Friday, February 16, 2018

26.2 WITH DONNA HALF MARATHON - February 11. 2018

The “Reunion Tour” kicks off with half marathon #50.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I have not been able to participate in this race since 2012.  If you are a loyal follower of this blog, you know it was around 18° when the race started (and it never really warmed up) when I last ran in Jacksonville.  Once I signed up for this year’s event, it seemed as if everyone else followed suit.  I’m not saying I’m a trendsetter, but it was quite a coincidence.  Mary’s sister was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and she was running the full marathon in her honor.  She also formed two relay teams, so she would have lots of company throughout the race (both Pam and Elaine would be joining the party as well).  Since it was apparent that all of the cold weather had made its way out of Florida, we could expect some tropical conditions during the race.

I picked up Lindsey from work on Friday afternoon, and arrived at Cyndy and Al’s house around 8pm.  Elaine drive down from North Carolina, but she was staying too far away to meet up for dinner.  We ate at Bento (of course), and spent the rest of the evening watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

Saturday morning, we met up with Pam, Elaine, Mary, Tara, Haidee, and the rest of the Turtles at the expo.  The race shirt was extremely nice (long sleeve), but the expo was sub-par. They had some official race merchandise, but only with the breast cancer ribbon; not the race name.  As we parted ways with the ladies, Cyndy and Al took us to the Mossfire Grill for lunch. The food was very good, and we were joined by Lindsey’s friend Jordan.  He works for the city of Jacksonville during many events, and the two of them have been friends since there were “tweens.”  We walked around one of the parks after that, ordered in pizza for supper, and went to bed before 11pm.

The race route had changed since the last time I participated.  The DONNA Full Marathon, Half Marathon and Marathon Relay events now start at ATP Tour Blvd. in Ponte Vedra Beach. The official race finish, and the finish of breast cancer, is at Mayo Clinic.  Al graciously volunteered to drop us off and pick us up for the event.  We got to the start around 6am, and immediately met up with everyone.  There were two unexpected surprises for this race: Jill came down from Georgia to participate, and Pam would be running the full with Mary.  Pam had not trained for a full marathon at all, but wanted to give Mary support, in what could only be described as a totally selfless gesture.

As 3,423 runners made their way to the start (722 for the full; 2,701 for the half), the temperature was now 67°.  The race started in waves, but it only took us about ten minutes to get going. If you care at all about four beautiful beach communities in Northeast Florida along historic coastal A1A, then this is the race for you.  The crowd support was fantastic, with many of the residents setting up tables outside of their homes.  They were offering everything from water, Gatorade, and Jell-O shots, to words of encouragement.  Despite the fact that my knee felt good (and I had lots of energy), I seemed to be running in slow motion.  Mary and her squad caught up to us two miles into the race, so we ran with them for the next few miles.  They were doing 2 x 1 intervals, and it allowed me to keep pace with everyone.  Once we got to the point where we split up (the full marathoners went straight and the half marathoners turned), Lindsey took off on her own.  I continued to run my sluggish pace, but was truly enjoying myself.  The last three miles were over the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge, and I ran the entire time (except the uphill parts).  I crossed the finish line very strong, and met up with Lindsey, Jordan, Cyndy, and Al for some post-race celebration.  In a move that had us all scratching our heads, there was free beer for everyone; you needed a drink ticket for water and soda.  After packing and showering, we had lunch at the Flying Iguana in Neptune Beach.

On the drive home, Elaine called us to report that Mary and Pam had finished the race.  They had to walk the last few miles, but no physical ailments were reported.  At the end of the day, smiling faces, pride, and no regrets.

The “Reunion Tour” continues next week, as this young man returns to the promised land.

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