I have no idea how I even found this race, but I am so glad I did! Originally the plan was to run the Jacksonville Marathon in December, but with the hospitalization, I decided to forgo that and and find a marathon in January. Somehow, the inaugural Jekyll Island Marathon & 10k got on my radar and after reviewing some logistics and timing, this became a pretty viable option. I made a make shift training plan for 8 weeks and signed up! I was excited to take part of an inaugural race and this race would cross GA off on my 50 state marathon quest.
Logistics to get to this race were pretty easy. I actually flew out on Friday evening after work to Jacksonville. I had friends there so it was great to see them for a night. On Saturday after a great brunch with them, I headed the hour north to Jekyll Island. It was a straight shot up I-95. With the race on Sunday, they offered pack pick up on Saturday until early evening. They also offered race day pick up which is great for people who can’t get in until later. Packet pick up was in a small ballroom at the host hotel. After picking up my bib, I headed the mile to my hotel. I was doing a room share with someone else to help split the cost. We easily checked in and while she rested (after her 9 hour drive!), I headed to dinner to meet up with a college friend and her daughter who came down to support me. After dinner, it was a pretty early night for me as race start was 7:30am and I was pretty exhausted.
Even though I put together a make shift training plan, it didn’t go as planned. It fact, it seemed as if I was just not planned to run a marathon. I hadn’t run a marathon since December 2016, so in a way I was itching for the challenge, but also trying not to over do it. The weekend of Christmas I did run 20 miles so I figured if I could at least squeak that out, I should be able to get another 6.2 out on race day. It wasn’t a solid 20 miles, but it was still 20 miles. Going into the race, I really had no expectations but to finish. I had a finish time in mind but not one that I would push to, just one I thought I’d finish in.
On race morning, I woke up around 6am. Even though it wouldn’t take long to get to the start line, I wanted time to get ready, get breakfast, etc. I ended up leaving the hotel around 6:40am. Of course since it was so cold, I had to then deal with ice all over the car and no ice scraper in the rental car. Even with that little delay, I was parked at the race site by 6:50am. I immediately hit the port-o-potty and then headed over to grab a quick view of the sunrise over the beach. I saw there were the public beach bathrooms, which I wish I would have known about. I was trying to meet up with some other Nuun Ambassadors so once getting back to my car I coordinated with Jennifer and Meghan. We hung out in the my car for a little bit before headed to the start line at 7:15am.
It was pretty cold out there, but the race instructions said there would be pre-race announcements made at this time, so we walked down. They were both running the 10k which didn’t start until 7:45am. The pre-race announcements ended up being the photographer. He was hysterical! Seriously. He found Jennifer, Meghan and myself and literally direct us as he took out picture on what to do to get the best picture possible. He then as a group told runners on where he and his team would be and what to do when we came up to him. What was even better is that he announced the photos would be free. I think I knew that, but wasn’t 100% sure until he said that. I always love free race photos.
I told Jennifer and Meghan good luck and lined up with the other marathon runners just before 7:30. I went to the back of the pack behind the 5 hour pacer. There were others in the group that were talking about doing a run/walk, so I knew I was in the right place. The plan for me was to do my 4/1’s starting right away. I wanted to make sure I was actively recovering along the way. Shortly, they sounded the horn and we were off! Here I was attempting marathon #9 in my 7th state.
The first part of the course took you about 5.2 miles up toward the northern tip of the island before you turned around to do a full lap around the island. From the onset, I was pretty worried about the wind on this first section and then in the later miles. It was saying it could be 10-15 mph wind and potentially a head wind during some of those miles. I started the race with a light long sleeve, short sleeve over that and my light wind breaker. The temps were a feel like of 28-29 at the start, so I thought I was pretty good with those layers.
From the beginning, I hit my run/walk immediately. There were others around me doing the same thing, which was nice to see. This race had a very generous time limit (7 hours I believe). For these first mile, they shut down the one road for the first few miles and then we moved to the right side while the left side of the road remained opened. At no point did I ever feel unsafe though. We didn’t pass a lot of cars and anyone who did go by was very patient with the runner and gave us space.
