One runner's journey at the Gulf Beach Half Marathon

There are times when you say: “Let’s just give it a shot.’’

That’s was what I said to myself at 6 a.m. this past Saturday morning when I decided to join in the 8th annual Gulf Beach Half-Marathon, put on by Shoreline Sharks.

I was finishing up some work at our cleaning business, the race was set to begin in two hours so I needed to get home, get changed and get to the registration table in less than 90 minutes.

That turned out to be the easy part.

Before dwelling on my long agonizing morning running along the scenic shoreline of Milford from Gulf Beach to the entrance to the Milford Audubon Society near the end of Milford Point Road and back, I have to give credit to the winners.

The race was won by Chaz Koch in 1 hour, 25 minutes, 10 seconds. A solid 6:29 per mile pace.

Perhaps the most impressive effort was turned in by women’s winner Jennifer Gampel, who covered the 13.1-mile course in 1:29.54 for fourth place overall. Gampel whipped along at 6:51 a mile.

As for my morning, there was no whipping along.

After missing most of August with a foot injury and not having completed a run of more than five miles in September, I showed a complete lack of common sense. I didn’t even learn there was a run until late Friday.

But, I had to have one of those cool medals and T-shirts.

The smartest thing I did all morning was take advantage of the head-start’ option. Fearing they might be out of medals and T-shirts before I finished — or the finish line might be closed — I set out 40 minutes ahead of the field with plans to run as slow as I possibly could.

Not happening.

As much as I knew I had 13.1 miles to run, going out slow was still impossible. So there I was plodding along at about 10:30 pace (still considerably slow) through Fowler Field, across the footbridge to the Milford Yacht Club for the first water stop.

Then it was past Fort Trumbull, the boardwalk at Silver Sands State Park, and down East Broadway to the Milford Audubon and things weren’t too bad. In fact, I was surprised at the turnaround the leaders had not caught me yet.

That all changed, it felt like, in a matter of a step or two.

Not only did Chaz go by around seven miles, he was followed soon after by a couple more men, then Jennifer, and the other front-runners.

Then the upper-echelon men and women starting go by at a steady rate and finally by nine miles middle-of-packers were breezing past me. Remembering I started out 40 minutes ahead of them, it was humbling watching them run by like I was standing still.

I, though, shuffled along, vowing not to walk.

My resolve to not walk was almost tossed aside when a woman – walking – went by me at around the 10-mile mark. She was walking a brisk pace and had turned around at four miles because of knee pain, but still, I was just passed by a walker.

I managed to waddle along next to her. I am happy to say I did pass the woman walking, hey, you have to take the small victories.

At this point in the run, it’s time to enjoy the scenery and just put one foot in front of the other as what seemed liked dozens of runners at a time went past.

Nothing was tougher than being just beyond 10 miles at Fort Trumbull and seeing Gulf Beach just across the harbor. It’s right there. Close enough to swim to the finish line. That, I assure you, would have ended worse than the run.

So I grabbed some water and Gatorade at the final water stop by the Yacht Club and headed for the final 2.5 miles up Rogers Avenue, around the back roads off downtown, past the Historical Society, across the foot bridge and onto the road by Fowler Field.

There in the distance it was, the 12-mile marker. But, what I wanted to see was the backside of the one-mile marker, because then you know it’s just one more mile and finally I glanced back at a big white sign on the side of street and there it was: 1 mile.

And during that final agonizing mile, as more runners went past and with my tank top and shorts soaked to my skin like a wet suit, every ‘’almost there’’ from the fans along the course is met with a, “Thanks, I know, I’ve been hearing it for 10 minutes,” under my breath.

Finally, around that curve on Gulf Street and finish line is in sight — even though it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Over the small bridge, with a nice group of fans cheering all of us like we were winners, I finally crossed the finish line in 2:13.24.

Hey, not to bad considering so little training. And I had my medal.

But, wait, I need to add another 40 minutes to my time because of the head start and the official time was a what-were-you-thinking-at-6 a.m. 2:53.24.

One thing I have learned is that this 56-year-old body has slowed down.

It’s no longer about time, it’s about the journey to the finish line.

And after an hour or so, I could say what a wonderful journey it was along our beautiful coastline of Milford, for myself and nearly 700 of my new running friends.

Notes: Chris Schulte is a 1980 graduate of Jonathan Law High School and 1980 Class M 800-meter champion, who went on to run at the University of New Haven and University of Idaho. Schulte has spent more than 25 years as a journalist throughout the country.