Spring Training Runs

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Going to Florida to catch a couple spring training baseball games gave me the opportunity to run in the warmth of Central Florida. The Hampton Inn Kissimmee is in Calypso Cay, a development of hotels, condos and businesses tailored to tourists. A quick look at Strava and Google Maps made me feel the area would be fine for a morning run. With the sun rising after 7:00 AM, I was pretty sure the first portion of the run would be in the dark.

By 6:30 the first morning I was ready to run. The sidewalks around the area were more than adequate, mostly flat, with ample lighting. My first rectangular lap around the hotels yielded a mile and a half, so I expanded the route to a larger triangle of land bordered by busy streets for a second lap. Finishing that loop put me well over 4 miles and ready for a little jog through the parking lots for an even 5 miles.

I felt comfortable with the surroundings and ran at an equally comfortable pace. Temperatures made short pants and short sleeves the right choice of running apparel. There is nothing like shedding the tights, gloves and ear warmers in favor of bare arms and legs.  It was a good start to our spring training vacation. We caught a Cardinals game in Kissimmee that afternoon and planned to drive to Jupiter the next day for another game. I skipped running Wednesday but did drive through a nearby sub-division to check it out for the next morning.

The aerial shots on Google were taken before any development as it appeared to be dirt roads around a couple bodies of water. While that interested me, I was concerned about a pre-dawn encounter with native wildlife, especially alligators. I’m not sure how old the images are, but driving through showed tremendous progress in developing the residential area. There was still an abundance of construction activity, but over half the area had established rental and residential properties with nice streets and sidewalks.

I started Thursday’s run on the streets around the hotels and as I approached the intersection leading to the residential area, traffic and the lights all encouraged me to cross the busy intersection. The sky was growing lighter as I entered the subdivision. The running surfaces were new and landscaping was fresh in the established area. Construction workers were starting their day at a number of different sites. The feeling of growth and newness had a positive impact on my attitude. It was easy to keep running and exploring new streets that wound through the development.

Approaching 7 miles I left the development and headed back to the hotel. Again, traffic made crossing the busy street easy. I maintained a sub nine pace which has been typical on moderate, unfocused runs. I did take a couple breaks to take pictures along the route. That afternoon provided a great opportunity to get in extra steps as my wife and I visited the Lue Botanical Gardens on the north side of Orlando.

Friday was a travel day as we returned home. Saturday morning there was a local 5k to benefit the Kenny Rogers Children’s Center in Sikeston. The late morning start gave me a chance to get in a mile of swimming at the YMCA and a cup of coffee from Parengo prior to the start.  It was sunny, but still a bit chilly at race time. I don’t like to be cold, so it’s not unusual for me to overdress for running on mornings like this.

Check in for the race went smoothly and I returned to my car for a couple Clif blocks and final tweak of gear. Gathering at the start area, I chatted with John about training and racing. He was hoping to maintain an eight-minute pace, which I thought would be well ahead of me. I did such little speed work during the winter and seemed content to slog through the miles at a pace much closer to nine minutes. I have become very familiar with the KRCC course as I run it at least once a week. Nice long stretches of good sidewalks and very little traffic were the initial appeal.

A few years ago, I started praying for the churches that I pass, along with the pastors and people they reach with their ministry. I pray for Southeast Elementary school, the teachers, support staff and a group of kids my wife sees weekly as a part of our church’s outreach. Approaching the Children’s Center I pray for their leadership, staff, therapists, clients and families touched by the meaningful work at the heart of this gem in southeast Missouri. At this time of year I pray for the telethon and for donors to be generous.

After turning the corner past the Center, I normally pray for the safety and success of workers in Sikeston and those travelling to other towns for work. The fire station I pass on this out and back course reminds me to pray for fire fighters, police and first responders. There are a couple fields between churches where I pray for my pastor and the work of our church. My mind is occupied with things other than cadence and pace most of the time I’m on this route.

And now, back to the race. The KRCC run is a part of their weekend telethon which raises money to support the work of the center. Children are able to receive physical, occupational and speech therapy at no cost to their families thanks to the Center and donors who support the work. This year’s race had an 80’s theme which added some color and wild hair to the annual spring run.

The race started with MyTeam Triumph angels and pilots leading the way. Others soon started and the pack quickly spread into small groups of similarly-paced runners, joggers and walkers. At the half-mile mark there were a half dozen of us, loosely grouped together, but well behind the one young man in the lead. I was running beside a lady sporting a Dee Snider wig and just behind Wayne and John, both without wigs. I pushed a bit as I transitioned from the street to the sidewalk. This put me just ahead of the trio.

Garmin let me know my first mile was an unsustainable 7:35 pace. But I felt good and thought I would push a bit longer. Being extremely familiar with the course helped me run with confidence. Mile two was about 10 seconds slower than the first, but still fast for me. I tried to check behind me as I rounded a corner heading back toward the finish, but saw nobody.

As my pace deteriorated, I felt those behind me would soon pass me. With about a half-mile to go, I thought about my friend Larry who has resumed running after a knee replacement. He should be getting close to running a 5K. With the end in sight, I felt strong and was able to finish second. I hung around the finish to cheer on others as they finished. As the first woman crossed the finish, I was surprised to recognize the curly, blonde rocker as Tori, one of my daughter’s teammates from high school sports. I’ve run this race with Tori in the past but certainly didn’t recognize her on the course. During the awards ceremony, she told me, “This is the tenth time I’ve run this race, its about time I won.”

This ended up being one of my fastest 5K runs in quite some time. The spring training runs in Florida had to have helped me achieve this personal best time for the annual KRCC race. I’m thinking a trip south should be in order for future springs.

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