This was the first time that I ran the Clearwater Marathon with new race organization Millennium Running. I had vowed the last time I ran it that I would NEVER run it again. The old course
was horrible, and the other race director did not handle the situation well when it canceled due to bad weather. There were a lot of angry runners.
This year, Kim and I had the opportunity to pace Clearwater Marathon for OnPace Race. I paced a
½ marathon this past September at the Cape for them and had such a positive experience that after I finished I reached out to all of my runner friends to “sign-up” to pace for this awesome organization. Carrie Miller, the owner of
OnPace Race reached out to us with some pacing opportunities. When we saw Clearwater, we signed up immediately! The most expensive part of traveling to Tampa is the rental car; flights and hotel are pretty inexpensive this time of year.
arrived in Florida on Thursday and checked out our room at the Gulfview Hotel. It was advertised with amenities that included a kitchen equipped with stove, fridge, microwave and dishwasher. When we opened the cupboards we found out that the kitchen
had very limited supplies. We ended up going to the dollar store to stock up on salt and pepper shakers, pint, wine and margarita glasses. Then we went shopping and bought food for the next few days. Don’t laugh, but when you travel
as much as we do, you learn how to save money pretty quickly!
Friday morning, we got up and did a quick 4 mile shake out run to try to acclimate to the temperature. We ran over the Sand Key bridge did a loop in the park and headed back. I was
sweating! This made me a bit nervous that the race may be to hot.
Saturday was the expo and 5K. It was so chilly at the expo which was held at The Coachman park outside. The wind made it pretty chilly when the sun started to go down.
We met our pace group and got our race packages. I put on my bib and started with some negative thoughts because I really don’t like to run 5K’s. I am not a fan of running ”all out” and I tend to get competitive when
I see another older woman try to run by me! Kim and I got to the start and waited which seemed like an eternity. Finally, the gun went off and we started to run. Kim took off and I kept a comfortable pace. I didn’t want to go out fast
knowing I was pacing the full marathon the next day. I ran side by side with Carrie who also said she was not racing because she’s pacing the 4-hour group. We crested the dreaded bridge that had a pretty decent elevation. I put my head down
and did what I do best, counted my steps between utility poles and got to the top. Finally, I had a nice break downhill. As I turned the corner to loop back at the half way point, someone yelled “here comes our first female”. I looked
around, “is he talking about me”? Then, his next comment was “you got someone right behind you”. Then, I thought to myself, this is only 1 ½ miles in, I’m sure I won’t keep up this pace, and I’d really
be happy with the top 3! I kept running and started to come to the last turn before the finish. People were jumping up and down “Congrats, first female”! Then it started to hit me, could I be this first female finisher?
I looked ahead and saw them start to pull the finisher tape across the finish line! OMG! It’s me! It’s freaking me! OMG, all my life I’ve dreamed of this moment! Wait? Where is Kim? I don’t see him!
I crossed that finish line breaking that tape! I can’t even describe the feeling I had. I started to cry! I looked for Kim and thought, “boy is he going to be pissed he missed me! Little did I know he was right there on the side
screaming for me! Then I looked up and he came running over with tears in his eyes! “You did it, Jeanne you were the first female finisher, see? I told you that you weren’t old and slow (because this is what I say to him)! ”.
I hugged him and was getting congratulated from so many strangers. I felt like rock star; the most amazing 10 minutes of my life! I broke the tape (and it wasn’t a crime scene tape)!
of the race:
Did I mention that the expo was in a park outside with a bunch of vendors? We didn’t stop and check anything out, so I don’t have anything to add other than the vendors were getting there to set up for
post-race. We went to the OnPace Race tabke, took photos,talked about logistics and then I headed over to the bathroom line that was about 20 minutes long. My first suggestion to the race director would be – MORE PORT-O-LETS!!!! I literally
left there and ran straight to our corral based on our time. We met quite a few runners that wanted to run with us. Before we knew it the gun went off and we started. My 2nd suggestion: Bathrooms for Pacers ONLY!
The weather was perfect. I was chilly and wore my throw away shirt and gloves until mile 3. I never overheated during the race. I took my normal planned nutrition and only took
salt around mile 18 just to be safe.
We had decent size group up until mile 9. It was about that time that we noticed the mile markers were way off. I assured our runners that we were on target by comparing our average pace, and pace bands
to the mile markers. Eric from New Hampshire started with us and stuck with us for most of the race. He had a bad experience with a pacer in Philadelphia, so we wanted to get him to his goal of 4:15 with a consistent pace. We thought
we lost him before we crested the bridge where the half turned off to the finish. Then all of a sudden Eric was back with us. Kim told stories to him to keep his mind occupied but eventually he slipped behind. We both felt horrible!
We were pretty much without a group around mile 16. There were quite a few water stops that weren’t very well organized. All I could think of is how how well organized HMF is, where each table has water ready for runners with volunteers encouraging
them. It was not like this in Clearwater. Some of the water stops were manned by teenage boys that weren’t really paying too much attention to the runners. We even experienced water stops that had no one there and unfortunately,
we found one at mile 17 that not only did not have people there it had NO water in any of the 4 large gatorade containers. Luckily, Kim and I weren’t overheating and in desperately need for water.
The new course was much better than
the old one. We went over bridges 7 times with the new course. It had a lot of beautiful neighborhoods that were very desolate with minimal crowd support. I would not want to be running this race alone.
There is something special about
pacing. We have a goal and were constantly watching our watches to make sure we were on pace. I never felt that “OMG, I still have XXX miles left”. Instead, we ran by runners that were walking and encouraged them to run with us and to keep
them going. The higher miles went by pretty fast. We finally went up and over the last bride. At this point we had no one in our pace group. We crossed the finish line at 4:14:14.
Kim and I waited at the finish for the runners that
we paced. They started to cross the finish line and we high fived them. I said to Kim, “I hope Erik is okay”. He said, “You should run back to see if you can find him”. I said “yes – so I took off
my bib and started running back, thinking, “OMG, I just ran a marathon and now I’m running again!”. I started to look for Eric, as I headed out of the park and back up the ramp to the top of the bridge. I got to the top and looked
ahead. I saw a few runners coming towards me. Then, there he was….
Eric said, “Did you come back for me? No one has ever come back for me ?” and I said “Hell, yes”, come on, I’m running you in.
We talked about his experience and finished together. I said, “Kim promised to have his beer with you when you finished!”.
I love pacing. I love meeting new people and being part of their journey. It was awesome meeting
Eric. We hung out with him after the race and of course made Facebook friends. There is something special that you share with runners during a marathon. It’s hard to explain. It’s comraderies, it’s sharing experiences
and fears, and pure honesty. It makes me look forward to my next race and leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment. It’s so nice to connect with other runners!
Would I run this race again? It on my 2021 list for next year!
you OnPace Race team for this amazing expereince!