It’s hard to even begin to describe this past weekend in Jacksonville. Never have I seen so much positivity, love and community support for a cause, and so much excitement, energy and enthusiasm at a marathon.
Oh, and who could forget: all the PINK!?
While the race didn’t go as I had planned, I am incredibly thankful that I had the opportunity to get out there and share my passion while advancing good, too. I am also thankful I was able to finish at all, since inclement weather closed the marathon course around 1 PM, when the thick, heavy air made a a rapid change from overcast skies to torrential downpours and the threat of lightning and thunderstorms. Race organizers definitely made the difficult, but important decision to do this, for the safety of all runners, walkers, spectators and volunteers.
But let’s go back to the high points, and recap the 26.2 miles yesterday that quite literally changed my life.
The morning began at 4 AM, as Elisabeth and I had planned on meeting in the hotel lobby (we stayed at the Omni Jacksonville, the downtown host hotel) at 4:30 AM since the start was about 1/2 an hour away, as far as we could tell from directions, and we didn’t want to get caught up in traffic or anything. We were some of the first on the bus, and it left after waiting maybe 15 minutes with just five people….and since none of us on the bus really knew where we were going, it wasn’t until about 45 minutes had elapsed that we began to wonder where we were. It was about that same time that the bus driver announced that her instructions were not matching with what the road blocks and police had set on the streets, so we had to make some U-turns before arriving at the start village – but we still had tons of time, so that was okay, early meant no lines at the portapotties!
E and I meandered around, and in hindsight, we probably should have just plopped down somewhere to relax because standing around probably wasn’t the best idea before running 26.2, but at least we got our free coffee and munchkins from Dunkin Donuts! 😉 We met up with some other friends and ambassadors, too, and after another trip the portapotties (short line this time) it was time to transition into our start corrals staging areas.
I was in yellow, which was the first corral, and we made the walk over to the start line. It was still 7 AM when we reached the location, so I sat down at that point and took a few more bites of Clif Bar and small sips from my water bottle. It was cool and humid at that point, so I kept my throwaways on until what I presumed to be the last moment (~ 7:25 AM) only to wait longer for the start, as it was delayed.
Finally, the race began around 7:38 AM. My last minute decision to listen to my iPod was a good one, as the first song that came on “shuffle” was the song that my friend Christine had raved about as her “pump up” song:
First half mile splits – 8:04, 8:03, 8:03, 8:09, 8:00, 7:54, 8:14, 8:12, 8:08, 8:07, 8:21, 8:28, 8:25, (first half split came in at 1:47:57)
Miles 1-6 were fairly smooth – I knew I wanted to stay around sub-8:10 as an average, so I could push it later; and much to my surprise, the leg between 6-8 something on the beach didn’t kill my pace, but for 2-4 seconds a piece – in fact, I really loved running on the hard packed-sand, though transitioning off of it felt kind of funny.
One thing that I did not expect after exiting the beach, however, were the twists and turns through many beachfront neighborhoods. The spectator support was INCREDIBLE – decorations, cheers, ballon arches, personal aid stations, etc – but each right and left turn felt like it was slowing my pace, and it was starting to show in my splits. The damp air had already weighed down my lightweight clothing, and each time I took a GU (I had four, and had one at Miles 6, 12, 18 and 24) it felt like I had taken a weight out of my pocket.
After passing the half marathon timing mat at 1:47:57, I knew that I COULD still PR since I was just 3 minutes off my mark, but it would be challenging. I was cramping on my sides and decided to take Gatorade at every aid station from that point on.
Second half mile splits – 8:41, 9:16, 9:03, 8:33, 8:44, 9:34, 9:51, 9:08, 9:47, 9:29, 9:27, 9:49, 8:36, last .43 = 7:37 pace)
Right around Mile 14, when my pace dipped to 8:41, I looked over the street in an out and back portion and saw Elisabeth! I was so happy to see her and gave her a thumbs up when she called over to ask if everything was okay. It began to dawn on me that negative splits were going to be a really hard-fought battle at this point, so I should do everything I could to try and stick with staying sub-9 minute miles so I could get close to my PR time of 3:43. I walked water stations, but didn’t stop otherwise – after all, the faster I could get through the course, the faster I would be done, right? 😉
Around Mile 18 (I think) I ran into Reist, one of the fellow ambassadors for the race, and we ran together for about half a mile or so. He had been training hard for a 3:25 that day, and he too revealed that this was not going to be his day. However, his positivity really shown through in his statement, as he went on to say, “but it’s still a great day and I’m happy to be here.” That meant a lot, and while I would have been happy to run with him a little longer, he told me to go ahead when we reached an aid station.
At Mile 20, there were two big “Mile 20 WALL” signs that made me smile – I knew I wouldn’t be hitting a wall, since it felt like I was already slogging through a pool of molasses – it was also my slowest split, at 9:51.
After that point, the half and full courses merged back together and there was a little dodging, bobbing and weaving that probably added a bit of mileage to my day, but so many of these brave me and women on the course, mostly walkers, were not only wearing back bibs that said who they were running for, but indicated that they themselves were survivors! I smiled and cheered them on, along with the crowds that lined each street as we reached closer to the finish.
Between Miles 22 – 23, the challenge grew, as we had to descend a windy freeway on ramp that had absolutely no flat portions. My hips were feeling a bit misaligned, but I did my best to power up at a sustainable pace, and onto a straightaway before reaching the final obstacle: THE BRIDGE.
Now, it might have been something I picked up from living in VA, but I actually really enjoy hill running, so this was one of my favorite parts. Ascending that bridge, I could see so far and so wide, and I felt strong, and ready to finish with energy that would redeem the fatigued end of my last marathon…and from OUT OF NOWHERE appeared an ecstatic young man, part of the cheerers of the bridge brigade, who ran up beside me and told me he was going to get me to the top with all the power I had left! His encouragement could not have come at a better time, as I summoned all the energy I had remaining, and did not stop!!!
As much as I love uphill running, nothing could top the feeling of endorphins that filled my body as I screamed down the hill, and saw the finisher gates around the corner. I saw my friend Jen, looking strong as she approached the finish of her half marathon, and despite a cramp shooting up my right leg, booked it as hard as I could to the roaring crowds that lined the finish area, and proudly crossed at 3:49!
A salty mix of tears and sweat streamed down my face as I was handed my marathon medal, and I could not have been happier at that moment. I scurried through the finisher village so I could get back to my shuttle as soon as possible, as it had begun to sprinkle at that point.
Once safely back on the bus, the skies had started to open up, and with that, crowds streamed over to the busses, and fortunately, in those groups was Elisabeth again! We started and ended the day together, as we shared our stories and impressions of the day.
I am so fortunate and proud to have been part of this incredible weekend – I have a few more updates about weekend events to come, but did not want to miss the chance to share this recap as soon as I could. I’d recommend this event to anyone – it’s a real showcase of the human spirit, and will help you restore faith in so many other aspects of your life.