On Sunday, February 11, five women banded together under the team name “Hakuna Matatas” to run 26.2 miles to help in the fight against breast cancer.
The 26.2 with DONNA event offers an entire weekend of running, with different distances and opportunities for runners and walkers of all abilities.
While I’m still not digging the idea of a full marathon, I was toying with the concept of the half marathon, before L contacted me and asked if I would be part of her five-woman relay team. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige: the relay is a fun way to complete the mileage, and I can never turn down a great group of people.
She and I met up at the Expo on Friday – I had to grab my 10K packet, and as Team Captain, she was responsible for getting our team our bibs and shirts. She also gave me our “Hakuna Matatas” tank. I was excited to wear that one.
As a very large, point-to-point race, race morning is an obscenely early one. I packed the car and met the rest of the team at a midpoint parking lot, before loading up to get to the main parking area and shuttles.
We were surprised to see that it wasn’t quite as crowded as last year, and we were easily able to use the portapotties and move around the start line area. Rather than gear check, we agreed to pack our bags and hand them off and exchange them among each other. As first runner, I gave my bag to our second runner, and when I met her at the exchange point, I would take both her bag and mine back to the start point to wait.
The morning was fairly cool, which was nice. Historically, this race is a cold one, but it seems that both times I’ve run, temperatures have been much higher (last year, unpleasantly so). My stomach was also feeling great, which was encouraging. The last time I took on the relay, I was hit by nasty GI issues that caused me quite a few problems on the course.
We all made sure to coordinate our times and runner tracking, and then I headed to the start line while the other ladies hopped on their respective shuttles.
The 26.2 with DONNA has a pulse start – there are so many runners that they are released in groups, a little at a time. I took up a position near the middle of the pack and was incredibly excited for the blast of pink confetti as I crossed the start line.
The first relay leg is approximately six miles, heading from The Players Championship site in Ponte Vedra, to the beach. It’s a spectator heavy portion of the course, winding through lots of little neighborhoods. I never mind the early run, if I’ve got tons of people around.
This time, my focus was on the names on my bib and the beautiful day. I got chills as I ran, so grateful for all the people who were out supporting survivors and those who have lost their battle with breast cancer. It was so incredibly inspiring and I soaked it all in.
The run was amazing. Even after a faster 10K the day before, my legs felt strong and I resisted the urge to stop for photos along the way. I made it to the relay exchange slightly faster than I anticipated, and passed off the baton to my teammate.
Unfortunately, the shuttles back to the start line are a bit of a mess. For the second year, a huge group of runners waited and waited and waited for a bus to come to no avail. I finally scored an Uber for the trek back to the finish line, but there should really be better monitoring of the area for transportation purposes.
While there was plenty of food and drink at the finish line, I didn’t get to indulge yet. I had promised our Team Captain that when she started the final leg, I would go back out on the course to keep her company for the last few miles. Her leg was 6.2 miles and included two soul-sucking bridges.
I treated myself to a beer and a granola bar while our teammates found their way to back from their distances. Finally, L texted that she was about to start the fifth and final leg, and I located her position on the runner tracking map. I made some time calculations and finally checked in my bag so I could head up the bridges to find her. Wind was most definitely a factor that day. There were strong gusts that made the going difficult.
Since I was going the opposite direction on the course, I tried my best to cheer on the runners. There were still plenty of them out there and the day had gotten hot and sunny very quickly. The view was breathtaking, however.
And along the bridge are all the message of inspiration that people wrote for their loved ones during the expo.
Finally, I saw L and fell into step with her. The wind was absolutely crazy, especially so high up, but we just put our heads down and pushed. We were so close to being finished!
Once we came down from the last bridge and made a right hand turn, the finish line was in our sights. The rest of our team was waiting so we could all cross the finish line together!
It was a great feeling! And it was even better knowing we had collectively completed a sub5 marathon!
We turned in our baton, collected L’s medal, and made our way back to Runner’s Village for our celebratory beer!
The party was still kicking, but we were just ready to move on. We still had a 20 minutes bus ride back to our vehicles and then it was another 40 minutes home for me.
It was a long day, but for such a worthy cause, it didn’t matter. Our hearts are with those who fight every day and with those who lost their battle with this awful disease. We can only hope that a cure is found soon, and we can finish breast cancer.
Have you ever participated in DONNA weekend?
Do you prefer relays or going it alone?