Sunday, April 15

Race Report: Gulf Coast Half @ Pensacola Beach

The start:
The starting area for the Gulf Coast Half Marathon @ Pensacola Beach was a no-frills affair, but had plenty of parking and plenty of restroom facilities, including some with running water. The race also started exactly on time. I have no complaints.
Runners - including this blogger - cheering and taking off at the starting gun.
The bad:
Because the race is along the beach, runners had stiff winds (15-17mph) buffeting them during the entire race. I think I still have sand up my nose...

Oh, and there was NO shade. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Not a bit of shade to be found for 13.1 miles...

The good:
Flat course - nearly pancake flat, with a teensy incline near the 7-mile mark.
Water stations were spaced appropriately (every 2 miles or so), and the station volunteers pulled out all the stops. There were volunteers in hula-themed costumes, jungle-themed costumes (complete with faux leopard loincloths), and disco-themed costumes. The volunteers were amazing.

More good - small is beautiful:
The field was small at only 1,400 runners. I never felt crowded or hemmed in on the course.

But one thing I found unusual is that there seemed to be very high attrition for this race. Starting line announcements claimed that 1,800 runners registered. Finish line stats showed that more than one out of five runners either DNSed or DNFed. Maybe I've never noticed before, but 20 percent of registered runners not finishing seems high to me?
Uncrowded starting area

The finish:
A tight Z-shaped curve into the finish chute made my final sprint a little dicey (I nearly collided with another runner who was also trying to cut the tangents) but there was plenty of cold water.
The oddly-shaped finish chute.
Plus the finishers' medals are lovely beer-bottle openers. (Gulf Coast might be the only race series with a truly practical medal.)

Unfortunately, while the after party at the Gulf Coast - Gulf Shores Half (same race organizer) was spectacular, the one in Pensacola Beach was not the best I've seen. Seating was limited, and food was randomly placed on dining tables (picture having to reach over people who were seated and eating to grab a banana out of a box).

But perhaps my least favorite part of the post-race breakfast was the location. The venue required cramping and blistered runners to wade through soft beach sand. On the list of things I do not want to do immediately after running 13.1 miles: walk in soft sand.

My race:
Finish time: 2:10:46
Finish stats: 48th out of 179 age group finishers
This was not a banner day for me.
Pouring ice water on my legs to cool down...
I went out strong, hitting the 5k and 10k marks at a 9 minute mile pace - on target for a sub-2 finish. But despite drinking two full bottles of water and dumping dixie cups of water on myself to keep cool, I started to show signs of heat exhaustion (more on that here...) and the early symptoms of an exercise-induced asthma attack.

By mile 8, I was slowing to walk at the water stations.
By mile 11, I was baked/boiled/steamed. I ran through someone's front-yard sprinkler. I met up with a running buddy, and even the encouragement of having company couldn't make me move faster. My heart rate and core temperature were too high.

Hubby was waiting just past the 12 mile marker to "run me in," but instead walked with me for half a mile.

Then a mirage appeared... A handful of Team in Training people had an ice chest at the 12.5 mile mark, with a sign that read "cooling station." If I could have gone swimming between the ice cubes, I would have. But I didn't fit...

So I took a fistful of ice and stuffed it down my sports bra. The ice rattled away as I picked up the pace and ran to the finish. It might be the weirdest thing I've ever done during a race. (Seriously - popsicle boobs? What was I thinking???) But it worked! That much-needed cooling might be the most glorious relief I've ever had.

What's the weirdest thing you've ever done to cool down?


  1. Yeah! To the start line on time! Nice race. Not sure if I would have handled the heat so well.

  2. Wow, sounds like a tough one but that you handled the heat well. I'd agree on not wanting to walk in the soft sand after running!

  3. Congrats! The whole running by the water thing would be awesome on a day with no wind - sounds beautiful! And who designs a finish like that? Seriously?


Penny for your thoughts?