Last week, I somehow got coaxed into signing up for the Naples Half Marathon. This wasn’t planned but it seemed like a good race and a fun time with some new running friends. Naples is almost a 3 hour drive south of Tampa, so we drove down last night for the free pasta dinner and packet pickup. Naples is really pretty beach town where a lot of snowbirds stay for the winter. We ended up driving the run course, which is something I usually never do but it really helped during the race because I always knew what to expect and where turnarounds were throughout the course.
One topic that kept coming up last night was what to wear. The major dilemma with racing when the temperature drops here is how to dress, especially for a race. Florida doesn’t get cold often and even then the weather usually warms up within an hour or two. Tights or no tights? Arm warmers or a long-sleeved shirt? Layers or no layers? Don’t laugh but the all of this worry because it was a solid 45° at the start this morning. Personally, additional clothing is pretty restrictive so I warmed up with tights and a jacket but ditched them after warm up and then tossed my $1.50 gloves and beanie in a few miles into the race.
The race plan today was to get a good “tempo” run in before my upcoming marathon and help pace my friend to a sub 1:45 PR. Our goal was to not get caught up with the front pack (my legs don’t know the difference between a 7:00 min/mile and a 9:00 min/mile so this is always a possibility) and hold back right under a 7:50 min/mile pace for the first 2 miles and settle into 7:40’s.
The starter sounded and we were off running. This was my first race with a Garmin so I was excited to see how that would help me with pacing and thank goodness because my legs felt like we were going slow at a 7:30 min/mile. My friend and I already acknowledged there would be no talking besides to “slow down” or “speed up” throughout the race so when I got the signal from her that she liked the pace we just kept going.
The weather was truly perfect for running, not too cold, hot, or humid. The course was really flat, scenic and well-marked with cones, volunteers, mile markers and split clocks. The miles ticked by as we stayed right around 7:35 min/mile. Around mile 4, a girl in pink asked if she could join because she liked our pace and we just silently stayed together as we weaved through other runners and kept a steady pace. For nutrition
At mile 8, we had a lot of “wiggle” room as I like to call it in case our legs started to tire but we stayed strong with only two or three miles above 7:40’s. Every 3 miles, my friend and I would give each other a high five but other than that there was minimal communication. I can’t say I’d race every race with a friend but there is just something about matching somebody stride for stride. If she fell back a foot or two, I stayed on pace until she caught back up and vice versa.
The energy on the course was great. At 1,900 entries, there was enough space to spread out but you always had people nearby. There were some pretty nice cash prices that brought out a significant amount of elite runners and I’m always blown away to see how effortless they look at such a fast pace.
It wasn’t until mile 12, where I started to struggle mentally because I haven’t done hardly any speed work since November. To be perfectly honest, I was worried about hitting under 1:45 for the half. My weekly tempo run got cancelled until Daylight Savings changes back and speed work just isn’t fun to me without somebody else (excuses, excuses). Regardless, we pulled out a 7:30 min/mile for the last mile and I crossed right at 1:40:20 which is only a minute and half off my best time, so I was pretty happy. My friend had a fabulous finish with a surge of speed the last half mile putting her at a 5 minute PR with a 1:40:04 (so proud!). Our other friend had a great half marathon dropping almost 18 minutes from her first half a year ago.
We enjoyed the post race food of course and enjoyed the beach for a little while but decided the weather would be better after a shower and a change of clothes. After some really good pizza and soup at an Italian Bistro we walked along the downtown area in Naples enjoying the beautiful day and cute little shops. With about 10 different ice cream parlors in a one mile stretch it was hard to resist. I’m a sucker for gelato and couldn’t make up my mind with all the interesting flavors so I settled on the odd combination of Strawberry with Black Pepper and Dulce de Leche with Sea Salt. It hit the spot before the 3 hour drive back to Tampa.
All-in-all, I’m really thankful for my friend convincing me to spontaneously sign up for the race this weekend. It was a confidence booster and simply a fun time. This was such a good experience and a very well run race that I just might have to do it again next year. The price is right too ($35 before Dec 1st and $50 before Jan 8th).
So what’s the next thing my friend is trying to peer pressure me into? The Gasparilla Challenge in March. It starts off on Saturday with a 15K followed an hour later by a 5K and then on Sunday the half marathon followed by the 5K + 3K. Somehow, I feel my resolve weakening already…