2 years ago a co-worker completed the FL Storm Series and told me all about it as he encoraged me to do it. He explained how it worked and showed me all of the really cool medals he got along the way. I decided then that it was something I wanted to do and was going to do. So I planned ahead and made sure I was available to run all 5 of the races and wouldn't have any issues completing it. Little did I know this was going to be the experience that it was. Basically the goal is to run all 5 of the half marathons. When you run your 3rd, 4th or 5th race, you get a special "category" medal to show you did that amount of the races within the series. The "category" represents the "strength of the hurricane" so the higher the category, the bigger the medal. So along with the individual race medal, you can earn a storm series medal. In the end, you have the potential of earning 8 total medals for completing all 5 races.
Now, going into this, I figured the toughest part would be the final 2 races since they are on back to back weekends but even then I wasn't really concerned. I'd already completed 2 marathons, and run solo training runs of 13 miles and more dozens of times. Even though these would be my first official half marathon races, I didn't realize the difference that that can mean in certain cases.
The first race was on November 15th, 2015 in Fort Lauderdale. It was a very windy day and I knew it was going to be tough for me because I do not perform well running against the wind. I knew a majority of the course from running other local races in that area but never with these types of wind gusts. The temperature was typical Florida warm and humid but I figured the wind would help keep me cooler. I started out okay and had a decent pace going through the first 10K but then things fell apart for me. Since the beginning of the course was throughout the downtown area there was a lot of building coverage but once we got closer to the beach and it opened up, my legs couldn't hang. It also didn't help that I had just ran a local 10K the week before and got a PR causing my legs to be more fatigued than I was hoping.
By mile 7.5 I was having to take 30-60 second walk breaks and doing my best to push the best running pace I could, for as long as I could. Everyone knows that my biggest concern is how quickly I sweat and that was becoming the issue for me quickly on this day. I was experiencing a lot of painful cramps and my legs kept locking up on me. This was probably the first time during any race that I considered either dropping out or at least just walking to the finish. Thankfully at mile 10 the course changed directions for the rest of the race and the wind was at my back which helped push me a little bit. I eventually finished with a time of 1:51:24, which was personally disappointing but I knew days like this happen and I had to just shake it off. After crossing the finish line I layed down next to the volunteer who was passing out cold water and asked for ice for my legs. She gave me a huge block of it and I sat it on my thighs until I felt better.
The second race was on December 6th, 2015 in West Palm Beach. This one was new territory for me and had close to similar types of wind gusts as the first race but overall looked more promising. I went into this race with a different strategy where I would take a quick walk break through the aid stations I wanted to drink some water or gatorade at and make sure I got it down before running again. This was working well and I wasn't cramping like the previous race but once we got to mile 11.5, the course turned towards the finish and the wind became a tough headwind. This is where I had to take a few more walk breaks than I wanted to and my pace slowed down a lot but I was still ahead of my pace from the first race. I pushed through and managed a better time of 1:44:03 and left feeling better knowing that I was learning how to run this race distance better and what to work on in training.
The third race was on January 24th, 2016 in Miami. This is where things got exciting. I was already in a good mood because it was my 2 year wedding anniversary and the temperatures were colder. Being a born and raised Floridian, I was quickly reminded why I still live down here; the temperature was 44 degrees. I remember running to the garage below the Miami Heat arena to stay warm and seeing runners all over the place doing the same thing. By the time the race started my toes were numb. I got out to a fast start knowing that I perform well in the cold since I don't sweat much. I used a different strategy here because of the temperature and it was working as planned. It wasn't until we hit our second steep bridge around mile 10 that I had to stop for a quick walk break. Knowing that I made it 10 miles without having to walk gave me confidence, especially knowing that I was on pace to get a PR if I could maintain a worst case 8 minute mile pace the rest of the way.
