The Best Damn Race-Really!

As I write this, Maine and the rest of the northeast is in the midst of a blizzard.  The wind has been howling for hours and the drifting snow is creeping up the windows.   Although we are used to running in snowy and frigid conditions, we have embraced our running quest as an opportunity to head out of the cold for mini mid-winter breaks. It’s days like today that I really appreciate these little escapes.

Two years ago Mike advocated for a trip to Florida.  Once I read about the Best Damn Race in Safety Harbor, Florida, I knew that was the race for us. First of all, who could resist this race name? The race offers a 5K, 10K, and half marathon all on the same day. The 10K and half start early and the 5K begins slightly later.  The races travel over portions of the same course and end at the same finish line. We opted to take the easy way out and signed up for the 5K.

So in February 2013 we flew to Tampa and drove to Safety Harbor, which was just across the causeway over Tampa Bay, in our spiffy Fiat 500 rental car.

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We had made reservations at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa which is the hotel affiliated with the race.  The packet pick-up and expo were located right behind the resort at the Safety Harbor Marina Park.  But most amazingly of all, the starting line for the race is directly outside the front door of the resort!  Having run dozens of races that involved locating the race (which I’m sorry to say has occasionally involved some heated “discussions” about driving directions),  as well as parking, standing in port-a-potty lines, checking gear, etc, etc, this bonus cannot be over-emphasized! Besides the fact that the resort is lovely, we had the unbelievable luxury of staying in our room until we were ready to head out to warm up for the race and then leisurely join the other runners at the starting line.

We arrived the day prior to the race so we were able to soak up the incredibly therapeutic sun and warmth as we slowly removed layers of clothing.  As I lounged by the pool another woman sat next to me dressed in a turtleneck sweater. We looked at each other and I asked if she was from up north.  She admitted that she was and we commented on how amazing it was to feel warm. After spending months in bone-chilling temps at home it was difficult to believe we really could shed our layers.

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The resort is on the west shore of Tampa Bay.  There is a long wooden pier beside the resort that you can stroll down and get wonderful views of the bay.

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We spent some time exploring the quaint town.

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We found this sign that says, “Danger Do Not Feed or Molest the Alligators” humorous.

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The first night we came across a small but perfect southern restaurant called Southern Fresh.

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The food was fabulous.

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Mike had a great local beer called Florida Cracker, a Belgian-style wheat beer.

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We wished we’d had a chance to enjoy the outdoor fire pit.

The next morning we very leisurely prepared for our race.  We ventured out to watch the early start of the half and 10K and assess the temperature.  It was cool by Florida standards and not yet very sunny.  We spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to decide on attire for the race.  Long sleeves? Short sleeves? Long sleeves over short sleeves? I eventually settled on short-sleeves with a long-sleeve top.  We were almost giddy with the wonder of having our room steps from the starting line.  We felt like VIPs with access to our own private bathroom just minutes before the race! We did a little warm up run and then lined up and waited for the gun to go off. I suddenly realized it was warm and quickly pinned my number to my short sleeve shirt, tied my other shirt around my waist and we were off!

As we took off along the palm-tree lined coast past stately homes overlooking Tampa Bay I could hardly believe it was February.  I was in heaven.  But I was also seriously trying to finish with a good time.  The course was flat and I had been running well at home. Mike was ready to pace me so we really pushed hard (for me) along the route.  The course is virtually flat so that was a huge change from our very hilly routes at home.  We crossed the finish line together and I was thrilled to have beaten my goal time.

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We joined the huge after-race festivities where the beer was flowing freely and chatted with other runners.  I was amazed and thrilled to see that I had placed in my age-group. This truly had been the Best Damn Race!

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We savored our after-race high as we had lunch with Mike’s sister and her husband.  Later we soaked up some more sun and a few cocktails beside the pool, not wanting to waste a single drop of either before heading back up north the next day.

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That evening we came across Green Springs Bistro.

