3rd Annual Treasure Coast Half Marathon-Mar 6 2016

This was the 3rd Annual Treasure Coast Marathon and Half Marathon. This is a new race I had seen last year and this years medal as well as hand bottle giveaway with registration intrigued me enough to try this new destination race.

Treasure Coast technically takes place in the small town of Stuart near Jensen Beach, just north of Palm Beach. Last minute, I receive a comp stay at the Eau Palm Beach, so decided to stay there and drive the 50 minutes back and forth. The nicest property closest to Stuart will probably be the Marriott in Hutchinson Island, otherwise you are looking at 2star properties. Local rentals might be a consideration when looking at this destination as well.

The Eau Palm Beach is technically south of Palm Beach in Manalapan. It is set among all the fancy beach mansions with gorgeous aqua blue seaviews. This small intimate property has stellar service and the adult only pool, tiki bar, and sprawling lawn with chair service right above the sand make up for the hours the beach is taken away by high tide.

I was lucky to be put into one of their oceanfront one bedroom suites with separate living area, pull out sofa, 2 doors to the patio, 2 baths, dining table, ginormous soaking tub, amazing rainfall shower, and 2 big screen TVs. The gym and salon have the amazing ocean views as well. If sitting around looking at the water isn't active enough for you, there are several yoga and workout classes throughout the day you can sign up for. Surfing lessons are also available if you want to tackle the waves. The intimate bonfire pit with lush settings calls your name once the sun goes down, or you can even sneak away to swim under the stars in the adult pool which is also illuminated by shimmery stars on the bottom.

Back to the Race...
The Treasure Coast website is informative, but most notably, lacking on specific parking information, which leaves out of towers a bit hesitant. Perhaps a map of the town pointing out suggested spots to park would help ease this.

There is an active Facebook page that seems to mainly be slammed with sponsor advertisements the few days leading into the race, instead of race details and expectations. I did not find this site very helpful for race information, although there were some very friendly runners that gave their opinions to questions posted.

No emails were sent out leading to race day except one just hours before race morning.

The 'expo' was held at a small center called Flagler Place which is waterside located in downtown Stuart. Make sure to make plans to have lunch after picking up your packet as there seemed to be some really neat places to check out.

Unfortunately because there was not an email with reconfirmation/bib numbers, nor a posting of bib numbers to look up, the packet pick up took much longer than it should. Only one person had access to the name list which had the bib numbers, will all the other volunteers just standing there waiting.

There were a handful of vendors who were eagerly awaiting to talk to you, one being a sports store, Fleet Feet, where you could pick up your last minute race supplies if needed.

I tried to find someone in charge, or an 'info booth' to ask questions regarding parking as it was still unclear of where I was going, but unfortunately the volunteers were not much help and no one knew who was in charge. I walked away with the answer 'its a small town, just park anywhere.'

Our Swag bag was slammed pack with goodies from different sponsors.

I do like the design of the shirt which matches the medal, but wish it wasn't white.

Because of my uncertainty of parking, and with the marathon being sold out, I made sure to arrive early. I got a lucky spot of only .2m away from Start. Because it was a cool morning, I waited in the car for the majority of the time.

There were definitely lines for the porta patties at start, but I have seen worse, and I was still able to use them twice and be lined up in plenty of time.

The race utilized a pulse start and corralled you, not by finish time, but just randomly. They assigned your bib number to a letter. Their theory was to have all different paces within one corral to spread everyone out. I was in the Corral C, which also had the Marathon Pacers 430. This threw me way off for at least 3 miles. I have no idea how fast I was running, as I forgot my Garmin, but it had to have been entirely too fast, despite the effort to try to slow down. Fast runners from later corrals would come breeze by for miles which made you feel like you were not putting in enough effort.

This is a circle course with the Start and Finish at the Memorial Park with the majority ran through neighborhoods, over a bridge twice, and a straightaway down a busy street for a couple of miles. The first mile we ran along a cute boardwalk on the river, however, with it being a cool early morning, it was very slippery. They tried to put mats down at the turns, but it definitely slowed you down as you are watching your footing. The neighborhoods have some pretty awesome beach chic houses with some water views in between. The course is oh so close to the beach, but the half course never makes it that far. The first half is packed with magical banyan trees that line the road and sometimes even overhang the entire street! On the 2nd half I was passed by a strong woman who looked to be in her 70s. I smiled as she made me think how I want to be like her one day. Strong, consistent, motivated, and still passing runners half her age! Then shortly after, I looked down and a boy about the age of 7 came trotting along. His dad was just a bit ahead, but man, this little guy was relentless! Never once did I see him stop and walk, or even complain as I asked him a few questions as he passed by. Both people just put me in awe struck on how amazing and vast the community of runners is.

After realizing I forgot my Garmin in the hotel room, I decided to go san technology, no IPod and no Pacers either. I don't know if this was good or bad, but after the first 2 miles, my stomach cramped up for the rest of the course. At a few points, I literally wanted to crawl into a ball on the ground. I'm still not sure what that was all about, as I was fine after I finished. I started off as, its okay to walk as much as I want, this is after all my third race in 4 weeks. Then, it ended up being, I don't care if I walk the rest of the course because its such a lovely Spring day to just take a stroll! I tried to enjoy every moment that I could and take in the moment in the beautiful beach town.