As we got closer to the finish, the crowds along the street really motivated me to keep pushing. I still needed a couple of quick walk breaks but I eventually made it to the finish with a PR time of 1:38:03. I was so excited. I got my category 3 medal and enjoyed the post race party. Knowing that this course had some steep inclines for a Florida race and colder weather for us Florida people, I was really proud and confident going into the last 2 races.
The fourth race was on March 6th, 2016 also in Miami. The weather was a little warm and humid with a little wind gust from time to time. What I was concerned about with this race was having to go over 4 steep bridges this time with them getting tougher each time until the last one being a little smaller. Knowing that the final race is considered a flat course and a typical PR course, I planned to just cruise through this one and save it for that race but that's not what ended up happening. As I got through the first 5k I felt amazing. I wasn't feeling the need or want to take a walk break or even get something to drink from the aid stations. It was at that point that I decided to try a new technique and see if maybe I didn't need to take in that much fluid. Halfway through I was still feeling amazing and I had decided to go for the PR.
I hit the third bridge and still felt great so I told myself to push the pace once I hit the final bridge around mile 11. Things were going well and I was pushing the pace. I approached the finish line and realized that somehow I was going to miss the PR by seconds but I kept pushing and finished at 1:38:05 missing it by 2 seconds. I thought I would be crushed but it was even more inspiring. I had just tackled one of my toughest courses, didn't have to stop once, felt great and performed well. What was frustrating was when other runners were talking about the course being long, which my watch showed as well. I started to wonder what my time would have been if that wasn't the case but I didn't want it to ruin the moment. So I got my category 4 medal and decided to enjoy the accomplishment and get ready for the final race.
It was a couple of days before the final race where something within me said "go for it" and I felt the urge to go for that PR one more time. I thought about how each race I had technically improved, become faster and stronger and knew that if I was rested enough, it was possible to PR on this course. This was the final race and I felt like there was no reason to hold anything back. I told friends and co-workers that I had made up my mind and I was going for it.
The fifth race was on March 13th, 2016 in Sarasota. The weather was supposed to be cooler and rainy but it ended up just being a little windy. The change of weather made me wonder if I was going to be able to pull this off but it wasn't going to stop me from trying. I also knew that there was one steep bridge that you ran at mile 1 and 4 and then had a pretty flat course the rest of the way. So I started out fast and I mean fast. I looked at my watch at the 5k mark and realized I was 1 minute off my 5k PR pace and wondered if I was going out too fast. I still felt great and was motivated even more when I hit the 10k mark and noticed I was 1 minute off my 10k PR pace. At mile 7 I started to truly feel the pace kicking in.
At this point I knew I was going to have to switch the strategy a little bit by taking in some additional fluids, using the water to dump on my head to try and keep cool and slow down the pace a little to conserve some energy. Each time I started to fade and consider walking, I thought about the promise I made to myself and others and kept pushing. I was still about 3 minutes ahead of my PR pace and knew that even in a worst case scenerio, I could get a PR with 8 minute miles the rest of the way, but I didn't want it to even come to that. As we reached mile 11 I started picking up the pace when I could. As the 1:35 pacer passed me I knew I had the PR in the bag. I used him as my pacer the rest of the way and was pumped as I turned the final corner and saw the timer hitting the 1:35 mark. I crossed the finish line in a new PR time of 1:35:22 and celebrated with pure emotion. I got the category 5 medal and celebrated a tough but awesome FL Storm Series experience.
If I had to rate the races, I would say Sarasota had the best views and course. The second Miami race definitely had the toughest course. The first Miami race had the best crowds, course entertainment and medals. It also had the coolest weather and is normally known for that. Sarasota had the best after race food and entertainment. Overall it was a great experience and this is a really cool series to attempt if you ever have the chance. I learned a lot about myself from race to race as a runner and half marathon racer. I also learned a lot about how to better train and prepare for a race as well as making mid race adjustments. It started with my worst performance ever and ended with my best. I am really glad I took the chance on the FL Storm Series.