The University of Tampa's Early Bird Classic is the season opener for much of the state. The 5k held at Tampa's Sydney Dover Trails was the first collegiate cross country race I ran years ago. It was nice to go back once more. I learned a lot this time around.
I learned that I can still ask my body to give me more. I don't have to hold back in fear of re-injury. I can be competitive. I can run a smart race. After everyone was settled from the first mile and a quarter or so, no one passed me. I did not run negative splits, but I kept my eye on those ahead of me and picked them off one by one. Honestly, it felt good to run like that again.
Going into the race I expected to be tired, which was probably by biggest mistake. This past week or so has been rough on my legs. They have just felt trashed. I have been running with caution for months because of my hip injury. Inclines, sand, and banked surfaces, all things that worry me, were waiting for me in the race. And you know what? I did it. The hip is really no worse for the wear.
I am a no-excuses kind of girl. I ran it, I analyzed the problems, and I will figure out how to do better in the future. It's strange how a mediocre race can help me regain the confidence I gradually lost in the past year.
Now for the park: The path at Sydney Dover lends itself for large cross country races. The majority of the trail is wide and open; great for big starts and spectating. A bit of sand and a few inclines makes things interesting and unlike many Florida races that are simply run around retention ponds (seriously). I do not know the layout or size of the entire park, but I believe it is generally one loop just over seven miles long. Being that the land is so open, it gets quite hot in the afternoons, so I recommend morning and evening running. Overall, it is a perfect place for cross country races and I can imagine causal running. But let me tell you, that speed bump of a hill at the first mile mark and in the middle of the second is just mean.
Photos are not from race day. All photos from Biking Florida (great website with directions to the multiple park entrances).