The weather was perfect for a southern Florida destination! 60-70 degrees, clear blue skies and a constant nice breeze that wasn't too strong.

One thing this race is not short on is water, Gatorade, GU chews/gels, wet towels/sponges and eagerly awaiting volunteers!

On the other hand, one thing this new race is short on, is spectators. I literally had to tell a couple of people why we were even running! I think future advertising would make this event better since it is their neighborhoods we run through.

After collecting your medal you are quickly offered everything under the rainbow of what a runner could ask for! Large Gatorade bottles and juice are the first options. Then you find the food tent of Olive Garden, Moes (although I'm quite disappointed on the effort they put into these bitesize burritos), pizza, and a slew of bread and desserts!

You received one ticket for beer, which ended up being a small bottle of Heineken or a small pour of PBR. You also received a ticket for a massage, which the line was too long for me (just a preference, not really that long). There was also a ticket for Terra Ferrara for 2for1 drinks for the After Party concert that evening.

A PR bell was strategically placed right after the Finish to ring with pride (apparently it was broke a few times from overzealous runners!)

A band was playing for entertainment as you waited for the awards ceremony.

I absolutely love the medal! Not only is it the shape of Florida, but has a Sun for the Sunshine State that actually spins and the bridge we just ran. To top it off its a bottle opener as well, but not in an obnoxious kind of way! Great job Treasure Coast!

For this being a new race in a small town, I have to say, they really have their buts in gear! Yes, I was a little freaked out about the noncommunication emails and parking situation, but everything worked out in the long run. The course was good, the support was amazing, the spectators will come as the race ages, and the finish line was awesome. Mark this one on your calendar folks! Add any of the surrounding area of the 'Treasure Coast' and you will be happy for an extended weekend in this beautiful stretch of the Florida coast!

Gasparilla Distance Classic-The Ultra Challenge-Feb 20-21, 2016

Gasparilla is the one thing that every single person in the Tampa surrounding area is familiar with. The city literally shuts down for the Gasparilla Parade Invasion every year, where everyone wanders Bayshore Blvd with 'booty in hand' watching the Pirate floats pass by and 'invade the city.' It is a party not to be missed for sure! However, it does not stop there! A couple weeks later The Gasparilla Distance Classic takes place (perhaps as part of a 'recovery' attempt from too much partying at the parade?) which is a full weekend of multiple race festivities!

The Gasparilla Distance Classic (GDC) has a distance for everyone! And if a solo race isn't enough for you, there is a 'Challenge' distance for every one as well! This year we decided to tackle the Michelob Ultra Challenge which is a 15k and 5k on Saturday followed by a half marathon and 8k on Sunday, totaling 30.4 miles!

Piece of cake right? Well, considering I just ran 26.2 with Donna the previous Sunday, this was going to be a real challenge for sure! Last year we did the 26.2withDonna and then the Gasparilla half marathon, which was challenge enough, but we were overwhelmed by jealousy when we saw all the Awesome Swag the Gasparilla Ultra runners were receiving! So of course, being still on a runners high, we signed up right away!

We drove into Tampa Friday evening arriving with a little over an hour to explore the Expo at the Tampa Convention Center. There was no line to pick up our bibs or shirts. You receive one bib for the four races for the Ultra Challenge. We were given an awesome reusable bag and then held it open as they dropped in all our goodies of shirts and jackets! It felt like Halloween!

Being located downtown, be prepared to pay for parking for the Expo. You are Welcomed to the Convention Center with the Gasparilla pirate ship docked right outside (which will remain for the entire weekend!)There is a wide array of vendors, racing, and nonracing, to fulfill your shopping needs. There is also a huge banner with every single runners name printed, which of course you have to search out your own! There is a chance to meet a Tampa Buccaneer and also multiple times to meet Olympic Marathoners Shalane and Meb!

There is a pasta party hosted by GDC, but we did our own thing and ate at Cappys Pizzeria, which was O.M.G. among the best pizza I have ever eaten! If the delish ingredients are not enough, this small pizzeria is jammed packed of unique antiques to check out. Their menus are even record covers! If there is a wait for a table, no worries, just help yourself to the beer cooler! The menu is small, but the taste is huge!

We stayed at the Le Meridien as this was the only place I could get an awesome travel agent rate. The hotel was a very close half mile to Start/Finish and Expo. The GDC takes place downtown, so be prepared to pay for parking for not only hotels, but also race day if you are planning to drive in.

The Le Meridien is a remodeled old courthouse which makes the exterior and hallways very unique. Unfortunately, the uniqueness stops there. The rooms, although very comfy and clean, are a bit stark. I would have loved to have seen old courthouse pictures or old city pictures at least to keep up with the theme.

The hotel does have a heated outside pool, but it was in the shade the time that I tried to go in (around 2p) and it was just a tad too cool in the shade to get in.

There is a nice lounge/bar/restaurant called Bizou Brasserie which I would have loved to have explored more, but time was limited.

The hotel also provides a complimentary shuttle for a 3 mile radius. Unfortunately this was not mentioned or discovered until after all our walking back and forth from the races.

