26.2 miles. Our race would have been today in Hawley, Pa. They had 41 degree temperatures and a high probability of rain predicted for our run on that course. We had another idea, however.
Five of us lined up at 5:15 am in the parking lot of Dunkin’ Donuts in Juno Beach for a full marathon distance run. A run that would serve several purposes.
- Daniel would get to complete a marathon (His second) at a greatly improved speed and with proper nutrition.
- Maureen would reassert to herself that in warmer weather, she could run a BQ time.
- Kim would complete her first marathon after training at a high level for nearly 4 months.
- Kyle could practice some of the training he experienced having run with us this past month.
- We all would enjoy the support of our runner friends looking to snap the routine of being quarantined by the coronavirus.
It was 70 degrees at the beach when we started. The idea was to get 2.5 hours of running over with before the sun and heat came. Our route was simple, one I had used several times in training for ultra distance races.
We would run east to the beach road, A1A. Then south to PGA Blvd and then a turn on to Singer Island. The run would go south to the base of the Blue Heron Bridge, that’s approximately 8 miles from the start. Unraveling that route back to Donald Ross and A1A would have us at 16 miles. Then the regular Saturday run to the Inlet park and back for slightly more than 26 miles. I estimated our finish would be between the south portion of Loggerhead Park and Donald Ross Rd. The exact spot or finish line would be based on how we could navigate the DuBois and Inlet parks being that they were closed to fishing and beachgoers.
The first few miles had Daniel and Kyle running ahead at a faster pace than Maureen, Kim and I. I drank a full Maurten 320 portion while driving on the way to the run. I had a belt bottle with water and my Nathan10k pouch for carrying 3 gels. I also placed a 17 oz bottle of Maurten at the Donald Ross shower spot to pickup on my way north. Water was provided by Anne Carroll and Elisa Yinh, who hopped ahead of us by car multiple times on the Singer Island portion of the race. They stopped many times to help us, probably more than I was expecting. At one point I felt bloated, like I had been drinking too much, all without using my own water bottle. We ran in the dark along mostly sidewalks all the way to the 8 mile turnaround. The girls took turns with impromptu restroom breaks, but we kept the clock going the whole way. Kim had a “girl scout moment” heading down to the turnaround, but caught up again easily. Maureen was well adjusted to this routine already, she went at the Phil Foster Park. We hardly saw any cars, only a few cyclists and some walkers out that early. This made it nice for running the early miles and covering more than half of the distance in the dark.
We ran towards the Juno duck pond as the sun rose. Both girls used the “secret bathroom” at the Beach Connection restaurant, even after being told the restroom was not for public use by a lady who came out of the restaurant’s kitchen. Once we were all three running together, we saw Maria Urso walking towards us on the other side of the road. She had agreed to run the northern section with Kim. We were now running with the breeze, so it felt warmer vs the breeze in the face experience of Singer Island running heading south.
Arriving at Donald Ross Rd gave us another surprise, as many other runners were waiting to cheer us on or join in for the 10 miles up and back. Mike R, Kristen, and Adam joined our group, we stayed pretty close in pace for the next 4 miles. Ponch had a bicycle with a passenger seat that he filled with ice and cold drinks we had given him the day before. He was now riding up and down the beach road meeting us and handing off drinks as necessary. The banter among us was cheerful, even as we moved through miles 17, 18, and 19. I made sure I told Kim whatever I was feeling, hips tightening, an odd pain below the front of my knee, etc. I think it was good for her to hear that everyone gets these things in a race, whatever she was feeling was part of the latter miles we all experience in a marathon.
We came to the DuBois and Inlet parks, both were closed, just like last week. We ran through DuBois Park, around the historic home on the hill, and over the footbridge. I was keeping time and pace using a pace band and my watch. I announced at the base of the footbridge that we were EXACTLY on pace for the 3:50 finish time Kim was looking to reach or beat. She replied with saying she was going to use the restroom at the Inlet Park, which no surprise, was closed and locked. I asked if she wanted me to stop and wait – or run ahead at this pace to serve as the “beacon” to chase once she was done. She and Maria went to the porta-potties next to the regular bathrooms and moved one away from the building (With door facing the wall) to use it. I continued with Adam, Mike and Maureen at pace on the road leading out of the park.
Adam and I ran at that pace out of the park and back to A1A where Kristen was waiting. Mike, Maureen and Kristen ran only 100m behind Adam and I, Maria and Kim weren’t in sight yet. As we stretched the route past Indiantown road, those two came into view. They were working their way back to us, increasing pace, and doing well in their effort. We came up the Carlin Park “rise” (Not calling it a hill on purpose) and watched as the miles on our watches flipped over to read “23.” April Flynn was outside of her house cheering for us, she had a red pinwheel flower on a stick. Adam took that from her and ran with it as if he was a pace runner. From a distance and in some of the photos, it may have been mistaken for a Covid symbol, similar to what we see each night on TV and online. During that 23rd mile, Kim and Maria made it back to us. They had to be already running at a faster pace just to catch us. Kim said she wanted to keep the descending pace going, she felt good and was ready to use that strength in these final miles. Maria had extra drinks for her in a runner’s backpack. We received many good wishes and cheers from friends who drove, ran, or cycled by in the last 2.5 miles. Cecelio and Nimia took video of us running by. Krissi Neville and Julie Bishop waved, apparently many had heard what we were doing.
The final mile and a half had Kim saying, “Now I need you to work me so I don’t fade – I want to finish strong!” Maria and I slowly increased the pace, which from 8:30 was 8:10, then 8:00, then under that at 7:45 minutes per mile. We were in the sunny section near the parking lots north of Marcinski Rd, then the sun-exposed section between Marcinski Rd and the pier. We hopped onto the sidewalk a few times to avoid cars and bikes. The road was filling up with people looking to be out of their house on a nice weather day along the beach road. We kept going south, quicker with each passing 1/2 mile. Once we were less than a mile from the end, Kim mentioned she felt like her shoulders were dropping and her pace was slowing. It wasn’t. Maria ran behind and I ran next to her, both of us saw the same thing. She was using good form and pumping her arms as if doing a track interval. She was going to finish well and there was only less than 1/2 mile to go. At the Loggerhead Beach traffic signal, her husband Mark waited and took some photos. Past that, Chiara and her friends waited and cheered where I told them we would likely finish, near the thatched hut on the ocean side of the road. Maria and Kim’s GPS watches were a tenth of a mile ahead of mine, probably their route out of the Inlet park was longer than mine. We ran towards Donald Ross Rd at Kim’s opened-up pace for the final meters of the marathon distance. She and Maria stopped when their watch said 26.22 as we discussed, I went another driveway or two further until my watch read the same.
My run finished at 3:47:33. For Kim, a 3:47:13 first marathon distance effort in a time that was a Boston Qualifier. Most impressive was her negative split, with the first half at 1:55:26 and her second half in 1:51:47. Maureen finished in a BQ time with 3:52. Daniel set a lofty PR at 3:16 – a half hour + better than his first marathon 8 months ago. Kyle, we learned, stopped after 16.5 miles.
What seemed two weeks ago as a “crazy idea” had delivered confidence, nutrition lessons, and some impressive finish times in the warm weather. We debriefed in the Dunkin’ parking lot. after the “race.” Everyone felt good about the effort and no injuries reported. There were a few virtual races we could apply these results towards if we wanted to receive medals. It was important to see some closure on the great training cycle that we had just completed. We may have inspired some other runners to join us in a fall marathon training plan – our group was successful, and today was the proof.