The 26.2 With Donna is held in beautiful Jacksonville Florida and plays host to over 10,000 runners. The mission of the event is to “Finish Breast Cancer.” The race has raised over 4 million dollars for the Mayo Clinic to research a cure for breast cancer. The Donna Foundation also helps women and men diagnosed with breast cancer with financial concerns that come along with the costly treatments and time out of work. The positivity surrounding the event is intoxicating. The mission is noble. This year, the races included a 5k, half marathon, marathon relay, and a full marathon. Next year’s event is the 10th running and will expand the event with more distances and challenges.
The expo and packet pick up for the event are held at the Prime F. Osbourn III Convention center in downtown Jacksonville. There are plenty of vendors and if you forget anything for your run you will be able to find it there.
We stayed at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa which is a half mile from the start. While we did not get a chance to walk the grounds, the hotel sits on a sprawling manicured golf course that hosts the PGA Tour. We asked for a later check-out and were cleared for a 1 pm departure. With the marathon starting at 7:30 am, we had plenty of time to finish, travel back, and shower before we left. Nothing much to report, pretty standard hotel experience. The highlight was the Starbucks in the lobby that opened at 5 am. I was able to get a coffee and two oatmeals. There wasn’t even lines!
Walking down to the start from the Marriott there was the regular chit chat about temperatures, how people slept, etc. The morning was a cool 39º F with a little breeze. The start was going to be just the way I like it, clear and brisk. The atmosphere in the corral was very relaxed. You can tell who the locals are as they greeted each other with knuckle bumps and other familiarities. My adrenaline started to bubble as the morning prayer was read and the national anthem sung. Before I knew it, the gun went off and I was off along with the other 10,000 participants. I felt like I was gliding in the stream of runners. There wasn’t any bumping or jostling, there was plenty of room for everyone. I tried a new trick to keep myself from going out too fast. I set my Garmin to buzz if I went faster than 7:20-minute mile and to alert me if I was going slower than 7:50-minute mile. This really came in handy when I forgot that I was mixed in with people running the half marathon. Runners were passing me at a good rate, I knew I had lined up in the corral according to the right pace so at first I had the urge to stay with them. My Garmin was continually nagging me to slow down, I listened and backed off to let runners go by. It wasn’t easy, but it paid off in the end. I credit watching the US Olympic Trials the day before. Desiree Linden’s ability to avoid panicking when Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg pulled out in front. She stuck to her coach’s plan and it made an impression on me. When I saw Desiree gaining on Shalane and Amy it was the most thrilling part of the women’s race. It wasn’t that I was cheering for one athlete over the other, it was just the drama of the race.
The course is a run through beach towns. The neighborhoods are gorgeous and the spectators were super. Each neighborhood had a distinct charm. The scenery and the spectators helped the miles tick off. We ran into some headwinds as we traveled up the course, with no hills in the first 24 miles the wind was the only challenge. I heard some runners chatting behind me and realized one of them was Joan Benoit Samuelson. I don’t care who you are, getting to run next to a world class champion like Joanie will put a spring in your step. We exchanged some small talk about the Olympic trials that went on the day before, a bit about Kara’s epic post-race rant, and some of the people that the Donna Foundation helps. Time went by pretty fast and Joanie turned off to finish the half marathon course. Things were going smoothly, but you can never trust the first half of a marathon.
By the time I hit the 16-mile mark I was starting to get excited. I was hitting my pace goals for the race and was feeling good. It took some discipline to avoid looking for the mile markers. I tried to concentrate on my form and breathing instead. This day was going my way, I could feel it. While my pace slipped off from a solid 7:39 to a 7:41, I thought that would be okay. If I had the strength I could pick it up in the last miles.
The bridge, though.