We arrived at the 645am 15k a little tired as we tossed and turned all night. However, as soon as we arrived and saw Bart Yasso, Shalane Flanagan, and Meb Keflezighi, our giddy eyes widened. I was literally just watching Shalane and Meb on tv one week prior, running the Olympic Trials!

I went into this Ultra Challenge with little expectation. I had no idea what my body was going to do after running the marathon the week before. Through marathon training season, I tried to maintain 30+ miles per week in preps for this weekend. I left my pacer at home and decided I wanted to hang with Marcia as long as I could as it always goes by faster when you are with someone you know, whether for competition or entertainment purposes. Marcia had fresh legs as she took this years Donna off from racing. She was no longer doing the run/walk, so we ran consistently and basically just walked the hydration stations. I was able to hang with her until about M6 or 7 before I gave into some walk breaks.

There was a group with a pirate ship float that was out cheering us on and passing out beads! On the second half, a guy was waving quarter pieces of Krispy Kreme. I literally had to jump to grab one out of his hand!

After crossing the finish line for the 15k, we had about an hour or so before we had to line up for the 5k. They provided Publix snacks (bananas, granola bar, fruit cup, and soda). We did not see the beer station, so I just ordered a screwdriver (they didn't have mimosa) at the bar to get in my OJ and a little energy to tackle our next mission!. We sat in the sun for a bit and did some stretching.

Before you knew it, it was time for the 930am 5k. I felt good lining up, but it felt like the movie Ground Hogs Day! Every single thing about the 5k was dejavu! The 5k runs the same course and pretty much had the same spectators/cheerleaders. The pirate ship float guys were still out, but this time they each had a box of Krispy Kreme at the half way mark. I had let Marcia go early and I just went slow and steady, taking a walk break for the Krispy Kreme, and then continuing on.

Surprisingly both my 15k and 5k times were not extremely too far off from average pace. At each of the finish lines are Pirates waiting to congratulate you with your medal and take pictures!

The 5k finish had the same Publix snacks, but we did find that the Beer After Party, which was in a completely different location (behind Marriott). It felt like we had to walk forever to arrive to the after party, but once we got there, we realized there was so much more space for them to set up. There was a country band playing on a large stage, and a large area passing out your one free beer (you only get 1 tab on your bib and because you only get one bib for the Ultra, you only get 1 beer for 4 races). There was also a bar set up to purchase beer as well,

We had our free beer and left shortly after as we were tired and wanted to get out of our soaked clothes. Temps were almost perfect. Clear and Sunny and not too hot and humid considering it was South Florida.

Burgers and brunch was had at Graffiti Junktion, followed by a restful afternoon, then dinner at Ditz. (a Tampa must!)

The second race morning we woke up much more refreshed, despite the half marathon starting at 6am. We arrived to line up and found there was a table with coffee and pastries. Not sure if this was part of the race, but I definitely got my last energy kick, as both days we pretty much chose sleep over breakfast!

There was a super full moon that was setting right as we were starting. The half marathon course takes you over to Davis Island for the first 5 miles, where most of this is run in the dark. There was a guy spinning fire though and a guy playing the saxophone for entertainment.

The second half of the course runs the exact same thing as we did before on Bayshore Blvd. There didn't seem to be very many spectators out, but there is a huge group of kids that all give you high fives as you run through.

Marcia and I again stayed together for most of the course walking only the hydration stations before I let her continue on the last few miles. As I crossed the half marathon finish line, I got hugs from my other two friends that were lined up for the 8k.

It seemed to be very minimal time between the half marathon an 8k. It wasn't even enough time to go see/get the snacks. Thankfully, they did have some bananas and granola bars right at the medals. We took some pictures, used the porta patties and lined back up. We got to watch the rest of the half marathoners come in right before we took off for the 8k.

As we took the first few steps of the 8k, we were both literally scared we would not be able to run. We had tightened up so bad, we were barely power walking for the first mile or so. Finally we loosened up. Those last 4 miles were pretty brutal. The only thing that really kept me continuing on in a good mood was reading peoples shirts. I had seen one girl with a turtle tattoo which reminded me of my very first year of racing when my motto was 'slow and steady. The turtle wins the race.' There was also a large group of runners wearing 'Fighter' shirts throughout the weekend. I later learned that they had lost a loved one to brain cancer. I then saw a man wearing a shirt that read 'running doesn't develop character, it reveals it.' Which made me realize every distance I just overcame the past 8 days really made me feel powerful and that I can pretty much do anything that I put my mind to.

As we cross our last finish line and get the 8k medal, we also get an Ultra Challenge medal as well. Marcia was running the 26.2 with Donna Virtually, so we finally got to put the Donna medal around her neck. We wore each of the 5 medals and proudly embraced the clank as we walked to our After Party.

On Sunday, GDC has the Columbia restaurant host the food for the half marathon and 8k. There is still the regular Publix snacks, but the salad, paella, beans and rice definitely is worth the wait in the long line! If only they had sangria to go along with it! We did not make it over to the official after party area with the beer truck and band because, well, we only got the 1 beer tab for 2 days/4races. That is definitely a huge bummer about doing the GDC Challenges.

After some freshening up and mimosa in the room, we headed to Datz Dough for some donut goodness for our road trip home! Yes, that is a maple bacon donut!

