Thursday, October 25, 2018

Race Report: Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon

I've run in Florida several times - six times in fact - and the Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon would be my third full in the state, after having run Miami and West Palm Beach in 2017.  The A1A has been known to provide some of the most inventive and attractive medals around.  During the expo for West Palm, I decided to pull the plug and include A1A onto my 2018 calendar.  When the weekend came, I was ticketed for a 7:45pm flight on Saturday night, so on the Friday night before, after my birthday dinner with friends, I called Delta to see if I could same-day-confirm onto an earlier flight.  Knowing full well that it could be impossible, as this was the beginning of a long weekend as well as a mid-winter break for many people in the NYC area, I asked to be put on the standby list for the first flight in the morning at 7am.

Early Saturday morning, I headed to the airport at around 5:15am, and got through security fairly quickly before heading to the Sky Club to grab breakfast.  I didn't need to be at the gate until boarding, anyway - and the standby list had me right at the top.  Eventually, as boarding began and progressed, it looked like the plane was boarding full, and indeed it did - I've had luck in the past with seats opening up for people missing their flight, but it wasn't to be for that 7am flight.

I headed back to the SkyClub and got one of the employees there, a guy named Kris, to list me on the next flight out.  Turns out, the 9am had two open seats in the main cabin, and he was nice enough to bypass the "same fare class" requirement needed for same-day-confirming onto another flight, so I had a confirmed seat on the 9am!  I got listed on the upgrade list as well, and was able to jump into a Comfort+ window seat before boarding.  So I was going to get to Florida about eleven hours early after all!

I arrived in Fort Lauderdale to 70 degree weather, much nicer than what I had left behind in frigidly cold New York.  I met my friend Seth outside, and while he had already gotten my bib and my friend Carrie's bib earlier that morning, we headed back to the expo anyway, so I could check out some of the vendors.  It was a surprisingly smaller expo than I had anticipated, but otherwise, I was able to get what I needed out of it - a box of GU and some free coffee!  Seth and I then headed back to his place in the Wilton Manors neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, with a stop at the mall and for lunch in between, while we waited for his friend Karen to arrive.

Dinner that evening was timed so that Seth, Karen, and I headed out to Bona, a local Italian restaurant in Wilton Manors, with me joining them for about an hour before transferring to another table at the same restaurant where I was meeting with three other friends from Front Runners New York who had come down to Florida for the race.  Dinner was delicious - we followed it up with a short walk down Wilton Drive to check out the local bar scene, but it was still pretty early... though we took note of it all for Sunday night revelry.  I headed back to Seth's to get ready to pass out for the night, as we had a VERY early AM wake up with the race starting at 6am.

Early morning startline
Between Seth, Karen, and I, we agreed to leave at 4:30, and drive to the start in Karen's car, as she was planning to leave to head back up north to Jupiter right after she finished the half.  I only needed twenty minutes to get ready, so I was the last to wakeup at 4am.  We drove to a parking structure near the start and with a good hour still before the race, we went about our own ways to do our pre-race rituals. I met up with a few friends including Amy, Lisa, and Danielle in front of the Museum of Discovery and Science, and also met up with Carrie, as I had her bib and bag for the race -- she had quite the morning, as she frantically tried to book a Lyft/Uber from Miami right when the bars there began to let out around 5am, eventually flagging down a cab to take her up to Fort Lauderdale.  At 5:35, the national anthem was performed by what's become a tradition for the A1A race - performed by a saxophonist!

With FRNY friend Michael
After the anthem, I self-seeded into the corrals, nestled between the 2:00 and 2:10 half marathon pacers, eventually meeting up with Seth, and running into another fellow FRNY member Michael, who was running the half.  The chaos of the start didn't allow for the rest of the FRNY folks to meet us in the corrals. At 6am, we were off, running down the dark streets of Fort Lauderdale, lit only by the streetlamps and traffic lights on the downtown streets.  It was definitely warm - my watch registered the temperature as 72, with 88% humidity.  I start off conservatively as we made our way eastward along SW 2nd Street, curving along Andrews Avenue to take us to Las Olas Boulevard.  A couple miles in, and the thickness of the humidity in the air is palpable.  I start to take my walk breaks on the 9/1, vowing to keep this up as much as possible.

Running down Las Olas Boulevard
Bridge crossing over the intracoastal
Continuing on eastward along Las Olas, reaching the "highest" point of the race, a bridge crossing over the intracoastal waterway right to State Route A1A, alongside Las Olas Beach with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean.  At around 2.75 miles, we turn left to make our way along the race's namesake State Route A1A highway. We pass by Fort Lauderdale's famous Elbo Room bar, just as the sun begins to peek over the horizon.  Thankfully, the morning is overcast, so we are spared much of the sun blazing over us in these early hours.  It would actually stay overcast for much of the morning, which was a godsend to the marathoners who would be out there for much longer.

Running on the A1A, where we would be for most of the race
Running through Birch State Park
We ran northward along the A1A for a bit, before turning left at the 4 mile mark onto Sunrise Boulevard.  This portion of the race had us complete a loop around the asphalt path that encircles Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, located between the Intracoastal Waterway and SR A1A. Along the way, I end up running into my friend Ben, who had flown down from North Carolina, having finished the Oak Island Half Marathon the morning before. He was just doing the half, feeling a little sore, but content with finishing his first sub-2 half in a few months since sustaining an injury.  He continued on as I stopped for a walk break as we continued through the park.

