I'm just going to put this right here so folks that don't know Nascar understand where I got the title from.
Now that I've cleared that up, can I just say THAT I'M SO DARN EXCITED I FINALLY GET TO WRITE A RACE RECAP!
Just a little. Ha.
I had read about this race a few years ago and told G that if we were ever planning on going to Daytona, I wanted to do this race. Coincidentally it was happening the week after we got to Florida. So, once I was cleared to start building my mileage, I kept this race in the back of my mind. I figured if I could manage to run 20-22km comfortably, then I'd be good to go. I took my runs to the hills to work on my leg strength instead of doing speed work. I managed 20 and 22km with no problems. The 22km run was actually one of the better runs I've had in a while! Once that was in the bag, I figured I was good to go. I signed up for the race and we booked our hotel.
We headed into Daytona mid afternoon on the Saturday. Daytona is 90 minutes from Clermont so it made sense for us to go out the day before and stay the night since the race started at 7:30 am. We got to Daytona, went straight to the race track so I could pick up my race kit and then we went to the hotel. It was insanely windy. I really hoped the wind would die down by the morning because if it didn't I knew I'd be going into a 21.1km suckfest.
I picked up my t-shirt and bib and we walked around the mini expo and into the track area. There were people doing the Richard Petty experience where you get to drive one of the cars around the track. I freaked out just looking at that banking. Then the cars whizzed by and I said to G if I was in one of those, I think I'd be screaming the entire way around the track. I wouldn't have to worry about anyone hearing me either because the engine is so bloody loud.
We watched this for a bit and then G wanted to wander inside to the box office so we could get tickets for The Clash which is happening on February 18th. One more touristy thing we're going to do! YAY!
We headed to the hotel, checked in and then went for a drive to find some food. We ended up a Ruby Tuesdays. I was pleasantly surprised with the huge salad bar. I had some grilled salmon, some veggies and a massive plate of salad. That's usually my pre race dinner. I forgo the starchy carbs because I don't feel I need them for a half, and they usually mean multiple trips to the bathroom on race morning. #runnerproblems
I slept fairly well and woke up before my alarm. I checked the weather. It was 13 degrees and overcast, and there was very little wind. PERFECT. We drove over to the race track nice and early so we had time for a coffee. We stopped at a Starbucks that shockingly opened at 5:30 am on a SUNDAY! I don't think there's a single Starbucks in the city of Toronto that opens that early!
Coffee in hand, we drove into the Speedway, parked and made our way over to the start. We got to walk onto the race track so of course there was the obligatory pic at the checkered line.
That was pretty cool. I did a very short warm up and some drills, kissed G goodbye and made my way over to the start corral. The announcer was introducing the girl who was going to sing the National anthem so I bobbed and weaved toward the middle of the pack. I was trying to find the 1:45 pace group but couldn't. I found the 8:00 / min mile pace group and stopped there for the anthem. Once the anthem was over, I spotted the 1:45 pace group so I worked my way up to that group. My plan was to start at a comfortable pace and try to negative split the race. I figured just under 5 min /km would be good. The announcer was counting down the arrival of a race car drive by - which was awesome - and then we were off.
I hung with that group for the first 3 minutes or so but felt like that pace was just a little bit too slow so I pulled ahead and settled into a smaller group of people. It was eerily quiet running around the track. I could hear some music in the distance but we seemed to be running away from it. I didn't race with music either. This was the first time in a long time that I haven't raced with tunes. I stopped listening to music when I started running again after my injury and I haven't worn it since. I was curious to see how I'd fare because I used to turn to music for an extra push in a race.
Running around the bottom of the track was a fantastic experience. We ran about 2.5 miles on the track and then headed out into a tunnel and out of the racetrack, through the parking lot and into a residential neighbourhood. The course was totally flat with the exception of a huge bridge that went across the river. I had settled into a really comfortable rhythm. I was running between 4:40-4:45's. I felt pretty good. I did have to pee and it wasn't something that I could hold so as soon as I saw the porta-potty at the 5km mark, I ran over to them. Both of them were locked. AHHHHGGGG. 2 seconds later, a woman came out of one of them and I jumped in. That was THE fastest pee I've ever had. I think it was probably just under a minute of stoppage time.