There was definitely plenty of water and Gatorade all around. During the half marathon, they even handed out GU chomps twice. There were many porta potties during the line ups and scattered along the course. We never seemed to be waiting in line for them.

For participating in the Ultra Challenge, we received a shirt for each distance, and a Challenge jacket. We also got the reusable bag and magnets for each distance. A medal is also given at each finish line as well as an overall Challenge medal.

I really love all the medals. They make each one unique. The smaller distances look like coins, the half marathon is the infamous skull, and the Ultra Challenge is perfect.

Each shirt is unique as well. I absolutely love the beach colors! All are short sleeve except the half marathon. All are gender specific and v shirt. Unfortunately, there is a small hole in one of mine, and the sleeves on the long sleeved shirt are too short.

The jacket is Da bomb and fits perfectly! I love all the different colors. And it is the perfect lightness for Florida! The only thing that could have made it even better was to make the different colors like the colors of the shirts.

Unfortunately GDC only gives 1 beer for competing in any of the races, which also includes the Challenges. It seems if you are going to be running for 2 days, you would at least have a beer each day to celebrate. Also, Tampa does not serve alcohol until after 11 on Sunday, so plan accordingly.

This race has been around for decades and its 30,000+ runner turnout proves that it is one of the best! The pirate theme makes it fun and unique (who doesn't like to dress up like a pirate?) This is my second year participating in GDC. Would I recommend this race? Absolutely. I think this is one to experience in your running lifetime. Tampa is also an awesome area to explore so make sure you extend your weekend!

Would I recommend the Ultra Challenge? Absolutely. I think it is a challenge that will push every one to their limits, mentally and physically, in a fun and exciting way to share with friends!

Would I do The Ultra Challenge again? Maybe. My only hesitation in doing it again is the cost. For an average of $50 per race for the Ultra, I feel they need to step up their after party food/drink opportunities each day to make this a well rounded fun filled experience.

Would I do any of the distances again? Absolutely! And Guess What??....2017 there will be a Run DONNA, Run Gasparilla Challenge, called no other than, "Treasure Chest Challenge!" Stay tuned for details, but in the meantime, mark your calendar for Donna Feb 12, and Gasparilla Feb 26!

30.4 miles-6hours 2 seconds.
Half Marathon #59

I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2016-marathon/melissajohnson

9th Annual 26.2 with Donna-Feb 14, 2016

This was the 9th Annual 26.2 with Donna which hosts a race distance for every one in the family! There is a 5k and 1mile Fun Run on Saturday, Sunday is the half and full marathon, as well as 5person Relay, and if none of that is enough for you, you can partake in the 110Ultra that starts Saturday and finishes with the marathon Sunday!

Being a Streaker (someone who has participated every year), as well as a top fundraiser, and an avid volunteer throughout the year, this year had a lot of surprises and a lot of love in store!

Happily, my friends Jillian and Shelley drove into town, making the weekend even that much more exciting! My other friend Constance was also running with her dad, as well as my usual running buddies Vicki and Bernie, so there was a lot of love all around!

This was my 7th attempt at the Full 26.2 miles and and every single year I have PRd. At this point, I had it in my head 'to NOT PR is not acceptable!' and that is exactly what I kept repeating to myself throughout the day!

The Expo is a 2 day event located in Downtown Jacksonville at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, about 30 minutes from Race Start. (this is also where the 5k on Saturday is).

The DONNA Expo is quite large and not overly crowded. There were 2 opportunites to take free souvenior pictures with friends. They had boards with words such as 'love, empower, fearless, finish, etc' that you could sign which would be placed on the race course. There was an opportunity to meet Donna, as well as Jeff Galloway, both with their own booths. You could also have Kurtis Loftis create a custom running ribbon shirt (the artist of the DONNA designs). There was lots of DONNA gear for sale, even new items that hadnt even been released yet! (LOVE my new hat!) Being Valentines weekend, they even had a floral shop making bouquets!

Friday night is the DONNA VIP Reception at One Ocean on the beach patio. Being a top fundraiser, I have been fortunate in being invited to mingle with other VIPS such as Joan Benoit Samuelson, Jeff Galloway, Donna, as well as DONNA Ambassadors, other top fundraisers, and those that make this event possible! I brought my friend Constance and  enjoyed the evening.

The rest of Friday night was spent relaxing on the porch, catching up with Jillian and Shelley.

Saturday was a day to relax. We had a scrumptious brunch at Loving Cup Hash House, ran a couple of last minute errands, and relaxed the afternoon away, watching the Olympic Marathon Trails and reading running and positive thinking books.

I was invited to the Mayo Clinic dinner Saturday night, but unfortunately they would not allow me to bring two guests, so instead we carbo loaded at Jaxon Social, which ended up being a perfect evening!

I was in bed plenty early and slept well.

This year they created an option to register as a Fundraiser Experience, in which you promised to raise at least $1,000. In exchange, you received an embroidered book/laptop bag, 4 passes to the Starting Line/Finish Line private tents, as well as 2 passes for VIP Parking!
I absolutely LOVE my bag!

