I have never walked away from a DONNA race weekend with such mixed emotions. It was a roller coaster kind of weekend; one I never dreamed would take place. Yet Im still perplexed on the meaning of it all. Hopefully by the time this blog is complete it will bring clarity to all.
As the 10 years of The DONNA have quickly flown by, there secretly has been extra pressure building up inside me. One that maybe I wasn't even quite aware of until race weekend had come. The first year of The DONNA was my first half marathon ever, then my first marathon was the following year. From there, my focus was always about beating the 5 hour finish time. (If Oprah can do it, why cant I?) On the 4th Annual DONNA, (my third attempt at the marathon) I downgraded myself from marathon to half marathon because I was scared my training was not good enough. I regretted that decision instantly and 'punished' myself by saying I would run a half marathon a month for a year and come back even stronger the next year's marathon. And I did just that. Six years later I am still running a half marathon a month and completing the full marathon every February. I did finally beat that 5 hour finish time (it took 4 attempts), and every single year of The DONNA I have had a PR (personal record). This would be my 8th marathon attempt for a PR and the pressure was unbelievable as the days got closer.
I just wish I had felt that pressure sooner. Lets take you back to 2016 DONNA. ....the week following the DONNA marathon, we did the Gasparilla Ultra Challenge (33+miles in 2 days), and two weeks later I did the Treasure Coast half marathon. I was burnt out. I didn't want to run. I didn't want to work out. I wanted to rest. I wanted to eat what i wanted, when I wanted and I wanted to do what I wanted when I wanted. And I did just that.
I still completed my monthly half marathons, allowing myself to not care about times and just finish them. And let me tell you, there was a lot of walking. Five months later, it was time for marathon training again. I knew I had to re-establish my 'base' mileage and even training. Little did I know exactly how out of shape I was and how hard that would be. I had gained about 15 pounds and I couldn't even complete my run 3/walk 1.
I kept telling myself the speed and endurance would naturally come back, like it always does. I stuck with the training program, did my multiple long distance runs, lifted weights once a week, did yoga/pilates once a week, and even included hill work once a week to help with speed. But with every month that passed, my speed and endurance was still not there. I kept telling myself just get in the weekly/monthly mileage and it will come. Overall training included three 20-22 mile runs, and average 28-35 miles weekly. It was soon January and although I originally planned to do the normal 'dry January' (no drinking), it quickly dissipated when we went on a ski trip. Even though I did get a long distance run in, January ended up being my least amount of miles run ever for the month before marathon day. I was disgusted. And I still needed to lose 5 more pounds to get to ideal running weight. But then I completed the Celebration half marathon 2 weeks before marathon day and my time/endurance was like a sigh of relief making me feel like I still had a chance to PR The DONNA.
I knew I could complete the distance of the marathon, that wasn't the problem, but the pressure to PR for the 8th time in a row was overwhelming. So many people have witnessed these past 10 years of me progressing from an overweight smoker to a healthy strong runner and I've convinced so many people that if I can do it, then you can do it too. So what would they think if I didn't? What would "I" think if I didn't? Everyone I vented my concerns to all came back with the same response...."One day every one hits their plateau. Maybe this is the best you are going to be." Instantly I knew this could not be true. There is still more left in me. I want more. I can do more. I knew that it was not a healthy way to put the pressure on myself, so I tried to turn it all around and put a positive spin on it. I decided this 10th Anniversary was the perfect time to 'celebrate' everything that I have done and how far we have come in the breast cancer community. 'Celebrate' would be my race motto. I would run every mile celebrating how awesome this race is and yes, how awesome I am too!
|MY RACE MOTTO|
This was the 10th Annual DONNA Marathon. To make it extra special, they not only created a 10k but also the Booby Trap Challenge which consisted of the 5k and 10k on Saturday and then the half or full marathon on Sunday. If that is not enough miles for you, there is also an Ultra 110 miles! Or take on a coast to coast challenge and run the Treasure Chest Challenge; The Donna half marathon and two weeks later, the Gasparilla half marathon!
The point to point beach community course is absolutely amazing! Maybe not for the views of the ocean (yes, they did take away the stretch that was run ON the sand. We basically run the streets right next to the beach and you will get small glimpses of the ocean), and maybe not for the entirely flat course (yes, we do have a bridge at your last mile).
But the course is amazing because of the COMMUNITY. Every step of the way you have people lining the course cheering you on, putting up massive decorations, bringing out bubble machines, covering the streets with motivating words in chalk, playing the guitar and drums in their driveway, setting up their own fuel tables, handing out beer and mimosas to celebrate, saying "THANK YOU" for running for THEM or someone else they know that has battled breast cancer. The love is there and you feel it the entire course! The community knows what the race has become over the years and they support it in more ways than you can ever imagine. Words can not explain the feeling you get when you run your first DONNA.
