Sunday, February 16, 2020

My 2020 Pensacola Double Bridge Run

February 17, 2020. I was getting antsy. My training had been going well, but my last road race was in late October. Ran Club Cross at Lehigh in December but Cross Country doesn't completely scratch the itch [for me].  It's been a mild winter but mostly cloudy, so a little dreary in Indianapolis. Time to gas up the car and head south.

Three years earlier I had run in the Pensacola Double Bridge Run, clocking a 1:11:35 for 1st place in my 70-74 division but missing out on the Senior Grand Master prize, won by Stephen Bauer, 62, in 1:10:32. That year it was unseasonably cold; they start the race at 7 am because the main worry is that the temps will rise as the day goes on and get too warm. And it is point-to-point so you park near the finish and get shuttled to the start. Because I am risk averse I tend to plan on taking an early bus. That backfired in 2017. It was only 39 degrees with 10 mph winds when we were dropped by the shuttle bus at the staging area for the start. It's an excellent area, but not when it's cold; there was really no shelter. Lots of folks rotated in and out of the restrooms for a shot of warmth, but that was it. I can remember the last few minutes before the start, lined up behind the elites who were all in singlets, with goosebumps on display. On the other hand, with temps in the upper 30's and low 40's for the race, times were good. The winds were behind us or across us rather than head on. This year the forecast was for a little warmer at race time. Upper 40's and low 50's, ordinary wind and cloudy skies.

The first order of business was to get entered-no problem, they were happy to have me. They use a self-seeding approach. I figured to line up in the wave right behind the elites. My usual approach when facing a drive of 11 hours or so is to drive all but the last couple of hours or less two days before the race, leaving myself just a short drive the day before the race.  It was quick work on Google Maps to find a place in South Alabama where there were multiple motels, Evergreen, FL. I 'Hotwired' a motel at a very reasonable price. Nine and a half road hours to Evergreen; an hour and a a half plus to Gulf Breeze, FL where I had a motel at about the 6K mark of the race. Said goodbye to my wife, Jackie, Thursday morning and pulled into Evergreen, AL at the end of the day. No problems with the drive and both motels were fine, especially for the price.

Views from Motel in Gulf Breeze, FL [photos by author]

Good complimentary breakfast in South Alabama, even for a Yankee! I didn't get to check out the complimentary breakfast in Gulf Breeze; I wanted to leave before 6 am! But they had a microwave and fridge so I made my own--granola plus banana plus toasted half bagel with peanut butter, half cup of coffee. They also allowed me a late checkout-12 noon so I could attend the Awards Ceremony.

Headed to Pensacola Historic district Friday morning [See pics of Historic Pensacola below story] and then to the Expo where I managed to meet up with the RD, Jason Libbert, and thank him for the invite. He puts on a great show! There is a well-organized staging area and start to the race, and the post-race goodies and celebration are top notch!

Everything went smooth Saturday morning. Up at 4:30 AM, ate a quick breakfast in the motel room, did a few easy 'stretch and hold's and preventative yoga-like exercises for hamstrings and lower back, and headed off for Pensacola Beach, a 7-minute drive. Parked and hopped on a shuttle, the 2nd in line. Deposited in the staging area, it had everything anyone could want, including not only port-a-potties but, for early arrivals, the restrooms for the baseball park were open. They were open later, too, but the lines did get long. The Weather Forecasters delivered a good one. Temps were just above 50 at the 8 am race time, under cloudy skies, with hardly any wind. Found some parking lots a couple of minutes from the starting line to run around for warm-up, stride-outs, drills, stretching, etc. Pretty soon we ere called to the starting area. I could have lined up right with the elites but decided to start in the wave that left a minute later (self-seeded 7 to 7:30 pace). I figured 7:30 was my target pace, even if I might not quite get there, on average. I noticed another Masters athlete with white hair lining up in the same wave, but on the other side, a few runners away, and wondered if he might be my main competition. Unlike in USATF Masters National Championships there are no back bibs with age division noted.

