To say that this was a race I was looking forward to would be an understatement. I love the 26.2 with Donna marathon weekend. From the moment I ran my first marathon at the 2013 26.2 with Donna, I fell in love with the race and the city of Jacksonville. There is no race experience like the DONNA. Having missed the 2015 race weekend due to financial reasons, I could not have been happier to return to the 26.2 with Donna.
While there was a 5k, 10k and the full & half marathons on the race weekend schedule, my friends and I were just running on Sunday. So, we hit the road on Saturday morning from Orlando to head up to Jacksonville. There were four of us in the entourage, three running the half marathon, and one running the full marathon. After a stop for coffee and an additional stop to use the restroom (water-loading is fun!), we made it to Jacksonville around lunchtime.
Once we checked into the hotel, we drove over to the expo to get our race bibs and packets. Packet pickup was a bit different than the previous three years I’ve done. It was in the main room with the vendors this time around, whereas previously, it was just off in a side room from the vendor main hall. It was still very easy and quick to get our packets, and I always love the enthusiasm the volunteers have.
After we got our packets, we checked out the vendors. Right off, I have to say that I felt it was a smaller showing than I had seen before at the DONNA expo. It seemed as though a number of notable vendors who I’ve seen at past years’ expos were not in attendance. I’m not sure why that was, maybe there were other races that weekend that made them have to choose between one or the other. Whatever it was, I hope this was just an “off year” for that and that it will go back to what it used to be in 2018.
The vendors I did see were pretty great. I was able to pickup some race nutrition, including some Generation UCAN to try out. I got a couple of UCAN snack bars and some electrolyte powders to add to my water. I’ve been hearing great things about UCAN, so I was glad to get the chance to pick up some individual items. I was tempted by a couple of other running things at some vendors, but I reigned myself in and kept my money in my pocket.
A highlight of the expo was seeing John Fornier right before my friends and I headed out. John is the creator of SQOOSH sport bands. You’ve seen me wearing them at my races and in a lot of my training run photos. The SQOOSH is my go-to sweat band when running. He just redesigned the band a bit and I was anxious to try it out. So, he hooked me up with a new SQOOSH for the DONNA Half the next day as well as a buff. (Note: Stay tuned for a SQOOSH giveaway soon!)
That night, we enjoyed a carb-loading dinner at Olive Garden before returning to the hotel. I sure did enjoy my spaghetti and bread sticks. Nothing like Olive Garden’s bread sticks! I realize the whole carb-loading thing is debatable these days between marathon runners, but hey, it’s a good enough reason to enjoy some pasta for me! Ha.
Once back at the hotel, we all got our race stuff set out, took showers (always a night before race tradition for me), and settled down with some Law & Order: SVU as we eventually fell asleep. Funny how soon that 4am alarm would come ringing.
Getting ready on race morning went pretty smoothly. We were out the door before 5am and heading to the bus to the race start. This time around, we stayed near the race finish by Mayo Clinic, so once we finished we would be able to walk back to the hotel to clean up. In past years, I’ve driven to the race start, then had to take a bus back to there since it’s a point-to-point race.
Arriving in the Runners Village, we found the Galloway tent and hung around for awhile. I saw many familiar faces which is another reason I love running the DONNA. So many fellow Orlando Galloway runners as well as Jacksonville runner friends do the race every year. As a DONNA Race Ambassador in 2014 and 2015, I was blessed to have met a lot of folks who have become friends.
Before I knew it, we were walking to the starting corrals. With the DONNA, it’s sort of a wave start system. I tend to get in the last couple of waves which works fine for me. I found the 3 hour pacers, one of which was my fellow Orlando Galloway friend, Nancy. My plan was to stick with them and see how things were going at the halfway point. The pacers were doing 30:30 intervals which was perfect for me, it’s become my favorite interval to use.
Once our wave was up to the starting mats, they counted us down and the confetti cannon went off…as were we! Every wave gets the same starting excitement, so it never matters when or where you start. The beginning once we crossed the starting mats was tight, as it tend to be with so many runners out of the gate. It opens up more after about half a mile or so, once we really hit the roads.
SO many amazing cheering spectators adorn the course from the beginning. I really do love the love you feel on the course at the DONNA. They make you smile and help keep you motivated as you push through the miles. What I really loved was seeing a lot of dogs out there, a number of them in tutus and other pink cuteness. Add in costumed kids and adults and you’ve got blocks and blocks of fun covered in pink.
I felt great during those first miles. Really great. I was having a great time and enjoying the race with my friends with the 3-hour pace group. I barely realized that we had run 5k, then before I knew it we were nearing the halfway point. But, it was also close to when the half and full marathon split off from one another at mile 7. That meant three of my Orlando Galloway friends would be heading off with the full route. I said good-bye to my friends and continued onward with my 3-hour pace group.
Hitting mile 8, I was still feeling good. I took a gel about this time (having taken one at the 5k point previously), and kept on moving. On a fun, humorous note, my friend Nancy was carrying a balloon as a pacer. Now, you kind of need to know the backstory that she, along with my co-group leader of Running Agents (my pace group with Orlando Galloway), are the balloon ladies for the Walt Disney World runDisney races. So, since they were both pacing at the DONNA (Molly was pacing 3:15), they decided to carry balloons with their finish time written on them. Nancy’s balloon kept bopping me on the head during the race, as well as some of the other runners in the group. I swear the thing was after me a few times. LOL!
The amazing, cheering spectators continued to make me smile through the latter half of the race. Then, there was the bridge. The last two and a half miles are on the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge, which most agree is the toughest part of the race. I tend to agree, as it’s takes some pushing to get yourself up the bridge and to keep moving, especially at the end of the race. At the top of that bridge though is some of the loudest, most energetic cheering spectators on the course. You definitely get a motivating push from these great folks as you make your way toward that finish.
Coming off of the bridge, ahead of me, I saw it. That glorious finish line. Always makes me smile seeing a finish line ahead. I was a bit tired at that point. The bridge, and the weather had begun to get warmer while I was on it had drained my energy. Despite being hot and finally feeling the miles, I pushed. I pushed myself to run to that finish line. I was going to give the end all that I had left.
At 3:00:19 I finished the 2017 26.2 with Donna half marathon. While it’s not a PR for me, I felt great about this finish time. I maintained a consistent pace throughout the race and finished strong. That was all that mattered, that I finished. I’m not out there to win anything, just to enjoy running with my friends and continue to challenge myself in doing so.
The 10th anniversary of the 26.2 with Donna was a great time, and I already look forward to running it again in 2018!