26.2 with DONNA The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer Jacksonville Beach, FL
Field: Between the full, half, 5k, relay and ultra ~10,000-12,000
Spectators: Insane. By far the most enthusiastic I've seen in a marathon.
Start/Finish: TPC Sawgrass Golf Course to the Mayo Clinic
Course: Mostly paved neighborhoods with 2+ miles of beach running (hard packed sand) and a few miles of multi lane road running at the end.
Schwag: Long sleeve tech shirt (the really soft ones that feel like cotton but are wicking).
Other: Optional fundraising that goes 70% to breast cancer research at the Mayo Clinic and 30% to critical patient needs. Additionally, all registration fees go to the charity.
All smiles at the start. The smiles never faded.
Race day arrived bright and early. I met up with fellow ambassador Krissy to take the 4:30 shuttle to the start line. We were worried about traffic, but arrived in plenty of time to meet up with other ambassadors, visit the port-a-johns, repeatedly visit the Dunkin Donuts tent (they even had muchkins!), and do what runners do before being herded into the corrals. We probably could have taken a later shuttle, but neither of us had run this race before and we didn't know what to expect.
As I mentioned in my pre-race thoughts, I knew going into the race that I was going to have a mental battle on my hands. My taper was longer than I wanted, including periods with no running, so my confidence wasn't on it's game. On top of that, it was a little hot (60 degrees) and humid at the start. I prepped myself for that doubt to come at some point in the race and maintained the goal of just staying positive and have a good time. There is so much to celebrate and enjoy on this course!
There was plenty of space in the starting corrals, and with a quick firing of the pink ribbon confetti cannons, we were off! Here is a little drone footage of the start:
About 1 mile into the race, I ran by Donna, her husband Tim, and Dr. Perez making their way through the course. They don't call it 26.2 with Donna for nothing. Not only does Donna complete the marathon each year with a crowd, she stops throughout the race to take pictures with runners and spectators, thank people, and soak up every aspect of the day. Donna and Tim also ran the 5k the day before. They are awesome.
Donna, Dr. Perez, and Tim. He rocks the sparkle skirt. (Source: 26.2 with Donna Facebook Page)
About 2 miles into the race I caught the 4:00 pace group. They were utilizing the Galloway method, so I kept running into them every 5 mins (they did a 4 min run/30 second walk format) as their pace fluctuated. Around mile 4, I decided to join them for a bit to see what it was all about and I didn't hate it. It was very different from my usual style, but I can definitely see how it could be really beneficial.
Tons of fun on the course. (Source: 26.2 with DONNA Facebook page)By this point we were well into the neighborhoods and they didn't disappoint at all. It seemed like every single house was decorated in pink with people sitting out and cheering. I've never seen so many spectators in costume or have been thanked so many times for running. There were so many unofficial water stops offering water and oranges that I couldn't even count them all. Even with the heat and humidity, I never worried about finding water or sponges. There were live bands, houses playing music, cowbells, a 'free mammogram' station set in up in some guy's yard (very funny), and more cheering than I knew what to do with (to get a taste, scroll through the photos on the race's Facebook Page). NYC marathon may have the fan numbers, but the 26.2 with DONNA fans have the passion!
Course markers leading the way! (Credit: S. Chenoweth)Around mile 7 we turned on to the beach. As nervous as I was about the beach miles, they really didn't affect my pace or running. The sand was hard packed, so it wasn't slow-mo beach running like you see in the movies. The only real difference was that instead of yelling 'pothole' or 'sewer' to alert runners around you of obstacles, you yelled things like 'jellyfish' and 'sandcastle'. The beach miles are know as the "memorial miles" as huge banners that were signed by runners and spectators at the expo are position throughout the sand. It's a very emotional 2+ miles.
Banner were signed at the expo and positioned along the beach. (Credit: S. Chenoweth)
Exiting the beach, I let the 4:00 pace group go. I was at a point where I needed to stay true to my race and run the pace and style that worked for me. Around the 12 mile marker I spotted Krissy going the other way and looking pretty snazzy in her pink. I gave her a shout and we exchange happy waves, a nice little lift for both of us. Miles 12.5-15 go through some of the 'quieter' neighborhoods on the course. I was still feeling ok going into them and crossed the halfway mark in 1:59:41. While I was very happy to see my half time, I knew it was something I wasn't going to repeat for the second half. It was just one of those days. No one thing was going wrong physically, but I just didn't have 'it'.
I started the second half with the same goal of having fun, enjoying the course and fans for everything they offered, but not stressing over my time. I was a tad worry that I was feeling done at mile 14, but I knew it wasn't the end of the world. Not stressing over time really helped me relax and run more comfortably. I started mixing in a few walk breaks starting at mile 14, which is not my normal strategy at all, but I thought it would help me conserve my energy.
I really did smile the entire race!
By 17/18, the power of the crowd had my energy back up a bit. I felt like I was running better than my lull in the mid teens and that boost carried me through mile 20. Starting in the 20s, I had planned a lot of honor miles for friends and donor and it was the best idea ever. For each mile I had someone or group to think about and it really helped me keep pace and run solidly. There was no way I wanted to tell any of my friends that I totally fell apart during their mile!
At mile 23, I noticed the race alert had been changed to yellow and you could see the clouds coming, both of which helped keep me moving. During mile 26 the rain started and by the finish line with was solidly raining. I pushed with what I had left through the long finishing straightaway and glanced at my watch as I came over the line:
Yep, after all that, feeling like I didn't have 'it', taking walk breaks, and running for fun, I missed a PR by 50 seconds. I was very surprised by my time and I might be more proud of this one than my PR race because I had to work so much harder for this one. That said, I feel very confident I could set a new PR in the future. Another huge item of note, for the first time in my marathoning career, my toes did NOT bleed! Lucky #7.
A volunteer took this one at the finish and posted it on the race FB page. Great shot!
I didn't stay long at the finish line party because the rain was really starting to pick up. It got so bad, that they sadly had to close the course around the 6 hour mark and shuttle everyone into the Mayo Clinic. When I came through the finish party, there was a lot of stuff at the finish from food to pink champagne to more food. In better weather, I definitely could have seen myself spending sometime there and getting my grub on.
Looking tired, but still rocking my race shirt!Overall, I can't say enough good things about this race. From the care that goes into organizing it, to the amazing support throughout the neighborhoods, to the emotional and amazing stories of many of the participants (I might do an entire post about this alone!), this is a truly unique event. The course is flat, fast, and open for 7 hours, allowing all abilities to excel on it. If you are looking for a race with a lot of passion, or just a great Florida race to check out, 26.2 with DONNA is an excellent option. It will definitely be on my calendar again in the future.