Friday, March 22, 2013

26.2 with Donna Marathon Recap - Part 2

The excitement at the starting line - and throughout the race for that matter - is the kind of thing you can't describe. You have to experience it. With the start of the race there was cheering, music, confetti falling all over, high fives galore. We were off.

The freezing cold temperatures were no longer on our minds. It was time to put months of training and hard work to the test. I had a great plan, and I was ready to see it play out.

The plan was to break the race in to 4 sections in my mind: 
Section 1: Start to Mile 6. No problem, get comfortable, have fun. At mile 6 we hop on the beach. Enjoy the scenery and be thankful for this opportunity. Know that at Mile 8, when getting off the beach, my BFF would be waiting for me with my first GU and a lot of cheers. Only 1.5 miles until I see my family. 
Section 2: Get adrenaline rush from family cheering at mile 9.5 - enough to get me to mile 12 where my BFF will be ready to run 2 miles with me. After saying goodbye to BFF at mile 14, get back to my family at mile 18. 
Section 3: Mike joins me when it starts getting tough, miles 18-23. Whatever mental battle I am fighting at this point he can help me work through. 
Section 4: Mike says goodbye, I get on the JTB bridge for the biggest challenge of the course. Remind myself it is only a 5K from here. 

This mental breakdown of the race really helped me visualize the challenge ahead and feel prepared for the next 4 hours. I reviewed the plan one last time, then got ready for Section 1. 

3-2-1 - START!

My buddy and I took off. We jockeyed our way through the crowd until finally finding space to run. The course headed out of Sawgrass, across A1A and in to a nice Ponte Vedra neighborhood. By the time we were on A1A mile 1 ticked by - 9:05! 40 seconds faster than goal pace for the race, but the cold air was working to my advantage so I decided to stick to what was comfortable.  My buddy was still with me and I was hopeful we would stay together, but I knew she would not want to keep that pace for very long.

A few miles in, my buddy stopped for her first pit stop. I slowed my pace a little and stayed to the right side of the road, hopeful she would be able to catch back up with me. Amazingly enough, a few minutes later I heard her yell my name! She caught me and we both had huge smiles! We stuck together for another mile before she saw another opportunity for a pit stop. I told her I'd stick to the same game plan, but knew the likelihood of us finding each other again was slim.

I was soaking up the beautiful scenery and spectators, and before I knew it I was heading out to the beach to start mile 6. There was no wind protection on the beach. It was cold and the wind was blowing freezing air and sand right in our faces. It was tough, but this was also my first chance to really get some space. I kept my eyes on the water and reminded myself how beautiful the day was and how lucky I was to be running this marathon for this cause in this beautiful place.

Before I knew it the 1/2 marathoners were heading off the beach while the rest of us continued another mile north in the sand. I knew my BFF was waiting for me at mile 8, just before I would hop off the beach and back to the pavement. I jumped and screamed when I saw her! She ran to me and gave me a huge hug! I cannot even explain how great it was to see her. She yelled "you are killing it!" and I agreed that I was going quite a bit faster than I expected. One more hug before she hopped on the bike to meet my family at mile 9.5.

Seeing my family at mile 9.5 was so awesome. While everyone around me was hugging the right side of the road for wind protection, I saw my family on the left side of the road and separated myself from the other runners so they could see me coming. I jumped and waved my arms like a crazy person until they found me heading their way. High fives all around and I breezed on by.

My BFF then started her second journey up to mile 12 in Atlantic beach, using the marathon app to track my progress. This was tougher for her than expected 1. because she is not very familiar with the area, 2. because it was really windy, and 3. because I was running almost a minute per mile faster than planned. She tried really hard, but wound up not making it to mile 12 before I did.

I got worried when I didn't see her, but kept moving and stayed on the lookout for her. Before I knew it I was half way through and beating my best 1/2 marathon time! 1:58:18 Garmin time at the half! If I could keep this pace, I would break 4 hours!

The pacers were running the Galloway method. So, for the miles surrounding the 1/2 mark I had the 4:05 pace group in my sight. They ran for 4 minutes, walked for 30 seconds. I kept catching them at the end of their 30 second walk, then they'd take off and I wouldn't see them for the next 4 minutes. Around mile 17 I lost them (or rather, they lost me).

