I never dreamed (until very recently) that I could possibly win a marathon. It still doesn’t seem real.
For those of you that don’t know about the DONNA Marathon, it’s a phenomenal event in Jacksonville, Florida with an incredible cause (to finish breast cancer). I can’t sum up everything they’ve accomplished, so I recommend you go read up on this amazing foundation & and the woman behind it all, Donna Deegan.
Race Weekend started with a flight into Jacksonville on Friday night. My parents live outside of the city so they picked us up, cooked us dinner and kept us for the night. The next morning we drove to the Expo. The race holds a 5K and 10K the Saturday before the marathon (conveniently at the Expo!). I ran the 5K with my mom in lieu of a shake-out run. That was a ton of fun. She’s a breast-cancer survivor and not only won 1st place for survivors, but 1st place in her age group. #prouddaughter
Everyone in the city was decked out in pink and the Expo was a hum of excitement. My husband and I picked up our bibs, grabbed some caffeinated (“EXTREME”) Sports Beans and we headed back home to shower up before dinner.
We are lucky enough to have friends who live about a mile from the start of the race. We stayed with them on Saturday night. They took us to the Sawgrass Cabana Beach Club, an amazing restaurant/bar/pool area right along the beach for a drink before dinner. I had a glass of wine. After that, we grabbed dinner at a local pub (Table 1) where I had a burger and another glass of wine. With a slight buzz, we headed back home for some attempted sleep.
I woke up with the typical pre-race jitters. I laced up my shoes, pinned on my bib, had a cup of coffee, a Honey Stinger waffle and headed off to the start line. I almost always run with my phone but decided any extra weight was a negative and checked it with my bag.
We found some porta-potties close to the start and got in line with about 15 minutes to go. While waiting in line, the race director, Amanda (full disclosure: we work together) gave me a hug and said, “I’m sending you all the love.” I kept that with me for the next 26.2 miles.
With about a minute to go, I looked around to see what sort of “competition” was out there. There were a few women who looked really fast. Julie Stackhouse, who won the marathon last year, was at the front doing some warm-up jumps in a pair of running briefs. If I had her body, I’d wear a bathing suit too. Talk about intimidating. Lucky for me, she was only running the half.
Before I knew it, the gun fired and we all took off in what seemed like a sprint, but also felt easy. I kept an eye on my watch and did everything in my willpower not to keep the fast pace that everyone around me seemed to be doing. Joan Benoit Samuelson ran by me and said,“you got it, girl.” How many people get a quick shout-out from a gold medal Olympian? I grinned ear to ear.
It took me 2-3 miles before I settled into a comfortable pace. And that’s when I found Jonathan. Jonathan is a polite, sweetheart of a runner from Gainesville, FL who missed his last BQ by 14 seconds. 14 SECONDS! My heart broke when he told me, but the more we chatted, the more I realized he was going to BQ at DONNA that day. And he did. We ran miles 3-22 together.
The day started out in the mid-50’s with 100% humidity. We were blessed with a fog that kept the sun off our faces and the temps down for the first couple of hours. The miles felt “comfortable” for the first half of the race.
Around mile 9, I was passed by my first female runner. She looked strong and had a bike pacer riding along with her. I knew it was early in the race, but my competitive side took over. I stayed right on her heels for about a mile, until passing her around a sharp turn. Mile 10 was a 6:46 pace. I knew it would hurt me later, but psychologically I took a big lead.
I wasn’t tested again until mile 19.
One of the best things about this race is the volunteers and spectators. This event has 24 water stops. 24! And in between the 24 water stops are amazing spectators cheering, yelling and holding up signs. The entire town comes out for this event and you can feel the love through every mile.
There’s a turn-around point at mile 18. That’s when I saw her. Super-mom pushing a double stroller was coming in HOT. Yes, you read that correctly. A woman pushing TWO children was keeping a 7 minute pace like it was nothing. We made eye contact around the turn and I knew exactly what we were both thinking – she could catch me. And she did.
At mile 19 I watched her pass me like I was walking. I looked at Jonathan and without saying anything he knew I was concerned. That might be the race. “She looks strong,” he said. We ran in silence for the next 2 miles, but we were slowly making up ground. By mile 21 I was on her heels and knew I had to make a move. We passed her and I didn’t look back.
The majority of this course is flat. Really flat. It’s not until mile 25 that you encounter the world’s largest bridge (ok, slight exaggeration). Luckily, there are so many people cheering for you that it’s almost impossible not to feel motivated to push through the pain.
The last couple of miles I finished on pure adrenalin. My calves were having some sort of neurotic spasms and every 30 seconds I felt a sharp twinge that was so jarring I thought they might give out at any second. “Not now, not now, not now,” I repeated to myself. I had no idea how close the second place female was, but I knew I had to do everything in my power not to slow down. Someone was looking out for me that day.
As I turned the last corner to the final straight-away I heard a hum of cheering and yelling. I scanned the crowd vigorously for my parents and spotted them: hands out, screaming. I have no idea what they said, but their smiles were all I needed.
Then I saw it – the tape. I lifted my arms and ran through with the biggest smile. Somehow, I had won the 10th Anniversary DONNA Marathon.
Shoes: Nike Elite 9
A special thanks to my friends & family, particularly my incredible parents and the most supportive training partner I could ever have, my husband, who always believed in me. I have the greatest team I could ever ask for.