Marathon“I want to be stronger, I want to be healthier and I want to be a better athlete”

Those words resonated with me as I ran my journey to 26.2 on Sunday at the 26.2 to Finish Breast Cancer with Donna Marathon in Jacksonville, FL.  I had trained, but not good enough, I had eaten healthy, but not healthy enough and I was an athlete, but I learned something on that course last Sunday, I want to be a BETTER ATHLETE!  And the only thing that can change that is me!

Some of you have already read my journey to getting to the marathon weekend in Jacksonville, FL on February 23rd in previous weeks posts.  As runners, we all know that weather and conditions are always the number 1 factor for race day and most races, even rain does not stop us from pushing through those miles to the finish line.  But for my first marathon, the impending weather certainly made all the difference in how I almost finished my first marathon . . .

Lightning Storm Brings Abrupt End to Marathon in Jacksonville

26.2 With Donna ends with runners on a saturated course. – Runner’s World Running Times

The race weekend started like most, we hit the road early to get to the Expo that would be held at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, to pick up our race day packets and bibs and checkout the other Expo offerings by running gear companies that would be there.  We arrived shortly after lunch on Saturday and headed straight to grab our packets and I was excited to see my fellow #RunDONNA Ambassador Marcia before heading into the exhibit hall.  Note – My Race Recap 2 will be coming next week which I will highlight my amazing opportunity as one of the 2014 #RunDONNA Ambassadors. This race had been my first half marathon, which I ran in February of 2013 and I really loved the display of support for breast cancer patients and families that they offer for runners to be a part of.  There are huge signs that we can sign that are relocated on race day to the Memorial Mile on Jacksonville Beach and also a large garbage truck painted pink that we all get to sign and it is parked along the course.  Sometimes the things we see are a bit emotionally overwhelming, but they bring out the huge heart of all the runners in our communities.

Donna Expo - Memorial TruckBreast Cancer - Run for HopePre-Race DinnerAfter we finished up at the Expo, we headed to the hotel to check-in and get all of our gear in order for race day before heading out to meet some of our friends for a little emotional support for my first marathon weekend.  In classic Moms RUN This Town fashion, we meet some of our buddies for dinner and spend the next few hours chatting about running and race day.  It is always so exciting to talk about what our expectations are for the day ahead and also how we feel going into the race.  It’s like a little mini therapy session with some of your closest friends before running a marathon or half marathon with 10,000+.

Race morning arrived and I was feeling a little nervous, but also very tired.  I thought about the fact that I had put in my long runs in the afternoons and that I had also had full days of resting up and fueling before hitting the pavement so maybe that made me a little apprehensive about my day ahead.  But I pushed on and got dressed so that we could head out early enough to beat the traffic that almost prevented us from racing last year.  My husband dropped us off at 5:30 am at the race start and I told him to expect us at the finish in about 5 hours, which was my finish goal for the day ahead.  It was still dark out and the temps were somewhat cool still and I had anticipated the eminent rainy weather to hold off until later in the afternoon when we had crossed the finish line.

Tammy and I headed to the warming tent they had set up near the entrance to the race corals and sat and hydrated and discussed our race plans.  We met another runner that was there and trying to use this as his race to qualify for Boston.  He was trying to push to finish his marathon in 3:25, which he told us was about 20 minutes faster than he had ever ran that distance and way outside his comfort zone, but he felt ready.  This helped calm my nerves a bit because by no means, was I putting that kind of timing pressure on myself and it reminded me that people were here racing, running and walking for many different reasons.  For me, it was just about finishing.

As the start time drew closer, we headed over for one last stop off for a potty break and then headed to our race coral staging area where we met up with one of our Tallahassee MRTT Mamas, Mitzi, who was running the half marathon on Sunday and taking a step closer to conquering her fear of bridges when she would cross over the largest of those on race day in the last stretch to the finish line at mile 12.