The course is also amazing because it is SYMBOLIC. It is a point to point course starting at TPC Sawgrass and finishing at the Mayo Clinic. Seventy percent of proceeds from this race benefit the Mayo Clinic for breast cancer research. So when you approach that bridge in that last mile and dont think you can make it up that hill, all you have to do is look up and see that Mayo Clinic sign glistening over the intercoastal waterways and how can you not smile knowing that you have just completed a marathon and you helped change someones life? ...and possibly be a part of helping to find a cure for breast cancer?! Amazing!
Being a Streaker for The DONNA (someone who has run every year), naturally fundraising is what keeps me dedicated. It is not mandatory to fundraise to run The DONNA, but how could you not since they created the Fundraiser Experience Package?....
Register as part of the Fundraiser Experience, commit to raise at least $1,000, and be treated like VIP all weekend long!
-Get your own VIP EXPO line (wait, I mean NO LINE!) and receive Awesome Swag! This year we received a cool duffle travel bag!
-Get Starting Line VIP parking on Race Day!...This is front row baby! No walking needed, no trying to find your car after running.
-Get VIP Starting Line warm up tent and porta potties! No need to wait in long lines or huddle shoulder to shoulder in tents waiting to line up to Start. (note, they shared it with the Galloway group this year, and no one manned the entrance, so as the time got closer to start, the lines got longer with people that were not just VIP)
-Get Finish Line VIP parking on Race Day!....parking at the finish is not open to the public, so this is huge! Spectators have to shuttle in, and runners have to shuttle out. So having a spot for someone to park right there at the finish and watch you cross the finish line is prime!
-Get a Finish Line VIP Party!...free hot food and all you can drink beer just steps away from crossing the finish line for you and 3 friends!...ON TOP of what you already receive with everyone else in Runners Village!
|EXPO/FUNDRAISER EXPERIENCE GOODIES|
The two day expo was held downtown at the Prime Osborn Convention Center on Friday and Saturday. This is convenient for those participating in the 5k and 10k which is held at the same place on Saturday.
The expo is packed full of vendors selling tons of race stuff and also local companies promoting and giving away tons of information and swag! There were at least 3 spots to take complimentary souvenir photos which are always fun and there were Inspiration Signs that you could write on that they would place on the race course.
Registration was still open for those making a last minute decision to jump in on the fun, however the line was terribly long on opening day.
On Friday night the VIP Reception took place at the Sawgrass Marriott. This is a by invitation only cocktail hour with sponsors, organizers, ambassadors; everyone who makes this race possible. They really went all out this year with the sunset backdrop over a lake, bonfires to cozy up around, aerialists to entertain you, and of course the awesome food and drink!
MAYO CLINIC TOP FUNDRAISER DINNER
On Saturday night was the Mayo Clinic dinner for top fundraisers and other VIPs. 92 year old Guest Speaker Gerald Jampolsky; author of Love is Letting Go of Fear; was the reason I finally attended. I have been invited several years now, but with it being the night before the marathon, Ive always hesitated. It was a casual lecture, but the main thing I took away was to stop creating 'to do' lists and start creating 'to be' lists. We all have a choice in life. It is YOUR life afterall. So what is it you chose to be today?
We also had some words from one of the Mayo Clinic doctors and the progress they have been making and then Donna told her emotional story.
Unbeknownst to me, they ended the night announcing the top fundraisers and I ended up getting a standing ovation for all the donations and volunteer work I have done over the years. It was a perfect night for me to have chosen to go and had definitely helped with my 'celebration' motto.
The weather was predicted sunny and upper 70s. The race starts right after sunrise so temps can rise quickly. Previous years have been anywhere from 30s to 80s; got to love unpredictable Florida winters! This year the first half of the marathon was in a light fog which kept the temps low for a while. I kept telling myself this is so much better than anticipated! The second half of the marathon though, the sun came out increasing the temperature quickly. The humidity did stay on the lower side which was good, but i definitely could still feel the heat taking its toll. The race volunteers pass out ice cold pink sponges frequently along the route which helped tremendously.
I picked up the girls and we made the easy 15 minute drive to Ponte Vedra. TPC Sawgrass is a ginormous parking lot and there are two entrances to get in. Fundraiser Experience VIP parking was a breeze. We were about an hour early; plenty of time to check the place out and use the porta potties before it got busy. We hung out at the car for a bit waiting for the sun to come up, and bats starting driving at our heads. I was praying this was not a bad omen!
The starting area is huge. You have tents for coffee and donuts and dont forget your sunscreen! There are warm up tents and a slew of porta potties. A dj keeps you entertained and preps you for the race. Gear Check was also a breeze with tons of UPS trucks.