The last two miles are where you had to run with your heart. Think of a two-mile long double humped camel. I was holding strong, but could feel my body’s energy fading. Up and down the first hump, I started up the second hill. Focusing on the horizon, I spotted the familiar shape of Meaghan with her neon pink hat and calf sleeves. She had run the half marathon with her mother, came back about a half mile before the finish to run me in. Oddly, she met me at the big “BELIEVE” sign that was on the course she had signed the day before during the expo. I was pretty gassed at this point, Meaghan provided the last shot of energy to get me to the finish. There were still a lot of half marathoners running four people wide. Meaghan started clearing the way with a polite “MARATHONER COMING THROUGH!” I would have laughed if I wasn’t so tapped.
The finish line was in sight! I spotted my soon to be in-laws cheering and gave them and some random kids high fives on the way to the finish. Once I crossed, I started to get emotional. This was a good run, I wasn’t sure how good yet, but I knew I ran well and followed my plan. Meaghan asked me what my time was, I forgot to look at the clock when I crossed the mat, so I only had my Garmin to go by. 3:24:29 was what the Garmin read, if it wasn’t too far off, I BQ’d. Turns out official was 3:24:23, not a PR, but a BQ and 1st place Age Group award. Better yet, I ran well and felt great. This race was my 23rd marathon. It cleared out some demons that had been haunting me for the last 5 or 6 marathons. I am ready to take on 26.2 again soon, and can’t wait to see what I can do from here.
I highly recommend this event. The course, the people, the cause are all first class.
Shoes: New Balance Zante v2
Hat: Ciele Athletic
Shorts: The North Face Better than Naked
Nutrition: 5 x Huma Chia Energy Gel Plus
Anti Chaffing product: Two Tom’s
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 910XT
Training: Coach Caleb Masland
26.2 with DONNA is a private nonprofit organization in Northeast Florida producing the only marathon in the United States dedicated to breast cancer research and care. All race proceeds go to the Mayo Clinic Breast Cancer Translational Genomics Program and The Donna Foundation to help breast cancer patients with critical financial needs. Held annually on the second weekend of February, DONNA Marathon Weekend attracts runners and supporters from all 50 states and more than 20 countries. For more information, visit www.breastcancermarathon.com.
Every day on the First Coast four women are told the news that shatters their lives. They have breast cancer. I know as a mother, my first thought beyond total fear was… dear God, please let me be here to see my babies grow up. Fortunately for me, I have a well-paying job, understanding bosses, good insurance, and a support system second to none. Many thousands of women don’t have that. In fact, they don’t have time to worry about whether they will be here to watch their children grow up because they are worrying so much about whether they have enough money to keep a roof over their heads.
Cancer itself is so stressful, financial stress on top of that is just that last straw that pushes many women into despair. Whatever time any of us has, it should be spent caring for each other.
So, toward that end, with the help of many people, I launched The Donna Foundation. The Foundation raises money to be used exclusively for First Coast women living with breast cancer… who, for whatever reason, can’t make ends meet. We have partnered with Catholic Charities, the largest social service agency in the area. They lovingly screen each recipient to ensure we are good stewards of your donations, then The Donna Foundation makes the checks payable to the mortgage company, the utilities carrier, the doctors office etc. Here is a testimonial from one of our recipients:
“I am a cancer patient with 3 young children. I needed chemo and radiation to battle the reoccurrence. During treatment, my husband’s employment was terminated. Without financial relief, my family would not make it. The Donna Foundation helped us by paying our mortgages, preschool and medical bills for a month. What this gave us was time, the most precious gift of all. Our family is so grateful for this much-needed charity. Sincerely, Christine, Todd, Owen, Reed and Cara”
For any of you who have ever had a serious illness, you know that even good insurance doesn’t cover everything. Costs associated with long-term care are immense, not to mention the fact that mortgages and car payments are still there even if the money is not. The need is great, but so is the heart of this community. I ask for your prayers now more than ever, that we can make this a lifeline for the women who need us.
Disclosure: 26.2 with Donna is a client of Big Run Media. We paid for our race entries and there was no compensation for this review.