The winner of the Age Division last year was a Paul Baswell, whom I didn't know; he ran 1:09:46. But the year before when he was in 65-69, I could find out he had run 1:16 and change, so at least Baswell had not been consistently faster than I might expect to run. The 70-74 title in 2018 went to Randy Frith who ran 1:15:59; he was also unknown to me. I would just have to wait and see. The Colors were presented, the National Anthem was sung and the 'pirates' in the make-shift pirate 'ship' fired the cannon and the race was on. All was good for the first 800 meters as I followed the youngsters out. But then I noticed this guy with white hair passing me. I fell in behind to see how well he would keep it up. Pretty well as it turned out. Between 800 meters and most of the 1st mile, I was worried he might drop me. But either I recovered or he realized his pace was a little too ambitious. He pulled me through the first mile in 7:23! I was only a couple of strides back and feeling like I could run with him. Another half mile saw me ease by him just as we pulled onto Bayshore Parkway and head towards the first bridge out to Gulf Breeze. I passed 2 miles in 14:49, but could hear his breathing right behind me. No time to slow down now---gotta keep on keeping on--or KFG as some of my NJ Strava friends would say. After another mile I could no longer hear the breathing-what a sweet sound, or in this case, lack of sound! I settled into a pretty good pace and then it was up the ramp onto the bridge, the first uphill, just to get our legs woken up. That slowed my 3rd mile down to 7:39, but i still passed the 5K mark (Strava tells me) in 23:16! The next mile was a flat slog across Pensacola Bay, and then the first real hill, about a quarter of a mile pull up and over, but not too steep. Woke up my legs so my pace only creeped up slightly to 7:40. [When I checked Strava after the race it told me I actually accelerated slightly as GAP [grade adjusted pace] fell to 7:32]. Feeling good! Then down and into Gulf Breeze, past my motel at about the 10K mark. Quite a change from the bridge where we are all by ourselves. In Gulf Breeze there are lots of folks lining the Parkway as we run about a mile and a half through the small town. Cheers and encouragement! Despite the cheers, my pace slowed to 7:53, and I started to wonder how far back my potential rival was. I worried he would suddenly sprint past. That worry helped me keep it going. Then it's up the ramp to the last bridge, along a bit of flat, and then the long pull starts at mile 7.7, over 600 meters up the higher of the two bridges. Again my legs woke up and my GAP, as I learned later from Strava, dropped to 7:40 for a pace of 8:00/mile. The good news is that once you crest that 2nd bridge-hill, it is downhill for 0.4 and then flat into Pensacola Beach and the finishing area.
On the down-slope on the Bridge-just we runners and a bit of traffic-Me sporting my green 'pirate' headgear from 2017 Gasparilla 15K [Photo compliments of Pensacola Double Bridge Run and Fishbein Orthodontics, cropped by author]

Luckily there were still a couple of runners in my sight; I focused on trying to catch them. You know what they say, "Catch or be caught!" I pulled even with a young woman runner, as we gradually eased up closer to a middle aged guy another 30 meters ahead. We went back and forth before she passed me again just as we headed into the finishing chutes for the curvy path of the final 400 meters to the finish. I couldn't keep pace with her, but she had pulled me within a few meters of this other guy. I focused on him and passed him with about 150 meters to go. Then it was time to close it out, keep my arms pumping, and dig for the finish line.
Heading for the Finish Line, wearing green headgear from 2017 Gasparilla 15K [Photo compliments of Pensacola Double Bridge Run and Fishbein Orthodontics, cropped by author]

The clock, looked like it said 1:12 and change but of course I lost a minute at the start by going with the first wave after the elites. I learned later my official net time was 1:11:16...and that Strava gave me credit for the exact same time in my ' Best estimated 15k effort
Strong to the Finish! [Started a minute behind elites so subtract a minute from the clock!] Don't Check that watch! All that matters is what the official clock says! [Photo compliments of Pensacola Double Bridge Run and Fishbein Orthodontics, cropped by author]

Slightly crumpled official results script from the Finish Line Timer Tent [photo by author]

Age Division First Place award from the 2020 Pensacola Double Bridge Run [photo by author]

Notice the large oranges on this tree outside one of the Historic Buildings

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