In the months since my first half marathon in New Orleans, I PR'd the 5K and 10K and ran my first 15K. I really wanted to do another half marathon because I felt confident that I could improve my time. I researched upcoming half marathons and came across the Gulf Coast Half Marathon series. They had an upcoming race in Pensacola Beach, FL. The race was capped at 2,500 participants. I liked the thought of less runners to weave in and out of at the start. I also liked the idea that it was a flat, fast course at the beach.
The runs in this series take place on Sunday with packet pick up on Friday and Saturday. We had planned to stay at my mother in law's condo in Orange Beach, AL and make the 45 minute drive on race morning. We figured traffic wouldn't be that bad that early in the morning. There was a major accident on the bridge when we went to pick up my packet at Running Wild in downtown Pensacola. Our GPS directed us through a detour. What was supposed to be a 45 min drive took us almost 3 hours. I was really worried we wouldn't make it in time to get my packet. I also began to worry about making it for the race the next morning. I told Michael we should look into a hotel in Pensacola Beach.
I'd never been to Pensacola Beach. It's a small peninsula with only a handful of hotels. I called every hotel, only to hear "We're all booked." They had Spring breakers, a cheerleading competition, and the race all happening that weekend. There was only one hotel left to call, the Hampton Inn right next to the Casino Beach public parking lot where the race would begin. They had one room left. The only room available on the entire peninsula, and we paid the price for it. It wasn't cheap, but it was so worth it to be right at the start line on race day.
Casino Beach Parking Lot where the race began
Across the street from the hotel was Flounders, where the finish line and post race festivities would be located. There was a long wait there for dinner, so we ate dinner at the Cactus Flower Cantina in the boardwalk shopping center next to Flounders. Afterwards, we played putt putt at the course located next to the hotel. Michael and I love to play putt putt. He always wins, but we have fun.
I didn't have to get up as early on race morning being so close to the start line. The race began at 7:00. I got up around 5:30, ate breakfast and got dressed. I still made it down to the start at 6:15. My nerves were starting to kick in and I couldn't wait any longer.
I took a few pre race photos and it wasn't long before the crowd started gathering near the start. I used the porta potty one last time and lined up for the start of the race. They played the National Anthem and then we were off. My main goal was to run this race faster than my first half in New Orleans. Secretly, I wanted to get under 2:10.
The first four miles ran through vacation houses. There weren't as many spectators at this race, but there were still several people out front cheering for us. There was plenty of support on the course. Several local organizations volunteered to run the water stations. They had a contest for the best station and the winner got prize money for their organization. They water stations were awesome!
We ran back out onto the main road, Via De Luna Drive, just before Mile 5. The next three miles ran alongside the beach, but there was very little view of the water. It was extremely hot that day, but there was a nice breeze. I started out way too fast, but I was maintaining a decent pace.
Mile 1- 8:40
Mile 2- 8:53
Mile 3- 9:17
Mile 4- 9:02
Mile 5- 9:31
Mile 6- 9:37
Mile 7- 9:24
Mile 8- 9:41
I started to think I could finish some time between 2:00-2:05. We turned around at Mile 8. On the way back, the sun was beating down, it was getting hotter, and the nice breeze from before was behind me. My wheels came off, and I felt apart mentally. I walked A LOT! My pace was slowing drastically, but I couldn't bring myself to run very far before stopping to walk again.
At Mile 10, we turned off into another housing area. I heard a couple behind me say, "Only a 5K to go." 3.1 miles felt like an eternity to me. It was so hot and I was exhausted. Several houses had sprinklers on out front. Up ahead I noticed runners cooling off by running through the sprinklers, so I did it too. It was refreshing! Just past Mile 12, we were back out on the main road. I could see the hotels and shops, and I could hear the music playing at the finish area. I was getting close. I took in water at the last water stop around Mile 12.5. Then, I ran all the way to the finish line. I could hear the announcer say my name over the PA system when I crossed the finish, which I thought was really cool.
My pace slowed to over 10:00 minute miles after Mile 8, but I still made my goal of finishing under 2:10. I finished in 2:06:55, and I shaved almost 15 minutes of my time from my first half. This is my current PR for the half marathon. I dream of running a sub 2:00 one day, but the conditions are going to have to be just right.
Mile 9- 10:02
Mile 10- 10:05
Mile 11- 10:18
Mile 12- 10:45
Mile 13- 10:42
I didn't stick around for the post race festivities. Our check out was at 11:00 that morning, and I wanted to get back and shower before we hit the road. This was my first race of the Gulf Coast Half Marathon series, and I was very pleased with the overall experience. It was well organized from the expo to the race itself. They have the coolest t-shirt designs and the shirts are super soft and comfy. I wear mine all the time! The medals also double as bottle openers and are laced on smooth, beautifully designed ribbons. I would recommend this race to anyone wanting to run a fun half marathon at the beach. I hope to do the other half marathons in the series one day.
They gave all the finishers glasses for the five year anniversary of the race series.
How far would you travel on race day? Have you ever felt rushed to make it to a race on time?