When my friend (and OFFICIAL Social Media Butterfly) Marcia mentioned that she would be once again heading the 26.2 with DONNA Ambassador Team, I jumped at the chance to be part of it! Last year, I fell in love with the race – and of course, the cause even more than I ever thought I could. With each mile, there were 26.2 more reasons to continue to work toward the finish – literally, and metaphorically – and I knew this was something that I had to return to!
Since my race plans for 2015 had thus far focused more on miles than time, and, oh, the fact I’d be running another 26.2 the following weekend in Tokyo, I went into this race with one major goal: to finish with a smile!
But before I get too ahead of myself (and I know, I will be backtracking some more later, as the marathon actually was one of the last events in a weekend full of incredible moments) let’s start from race morning…
Marcia and Katie were kind enough to pick me up race morning and we left early enough to coast right to the start, avoiding any race traffic. After grabbing a great parking spot, we headed to the Runner’s Village after making a quick stop at the (super clean! unused!) portapotties, then to the Dunkin’ Donuts tent (munchkins and coffee!!) and then to the Galloway tent, where we met up with a few other ambassadors for some chatting and picture taking.
Of course, my #breastfriend Elisabeth and I had to snap a “throwaway” clothes pic. She challenged me to best my cat’s pajamas last year…and I am pretty darn sure I did…whattaya think? 😉
Before long, it was already time to walk out to the corrals! It was a short walk, and I liked the setup – you picked your approximate pace, and self-seeded – no complicated bib sorting necessary!
A week prior to the race, I had formally decided to try running with a Galloway pace (run/walk/run) group, though I was skeptical that I could keep up with the group (I would have preferred a 3:35 pacer, but there was just 3:30 then 3:45). Still, I knew that the race day was flexible, and I may as well try – so I introduced myself to the pacers, and let them know that I might drop off at any time, based on how I was feeling.
START – Mile 5 (7:49, 7:57, 8:03, 8:01, 7:57)
The race started on time (woot!) and for the first 5 miles, I was feeling pretty good. The race starts in the Sawgrass area and travels North toward Ponte Vedra. I noticed it didn’t feel as crowded as last year, and was smoothly going through the 4/:30 transitions that the pacers were laying down – it equated to a ~7:35/7:40ish run, then a brisk walk. I stuck right behind the pacers and felt like I could keep up for a while…the weather was great!
Miles 6 – 8ish (8:08, 8:24, 8:54)
Moving onto the sand, I think I was feeling a bit overconfident! Last year, the sand didn’t slow my pace one bit…but this year, the wind was whipping up, and my eyes were tearing! The pacers began to slip away, and I could still see them in my field of vision for about a mile onto the beach, but after I stopped for water, to walk it out (yay for woman cramps!) and to wipe my face, I had to face the reality that they were going to leave me behind…and I was okay with that!
From that point, I stopped doing the run/walk and decided to just run an easy pace and enjoy my surroundings.
Miles 9-12 (8:48,10:48, 8:54, 8:52)
Off the beach, and back into the beach neighborhoods, I was moving along, cheering awesome decorations, thanking spectators, volunteers and police, and slapping high-5’s with anyone who was handing them out! I had to walk a few times because I had some pretty terrible pain near my abs.
Miles 13-16 (8:53, 8:24, 9:09, 9:35)
Again, I was weirded out by how different the race felt this year – see, last year, I was not a fan of this residential part of the course…I thought it dragged and there wasn’t a lot to keep my mind off the miles. On and off, I jumped in with the 3:45 pace group (who had caught up with me around 12ish) and maybe that helped me.
Mile 17-22 AKA “All Aboard the Struggle Bus!” (10:07, 11:12. 9:45, 9:03, 10:26, 10:25)
I was alternating between running a few minutes with walking (definitely more walking) and bending front and back to try and alleviate the cramping that was getting on my nerves (much like it had felt at Clearwater post Mile-21 the month before) but as my feet kept moving, and I was surrounded by a sea of love, including many brave survivors and supporters, I couldn’t NOT be motivated to keep moving forward. To keep my mind off the pain, I looked down at my “Mile Dedication” card that I had printed and attached to my skirt (see it safety pinned on my left side?) and was sure to think about happy memories and good thoughts with Lauren Dykes, Jillian Nightingale, Annie & Mojito Lyons, Bruce Ahlf & his dad, Kim Dillen and Angie Maske-Berka. Since I decided to run this race sans-music, these miles really made me feel connected to others, and truly lifted my spirits.
PLUS, hello it was a beautiful day in Jacksonville, Beach FLORIDA in February – if that doesn’t make you smile, I really don’t know what will! 🙂
Miles 23-26.37 (9:04, 8:55, 9:25, 9:16 last .37 – 7:49)
As soon as I mentally knew that I was on the way to the finish on JTB, I instantly checked myself off the struggle bus and followed the advice of my new friend and superstar runner, Alana Hadley and counted in my head when I felt like I was falling off my game (1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4). People were hollering at me (“LOVE YOUR SKIRT!”), my stamina was returning, and I have to admit, as I approached the on-ramps, I silently ticked off half-marathoners I was passing as tiny confidence boosts 😉
On the final (and only) ascent, I ran beside a guy that I had seen and briefly chatted with in my rough miles. We both pledged we’d rock that finish, and NOT let the 4-hour pacer pass us!
Another difference this year? No Hottie McHottie ran me to the top of the bridge! I made a mental note that Meredith would probably give me a hard time about that ((*SPOILER ALERT, she totally did 😉 ).
Nevertheless, I powered up on that kinda-downhill finish, and kicked up the pace coming in. The scene was much different than last year (FULL ON SUNSHINE!! WOOT) and I mustered up as much speed as I could coming in – official finish? 3:59:18.
It was, as all finishes are – so emotional.
I swear, my jaw hurt from all the smiling, my eyes were swollen from tears, and my throat had a tickle from all the choking up I had done throughout the race. I triumphantly sashayed through the finisher chute, changed clothes after grabbing my drop bag, then headed over the the VIP Tent at the finish to cheer on the rest of my team, as well as many, many amazing finishers (we stayed until the clock was ticking past 7 hours).
If you ever plan to run a marathon…ever – I’d definitely recommend this one. Between the natural beauty of the course, and the incredible support, you couldn’t ask for a better experience.
Registration is already open for 2016 – and bonus – next year, it falls on Valentine’s Day! How’s that for a way to get your heart racing?