4th Annual Thelma and Louise Half Marathon-June 6, 2015

STAY TUNED for my race review of the Thelma and Louise half as well as the amazing adventures in Moab UT! State #21, HM#51

In the meantime, please consider showing your support and make a donation at www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2016-marathon/melissajohnson

Island to Island Half-Ocean City, MD-May 2, 2015

I am currently 50 half marathons in....20 of them being out of state.... it was bound to happen...
Every runner has had the nightmare they over slept the alarm and missed race day. There have been my share of times I have forgotten something like an IPod or Garmin on race day. Ive always thought one day I would forget to pack my sneakers for an out of town race, but I've always said, I would probably still run it.... barefoot...if I did. Little did I know that one day I would actually forget my ENTIRE BAG!!
I know, sounds impossible right? I mean how does one get on an airplane without their BAG? Well, lets explain. I have been doing a lot of traveling lately. The trip the prior week my friend made me check in our bags, so I only carried a large purse as a carry on. This trip I brought the same large purse and then my roller bag as a carry on (I really hate paying for and wasting time on a checked bag!) Well, having only gotten about 4 hours of sleep the night before this butt crack of dawn flight, I ended up grabbing my large purse, laptop, liquids and shoes off the TSA belt, but left my roller bag sitting right there!!  DOH!!! And didn't realize it until I LANDED in MD!!! DOUBLE DOH!!
Luckily, I was wearing my sneakers that day! Double Luckily, I found an Outlet Mall with a store that had some really awesome sales for a running outfit, as well as a couple days worth of clothes!
Ok, so on to my race report.....
This event was hosted by OC Tri Running Sports which hosts a series of races around town.
Worcester Youth and Family counseling was the beneficiary, but it seems it changes yearly.
The day consists of a 5k and half marathon. There were about 2000 half marathoners and 670 5kers.
The course was an A to B, which seems to change yearly. This year we started from Assateague Island and ended on the boardwalk of Ocean City, MD.
Packet Pick up was located in a huge tent in the City Parking lot right at the end of the Ocean City Boardwalk. It was a very windy, cold, and dreary day, so it was just a quick hop in and out of the car to grab the stuff and go... unfortunately. I did stop at Harrisons restaurant for a bowl of crab chowder for lunch. We were provided the usual tech shirt and bib and they had minimal race items to buy. No ID was checked. I mention this, because I did not realize it until I was back in my hotel room (an hour away, because I received a free stay at the Hyatt Chesapeake Bay) that I had a completely different persons bib with the same exact name!! AAAHHH!! Luckily, they had same day packet pick up as well and the other girl had not picked up her bib yet, so I was able to change it out!
Parking basically is a first come, first serve in any of the city lots, which unfortunately means you are left with a hefty parking fee for the amount of time needed to arrive early for the shuttle, race, and enjoy the after party.  I ended up parking a couple blocks away and paid $12.
Shuttles started at 515a in the same lot as packet pick up. They assigned times based alphabetically by last name, which was interesting, because no one checked when you arrived or what bus you got on. There were tons of buses though. They warned us several times in the prior weeks about missing the bus, but I don't see how that could even be possible. 
Unfortunately we drove the entire course to get to start. I don't like to review the race map that much before a race. I like it to be a surprise. So driving the course, I was a little disappointed. I was also concerned to see the road was completely open to traffic and the cones set up was not going to be wide enough for the amount of runners. 
Some people were dropped off at the Start instead of taking the shuttle. Some people parked at Start, and had their own transportation back. Either way, I was there when they told me to be there and everything was very seamless. No lines, no waiting. 
We arrived at Assateague State Park, not to be confused with Assateague National Park, right next door. I did learn on my visit back to the National Park later that it really is a rip off ($15) unless you are camping or have a vehicle that can drive on the sand. The majority of the park is access for those vehicles only. Also, before you get to the 'paying station' there is a huge area of wilderness, which is actually where I saw all the horses and deer, NOT inside the paid for section! Go figure.
Anyways, I arrived right at sunrise, which was awesome over the beach! I walked up the dunes and calmed my nerves taking in the scenery. It was Gorgeous! You could even see Ocean City in the very far distance! It was pretty cool to see that is how far we were about to run!
It was cold and windy (40s) so I hung onto my gear bag and waited inside the large warming tent for the hour we had before start. There was a DJ which was nice and made the time pass.
Outside, there were definitely not enough porta potties. The line was ridiculously long, and for some reason they only had 1 line for the 10 or so porta potties, which made no sense.
It wasn't until the last 15 minutes before start, they decided to let us know there were bathhouses in the camping section right next door that we could use for a bathroom.  
The bag check was 2 school buses in which you passed your bag through the window. I really liked this idea.
There wasn't an official line up. There were pacers, so you basically placed yourself according to them. After seeing how tight the course was going to be, I decided to place myself with the 2:10 pacer (7min PR), instead of having to be stuck bobbing and weaving with slower runners.
The National Anthem was played and then we were off.  The pacer ended up being really consistent (at least it felt like it since I wasn't wearing a Garmin) and the group staying with her was small.  I felt really good at the 9:50 pace. Surprisingly good since I have not been running nearly as much as I should be since the marathon in February!  I told myself I would stick with her for at least 6 miles.
The course quickly takes you out of Assateague and over a small bridge. I was disappointed they didn't utilize more of the park for the race. I did see, or think I saw, one horse in the very far distance.  
The course was still so tight as this pace, at certain times I kept kicking the people in front of me, or someone behind me would do the same to me. But it made me stay consistent in pace.
It was basically a straight shot back to Ocean City. They utilized a small neighborhood to do a loop and then back out onto the main road to the OC Boardwalk. It was cool you could see the Ferris Wheel in the far distance. Once we crossed over the waterway to the beaches, we were so close to finish, I asked the person next to me if I had missed seeing M12. There was no way we still had 2 miles to go. Ends up, the course takes you right by the finish line, to do an out and back on the boardwalk! Oh those courses make it miserable for the last mile!! It was fun to be on the boardwalk and that is where most of the people were, but to see the finish when you are exhausted, yet you can not stop yet!.... miserable!
In the final stretch in, I heard a girl motivating her friend telling her the 2:10 pacer just crossed the finish line. I got super pumped, because I thought I was a lot further behind than that! At that point the three of us got silly and tried to make each other get energized! We saw the Ripley Believe it or Not sign and we all started saying 'believe it or not, but...."..... mine was 'believe it or not, but this is my 50th half marathon, and 20th state!!" and then my last one was "believe it or not, but I am going to PR this race!" and then I kicked it up into high gear and busted out a 2 minute PR making my first 2:15 finish!
Unfortunately the water stations were spaced out over 2 miles apart and they were not properly stocked. Cups were not filled and runners were pouring their own water for a lot of the stations.  Fortunately the weather was pretty perfect conditions, so there wasn't a need to quench dehydration too badly.We were given 1 energy gel at M6
The majority of the spectators were at the boardwalk. Unfortunately I had to entice them to actually cheer. The rest of the course were random groups here and there. There were a lot of children participating in the cheering which I liked. One holding a 'high five here for power' sign and another actually passing out the water (both were definitely under 5yr)
The Finish was the same place as packet pick up and where the start shuttles were. After crossing the finish line and being handed your medal by a hot fire fighter, there were the traditional running foods.... bananas, bagels, cookies, bars, etc.... unfortunately you had to pour your own water.
At packet pick up you were given 2 drink tickets and 1 food ticket which gave you one slice of cold pizza and 2 Michelob Ultras. I really would have loved to have seen more options. There were 2 beer lines, which made it faster, and there was no wait for the cold pizza.... no figure. The Awards ceremony was inside the big tent. It was still cool outside, but the sun was out and it was warming nicely.
 I like the medal, I do. Its an exact replica of the entrance to the boardwalk. My picky side just wishes MD or Maryland was on it somewhere.
 I love the short sleeve gender specific race shirt that is not too overly obnoxious with sponsor logos. HOWEVER, 'marathon' is the main eye catcher, and this was a half marathon. Yes, I know, I really need to work for a race one day! ;)
 Of course the destination makes this race very attractive. A majority of race day was seamless and enjoyable, I give them that. With only a few adjustments it could be a fantastic race. I would still recommend it as a destination race. There's a lot to do around town for an extended weekend with the gorgeous beach, the wildlife at the parks, the tourist attractions on the boardwalk. And its easy to drive around the rest of Maryland as well. I flew in and out of Baltimore. I stayed at the Hyatt Chesapeake Bay about an hour away and highly recommend that property! I also stopped at Annapolis on the way back to the airport and that was a super cute, fun town to check out!
HM#50, STATE#20
I am running a half marathon a month while I complete my goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states, all to raise breast cancer awareness and promote a healthy lifestyle through running and walking. 100% of donations raised goes towards 26.2 with Donna (70% Mayo Clinic and 30% Donna Foundation). Please show your support by making a donation today! www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2016-marathon/melissajohnson