Running back through the Town Center where Atlantic and Neptune Beach meet was amazing. The crowd support was wonderful and so uplifting. I was still feeling really strong. I was surprised to see my friends Kyle and Kristi cheering for me at this corner. It was an uplifting and needed surprise, and they even snapped a few photos for me. Kristi has run several marathons in the past and is much faster than I am, so seeing her inspired me to keep those legs pumping!

Rounding the corner where I knew my family would be at mile 18, I was greeted by my nieces  nephew, and sister with huge cheers! They even ran with me for a block, which was so fun! In fact, the only time I stopped the entire race was to give little Lilly a hug as she ran towards me. My heart melts.

Mike jumped in and we took off for the dreaded miles 18-23. My first question was if my BFF was OK. I hadn't seen her at all since mile 8 and was worried she was lost, roaming the streets of Atlantic Beach. He assured me she was OK, and handed me a GU and an Advil  This was my first GU since mile 8...which was poor planning on my part. I insisted on my BFF carrying my GUs for me so that I didn't have to worry about anything (brat), so when we didn't find each other in Atlantic Beach, I went without fuel for about 10 miles longer than I should have. And to top it off, clumsy me grabbed a water at a neighbor's water station and promptly threw the Advil straight in to the trash (instead of the cup). I considered digging through the trash can to find it, but ultimately just decided to keep moving.

It was great to have Mike for those 5 miles. I think I relied on him a little too much, because I slowed my pace down more than I should have - which was also probably a result of being under fueled.

At mile 22 I FINALLY saw my BFF again!!! She jumped right in with Mike and me and ran with us to the bottom of the ramp of the bridge. I was so excited to see her and know she was OK. I also got to see my parents! They decided to ride with my BFF to pick up Mike and head to the finish together. I absolutely loved and needed these extra visitor surprises.

And I kind of felt like a rock star with my t-shirt wearing entourage.

At the on-ramp of the bridge with only the final 5K in front of me, Mike and BFF offered to finish the race with me. I promptly said "No, I want to finish this by myself," in true brat-tastic fashion. They understood and headed back to the car.

The bridge had been a huge mental barrier for me when visualizing the race. With the months of work put in to it, I wanted to feel like I could overcome this challenge on my own. Looking back, I am glad I did. These were the toughest miles by far and I needed to conquer them alone.

The final miles were lonely and frustrating. The 1/2 marathon walkers were crossing the bridge at the same time, and had no consideration for those of us who were running twice the distance. Jockeying around the walkers at this point was far harder than the 1 mile jockey at the beginning of the race.

Also, this was a long 2 mile hill, the only hill of the race. At the top of the hill - when I was ready to cry and quit - there was the biggest group of supporters of the entire race. Many were cancer survivors with signs that said things as simple as "thank you." Already at an emotional point in the race, seeing the survivors' thankfulness and hearing the LOUD roar of their cheers, I couldn't help but do the sniffle-sniffle-huff-puff cry for a few seconds.

It was just after passing this amazing group that the downhill and final turn to the finish came. It was as if it came too quickly, so I picked up the pace and raced in as hard as I could. I had forgotten about time over the last few miles, and was amazed to see 4:08 on the clock as I finished. A whopping 7 minutes faster than my goal time!

I can't describe what happened after the finish line. So I will just show you...

Best hug from Mike
Proud parents
Proudest sister
Best Friend Ever
Nieces and nephew lovin'
 And when it was all over....a giant piece of this baby. 
Or two pieces. Thanks, Mike, for the amazing cake and for making sure I got back the 2600 extra calories I burned that morning.

Mile Splits:

I didn't actually have any miles at or slower than my goal pace until mile 20. Goal pace was 9:45...and I was moving well faster than that until mile 18. Even Miles 20-26 were all within a minute of my goal pace, so I feel pretty good about that. With a better fuel plan, I think I can really improve consistency in the final miles.

The race was an amazing experience. I am pretty sure I had a giant smile on my face for the first 19 miles, no question. I would do it again and again. I am thankful to have had all the amazing support of my family, Mike, my best friend, neighbors & friends, and the thousands of strangers who stood in the cold all morning. I am thankful for the strength to finish in 7 minutes less than my goal time. And next time...I will do it in under 4 hours.

Now that I've reached my I ready for 30? What is my next challenge?

