Friday, February 26, 2016

26.2 with DONNA Marathon Recap

26.2 with DONNA, Jacksonville Beach, FL
Field: Between all the races during the weekend, 10,000 from all 50 states.
Spectators: So many! The course is lined with neighborhood block parties, unofficial aid stations, and a swarm of fraternity and sororities members line the bridge in the final mile.
Start/Finish: Starts at TPC Sawgrass and ends in front of the Mayo Clinic.
Course: Point to Point course through the beach neighborhoods of Jacksonville, Neptune, and Atlantic Beaches.
Schwag: Long sleeve tech shirt. Backpack with extra goodies for everyone who raises $1000.
Other: On Saturday there is a 5k and Family Fun Run. In addition to the marathon on Sunday, there is also a half and a marathon relay. New to the race this year is the Fundraiser Experience, which gives free entry to any runner that fundraises $1000, an awesome backpack, and perks at the start and finish. Next year is the 10th Anniversary and there are sure to be extra special things.
Medal in the sand.
To say I was excited for this race is a bit of an understatement. I planned (as well as I actually plan things) my fall and winter running around building up for the marathon. Though I'd run the marathon here twice before (2015 and 2014), I'd never targeted it as a goal race. The course is flat and fast, often with excellent weather, so it offers a great opportunity to run a solid marathon and aim for a PR.  This year, I picked out a new training program (Hanson's, more on that later), found a few check in races, and worked hard to hit every workout along the way during a busy time of year.
And sometimes you've just gotta bust it out during the 5k.
You know how when you work hard at a goal and you get nervous to say it out loud because that makes it real? That's where I was in the weeks leading up to the race. Of course I'd talked about it throughout training with the Jayhawk, but outside of that, I hadn't mentioned it. When the lead Ambassador asked the group for all our expected finish times, I was nervous to respond. I vaguely mentioned a goal time quickly moving on to emphasize the Jayhawk's possible finish time, but the goal was out there and the excitement began to build. My teammates were excited for me and suddenly it was time to see what all those months of training could do. To keep myself loose race weekend, I ran in the shakeout run on Friday (~3 miles) and the 5k on Saturday (easy pace).
Two Elis/zabeths and Two Olympians at the shakeout run.
I had the unique (and amazing) experience to spend sometime with a fellow Mainer throughout the weekend. We chatted about all things Maine (I grew up in the town next to hers), Olympic Marathon Trials (she guessed the girl's team spot on), and of course the race. When she learned that my goal time for the race was only 5 minutes off the Boston Qualifying time for my age group, she told me (after prefacing it with "I don't know much about marathons, but what I would do") leave the watch at home, run on feel, and start to pick people off starting at mile 17. In fact she was so emphatic about the watch, every time she saw me before race day, she would remind me "No watch. Just go out there and run".
No watch. Photo Credit: The Jayhawk
My race day plan was to start around the 3:45 pace group. All pace groups at the race use the Galloway method, so I hadn't really planned to join them, but more shadow them to make sure I was in goal range and settling into my pace. After their first two run intervals, I abandoned this plan. I literally was chasing them down. I don't know what the pace leader's plan was for the race, but even without a watch, I could clearly tell this wasn't the pace I was trained for. As luck would have it, I ran into a friend, Reist, just about at the same time. After a quick discussion of pace (he too found the pace group to be completely out of whack), we linked up and went on our merry way. Full disclosure: he was wearing a watch.

Pre-race staying warm in the Fundraiser Experience Tent. One of the perks of Fundraising.
Supporting ground breaking cancer research is the another.
About 2 miles into the race, the course makes a left turn and begins running parallel to the beach. It was at this moment that we noticed a rather brisk wind and as we continued along the course, it became rather strong at times (15mph). The gusts were strong enough that you could feel it pushing you back. I tried my best to maintain a solid but not exhausting effort as we chatted through the early miles. The winds continued for the next 10 miles but so did we.
Traditional pre-race picture with Krissy in our throw away clothes.
Around mile 11 Reist had to make a pit stop. He encouraged me and said he'd catch up if he could, but we both knew it might not happen. At this point, I did have a bit nerves. Running with a partner was a great distraction, we were maintaining a consistent pace, the miles were ticking off, and he even handed me a water bottle along the way (at which point he joked that he was the Amy to my Shalane, though he said he wouldn't have the energy to catch me at the finish). After a few deep breaths, I reminded myself I was going to run the best I could that day by keeping conscious of how I felt, and neither a watch nor a running buddy was going to change what my body could do.
My finisher's shirt (with wind burned face) and backpack from the Fundraiser Experience.

Miles 12-16 were through back neighborhoods a little off the beach. This cut down on the wind a bit (thank heavens), but also the crowds. Don't get me wrong, the back neighborhoods are a plethora of orange slices, impromptu water stops, and small children with homemade posters, but with the loss of my running partner just a mile before and the cut down on noise, I did feel myself slow a bit. I came through the half in around 1:52. I was happy to see I was on pace, but knew this meant I needed an identical second half on tired legs to break 3:45. In addition to the wind beating me up for 10 miles, the longest run in my training was just over 16 and I had no idea how things were going to go in the final 10 miles. Once again, I took a few deep breaths, reminded myself that I felt good, to trust in my training, told myself to put on my big girl pants and get it in gear.