A pulse start is used for the DONNA, so you basically line up (preferably based on your finish time) and they release only a pace group at a time to space out the runners so the streets do not become over packed. The DONNA uses the Galloway Pacers (run/walk). Although I usually do this method, I always prefer to run without them. I prefer the solitude over the sometimes large pace group.
This year I decided I was going to start after the 5 hour pace group so I wouldnt be stressed out constantly looking over my shoulder to see if the group was coming; meaning I would not PR. So I put myself with the 6 hour group, which was also where my half marathoner friends were starting.
I went into training season wanting a 4:30 finish (13 minute PR), but I quickly realized that wasnt going to be possible, so I settled....
Goal A -perfect race day- 4:45 (2minute PR).
Goal B -not perfect, but manageable- 4:47 (same as last year)
Goal C -not my day- sub 5:00
Regardless, I wrote on my hand to remind myself this race I was just there is 'celebrate!'
Because I wanted to get rid of that 'pressure' to PR and just focus on 'celebrating,' I ran sans Garmin and Pacer. I placed myself with the 6 hour pace group thinking it would motivate me as I pass by runners, and I wouldnt have that constant stress of looking over my shoulder to see if the 4:45 pace group was going to pass me or not. Little did I know that my Garmin would still flash the 1 mile lap times every mile, the course would have big timing clocks at every mile, and that the RaceJoy app would be so loud I could hear it announcing my pace and expected finish time every mile. So much for that plan!
I ran the first 3 miles pretty much nonstop except for the water stops. I got to see Toni, Allison, Bernie and Vicki around M2. Bernie having to sit out due to a bout of skin cancer. I hugged him so hard as I have not seen him in a while and he said he will be back next year!
After M3, I just ran by feel and tried counting out 30 step walk breaks. At M6 I got to see Roger and Norma, my old neighbors, who had posters and even a coat with PinkFeet on it! I was surprised to see them, but unfortunately the joy did not last. This was the turn around point for the half marathon and it was hard to not do just that. My stomach was a mess for some reason. Nausea had already taken over. I still have no idea why.
The road had cleared out tremendously now that the half marathoners were gone and I was conflicted on why I felt so bad so soon. Right then Rob, the ultramarathoner decided to show up. He got me running again and decided to tell me about how he just threw up yesterday running, but he kept going and is going to complete those 110 miles anyways! I knew I either had to throw up or eat some oranges like he suggested. I opted for the latter.
From the beginning I was making sure to take a water and either dump on my head or wipe my face and I think that helped a ton throughout the entire race with the heat. I started taking fuel at M3 and took one every 3 miles (or when it was offered as I relied on the race this time). This year they used Accel gel and and BodyArmor drink, both more protein based. I stopped drinking the BodyArmor probably about mid way through the race, but used the caffeine chocolate Accel gels throughout. I had taped up my right glute and hamstring ahead of time and ended up using 3 packs of Biofreeze on my legs and shoulders mid race. My muscles felt good for the most part throughout the entire race. I did take a muscle cramp pill at M21; more as a precaution than anything. Not once did I feel pain. Only nausea and exhaustion.
I caught up to the 5 hour pace group much quicker than anticipated, around M10, and decided I would run with them for at least a few miles. They were doing a 2x30 which made at least 1 mile go by in a blink of an eye. But I quickly decided I had a faster pace and wanted to bank some time, so I went on ahead. M15 they passed me. I felt miserable. I grabbed a krispy kreme donut to get some solid food into my stomach.
The RaceJoy app had several cheers from friends following my progress. I had to pull my phone out of my fuel pack to listen to them, which I did at the point. Michelle texted me appropriately "dont be skered" (an inside joke we have had since day 1). But I was. My pace was on point for a PR, but I knew I wouldnt be able to maintain it for another 12 miles. I texted Chris and told him today wasnt my day. A mile later his response was so loud through the RaceJoy app "dont focus on the time, focus on the finish." I just burst into tears. I cried for a moment feeling confused, frustrated, disappointed, upset, every negative emotion ran through my body. How have I come to this point? Some people say, 'everyone reaches their plateau in their running career at some point,' yet i witness others much older than me make unbelievable bounds. I am not ready for my plateau. I have not peaked. Today may not be my day. But today sure as hell is going to make me stronger! I remembered the year I gave up and downgraded from the full to half marathon. And i remembered the fire that stayed with me ever since. And i believe that this moment right here is going to make that the same impact. It was decision making time. By M16 I had pep talked myself out of feeling miserable. I mean, who wants to be miserable for 10 whole miles? Thats when a light bulb went off! This is the 10th Annual Donna Marathon, and I have 10 miles to go. I went into this race wanting to celebrate, but everything I tried before then wasnt working so well. For that mile on, i decided i would dedicate it to each year that I ran and volunteered with The DONNA. One mile at a time, one year at a time I remembered my journey. I remembered The DONNA's journey. I remembered the sole purpose of this race. The wind picked up and I knew that Memaw was with me on this one. I looked down at her photo on my pack and kept going. It didnt matter how fast (or slow) I went for those last 10 miles, i would appreciate every thing about the race and I would celebrate with someone at every single mile.