Harbour Heights Half-Port Charlotte, FL-April 4, 2015

This was the Inaugural half marathon of the Harbour Half in Port Charlotte FL, benefiting Autism Awareness. The yearly event is usually just a 5k, but decided to expand the field. The half was limited to only 400 participants.

I drove into town the day before with the pup. I decided to stay at the Four Points right on the bay in Punta Gorda, and I was not disappointed! It is a wonderful pet friendly hotel (even allowing pets to dine with you!). They have a really cool tiki bar/restaurant right on the water and a fun sunset happy hour with live entertainment! I highly suggest this property!

We spent the day resting on the dog beach in Venice, which was a good 45 minute drive away, but definitely worth it. The drive in the morning to the race was a quick 12 minutes.

Parking was easy peasy... The school lot was easy to find and there were plenty of signs and escorts with lights to direct you. You were then shuttled over to start on a trolley, which were very prompt.

Packet pick up was available race morning and was very simple. They did allow for a bag drop as well.

Since the start was at a public park, there were real bathrooms, and I arrived early enough to not have to wait in line. There were also potty potties for the event, which I never had to use. At the boat ramp next to the back of the line of Start, there was another public portal potty which I used right before starting.

We started and finished at a public park in Harbour Heights. Unfortunately the park was under construction, so there were some areas where you really needed to watch your step before you twisted an ankle, or filled your shoe with sand.

The National Anthem was sang by a group of kids, which was really cool.

There was a slight delay on the start of the race of about 10 minutes. The race was already starting after the sun rise, so this was just added to the time in the heat.

We arrived at dark and it was a full moon which was cool. We then got a peek of the sunrise as well over a small lake.

Unfortunately right before we started, I realized I left my Garmin in the hotel room. At that point, I decided to just turn off the pacer as well and just run by feel.

Honestly, there is not much to remember of the course. It went through a lot of neighborhoods and was very quiet. There were a couple of peeks of lakes, but not much. There was at one point an elderly lady taking what looked like her daily morning walk and was shocked to see all of us running right by her. She was very friendly and was waving and walking right along with us! It was very cool.

There was also a large group of pink runner skirt ladies (and a man) that were all doing the Galloway run/walk and wearing pacers and a couple of them were even wearing step alerts (not sure of the actual term, but it was constantly beeping to tell her when/how fast she was supposed to be taking each step)....SO ANNOYING!... I understand this could help with training, but you've got to be more considerate during a race with people around you! Honestly, the one lady I was with a good portion of the race, the noise was so annoying, it made me run faster just to get away from her. However once it started getting hot, she gained back on me and at that point I had given up and let her pass.

