Field: ~5,000 between the full, half, and relay.
Spectators: Excellent! One of my favorite parts of this race is the beach neighborhoods and the crowds that line them. They basically throw a block party for you to run through!
Start/Finish: Start at TPC Sawgrass and finish at the Mayo clinic
Course: Point to point course including 2 miles on the beach (1 mile for the half)
Schwag: Longsleve tech shirt and sun catcher medal.
Other: Between the cause, the survivors, the people running in honor of love ones, the number of times spectators thank you for running, this is truly a special event. I've never seen a community rally around a race quite like this one.
With some of the fabulous Ambassador team and Donna at the finish!
After what was already an exciting weekend between the shake out run, the 5k, and a fun chat with Joan Beniot Samuelson, marathon day finally arrived! How much more exciting can it get?! Going in, I knew I was undertrained after some time off for my shins, so I decided to approach the race differently than any of my previous marathons. Instead of worrying about pace, goal time, or any of that on the race course, I went in to race day with new goals: smile, soak up the course, relax, remember why I was there and who I was running to honor.
As I mentioned in my Friday Five post, I changed up a few things on race day (I never seem to follow that 'nothing new on race day' rule). Before I even made it to JAX, I decided to make some of these changes. In thinking about my abbreviated training, and my desire to enjoy the day, I settled on a 'goal-time' of something around 4:30 (I know I just said I didn't want to worry about goal times, but stay with me for a minute). I did this for a few reasons: 1. to see if I could team up with any of the other Ambassadors who might be running at that pace, and 2. to see if I could find a pace group to run with to take anything thought of pacing off my hands. I really wanted to run with a pace group or buddy because I didn't trust myself to take it slow enough and I was worried I might end up with some ugly last miles if I wasn't careful.
As luck would have it, my '4:30 time goal' allowed me to do both those things as fellow Ambassador Holly was shooting for around that time and there was a solid 4:30 pace group. (Holly was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30(!) and February was the 5 year anniversary of when she started chemo. When a survivor says to you mid-marathon "This is nothing compared to chemo" you get a new perspective about what 'hard' means during a race). So there I was the week of the race with a new race day buddy (who I had never met IRL but seemed really nice on facebook) and a pace group to join/run with, when I had never finished a race with the same pace group that I had started with. Two new items for race day.
At mile 7 on the beach with my new running buddy Holly!
And then there were three. One thing I had completely forgot about the pace groups at 26.2 with DONNA was that they all use the Galloway method. Having no real experience with the Galloway method, I wasn't sure how it would go. I knew I could keep up the run pace (which would be faster than the 4:30 splits to make up for the walking), but I was worried about being patient enough to walk during the first few miles of a marathon. I don't like walking during races (except occssionally at aid stations so I actually get the water in my mouth), so the Galloway method presents a huge mental challenge for me. It requires a lot of trust in both the method and in the pacers. Given my history of abandoning pace groups after a few miles (see Chickamauga 2013, DONNA 2014, Chickamauga 2014 just to name a few), I was nervous if I could stick to it.
Scenes from the course.
Race day arrived and I was pumped. The weather was spot on (high 30s at the start, low 50s at the finish), my outfit was festive, and I was participating in Naked wrist running for the first time in a marathon (Yep, no garmin!). I met up with some of the Ambassador team at the start for some pre-race fun comparing our rad throw aways (we have way too much fun together), visited the more than ample port-a-johns (seriously, so many!), and made my way to the start with Holly to find the 4:30 pace group. Along the way I ran into Amy (who you might remember from a recent training run) and chatted for a bit. Note: she went on to rock a 5 minute PR in the half.
With fellow Ambassador Krissy at the start in 2014 and 2015. Almost identical poses.
The first 5ish miles of the course make your way up A1A before turning into the beach communities. During this time, I focused on getting in the rhythm of the Galloway method, taking a few photos, and deciding whether or not to drop my cardigan (you may laugh but in addition to being stylish, it was so much easier to take off than a sweatshirt). It was also during these miles that we passed Jeff and Barb Galloway. Always unique to run by Galloway while using his method! Around mile 6 the course goes on to the beach. To say the day was anything less than stunning would be a lie. The temps were spot on and the sky was cloudless. No worries of severe rain this year! Once again, I had no real issues with running on the beach but stayed aware when getting on and off (you go through a little soft sand before reaching the ramp).
Striking a pose on the beach around mile 7. Yeah, it's an ugly course.
At mile 8 we exited the beach and began the trek through the beach neighborhoods. Last year, I totally didn't like the neighborhoods from miles12-16ish for no really good reason other than I lost my mojo while in them. This year, I loved them. I don't know if it was the shade, or the fact I wasn't expecting to like them, but they were great and I actually gained momentum while running through them. Miles 16-20 bring you through the commercial/residential parts of the beach neighborhoods, and there is much fun to be had. Costumes, streamers, lots of cheering and decorations, festive and inebriated fans. It has it all. In fact, I was having so much fun, I stopped for a beer around mile 18 (oops, another new race day item)! It was fabulously cold and though the pacers assured me I would regret it, I never did. At mile 20, I passed the free mammogram station (didn't stop again this year).
They are free!
The last 5k of the course is the most challenging. It is highway-ish miles leading you from the beach neighborhoods to the Mayo Clinic, which may not sound attractive, but it has a purpose. The beach is where Donna was first inspired to start the race and the Mayo clinic is where she was treated and the main race beneficiary. It brings it all full circle. You can see the top of the Mayo Clinic for much of that 5k and knowing the work they are doing there, and that patients are sitting in their beds listening to the finish line excitement and gaining hope, it's inspiring. It was here that I started to move away from the pace group. I was ready to finish, celebrate with my friends, and cheer on my fellow runners. The only hill on the course is at mile 25 with the enthusiastic zeta girls cheering you on, the sounds of the finish line in the distance, and the giant Mayo sign directing you in, you can't help but push to the finish.
I crossed the finish line in 4:26:20, not my best nor my worst marathon time, but perhaps my most inspired.
I joined my fellow Ambassadors at the finish line. We stayed until it closed cheering on the runners, handing out high fives, taking pictures, celebrating PRs, and soaking in the day. It was the most fun I've had on a marathon day and I felt honored to be apart of an excellent team.
Cheering on our fellow runners at the finish!
With some of the team at a pre-race reception.
So how did the new stuff go?
1. New Running buddy Holly. She rocked and I would totally team up with her again. I give her a thumbs up if you ever find yourself in Washington State in need a cheerful and positive running accomplice.
2. Running Naked wrist and relying completely on Pacers: It went perfectly for this race. That said, any other race would have different pacers and therefore a different experience. Also, if it was a goal race, I would have trouble giving up my garmin (it's a crutch even if I don't look at it much).
3. The Galloway Method. I absolutely see it's purpose. I don't plan on doing it during every race, but it is a great option when training might not be optimal, or physically running the whole time might not be best. Major plus: It was probably one of the easiest marathon recoveries I've ever had which surprised me giving my training issues.
4. Mid-Race Beer. While both carb containing and cold, it will probably not become my go to fuel during goal races. However, it was downright refreshing and festive. Remains a future fueling option. :)
Have you ever run a marathon with no real time goal? Do you use the Galloway Method?