Monday, September 24, 2018

Race Report: Fitteam Palm Beaches Marathon

In early November 2017, I was able to book the national anthem at the start of the FitTeam Palm Beaches Marathon.  While I had already sang (at the start of the Key West Half in 2016) and run a full (the Miami Marathon earlier in 2017) in Florida, I ultimately added the race to help cap off a tremendous year of running, finishing a goal of 35 marathons in the 2017 calendar year. I would be headed to Florida only a few days after returning from Osaka.

The marathon apparently was not run in the previous two years, but was brought back this year, culminating a three-day series of events that began Friday with a 5K with fireworks and a concert by rock band Sister Hazel.  Under new management, K2 Sports Ventures bought the race and brought in Fitteam as the name sponsor. This superbly flat race, typical of those in Florida, would still test its runners not used to the heat and humidity of the area.

SINGING once again!
I came in Friday night to Fort Lauderdale, right around the same time as my friend Andy who arrived at roughly the same time from Houston, as our friend Seth picked us up to stay at his place in Wilton Manors.  We headed into West Palm Beach on Saturday for the race expo, located at CityPlace, an upscale shopping center. A relatively small expo, we stayed in West Palm for a short period of time, opting to return to Fort Lauderdale for the rest of the day, lazing around. It was an early night because the race was going to be SUPER early the next morning, and we still had a 45 minute drive to get to the West Palm Beach.

Waking up at 3:30/4am, we were out the door and headed to Palm Beach by 5, and found some convenient parking in a side street not far from the start area.  It was pitch black outside, and the sun would not be rising for quite some time.  The race was starting at 6:15. I got up to the startline to sing, right before rushing into the corrals to head off into the dark, heading north on the curved Flagler Drive, right alongside the Intracostal Waterway/Lake Worth Lagoon.

Crossing the Flagler Memorial Bridge
Barely half a mile into our race, we were turning right already to go over the Flagler Memorial Bridge.  For the first time in race history, the course was going into the affluent town of Palm Beach. Initially scheduled to come at mile 3 and 4 of the race, the course was slightly amended the day before the race to counter the effects of the convergence of the setting supermoon and a King Tide potentially creating a flooding situation in the Lake Trail.  The race directors decided to start the race 15 minutes later than scheduled, and moved the section within Palm Beach slightly earlier, to miles 1 and 2 of the race, in order to combat that potential flood threat, not to mention also being in and out of the Palm Beach area within a time that was agreeable to the police patrol in that community.  The tides turned out not to be a problem, and all of us runners were through that part of the course before 7am.

Passing by the Flagler Museum
After coming off the bridge, we turned left onto the sidewalk on Cocoanut Row past the Henry M. Flagler Museum (an Edwardian style 75-room mansion built in 1902 that was the home of Henry Flagler, one of the founders of Standard Oil and a leading developer of Florida as a tourist destination) and the 187-year-old giant kapok tree on the grounds of the Royal Poinciana Chapel, before continuing along the Lake Trail.  You could see the water coming perilously close to the trail, but thankfully not affecting our run. Before long, we were turning right onto the Royal Park Bridge, returning to West Palm Beach.

Running over the Royal Park Bridge
Back on Flagler Drive, heading north...

Murals in West Palm Beach
We then came back on Flagler Drive, eventually running right past the start (and finish line), the second of four times we'd be passing through this area. We turned right onto 4th Street, then ran down Olive Avenue for about 3/4 mile, before turning right onto Lakeview Avenue, then beginning a 3/4 mile northward trek along Quadrille Boulevard.  We were getting a zig-zaglike view of West Palm Beach's nondescript downtown, but got to admire the mixture of colors - not only the pastels that scream Florida coast, but also vibrant street art murals against buildings.

Downtown West Palm Beach
Quadrille Boulevard curved eastward back toward the Intracostal Waterway, with the Flagler Memorial Bridge in front of us once again, but this time, we turned left onto Flagler Drive (again), now five miles into the race.  Ahead, we were now on our long northward trek, an out and back to take us to the northernmost border of West Palm Beach in the neighborhood of Pinewood Park, where we would loop around the parking lot of Manatee Lagoon, a tourist attraction where manatees huddle in the warm water outflows of the Florida Power & Light Company’s (FPL) Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center gas plant during manatee season.  It was fun seeing some friends along the way on their way back south as we headed out north toward the turnaround point.
Near Good Samaritan Hospital; about an hour after passing this area, smoke would be rising from a home nearby
Seeing the faster runners heading in our direction. The turnaround point is up ahead

Smoke rising from a house explosion
Just as I had made it past the turnaround point in the Manatee Lagoon parking lot, as we were heading south I could see thick black smoke rising into the sky in the distance, seemingly not far from the race course.  It turns out, there was an explosion at a house on Lakeside Court near Good Samaritan Medical Center, barely a block from the race course. We had ran past this street at the 6 mile mark, and would eventually pass it again.  Luckily no one was injured, but unfortunately the house was completely destroyed by the resulting fire. As I came back past the street at around 11.25 miles in (which was obviously closed off for the firetrucks to attend to the situation,) we could smell the smoky air.  Seeing the smoke billow into the blue sky definitely caused a lot of concern for the runners as we ran towards and past the site of the fire. To make things worse, even as we had passed the street, the haziness from the smoke and its smell had drifted over to the finish line area where half marathoners were finishing their race, and marathoners were continuing -- still smelling pungent up to the 14th mile of the marathon.