The weather started off a little cool, but as soon as that sun was high, it turned hot quick.

Stations unfortunately were only offering water. Not once did I see Gatorade. This is definitely not acceptable for a long distance race. They did offer a gel, but they have got to get more fuel to the runners. I know, I know most people say to carry your own. However, I strongly believe if I am paying for a race, that is what I should be paying for.... at the minimum!

This is a very quiet race, even though we run through neighborhoods. Maybe once the community catches on that there is a half marathon going on, they will come out and support more

Unfortunately there wasn't much at the finish line except cold bagels, peanut butter and granola bars.

There wasn't beer at the finish, nor live entertainment, but they did do something unique and gave everyone a raffle ticket for a chance to win some great prizes, including airfare, bikes, gift baskets, etc. You could also buy additional tickets to better you odds.

Once I started getting really hot around M8 or so, I pretty much gave up and was just going to finish. I had no idea what my time was since I didn't have the Garmin, so that didn't help much. When I came around to the finish line and saw the time was under 2:30, I was super surprised and happy. However, I later heard a few people say that their Garmin were all short of 13.1 miles. So again, I don't know.

I do love the medal and how it has the Autism Awareness symbol on it, however I wish the name of the race would be a little larger


I think the race is great and supports a great cause and I would suggest it once it gets some experience under its belt.

 HM #49

I am running a half marathon a month while I complete my goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states, all to raise breast cancer awareness and promote a healthy lifestyle through running and walking. 100% of donations raised goes towards 26.2 with Donna (70% Mayo Clinic and 30% Donna Foundation). Please show your support by making a donation today! www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2016-marathon/melissajohnson

Tomoka Half Marathon-March 29, 2015

This was the 2nd Annual Tomoko Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5k with 314 marathoners, 669 half marathoners, and 225 5kers, benefiting Halifax Health in Ormond Beach, FL

We started and finished at the Casements, winter home of John D Rockefeller, in Ormond Beach. We would tackle the Granada Bridge (apx 65ft incline) within the first mile or two and of course finish it within the last. Once over the bridge, we run along some homes on the intracoastal. It was perfect timing with the sun rising in the distance beyond the bridge. We then head into Tomoka State Park, where the road turns to a hard packed sand. I have to say, I'm not sure if my time significantly dropped because I was tired, or the loss of traction. (prob both). I do have to admit I wasn't overly impressed with park. We really didn't see anything but trees. And trail. And runners. Which is nice and all, but I guess I was just expecting more beauty.

There is a Facebook page for the race as well as the Live Your Life Well page which are active. There were only a couple emails sent out the week of the race with basic information. The website had just enough information.

With Ormond Beach being only an hour and half away, I decided to wake early and drive in race morning. (there was a host hotel and shuttle for those wanting to stay in the area).

There were warnings about parking in designated spots only in Ormond Beach to prevent ticketing, and a strong suggestion was to park at the Elementary School, which is what I plugged into my GPS.  However, I pulled up to a locked and dark school. Luckily there were a few other cars that pulled in at the same time and I was able to follow them on the back roads, as there was another entrance completely on the other side. Disappointment set in, as I would have never figured that out on my own.

After we finally found the parking area, we were once again confused on which way to walk to start as there were no volunteers and limited signage (we actually did not see the sign until daylight on the way back after the race). Its never a good feeling, being out of town and feeling lost trying to find a race on time.

Each race started in 30 minute increments starting at 630a with the full, half, then 5k. There were a couple vendor there and you were able to pick up your packet before the race (you also had the option the day before at the Y). We received a reusable grocery bag and short sleeve gender specific race shirt. That's it, no tons of useless flyers, which is good. However, no samples either. Boo. Halifax Health though, was handing out free Live your Live Well headbands, which was neat.

There seemed to be plenty of porta potties, with the lines being less than 10 deep. Dunkin Donuts was there with coffee and donuts holes. There was a gear check which was a pretty quick drop, despite there being only one volunteer having to write each persons bib number on duck tape to put on each bag.

There was some sort of military drill that you couldn't see, and then the national anthem was sang, and we were off.

There were plenty of fluid stations that were properly stocked. There was 1 stop with Hammer Gels as well as oranges and bananas.

Besides the volunteers, there were no spectators for this event. We did run by some homes before entering the park, but no one was out. One road is still open in the park, but there was only 1 car that was actually trying to drive through, which didn't seem to impact many.

The weather was quite perfect for a race day. We started in the upper 40s and it wasn't expected to warm much more than mid 50s. (even if it was a hot day, its mostly shaded, except the bridge portion). It was a gorgeous clear and sunny day.

March had been a very stressful month for me with my dad being in the hospital and then just a couple weeks ago, a good running buddy had suddenly passed away. I had run very little anyways since Gasparilla at the end of February (maybe 5 miles.....a mile at a time) and I just couldn't get myself to take those steps again, feeling I was going to complete break down mid run. As race day approached quickly, I decided to just wait and just leave it all out there on the course.

I decided to push it and try a 4x:30 (run 4 minutes, walk 30seconds). And I felt really strong for a PR for the first half. Around M6, I had to downgrade to a 3x:30, and it wasn't too far later that I went to a 2x:30. Despite the little training I had done, I felt strong the entire time, my endurance was (understandably) just not there.

I thought about my friend the entire race, and how she had so many more races she wanted to complete. I just can't get over how incredibly unfair it is how someone as special as she was has to leave this world so soon. She was my energizer bunny on finding new races. I could count on having a text at least once a week asking about a new race. She was my motivation to keep going as we were always sharing healthy lifestyle tips and running stories. She was my competition to push harder as I could see her getting stronger and faster with each run. She was my encourager to experience new things as I had many 'firsts' with her and her family. She was a complete stranger I had met at a random race and she welcomed me into her close circle of friends and family. Instantly she made me feel like I was family. She had one of those happy lives that everyone envies. She extended a loving hand to anyone in need and could make a friend anywhere. She has taught me many lessons in all aspects of life and she will forever leave her footprint on my heart. She appreciated every moment and enjoyed life to the fullest, and that is what will bring me comfort through this difficult time. I know she will continue to be racing with each and everyone one of us Running Buddies as we continue our adventures.

