Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary race registration for the Donna Half for purposes of promotion. All opinions are my own.
This is not your typical race recap. Technically, I didn’t really have any business doing this race.
I took a spill in September, spent six weeks on crutches and have been in physical therapy. While cleared to run, I hadn’t gotten any more than 3 miles under my belt before I took on this half marathon – against the advice of my PT. I’m a cautionary tale, y’all.
I had been invited to try out the Donna Half as part of a media trip to Jacksonville, FL. I love the cause behind the race and I figured I would give it a shot, fully preparing myself mentally to hop on the sag wagon if my knee started hurting in alarming ways.
The DONNA Foundation supports breast cancer research. I was invited to a dinner for top fundraisers the night before the race so that I could learn more about the organization. Founded by three-time breast cancer survivor Donna Deegan in 2003, the foundation has helped to develop and maintain the Breast Cancer Translational Genomics program at The Mayo Clinic.
What I learned at the dinner, though, is that the DONNA Foundation supports the whole woman. It offers financial assistance to women who are going through their breast cancer journey. In addition, they offer families education and support groups while spreading awareness of the disease throughout the community.
I learned that 40,000 women have died from breast cancer in the last year. The breast cancer mortality rates, though, have been dropping. The DONNA Foundation’s mission is to support researchers in eliminating breast cancer entirely.
The Donna Marathon Weekend
The race weekend consists of a 5K and 10K on Saturday along with a relay, half marathon and full marathon on Sunday.
I was registered for the Donna half marathon and, as mentioned above, was fully prepared to stop and hitch a ride to the finish if my knee started showing signs of protest. I have another half in April and while I’m known to push myself when I probably shouldn’t (like just attempting this race) I’m smart enough to know that risking further set backs was not worth it.
The Donna Half Corrals
The corrals each have a pace sign at the front to help you know where you fit in best. Where you end up is on the honor system. The main thing you need to know about this race is that it is incredibly walker and run/walk friendly. If you don’t do walk intervals, you may want to place yourself further up in the corrals.
The Donna Half Course
The race starts at Ponte Vedra and finishes at The Mayo Clinic campus. Y’all, I was told great things about the crowd support of this race, and they didn’t lie! This annual race is a big deal in the communities along the course and a perfect excuse for a party! If you love a good photo opp, this one has you covered.
There were plenty of families offering refreshments for the runners along the course. Some were helpful, such as energy gels. Some were helpful in other ways.
Some people went all out, decorating their yards and offering their own entertainment.
My Untrained, Wonky Knee-d Self
When I was cleared to try running, my PT suggested a “walk 5 minutes, run 1 minute” interval to ease into it. That seemed to work okay on my treadmill, so he advised me to bump up to walk 3 / run 1. That’s how I started this race. Within the first mile, y’all, I started feeling sharp aches behind my knee during my walking intervals. THE FIRST MILE. Dejected, I walked the entire second mile to give my knee a break. With the third mile, I bumped back up to walk 5 / run 1. For some reason, that worked so I wasn’t messing with it. Every other part of my untrained body was yelling at me, but that knee was holding strong.
I had been warned about this bridge. It’s right before the finish, of course! This is the ONLY incline along the course. You are routed up the ramp and the bridge itself gets steep. It was hot and I was so tired. It’s a really good thing, then, that the organizers placed fantastic cheerleaders at the top of that bridge.
The ladies from the Zeta sorority were loud and encouraging as we approached the top of this hill! It really helped so much. Another shout out goes to Ashley Furniture and the crew they had out there who were so encouraging.
The Donna Half Finish and Runner’s Village
Even though I was coming in at 3:48 because of all the walking (and the mimosa(s), jello shot and general picture taking nonsense) there were plenty of spectators at the finish to cheer us in.
Water is available as you enter the village. If you need something a little more substantial, head to the back. I found this there:
On your bib are two tickets for beverages. In a twist on the usual, the tickets are for sodas or water. The beer, my friends, is all free. This is not a bad way to celebrate.
Where To Stay
Whenever you run a destination race that has the start and finish at two different places, you sometimes struggle with choosing the best hotel. I was put up at the Marriott Courtyard at Mayo Clinic and the location could not be more perfect for this race.
In addition to the comfy room that had a mini-frig and microwave for my pre-race breakfast, the hotel opened up their on-site restaurant super early to accommodate the runners.
If you are a guest at the Courtyard or the neighboring Inn at Mayo Clinic, you are given complimentary shuttle service to the start line. The finish line is right there on the Mayo Clinic campus, so I simply walked (hobbled) back to my room when I was ready. All of this allowed me to focus on the race and not worry about logistics.
Work Out The Kinks
Completing this half marathon was an accomplishment but I was plenty sore afterwards. I hit up a yoga class at Yoga Mix in Neptune Beach the next morning to help me stretch and loosen up those angry muscles! The class I took was a Mixed Level warm yoga class. I’m a complete novice but I never felt judged or pressured; the instructor was nothing but encouraging. She even suggested easier variations on poses that may be too difficult for beginners. After this class, my legs felt much less stiff.
Would I do the Donna Half again? In a heartbeat. The overall atmosphere is fun and inspiring. Throughout the entire race I overheard snatches of conversation between people wearing “Survivor” and “Fighter” bibs. They were asking each other about their diagnoses and how long they had been cancer-free. They asked about loved ones that people were walking in honor of and in memory of. Those people are part of a horrible club that nobody ever wants to join. But since they are there, they will fight and they will encourage others to do the same.
The neighborhoods draped in pink, posting signs like “Save Second Base” and “We Love Boob” help bring a lightheartedness to this event and encourage the walkers and runners with their support. The race organization is top-notch and the sponsors are generous and enthusiastic. Consider running this one to support a great cause and have fun doing it!