VIP was prime parking! Unfortunately though, they made the car pass black, which the police could not see and were trying to direct us elsewhere. Thankfully, I knew better! ;)

We arrived with an hour and twenty minutes to spare. You could not park any closer than we were, literally right next to the porta potties and gear trucks! Next thing you know, Jeff Galloway parked right next to us! We stayed in the car for a while as it was still cold. I finished my breakfast of oatmeal, banana, and Gatorade, got organized, and made a couple trips to the porta potties. The Fundraiser Experience Tent had warmers, chairs, some muffins, and their own bathrooms. I would have made my way over sooner if only they had their own gear check as well!

Time flew by and the next thing you knew, everyone was going their own way. Constance was running with her dad this year as they had just lost her grandmother to breast cancer last month. Vicki and Bernie headed to line up as he is one of the fasties. Jillian, Shelley, and I made sure we got our pictures, used the bathrooms one last time after the National Anthem. We were literally one of the last ones to line up. I gave them hugs and tried to squeeze my way as close to the front as possible. Thankfully I managed to make it up to the 5 hour pacer.

The DONNA uses Galloway run/walk pacers for both the half and full marathon. This year, Galloway changed the program and now every pace does only a 30 second walk. I had been working my way to this, just completing my first full half marathon with only 30second walk breaks the couple months before. And I already had in my mind that I would not go to a full minute walk break during the marathon.

The race uses a Pulse Start, letting so many people run through the Start, then wait a few minutes, then let another group of people run, etc. You do not have to line up to an official pace/time if you do not want you. Your time does not start until your chip on your bib crosses the Start Line. With each group, there is a Start Ribbon, a countdown, and pink confetti shot into the air! I found myself all the way up to the ribbon for the first time! It was so exciting, feeling like an elite runner, I forgot to press Start on my Garmin! Luckily I remembered just a few seconds late!

The course starts at The Players Club in Ponte Vedra and mainly heads North through Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, and Atlantic Beach before turning around; throwing in some twists and turns to keep things interesting. Instead of going back through Ponte Vedra, you turn up a high way (JTB) and run over the intracoastal waterway to finish at Mayo Clinic. This was the first year we did not run on the sand. I personally was upset, but understand it is purely only because of the tide and wanting to keep the race on the same weekend every year, instead of having to change it because of the tide. Once I was actually running, I did not mind not being on the sand. You do not get that scenic view, but it was only for a couple miles anyways, and the spectactors on the streets made up for it! If you keep looking right between the streets/buildings you will still see peaks of the ocean throughout the course.

Training consisted of 14 weeks with a total of 316 miles, and 4 days of 20+miles, the furthest being 22. Cross training included Pilates, Yoga, Ballet, and weights every other week. Long runs were at comfortable paces and split up (am and pm) for quicker recovery.

Besides taking a full week off from being sick, I didnt have too much of a set back on training. Tight glutes however did make me stop speedwork in the last month which kept my runs slower than I wanted.

I went into race week extremely nervous as I had not had a strong fast run in over a month

M1-13-GOAL 3x30 run x walk, RESULT M1-10 3x30
M13-16 GOAL 230x30, RESULT M10-13 230x30, M13-16 2x30
M16-20 GOAL 2x30, RESULT 130x30
M20-23 GOAL 130x30, RESULT 1x30
M23-26 GOAL 1x30, RESULT 1x30

My goal- maintain between 10:18-10:52 for the majority of the race to get at least a 5 minute PR.

My result- under 10:00 for the first four miles, under 10:18 for the next 3 miles, which left me losing energy to maintain the 3x30 for the entire half marathon. However, it did keep me confident by having 7 minutes  in the bank for most of the course (until M20) and still PR.  I kept a 4:30 expected finish for over 15 miles. I honestly felt the entire time I was leaving everything out on the course.

Weather was absolutely perfect in the 50s, however there was a headwind for the first half coming straight from the North. I never felt it was too constant, but I know it probably ate away at some energy the first half. The second half was much better with it at your back.

My right hamstring tightened slowly, but early and for the rest of the course. Thankfully I carried two packets of cream to put on while running. Unfortunately it was not quite enough. I stopped at 2 AID stations for more, except they only had spray which felt like nothing. I also stopped 3 times for hugs to my dad and friends. I think if I did not have these stops, I would have definitely had my 445 finish.

The communities were out in full force once again showing their support! Welcome signs to their street or their community, high fives and power signs, homemade aid stations with oranges, bananas, pb sammies, candies, beer. A church even had Communion to Go!

My co workers were once again at a hydration station which I got to run through twice. My dad was at my street which I got to see twice as well! And a group of friends were at M1 in Ponte Vedra!

I honestly do not remember much throughout the entire course. I was definitely either focused on running, or trying to block out the negative energy to slow down or walk further. And right when I would, people would yell out to me "Today is the Day!" It was a perfect shirt to wear on marathon day! I was definitely tunnel focused the majority of the course. There was a girl in front of me for the longest time wearing a shirt that said Never Quit, which definitely pushed me through. The Race Joy app was used and I got several alerts from friends which helped me when I felt defeated.

The memory boards, which are usually on the sand portion of the course, where this year on the bridge at the last mile, which was absolutely perfect timing leading up to the largest crowd support cheering your on!