The Finish Line was a quick loop after descending the bridge. It was an awkward set up, as the timing mat was before the inflatable 'finish line' and a lot of people were stopping before you actually had to turn sharply to run under the inflatable.

After you were handed your medal, there were bananas, chips, and more Hammer Gels as well as water. There were some local beer samples (shot size) and then Michelob Ultra cans. Cold pizza was handed out as well. There were complimentary massages (for a strongly suggested $5 tip) set up, as well as a finish line photo op.

It was a beautiful day and you could now see the beauty of the Casements in the daylight, located right on the water. It was fun to watch the marathoners cross the finish line, especially those qualifying for Boston.

The gender specific short sleeve race shirt is pretty cool and fits well, however, its one of those tacky race colors (neon green) and is plastered with sponsor logos all over the back.

I love the sponsor/slogan for this race, "Live Your Life Well", which is on the medal with a spinning tree, which makes this medal unique. I do wish the tree was bigger though and the race words smaller. Minimal critiques.

The entire time I was running this race, I felt like I was repeating a race I've done before. (Ft Myers Beach came to mind, starting and finishing right at a bridge at the beach). As well as the Reindeer Half that runs through Ft Clinch State Park. (road and trees, road and trees). Its a good run, but there isn't enough that makes it stick out as its own. I would recommend it if you are looking for a new race, as all the logistics are spot on and the surrounding Ormond Beach area is beautiful.


I am running a half marathon a month while I complete my goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states, all to raise breast cancer awareness and promote a healthy lifestyle through running and walking. 100% of donations raised goes towards 26.2 with Donna (70% Mayo Clinic and 30% Donna Foundation). Please show your support by making a donation today! www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2016-marathon/melissajohnson

Gasparilla Distance Classic Half Marathon-Feb 22, 2015

Gasparilla.....aahhhh....the fun filled pirate event held in Tampa that I oh so loved attending when I lived there years ago.... and lo and behold, they have a Half Marathon and Challenge Weekend to accompany it! Ugh, but unfortunately, it is ALWAYS right around The Donna Marathon. Every year, I have watched this race go by, wishing I was able to participate. But there was NO WAY I would NOT do The Donna. Well, lets go back to last April when I was lucky to be asked to help man The Donna booth at the Expo of the Boston Marathon. Well, right across from us was the Gasparilla Distance Classic group! We were completely floored when we were generously offered comp entries to participate in their race! Well, OF COURSE we had to say YES then!

In previous years, after The Donna, I usually waited weeks, before I did any kind of long distance run. I just....Didn't....Feel....Like....It.... But this year was going to be different. I went into Gasparilla seven days after running the full marathon at The Donna a little hesitant, but feeling good because we had planned to just take it easy with a slow Galloway 2:1 pace. (run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute)

So, what exactly is Gasparilla Distance Classic? It is one of the infamous Challenge Weekend events that are gaining such attention all over the country. There are lots of races of various distances... add them up, and you have created a 'challenge' and earned yourself an extra medal! There is a 5k and 15k on Saturday, then a half and 8k on Sunday. I believe there is also a fun run for kids sometime.
The Ultra Challenge-15k, 5k on Saturday, then half marathon and 8k on Sunday=30.4 miles in 2 days
The Amber Challenge- 15k, 5k, half marathon=25.5 miles in 2 days
The Lime Challenge-15k on Saturday, 8k on Sunday=14.2 miles in 2 days

Leading up to race day, you are not short on communication from the race director! There are plenty of emails as well as Facebook posts with the weekends event information. Their website is also fully stocked and loaded and there is a thick Event Program printed as well. If you don't have the information you need, its not the races fault..... although it may be because you are a little overwhelmed with how much information there actually is! But then again, there are 4 races and 2 challenges that make it a bit confusing if you are not used to navigating all the lingo.

The Donna Girls drove in from Jax Saturday morning, arriving to the Expo at the Tampa Convention Center right before noon. (hint for free parking.... park at Publix). It was a gorgeous warm sunny day, so we soaked up some rays at the outside bar to unwind from the 3 1/2 hour drive. It was still an active scene as the 5k and 15k were wrapping up.

The Expo was of a great size and nice and spread out, not too crowded. We did get to snap a pic with Gaspar the Pirate, and received a comp Gasparilla sweat towel as well as a good quality reusable grocery bag. However, we were a bit disappointed on the actual merchandise. The only thing I walked away with was a 13.1 pink visor that wasn't even race specific. I was really disappointed there wasn't more pirate gear. And even the event merchandise itself wasn't very pirate-y.

There was a huge Gasparilla sign with everyone names listed on it, so it was fun to go through the scavenger hunt to find your name.

The Jose Gaspar ship was located right outside the Expo was a cool photo op.

After the Expo we headed to Victorias for some local Cuban sandwiches, then spent the afternoon bar hopping in Ybor (I told you we werent going to take this race easy! Hey, we were still in celebration mode from The Donna Marathon!). We had happy hour at Columbia's (a local must) with sangria, and then headed to the Spaghetti Warehouse for our carbo loading. It was a fun day, but boy were we pooped at 9p when we got back home. I was passed out shortly after lights out.

We stayed just a few miles down the street from the Start at a friends family's house. We set the clock to make it a very tight schedule in the morning, and I have to admit, I was a little nervous, but we were able to wake, dress, leave the house, stop at Starbucks for breakfast, find street parking, walk half a mile to start, use the porta potty, and be in line just a couple minutes behind the start gun....all under an hour!!

