On February 9th, I ran and paced the 2020 DONNA Half Marathon in Jacksonville, Florida. This was my 6th time running a DONNA race, and 2nd time pacing at the race.
I headed up to Jacksonville on Saturday morning with my mom. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Orlando, so it’s not too bad. I always stay the night before the race, because I can’t imagine trying to drive up on race morning. It would be way too stressful for me.
This year, the expo was at a different location than it was last year. It took place at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium, which was the original home of the race expo. This was a new location for me, as I had done in the race when the expo was at the Convention Center, or last year, at the old Kmart.
The expo seemed pretty small to me this year. Not a many vendors as past years. Packet pickup was easy (especially since my packet was at the Galloway Pacer table), and I got to see some familiar faces. It was great talking to John from sQoosh, as well as Amanda Napolitano, the race director. I also saw Donna Deegan briefly on my way out, which was nice.
After the expo, mom and I headed to the hotel to check in. That went well, and they were even great about allowing me a late checkout the next day. We did run back out to grab some dinner to bring back to the hotel. Nothing like a spaghetti dinner from Olive Garden to carb up! 🙂
Everything seemed to be going well until I tried to get some rest. There seemed to be a family/group of friends staying across the hall and next door to that room that had no respect for others needing to sleep. Their loud talking, laughing and slamming doors woke me up repeatedly through the night. Calls to the front desk didn’t help either unfortunately.
Somehow, I got some rest (not much), and when my alarm went off at 4am, I was feeling okay. I suppose there wasn’t much else to do but make the best of it. I got dressed and headed out. I drove to the Morocco Shrine Auditorium, where race parking was this year. They had buses to take us to the Runners Village and starting area.
That went smoothly, and I arrived at Beaches Town Center with time to spare before I had to meet my fellow pacers at 6:30am. I went inside the One Ocean Hotel and stayed warm for a bit while I waited. During that time, I got to chat with a fellow runner also staying warm while waiting for friends.
After our group pacer photo, I met my co-pacer for the 3:20 finish time for the half marathon. Sherry was great, we chatted as we hit the port-o-lets and found our spot for our wave. As we waited, a few folks joined our pace group. One guy was running his first half marathon, and others it may not have been their first half, but they each had a story.
The National Anthem was sung, and before long, we were headed to the start. I love the start of the DONNA race. So many cheering faces! That first half mile is full of great folks! We settled into our pace and the miles began to fly by. Okay, maybe not all of them, but they sure went well. Sherry and I had a great group of folks in our pace group.
The only thing I regret is not getting more mile marker pictures and other fun photos on the course like I did the year before. Nonetheless, we had a good time. I love the DONNA because the miles just seem to be glide by with all the spectators cheering and the motivational signs.
We crossed the finish line in 3:19:17, which is a few seconds faster than we should have been, but great. With a 3:20 finish time goal, we did pretty well.
The highlight for me is the thank yous we got from some of our pace group. One really stands out though, the gentleman who was running his first half marathon asked if he could hug us. He then asked for a photo. He was all smiles about his new accomplishment. That made me feel so good. Like warm fuzzies good. That’s why I love being a group leader and pacer, helping people achieve their goals. There’s really nothing else like it. 🙂
I hope to be back in 2021 pacing the DONNA Half Marathon. It truly is one of my favorite half marathon events to do.