I am a maverick: St. Petersburg Half Marathon

I decided to act like a maverick.

Not that I really know what defines someone as a maverick, but since I was doing pretty much everything I NEVER do before a race, the moniker felt right on. Sunday I was honored to be part of the WagStrong team which ran the St. Petersburg Women’s Half Marathon. And the experience was important, because it was a reminder of how fun training and racing is for me.

I'm a sucker for a cool finisher's medal and a great cause.

I signed up for the race at the urging of Juli Goldstein. You may remember meeting Juli previously on the blog. She is a marine mammal veterinarian, an amazing runner and the founder of the Stryder Cancer Foundation, also known as Wag Strong! Juli was participating in several events to raise awareness of her new charity which provides emotional and financial support to animals (and their humans) during diagnosis and treatment of canine cancer. She put out the all-call for people to join her for the Women’s Running Half Marathon in St. Petersburg and so I decided to join her.

I convinced running buddy Sue to join me for the race and our friend Herm came along too (though he ran a trail marathon in nearby Tampa). The race for me was always a lark. Granted, it was planned months in advance, but there was no focus for me. I just wanted to experience the race. I wanted to meet Juli in person. I wanted to be inspired. So basically, I ran a half marathon on my fitness, not on half marathon-specific training. This race? Was never going to be a PR.

The maverick in me came the race expo where I spent money I wasn’t planning to. (Happy Thanksgiving to me?) I bought a cute running skirt from the aptly named company Running Skirts along with a pair of calf compression sleeves, which previously I swore that I would NEVER wear during a race. This outfit? I decided I would wear on race day. Yep. Cardinal Rule No. 1: Nothing new on race day. Enter the first time I officially labeled myself a maverick for the weekend.

Me, awestruck, next to Kathrine Switzer

At the expo, I nearly tumbled over myself when I saw Kathrine Switzer signing autographs. For those who don’t remember, Switzer was the first woman to gain a race number for the Boston Marathon. Officials tried to pull her off the course as no women were allowed in the race. She kept running. And hasn’t stopped. Maverick? That would be Kathrine Switzer. I couldn’t think of anything profound to say to her or to ask her. All I did was thank her  for all she’s done for women’s running. Then she signed my race bib. It’s not often I’m star struck. But this chance meeting? Had me inspired.

Welcome to race morning where the starting temperature was 70 degrees with 92 percent humidity. While wonderful beach weather, this wasn’t great racing weather. Especially for someone from Buffalo who has been training in 40 degrees for a good month now. (OK, a few days got into the upper 50s, but the humidity was never a factor.) Sue and I started out slow and enjoyed the run. We took in the sunshine. We took in the views of the water and palm trees and were filled with gratitude for running and for our health. We ran the first 8 miles together.

My maverick race day outfit.

And then I started to fall back. Sue had sworn she was not going to finish ahead of me this race. She was going to start slow and taper, she joked. I knew in my heart this wasn’t true and by Mile 9, I had lost sight of her. My legs felt OK. My breathing was a bit labored but not horrible. What was wrong? I just couldn’t move any faster. The heat and humidity was zapping me. And for a moment, I beat myself up. For a good five minute I threw myself a little pity party in my head, the voice that’s determined to tell me that despite my best efforts to the contrary I am not a runner or an athlete.

But I thought of Kathrine Switzer. I thought of Juli. I thought of being fearless. What did that mean to me in this moment? It meant leaving my fear behind. I’m a maverick, remember? So I kept my slower pace and trudged on ahead. In Mile 11 the course took a lap around the inside of Tropicana Field — an experience I wasn’t anticipating since I didn’t really study the course. (Remember, maverick!) This was slow, but it was pretty cool.

Welcome to the final mile where I ran steady and hard. As I approached the final quarter mile of the race I kicked it in. I ran as hard as I could, crossing the finish line just shy of feeling as if I was going to pass out. It may not have been my best time over 13.1 miles, but I worked for every single second. It was flat, but it may have been my most difficult, because I had to fight the heat, the humidity and my desire to set expectations for myself.

Sure, I had some ideas of goal times. I had a sense of what I could run under ideal conditions and then a desired “base” time. I hit that base time. I didn’t hit my average time and I fell short of what ideal conditions could have produced.

But there was something much more valuable gained. I had an experience. I ran for a cause. I made new friends. I strengthened existing friendships. I celebrated adventure and health and wellness. I did it on my terms. I was inspired. I won’t practice maverick running for every race, but I can always tap into my maverick spirit.

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