Since the race starts downtown, parking is basically anywhere you can find it, fees vary. HINT- you can park for free on the street in the neighborhood along Bayshore Blvd and walk to start, which is what we did.

Because we basically arrived just minutes before actually running, I can not comment much on the Starting area. I do know the bag drop/gear check was located inside the convention center, which we found a little inconvenient, so we planned to keep our stuff in the car. There were Pacers set up and you could basically place yourself wherever, as we realized we were in the 8minute pace group, but it was too crowded to make our way further back.

The course is A to A, starting in the same area as the Expo (Convention Center). It runs over to Davis Island to do a loop, and then back over to Bayshore Blvd which is basically an out and back.
Bayshore Blvd is one of the most scenic areas of the Tampa Bay.

The race starts at 6am, which is about 45 minutes before sunrise.  Running in the dark during that time was a bit stressful. There were limited street lights and it was very crowded. I was surprised more people were not carrying hand lights. I definitely would have brought mine, if I had realized. There were some cobblestone areas, potholes, and very tight bridge. Just about all of the Davis Island portion of the race was crowded and because of our poor lining up and our 2x1 pace, we were being passed for the first half of the race.  The pace groups were large and took over the entire street when they came through and weren't too fond of our walking periods. In fact, there weren't a lot of run/walkers at all. We even had someone question what we were doing, which is always fun to explain.

The temps started in the upper 50s, but it was very humid. The heat continued to climb after the sun rose and there was very limited shade.  They actually had a section with some sprinklers out, which was nice.

Some runners dressed as pirates and a couple were in full on elaborate costumes on the sidelines cheering us on. There was a flame thrower and also a Caribbean man on a mic singing, shouting out motivational words, and giving hi fives! But the best part was a the Huge group of young kids lining the street and throwing up high fives for you, as the Gasparilla Distance Classic supports youth organizations and running programs in Tampa.

Once we got to Bayshore Blvd, the street was wide and we finally spaced out. There are beautiful mansions along this stretch of road and is the same road that the Gasparilla parade takes place.

I surprisingly felt awesome doing the 2x1. I even felt like I wanted to do more, run further or faster, but that was our plan being this was our first time doing a race after a marathon. However, I have officially decided to never do a full minute walk again. 30-45 seconds is plenty of time for recovery.

Photographers were everywhere you looked (and didn't). You definitely have plenty of opportunities to get that perfect pic.

Plentiful and often

I never felt dehydrated. There were plenty of hydration tables. Unfortunately they were only on one side of the street, and with the street being so wide on the second half of the course, you had to keep cutting over.

The biggest upset of the entire event is the city law of no alcohol served before 11a on Sundays. Yep, I guess this includes races as well. The race starts at 6am, so even if you did the half and 8k, you are still awaiting around for the 'after party'. I'd say to start the race later, but we are in Florida, and temps get hot quickly.

Once you cross the Finish Line, you are handed your medal and get a photo opp with the official Gasparilla Pirate Crew (yes, its a real thing) and they even officially congratulate you!

Once you make your way over to the After Party area, you are given a bag to stock with all kinds of goodies! (Suja juice, bananas, Special K bars, fruit bowls, sodas, Fruit Buddies.) I would have liked to have seen something with salt, like chips, but still an awesome assortment. It is a long line of item after item and then you end at the yumminess of Columbia Restaurant official race meal. Unfortunately some runners (well a lot) would cut the line for the real food. They really need to put up ropes of some sort to prevent this from happening, because we were in line for over an hour waiting.

It was definitely worth the wait though!.... paella, salads, rice and beans, bread! YUM! We all wanted seconds!!

The long sleeve, gender specific Race shirt is very thin, almost see through. I was a little confused on why they would make the 'Half Marathon' letters so large, and not the actual name of the race.

Everybody wants the Gasparilla medal. It is a good one.

We did not wait around for the Official After Party with Michelob and the Awards. Instead we had Mimosa waiting for us at home! Brunch was had at Datz (a Tampa MUST!). It was a long wait, so we ordered coffee and a sweet at Datz Dough. Which left me entirely too full for brunch, but the menu looked scrumptious! And to top that off, there were Girl Scouts selling cookies! SCORE! Perfect timing!

This is definitely one of those family and/or friends filled weekends.... as there is a distance for everyone. The additional challenges makes it unique and brings out your competitive spirit to see how far you can push your limits.

Tampa is an action packed city and being so close to Clearwater and St Pete beaches, you can easily extend the weekend to make it a fun vacation.

Before we even finished the half marathon, we were already discussing signing up for a Challenge in 2016! I will still be doing the Donna Marathon the week before, but then taking on the Ultra Challenge, to make it a total of 56.6 miles in 2 weeks, which honestly, I was doing over 30 miles a week for training anyways so..... easy peasy, lol.... we will see! :)

13.1- 2:30

I am running a half marathon a month while I complete my goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states, all to raise breast cancer awareness and promote a healthy lifestyle through running and walking. 100% of donations raised goes towards 26.2 with Donna (70% Mayo Clinic and 30% Donna Foundation). Please show your support by making a donation today! www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2016-marathon/melissajohnson

8th Annual 26.2 with Donna-Feb 15, 2015

This was the 8th Annual 26.2 with Donna National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer! This is THE RACE of the year for me. This is what I run for! All year long (Mar-Jan) I run half marathons across the country, trying to check off the fifty states, but also train for the full marathon (the one and only I will do) and raise funds for The Donna in February. You see, The Donna is the only Marathon in the US where 100% net proceeds benefit the Mayo Clinic (70%) for breast cancer research and the Donna Foundation (30%) to help those in financial need to get through their treatments. Fundraising is completely optional, but even part of your registration goes towards the cause. Once you realize what these monies have helped to create (a new vaccine trial for triple negative breast cancer patients is the latest), its hard to not jump on board to help the cause! Plus, there are fundraising incentives that include some pretty cool gifts and Jaguar tickets! I have participated every single year (officially known as a Streaker) and can not see myself NOT participating.