Appropriately my work volunteer water station came up and they had a special mimosa water bottle waiting for me! I took the biggest chug (I needed the orange juice for the nausea) I could, gave some high fives, and carried on! It was a slow next few miles. My dad barely made it to M23 (he was stuck in traffic for 2 hours) just in time to wave at me from across the street as I went by.
JTB is always an interesting part of the race. Your legs are so burnt out sometimes you dont even know how you are still moving forward. You pass people that are still walking the half marathon. You pass people that are struggling worse than you are with their marathon. Each one of those people I feel their pain and I try to let them know we are in this together. This year a watched a guys legs buckle under him. He told me how baffled he was as he was hydrating the whole marathon. It didnt matter, the heat had won. I handed him the last of my Biofreeze and wished him well.
The sun was blazing but I saw the bridge. I knew Toni said she was going to be up there cheering this year as well, but I also knew I was much later than I told her I would be. Mid way up the bridge I went and I surprisingly saw her and Allison still there holing my signs! I was speechless. I went to give them hugs and she kept yelling and pointing something. I couldnt quite understand what she was trying to say. Then I realized there was a billboard right there with my picture on it saying "Top Fundraiser Ever!!" WHAT?! What IS that?? My heart sank and I began to bawl. Why am I so worried about finish time? THIS! THIS right here is what is it all about! Its not just about todays performance. It not just about how I feel walking about today. It is about what we have done together throughout the years. That is what will leave the impact.
The pain escaped me that last half mile. I ran all the way to the finish line with a smile on my face. I may not have been anywhere near any of the goal times I wanted, but my heart was happy.
FUNDRAISER EXPERIENCE AND VIP FINISH LINE
My girls were waiting for me right at the finish line and we partied in the VIP tents. We had hot pasta and unlimited beer with the Fundraiser Tent. Then we had steak, potato casserole, cake, and mimosa in the VIP Tent! I am so thankful that they wanted around so long to make the finish line a real celebration!
RUNNERS VILLAGE AFTER PARTY
The Runners Village After Party is huge...theres massages, hot soup and cold beer, vendors giving away freebies, this year Venus gave water bottles and free pink panties!
Buses take you back to the Start parking lot. This is a good 20 minute ride back since the main road is closed. So make sure you back a good change of clothes before you load, or anything that will keep you comfy as you head back!
The shirts are gender specific and long sleeve. The sleeves are consistently too short for tall people, so order a Mens size if you like your sleeves long. I like how the shirt design matches the medal this year.
For the 10th Anniversary, they changed the medal design up and added in the sun....how appropriate for Sunny Florida! The dolphins and running ribbon are consistently represented, but I wish they had incorporated the blue stained glass for the water.
Once we got back home, we decided it was much appropriate to jump in the ocean to celebrate on this gorgeous Florida day!
Looking back, maybe I did reach a plateau of sorts in my running career after all....one in which I finally realize maybe life isn't always about being perfect, or always being better. Life isn't about just one performance either. Life is learning to not only accept, but to love every moment you experience; the good and the bad, and realizing it is the end result that really matters.
I've done what I've done every year with The DONNA (fundraise and volunteer) because I just feel that is just the right thing to do. I've never thought twice about it. I'm in a position where I can help and can make a difference and so I do. I know people are following me on this Pink Feet mission and I know I get kind words every now and again on how I have motivated or inspired them. But never have I ever taken a moment and realized just how big this has become over the years. Just how much it actually does matter. Chris pointed out to me when discussing all the grants that I help obtain, "if it wasn't for you, then who? No one, that is who." I guess my finish time really doesn't even compare when it comes to that. I have raised over $50,000 for The DONNA and that billboard they placed on the bridge on that last stretch of the marathon put it all into perspective. We must 'find the FUN in EVERY run' and 'CELEBRATE' our accomplishments. Together we will #bethefinish.
I later looked up that meaning of the bats flying over our heads while we were at the Start. A "bat flying into your life signifies that transformation of the ego self is about to occur, the end of a way of life and the start of another." Here I was with five girls who are running The DONNA; three of them for their first half marathon ever, one about to push her body to limits she has never felt before with the Challenge, and one about to complete the journey on her own for the first time; all because not only have I faithfully spoke about how wonderful this race is every single year, but I've shown them that it can be done. And here I was learning myself that just because I am not perfect one time, doesn't mean that I am not still making a difference.
Marathon #8/26.2 MILES-5:07