Over the weekend I had the opportunity to take part in the 26.2 with Donna Finish Breast Cancer Half Marathon in Jacksonville, FL with my Co-Chapter Leader and several other Chapter Leaders of Mom’s RUN This Town. (This was a last-minute decision to jump on the Half Marathon bandwagon a week before my first scheduled Half Marathon, the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Orlando, FL)
(Left to Right – Me, Tammy P., Katie F., Olivia H., Jacy V., Dave & Lisa M.)
On Wednesday the 13th, I decided to join a few fellow Mama’s in signing up for the Half Marathon on Sunday. So needless to say, I had to get things in gear and prepared for the weekend. I was thankful for the opportunity so that I would know what to expect on the 24th. What I didn’t expect, was to have one of the most emotional running accomplishments of my life thus far happen in just 2 hours and 23 minutes.
Here is my recap ~
We arrived in Jacksonville at the Expo which was being held at the Prime Osborne Convention Center, around 3:30 pm on Saturday afternoon (after a sketchy bridge ride that got us a little turned around).
This was my first running Expo, so needless to say, even though it was not incredibly large I was still a little overwhelmed by all the running gear and other offerings they had available. We walked in and immediately asked where packet pickup was located within the expo. Thankfully it was an easy to find location away from all the vendors and very well-organized. You checked the race registration list for your bib number and then proceeded to the appropriate bib line to receive your bib and then you were directed to another table to pickup the rest of your race goodies, including a really nice long-sleeved tech shirt. (Our shirt woman must have had a long day she didn’t seem to be such a happy camper)
We then ventured back out into the Expo and began checking out the vendors. Tammy needed a pair of racing glasses that wouldn’t slip and bounce on her face and she found her way over to that vendor booth. I was excited to see One More Mile Running Apparel and really wanted to check out what they brought. It was PACKED, a little too packed for me in fact. We made our way through the rest of the Expo and then decided on dinner.
We decided on a spot that would have some carb options for those interested, but also some tasty non-heavy carb options for those like myself that really couldn’t eat pasta, Carrabba’s it was! After a great dinner of getting to know each other and talking about race morning, we decided it was time to part ways and head to the hotel to check in. Our hotel, which was located (normally) 5 minutes away from the race start, was completely booked for the race weekend.
Upon arriving at the Hampton, we were greeted by our fellow Newman MRTT Chapter Leader and Mama’s. We discussed race morning plans to meet in the lobby at 5:30 am for pre-race pictures and getting checked in we headed up to our room. Four ladies, race gear in tow, headed up to the second floor to get organized and hit the pillows for some much-needed rest. Off to room “226” we went . . . After trying for about 2 or 3 minutes to get our room key to work, we were greeted by a friendly fellow runner that politely informed us 226 was not our room . . . so off to 220 we went, LAUGHING ALL THE WAY! But that wouldn’t last, as we entered our room and found ONE king size bed and a pull out sofa. FAIL! After about an hour of hassle with the staff, we got a comped room and thankfully our roommate Lisa had decided to bring an inflatable mattress.
5:30 comes really quickly when you get in bed late. I decided to go ahead and get up at 3:45 am to get showered and out of the bathroom before the other women needed to get in. It was a freezing morning in Jacksonville, so bundled up was our way to dress.
We finally finished all of our pre-race pictures and decided to head to the start line which was to be just 5 minutes away, WRONG! After a very nerve-wracking hour in traffic and thankfully a delayed race time, we finally arrived at the starting area. We were so late that we missed our assigned corrals and were stuck in the back behind the walkers. UGH!
Tammy and I would spend the first several miles of the race maneuvering our way through the 4 deep walkers. It was a beautiful course and full of spectators that held signs and cheered us along the entire route. I felt good, even though when I thought about it initially I was only on about mile 3. We pushed on, Tammy telling everyone good morning as she always does (she’s a cheerful runner) and checking on me through the miles. We rounded the corner to mile 6 and I still felt unbelievably good. My legs did not hurt at all and I really only thought about the miles as a mental countdown instead of the normal, “how many do I have left” that I generally have on long runs.
We passed mile 6 and I got an update from my Nike GPS that I had just beat my previous 10K time, runner SCORE! Next would be the 1 mile run of the course on the beach, yes, IN THE SAND! We hit the beach and it was beautiful and windy, very windy. Atlantic hard packed beach sand was a welcome sight to my Gulf Coast soft sandy beach experience for running. Here is a shot that Tammy got of us mid-run on the beach (trying not to headbutt each other) –
The worst part of the beach was leaving the beach because of all the large divots from other runners (I was thankful that we did not have to do 2 miles on the beach like the full marathon runners). We pushed on. Next, considering that I had only officially put in 7 miles as my longest run, rounding the corner to the flag for mile 8 felt AWESOME! And I wasn’t feeling tired or weak even after the beach mile and we were maintaining a 10:24 mile pace even with walkers along the way that we had to make our way around.
