It’s been a while since I recapped a race- the last few races I’ve done I haven’t done a recap for. I’m not sure why I stopped doing them…maybe I just wasn’t as invested in them as I was in the past? Iron Girl was a pretty last minute decision for me; I really wanted to get back into the racing scene and I decided to do this race again because it was my first half back in 2015, and the half that had me questioning whether or not I wanted to do another half! I also just recently joined the Half Fanatics (#16054!) and wanted to see if I could get to the next level. I’m currently at the Neptune level (3 half marathons in 90 days) and in order to move up another moon level I have to do 8-11 half marathons in a year. This half was half #4 for me this year! Linking up with Tricia and Holly for the Weekly Wrap!
Iron Girl is a challenging course for Floridians. It’s run in one of the most beautiful places in the bay area in my opinion, but you have to basically do four bridges (two bridges twice) and that makes it super challenging. I love running in Clearwater Beach area so I decided to brave the challenge again this year.
I woke up around 4:45 in the morning and got ready. My friend that I was staying with, Krystal, was doing the 5k with her sister so I didn’t want to bother them that early in the morning. I left the house around 5:45, went to get some coffee at Dunkin Donuts and drove over to the race. Krystal lives about ten minutes from the race site so it was super convenient to get there. I parked in one of the parking garages and walked over to the park where the start of the race was. After hitting the bathrooms in the start line, I made my way to the festival area. It was pretty chilly for an April morning, but I met a nice lady in line for the port-o-potties and she offered to let me leave my hoodie at their tent so I didn’t have to bag check it. It seemed like no time at all before I was lining up in the start corrals. I found one of my employees, Javier, pacing the 2:00 finish, so I went to give him a hug and wish him good luck. He told me I should stick with them to which I replied, “Ha! I’m not that fast yet!”
I went back and lined up with the 2:30 pacer, which is a solid pace for me in a half. My plan was to stick with the 1:15/30 intervals I had set on my watch and keep the pacer in sight. Then I was off again on my 4th half marathon course of the year- why was I doing this again?
The first few miles went by pretty fast. Mile 1 is always run up the Memorial Causeway, but that isn’t the worst bridge. Like I planned, I kept the 2:30 pacer in sight, using my planned intervals and running ahead when I was on a run interval and falling slightly behind when I was on a walk interval. We reached mile 3 on the beach and the sun was starting to rise as we came around the island approaching the Sand Key bridge. Sand Key is the steeper of the two bridges- I usually end up walking up it. I did manage to maintain my intervals going up the bridge into the fourth mile. The pacer got ahead of me a bit when I stopped to take a picture on the ascent; it was just too pretty not to.
They changed the course a bit from the last time I ran this race. In 2015, the course ran into Sand Key park and around the parking lot before coming back out onto the roadways. However, this year it was a straight out and back course along the main roads. We hit the turn around close to mile 7 and I was feeling strong. My intervals and planned pacing were going great, despite the sun having risen and there not being much shade on course. I ended up passing the pacer; even though I was trying to keep even miles, I was feeling really good and let myself get a little ahead of her at one point. Going into the Sand Key bridge coming back, I was starting to fade a little, but still a good distance ahead of the pacer. The sun was getting to me at that point.
I tried to maintain my intervals going back up the bridge but it was really hard and hot outside. I decided to walk the steepest incline of the bridge; the pacer still didn’t catch up with me while I was doing this and I resumed intervals on the descent this second time over the bridge. It was harder to pace myself going back down the island because of the heat and lack of shade. If there’s one thing to criticize about this course it’s the fact that there isn’t any shade along the route at all. At least when we made use of the Sand Key park there were some trees along the route. I kept trying to maintain my planned pacing but I knew I was slowing down during the run intervals. There were a few women ahead of me that were running a relatively steady pace so I kept them in my sights. The 2:30 pacer had a speaker attached to her belt and was playing pretty loud music so I was able to know when she was approaching me from behind and I tried to stay just ahead of her.
She did end up passing me around mile 10, but I still tried to keep her in sight. As we rounded the corner to go back to the Memorial Causeway and up the final part of the course, I was significantly slowing down and having trouble maintaining my pace. One thing I wanted to make sure of was that I didn’t take too many additional walk breaks; I already had done that on the bridge on the way up the second time and I didn’t want to do it again. At least I kept a slower running pace around this time. There is a mini bridge for walkers and cyclists leading up to the Memorial Causeway, and I was struggling to get up that bridge. The pacer seemed to be walking more at this point- I wasn’t sure if that was because she thought she was slightly ahead of pace or because she too was struggling to keep pace in the heat.
When we hit the Memorial Causeway, I tried to maintain a steadier pace and catch back up with the pacer. She was still a good distance ahead of me it seemed, but she had lost the majority of her group who had run ahead to the finish. Memorial Causeway is between mile 12 and 13 so it’s the final leg of the race. I passed the pacer (who was now walking and taking a call on her cell phone) when we came down the circular walkway off the side of Memorial Causeway. I decided at this point to just abandon the intervals and try to run the rest of the way in. I kept a steadier pace around 11:00/mile for this and focused on the fact that the finish line was right up ahead. I knew this route, so mentally i knew I was almost done.
As I approached the finish line I heard someone cheering my name; it turns out Krystal and her sister Erika waited for me to finish and were cheering me in! I was grateful that they stayed to hang out- they must have finished the 5k an hour prior but stayed to cheer me in. As soon as I passed the finish line i saw Javier at the finish and went to say hi. He came in just under 2:00 as he was supposed to which is awesome! I came in at 2:29:09- I was actually pretty well ahead of the 2:30 pacer, whom I’m pretty sure came in around 2:32. I have no idea what happened, but I was pretty surprised that she didn’t maintain pacing to the end! I had a course PR though- it wasn’t an overall PR but I did better by almost 10 minutes than I did the first time I ran this course. It was a testament to me of how strong a runner I’ve become since I attempted my first half, and I’m pretty happy with how far I’ve come.
I stayed to chat with Javier a bit and then went over to grab some food. On the first go round I took a bagel and some muffins plus some of the ravioli that Carrabba’s, one of the title sponsors, brought. My stomach didn’t really feel like anything else, but I was hungrier than I thought and on the second round for food I did end up trying the Bang Bang shrimp that Bonefish, another title sponsor, had. It was actually pretty good!
Iron Girl was a pretty good last minute half marathon. I stayed in a comfortable pace range for me the majority of the race and I felt stronger than I did previously running this course. I was practicing the pacing I hope to be able to hold for the full marathon I do later in the year, so I was trying to maintain a slower pace than if I had been ‘racing’ the half.
Even though this was an impromptu half, I’m really glad I did it. I did a few new things in the race (I know, nothing new on race day, but I don’t listen to my own advice), which included trying a new pair of shoes, the Hoka Bondi 5’s. The shoes did feel pretty good- they are light and very cushiony, but I’m not sure I could use them in the full marathon. I would definitely have to practice more long runs with them because the difference in the drop from heel to toe caused my calves to be super tight after, which is how I originally ended up with Achilles issues. I was really good about stretching right after so I didn’t have to worry about that this time, but I definitely need to practice in these shoes.
Have you ever signed up for a race last minute? Do you use races to practice pacing for longer races? Are you a Half Fanatic?