This may be a little long, but I wanted to really capture everything about this race. If you missed Part 1 (Donna Meetup/Expo) or Part 2 (Donna5K), click those links, and then sit back for what may be a really long half marathon recap.
After the 5K I spent the rest of Saturday resting and carbo loading. I was invited to the special dinner at the Mayo Clinic the night before the race, but I was paranoid about messing up my prerace ritual. Looking back, I should have gone with Mom. Instead, I made us some homemade chicken parm with a lot of rotini. I prepped the bag I was going to check, charged my Garmin, quadruple checked that my iPhone was loaded with my playlist, and went to bed at around 9:30.
Surprisingly, I fell asleep pretty quickly, and I woke up with my alarm at 4:40. After quadruple checking my bag, packing up my bagel/Gatorade, I made the drive out to the start line at TPC in Ponte Vedra. I got there around 6:00, so I sat in my car for about 30 minutes just relaxing. I waited for about 10 minutes for the porta potties, and made it over to the corral. I got a really good strech in, and just waited for time to tick by. It wasn’t as warm out as I feared, and I didn’t really feel the humidity. For 99% of the race, the sun wasn’t out. Luck was definitely on my side in the weather department!
Before I knew it, they were leading us over to the starting line. I walked by the porta potties and realized I had to go to the bathroom again, but I didn’t know how long the lines would take. I figured I’d just deal with it, so I kept on walking to the start line. My half marathon PR was a 2:15:11, and I told myself over and over that as long as I beat that PR, I would be happy. I estimated needing to average around 10:20 a mile, but I also reasoned with myself that as long as I didn’t quit, I would be happy with the result.
There were a bunch of speakers before the race got underway: Donna Deegan (of course), Joan Benoit Samuelson, Dr. Edith Perez, and Tara Costa all welcomed us to the race. Then, in a big surprise to me, Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray spoke, and he thanked the entire running community for the support we had shown Boston since the Marathon. The gun hadn’t even gone off and I was already feeling emotional. Little did I know, this was just the start.
The gun went off at 7:38. The start line was awesome! I grabbed some of the pink confetti that they shot off, but I dropped it (dang it!) before I could shove it in my Fuel Belt. I had to wait a few minutes to cross the starting line, and when I pushed “Start” on my Garmin, nothing happened. Before the race, I decided to run with my Garmin instead of my Nike app. I wanted to save battery life on my phone, plus the Garmin would let me view pace as I was running, so I would have an idea of how I was doing. I got the Garmin up and running (no pun intended) about 30 seconds into the race, so my splits are a little off.
These miles were all on the flat streets in the neighborhoods in Ponte Vedra. The crowd support was incredible! I remember Donna telling us at the Expo that we would need to bring tissues because of how emotional it would all be, but I thought she was exaggerating. I saw so many signs, balloons, people waving/ringing cow bells. One sign that really choked me up was held by a little girl and boy on one of these streets. It said, “Our mommy got cancer last year.” There was a woman with them, who really I hope is their mother. I was feeling great for these 6 miles. I knew I was way under where I needed to be timewise, but since I knew there was a run on the beach/the bridge left, I wanted to make sure I had some time in the bank in case something went wrong. I took my first gel around Mile 4.5.
The dreaded beach mile wasn’t so bad after all. The packed sand was pretty easy to run on. My only problem here was looking ahead to where the beach run ended. My mind went into wondering how much longer I had to be on the sand, and that kind of messed with my confidence a little bit. One of the most memorable parts of the race came when I had just started the beach portion, and through my headphones I heard my song go: “You never shine, If you never burn, the rising tide…” and all I could think of was how awesome the race was going.
The transition from sand back to road was very bizarre, and it started to mess with me. This portion of the race went along 3rd Street, from the beach to Butler Boulevard, which is the main road with the bridge on it. For those of you who don’t know, I like to count my songs as I run. Instead of saying, “Ugh, how much longer?” I like to count to 5, then 4, then 3, 2, 1, which usually takes me about 6 miles. I lost count along this road, and it led me to my slowest mile of the day (10:03). I stopped to walk at a water stop, and I realized I had a bad blister on my left foot. Oh well, gotta keep going. I looked at the message I wrote in sharpie on my left hand, which is also a tagline of the race: “Finish It.” As we hit Butler, we had our first hill, which was the exit ramp from Butler to 3rd Street. My legs were starting to get sore, and I was starting to doubt myself. But it was Mile 10 – just a 5K left! Based on the time on the clock, I knew if I kept going, a PR would be mine.
At some point along Butler, you can see the Mayo Clinic off in the distance. When I finally saw it, I got really emotional. My dad has been in the ICU at Mayo for about a week now, and all I could keep saying in my head was, “get to where Dad is,” over and over. Butler was really strange to run on, since it’s a huge parkway with a lot of slope to it. I kept trying to find my footing, but the whole time I could only stare at the bridge that I was approaching.
The Intracoastal Bridge is supposed to be one of the most notable parts of this race. I’ve driven over it a few times, but I never even dreamed I would run over it. I kept telling myself to take a few steps more, but that bridge felt like it took forever to get over. I knew once I was at the top that I was just about finished, so I kept pushing and pushing. When I finally got to the top, I was exhausted, but the Queen song, “Don’t stop me now” came on, and I knew I couldn’t stop to walk. Going downhill felt great. As we got to the Butler entrance ramp to turn onto San Pablo Road, I saw a few more people who were cheering on runners. I threw my arms up as I passed them, and they started yelling and shaking their cow bells at me. Hey – I knew a PR was just around the corner! I sprinted the length of San Pablo Road and crossed the finish line – 2:10:30!
I grabbed a bottle of water from an awesome volunteer, got a space blanket wrap thing (what are these even called?!), and…the medal!
I was so happy, but I was hurting bad by this point. My legs were dead, the blister, chafing (I forgot cream. Again.), and my lower back were killing me. But despite all the pain, it was one of the best feelings ever.
I headed to the Runners’ Village, grabbed a banana, and just walked around to soak up all the scenery. Everyone did an incredible job setting up the Village, and there was a ton of food, massage stations, and places to rest. After about 20 minutes, I just wanted to go home, so I got on the shuttle to take me back to my car. I’m glad I conserved battery on my phone, because I had time to text everyone/post on social media while I was still in my runner’s high. I got home, showered, and went back out to get my celebratory Five Guys burger.
As I was resting up at home, I got an alert on my phone that the course had been closed due to lightning in the area. I felt terrible for anyone who was still on the course, but I think they made the right call. Trust me – I’d be miserable, angry, and upset if I was still on the course at the time. Safety comes first no matter what, and as difficult as it was to make that call, it was the right decision.
This race has been sitting with me for days, and I’m still really excited about how I did. I blew my old PR out of the water, but now I’m sitting here, 30 seconds away from breaking 2:10, and I know there’s still more I need to do. I promised myself I wouldn’t consider training for a full marathon till I could break 2 hours in the half, but I’m getting closer! Maybe that full will be next year – either way, I’ll absolutely be doing the Donna again!