This was the big one. My first marathon, the race that I’ve been training for since June of last year. The big weekend was finally here and I was a mix of excitement and nerves by the time my mom and I headed out of Orlando to Jacksonville on Saturday morning. My dad was going to go with us, but he had a work opportunity come up at the last minute.
Once mom and I arrived in Jacksonville, we headed right to the race expo. I was definitely excited to get my race bib and check out the vendors before checking into the hotel. Unfortunately, I was so excited and overwhelmed that I didn’t get any pics at the expo! I kept thinking about doing a pic here or there, but never actually did it. Mom and I wandered around the expo, bought some fun stuff, then headed out. We spent a bit more time there than I probably should have (didn’t feel like it, but never does), but I don’t regret it. Would have been better if we had left home a bit earlier.
Mom and I then started driving toward the hotel and stopped enroute to get some lunch/dinner to bring back with us. I got a tofu bowl from Moe’s as I have had that meal before long runs before without any issues. Upon arriving at the hotel, we headed right up to the room. I had booked a Best Western, and the room was pretty nice. The only downside was that it was about 20 minutes from the race start, thus how I got the room cheaper. After we ate, I laid out my clothes for the morning and took a shower. Before I knew it, I was in bed and trying to get some sleep.
The alarm went off at 4:10am and I rolled out of bed. I got dressed and got everything together for my race. Mom and I were out of the hotel about 20 or so minutes later and into the cold. The traffic leading to the starting area was bad. It was extremely backed up. I think we waited in it for like an hour. By the time we reached it, I had just enough time to jump out, run to a port-o-let and get into my corral. This meant I missed the meetups at the Galloway tent. Considering we left the hotel by 5am and the start was like 16 miles away, I should have had time to get there for the 6:30am meetups no problem. Alas, it never happened. But, I was happy that I got there in time to go to the bathroom and find the pace leader.
The race started 30 minutes late due to the traffic insanity. Since I was in the back corral, we started about 8:15am. I couldn’t have been happier to get moving since I felt frozen. My feet were definitely numb and I knew they wouldn’t warm up until I got moving. The pace leaders for the 6:30 finish time informed us running with them that we would have to be careful the first mile or so until we got more room. We basically jogged slowly going out and then got into our 30sec to 45sec intervals soon after (we were running for 30secs then walking for 45secs). I felt good going out, less for being cold.
The first few miles are now a blur to me. I felt good though, and enjoyed seeing all the spectators out there supporting the runners. I saw a pink firetruck with a firefighter on top wearing a pink fire suit, lots of dogs and many people out there with noisemakers and full of energy. I definitely felt the love from the community, it was out in force. I had heard this was the case with this race, but you really do have to see it to believe it. So awesome.
We hit the beach at mile 6 and despite knowing about it coming, nothing could have prepared me for the roughness that was ahead on that sand. The beach itself was mostly hard packed, but not having ever run on a beach combined with the strong windy cold, it proved to be quite the experience. My nose was running before this point, but it only got worse here. I could not get warm and wondered when we would get back onto the streets. The half marathon folks departed from us about a mile into it, but the full marathoners didn’t get off until mile 8.5. When I saw we were leaving it, I could not have been happier.
I started to cramp up in both legs around mile 12 or 13, maybe a bit before that. This never happened to me in training, so I attributed it to the beach and the windy conditions. I took some Endurolytes and thankfully my legs eased up a couple of miles later. About 5 of us had to make a port-o-let stop about mile 10 or so, which caused us to lose the pacers. But, we made our own little group and all stuck together.
The supporters in the community continued to be out for us and it really did make me smile a number of times. They cheered us on, offered encouragement and food if we needed it. Best community support I have ever seen at a race. Big love to the Jacksonville Beach community for that. They really did “paint the town pink.” We were thanking them for coming out to support us, and they were thanking us for running, such a great experience.
Hitting mile 17, we all started to get excited, and even danced around! We were in the single digits for miles left and joy was in the air. This joy lasted until we began to approach the on ramp that we had to go up. One of the girls I was running with had run this race before and was warning us to be careful and take short strides, as the pavement is not even on the ramp. As we kept our heads up and out legs moving, cars were passing us honking in support and waving at us. Again, such great support as you ran this race. This ramp and the upcoming bridge all began right after the mile 23 marker. This made the end of the race a push for the most part. But, I had made it to mile 23, and I was going to finish!
I have to say, I really didn’t ever feel like quitting. The windy cold of this race made me think of the Orange Blossom Half Marathon I did in March 2012. It was windy and cold, but this was worse as the temps were in the mid 30s in Jacksonville. The difference between that race and 26.2 with Donna was that I didn’t have any negative talk going through my head. Yes, I hated the winds, but I can honestly say I never thought of quitting like I did during that race. Did I want the finish line to be there now? Well of course, but there was no doubt in my mind, I was going to cross that finish line.
Coming onto the bridge, there was some cheering there, but not as much as in the neighborhoods. There were a couple of girls holding two signs though that I loved. One said: 26.2 because 26.3 would be crazy! And then, the other said: Medals Ahead! Both signs had me smiling and feeling good. By the time we were heading down from the bridge and once I could see the finishing chute up ahead, my emotions got all jumbled. Part of me was oh so happy, and another part of me felt like crying. A knot developed in my throat as I ran and when I crossed the finish line, I didn’t outright cry, but I definitely had a mixed look on my face. So many emotions go through your head during a marathon, especially the end.
After I crossed the finish line, Donna Deegan was standing there and I hugged her. I just needed a hug by this time and it was so nice to see her there. Someone then put my medal around my neck and I was still numb, unsure if I was going to cry. I’ll never forget that moment. They say running a marathon changes your life, and I really think that’s true.