I applied last fall to be an ambassador for ZOOMA Florida. I’d heard great things about the whole race series from other bloggers, and I was excited about the chance to represent a women’s racing series that puts so much time into planning girls getaway race weekends. When I was selected and saw the ladies I would be running with, I was excited; some I had met in person already, but most of the others I had interacted with in some way online and couldn’t wait to meet them in person. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much I would truly enjoy the whole race weekend experience.
I’ll be the first to admit that my fall and early winter 2013 were spent focusing on getting ready for other races. Though the ZOOMA half marathon had become a bit of an afterthought in my head (being that it was three weeks after my goal marathon), I never stopped looking forward to the weekend itself. I was excited to stay at the Ritz Carlton in Amelia Island with Jesica, whom I had met up with this past summer in Tampa, I was excited to get away on a long weekend after a few post-holiday weeks back in the real world, and I was excited to run just 13.1 miles in a race. The last time I had done that was in March of last year; all my more recent half marathons had been marathon training runs with more miles tacked on before or after.
So, on Friday after work I got in the car and headed up to Amelia Island with plans to not race and just have fun. What was supposed to be a four hour drive turned into a six hour drive, and my plans of a pre-race pasta dinner (which is my go-to pre-race meal) went out the window. I ended up eating chick-fil-a nuggets and fries. French fries as carbohydrates and chicken nuggets as protein? It was far from ideal, but considering my lack of a strategy for the race the next morning, I wasn’t concerned.
When I got to the hotel, I was thankful that Jesica had picked up my packet from the pre-race expo. I was super bummed that I missed the expo and Honest Tea mocktail party, as I heard there lots of fun goodies. When I peeked into my bag, though, I got my first surprise of the weekend.
My goody bag was chevron, and in it was a race shirt, a ZOOMA hat, Feetures socks, and my bib. There were no ads or papers, and I was impressed. I’m a huge sucker for goody bags, and I would have appreciated just the hat or the socks, but to get them both was pretty awesome.
After watching a movie and going to bed around 10:30, I woke up at 6 to start getting ready. Aside from the fact that they picked the Ritz Carlton as the host hotel, ZOOMA also sends shuttles to the hotel to drive you to the race start on the point to point course. So, for the 8:00 AM start, we didn’t need to catch the shuttle until 7AM right downstairs.
In my hour of getting ready I was checking out the weather and reaffirming this prior inkling of a thought that I’d had–maybe I wanted to see what I could really do. Maybe the perfect weather and hard fall of training would set me up to pull off a PR without really having to push the pace to an uncomfortable or unsafe level (again, it was three weeks after my marathon). I ate my clif bar and decided that I’d just wait and see; I wouldn’t make any decisions until I was out there on the race course.
We hopped on the shuttle to the start and made our way to the bathrooms. The lines were really short when we got there, so we had plenty of time to get in a little warmup run. Though my legs warmed up from the run a little, the rest of me certainly did not. I was cold in that 30* weather!
At the start we found Presley and Cori, two ladies I’d “met” online but was excited to really meet in person. Between the three of us we had a whole list of reasons why we didn’t expect to run that fast (injuries, recent races, lack of mileage), and we all said we’d like to go sub-2. That said, Cori said her average is a 1:48, Presley had been training for a 1:50, and I had a PR dream in the back of my head. We all knew we’d fall somewhere in that range, so we started out together. That worked out really well, as it was fun to have people to chat with here and there, though we didn’t really break into any major conversations in the early miles.
The early miles of the race were really about holding back. I knew if I pushed the pace at all I’d blow up and could probably kiss the sub-2 goal goodbye, so I just watched my pace and made sure it was in the low 9’s and high 8:50’s. The course was really flat with a few very small rolling hills for the entire duration. And at mile 4 we entered into a park. It was scenic, calm, and shaded, but after a few miles of running in it I was ready to be out in the open again. Something about my Garmin addiction couldn’t handle the straying numbers I was seeing on my watch. One second we’d be at a 7:32 pace and the next we’d be at a 9:45 pace. I waited for the times when there were no tree overhangs so I could make sure I was on pace.
