🎶Running on concrete
I finally can breathe
I think I'm ready...🎶
'Grow', Conan Grey
Donna Half Marathon, a race I've been wanting to for a while now. My mom was diagonosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer when she was 60. She's been cancer free for 12 years. The Donna Marathon, officially titled the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer, was created by Donna Deegan, a former journalist and three-time breast cancer survivor. Funds from the event are dedicated to breast cancer research and care for those in need. For a few years now, I've waffled back and forth on running the half versus the full; trying to make one of them work with my training plan and this year I finally just bit the bullet, signed up for the half, and planned the trip. A little over a week before the race we had a polar vortex up here in MA. I stupidly decided to run outside when the "feels like" was sub-zero. The next day I woke up with a nasty cold. Somehow, even at age 44, I still haven't learned some of life's most basic lessons. Like don't run when they're issuing frost bite warnings and canceling school because of the temperature. I took a couple days off and eased back into training but the miles were not the quality that I needed or wanted them to be and by the time I was packing up to leave I knew I wouldn't be 100% for race day. Always a bummer. I reached out to my coach to get a sense of what he thought I could pull off. He never sugar coats anything, which is good, and told me that between the Florida heat, where I am in my training cycle and coming off being sick, a PR was not likely. I agreed with him while also secretly hoping we were both wrong.
It was a quick and easy trip down and when I landed around 6:30 it was a balmy 68 degrees. Heaven, as far as I was concerned. My parents scooped me up, we had a mellow dinner and then I called it early because I was wiped. I know, shocker. The next morning my dad and I made our way over to the expo to grab my bib and shirt. Their place is about twenty minutes from where everything was happening which was super convenient. Since they live so far away from me, my parents have never made it to one of my races so it was fun to have them around for everything leading up to it.
My dad told the woman who gave me my number that it was for him and then laughed and said, 50 years ago, maybe. She got a kick out of that. He did, too. As you can see here, I forgot both my contact lenses and my hairbrush for this trip. I brought three pairs of running shoes and bag full of snacks, both of which are clearly more important than seeing what's in front of me or my appearance. After the expo we met up with my mom for lunch and then I put my feet up and relaxed for the rest of the day, which was wonderful as it rarely happens at home.
My mom cooked up a killer dinner and then I headed up to get myself organized. The race start was at 7:30am and I wanted to be there with enough time to warm up so I set my alarm for 5:45 which would give me a few extra minutes to grab coffee on the way. My dad, bless him, was ready and willing to be my driver/wingman, even at that god-awful hour. He was worried I wouldn't be able to park and wanted to take that stress off my plate. I know, I'm lucky. He dropped me off and I sat and finished my coffee and just chilled for a bit before I took off for a couple much needed wakeup miles. It was humid and 60 which felt awesome but I knew it was going to be a challenge to race in given the weather I've been training in back home, particularly the humidity. Whatever. I checked my bag and walked over to the line to find a good spot for some last minute stretching. It's noticaebly different to go to a race alone versus with a friend or teammate. Particularly one that's far away from home. Everyone is always friendly; that's a given. But when you're solo, you're not as distracted, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Oddly, I was in a really good head space pre-race, which is atypical for me. I wasn't as nervous as I usually am. Was it because this was my first race of the year and just a stepping stone on my path toward reaching my bigger goals? Maybe. Was it because I wasn't feeling 100% and didn't feel the pressure that I normally do when I am totally on my game? Who knows. So much of this particular race is about running for others, for those who have survived breast cancer, who are battling it, who have lost loved ones to it, for anyone who is touched by it in any way, really. It feels very different than most of the races I've done because the cause is the key focus, not who might place or win. It's a very positive environment to be in and the vibe was amazing. Perhaps that was the reason I felt so at ease. I was just happy to be there and be a part of it and to know that I was running for others, especially my Mom and Mother-in-law, who are both survivors. A photographer captured this moment as I stood at the line. It kind of sums up everything I am trying to say. You'll rarely see me happy and smiling like this before a goal race. I was really feeling the love.
As I mentioned, my expectations for this one were pretty low. Again, there is always a little voice whispering, you never know, but really, I knew. I didn't really have a goal, just to run hard and see what I had in the tank. My marathon pace is 6:50, so I was hoping to run somewhere in the 6:30-6:50 range for this, depending on how I felt. My first mile was a 6:45. Right on target. My legs felt great and I was itching to pick it up but forced myself to pump the breaks because I could feel the warmth right off the bat and knew that it would likely be a factor working against me later. For the next few miles I kind of linked up with a group and zoned out. I took fluids at every stop to be safe. I settled into a good groove and coasted for a while. Then I had a little panic moment because I looked down and noticed that my average pace was 6:51 and this was slower than I had planned. I thought it was odd. I'm pretty good at feeling my pace and I definitely felt like I was moving at a faster clip. I checked my mileage at the next marker and realized that my distance was off which explained the slower splits. I raced in Jax back in November on this same course which weaves through the neighborhoods of Neptune Beach and I remember having the same issue with my GPS for that one. I now realized I was just going to have to stop focusing on my watch, which was no longer accurate, and run by feel. Totally fine except that sometimes if I throw some faster miles in too soon I crash and burn mid-race, so I was going to have to really keep a pulse on how I was feeling.
I ran with this guy in the above photo for quite a few miles, using him as a pacer and hoping he was in the window I was aiming for. Either way, he was a real steady Eddy, which was what I needed at the moment. I owe him a thank you. Side note - I did end up chatting with him post-race and he told me his distance was off as well and that the guy next to him had us running steadily between 6:35-50. That was good to hear. By mile 9, I was getting really tired and, as predicted, was really feeling the heat. I was drinking water and then pouring it down my back. I mean, it really wasn't that hot, but it felt like the tropics to me after the sub zero temps that I'd been dealing with the week before. At mile 10, a young gal passed me as she said, way to go, girl. That made me smile and helped me turn it up a bit to get to the finish. Though, based on the below pic, I was a bit more dazed than I realized as I hauled it across the line.
I rolled across in 1:28 and change. Not my best. Not my worst. And just about exactly where I should be given my sporadic winter training and the fact that I was coming off a cold. I won't lie and tell you I didn't feel a tinge of disappointment as I'd hoped my general fitness was further along. Thankfully, my coach knew exactly what I needed to hear when I asked him about it.
Anything under marathon pace is a good workout if nothing else. We can absolutely build from this. Don't be concerned that it wasn't faster. We will get there.
That worked for me. I shook it off, chalked it up to a good effort, met up with my dad and refocused on where we were going for brunch, something he was as excited about as I was. For the record, the guy below in the pink wig stood, or I should say danced around, at the finish and high-fived every single finisher. In the end, this was truly what this race was all about and as the dust settled and I gave it some more thought I remembered that I wanted to do this race first and foremost for my mom, who is such a fighter and that how I performed was not on the front burner when I signed up.
But then, I'm a runner. And I like to aim high. And I'm hard on myself. Runner or not, a lot of us are like this. It is what it is. And if I've learned anything over the last few years it is that progress is rarely linear. In running, we have to be patient and embrace all of it, the good and the bad, the strides forward and the slides backwards. The rebuilding phase and the peak performance phase. It's all part of the process. We have to be okay with not seeing major changes and know that every race and run is a small step toward the bigger goal. And we have to appreciate the journey and all that it offers us. In this case, the opportunity to spend some quality time with my parents and to take part in an event that means so much to everyone in my family. That is what I will remember most about this weekend. And that is more than enough.
Listen to this:
Grow - Conan Gray