I signed up for this race months ago, as soon as I got some holiday money. It was a pricey one, more than I would usually spend on a race, but friends who had run this race told me it’s one of the best half marathons they have ever run. The first two miles, on the Daytona NASCAR track, then it was out to the beach and back. And over a bridge. The Daytona Beach Half Marathon. I couldn’t wait.
Then I was in danger of not being able to make it down to run the race all thanks to the Michael Dunn trial. Thankfully, amazing things happen to people who know how persevere and not let things destroy their focus. It’s hard, and it takes a lot of effort, but I promise if you can do it, anything is possible.
We didn’t end up leaving Jacksonville and heading to Daytona until at least 8pm on Saturday night. Dreamboat and I were fighting, I had gotten off work later than anticipated, the verdict in the Michael Dunn trial coming in as I pulled up to my condo, and just being all around exhausted from two weeks of way too much work.
When we got to Daytona, we checked into the resort we were crashing in for the night and I got ready for the race. Pulled out my clothes in preparation for a cold race, set up my stuff in the bathroom, and then walked out to the living area. I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, and that had me worried. Sure I had some pizza and a doughnut at work thanks to management who brought in food for us who were working the trial, but would it be enough? It would have to be. I made some microwave popcorn that the resort had left in the suite and ate some of that. Finally, after about an hour, I was getting tired. Sleep is what I needed more than anything, so I got ready for bed… only to have a band start playing in the restaurant our hotel was next to.
Despite the loud music, the fighting with Brian, and the raw nerves I was dealing with – I crashed pretty quickly and slept soundly until my alarm went off at 3:45am. I got up and tried to wake up as I dressed for the cold temperatures. I opened up my Weather app and waited for the temperatures to pop up on my screen as I put in my contacts and brushed my teeth. 40 degrees? Tights and long sleeves it is. I layered up and grabbed my gear and we left at about 4:20am. Brian drove me down to the track, not trusting me to drive his car. I understand that KINDA – I do have a history of wrecking cars. But really? Okay.
We pulled up to the track and it was easy to get to where the race was going to be starting. We had left early on purpose: With as many people trying to run this race, we knew getting a good parking spot and making sure I had everything I needed. (I didn’t. I forgot my headband.) We had no problems whatsoever getting into the parking area despite what people had told me. AND we got great parking! At about a little after 5am, I left a quiet and sleepy husband in the car with a kiss and a blanket to head out into the area to see what was going on. Since we were there so early, we had a chance to walk around the pit area which is where the start line was and to go on the track itself near the start/finish line which is where the finish was at. HOLY SLOPED ROAD, BATMAN.
It was such an amazing moment, standing on the track and seeing at just what kind of angle the track was at, the way the start and the finish was lit up, and just to be there when I was sure I wasn’t going to make it. The flag stand was lit up with the race logo, and the finish line was on the actual start/finish line of the track. Incredible. The Daytona logo that was painted on the grass was huge, and roped off (smart move) and I just stood there in awe. When I walked away from the track and headed to where I was going to start, I couldn’t contain my excitement The start was on pit road, and we would leave pit road and head onto the track. The first two miles were around the track, and then out to the main road we went. When we came back for the finish, we’d go back on the apron, and cross the start/finish line.
We were standing there waiting for the race to start – and if I had to complain about something, it’s this: All races in Jacksonville, no matter how big or small, start with the National Anthem. This one didn’t. I kept waiting and waiting for that to happen. I thought maybe I had missed it, but shortly after hearing the revving of car engines fireworks went off and we started moving. I would have liked to have heard the National Anthem before the race started. But really, that’s my one and only complaint. Jimmie Johnson was in the front of the race, and led us out.
When we started running out toward the track, I couldn’t help but giggle stupidly and smile. I was running on the track. Not just any track… THE track! The Daytona International Speedway track. My brother in law drove on this thing. Drivers were going to be driving on this thing just hours after I finished running. It was one of the coolest things I had ever done. Going around those corners and seeing just how steep they were in person, watching people around me try to run up those steep angles only to have to run back down because it wasn’t happening made me smile. It was so cool.
Then, we left the track and headed out onto International Speedway Blvd, headed straight out to the beach. It was a straight shot, out and back route. The route had DJs on it cheering people on and playing some music as encouragement, there were some of the old race cars at some of the water stops and it was just so much fun. I felt good and strong, having been able to keep up a pace that was just at about 11ish minutes. Faster than I had wanted, but I felt good so I kept with it. I walked when I felt seriously out of breath, and I pushed it the rest of the time. Despite everything, I felt really strong.
At about mile 4.5 for me… guess who passes me, heading back to the finish looking like he was just on a Sunday stroll? JIMMIE JOHNSON. I was jamming out to my music, having a great time and was kind of paying attention to who was returning back since we were sharing the side of the street only to stare in shock as I realized that it was Jimmie running by me. He was surrounded by about 6 people, and looked like he was laughing at something that someone had said with no real stress in his face. I stopped to walk just long enough to text Brian that he passed me (“It’s lapped you, Jamie”) before I started going again.