We will start this blog back in the beginning of the year. As a reminder, I completed 2014 Donna marathon with a Huge PR, crushing my 5 hour finish time goal with 4:55, a whole 34 minute improvement! So needless to say, I told myself I needed a break from running. Yes, I still managed my half marathons, but I was running VERY little other than that. And before I  knew it, it was months down the road and I had slacked for a whole 6 months! Well, you could probably guess, my performance had plummeted. I completed my running year without a single PR. Not only was I disappointed in myself, but I was scared I would not be able to 'match' another 5 hour marathon finish time.

My training season was pretty strong. I tried to do a whole 26 weeks of training, however, the heat took a little toll on that.  I also had to regain my 'base' of what I had slacked on, so it ended up being more of a 16 week training program. By October I was able to start adding over 13mile runs to my training. For 3 months I was able to manage no less than 25 miles per week, with most at 30-33 miles per week. I had 5 days that were 20 miles or over. I kept with the breaking up the miles like I did last year (ie, 2x10mile runs a day) to aid in faster recovery. Besides the running, I tried to do Pilates and Yoga at least once each a week. I did drop the weight lifting training this year, which I think may have been a mistake. Something different I did do this year was run in high altitude while on a ski vacation just a few weeks before race day. It was very little miles, but it was 3x of very heavy breathing! I don't know if that did anything or not, but I feel that breathing training would definitely help.

The week of Donna is packed full of events! Being a Streaker (someone that has participated in Donna since day 1) and also a Top Fundraiser, I was invited to the One Ocean VIP Reception. This is an interesting event with hordeourvs and cocktails mingling with some very important people that make this event take place. The Donna Ambassadors are also there, which is always interesting to hear their stories from all over the world.

Saturday there is also a 5K in the morning (held at the same place as the Expo, and provides a medal too) and then a by invitation pasta dinner held at Mayo Clinic. Unfortunately I have bypassed the invitation to the pasta dinner the past couple years because I have been more focused on resting since race morning starts at 4am. This year I heard it was fantastic as they did a tour of the Mayo Clinic laboratories.

The Expo is held at the Prime Osborne Convention Center located in downtown Jacksonville and is a 2 day event packed with vendors from all over the world. It is free and open to the public and is one of the best expos I have ever attended as there are so many shopping and educational options. There is a Donna Merchandise area as well as other breast cancer organizations set up. Donna herself is there meeting with the runners, as well as Jeff Galloway, the man responsible for the run/walk theory. Kurtis Loftus, the artist responsible for the great designs of the tshirt, medal and posters was there with a table set up to make custom spray painted shirts for $25.

There are local running shops like First Place Sports, as well as ones from afar (I ended up purchasing from the state of MI!) who come stocked with sale merchandise. We are given a reusable drawstring Donna bag, and there were free noise makers (varies every year, this year was thunder sticks) and yard flags to anyone who wanted them.

There was a pink fire truck you could sign parked outside and inside there were huge billboards with encouraging words such as Strength, Love, Finish that you could leave messages on. These would be placed on the beach for our Miracle Miles section of the course.

Parking  for the race is open 3 1/2 hours prior to the Starting time with 2 separate entrances, so there is plenty of time for everyone to get there on time. We start at the TPC Sawgrass (for those that don't know, is a huge golf event location) which has more than enough spots for runners and spectators.

The Starting Area is pretty big and spread out. Once you get out of the parking, there is the UPS Gear Trucks, which is very easy to pass off your belongings. They transport it to the Finish for you. There are also so many porta potties, you never really have a long line to wait in. Besides Dunkin Donuts being there handing out coffee, there was also water, bananas, and muffins if you forgot breakfast. There is a big warming tent with tables and chairs, or there is also portable heaters scattered around to keep you warm. If you forgot your sunscreen, because its still dark out, don't worry, there is even a table for that as well. This year they tried a new line up. Flags were up with finish/pace times and you placed yourself where ever you pleased. There would be pulse starts for each time. If you did not line up early enough, you started later, but it didn't matter. Your own time doesn't start until you cross the Start timing mat with your chip on your bib. This made it easier to start with your friends and loved ones instead of being separated off from each other in separate corrals. A big part of it is to still be 'considerate' to other runners and staying true to your own pace and line up accordingly. I started in the first group which actually was a lot larger than I expected, but was not impacted with slower or faster runners trying to weave around.

The course is A to B starting at TPC Sawgrass and finishing appropriately at the Mayo Clinic. There is a shuttle that takes you back to the start parking lot once you are finished. We run through Ponte Vedra, Jacksonville, Neptune, and Atlantic Beaches, with about 1-2 miles (depending on if you are running the half or full) run right on the hard packed sand. The beautiful white sand beach is where you are engulfed by the beauty of Jacksonville. The sky is still filled with beautiful colors as it is still early in the day. If you look close and if you are lucky you can see the dolphins swimming right along side us. The course is constantly in the beach neighborhoods where you see an endless stream of people coming out of their houses to not only cheer you on, but they have set up elaborate decorations and even 'aid stations' stocked full of oranges, waters, pbj sandwiches, bananas, candy, beer, mimosas, anything you can imagine, they have you covered the entire course! ....until the last 3 miles of the marathon which runs on JTB (a closed highway). The course is completely flat until you reach the last mile where you have enough of a challenge to prove your marathon strength with a small bridge.

