So I am just going to go ahead and get this out of the way right now...I live in Florida. I have lived in Florida so long that sometimes I actually forget not to say yes when people ask me if I was born here. And I therefore believe that winter is classified as anything below 70. Wimpy yes, but it is what it is. I have never even run in cold weather. The coldest was probably the WDW Half, and it was maybe 50ish at the start? So yeah, I am a wimp. So for all my cold weather living friends and family, don't judge my distress over the coldest weekend ever :-) Seriously though, I think it actually was the coldest day in a long time...so it was legit!
Mom and I left for Jacksonville Saturday morning and went straight to the Expo. I cannot even begin to say how awesome this expo is. I love it. Organized, plenty of shopping, and lots of fun. I picked up my race packet, we signed the banners that mark "Memorial Mile" (the mile along the beach), I got to meet Donna, and mom won a really pretty quilt in the silent auction. All in all quite a success!
From there we went to check in at the hotel and find some dinner. We decided to go out to St Johns Town Center and eat at Maggianos, and do a little shopping while we were there...aka go to Target and see how much warm clothing I could stock up on to take with me to the race. I had to settle for some kid sized gloves, since all the others were completely sold out. The fingers were somewhat on the small size, but it was better than cold hands. Maggianos was busy! Yes it was a Saturday, but it was maybe 5:00...still in the early bird hour. Must have been all those crazy runners needing their pasta fix. Luckily we scored a table in the bar and were in and out of there pretty quickly. I had chicken parmesan and mom had this rigatoni with chicken and mushrooms and a creamy marsala sauce. Both were quite yummy.
After dinner we went back to the hotel so I could attempt to figure out what to wear in the morning. I opted for the safe decision of just wearing everything I brought with me! Or at least it seemed like it :-)
Once the what to wear decision had been made, it was off to bed, since those 3am alarms come very early. Or rather, it was early to pretend to sleep, because I tossed and turned all night long. I think I maybe slept for about an hour or so. I need to work on the pre race sleeping. I woke up and immediately checked the weather, only to discover it was 29 degrees out!! Brrrrr!!!!!!
I got dressed and was downstairs in the lobby right around 4. I was having all of these nightmares that everyone in the hotel was going to be waiting to get on the shuttle at the same time and I was never going to make it in time, but there were only 2 other runners down there. By the time the next bus arrived at 4:30ish there were about 8 of us, so it wasn't too bad or stressful. I have been extremely lucky and have not had a single transportation issue with this race, or any other race (knock on wood). I think the fact that I am a nervous nellie and usually end up on one of the earliest shuttles typically helps this, but I will take it!
It took us about 30 minutes to make it to the Mayo Clinic, which was the start and finish of the race. We got off the bus and froze in the Family Reunion area until it was time for me to head into the Runners Village and check my bag and such.
I left one hoodie with mom, and took the sweatpants, gloves, scarf, and blanket figuring I would just drop them at the start line or along the course as I warmed up (all of the clothing is picked up from the course and donated, so its not like real littering!).
Once I made it into my corral, it was just about time for the race to start. Against my better judgement, I left the blanket when I started to move. I would have loved to keep it with me, but it just did not seem possible to run with it...although I could have used it like a superhero cape. Darn, I will keep that in mind next time! I think it took about 3 miles for my toes to warm up and not feel funky. The scarf would not stay wrapped correctly, so it did not make it past the start line either. As for all of my other "throwaway" items, I crossed the finish line with every last one of them :-)
The course took us out of Mayo, onto J Turner Butler Blvd, onto A1A, through a bunch of beautiful neighborhoods, onto the beach, and then back home. To say this event has amazing community support is an understatement. The bridge was packed with cheering spectators with noisemakers and signs. People in the neighborhoods we ran through were out basically having a block party (even in the freezing temps!). One man was even making bloody marys :-) Just after mile 5, we make one last turn and end up on the beach. Best miles ever. It was the hardest part of the race for me because the wind was coming straight at us, but its hard not to love being able to run on the beach just as the sun is rising.
This is the only picture I took on the race course. Last year I had pictures from everything, but it was really difficult to maneuver getting the camera in and out of my fuel belt with frozen fingers! Once we were back off the beach, we were heading home. I think I was right about at mile 7 or 8 when the first marathoners started flying past me. I cannot imagine what it is like to run that fast! The killer of the course is coming back over the bridge. I do not know what happens, but when we leave and go over the bridge during the second mile, its nice and level. And then somehow during the run, it becomes this super steep mountain! Or at least it sure looks like it from the bottom. Somehow I managed to make it up and over and then around the corner to the finish. Still frozen, still layered, but very happy :-)
I grabbed some soup from Panera, and then went to meet mom out in the Family Reunion area. Luckily she had found a tent with heaters, so I was able to defrost a bit while waiting for Sister Hazel to play!
I cannot even begin to describe how amazing this race is! The community support is amazing, and the miles fly by when there are people cheering at every turn. I wish I had taken pictures of some of the groups that were out there. One house had a sign offering "Free Mammograms" with two holes cut out for you to insert your "mammos". It was hysterical. The people that are cheering on the bridge are awesome! Not only are they still in full force as you run back over at mile 12/25, but there are tons of them (and runners who have already crossed the finish line and just come back) that run down the bridge just to run back up it with people that are coming in. I do not want to even guess how many extra miles they added on to their day, but it sure was motivating!
At the water station right before we went onto the beach, I met a woman wearing a sash that said she was a 5 year survivor. As I thanked her for my water and volunteering and congratulated her on her 5 years, she thanked me for being out there running. She thanked me! It was really quite absurd, considering all she had gone through, I was only running a measly 13 miles. It was humbling, motivating, and encouraging all at the same time. I think that was the moment that I decided I was going to run the full next year. I mean, its the least I can do, considering. Luckily I am still riding my runners high so I have not started to freak out about the fact that I just signed myself up to run 26.2 miles. But I am sure it is coming very soon :-)