Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fall race: Run for the Bay in Apalachicola

Continuing in the spirit of blog-posts-I-have-been-meaning-to-write, this past fall, I ran a half-marathon in Apalachicola. I skipped running a full because I spent a good part of the summer building strength in my hip and knee muscles to get rid of some knee pain. I selected the race for several reasons. Having grown up in the panhandle of FL, I was familiar with Apalachicola and the city is not far from my parents' house.

Quaint local shopping
The timing was nice and a good reason to go to the beach for the weekend. Lastly, the race is small and looking at the prior winning times, I realized that I had a chance that I could conceivably win the race based on my prior half marathon PR of 1:27.

The "expo"
Getting to the race too early, my wife took a nap in the car while I enjoyed my coffee and breakfast bar. At race start, the temperature was a lovely just below 50 degrees. After a quick mile-or-so warm up, I lined up for the start. I am going to say that I take issue with one of the claims that the race organizers make on their website (or at least they did prior to the race and as of writing this in March 2012). The claim is that the Half and Full are "two of the flattest courses in America". And while averaging the elevation over the course of the race, this is accurate. What they fail to mention is that nearly the entirety of the up and downhill is in a single bridge at the beginning and end of this out and back race.

Credit: Wikimedia commons user, ebaybe

This is the Gorrie Bridge headed east out of Apalachicola. The start/finish is on the ground of this picture, while the runners must travel out on the course over the bridge. Therefore, one must climb up on top of this bridge and then descend to the islands just visible in the distance. My Garmin did not track the elevation very well, and I cannot seem to find the exact elevation of the bridge anywhere online, but I can say that the entire bridge is about a mile or so long, and it stands several stories above the ground making the grade of this "hill" a few percentage points. Aside from this, the race is exceedingly flat, though. I must also say that seeing the sun rise just as we were getting to the top of this bridge was a breathtaking site and I wish I could have had my camera to capture an image.

Bent over gasping at the finish
I had a solid start to the race. I quickly settled into a 6:45-ish pace and kept it pretty steady for the entire time. We started behind the marathoners and somewhere around 5 to 6 miles, I caught up with the leaders of that group and was actually in the lead of the whole race, behind the pace car, until it turned off to lead the marathoners over another bridge to St. George Island, while I circled back to the half finish. I will say that I could have used a little better signage, or a pace bike directing me since I was not quite sure that I was headed the right way, but it ended up being fine. Now that the sun was up, the temperature started to climb and I was glad to only be doing the half. Being right on the coast, the humidity was pretty high, and I could taste the salty air in addition to my own sweat. Coming back across the bridges, I stopped for a water at about 10 miles and rinsed my head. I had been paying attention during the race as to whether anyone was keeping pace with me. Footstrikes had followed me until about the 6 mile turnaround, but I had not looked back to check. I chanced a glance at about 12 miles when I was climbing the Gorrie bridge again and I saw no one. Just a few 10K walkers, but no one running. I made the last couple of turns through Apalach and crossed the finish line just a few seconds shy of my PR, and in first place!

I would run Apalachicola again. The people were very nice and the race is reasonably well organized in a small coastal town that is well worth experiencing for a weekend.

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