All week there was a close eye on the weather. All over the US has been a brutally cold and snowy season and it was looking like we would be impacted by a strong cold front with high winds. Even race morning was predicting what was opposite of what we actually had. I swear this race is blessed. It ended up being in the 40s early and 50s later. There was some wind, but it was not a consistent direction, and it was never steady either. I arrived with long sleeves and pants with gloves, but ended up removing my sleeves and ran in a tank. By the end of the day I was saying I could have even gone down to shorts and tank, but I was fine. It was a gorgeous day!

I totally believe that running, at any distance, is half mental. I try to go into marathon day with a list of mantras to get me through when I start to boink. This years included....
Better your Best
Embrace the Suck
Breathe thru it
Run with your Heart

There is tons of GU available on the marathon course.
On the second half I noticed they split up the water and Gatorade, instead of having both of them every mile, which made it weird because I like to swish out my mouth with water after a swig of Gatorade. A secret to the aid stations (esp the ones with a medic tent) is, they have aspirin and chips if you need, which I always love a mouth full of salt around M18.

My initial goal was to just match last years performance, since it was such a huge PR. But I have also always PRd on this race, so of course I didn't want to end that streak. I would have to maintain a 10:29-11:16 pace to finish between 4:35 to 4:55.

I wore a 4:35 pace tattoo that I had picked up at the Expo to keep me on track.

I am probably the most backwards runner there is, as I like to go out strong for as long as I can and then ease up at the end. For the marathon I do a consistent run/walk method. Below is what my goal was vs what actually took place.

M1-3 - 3x30, Actual-M1-12 3x30
M3-7 -  3x45, Actual 3x30
M7-13 - 3x1, Actual 3x30
M13-16 -  2:30x45, Actual M12-15 2:30x30
M16-20 - 1:30x45, Actual M15-18 2x30, M18-20 2x45
M20-23 - 1:30x45, Actual M20-23 1:30x45
M23-36 - 1x45, Actual M23-26 1x1

I took a GU every 3 miles starting at M6, a mouthful of water and Gatorade for every hydration station, a couple of bites of oranges somewhere on course, and a mouthful of chips around M18.

I ran the first 7 miles with my friend Constance who was taking on her first half marathon. I definitely felt like I wanted to run faster (like I always do and then crash early later) so it was good  she was there to keep me consistent. I unexpectedly ran into a friend Barb on the corner around M16 where I was just beginning to die down. I had co workers support (my work hosts a hydration station) at M8 and 18. My bartender friend surprisingly yelled out my name from behind the bar as I passed by at M 19! My friend Michelle was holding posters right after M20. And of course I had to take my usual shot of beer (the best carbs there are) at M21.

From the first couple of miles, I thought my GymBoss (pace alert) was dying or broken. It would go through one cycle of run/walk, but then stop. Luckily I was able to realize I could just push the button after the end of each cycle to start another. Unluckily, (but probably luckily) I forgot to do this several times and ran longer than I was supposed to. Thankfully it did last the entire race. I really stressed the first miles thinking I would not have a pacer at all. Unfortunately I realized after the race the exact problem and solution for it. (hand to forehead!)

Looking back, I was amazed how well I felt on the 3x30 (run 3 minutes, walk 30seconds) for so long. I was very consistent on overall pace the entire race until those last three-five miles. I could have definitely pushed myself more on JTB for the last 3 miles where I dropped down to a run a minute, walk a minute. With my performance and knowing what my body can handle, I will probably never allow myself to do another 1minute walk break again.

Physically my body was never in any serious pain. I had a nagging right hip and right knee ache and then some sort of feet pain I have never felt before in my life, for the last 10 miles. It is hard to describe, but it was like I was running barefoot. Like a raw feeling, or when your feet are asleep and then starting to wake up again. Nothing too terrible, just interesting.

Because I didn't know anyone doing the marathon this year, I was really expecting anyone at the finish (which is pretty usual for me). I slowly crossed the finish with a 5 minute PR and pretty much started hyperventilating. I was overcome with emotion and started to cry, but for some reason it led to almost a full blown panic attack. I continued to take my medal and walk towards the Finish Village when I looked up and saw Constance and her family still there. After a hug my breathing started calming down.

Constance and I stayed for a bit to enjoy the Finishers Village. There is pink champagne (which I had never been able to find previous years), Michelob Ultra, soup, and later we found out there was free pizza and hamburgers being handed out by Mellow Mushroom and Hardees. There is also a massage tent if you want to stretch out your muscles!

We didn't stay much longer and made our way to the shuttle to get back to start. It is always a long 30 minute drive back (so  make sure you have your back up clothes, flip flops, anything you want to make you comfortable after the Finish Line)

After the race, we went to a friends who whipped up some yummy food for us. We met up with a couple other half marathoners and shared running stories.

The Finishers Shirt is a long sleeve gender specific tech shirt. I know they have been trying different  qualities and designs for the shirt over the years. I do hope that one year they can actually get the sleeve length right for ALL runners. I am a tall person and receiving long sleeve shirts really can be a hit or miss anywhere, but with that said I have plenty of other running shirts  from other races where the length is just fine. This years shirt, is once again about 2 inches short. I am glad they went back to the beachy design. But the shade of the pink is also a little weird. It looks like a light pink color washed with a bunch of dark clothing.

I love our medal and the stained glass. This year they decided to make it a heart shape, which isn't my favorite, but something different. The wording on the medal is entirely too small. I would love for the 26.2 and Donna words to be more of a focus.

There is a good amount of photographers on course and at the Finish. There are also a slew of local photographers that end up posting additional (not organized) photos on multiple news sites, as well as Facebook pages. This year was cool as being a 'Streaker' we were given a $20 discount to use with Sport Photos and I was able to order a custom keychain for free!

Pink Feet's photo.
It has been pretty cool the past few years they have gone out of their way to show appreciation to the Donna Streakers.... those that have run every single year. This year they gave a heart running ribbon heart saying "Streaker 8 Years".

