Friday, February 20, 2015

Race Recap: #runDonna Breast Cancer (Half) Marathon

As luck would have it, my mid-winter break from school happened to fall during runDonna weekend this year.  I have friends in Florida who run 26.2 with Donna nearly every year and speak very highly of the race.  Plus, any chance to get out of #purefrozenMichigan and head to sunny Florida to visit my friends works for me.

Jacksonville really goes all out for this race.  Starting at the airport it feels like a big Sea of Pink party.  There was this giant sign on the floor plus a staffed booth right outside the escalators down to baggage claim.  Very nice touches.

My flights down from Chicago went off without a hitch, which considering the weather in many parts of the country was a huge blessing.  I headed straight for the expo to meet up with a few friends and get my bib.  (You can read about my weekend meetups here if you missed it yesterday.)

What struck me at first was all the PINK.  There were the usual vendors plus a few geared directly towards breast cancer and breast cancer survivors.  I made a bee line for the packet pickup area and then wandered around for a bit after chatting with Beth.  The layout was great.  You could head straight back to the other room set up for bibs and shirts.  I absolutely HATE expos that make you "shop" first, so this was a nice touch.  The vendor area wasn't very crowded and it was fun to check out the booths.  I even stopped and chatted with Jeff Galloway for a bit.  I loved telling him about my Detroit Marathon PR using my own version of Galloway intervals.  He suggested I drop the run segments even further though and says I'll go faster.  Not sure I believe that. (To hit pace on Galloway, you basically have to run about :30 per mile faster than goal pace to sandbag time for the walk segments.)

After the expo I headed to my hotel to rest for a bit and then grabbed dinner at a local brewpub.  I've never been to BJ's Brewhouse before and it was a great choice.  I probably ate too much ;)

In the couple weeks prior to the race, I was stressing about the predicted cold temperatures.  You see, even though I live in Michigan and I'm supposed to be all winter-running hardy and shit, I've been running inside.  I've completely lost all my winter mojo.  The predicted temps were supposed to be in the low 30s but when I woke up Sunday morning, it was around 51*.  Shit.  I'm glad I packed multiple options for clothing and ended up with a tank, capris and a throw-away fleece that I ditched before we even started.

Beautiful sunrise in Ponte Vedra.
The race starts at some uber swanky golf resort and then heads north to Jacksonville Beach.  If you are running the full, you go even farther north before turning back around.  What hit me at the start and caused me to tear up were the number of women with "Survivor" pinned to their backs and the number of men in pink tutus with "running for..." on their backs.  While breast cancer has not affected me directly, it has affected my friends.

As for the run itself, the streets and many of the neighborhoods were so decked out it blew me away.  It was like a 13.1 mile (ok, maybe 11.5 mile since the last couple miles were just highway) street party.  I started straight running but at 2 miles switched to the 5/:30 intervals I used for Detroit.  I'm not sure what was wrong but I couldn't catch my breath and I wasn't even running very fast.  That was discouraging.  Even with my intervals, I passed a ton of people.  This is a very friendly walker and run/walker race (the marathon cut off is over 7 hours I believe) so I was constantly dodging people.

My favorite part?  I absolutely loved running on the beach even if my shins and ankles hated me for the next 4 days.  Three of my friends had a little aid station set up at about the midpoint of the beach so I got hugs and beer :)  Wendy even made a sign!  At 6.5 miles I was already feeling wiped out so seeing them was a great boost.

I ended up dressed perfectly!  I was a little chilly on the beach when the wind kicked up but the sun made it all better.  Seeing people dressed in jackets made me laugh a little.

Somewhere just before mile 9, the elite men marathoners passed me.  What an incredible sight!  They had a police escort of 6-7 motorcycles and a van clearing their path.  Watching them run by at about mile 22 for them, looking like they hadn't even broken a sweat, was unreal.

A little later, I saw this cheer section and I had to stop for a picture.  I really should have gotten a mammogram too.  Oh well, maybe next year.

As you can see, the weather was incredible and the cheer sections were, too.  And the pink. SO. MUCH. PINK.  Makes you think about the numbers of men, women and children affected by breast cancer every year.  Hopefully my little entrance fee does some good somewhere.

The last 2 miles of the race are on the highway, with a nice bridge to cross.  The bridge kicked my butt.  Luckily, what goes up must come down and I ran my fastest 1.1 miles at the end of the race.  After cresting the bridge, I didn't walk again and seeing the elite women pass me at mile 12.5 (with NO escort I might add - that bothered me) gave me incentive to kick it at the end.  (I ran about a 9:30 pace for the last 1/2 mile.) I got my medal and some pictures and made my way to the runner village.

Runner village was pretty awesome.  We got free soup and champagne and good beer (until the good beer ran out).  There were some very long lines for burgers and hot dogs which I chose not to stand in but there was also plenty of oranges, bananas and bagels.  I had planned on trying to stay to watch Krissy and Marcia finish the full but Deb's house was closer to runner village than the finish line and my legs were done running and walking and standing. Plus, I didn't think I'd ever find them in the crowd anyway.

Overall, it was a very good weekend and I love the medal.  It's hard to see in the picture but it has stained glass in the middle and dolphins jumping in the top of the heart.  The shirt, personalized bib and bag were also nice swag.

As for my results, I'm ok with them.  My time wasn't great at 2:30:50 (in fact, that's one of my worst half times), but considering I was undertrained, ran/walked, stopped for a few minutes on the beach and took pictures I really shouldn't have expected much better.  I finished in the top 50% of my age group and gender, so that makes me happy.  I knew going in that this race wasn't going to be about my finishing time, but posting an 11:30 average pace is a little embarrassing because I know if I'd tried I could have run much better. Mostly I'm feeling blessed I was able to run such a well supported race and spend the weekend with my friends.  Time to start saving for next year!

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