Sunday, April 08, 2012

[Travel] Running in the Sun

Running in the Sun: Every time I visit Sarasota I like it more. When I was young I loathed going down there (I have family to visit there). The heat was oppressive. It was filled with old people rushing the early-bird dinner specials. Maybe it's just been a slow process of discovery, or maybe the city has changed over the years, or maybe I'm starting to feel an affinity for those old people, but I think Sarasota is a killer destination. I visited for the usual reason, family business, but I was also able to coincide it with the First Watch Half Marathon.

It was to start at 7AM but we made the DST spring forward the night before, so it was the equivalent of 6AM. Of course one needs to be up earlier to prep for the race (pin on one's number, make sure one's MP3 player is functioning, eat a tiny breakfast and hydrate one's self, etc.) so one is operating on very little sleep.

Yes, I know, the snarky question is, Why don't you just go to sleep earlier the night before? Well, that's not how it works for me. I am constitutionally incapable of going to sleep -- sleep comes to me when it chooses and it is a creature of habit. It lives entirely in the past and assumes the future will be the same. Thus, knowing that I have the get up before the sun has no effect on my sleep habits. Sleep still thinks I'll be getting up at reasonable hour.

The whole event was wonderfully well organized. Simple gear drop off, obvious start line and pace runners. They even had folks walking around before the race offering Vaseline for those, ahem, sensitive areas. The race started on time. Everything was smooth, except for me. I managed to snap the arm band on my MP3 player literally 5 yards from the start. I ran the entire 13.1 miles with it in my pocket.

The first part of the race lead from the mainland across John Ringling Bridge and back, providing astounding views of Sarasota Bay. Sarasota Bay is as strikingly beautiful as any I've seen. Glistening condos and skyscrapers line the mainland with a big marina and sailboats moored up throughout. The architecture is all in the quasi-moorish Floridian style that perfectly meshes with the green gulf and the sun. My mother likes to tell the story of how she was driving down here from Michigan nearly 30 years ago and one look out at Sarasota Bay made her decide it was where she would settle.

We continued across the bridge and past Bird Key -- a little bay island that with homes of the rich and famous -- and one loop of St. Armand's Circle, the high status shopping and dining hub, at least as far as us tourists are concerned. Exiting the bridge at the mainland there is the 26 foot tall "Unconditional Surrender" statue -- a giant reproduction of the famous Life magazine cover from the V-J Day. Some think it's gaudy and stupid -- I think it's fun. So does everyone who gets their picture taken under it.

From there up Highway 41 to the Ringling Museum grounds. Another unheralded beauty, the Ringling Museum is a fine art museum, if a little heavy on pre-Renaissance works, but the grounds do not disappoint. They are beautifully landscaped with Banyan trees and gardens throughout. I only know this from previous visits becasue this was about the ten mile point in the race, so I was not really up to sightseeing.

The course then wound through a quiet residential area before returning to 41 and the finish. I was good for the first half of the race -- felt pretty strong, but by mile eight I knew I was in for a slog to the end although by that point I also had no fears of not finishing. My final time was 2:10 and that included a potty break. At the finish there was a big shiny medal awaiting everyone, bands were playing happy music and there was ample food and drink -- although the lines were quite long. Nicely done all around.

I didn't linger. I wandered back to the Hyatt, just a half mile or so away and hopped in the nice cold pool to soak my aching joints. I'm glad my first half-marathon was a positive experience, but I don't know if I'd ever want to step up to a full one. There comes a point where running ceases to be about physical fitness and more about pain endurance. For me it seems to be in the 8-10 mile range. A real marathon, 26.2 miles, would be a lot of pain to endure.

Race aside, I was able to have at least one new Sarasota experience: O'Leary's Tiki Bar and Grill, a real old school waterfront bar. Pub food, great hot dogs, plenty of drinks -- the tables were busy at 2 in the afternoon and the bar was packed. And that view of the bay. A definite must for future visits.

Powder sand beaches, the vacation home vibe on Anna Maria Island, Mote Marine Aquarium. All sorts of cool stuff in Sarasota. And Sanibel Island is only a 2 or 3 hours away. This is what these Florida coastal cities do. You sneer at them when you're young. Then, after a decade or so, you mellow and decide they aren't too bad. After another few years you really start to like them. Next thing you know you're sitting at the early-bird dinner in socks and sandals, griping about the damn tourists. Circle of life.