Cheering at the finish line post race.
Coming back into the beach communities, I started to really focus on what I still had to do. I kept waiting for some overwhelming exhaustion to hit because of my lack of super long runs, but the miles kept ticking off and I kept cruising along. At mile 17 I remembered to start making a move. At 18 I fueled for the last time and stopped to fill up my handheld. At 19 a nice lady told me to finish strong (a bit premature perhaps). And at 20 I knew I had less than an hour to knock this thing out. The wind remained a bit of an issue as the gust still seemed to be a headwind and we got an odd crosswind as it swirled around buildings, but other than that, I kept on.
I may have promised everyone the Jayhawk would wear a tutu if I hit my fundraising goal.
He may have been out of the country at the time I made this promise.
I even bought him a headband that says "I don't sweat, I sparkle" to go with it.
He's such a good sport. And yes, he PR'd in a tutu.
Pre-race I hadn't even thought to calculate splits, so when I saw times on the mile marker clocks, I had no idea what they meant. I remember thinking that they seemed ahead of where I usually was in a marathon or training, but really I had no idea if it was good or bad and I was far too mentally focused on running (read: too tired to do math) to calculate anything. The only clock that made any sense to me was at mile 23. I hit it at exactly 3:20, which meant I needed at sub-30 minute 5k-ish to PR (I had no idea how long it had taken me to cross the starting line. I was too busy waving at people to notice the clock).
Cresting the bridge during mile 26. Photo Credit: Marcia
From 23 on the course is on a highway like thing, but that doesn't mean the fans don't show up. A horde of sorority girls and fraternity boys line the bridge in the finishing mile cheering, yelling, and even running up it with you (note: they've also been known to hand out beverages). By this point I was in quite a groove and on a solid pace for the finish. I saw the lead Ambassador on top of the bridge and smiled big, and headed down the ramp for the right turn to kick it out in the long finishing chute.
Donna finishing with her husband Tim, Dr. Edith, and Race Director Amanda.
I was feeling strong through the chute and as I approached the finish line, I caught a glimpse of the other Ambassadors cheering from the fence (we all meet right at the line to cheer each other in), I could hear the Jayhawk shouting, Race Director Amanda was cheering from just over the line, and could see my fellow Mainer leaning over the barricade to take a picture. It was possible the coolest and most wonderful finish to a marathon that I've ever had, and I still haven't stopped smiling about it. I just can't put into words how special it really was. Thanks to my friends and family for all the support!


Coming across the line (all smiles) in 3:47 and change. Photo Credit: J. Samuelson
As I made my way to the group, I collected my medal, some water, a hug from Amanda, and a high-five from fellow Atlantan Amy who had just rocked the half (she was hanging out in the Fundraiser Experience Tent enjoying some post race food, another perk of fundraising). I joined the group, heard about all their fabulous races, the Jayhawk's PR, everyone's adventures in the wind, and then checked in with my fellow Mainer to see how her race had gone. She mentioned that it was a tough day with all the wind (not a day for PRs and BQs), but she found a few running partners on the course and enjoyed the race. I thanked her again for all the pre-race tips and let her know they helped me to a ~3.5 minute PR. After congratulating me, she joked that I would have been faster without the handheld and gave me a bit of a hard time (in fun). It was hilarious. And I won't race with it again. ;)

Two Mainers enjoying a great race day.
Overall, it was another amazing race weekend in Jacksonville. I challenged myself in new ways, made new friends, was part of a wonderful team, and got some invaluable marathoning advice from distance running icon and fabulous Mainer. It's safe to say, marathon #10 is one I won't soon forget.


What is your most memorable race experience? What is the best race day advice you've received?

14 comments:

  1. The long-awaited race recap! Congrats to you both for PR-ing your races!

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    1. Yeah, I need to get a little better about the timeliness of my recaps. Thank you! We had a lot of fun!

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  2. Congratulations on a fantastic race, your PR, and a great account of the day! Climbing to the top of that bridge in mile 26 must have been tough for some.

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    1. Thanks so much, Frank! It is a pretty great feeling to crest the bridge.

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  3. A big congratulations!! Your strength never ceases to amaze ;)
    That is awesome Jayhawk had a PR too!
    Sounds like such a great time and how special you have made a friend in Joan Benoit Samuelson.
    That is interesting all pace groups use Galloway :) I would enjoy that, I need to tuck that away just in case...
    This is a great recap, I can feel your joy :)

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    1. Thank you, Karen! You are so kind!
      Yes, the Jayhawk did very well and is already planning his goal for his next half marathon. I think he's hooked.
      I ran with the pace group last year, and it was a lot of fun. It just didn't work out for my race plan this year.

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  4. Just what I'd been considering for my marathon next week: No watch, just go out there and run! Last night, Coach Lyons said he doesn't like handhelds - they through you off he says. Big congrats to you!

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    1. Do it! The more I think about it, the less I see a reason to wear a watch on race day. Thank you and Good luck!!!

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  5. Looks like you had a great race - congrats! I love the marathon medal - that is an awesome one :-)

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    1. Thanks Michelle! The medal is also a sun-catcher if you hold it up to the light. Very pretty.

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  6. Congrats on the PR - that is a smoking fast time! And how cool to get advice from such an expert.

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    1. Thanks Rebecca! It was really cool to get her advice and just a bit intimidating. I knew she'd be at the finish!

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  7. So many congrats, on every single part. Not just the PR. YOu raised a ton of money (which I know isn't easy), you got to run with incredible people (ow Joanie) and just what an incredible experience!

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    1. Many thank yous. It was a wonderful weekend with many emotions!

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