One of my favorite aspects of running in general -- and of ultrarunning in particular -- is that we can constantly grow and evolve as runners. With hard work (and a little luck), distances that at one time seemed unimaginable become manageable. A goal pace that was once impossible becomes not only possible, but comfortable. It is a constant evolution.
Over the past dozen years, I have been fortunate enough to run about 70 combined marathons and ultras, and each and every race has taught me something that I did not know before. (Even if that "something" was simply "I should not have signed up for that one!"). And while I have run a lot more ultras than marathons in the last five years, I like to consider myself just a "runner" at heart. Racing a marathon hard is, well, hard. It hurts. A hard-effort ultra hurts as well, but in a different way...
Looking back, I guess it's no surprise that I have been drawn to the Donna 110 the past two years. It combines an ultra with a marathon. It's in a great city. It's a beautiful course. And -- most importantly -- it's for a great and hugely-important cause (to eradicate breast cancer). What's not to like about this race?? :)
And although I ran the Donna110 last year, my experience this year was vastly different. Last year, I ran the race for the experience. I ran because the race is for a phenomenal cause and my family has a terrible history with breast cancer. (There is a reason I chose the color pink for the "Zwitty" logo).
This year, however, was different. Sure, I still ran because of the awesome experience of the race and what it stands for . . . I think I will always run the Donna 110 for as long as I am able. But this year, I did not just want to run. I wanted to race both days. (The format is 84 miles on Saturday, and then the marathon on Sunday). I wanted to push my pre-conceived "limits" and see if I could break through them...
Going into the weekend, I knew that the weather would be absolutely ideal for racing (sunny and a high of 60 on Saturday, sunny and mid-40s for the marathon on Sunday). And I had put in a solid training cycle leading up to the race, so I had no excuses.
2. friday the 13th.
One of the really cool things about the Donna weekend is that the race organizers treat the Donna 110 runners like celebrities. They really roll out the red carpet for you the entire weekend (more on this later). One of the many "perks" is the Friday morning "shake-out" run in Atlantic Beach. It was just four miles, but wow, that was fun. I ran a mile with Donna herself (Donna Deegan, a three-time breast cancer survivor who was a news anchor here in Jacksonville). I ran with Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray for a while, and had a great conversation. I discussed the "Galloway" racing method, and whether it applies to ultras, with Jeff Galloway himself. And I met 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist Joannie Benoit Samuelson. Wow. Now that's a pretty cool way to kick off the weekend!
(Left: with local running legend (and Donna board member) Chris Twiggs (who is going to run the Hardrock 100 for the eleventh consecutive time this summer), as well as fellow coach Dawn Lisenby; right: with Boston Marathon RD Dave McGillivray).
3. valentine's day saturday (day 1 / 84 miles total): first 10.6 miles.
For some reason unbeknownst to me -- but perhaps knownst to you -- only a handful of people have run the Donna 110 these past few years. (I have a strong feeling that will change starting next year). This year, the race roster included local ultra studettes Kellie Smirnoff and her two sisters, Heather Jones-Proctor and Carrie Neveldine. The incomparable Tim Purol (known in Florida ultrarunning as "Salt Shack") was also toeing the line, as was Christian Lisowski, who was attempting his first ever 100+ mile race.
(Not pictured: Salt Shack . . . he showed up basically just as we were starting the race!)
The first 10 miles of the Donna 110 mirror the Donna marathon course pretty much exactly: you run from the intersection of A1A and ATP Tour Blvd. in Ponte Vedra, make your way toward the beach, and run up to Atlantic Beach:
As we started the race at 9:00 am sharp, I found myself running alone very quickly. (The other five runners would wind up running much of the first 84 miles together, which was absolutely-awesome to see). For me, one of my goals for the weekend was to have two hard days of running, to kick-start my training for the Badwater 135 this July in Death Valley.
Besides the gorgeous views on this section of the course (such as the Jacksonville Beach pier, pictured below), this initial section went by pretty quickly for me, and I arrived at the "base camp" for the day -- the very-nice Adele Grage Community Center in Atlantic Beach -- in about 1:20 (so about 7:30/mile for the first stretch).
Hi, welcome to the Zwitty Ultra Endurance Coaching Program!