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Although we didn’t have a reservation they fit us in at a perfect little table in the bar.  Live guitar music was playing.  The food was extraordinary and the service was stellar.

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We had truly had a fabulous day.  The Best Damn Race had absolutely lived up to it’s name and given us an opportunity to thaw out for a few days.

If you have a chance to travel to Florida, I strongly urge you to try the Best Damn Race.  As of this post, there are still openings in all races which is February 7 this year.  I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

Have you traveled to warmer climates to race in the winter? Do you have any suggestions for winter races in warm states?

State: Florida

Quest Race #: 12

Date Run: February 2, 2013

Bottom Line: The Best Damn Race is a fabulous, well-organized race in Florida that offered us a perfect mid-winter break from the cold and snow. And if you want to feel like a VIP, check into the resort for amazing starting line amenities.

 

 

Winter Running in Maine

Mike and I have signed up for the Houston Rhythm and Blues Half Marathon in February.  Texas will be the 19th state in our quest and we are thrilled that Amelia will be joining us.  Running in Houston will also give us an opportunity to visit with family and friends.  We can’t wait!

For the past three winters we have chosen races in warmer climates so that we have a chance to escape the cold and snow in Maine.  However, that means that we are training in the snow and cold. But it makes us feel tough and that we have earned our trip.

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Not all of our runs have been on snowy roads.  And so far it hasn’t been unbearably cold…on too many runs.

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It has actually often been quite stunning.

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Since we live in a hilly area, when our long run mileage increases we sometimes head to the coast to run on a flatter course.

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We love the change of scenery.

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One week when it was bitterly cold we saw only four other runners on a course where there is typically a virtual parade of runners and cyclists in the warmer weather.  But the next week it was about 20 degrees warmer and we encountered tons of runners and cyclists. We even came across these hearty souls who were out in their tiny wooden boats.  Mike called to a man who was just launching his boat to ask what they were called and he replied, “Frosties”…of course!

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This weekend we were due to run 11 miles. After calculating the best time and route to run in order to encounter the least impact from an imminent snow storm we opted to run locally. As we left the house there were only a few flurries in the air and the roads were completely dry.  Within two miles the snow was heavy and the roads were covered. And so were we.  Mike was sporting some impressive frosty eyebrows which I thought captured the essence of our experience.  He told me I was, too.

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Undaunted, we continued.

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The roads got more slick.  But we traveled on what we felt were the least treacherous paths.  By the last two miles of the run the snow was coming down in big, fluffy flakes and everything was silent except for the squeak of our shoes on the snow. It was truly gorgeous.  We congratulated ourselves on persevering and thought about our upcoming reward of running in flat, warmer Houston.  We think we will have earned it.

How is your winter going?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Start in the New Year: Hangover Classic 2015-Massachusetts

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The view near the start/finish of the Hangover Classic

Running the Hangover Classic in Salisbury, MA has become a quasi-New Year’s tradition in our family.  Amelia and I ran it first in 2009 when we decided to sign up for the Will Run For Beer Series (who could resist?!).  The Hangover Classic was the first race of the series.  The night before the race there was such a significant snow storm that we questioned whether the race would actually be held. But knowing runners and not hearing of any cancellation we drove to the race the next morning.  The roads were still snowy and the wind was intense.  As we neared the start of the race we saw a huge plume of snow shooting up from a massive snowbank ahead of us. We assumed it was coming from a snow blower.  But, no, it was actually just wind-blown snow coming off a massive snowbank.  Oh, boy!

Inches of snow covered the roads as we ran the course, making for one of those “one step forward-two steps back” type of runs. But we persevered and finished the race, relishing the warm pub, cold beer, and the contented feeling of accomplishment as we waited for Amelia to claim her age division winner prize.

Subsequent races have brought additional challenges including courses diverted due to flooding and unfailingly frigid temps and strong winds. But the chance to start a new year with a fun run followed by festivities keeps us coming back.