At mile 6 I took a chocolate Powergel, and at every aid station I took water or Cytomax. I was happy I had tried Cytomax before that race, because it might have thrown me off had I not; it tastes a little different than your standard powerade or gatorade. And soon after that gel I started feeling good. I told Presley that I was going to decide whether I would hold our high 8 pace or push it a little bit at around mile 7. I wanted to see what the gel did for me and how my legs were holding up. She had forgotten her Garmin and was just hanging with me for the time being. It worked out well. It was during this time we started chatting a little more, and when a photographer showed up on the course I quickly asked her, “do you want to jump for this picture?!” I think she was a little thrown off, but without missing a beat we counted down and jumped.
And the picture turned out so cute!
Here I’ll throw in my splits so you can see where I was mentally at this point.
When we got out of the park and onto the road along the beach, I was happy as a clam. The road was flat, the sun was shining down, and my Garmin’s numbers were regular again. I was feeling good, but at around mile 10 I had to bare down a little more to hold that pace. I wouldn’t say I was pushing, because Presley and I were discussing which beach house we’d like to purchase, but it wasn’t as “comfortable” as it had been the previous 10 miles. It was somewhere around this time that I realized that Presley still had a lot more left than I did. She was hanging with me until I told her to “Go! Go!” I didn’t want her to think she needed to stay with me when she had more left!
I used her bright pink shirt as motivation to keep up my pace; it was during this time I realized I was going to hold on for a PR. I kept seeing her get a little further along, but I just wanted to keep her in my frame of vision.
At mile 12.6 or so we turn to head out to the beach. I had heard there would be a sand finish, but I didn’t realize that the sand was more like a sandbox sand than a hard packed sand. I looked down at my watch and thought maybe a 1:54:XX was possible. As the loose sand kept coming and the clock kept ticking, I realized I was going to be in the low 1:55 range. As the finish line got closer a little sidewalk appeared, so I hopped on that for the last .1 and crossed the finish line in 1:55:10.
Here I’m showing my excitement regarding no longer having to run in a sandbox.
After I crossed the finish line (which is conveniently right in front of the Ritz) I found a bunch of the other blogger girls that I’d been chatting with before. Everyone had done so well!
Cori and Presley had smashed their goals of running sub-2, and Jesica had crushed her sub 1:45 goal with a 1:39. We were all thrilled! After a few minutes we headed up to the finish line party on the lawn of the hotel. There were a lot of vendors giving out free samples to take, and the post-race snack box was a real treat. I enjoyed a chicken salad croissant and a chocolate chip cookie after a little while. It always takes me a bit to be ready to eat after a long run. I did have half of a muscle milk they were giving us at the end to get some protein quickly.
Then we met up with most of the ambassadors for a photo and some time to mingle. It was fun to meet the whole group we’d been chatting with on Facebook, and I only wish we had more time to hang out. Most people were on their way out of town after the race and needed to head off on their own ways.
After I took my own shower and hung out for a while, Jesica, her friend Tammy, and I went to the burger restaurant at the hotel. I walked in and saw nachos and was immediately sold. I don’t indulge often in food this junky, but I’ll make an occasional exception after a race. I think I deserved it!
I packed up and hit the road back to Tampa later that afternoon after quite the enjoyable weekend. Sometimes the races and weekends that you build up the least in your mind are the ones that turn out among the best. I had the best time meeting and hanging out with a bunch of like-minded ladies, and I ran a PR!
Being a part of this ZOOMA race weekend was fantastic. I can truly and honestly say that as far as running races are concerned, this has been one of my very favorites. ZOOMA has figured out how to do it right. The picked a great host hotel, gave out a swag bag filled with desirable items, had a well planned course that would be good in various temperatures, and held an after party worth attending. I couldn’t have had a better experience.
As far as what I received from ZOOMA, I got my race entry for free. I paid for my transportation and accommodations. Along the way I was also sent a few products from some of ZOOMA’s sponsors. I am so appreciative to ZOOMA, Feetures, Muscle Milk, and Altra for the items and experience. I can truly and honestly say that I wouldn’t change a thing (except maybe the sandbox finish).
Have you run a ZOOMA race? Have you ever run a surprise PR? Do you have a current race PR that you know is not up to your current fitness level but you haven’t had the chance to better yet?