As we closed in on the 6 mile mark, I began to notice a skunky smell, mixed with the unmistakable stench of sewage, likely brought in from the tides from the ocean. With Carrie not far in front of me, I knew she was going to be stopping around here to gather herself - she's quite sensitive to smells. And lo and behold, as I approached the exit of the park, there she was.  We decided to stick with each other for the remainder of the race, or as much of the race as we could together.

The marathoners continue on north!
Eventually, we were back out on Sunrise Boulevard, making our way back to the A1A.  We turned left onto the highway, and continued to run northward, making our way into the communities of Fort Lauderdale Beach and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.  At one point, the faster half marathoners heading in our direction after making their turn around had been led right into the path of everyone else.  Someone was not directing these folks into the correct lane, causing quite a traffic jam through the area.  Fellow FRNY members running the marathon Tony and Bob passed me by as we made our way up the road.  It was just after Lauderdale Beach in the Galt Mile area, however, that the half marathoners did their turn around, and the rest of us marathoners emerged onto wide open roads along A1A, continuing on northward for quite sometime, much less crowded.

Passing by some albatross (?) statue...
We veered right onto El Mar Boulevard, and into Lauderdale-by-the-Sea's beachfront strip, passing by Anglin's Fishing Pier (the longest pier in South Florida), before returning to A1A.   As we continued northward through Sea Ranch and into Pompano Beach, the scenery became very monotonous, as pretty much everything on either side of us was a condominium building, many of them slathered in pastel colors, synonymous with south Florida.  The morning heat began to take its toll, and Carrie and I slowed down enough to cross the halfway point, where my friend Heather had parked herself with the Marathon Maniacs sign, ice pops, and beer, at about the 2 1/2 hour mark of the race.  By then, we knew going under 5 hours was likely not going to happen.

Heather providing us ice pops.  THANK GOD FOR HEATHER.
Carrie and I, and our manatee friend
We continued on northward, past more condos, and deep into the residential area of Hillsboro Shores, one of the few single family home communities on the barrier island of the city of Pompano Beach. Carrie and I stopped to take a selfie with a mailbox in the shape of Florida's state marine mammal, the manatee.  The course circled around to its northernmost point, taking a right along Bay Drive, where an aid station was located, and then diverted along Beacon Street back to the A1A before looping back around to Bay Drive for the run back, but the turn onto Beacon Street was very unassuming - in fact, while Carrie and I turned left, we saw another runner in front of us seemingly going in the wrong direction.  Oh well -- she may have likely figured it out coming back around, and it wouldn't have been much additional distance to run.  As we finished our last northward trek along the A1A, we saw the bascule bridge in the distance over the Hillsboro Inlet lifted upward to let a ship come through.  We joked how that was definitely not a hill in this super flat race.

Returning back along the A1A... still so much more mileage to go.
Jokes.  I literally can't do this.
The run back along the A1A was rather uneventful for the both of us - the sun had peeked out past the clouds and was definitely assaulting our sensitivities.  The monotony of the course was definitely getting to us, as was the heat emanating off our faces.  We basked in any moment the condos could give us some semblance of shade, and then complained to each other when it was beating us down.  We definitely got to the point in the race where we were not enjoying the temperature situation (we don't enjoy running in heat and humidity!), and wanted to complain for the sake of complaining.  Along the way, Front Runners Fort Lauderdale friend Paul had caught up, and he ran alongside his sister, who had come to help pace him for a few miles near the finish.  At around mile 19, Carrie needed to push forward a bit to keep her legs underneath her as we did our periodic run-walk breaks, but eventually as we made our way past the wall a mile later and in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, I caught up to her, and we continued on for the last 10k of the race.  This last 10k was brutal under the morning sun, and we kept using each of the traffic lights as markers for when we would run and when we would walk.  With a little over two miles left to go, we passed Hugh Taylor Birch State Park where Carrie and I had started running together, and we pushed ourselves as best as we could inching ever closer to the finish.

We both really just wanted this medal.
FRNY Finishers!
Eventually, we got to Fort Lauderdale Beach Park with less than half a mile to go, and saw an inflatable Publix arch in the distance, happily rejoicing that the finish line was so close... but no.. it was a FAKE and was only the 26 mile mark.  The actual finish line was about 0.2 mile away, so we trudged on and crossed the finish in 5:49:52, just barely ten minutes under the hard 6 hour time limit.  But we didn't care... we were done, and got the pretty jellyfish medal we were both pining for.  The temps were crazy - 79º, but a "realfeel" of 83º -- no wonder we were spent. After the finish, we got photos with the massive sand castle built especially for the race - and I also got to do my headstand - before catching the schoolbus to take us back to the startline area.  From there, Seth, Paul, and I caught a Lyft to take us back to Wilton Manors.

Victory Headstand!
After a bit of rest for the rest of the afternoon, Seth and I grabbed some dinner and just lazed around - I had decided to take a morning flight on Monday because of the holiday.  With that, another marathon done... with a pretty medal hard earned.

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