the day with my foot elevated and iced, popped some serious Motrin, and tried to remain calm.  I was actually kind of proud of myself for being such a grown up about it and not declaring my life to be over.  I was really on the fence about going to the ER for x-rays, so I did my famous "let's just wait a day and see how it looks".  I was pretty certain it was just a bad ankle sprain, but I did have some concern about a hairline fracture.  In the middle of the night my foot swelled up much worse and I was unable to even walk to the bathroom, so that was pretty scary.  More elevation, more ice, more Motrin.  By the next morning it wasn't as bad so I figured I'm going in the right direction.  Again, I felt like such a grown up for not flipping out.  Julia called me, worried that I was actually underreacting to the injury.  I continued to be on the fence about going to the ER, but decided to prep myself by showering and I'd think it over while I was in there.  Well, thanks to a plumbing disaster my bathroom flooded with nothing you want to imagine, and I spent the afternoon cleaning up that nightmare.  So I figured, "let's just wait a day and see how it looks".

After a few days the swelling has gone down quite a bit, I have some lovely coloring in various places, and I'm walking quite well.  I have almost full range of motion, although it's still very tender to the touch.  Running has quite obviously been out of the question but I have been able to cycle pretty well with minimal pain.  The timing is a little bit of a nuisance because I had just booked a trip to Clearwater Florida for next weekend, to visit a friend and run the Clearwater Distance Classic 5 miler.  I'm trying not to stress out about it too much.  Obviously I very much want to be able to run the race, but it's not really life-altering if I miss it.  Either way I'll be in Florida, and what do they say?  A bad day in Florida beats a good day anywhere else, or something like that?

I haven't yet returned to the crash site to investigate, but honestly it was a very easy trail.  I must have let my guard down and just stepped on a root or something uneven that caused the ankle to roll so severely.  It's a historically weak ankle, so this is a clear sign that I need some serious ankle support once I get back out there.

So, my informal run streak officially ended at 2.  On a positive note, I've set the bar pretty darn low, even for my standards.  I guess I should just be happy it happened on day 2 and not day 363!