Mike and I have run the 5K a number of times but this year we signed up for the 10K.  We are in the midst of our training for the Houston Rhythm and Blues Half Marathon in February and we were due for a tempo run so we figured the Hangover Classic would be perfect.  Although we weren’t hungover, we had seen the New Year in with games, celebrating, good food and plenty of drinks with Hannah and Todd the night before.  The race is about an hour from our home so this factor combined with a late night made us appreciate the 11:30 start time.

We arrived in plenty of time to pick up our spiffy green, long-sleeve T-shirt,

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take care of the usual pre-race “business”, and scoot back to the car to warm up for a bit.  As the starting time approached we headed back towards the start.  We decided to join the huge throng of runners waiting for one last dash into the porta-potties. The race organizers announced that they would delay the start about 5 minutes due to the large number of people who were still in line for the bathrooms.  However, as we waited in a line that never seemed to get shorter, it became apparent that the race was going to start before we reached the head of the line.

Personally, anxiety over timing last minute porta-potty stops is truly one of my biggest race day concerns.  Somehow, it has always worked out fine for the countless races we’ve run.  My worries that the race would start without me had been unfounded.   This time, however, the dream/nightmare I’ve had where everyone has left and I haven’t started the race yet actually came true! We decided that making this pit stop was going to be essential to a good race.  The race was chipped timed and we weren’t in contention for any awards so we decided it was not a big deal if we started after the official start.  As we looked around we realized we were not the only runners who made this decision which was somehow reassuring.

So after a brief delay we were ready to cross the starting line…by ourselves!   It definitely felt weird to have watched as the throng of runners left the starting area and it felt kind of surreal to be heading out on our own.  But we soon realized what an advantage it was!  The usual surge as the gun goes off followed by the inevitable decrease to a walking pace that we commonly experience in our middle-of-the-pack spot never happened. There was no weaving around slower runners or veering around walkers. The road ahead was wide open and we relished this unexpected bonus.

My other racing fear is being the very last person to finish the race. This fear helped spur us on and shortly we were passing several walkers and runners.  Before long we were running with runners ahead of and behind us.  Although the road was still quite empty, the race felt more routine now.

The course is very flat and winds around the seaside area of Salisbury.  A multitude of volunteers cheerfully directed us as we wove our way along the course.  A number of spectators braved the cold and cheered us on.  The run had a wonderfully festive feel to it.  I don’t think I’ve ever said, “Happy New Year” to so many people before. It felt great!  And speaking of “great” we were thrilled with our pace which we were able to keep steady for the first 3 miles.  It only decreased a few seconds per mile on the second half of the course.  The lovely tail wind that we had enjoyed in the first half became a pretty intense head wind as we looped back.  But we felt strong and finished in a time that really pleased us. And we weren’t the last participants to cross the finish line!

We took a few minutes to stretch, marvel at those who were heading into the frigid North Atlantic Ocean for the optional ocean plunge,

and take the inevitable awkward (for us) “selfie”.

IMG_4038In past years we have enjoyed the ample beer supply that is provided after the race.

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But this year when we entered the bar this was the view as we tried to make our way to where the beer was being poured.

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We realized that there is an advantage to running the 5K…and maybe starting with the rest of the pack.  However, since we would soon be heading to the airport to pick up Amelia for her holiday visit home we opted to forgo the line.  We stopped at The Grog in Newburyport, MA for our own celebratory drinks and lunch.

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We congratulated ourselves on a great run despite its unorthodox beginning. We cheered our efforts and the start of another year of running.

How did you spend your New Year’s Day?  Have you ever experienced starting line challenges? Best wishes for a year filled with good health, adventures, and fun!

State: Massachusetts

Quest State#: 3

Dates Run: 1/1/2009, 1/1/2010, 1/1/2013, 1/1/15

The Bottom Line: We love the festive feel of the Hangover Classic and think that spending New Year’s morning running with a group of enthusiastic runners is a wonderful way to start the year.