Since there were a bit of back of packers, it was nice to chat with people so early in the race. It was really in these early miles that I had the most company out there on the course. For about a mile, we shared the road with some 10k runners as well. In fact, around mile 2, all of a sudden I thought a herd of horses were coming up behind me. I turned around and saw about 6 men running at me. Needless to say, I about pooped my pants. I tried to get out of their way because they were flying. I think they should have started the 10k runners with us or delayed their start until 8am instead of 7:45am.
I was feeling pretty solid in the first 5 miles. I was doing my best to not go out too quickly and trying to pay attention to how I felt. I wasn’t paying attention to splits. I didn’t want to get caught up in my time since I was just running to finish and not going for a certain time. Shortly after mile 5 we hit the turn around and got on the bike path that goes around the island.
These miles were strictly on the bike path. It was more protected than I thought it would be. A good amount of shade and not much wind either. By this point, I was in a zone. I was enjoying the views and the quietness of the island as I ran. Around mile 7 another runner came up to me and we started chatting. He did a run/walk to, but we both got caught up with chatting that for the next 3.5 miles, we completely forgot about it.
We chatted a lot of races and offered each other a lot of suggestion. It was great to get some ideas from other runners. On top of forgetting the walk breaks, we also really picked up the pace. I still wasn’t paying attention to the time, but at one point around mile 9 he mentioned if we stayed around this pace, we were around a 5:10. That actually immediately scared me. That was too fast and I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain that. I wish he had not said anything, but it did help make sure that I got onto the run/walk once we split around mile 10.
Around mile 10.5, we passed the finish line area. We still remained on the path, but instead of going right into the finish line like the 10k runners, we went left on the path. I was really started to get hot, so right in front of the most spectated area, I stripped down to my sports bra. I was still running, so I am sure it was quite a site. I had to get my hydration pack off, get my long sleeve out from my short sleeve and then get the short sleeve back on. I stuffed the long sleeve in my pack and kept going.
Just after we passed the 11 mile mark, we turned right to head back to the road. This was the first time I saw my friend Cait and her daughter Emily. I went to college with Cait and don’t think I had seen her in years! She lives in Atlanta and when I told her about this race, last minute she decided to come down to cheer me on a quick trip with her daughter. Being there by myself, it was amazing to know I had someone out there on the course to cheer me on. It definitely helped perk me up when I first saw her. I then saw the sign and about dropped to the ground laughing. About a week prior, I had what I would call, an unnecessary on-line dating message and she absolutely replicated it to a tee. It was amazing!
After seeing her, we turned left and were back on the road. There were again cones up and plenty of space for the cars to get by. Miles 11-13 were probably the most relaxing miles for me. All I heard out there was the sounds of the waves. It was just beautiful! As we were heading toward the southern tip of the island, you could tell the difference int he make up of the island. There was a lot more marsh areas on this area.
At the end of mile 13, we made the turn to start heading back north on the island and I immediately felt the head wind. It wasn’t terrible, but you could notice the difference. Thankfully we only had 2 miles on the part of the road before we turned and got back on the bike path. At this point, I started slowly passing some runners out there on the course. At any point I did pass someone, every runner was so encouraging! There really is something about those back of the pack runners. It didn’t matter who was passing who, you got cheered on and I cheered for then right back.
At mile 16, we turned right on this random road and did a quick pass under the bridge that brings you onto the island. It was in these miles that I was the most alone and at some point I got a little worried that I wasn’t on the right path. Legit at one point I wanted to wait to see if another runner was coming toward me. This is where I think there could make an improvement. They had some signs out, but there weren’t necessarily the best. They also weren’t labeled for the marathon, so I didn’t know if they were for us or for something else.
Just after mile 17, I saw Cait again! Thankfully I knew where she would be, so I had something to look forward to. Mile 17 also had some great views of the cottages and the Jekyll Island Club. The island used to be a private island to members of the clubs, so families such as the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Pulitzers had private cottages they kept on the island. They were stunning! This was also on the river side of the island, so different views and sounds than the ocean side. Also during these miles were a few wooden bridges. While they weren’t an issue during the day, if it was raining, I could definitely see them being slippery.
As we came up to mile 18, we went a half mile up to the golf course and back before we headed up to the island airport and onto the path for the last 7 miles. The out and back was nice because it confirmed there were still other runners out there. It was around this point where one of the race directors was crushing the van support out there on the course. I had seen them one or two other times, but in these last 7 miles, he was just amazing. They would drive by, honk and cheer on every runner. I would wave and just smile. In those last few miles, it was wonderful to hear them out there.
