As always, the alarm rang much too early on Saturday morning.
Mr PugRunner had woken up at 4:00 AM, and I wasn’t far behind him at 5:00. He took the first shower, and I went last. We dressed, I taped, and we checked to make sure we had everything we needed. I was hoping to get downstairs by 6:00 AM because the Hyatt was providing a breakfast for the runners: coffee, juice, water, bagels, granola bars, croissants, oatmeal, bananas, and other goodies. It was a really nice spread and we were one of the first ones there, so we had a table to ourselves.
I had a banana and a plain croissant, while Mr PugRunner opted for a bagel and coffee. I also had my granola bar to take with me to the staging area.
The shuttles were supposed to be departing from the hotel’s entrance starting at 6:00, as well. We made our way to the pickup point close to 6:30 and the first two busses, which were apparently reserved for the elite runners, still had not left. They didn’t go until almost 6:45, and I was getting a little edgy. I like to get to the starting line early to give myself time to use the restroom (many times) and settle down. I was also freezing and I thought maybe I had made a bad choice with a running skirt. I kept trying to hurry back up to the room to change into my capris but Mr PugRunner talked me out of it (in hindsight, I’m glad. I would have been way too hot later).
Finally, we boarded the (yellow school) bus, and we were on our way back to the fairgrounds. The expo center was open, which was awesome because it meant we got to use real bathrooms. It’s the little things that mean so much.
We started walking over to the stadium, where some of our friends had parked and were setting up camp. The sun was starting to rise and we got our first look at the Green Monster (aka the Hart Bridge) for the day.
As we continued searching for our friends, one of my favorite bloggers, Idiot Runner Girl, came walking by, on her way to a meet up. She and her friends were all decked out in St. Patty’s Day green, complete with tutus. Loved it!
After we wished each other luck, we found our group and got our game faces on. By chatting, taking some portapotty breaks, and getting pictures.
At around 8:15, we started making our way to the corrals. A and I were in Wave 2, so we stuffed ourselves into the already full area, as everyone else found their own start areas. It was packed, and although I tried to find my friend S, there was just no way it was happening.
The start of the race had been delayed by six minutes, due to an earlier accident along the route, so we were cramped in that holding pen for a good while before the National Anthem began. The speakers didn’t reach back to us, so we didn’t really get to hear it.
And then, we started walking up to take our position at the starting line.
I’m not sure exactly what time we began, but the crowd started moving towards the timing mats, and then we were over the start line and running into the heart of Jacksonville.
A little about the Gate River Run. 2014 marks the 38th year for this huge 15K – the largest in the United States. Almost 18,000 participants come out to run the 9.3 mile course through the city of Jacksonville and surrounding neighborhoods. The challenge is not the distance, however, but the two bridges that span the St. Johns River.
The Main Street Bridge, about 1.5 miles in…
And the Hart Bridge (or Green Monster) at mile 7.5
This is the sea of people at the start, and I’m not sure it ever really broke up.
I’m going to be honest. Much of this race is a complete and total blur. I don’t know if I was in a zone or I was just delirious with the effort of running on my hurt foot. Usually I am really good at compartmentalizing the actual running and taking in everything that is going on around me, but this time, everything kind of collapsed in on itself in my head.
My first five miles were golden. I actually ran the first two miles, including most of the Main Street Bridge (I got hung up after a woman fell on the grate and there was some congestion getting her safely to the side). I didn’t intend to, but my foot was feeling ok, and quite frankly, there was just no way that I was able to move to the right to start my intervals. I felt like I was carried along by the crowd, and I wasn’t hurting, so I went with it. We came down off the bridge and turned into the San Marco area.
There were so many spectators out. I remember seeing people and a lot of dogs. There were a lot of fun signs and noisemakers and whistles, and it was such great motivation to keep pushing. I completely lost all sense of direction (I’m not familiar with the area to begin with, and without the directional signs and force of the crowd, I would have been utterly lost). I fell into my usual 2:00/1:00 intervals.
I think it was around mile 5 that I saw a woman holding up a sign with band-aids stuck to the edges, that read “free band-aids!”. Which I kind of thought was hilarious and random. Until I got attacked by a ginormous cactus 1/2 mile later, and found myself bleeding from a nice scratch on my hand. For a minute, I actually considered going back for some first aid, but I rinsed the cut off with some water at the next stop and kept pushing.
The heat was a factor. As was the fact that there was absolutely no gatorade or electrolyte replacer at any of the water stops. This was absolutely baffling to me. I generally alternate between the two in races, and I can’t fathom not having an option at a longer race in Florida.