If you want a standing ovation for all the hard work you put into training 16 weeks for a marathon, you should experience the Donna. It is literally 26 miles of people lining the streets cheering you on, calling out your name, saying Thank you for Running. The crowd support is among the largest I have seen in all my races. Running on the beach is also a huge highlight, making something stressful as a marathon, more relaxing and enjoyable. There is an awesome Galloway training program that can get anyone to run their first marathon. If the marathon is too much, there is always the half, the relay, or the 5k the day before!

Marathon #6 -4:50

18th Annual Ocala Half Marathon-Jan 25, 2015

This was the 18th Annual Ocala Marathon, held in Ocala, FL. This is a very small race in a small horse town. There were 67 marathoners, 223 half marathoners, 92 5kers.

This is a loop course with a small out and back that starts and finishes at Paddock Mall. The marathon does 2 loops. Other than horses, Ocala is one of those Florida cities known for its 'rolling hills' but still small compared to other parts of the country.  All races ran the same course, all with different start times. With it being such a small event, the roads were still open, even on the side of the road we were running. There were some cones and some officers, but then there were other areas where the cars would race by, not move over enough, and I even got honked at! And not in a good way! A small portion of the course had rough/uneven asphalt and another portion you had the option to run on the busy highway partially blocked by cones or on the large sidewalk. I chose the sidewalk.

The course started off beautiful with a lot of horse farms. It was an almost freezing morning, so I'm not sure if all the horses were out. The ones that were, were beautiful in the morning light. There were also a lot of cows. At one point the cows were so close to the road, I could have reached out and touched them. I could see their eyeballs literally watching every step as I ran by them. Then another group of cows started running across the field. I couldn't help but laugh as I had never seen cows run like that before. I guess even us 'slow movers' can pick it up when we want! Being in the country, you also came across some interesting things on the road.... such as a dead snake (which I almost stepped on) and a large carcass (maybe a deer)?

January is an awesome time of year for Florida races. So I decided to try this Ocala race only 2 hours and 15 minutes away. I left the house around 345a, which put me as one of the first to arrive race morning. They had the option of picking up your packet that morning, which worked out nicely. There were other options to pick up the days before for those in town.

Because we start and finish at a Mall on a Sunday, parking is endless and close.

It was a very brisk 36 degrees, so I quickly got back into my car and waited after I got my packet. I parked so close, I could crack my window and hear the guy on the loud speaker. They gave a mile by mile course review, but I'm not sure there were even that many people of there yet. They then did the National Anthem at 650am and walked the marathoners over to the Starting Line (just a few hundred yards away) for a 7a start. The Half would go at 715a.

As I lined up, I realized my IPod wasn't charged. Luckily we ran right by my car, so I threw it in. It was meant to be. This course is good to run sans music. We were in the middle of nature. I heard the most amazing nature sounds the entire course (well, until we hit the busy highway at the end). The quiet and stillness of the sunrise rays beaming through the trees, the fog hovering over the large ponds, the sprawling fields of wet (or frozen) grass. Birds starting to wake everyone for the day. All I could hear in those first few miles was my breath and the steps of the runners. (and an occasional other runners blasting IPod). There were moments on the course where I was all alone and could hear nothing. Absolute nothing. It was wonderful. And then I would hear a marathoner approaching and speed by me. (a little bit of an encouragement killer not only for this race, but also for my own upcoming full marathon)

There were no loud spectators cheering you on, just a random quiet 1 or 2 waiting for their loved ones. There were no motivating posters saying you can do it. It was just you surrounded by nature enjoying the gift of being able to run. This would be the same at the Finish. Sure there were people waiting for their loved ones, but there really wasn't a lot of cheering going on if they didn't know you.

The Aid Stations were amazing! And probably one of the best spreads I have ever seen! I guess that's one of the perks of running with a full marathon. Of course I didn't need much of it for the half marathon, especially on a cool day that we had, but it was nice to have the option! Besides the usual Gatorade, water,  and some sort of GU. They had oranges, bananas, pretzels, fig Newtons, candy as just some of what I can remember.

The finish line also had a great spread as well. There was pizza, personal pies, multiple fruit options (pineapple, grapes, bananas), granola bars, fig Newton, cookies, bagels, peanut butter, Nutela just to name a few.

I didn't see any beer, but then again I wasn't really looking. Besides it being Dry January and training for the full marathon in a couple weeks, I also had to drive home and run another 10 miles!

The shirt was great, no obnoxious sponsor logos plastered all over the bag, except it was unisex. And a big unisex of that. I am drowning in a Medium. Oh well, one of these days they will all be turned into a tshirt blanket anyways!

The medal is basic but nice.

A huge shout out for having FREE race photos.... and organized by bib numbers! I know this may have something to do with the small field, but still. The photographer was waiting at the Finish Line and I had at least 5 pictures to chose from. Unfortunately I forgot they were free, and didn't 'strike a pose' or even smile. Oops.

I felt good in the cold. The gloves stayed on the entire time! It was disheartening a few times as the full marathoners raced by you, as the full does 2 loops, so the fast ones catch up. However, almost every one of them had encouraging words for me as they sped by! Which was very nice. I tried not to push it too hard as I knew I had to go home and run another 10 miles for my marathon training. I did finish in my average time despite the hills, so I am happy.

For a small town race, they do know what they are doing. I would definitely recommend this race as an experience if you are in the surrounding area. The course is "Florida" challenging, but not enough so to not make it unenjoyable. Being engulfed with nature and escaping the fast pass of every day life is definitely a perk! Ocala is also very accessible to some great cities and major attractions if you are looking to extend your weekend!


I am currently running a half marathon a month closing the year with a full marathon at 26.2 with Donna. In the meanwhile, I am also checking off the 50 states. Please show your support on this mission by making a donation. 100% proceeds benefit the Mayo Clinic and Donna Foundation!