Pre-Marathon PhotoAs we walked to the start line there were so many announcements and emotions in the air.  I don’t think I have ever felt so excited, terrified or sick to my stomach all at once like I did that morning.  We pushed up to the blue coral which was the projected 5 hour finish group and began waiting for our turn to go.  They sang the National Anthem and tears began to flow and it was time to put on the sunglasses and sync the watches because the start horn was about to sound.

As we began the race we ran through bursts of confetti and a large cheering crowd that had formed to cheer us through the start of the race.  Right off the bat, I was talking and rolled my ankle, maybe that was my sign of things to come . . .

As we started the course there was so much energy in the air and so many happy faces.  I had fallen in love with the crowds at this race last year because the support of the neighborhoods we ran through was like no other I had seen, and still holds the highest spot for crowd support to me.  After a mile or so we turned the corner which would take us right down along the beach side through a beautiful neighborhood in Ponte Vedra Beach.  The air was still cool and the skies overcast so the temps were still cool and the humidity was not too high at that point.  I was comfortable.

We approached mile 3 and I spotted one of our Georgia MRTT Mamas, Anna, and we had to stop for a photo with her.  You see, she is our distance race sherpa for some.  She rides the course on her bike carrying first aid supplies, extra food and extra hydration needs for many of us lucky ones that get to see her along the way.  We love Anna, she’s our number 1 spectator and cheer squad on race day!!

Tammy & Anna - Mile 3As we pushed on we knew that the beach portion of our run was coming up.  I recalled that for the half marathon we had to run a mile on the beach and I thought I recalled that the marathon participants ran just another mile before hitting the pavement again, but I was very mistaken.  As we pushed through the beach run and the half marathoners turned off to head to the finish, we pushed on to the Jacksonville Pier and beyond.  By the time we reached mile 2.5 on the beach, Tammy and I were ready to be done with that.  My hamstring was beginning to tighten up and I knew that was not good.  We pushed through . . .

When I came off the beach I knew I needed to walk for a minute to get myself together before getting back in a rhythm.  I hydrated, ate some of my fuel and then buttoned everything back up get back to the run.  My left hamstring was nagging with tightness but thankfully my left calf, which had given me a fit for weeks was not bothering me at all.  I shrugged off the pain and pushed on.

We hit mile 11 which is usually my first wall and I felt a lot of pain in my leg and decided that I needed to take a walk break.  Tammy had began to experience some knee pain and for her that meant she needed to keep running instead of drawing it out by slowing down to walk.  I told her to run ahead if she needed to and she nodded and pushed on.  I began pacing with a few groups and walked when I needed to.  As I hit mile 13 I broke down mentally.  It was my first official marathon wall of tears and they seemed to come about every mile after that.  Pain, disappointment, anger . . . we are our own worst critics.  As I crossed the mat at mile 15 I was feeling a little better and then when I got to mile 16 I saw Tammy, Olivia and Paula and it made me feel excited to not be running alone anymore.  Olivia was experiencing some calf pain and Tammy’s knee was not doing much better but we ran together for the next half a mile or so before Olivia and Paula went ahead.  We pushed on . . .

Mile 17 seemed to pass quickly, for whatever reason and then we hit mile 18 and I knew I needed to make a pit stop.  As I came out I saw Donna Deegan and her pace group rounding the corner and Tammy and I ran just behind her for the next couple of miles.  It was really cool to run a marathon with the person that actually put the event together and that has done so much for Breast Cancer in terms of raising money and awareness, not to mention she is a survivor herself!  I heard her say that her daughter had finished the half marathon and gotten a PR and she was one beaming proud Mama on that race course.

MIle 19 - Smile for the CameraMile 19 came and so did the rain sprinkles from the impending weather that we were about to run through.  I thought to myself, if it just keeps sprinkling like this we will be fine.  Wishful thinking on my part . . . We approached mile 20 a/k/a the WALL and my leg was feeling much worse.  We had to resort to more walking than running intervals and the wet pavement and pavers we kept running over were not helping matters.  Tammy’s knee was swelling at this point and she was doing a hobble-a-long run that I know had to be much more excruciating than my hamstring tightness I was dealing with.