"Be Art" marquee letters near downtown West Palm Beach
The scenery gets a bit lonelier
Shortly after passing the start/finish line for the third time, we came upon the curve near the Cove Islands just off the coast in the Intracostal Waterway, and race marshals directed us toward the pathway that took us underneath the Royal Park Bridge. We'd reappear on the other side, and continue running on Flagler Drive, but it was MUCH more lonely out here, far fewer runners taking on the marathon distance. We passed the small campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University, as Flagler Drive became Washington Road, heading past some truly massive million dollar homes facing the water.

Why did the ibis cross the road?

Humongous multi million dollar homes along Flagler Drive
Thanks for the treats, Heather!
It’s always good to see friends-slash-fellow Marathon Maniacs cheering along the course! South Florida local Heather positioned herself on the course at mile 15, just south of Southern Boulevard (later, the 23.5 mile mark) handing out cold snacks among other things for marathoners! She was a much appreciated sight along the way.  The sun was baking us like crazy by this time, coming upon three hours into the race - and it showed with my speed as my mile pace slowed by 2-3 minutes for the remainder of the second half of the race. Some of the faster runners began to come back up toward the finish line in the other direction - one of those being my friend and fellow Team Nuun member Charisse from Orlando, who was vying for a podium placement among the women!

Palm trees in residential Southside
The road dead ended at Worth Street, as we turned left, and came back upon Flagler Drive once again, where we continued to work our way southward for the next 1.5 miles. The monotony of the views began to get at me, as we finally reached a right turn onto Summa Street, which began a short dogleg on the course as we wound our way through the residential Southside neighborhood of West Palm Beach. Eventually we found our way headed down Federal Highway for a short period of time with runners coming up the other direction.  On the other side of the street, I saw a group of ladies cheering on marathoners at my mile 18 mark, shaded by some roadside trees. I yelled to them across the street to make sure they had a mimosa ready for me on the way back.

Lake Worth
As I continued down Federal Highway, we crossed a small waterway and made our way into the neighboring city of Lake Worth.  There was a bit of construction we had to deal with running through, but it didn't affect us much. Our time in Lake Worth was short - we basically did one large roughly 3 mile loop around its quiet residential streets. Just after crossing the waterway, we turned left onto Duke Drive, then began a southward route on Lakeside Drive, turning onto 10th Avenue, and back onto Federal Highway.

A friendly mimosa from some spectators
As we returned into West Palm Beach, the ladies cheering on the marathoners at the side of the road had kept their word about fixing me up a drink - sure enough, 3.5 miles later at mile 21.5, they had one waiting for me. I love fun spectators! The route continued straight northward as Federal Highway turned into Olive Street, the heat and humidity taking a toll on me. Eventually, I came back to Heather as the road joined back up to Washington Street for a much needed bit of refreshment.  With less than three miles left to go, and my pace reduced to slogging through 14 minute miles, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be finishing well over my 5 hour goal.

The Royal Park Bridge opens up
The route turned back toward Olive Street as we headed northward, eventually returning to Flagler Drive with a mile to the finish. As we approached the recognizable buildings in the downtown, I noticed in the distance the double-leaf bascule of the Royal Park Bridge open for marine traffic as I passed, headed toward the finish.

Charisse waited for me!
The heat and humidity, plus my tired left calf muscle (likely smarting from the hills of the Flying Monkey Marathon in Tennessee and crazy travel to Asia and back only days before) all compounded into a truly tough day on the roads, and I crossed the finish line in 5:27:09.  Charisse, who did end up podium finishing as the 3rd overall female, stuck around for me when I finished the marathon, even though I finished around two hours after she did... After grabbing some quick shade and spotting my friends Andy (who decided to cut back down to the half after having a rough day on the roads) and Seth, I grabbed a quick headstand photo before we rushed to the car since Andy had scheduled an afternoon flight to head back to Houston.

My flight was not til later that night, so after a well deserved nap and some food later in the day, Seth took me back to the airport for my flight back home.  It was a tough finish, but I managed to complete my 34th marathon of the year! I'll be honest - it wasn't the most memorable race, and the course isn't the most impressive; but its flatness can bring in some good times if you're healthy and manage to stick it to the heat and humidity.

Mile 25 selfie... a tradition!

Victory Headstand before we go!

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