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!
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
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.
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 goal...am 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.