As we pushed through mile 20 the rain began to come down harder and thankfully a couple of spectators were handing out garbage bags to runners to protect ourselves and more importantly our electronic devices from the elements.  We outfitted ourselves with the large black trash bags and off we went.

Mile 21 came and as did mile 22.  Nothing was getting easier at that point.  We pushed up to mile 23 and our first turn to the finish up an on ramp and cross an overpass.  The lightening had began to crack around us and the rain began to pour harder.  We kept going.  As we approached mile 24 we saw a large crowd formed at the last first aid tent and we wondered why since we knew the final bridge over to the finish was just around the corner.  As we approached one of the volunteers told us they were closing the course due to a tornado warning and that we had to get on the bus to take us back to the Mayo Clinic and the finish line.  Tammy asked, “do we have to get on the bus” and we never really got an answer except that we should get on the bus as he stood in front of us.  I’m not a fan of running in bad weather and as some that really know me know, I am terrified of lightening and we had already ran through all of that.  I was reluctant even though Tammy said I told her let’s get on the bus.  Ultimately, it was the smart thing to do even if it meant I wouldn’t finish.

My Almost MarathonAs we got on the bus, I called Harley who was waiting with my oldest stepson at the finish line and he was thankful to hear we were on the bus headed back to the finish line.  I was in tears, nothing could stop the feeling of failure from overwhelming me at that point.  As we turned the corner the bus driver allowed us to exit the bus at the finish.  I found Harley and we saw that the finish line was still open.  We opened the fence and decided we were crossing that finish line NO MATTER WHAT and that we did.  Though the finish line time says we finished in 5:44, we figured that if we paced according to the time it took us to finish the last mile we would have come in at 6:10.

We made it through the finish line area as they were pulling everything up to go inside to safety.  We took a finisher photo, went into the runner village that was closing up and got some ice wraps on our legs and then went to get to the truck and to dry and warm clothes.  After grabbing some food we hit to road to head home, a two and a half hour drive back to Tallahassee.  I was filled with so much emotion.  I had just ran the most miles I had ever ran in my life, but I had also come just short of my goal.  I know I could have worked harder or pushed more, but that day it just wasn’t in the cards for me.  I was thankful I would have the next day off to recover, reflect and heal and as Monday came to an end I found some peace in the outcome of my journey on Sunday . . .

It has been a very long day of recovery from yesterday, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes ‘sucking it up’ and moving forward can be one of the toughest things we must face. I can’t dwell on things I cannot go back and change and while my marathon ‘things’ are still on a pile in my office and I am still wrapping my mind around the let down, I am one day closer to moving forward and going for my dreams again. Some people will say, ‘what’s the big deal’ but it’s still a big deal to me. Thank you everyone for hour messages, texts and calls today. I am a lucky chick . . .

My first marathon certainly did not have the outcome I had wished or hoped for, but it did have a lot of tears and even more laughter.  Sometimes we are faced with adversity and how we deal with that and come out on the other side, I believe, makes us a better person and stronger athlete.  My marathon bib and medal are still in a pile in my office at home.  I guess there are some aspects to race day that I have not resolved in my head fully, but today is a new day and admittedly, I’m already looking for my next marathon so that I can run those 26.2 miles and push on to the next path of my journey.

As for the other 2 miles, Tammy and I put those in on Monday night just for piece of mind . . .

Almost 26.2A couple of special Thank You’s –

To My Husband – I am lucky for so many things and so many amazingly special people, family and friends in my life. More than I could ever express in simple words. But most of all I am lucky to have a partner, friend and husband that supports my crazy hobby and would have risked much on Sunday had they followed through with throwing spectators off the course when they issued the tornado warning. Unless you have a strong support system, everything goes to pot.  Love you babe!

Tammy & Harley MeansTo My Mama – When I arrived home, tired and run down, I saw something on my doorstep.  It would be 26 red roses and a card from my Mama.  She had left them as a wonderful congratulatory gift to me for doing something that day that most would never even attempt.  Her card had many words of love and support and I am grateful to have such a supportive Mom!  Love you Mama!

26 Roses for 26 Miles

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