I jumped back out onto the road and into the crowd. I had been keeping pace with another girl and lost her when I stopped. I picked up the pace and caught her. I stayed with her for a bit and then she started to slow down. We were coming into a really nicely paved section that seemed to be slightly downhill. I booked it along here, feeling pretty strong. We had just passed about 8km. We wound our way through this residential neighbourhood and into the "downtown" strip at Daytona. I hit the 10km mark in just over 46 minutes. My right calf cramped slightly but stopped as quickly as it had started, thankfully. What was really starting to bug me was my left glut. I think my speed work sessions had aggravated my piriformis muscle and I could feel it getting tighter and tighter as I ran.
Just past the 10km mark, it was time to tackle the bridge that went over the Halifax River. G and I had driven over it the day before as our hotel was on the other side of it. I turned onto the bridge, looked up and started working. I got into a groove quickly and started passing people. Apparently most Florida folks have a tough time with hills because there was a lot of grunting as I was passing people. Before I knew it I had gotten to the top of the bridge. All my hill running paid off for sure. I caught and passed several people. I let my legs go on the downhill and got back into a rhythm once I got to the bottom.
I knew we were headed towards the beach and I figured we were getting pretty close. We were past the half way point. There were more people out watching and cheering which was awesome. A few zigs and zags and then the next thing I know I'm running down a ramp onto the beach. The sand was hard packed but it was still sand so I had to work a bit harder. As I was heading down the ramp to the beach I got a glimpse of the crowd coming back. I was very surprised to see how close I was to the 1:40 pace bunny. That was a pleasant surprise! My goal was to negative split the race so the fact that I was reeling in the 1:40 pace bunny was a positive. I ran down to the turnaround point, woohoo'ed the volunteers and trucked back to the ramp. We ran about 500m or so on the beach.
Once we left the beach we were headed straight back up International Speedway Boulevard. As I came off the beach and back onto the road, I was hit with a lovely headwind. Awe-some. I watched my pace drop from 4:40's to 4:50's. I tried to duck behind a couple of guys so I wasn't expending as much energy. I stayed there until we go back to the bridge. Once we hit the bridge the wind seemed to stop so I passed them and motored up the hill. My legs were surprisingly feeling ok other than my left glut. Once again I passed several people on the bridge. I got out onto International Speedway and settled into a rhythm. The wind seemed to have died down. I hit the 10 mile mark and knew I only had 5km to go. I grabbed some Gatorade at the next aid station. Even though it was overcast, it was still kinda humid and I was sweating buckets. I had been taking fluid at every aid station so my hydration game was on point. High five for that!
The last 5km passed in a blur. By about 17km I was starting to get the race stupids and I was starting to fatigue. It would have been easy for me to slow down but I was determined to finish strong. Just before the 19km mark I caught a guy who was walking. I slowed down and encouraged him to start running again. I said "there's less than 2 miles, you can do it!". He stuck with me for a bit and then I lost him. I could see another woman ahead of me and even though I was really starting to hurt, that was all I needed to find a little bit extra. I started to push the pace. I got to 20km and really started to push it. I knew I could run hard for another few minutes. I caught two girls as we turned into the Speedway. One of them said good work as I passed her and then a few seconds later, she passed me and I had nothing. I gave it all I could as I turned onto the race track. For some reason I thought the finish line would be closer but it wasn't. I was sucking wind big time. I saw G who was ready with his phone and snapped this. Yup, that's a smile. :)
I looked at my watch as I turned into the Speedway and saw my watch tick over to 1:40. I turned myself inside out in those last few hundred metres. I heard the announcer call my name as I came into the finishing chute and I raised my hands in the air and grinned. I glanced down at my Garmin and saw 1:40:41. Holy crap. Sub 1:45 was the goal. Once I started running I thought I could probably run a 1:42-1:43. I certainly didn't expect to get that close to 1:40. And realistically had I not stopped to go pee, I'm pretty darn sure I would have broken 1:40.
I was beyond thrilled. G had said he figured I'd go sub 1:40 and I said I thought he was nuts. Once again he was right. This race squelched all the self doubt I had about racing again. No, it wasn't a PR. It was better than a PR. As I said on Instagram, it was the tangible proof that my brain needed to realize that I'm better and that I've still got a little speed in these legs, even without putting in any solid speed work.
I saw some PT's offering some post race stretching so I hung around and had some work done which helped immensely. I then went over and got some post race grub. G said that they were posting results fairly regularly so we walked over to the board once I finished eating. It took me a minute to find my name as I first looked under the 40-44 year old age group, ha ha. Um. No. That's what happens when you go a year without doing a solo running race - you forget how old you are! I found the 45-49 year old age group and was surprised (not to mention SUPER happy) to see my name beside the number two. WOOOHOOO!
As my lovely friend Lauren said: She's BA-ACK!!!