The Citrus Heritage 5k and Half Marathon run were held today in my city.
For the second year in a row, I signed up to have a booth for my Train-n-Tri triathlon training company and to hand out SunRype bars, since I am one of their sponsored athletes.
I had a lot of fun last year hanging out and talking to my athlete friends. Last year, my guy rode his mountain bike as the bike lead-out for the half marathon. He was working this year so he couldn't do it, but other people stepped in and took over the job. One of the people who signed up to ride the bike lead-out was one of my athletes. Then yesterday he had to have some dental work done and just wasn't up to riding his bike.
He asked me if I would take over for him and he would man my booth while I was out riding my bike.
Sure, no problem. I knew that part of the 13.1 miles was trail, but no biggie. I have a mountain bike. I haven't really been mountain bike riding for a while, but I thought, how hard could the course be?
So at 7 a.m. I left my booth (and the warmth of the Big Buddy heater) and went to the start line.
It was about 40 degrees at this picture, but we all look warm because I had the Big Buddy heater going......it kept the booth toasty warm for several hours....some of which I missed because I was out riding my bike.
The start line...where the real adventure began.
Eric Lewis and me at the start line. We were joined by a couple of other cyclists who were also bike lead outs.
The runners are ready!!!
And they are off and running. Take special note of runner 191 and runner 200.
The four of us pedaled in front of the fast runners, but it was soon obvious that runner 200 was going way faster than anyone else. He had a big lead so the two other cyclists led him on, while Eric and I dropped back and pace runner 191.
It just so happens that I know runner 191, so for the rest of my saga, I'm calling him Jake.
Jake has ridden at one of my Tuesday night bike rides and came out for a Triathlon Swim session I coached last year.
But today it was my and Eric's job to get him through the course and to the finish line.
For a while we could still see the two front lead-out cyclists and the front runner.
Then we couldn't.
I didn't have a map of the route, but I had been told that I wouldn't need one because the route was well-marked and there was no way I could get lost.
Eric had a map on his phone.
Since I did not know I was bike lead out until last night, I had not attended the pre-ride the weekend before. Eric hadn't either.
None of it made a bit of difference.
We were going along pretty well, and Eric and I even talked about how the "off-trail" part of the course through the Citrus Heritage State Park would make a good cyclocross course.
The run went through lots of orange groves and had uphills and downhills and sand and dirt and mud and water.
At one point I let Eric lead and I dropped back behind Jake because the hill we were going down was pretty steep and it had lots of different terrain mixed in (dirt/ruts/mud) and I didn't want to accidentally crash in front of Jake and slow him down.
Every once in a while we would see an orange cone or an orange painted arrow, but pretty much we were just flying blind through the orange groves.
We didn't see anyone in front of us or behind us.
As we came off one dirt road onto a paved road the arrow pointed left and there were cones that curved to the left.
We went left.
We went down a little ways and there were a couple of police explorers on the side of the road. There were cones set up in the road and it appeared that we should turn left onto a dirt road. When we asked the explorers which way we should go, their response was, "uh, left?"
Oh gee, thanks, guys.
I have this really fast guy running up my ass and he is counting on me to get him to the finish line and this course is NOT well-marked and I DON'T have a flipping map.
We turned left and led Jake through another muddy orange grove road. At the end of the orange grove road we came out on a paved road and we turned left and it was then that I knew something was wrong.
Eric knows something is wrong.
Jake knows something is wrong.
In front of me I could see runners running across the street. The were running from a dirt road on the right, crossing the paved road and continuing onto the dirt road on the left....all of which we had already done.
There is no way, I was thinking, that the race planners would have the runners intersecting with other runners (though once I did do a triathlon open water swim that had that problem because of poor planning).
"Did they change the route?" Jake asked.
Since I had never run, walked, rode or even looked at a map of the route I didn't have a clue.
I rode up ahead and eventually found a cone and an arrow, though the arrow was coming out of a dirt road and made a left onto the road we were on.
I know that all sounds confusing and crazy, but it was confusing and crazy...AND A RACE!!!!
Jake kept following us and when we got to the next intersection there were a couple of volunteers sitting on the ground and they said turn right and we did and we went up to an aid station where you had to turn around and go right back down.....down to the two volunteers we had just seen.
"Which way?" we asked them. And they didn't really seem to know and they indicated that we should turn left and go back the way we came, but Eric and I were smarter than that and we continued on straight.
Every time we saw a volunteer (which was not very often) I would ask if anyone else had been by, and most said no, while a couple of volunteers would say they had seen one person.
Finally, I saw a motorcycle police officer and I rode up to him and asked him if he had a map.
He said yes, but it wouldn't do me any good because the course the runners were running was not the course on the map.
By now, Eric and I are a little worried.
We want to get Jake to the finish line, but we also want to get him there by running the correct course.
We finally come up on some course mile markers and we breathe a sign of relief.
Eric checks his STRAVA for the mileage against the course mile marker and it looks as if we had Jake run an extra half mile.
I told Jake I was sorry that we had added mileage onto his race. He was so nice about the confusion. He said the race was a training run for him for the Boston Marathon.
The last 3 miles of the run were a straight shot down Victoria Avenue right to the finish line.
And we did get Jake to the finish line.
But he wasn't the first one there. Runner 200 had crossed the line first. We heard that Runner 200 had crossed the finish line in an hour, but had only ran 10 miles.
I was a little sick to my stomach waiting for results to be announced.
Hanging out with my athletes and friends helped pass the time.
Sandy, me, Barbara and Orietta.
Finally, they had awards.
It seems that somewhere along the way the course was changed or it wasn't changed, but it was mis-marked, so it was changed because some orange grove gates were not opened, or it wasn't changed, or ????
The announcer kind of joked that some people ran more than the 13.1 and some ran less and the people who ran more could go to registration and pay their extra money.
Runner 200 was disqualifed..I can only guess that it was because he did not run enough miles. He was near my booth talking to the other lead-out cyclist and he looked kind of upset. And who could blame him. Runner 200 is a damn fast runner.
Look, I like Jake, but if he and Runner 200 both had ran a well-marked course, say, like up and down Victoria Avenue without depending on cones, orange ground arrows, a map, and a bike lead-out, I think Runner 200 would have crossed the finish line first.
Both Runner 200 and Jake will be running the Boston Marathon so they can go up against each other there. I am sure that course will be marked correctly.
Truth is, though, I am relieved that Jake won Overall Male because if he hadn't I would have felt guilty about my hand in his race.
Another truth - Eric and I did the best we could with what was put before us and I think we did a pretty good job.
And one more truth - there were a lot of other runners out there running up and down the orange groves off course and putting in extra paces and they didn't have a bike lead out worry about getting them to the finish line.
When it all shakes out, it wasn't the best RACE for anyone. But it sure was a pretty run.
Or in my case, ride.
But next year, I think I'll just hang out in my booth and pass out SunRype bars and answer questions about triathlons and training.
And next year, if they want runners to sign up for the Citrus Heritage race they better offer it dirt cheap because people expect to get what they pay for.