We came to some beautiful neighborhoods, and I loved that the residents were out en masse. They had tailgate type parties set up for themselves, and were offering refreshment to the runners in the form of strawberries and oranges, beer and mimosas, eggs and sausages. Some had their hoses out and were creating little misting stations if you wanted to run through to cool down, and others were just calling out encouragement. I really kind of wanted a beer but I was afraid of how it would sit. I did take an Otter Pop though, and it was incredibly refreshing. I wanted to take some pictures of everything going on, but I didn’t want to waste time pulling out my phone to do so.
After the first five miles, I started slowing down. My left arch and heel were really hurting and I know I was compensating in my gait. I could feel my mental resolve draining away, and it was awful. There were a lot of negative thoughts rattling around in my head, including rethinking signing up for that marathon in January. Obviously, if I was struggling this badly for less than 10 miles, how on earth was I going to handle more than twice that?
Maybe at around mile 7, I saw an encouraging sight: there were four spectators sitting in camp chairs on a corner, with two dogs. And one of those dogs was a sweet fawn pug! I ran right up to the owner, told her that they had made my day and asked if I could get in a quick pet. She must have thought I was insane, but she said yes, and I got some sweet puggy snorts, which gave me just enough of a boost to get back out there.
More running in the sun, and then it was there, looming in front of me. The Green Monster.
I was just starting on the ramp, when my right shoelace suddenly felt ridiculously tight (I guess my foot must have suddenly swelled?), so I had to pull off to the side to adjust. Twice. Ugh! Maybe I should have tried out those new laces after all. But I took a deep breath, got some final high fives from the crowd, and started up, up, up.
A lot of people slowed to a walk. At some point, I did, too. K texted to say she was finished, and I wanted nothing more to be down there with her. I texted back that I was on the bridge and walking because of the pain, and she told me later that she thought I meant I was still on the Main Street Bridge at the beginning! Fortunately not. Whew.
Speakers lined the bridge. A bizarre, almost military cadence type piece was playing. I remember wishing it was something more upbeat and inspiring, and then I realized that I was in so much of a daze that I didn’t even recall hearing much of my playlist. I turned up the volume on my iPod so I could be prepared for the descent.
I could see the finish line in the distance near the stadium, but it still felt like a long way and I just really, really wanted to be done. I wanted to do a straight run for those last .5 miles, but I was limp-running and it wasn’t happening. I stuck to the outside edge of the crowd and managed to get enough gas to run over that last timing mat and into the finisher’s chute with a time of 2:00:10 (I am pinning that :10 and a bit more on the pug. No regrets).
I think I cried a little.
I did my best to stretch out my calves as I walked past the medical tent (I considered stopping but I didn’t think they would be able to do anything for me), and through a field to collect my water bottle and then through a line to get my medal. I wasn’t sure where Mr PugRunner was, but I was closer to our meeting point than to the finish line, and I thought it would be best to wait for him at our friend’s car where I could sit down, stretch and rest.
Mr PugRunner appeared shortly after. I am so incredibly proud of him. This was his longest and biggest run to date, and I know he will be in great shape for his first half marathon in November.
We settled in to bask in the post-race triumph.
We had a 1:00 PM late check out, so at some point, we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the fairgrounds, where we thought there would be a return shuttle to the hotel. On our way, we ran across E and her family, in their group’s tent. It was so nice getting to see so many familiar faces. There was no shuttle to be seen and Mr PugRunner called the hotel, only to find out that no return transportation would be provided. Interesting. We thought about calling a cab, but a police officer gave us directions to the hotel (it was literally two blocks, turn right and then another four blocks), and I figured it couldn’t hurt to walk another mile.
So we did.
It was kind of slow going, but the hotel extended our check out time so we didn’t worry about it. It felt amazing to take a hot shower and get into some clean clothes, and by the time we were driving out of the city, traffic was nonexistent.
Neither one of us really wanted to make a decision about lunch – we were both ravenous and at the point where nothing and everything sounded good. Finally, we agreed on M Shack for some delicious cheeseburgers.
Just what the doctor ordered.
And then, exhausted, we headed home to lounge around, watch some movies and sleep. We talked to little man and he begged us to let him spend Sunday night at his grandparents, too. They all sounded like they were having a wonderful time, so we said yes.
(A text from my mother the next morning made it perfectly clear that he was, in fact, having the time of his life.
We were so glad that he was in such good hands and having so much fun.)
But I digress.
I loved this race. I loved the size and the excitement and the sense of community. I HATED the fact that I wasn’t in top form. I loved being there with friends and seeing so much amazing crowd support. I cannot wait to return next year, pain-free (knock on wood) and ready to dominate.
This was an automatic PR for me, since it was my first 15K, but I feel the need to redeem myself next time. Even though I finished, I was disappointed and I’m going to channel that into making 2015’s performance stronger.
How do you get past post-race disappointment?
Do you have any “redemption races” planned?