As you probably know, the Fourth of July is one of the most popular holidays for racing! I ran a 4 mile race, the SHARK Run, in Gulf Shores this year on the Fourth. Four miles on the Fourth of July?! Yes, please.
The race starts at 7:00 a.m. at the Flora-Bama. There is also a 4.5 mile race that is 2 miles on the road and 2.5 miles on the beach. I opted for the all road 4 mile race again this year. I ran it in 2016 as well (as the last 4 miles of an 18 mile run no less (pure craziness)). This year we left the house at 5 a.m., picked Jessica up on the way and arrived at the race right after 6 a.m. This gave us plenty of time to pick up our numbers, go to the bathroom and get a few warm up miles in.
Jessica and I headed out to do a two (ish) mile warm up. The warm up ended up turning into a hunt for a bathroom. We stopped at a gas station temporarily, but that was a bit of a mess (literally). Jessica actually tried to tell one of the workers that the bathroom wasn’t usable. The lady responded that she didn’t even work there. Eek. She had on a Shell gas station uniform, but apparently we weren’t at a Shell station (insert facepalm). After that incident we stumbled upon a very nice, private bathroom near a tennis court and we were both pumped. It’s the little things like pre-race potty victories that make us happy as runners.
We made our way back to the Flora-Bama, found a few friends and chatted briefly before the start. Before we knew it, it was time to line up and get the show on the road. I didn’t really have any sort of elaborate pacing strategy for this race. I knew that the VDOT calculator estimated my race pace to be in the 6:10 to 6:15 per mile range, which seemed reasonable. I also knew that if I could average slightly under 6:15 pace then I would have a chance to finish in just under 25 minutes, which also seemed like a reasoanble goal.
The course is a completely flat, out and back course. You start out going west from the Flora-Bama (headed towards Alabama), run out for approximately two miles, veer off of the main road to run under the Perdido Pass Bridge and then head back east towards Florida. I lined up with Steve, Jim and Scott (all of whom I have raced with on multiple occasions). Jim paced me to my 5K PR a few years ago, which wasn’t really a planned thing, but worked out quite nicely and I frequently say that Steve is the smartest racer that I know. I figured that I would try to start off with those guys and see what happened from there.
We came through the first mile right at 6:10. I was happy with that and told myself to try to just hold on to the pace. There were several girls in front of me for the first half to three-quarters of a mile or so, but I passed all but one by the first mile marker. I have raced against the girl who was in front of me many times as well (and all but once she has come out on top). As luck would have it, she was doing the half road, half beach race. I had just caught up to her at mile two, which is where the two courses divide.
My split for the second mile was also exactly 6:10. I was still pretty much running stride for stride with Steve. He grabbed a bottle of water at mile two and very kindly offered some to me. I declined, but likely should’ve taken him up on his offer. Things definitely got real out there once we turned around and headed back east. The sun had been at our backs up until this point and you could really tell a difference once it was full-on in your face!
I basically stopped looking at my watch at this point. I knew that I was doing everything I could and it didn’t really matter what the pace was. I grabbed a cup of water somewhere just before the third mile marker and dumped the entire cup on my head. I hadn’t ever done that before, but it was offered as a suggestion in a coaching newsletter as a good way to try to keep yourself cool during hot races. I will definitely be doing that again if needed. It felt amazing! My split for the third mile was 6:24.
Even though I had slowed considerably, I was maintaining my position relative to other runners. I really didn’t even feel like I was fading. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing … likely some of both. I’d say it was good that I didn’t feel terrible, but bad that my pace slowed without me even realizing it. I started trying to do math in my head and decided that if I could pick it up slightly or at a minimum keep the pace steady and not slow down any more during the last mile, then I would still have a chance at breaking 25 minutes.
I played mental games with myself during the last mile. I told myself to get past the traffic light up ahead and then I could re-evaluate. Then I told myself to get to that car parked up ahead on the side of the road. I decided to take my sunglasses off for a minute to see how far away the finish line really was (I think I was hoping that would somehow make it seem closer). Once I had them off, I told myself to get to the next fence and then I could put them back on (as if that was some sort of reward (I don’t claim to make sense all of the time)). I pretty much immediately took the sunglasses back off again and then they went back on. Basically I just messed with my sunglasses for the entire last mile.
I really just wanted to get to that dang finish line!
As it turns out, I got there a bit too soon. The course ended up being a little bit short, unfortunately. My watch measured 3.92 miles. My pace for the last mile was 6:19, but my split was 5:47 since it was short. My finish time was 24:31, which averages out to 6:16 pace over 3.92 miles. The average pace was just over what I was aiming for, but was pretty darn close. I’ll take it. It would be really nice if they would just move the start and finish back ever so slightly in order to make the course actually four miles. Then they could get it certified and it would be a great race for people to go for four mile state records. The four mile distance is not very common at all and I think several of us would have a shot at age group records.
Dear Mr. Race Director, if you are reading this, please make this happen for us!
After the race, I headed back out for an extended cool down with Jessica. She was using the race as part of a 6 X 1 mile workout and she had two and a half more miles of “workout” to go after the race. Two years ago she voluntarily ran 14 miles with me before this race, so I definitely owed it to her to go out and keep her company during the last part of her workout this year. It takes a lot of mental strength to make yourself continue to run hard after a race is over, but she didn’t seem to have any problem doing this and she ended up crushing her workout!
By the time we finished the workout and cooled down a little bit it was basically time for the awards. It was really crowded and very hard to hear, but I guess that’s to be expected given the venue. We got our awards and hit the road as quickly as possible to get back home and avoid the worst of the beach traffic. Everyone got a finisher’s medal and the age group and overall winners also got an additional medal, so that’s pretty fun. The overall winners got a bar of copper (same award as the Paradise Island 5K).
Once we got home, we promptly changed into our boating clothes and headed out to enjoy the rest of the morning on the water.
I skied for about 5 miles (ish) and also spent some time on the paddle board, both paddling and “surfing.” We went through a little pod of dolphins and one of them played in our wake right beside me, which was SO NEAT!
My arms (and entire upper body really) are still incredibly sore several days later. Holy moly. It was totally worth it though! I have been really wanting to get out on the water and ski and I was so happy to finally be there. I’m hoping that we can recreate this day again in the not too distant future!
How did you celebrate the Fourth of July? Did you race?