As I approached the Finish Line I was recognized over the loud speaker as one of the top fundraisers! It put a smile on my face, as well as knowing that I had my 7th PR for the Donna Marathon!! Right away I saw Marcia (The Social Butterfly for The DONNA) and she gave me a big hug. Then as I turned, Amanda (The DONNA Director) was right there for another hug! Then my group of half marathon friends were all waiting for me! Ive never had so much love at the Finish Line before!!

Stations were properly manned and stocked, however, a couple of them had water on one side and gatorade on the other side, making you have to bobble across the wide street to get both.

This is the first marathon I went into without GU (well, I had one back up) knowing they always give so many on this course! Unfortunately I did not think about what flavors they would be serving. Chocolate was probably the worst and most repeated, when I finally realized they had the fruit flavors on the table.

I never saw chips this year, but I did carry a pickle which I extra salted for cramps. I ate about half of it.

The Fundraiser Experience Tent was in a perfect location right after the medals when you crossed the Finish. It was prime location for finish line viewing and perfect that I was provided 4 passes, as I had 4 friends that did the half marathon that were waiting for me to finish. It would have been even more perfect if they had it set up where we could pick up our bag here too, as we hung out at the Finish Line for over an hour. They served Miss Elaines fried chicken, chicken on a stick, and fries as well as beer and wine.

I also was provided 2 passes into the VIP Tent. Ive been invited to this before, but we have never been in. Boy, little did I know what I was missing! Ruth Chris was serving steak, crab cakes, sweet potato casserole, and bread pudding! As well as vodka and oj!! The steak was the best thing I have ever eaten at a Finish Line!!

We brought a plate out to the rest of the gang and we waited for Constance's aunt to finish her first marathon!

Inside Runners Village, we finally got to collect our bags, get more beer (which seemed to be open to the public this year?). There were free massages, soup, and hot dogs as well!

There are shuttles that take you from the Finish at Mayo to the start at TPC. It is a good ride back (about 30 minutes) so make sure you bring a change of clothes or anything you need to be comfortable!)

New this year, The DONNA had an after party at the Marriott Sawgrass. Unfortunately we did not attend, but instead were invited to a good friends condo where she had lots of homemade Italian foods and drinks waiting for us! It was a nice afternoon celebrating with friends!

The DONNA likes to change up the design every year and I did enjoy this one. The sleeves also seem to fit better than previous! Now if only we could do something about all the sponsors splattered on the back!

The medal has stayed consistent throughout the years with the stain glass, pink ribbon, and dolphins, which I absolutely love. They have switched up to a heart shape the past couple years and always change the lanyard. I still wish the medal itself and wording would lighten up, as it is hard to read just about everything on there.

The DONNA loves their Streakers! (those of us that have raced every year) And there is still a very long list of us! That only goes to prove how great this race is! The past few years they have given us a charm at the finish line.

Of course people may call me bias with this race, but I feel like I still give my honest review and feedback. I feel there is always room for improvement on everything in life, and I feel like the people who put this race on feel the same way. They are always looking for new and exciting ways to improve or make this race stand out. (As if it doesnt already being the ONLY National Marathon that raises funds for breast cancer!)

Fundraising is completely voluntary for this race, however, with this race being created with just one goal in mind (to raise funds and help those in need in the breast cancer community) its hard to register for this race and at least not 'try' to raise donations! And when you are put in a situation where your employer matches donations, and gives grants when you can convince coworkers to help out, then how can one 'not' be 'all in' for this race and its cause?

Every thing about this race fills my heart with love. I have done 58 half marathons and 25 states and nothing has come even close to a similar experience. Not only the race itself, but the communities are so welcoming and actually thankful that you are running and helping such a wonderful cause! I can not believe that next year will be 10 years already! There are some even more amazing things in store with this race next year! Make sure you mark your calendar for the biggest and best DONNA Race weekend yet! Feb 11-12, 2017 !!

26.2 miles -4:47

Thank you everyone for your support and love! Donations are continuously being accepted. To date for 2016, we raised over $8000! Www.donate.breastcancermarathon/2016-marathon/melissajohnson

Jacksonville Best Damn Race

This was the 2nd Annual Jacksonville Best Damn Race which consists of a 5k, 10k, and half marathon basically running the same course in the Downtown/Riverside location of Jacksonville, FL. The Best Damn Race series includes other locations throughout Florida. They intrigued me with their claim of the best after party, low registration costs, but most importantly their medal. (more on this later).

Registration is based on number of runners registered, not date, so you must keep track frequently to get into the lower costs (Starting at $1!) They also frequently promoted $5 off promo codes throughout the year.

With Jacksonville being so big, they offered a couple locations to pick up your packet/shirt/bib the couple days leading to Race Day, which is a huge plus for me living 30 minutes from Downtown, as well as race morning. I went for the pick up at the Jacksonville Running Co 2 days before the race, so besides just getting the necessary race items, I could also pick up last minute race supplies if needed.

There were plenty of emails sent out with race information. Their website has just the right amount of information, and they keep their Facebook page maintained with up to date details. Because a big storm had come through the day before the race, and the 2nd location for packet pick up was outside, they had to cancel the pick up/move indoors to the other location on the other side of town, and they did a great job of getting this information communicated in all the above sources!

