This is a sponsored post. I am a race Ambassador for ZOOMA Florida and have received a complimentary race entry as compensation for my post. All opinions are my own.
There’s something wonderful about race mornings. Getting up early, usually before the sun, filled with anticipation and excitement, knowing that by the time first light breaks, you’re miles deep in a challenge and ready to take on the rest of the day.
Also? There is something absolutely magical about sunrise. Especially when it’s over the ocean.
Kristin had generously offered to drive those of us staying at the Ritz over to the starting line. That way, we wouldn’t have to take the shuttle and we could also stay in the warm car for as long as we wanted. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. She would be joining my mom and me for lunch later so we would be able to drop her back at her vehicle.
Our group was ready to go!
Fortunately, the temperature at the start line was about ten degrees warmer than last year. I actually debated a while about whether or not to bring a jacket and gloves, and whether or not to check anything. All game time decisions.
We arrived at the start, and had a grand old time hanging in the car!
Everything was really low key. The starting line was about 20 feet away, so no need to rush. There were portapotties set up a little distance from there, but I didn’t need to go (miraculous, no?). I want to say there was even a DJ leading some dances to keep the waiting runners warm and loose.
It’s nice to be able to start a race without my stomach being tied into knots.
Some of our crew hopped out to join the bathroom line, while a few new arrivals hopped in to take advantage of the heat. And then it was time to line up.
I made the executive decision to keep the jacket and leave the gloves. Having run the Walt Disney World Marathon just six days earlier, I had registered for the all-new 12K distance instead of the half marathon. I figured that even if I got too warm, I wouldn’t be out there all that long and could manage any potential discomfort. It turned out to be a good call.
We started on time and the half marathoners and 12Kers surged forward along the waterfront. I noticed a few stragglers hustling up the side of the road to cross the timing mat at the start line, and I hope they got there on time.
We turned right onto Center Street in downtown Fernandina and continued past the shops and restaurants. I like the small-town-main-street vibe the beginning of this race offers – it’s something a little different in terms of scenery. The runners from both distances hung together for a while, and then we reached the split: 12Kers continued straight to A1A while the half marathoners hooked a left where they would log a big chunk of miles in the gorgeous Fort Clinch State Park.
I just took my time, enjoying the views and glad that I wasn’t feeling any pain. Last year, somehow, my entire left side completely failed me and I ended up with a whopping case of plantar fasciitis that took months to overcome. This year was a different story. I didn’t push it because I was still in “marathon recovery” mode, but I also reveled in feeling good physically.
The 12K course was slightly more hilly than I remember the half marathon being, but it was ok. I turned right onto A1A, and even though I was warming up, I was glad I had my long sleeves to protect me from the wind coming off the ocean. The gorgeous beachfront houses also provided shade, which made it feel colder than it was.
Not long after, I caught up with Meghan. She was an absolute rockstar, still coming back from a broken toe and some illness! We started chatting and since we both do intervals, decided it only made sense to finish out the race together. I’m getting used to this whole “running buddy” thing.
The entire course is open to traffic, and we had only a narrow lane, separated from the few cars by traffic cones and some volunteers. It can get tricky passing people, since the lane can only comfortably fit two across, and the only options for passing is into traffic on the right or picking through uneven, broken up terrain on the left. We made it work.
At long last, we made the left that would lead us through the Ritz Carlton parking lot, then on to the beach and the finish line.
I’m going to be honest. The beach is my absolute least favorite part of this race. Last year, the course led us between the dunes, and we had to slog through soft, unpacked sand. This year, the race volunteers directed us down to the actual beach, where the tide had packed the sand into a more suitable running surface.
It was still a little softer than I prefer for running, but what a view!
Meghan thought I was taking a selfie, so we had to get one of those, too.
Finally, we cut back up the beach and headed for the finish line!
Whoo hoo! Our first 12K!
We had a gorgeous view of the finish line as we started up the walkway back to the hotel.
But it was time to party!
The Great Lawn was spread with vendor booths, dining tables and chairs, yoga area, photo backdrop and a live band.
Everything was in full swing and the finished runners seemed to be having a great time!
We grabbed snack boxes and glasses of Barefoot Wine, then found a table to enjoy our sandwiches (I really want to say they were Publix subs), accompanied by pretzels or chips and cookies, while we waited for Char, Mary Beth and Sharon, who had taken on the half marathon (let’s hear it for Char and Mary Beth – it was the first half for both of these awesome ladies!) that morning.
We spent a lovely morning together (this was such a fantastic group of women), and then it was time to say goodbye.
The next order of business? Hot shower and lunch!
After changing into some clean clothes, we grabbed Kristin and headed to Tasty’s. After all our hard work, we deserved to treat ourselves to delicious burgers and fries.
And then we got Kristin back to her car, and my mom and I explored the little shops around town.
We may have stopped in the oldest, consistently serving saloon in Florida for a beer.
And we also might have grabbed fresh waffle cones of ice cream from Fantastic Fudge for the walk back to the car.
Even though it was cold and windy, we ventured back to the beach for another stroll.
The sunset was just as gorgeous as the sunrise.
And so ended another ZOOMA Florida weekend.
I had a blast. Of course, warmer weather helped immensely, but I also really loved the addition of the 12K distance and the fact that runners can download free finish line photos with their results. What a great perk! For the north Floridians, it’s nice to get out of the Jacksonville area and race in a different venue, while for those traveling from elsewhere, I’m sure the idea of racing on the sandy beaches in the middle of January is a huge bonus. There were plenty of well stocked water stops (with water and Gatorade) and lots of goodies for everyone after the race ended.
The race was definitely on the smaller side, but the intimacy was nice. And, of course, the Ritz Carlton was on point with their service and hospitality. It really is one of my favorite hotels, and I’m so glad I got to enjoy it with my mom and friends.
Thanks to all the staff and volunteers who helped make this weekend one to remember!
Do you enjoy a fabulous post-race party or do you prefer to collect your banana and medal and go?
When is the last time you traveled to a race? Where did you go?