I was definitely starting to struggle around mile 18/19. I was doing my best to put one foot forward and keep going. Once we were back on the path, I was really starting to struggle with the run/walk. It was taking a little more effort to get back to the run and my legs were feeling like lead. My left hamstring was also starting to act up. I was trying to be conscience of that as I didn’t need to injure myself during this race. When I saw the 20 mile marker, I was so happy! I knew it was going to hurt, but I also knew if I had made it this far, I was getting to that finish line.
The official 4/1 run/walk was definitely out the window at this point. I was 100% by myself for 3 of these miles. It was weird. Peaceful, but also worrisome at the same time. By now, I was running about 8-9 minutes and walking for 60-90 seconds. It was hurting to run that long, but hurt less than doing the start/stop every 4 minutes. It also did help tick those miles off as well. The last 5.2 miles were the same path we took after the first turn around.
For most the race, I was all smiles. If you saw me between miles 22-25, I was probably not smiling. I was tired and starting to question why I was out there. Don’t most people question why they are running a marathon around these miles? Around mile 24, an elderly couple were out walking their dog and asked if I was tired. I looked at them and started laughing. I told them I was dead tired and I could slap them in to finish the race for me. They got a good laugh out of that one. Also around this time, I came up on some more runners. Yay! People were still out there running!
The last 1.2 miles were again back on the path. It was so amazing to be so close to the ocean. In this last mile, a few runners were walking back to other hotels with their medals. They cheered me on and kept saying I was close to the finish line. However, it was still feeling like it was so far away, but finally out of no where the mile 26 sign appeared. I was on my last walk break and finally kicked it into gear for the last bit.
We finished in a parking lot and since there were not many other runners around, you got your own little welcoming to the finish line. I was back to all smiles at this point and ready to cross that finish line. I saw Cait and Emily cheering me on and heard my name over the loud speaker. It was hands up and all excitement. I saw that I finished in 5:16 and was beyond shocked. I thought I would finish closer to 5:30. The beyond flat course had a big part of that I think. I got my medal from the volunteer and met Cait and Emily. I got some water and then we headed out to the beach. If I was running a beach marathon, I was going out on the beach. We only spent a few minutes out there because it was so windy and cold. We hung out for a bit and then said our good-byes. It was so amazing of them to come down to support me! It really made a big difference knowing I knew someone out there on that course.
Overall, I was pretty proud of myself for this race. It went much better than how I thought it would go and knowing that I didn’t really have a training plan, I thought I didn’t do too shabby. I died around the time I typically die in a race, so there was nothing that surprising about that. I stayed on my run/walk for the most part and was spot on with my nutrition. Even though it was cold, I made sure I was staying hydrated. I was a little nervous with the tailwind they offered on the course, but I took it starting around mile 17 and had no issues. They were offering other gels, but I brought my own honey stinger chews I relied on.
For the race itself, you honestly would not have known it was an inaugural race. They got so many things right and they cared about the runners out there. I don’t think I’d change anything on the course, but I would just make sure the course was a little better marked. Like I mentioned, even though I knew where to go, I definitely felt like I was almost lost when I was alone. The aid stations and volunteers were beyond amazing! Some aid stations had 1-2 people, but most had a few more. They made sure we knew which cups were water and which were tailwind. There were hardly any trash cans directly after the aid stations, so I almost felt compelled to stand and throw back the tailwind. They could add a box or trash can so we could throw things away as we continued past the table.
For the swag, the medal was great! Size was great, ribbon was phenomenal and I really loved it. We did get a long sleeve t-shirt which I would have rather seen it be a tech shirt. They did however, team up with Fusion Sports and give an item free out if you got in on that early enough. I missed the chance, but I think it was an awesome incentive. I do think they should start the races at the same time as well. It would maybe limit the almost poop my pants feeling when the 10k front runners came up to the marathoners. The location itself was beyond amazing. They did a great job showcasing the island and everyone was so welcoming! I honestly think I found my new vacation place! In fact, I am actually thinking about going back for the 2019 race. I think this will be a race that sticks around for sure and I wouldn’t mind giving it another go. Maybe with the proper training, this can be a PR course for me!
Official Finish Time:
14/16, Female 30-34