We started at Metro Park in Downtown Jacksonville, ran by the Landing, went over an overpass and into the Riverside area/neighborhood, then turned back with a brief jaunt along the St Johns River (my favorite and most scenic of the course), and then followed the Jaguar tracks back down to Metro Park across from the Jaguar Stadium! A portion of the course had to be rerouted around the Landing because of construction, but I dont think it was a big deal.

I forgot exactly how hilly downtown/Riverside actually is. Now, dont get me wrong, when I say hilly, I mean 'Florida Hilly.' Besides the 3 major hills (over pass, neighborhood hill midway, and ramp on the St Johns boardwalk) the course had slight inclines throughout.

Parking was located across from Metro Park at the Everbank Field. I arrived early enough to be just steps away from lineup. Because it was a cold morning, that meant staying in my car until last minute! Real restrooms were available with the race being at Metro Park which is a huge plus. There was a Gear Check, but to be honest, it was just as far as leaving your items in the car.  The 5k and 10k started first, with the half marathon about 15minutes behind them. Pacers were provided to get you your PR.

I woke up race morning with a visitor, if you know what I mean. Cramps and diarrhea (sorry guys) were already starting and I was just  plain tired. I still wanted to try a 3x30 trying to go for a repeat of last months Kiawah because the weather was race perfect (50s and overcast) but quickly remembered Jacksonville is not flat, so I was completely pooped (literally) entirely too soon. I kept adjusting the pacer, so really there was no consistency with this race for me. My mission....just get this over with!  The fog never lifted the entire race morning. By the time we reached the river, you could barely even see it! Half way through the race, we ran into the Marathon High group training for The Donna! It was exciting to see these teenagers working hard towards their goal next month!

Fuel stations were properly stocked and I didnt experience any issues with them. Gu was even provided halfway.

There were minimal spectators throughout the course, but this race is still young, and it was a cold morning.

I was wet and cold arriving at the finish line. They had a few vendors set up for shopping. Food was provided by Pollo Tropical (yum! but on the small side) and beer as well as liquor (for purchase?) was available. Because I participate in 'Sober January' for last minute marathon training for The Donna, I did not get to partake. There were sodas available for nondrinkers, which I do not drink either, so I wish there were better options for those not drinking (chocolate milk, protein shake, etc)

This is one of the few races that actually gives you free race photos that are actually still organized by bib number!

I am highly disappointed in the race shirt. Although I am glad that it is short sleeve despite being a winter race, and Vneck, the design is entirely too generic. The Best Damn Race shirts/tanks that they were selling at the Finish line were much better.

The reason I ran this race! The funny thing is, this medal is the Exact replica of the Jacksonville BEACH sign. Besides this being a race directed by someone that is not a local, I do not understand why they would use the Beaches sign for a Downtown race. But being a Beaches local, I will not complain!

Would I recommend this race? Sure thing. Prices are perfect, and if you are a planner, you may be one of the lucky ones to pay under $30!! The director seems to know what he is doing, as I did not see any issues, and compared to the other races that take place on the very similar course throughout the year, I would chose this one with a better price but same/better perks!


I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2016-marathon/melissajohnson

Kiawah Island Half Marathon-Dec 12, 2015

This was the 38th Annual Kiawah Island marathon and half marathon. Kiawah Island is a barrier island off South Carolina near Charleston. This race had been on my mind for a couple of years, knowing Kiawah is known for its gorgeous beaches. Registration and lowest fees start as soon as the prior year ends, so I was looking forward to this one for over a year.

Kiawah Island is a mostly residential Island. The Sanctuary Hotel is the main hotel, located directly at the race Start/Finish. This luxury 5 star hotel, however, comes with a hefty price tag, but every penny would be worth it! The hotel has a lovely sprawling green garden with chairs placed perfectly to relax and overlook the ocean. The pool and hot tub also have prime gorgeous views. If this is not in the budget, then a condo/villa rental (airbnb, vrbo if not through Kiawah assoc) would be my recommendation.

Because I was traveling solo and on a budget, I found a cute small beach town called Folly Beach which had the perfect hotel for me called The Tides. The drive was a quick, no traffic light, 45 minutes from the race. This budget friendly hotel is also located directly on the beach, has a small outdoor pool, and a great lounging area with bonfires, outdoor warmers, and tiki bar. Live music is played nightly. (make sure you ask for a high floor if you want to sleep early) Book directly on their website and they give you a free bottle of champagne! Score!

I drove up the morning before the race with time to relax in the afternoon, meet some friendly Folly Beach residents, and catch a gorgeous beach sunset!

Packet Pick up was available a couple of days before or on race day. It was located directly at the race site which had a small Conference Center. They had a lot of race merchandise, with items on sale too from previous years. This small expo had a good variety of vendors available as well for other needed running supplies. It was requested to bring canned goods, or teacher supplies as part of their charity contribution, however, no one asked anything about it and seemed to almost be forgotten.

The Race Director really tries to help you create a full weekend out of coming to town. There is a 5k glow run right on the beach the night before, Yoga the night before and day after the race, an option to rent bikes and tour the race course with a guide, a buffet dinner, and even a buffet breakfast the morning of the race!

