This weekend I conquered my fear of the unknown. I clearly didn’t grow out of my fondness for dramatics, though. I know I hyped up this tendon issue in my head, but I am so glad I didn’t let that deter me from running. I had a freaking blast, and I’m so grateful to the ladies at ZOOMA for allowing me to take part in the half marathon again as an ambassador. [Full Disclosure: as an ambassador my race entry fee was waived.]
When we arrived on Friday afternoon, we headed straight to the expo. From the moment you arrive, you know that the ZOOMA team has worked hard to make the entire experience fun and inviting. I mean, let’s be real, playing dress up and eating cheese is right up my alley. If I was single, that last sentence would totally be my Match.com profile biography. Line up, hypothetical fellas.
After the expo we ate dinner at the Ritz Carlton (hello, best host hotel ever) and then made our way down to the pre-race mocktail party hosted my Honest Tea. It was 80s themed. Need I say more?
We ended up crashing pretty early, so we were up and at ’em Saturday morning. My friend Kayla and I decided to wear short sleeves and running tights. I’m not a great writer, but I feel like there should be some line about the weather and hints of foreshadowing here.
We went downstairs and hopped on the race shuttle that shipped us over to the starting line. Oh, and somewhere in there we became human popsicles. So cold. So unprepared. We ended up hiding behind a truck to block ourselves from the wind. Other girls were smart and wore toss-away layers, but we just had to go and try to be hardcore. I couldn’t even bend my fingers by the time the race started. It was hilarious.
I didn’t take any pictures of the course, but I can break it down from memory. “Flat. Low Rolling Hills. Flat. Small Bridge. Flat. Little Bump. Flat. Flat. Turn Around. Tiny hill. Flat. Flat. Flaaaaaat. Oh my gawd, is that SAND?” I can guarantee that if you talk to anyone about ZOOMA Florida, they will mention the sand finish. What I hope they also remember to mention is the amazing support on the course, the huge possibility for a PR, and the beautiful views.
The starting line was located right next to the marina in downtown Fernandina Beach. It was absolutely gorgeous, and even I could see that through my frozen eyeballs. At the beginning of the race, I met up with Meghan, Cori, and Jesica. Meghan and I had previously decided to run together, which was good because I needed a buddy. The race started at 8:00 on the dot. I really appreciate well-planned starts. It really makes all the difference. The first few miles were the “hilliest” of the race, but they were the lowest rolling hills possible. We passed a beautiful cemetery and crossed a low bridge with the waterway on both sides. Meghan and I maintained a conservative pace, and I love her forever for running with me. She really kept me in check.
Around mile three, the course leveled off and we entered Fort Clinch State Park. The trees are lovely, the shade is nice, and the path is winding enough to not bore you to death. There was a turn-around in the park and we got to cheer on friends as they passed. Normally I don’t like turn-arounds at all, but the atmosphere at ZOOMA makes it much more fun to see everyone ahead of you. 😉 Around mile 6, my injured left foot was getting sore and I could tell that I was compensating because my right ankle got angry with me. I worked really hard to run as normal and neutral as possible. I knew it was better to have my tendon hurt than do even more damage on another part of my body. I remember cheering “OVER HALF WAY!” when we got to mile 7. I also realized at that time that I was definitely going to finish. I had no idea what time that would get me, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be slowing down. We were still hanging around 9 minute miles then, and I would have been happy maintaining that pace for the remainder of the race.
Prior to the double digits, we made our way out of the park and onto a main road. We had to run along the bike bath, which was cramped and made passing people safely almost impossible. Good thing I’m reckless, right? Kidding. The bonus of that stretch of the race was that Meghan and I got to pick the beach house our future lottery winnings will get us. We had been talking on and off for the entire race, but we really got chatty around mile 9. I really credit her with keeping me from noticing how tired and sore I was. It’s easy to zone out when you’re picking the color scheme of your future beach mansion. I also regained the feeling in my fingers around this time. That was a nice surprise.
Around mile 10, I cautiously decided to push it a little bit. Meghan (who had just run a daggum marathon) told me to at least try to run ahead to see what would happen. She was right. I did have a little steam left and I managed to start passing a few girls on the course. I was running at about an 8:35 pace, and I felt really strong. (I know this because a woman near me let me know. I haven’t mentioned this, but I forgot my Garmin on the hotel bed. I didn’t really care originally, because I was running for fun. At this point in the race, I started wishing I had it with me. Oh well.) My breathing was easy, the pain in my foot was manageable, and I have to say it’s the best I’ve ever felt about myself at the end of a race. I remember thinking that if those last 3.1 miles had been a 5k race that I could totally bust out a decent time.
Then, just shy of mile 13, I hit the sand. And I hit it hard. The sand finish was actually re-routed after last year onto more “packed” sand, but it was still almost impossible for me to finish the way I felt like I could have. I was bambi-hoppin’ like it was my job, but it felt like I was running in pudding. There was no way for me to use up the last of my “speed” before the finish without totally ripping my poor foot to shreds. That being said, finishing this race was the best feeling I’ve had in a long time. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. So many days of worrying for nothing.
See the trail leading into the finish? Killer. Absolutely killer. Oh, and you can blame Ryne for this picture being completely blue. Homeboy doesn’t do cameras.
My official time was 1:53:57. I am incredibly proud and happy with that. I had a “secret” goal of 1:50 early on in my training, but I had mentally let go of that leading up to race day. To get within four minutes of my ultimate goal feels great, and I’m excited to see what I can do in the future now. Thanks to our conservative pacing, I was also able to run decent negative splits.
After the race, I was able to meet up with the same group of ladies I started with. They all absolutely rocked it and now I want them to be my best friends forever, but none of them have sent me a friendship bracelet yet. We’ll see how that pans out.
In my head, I came in first place, though. Don’t tell me differently or I’ll be crushed. Is this not the best scenery for a race, by the way? Geez.
The post-race party included stretching, the best cookie of my life, live music, and a healthy dose of bubbly (wassup!).
I thought last year was great, but this year’s race topped it by far. Crossing my fingers ZOOMA lets me come back for race number three. Third time’s a charm?