I won’t lie. I forgot about the bridge. So when we got to the bridge, I was frustrated. “you gotta be KIDDING me…” I thought. But that’s okay. I knew there was a bridge, I just forgot about it. I was listening to the DJ over my music and digging deep for some serious motivation to get me to run over the bridge. I ran for a portion of it. Then I power walked my way back up, taking note of the photographers on the top of the bridge to make sure I looked like I was running. Running all the way down the bridge and following the crowd that made their way to the beach.
LOVE that the race crew thought ahead and put red mats down on the sand that was not packed hard and solid. I appreciate that more than I can say. It made getting onto the beach and back from the beach significantly easier. I’m not a fan of running on the beach, but I knew this was part of the race and it was kind of significant since that’s how the whole NASCAR world started. The race made it fun and awesome by adding checkered flags along the portion we ran, which was thankfully short. They also had cars at the entrance to the beach and the exit that were fun to watch. Heading back onto the road, two cars and their owners were sitting there and cheered me and my tutu on. They made me smile and I took photos of their great cars.
Once back on the road, my energy had taken a significant hit. I had been fueling about every 3 miles, making sure to grab water and powerade every time I hit a water stop, but it wasn’t helping much. By the time I reached the bridge again, I was starting to lag. I pushed myself up over that monster though, running when I saw the cameras. At the time, my time was slowly slowing back down, and heading toward 12 minute average per mile. Still well under my goal pace so I was okay with it. I pushed forward, trying to cool off since the sun came up and it warmed up, and trying to keep a steady pace.
By the time we started moving into the neighborhoods on the route, I was tired. My energy had dropped significantly, and my walk breaks were getting longer and longer. While thankful that the shade had come out and I had a chance to cool my body temperature, I was getting frustrated, wanting to give more if I could just get over that hurdle that kept pulling me down. I took the neighborhood area a bit slower to try and restore my batteries in preps of making sure I push it hard once we got back on the Speedway Blvd.
Once there, I starting running farther, and taking short walk breaks. When I came up to the DJ who I passed heading out, she suggested that right then be the time to take that last gel if we had it. I took her advice and downed my last Powerbar Gel, toasting her in the process. I pushed on. I had nothing in my tank, despite pushing hard. Toward the end, I started talking to myself. “C’mon. You have half a mile left. You got this. It’s an easy finish. Just keep going”
Then my phone rang.
I thought I shut it off, silencing the ringer so my music would go back to playing, but it just went silent. I messed with my volume control on my headphones only to answer the phone… Panting and out of breath I chatted with my sister a bit while trying to get to the final track portion. If I had the energy in me to continue, I would have stayed on the phone with her through the very end, but I couldn’t do it. I told her I’d call her back and ended the call so that music could get me through to the end… but that call from Heather was awesome motivation. (The only thing that could have beaten that would have been a call from Brian… or seeing Sam and Dean at the finish line)
When I ran into the track, I did as much running as I could. I felt tired and had no energy but I knew I wanted to run the finish… so I simply slowed down and pushed forward, making it through to the end. The finish line was just passed the start/finish line on the track, so I made sure I crossed that line while running. It was the best feeling in the world. One person gave me a medal and I said “thank you..” and then another person gave me a bottle of water and I smiled and said “THANK YOU” as I made my way toward the end. Everyone laughed at how I was more excited about the water. Hey, I knew I was dehydrated!
I got a photo done at the finisher thingy that they had up and then moved to where I could freely open my water only to be surprised with Brian being there. I smiled. He grabbed my hand and had me sit down on the start finish line and took my picture. I couldn’t help but smile more.
We walked toward pit road again after I spent some time just sitting and resting. It was super sunny out, and after running what I did, I didn’t feel cold. I was enjoying the sunshine and the experience of being in Daytona and on the track. There were a couple of old fashioned cars sitting out near the entrance to the Runner’s Hospitality that I had to take photos of, as well as the number 18 car sitting on pit road waiting for practice.
The hospitality was pretty awesome. I walked in and handed over my ticket and I was given 2 Kind Bars, a small bagel from Panera, a doughnut from Krispy Kreme, a sub from Jimmy Johns, pizza from Papa Johns, and some chicken bites. Yum. The downside is they ran out of beer, but that’s okay since I was more interested in water than beer at the moment. I scarfed some food, gave Brian what I didn’t finish and we hung out for a bit before heading back to the hotel to clean up and de-salt myself before enjoying the rest of my day.
This race has moved into one o my favorites. The route is amazing, the people are incredible, and the swag is fantastic. Running on the track was a dream come true, and hanging out in Victory Lane after the race was cool too. The out and back route was awesome, giving us a chance to really test our endurance and our speed. This race has definitely made it onto the repeat is necessary list and I can’t wait to do it again next year!
PS: My official finish time was 2:44:36 – UNDER MY GOAL TIME of 2:45.
Doing that while fighting with the Dreamboat, working two weeks of hellishly long hours and junk food, little sleep and no dinner?
Imagine what I can do when I’m rested and ready to go. 🙂