Kiawah Island is a private and gated community. Therefore, if you are not staying on the island itself, you have to park right outside the gates and get shuttled in. I arrived about 545a and was able to park quickly and get straight onto a bus without a problem. However, the driver told us they changed the drop off area and we had to walk further than planned. This was a very awkward walk through the pitch dark on a winding sidewalk through the woods. It was a bit unnerving to make sure you stayed on the sidewalk without twisting an ankle, finding your way.

The shuttle back to your car at the end of the race on the other hand was in a completely different location, much closer. There was not a delay in any of the 4 shuttles I had to take (more on this to come later)

There was supposed to be a pre race warm up, but I never saw nor heard any information of where this was at. There were Two Gear Checks that were completely unsupervised. You basically left your bag on a shelf in a tent hoping it would still be there upon your return.

Another reason I arrived so early was because they announced there would be breakfast at the Market located at the Start. They had a complete runners buffet and hot sandwiches for purchase. I was able to sit in the warm, enjoy a hot breakfast and coffee and ease into race morning. This was definitely one of the best prerace experiences!

There was also the Conference center at the Start where a lot of people were sitting to stay warm.

Yes, Kiawah Island is technically an island off of South Carolina. Because a good portion of the island is mostly surrounded by marsh and the beautiful beach is blocked by houses and golf courses, you disappointingly do not see ANY ocean the entire 13.1  miles.

This flat, mostly shaded and residential course, runs a circle with a 3 mile out and back. A good portion of the second half is run on an entirely too small of a sidewalk, making it hard to  pass if you are in the middle of the pack pace.

There were pacers for the full marathon, which split off at M11.

Each station was properly stocked and bananas and oranges were even offered.The water and Gatorade people were wearing different shirts which helped make them recognizable.

There were Drop Zones where they tried to keep the majority of the trash or discarded items. In these drop zones, you could also discard clothing that you could be retrieve the next day.

One generous neighbor set up a Sam Adams sample table, which we got to pass by twice....and yes, i did partake!

I thought the weather was almost perfect. It started off cold, but quickly warmed as the sun rose, but I never got hot because the course was completely in the shade. (of course, the full marathoners did get a little more heat). I had just run 19 miles a few days prior, so my glutes kept me from pushing it too much too soon. I ran the first mile, and then decided to do 3x30 (run 3minutes, walk 30sec). This was the first time I was able to maintain the 30second walk breaks the entire 13 miles and it felt good! I was able to take a couple of Gus to maintain my energy. Around M11, when I realized I was not going to PR, I wanted to slow, but decided it was a new goal to be the first race for the 30sec breaks the entire course. I also caught up to a girl wearing a pink ribbon shirt right in front of me, which was a slap in the face reminder to keep it up! I ended up crossing the finish line matching my PR!

This finish line really is a party! There was a band, buffet spread, and endless beer! The food included different cold pastas and veggies with chicken, corn bread, brownies, and best of all hot bean soup. There was also a spread of nonalcoholic drinks such as hot chocolate, tea, lemonade.

A good portion of the vendors from the Expo were there, as well as a couple others, handing out samples. There were also circus/juggling acts as well for entertainment!

Next to the never ending beer line, there was a set of bull horns and bell you could ring if you had PRd! What better way to celebrate!

Having to drive back  to Florida straight from the race, a huge plus of this race was that they offered showers. Oh, but how they burst that bubble...BAAAD! I had sent an email before coming to town, double checking there would in fact be showers. I was basically told yes and to inquire at the Info Table on race day. So I did. Little did it dawn on me, and little did anyone tell me, to bring my shower supplies actually to the race START.....not leave them in my car, which I had to take a shuttle to get to! The info table casually told me I would be allowed through the gate showing the map to the showers they provided. So, on the shuttle I went to get my car and supplies, and to the gate I went and BAM! I was denied. So back to the parking lot I went, to get back onto a shuttle to go Back to Finish, and go on this wild goose chase walk to a shower! The shower was supposed to be in the golf club house which ended up being 1.5 miles away! Once I finally figured out how to get there I was Denied Again! The showers were being renovated! Luckily, I finally got a golf shuttle guy who basically listened to me, cared, and taught me how to sneak into the Sanctuary Hotel locker room. It literally took me over 2 hours to get a shower!

**Secret to any future runner that needs a quick shower without having to walk 3 miles to the golf clubhouse that they direct you to......The Sanctuary Hotel is right at the Finish. Walk through the double doors to the right of the main entrance. Walk through the 2nd set of double doors. Pool is straight in front of you, locker room is on the right. There are only 2 stalls, but there is shampoo, conditioner, soap, towels, and even a hair dryer! Your Welcome.

The race shirt is eco friendly being made from recycled products.... best part?... its not splattered with sponsor logos all over the back!

The medal unfortunately is very dark making it difficult to see what it is. It seems like they were going for a stained glass, but you can not see through it, even when holding it up to light, it is still very dark. (Flash pictures didn't work well either)

Its hard to say if I would recommend this race. Technically speaking, this race is pretty spot on (except for the shower incident). However, I just still cant get over on how close you are to the gorgeous ocean and not even catch a glimpse of it while running! This is not the first time I have said this about a race, so I guess I cant only blame Kiawah. If you are going to do this race, it can not be an in/out, you must plan to stay, otherwise you will not appreciate the beauty of what this island has to offer!

Half Marathon #57

I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2016-marathon/melissajohnson