I have some ideas and some new challenges brewing...not to mention the last 6 weeks of fun to catch you up on. Stay tuned....and thanks for your patience while I took a hiatus.

26.2 with Donna Marathon Recap - Part 1

I know, I know. I'm super late! I promised you this post days weeks ago and I'm just now getting to it. Actually, a draft of this post has been sitting here the entire time, but for some reason I just haven't had the heart/courage/i'm just not sure what to post it. You're probably thinking I tanked at the race and that's why I've delayed talking about it.

But if that's what you thought, you were wrong.


 Let's begin at the beginning...

My coworker and weekday running buddy (right) headed over to the race expo during our lunch break on Friday. We picked up our packets, activated our bibs, and headed for some "shopping." I met up with my neighbor training pal and we decided to scour the booths for the "free stuff." We wound up meeting THE Donna! She's very sweet and so much tinier than she looks on TV!

The expo had some great stuff, but it was a bit overwhelming and I was ready to head back pretty quickly. After all....all I could really think about was these three cuties and how they'd be in town in mere hours.

My sister, my nephew, and two nieces got in late Friday night. I couldn't resist, so I headed to their hotel to meet them and help them get settled. It wound up being a late night (for me) with me finally getting to bed around midnight. But there was so much excitement and adrenaline in the air, it didn't matter.

Saturday morning Mike and I met my sister and the kids at Metro Diner for breakfast. I was pretty nervous, so I ordered an egg white omelette and picked at what I could. Before I knew it I was racing out of the restaurant to pick up my BFF at the airport.

We all toured our little beach town and helped my sister and BFF get acquainted with the race route and plan. After lunch we hung out back at our house until my parents arrived. Once we were all there we talked about the race plan and how exciting it would be...oh, and how COLD it would be.

This is the second year in a row where the Donna Marathon race day has been freakishly cold. Here at the beach we usually have a few weeks of cold days in January and February, but it is very rare to drop below 40. Race day weather was Lo 33, Hi 54. Yikes.

After making sure everyone had the right t-shirts (thanks Mike!) I said goodbye for the evening so I could eat my regular pre-run meal and get to bed early.

Considering my nerves, I slept pretty well and woke up at 4:30 am ready for the day's challenge.

My BFF woke up with me and helped me get mentally prepared for the day. At the expo the day before I was feeling ambitious and grabbed both the 4:15 pace tattoo and the 4:05 pace tattoo. But that morning, I was feeling humble and a bit silly to even expect to stay on the 4:15 pace.

(That tattoo was huge and didn't wash off for a good 3 days post race)

We left the house right on time at 5:35 am. The new race start was at TPC Sawgrass, a beautiful location, but with very limited access for massive amounts of people. I was a bit surprised....I mean, doesn't this place host thousands of spectators for the golf tournaments?

We sat in bumper to bumper traffic for an hour before I started to panic. The GPS still said we were about a mile away from the start, but with the traffic I knew I'd never get there in time. I gave Mike a big hug and kiss and  jumped out of the car in to the 33 degree morning. I jogged down the middle of the road until I found my running buddy and her boyfriend sitting in their nice toasty truck. She jumped out with me and we made the 1 mile trek to the start.

It was already just minutes away from the race start, but we both knew we needed 1 last restroom stop. Off to the massive port-a-potty lines we went. By the time we made it to our corral they announced a 30 minute delay to the race start due to traffic. Even so, our corral was already packed full and we needed to squeeze our way in.

We saw an opportunity to climb over the fence and squeeze in to the corral. Without thinking, I jumped right in with all of my throw-away clothes on. It was packed. I feel for anyone there with even the most mild claustrophobia because it was uncomfortable. I wiggled out of my fleece, long sleeve, and old pajama pants and tossed them over the fence. (Side note: race volunteers collect all discarded clothes and donate them - I was not littering) Everyone around me was obviously freezing and giving me strange looks and comments about how cold I must be. I rolled my purple polka dot knee high socks up my arms and finally felt ready. (note to self...find a picture of me with those silly socks on my arms)

We stood there long enough for our toes to go numb, but that was OK. The excitement was so hard to contain. Finally it was time to start.

8 months of training runs. 14 months of strength training. Finally, race day.

Tune in for Part 2 - the actual race :)