Suddenly after mile 8 we heard a large barrage of sirens and a man came over the loudspeaker saying we needed to move to the right. I thought for sure it was an ambulance coming through, but I was wrong! It was the Elite group of the marathon runners BUSTING OUT killer pace times. Tammy and I agreed, we needed t-shirts that said, “we ran with Kenyans” because I think several of them must have been! They were truly amazing to watch fly by us and we felt compelled to cheer them on as we ran to the side.
We rounded the next corner and had heard that we would have to cross a hilly bridge and we approached the on ramp for the bridge and thought out loud that this was no worse than the earlier weeks of hill work we had completed at home and that WE’VE GOT THIS! Onward and upward we went, Tammy talking me through my breathing and pushing me to not stop the whole way. “What comes up must go down” she repeated and I think she helped get a few others up that first bridge. Looking up the course, we saw another bridge coming, it seemed much less steep than the one we had just finished, but it was at a slant. NOT FUN for my calves that were beginning to cramp a little. But we pushed through and we thought we were in the home stretch to the finish. Mile 11 came and went and as we rounded the corner approaching mile 12 I though it was a mirage . . . the biggest MOTHA of a bridge I had ever seen, much less tried to run up.
Tammy looked at me and said, “I have no words” and I looked at her and said, “I DO!” Insert four letter EXPLATIVE here! I felt so deflated at that moment. I was almost at the end, my body was starting to completely cramp up. After all, I had increased my miles by 50% in just a few weeks instead of the normal 10% suggested progression. I had also resolved that I could not say I completed a Half Marathon unless I ran the whole thing! That meant I was running this booger bridge whether my body wanted to or not. I pushed forward. This would be the only time that Tammy ran ahead. I knew I needed to slow down in order to finish this run running. I could hear Tammy saying, “This bridge will NOT defeat me” and I used that. I used every second of all our past run hill pep talks to get me up to the top.
When I arrived at the top of the bridge there stood a long line of spectators holding signs of encouragement. Both survivors, families of survivors, families of other runners and just amazing people who came out to cheer us on. One woman held a sign that made me laugh out loud that read, “smile, you just peed a little” (admittedly it still makes me giggle to think about it) Other signs saying funny things were also there, but the one that got me and made all the pain, especially that horrific bridge worth it was a little woman on the right.
As I looked down the line of spectators, I found a little aged black woman who obviously was wearing a wig and holding a sign that simply read, “I’m a survivor and YOU’RE MY HERO!” I was going to finish running this race, no longer for the sticker or a medal, but for that little woman who came out when she didn’t have to and stood in the freezing cold just to say thank you! I never wanted to hug a stranger so much in my life!
After wiping away the tears that were streaming down my face, I started the decline on the bridge to the finish line. My Nike GPS announced “.11 miles to go” Thank goodness, was all my mind could muster at that point! I rounded the corner and saw the finish line. I was doing this and I was doing this in under the time that I had resolved I would be happy with before starting the race.
I crossed the finish line and I was given my medal and a warming blanket from the volunteers and I immediately doubled over. Of course, all the volunteers ask you if you are ok just to be safe. I simply replied yes and attempted to walk normally forward out-of-the-way. Tammy came over to greet me and I just fell into tears and said, “I did it! I just ran the whole thing!” She was smiling just about as big as I have ever seen her smile and said, ” I know, I am so proud of you!” It truly felt amazing! My legs however, not so much! All I could think about was the intense throbbing and pain that overcame me once I stopped and stood still. It was excruciating! I wanted to find a place to sit down before I fell down. We were corralled into the area near the Runner Camp where we could get soup and water from various tents, but first we had to get our “Finisher” photos taken. The line felt like it lasted for 30 minutes, but I know it couldn’t have been more than 5.
Finally I made my way through the soup line and found a spot to sit on the curb and try to let my legs rest and get warm. I received a text message from my husband telling me how proud he was and also a wonderful text message from one of my friends and fellow MRTT Mama’s at home that really made my heart smile, thank you Laura L.! It had been an amazing race day!
So if you had asked me at that moment what was next, I would have definitely screamed out, “I’m going to Disney World!” and I am to run the Disney Princess Half Marathon this Sunday, February 24th, just a week shy of my 39th birthday and I couldn’t be more excited! (Once I complete this second run I will also qualify for a new race club called Half Fanatics as a Neptune and I’m really excited!)