The holidays. Holy Hannah Haberdashery and Her Henpicked Hasbro Huckleberries, the FREAKIN holidays.
Welcome to our first race review of 2019, the 2019 Best Damn Race Jacksonville Half Marathon, in which our intrepid narrator — which I guess is me, and I’m really going to stop talking in the third person here — spins an irrepressibly enchanting yarn, one that is entirely forthcoming about how you eventually have to settle all accounts after spending the entire month of December in a state of sloth-like inertia.
We’ll get there.
But first the standard disclaimer; it behooves me to point out that I am affiliated with Best Damn Race as one of their proud, dedicated, and ferociously attractive Race Ambassadors. So what does that mean? Mostly that I received absolutely zero compensation or payment for my participation in this event or this race review; I paid for my own race entry registration, these words are mine and mine only, and every review I present here will always be a “warts and all” approach. As an Ambassador, I simply just try to spread the gospel about Best Damn Race and why I think they’re absolutely worth your time seeking out if you’re in the area looking for a quality race. The only recompense I’ve received from BDR are a bunch of ferociously attractive buddies and a few beers (alongside crying over the perpetually stinky Miami Dolphins) with Nick, the CEO.
Oh, and a cool tank top too. Makes my shoulders look all Aquaman-like (entire untrue).
Anyway, Jacksonville was the only Florida BDR race that I hadn’t attended (I’ve hit Safety Harbor and Orlando twice each, and Cape Coral on its final race, and of course there are the out-of-state races in New Orleans and Savannah that I haven’t experienced yet), so I definitely wanted to race Jacksonville to close out the Sunshine State. Plus, for the first time since I started racing in 2012, I was not attending any of the Walt Disney World Marathon events that weekend, so I wanted to fill that weekend void with something different.
Hence Jacksonville. It was the same exact weekend, and a destination race. Plus it was Best Damn Race, and click here if you want to know why I like running these races so much and how I became associated with them.
Anyway, let’s get to the race itself. The event took place on the cool, comfortable, overcast morning of January 12, 2019. Staged out of the The Jacksonville Landing area in the heart of downtown, three distinct races took place that morning: a 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon.
Boots and I drove up the night before from Ft. Lauderdale; I was running the Half, while Boots elected to walk the 5K with a friend from high school. We arrived at the staging area at 6:30 the next morning to pick up our bibs and race swag.
And of course I snagged more than a few selfies with fellow Race Ambassadors Jessica, Caitlyn, Jamie, and Beth:
The Staging Area was your virtual whirlwind of activity. Dunkin’ Donuts was providing free coffee, cocoa, and donut holes to runners, while plenty of tents were set up with vendors selling wares with many freebies to be found. I mostly hung about with Boots and friends. At 7AM the 10K runners took off from the Start Line:
I got a quick wave and shout-out from my buddies (and fellow race ambassadors) Meghan and Jennifer as they went about their race, but alas, no pics. Anyway, the Half was next at 7:30, with the 5K at 8:00AM, so I kissed Boots goodbye and lined up in the Start chute. There were no corrals, just your basic lining up by expected pace. I put myself somewhere betwixt the 9:30 and 10:00 minute mile pacers. I had no expectations, as I pretty much sat out most of December when it came to running. Or eating healthy. Or abstaining from the fun stuff what’ll kill ya.
So let’s just say I didn’t go into this race the most PREPARED runner in the universe…
So here’s the view from the Start Line:
And the requisite dorky selfie, because we just haven’t had enough of this nonsense
Finally we had our beautiful National Anthem rendition, the countdown began, and at 7:30 our race had finally begun.
The 2019 Best Damn Race Jacksonville Half Marathon!
Here’s the race course, courtesy of Google Maps, Garmin, and some nifty satellites somewhere deep up there *points up there*:
Starting north on Independent Drive, the course took runners east onto Bay Street for to about mile 1.5, turning around just before TIAA Bank Field and back west on Bay until Broad Street, just around mile 3. Moving onto Riverside Avenue, the course continued in a southwest and westerly direction until Mile 5. It turned onto Barrs Street for a quick 1.5 mile loop before returning past Riverside to St Johns Avenue. Runners continued on St. Johns, with a brief out and back on Oak Street, before returning eastbound on St. Johns at Mile 9 and back onto Riverside at mile 10.5. The course turned right onto trail adjacent to the St. Johns River just before Mile 12, where runners enjoyed the riverside view on the boardwalk all the way back to the Finish Line at The Jacksonville Landing.
It was a good morning for a race. Temperatures were in the mid 50s for most of the race, and the morning was entirely overcast and cool. I took off with my usual intervals — run a mile, walk a minute — with no real aspirations. I had, after all, taken most of December off being a general sloth with a beer in hand and a finger in nose, or something. So I just ran and treated the race like a training run.
What I had forgotten is that Jacksonville is North Florida, whereas I train in South Florida, and the two are completely different environments. Jacksonville is hillier, which meant more “gentle rolling hills” than I remembered. This of course also triggered my memory that I hadn’t done bridge training in months. Oops.
In any event, it felt great out there. I plugged in my AirPods, dialed up my Running playlist on shuffle, and just ran on. The course itself took us throughout the downtown area and nearby neighborhoods, with plenty of wide streets closed off for runners. It never felt cluttered, claustrophobic, or crowded. There was plenty of room to get your run on.
Of course running by that Maxwell House facility at 7:45 in the morning, not even 2 miles into the race, when all you want is a good cup of coffee and the thrilling wonders of lethargy, might have been construed as a bit brutal for someone who took off the holidays instead of training our little hearts out.
In terms of crowd support and cheering spectators, there weren’t much to be found in either, but that was OK. Best Damn Race events are of fine quality but they are, in essence, local training runs but with professional street closures, police support, and on-course hydration stops with water, electrolyte drinks, and nutritional gels throughout the race. I don’t carry my own hydration or nutrition for distances up to half-marathons, so these were of course most efficacious.
My own run started well. I kept the first nine miles well under a ten-minute mile pace, which felt like a miracle at the time. I figured I could pull a sub 2:10, which would be a good ten minutes off my PR but right around my general half time (2:05-2:15 ish). In the meantime I enjoyed the morning activity. The bulk of the race took us through the Five Points, Riverside, and Avondale neighborhoods. This included a morning stretch past Publix as the whiff of fresh-baked goods daintily darted past our nostrils. Same reaction to running past Maxwell House. Grr. Still, the views were generally scenic, pleasant, and enjoyable.
The tenth mile is where my lack of Holiday Activity finally caught up with me. Right about when we got back to Riverside Avenue heading eastbound, my legs felt heavier and my endurance started to ebb. Then tenth and eleventh miles took ten minutes each, and I ran the twelfth in 10:15. Still, while I was slowing down, I wasn’t hurting or slouching or discouraged. I kept my head down and powered onward.
Until the last mile.
Now to be fair, the 13th mile is probably the race’s most scenic. After turning right through a morning market, a left turn takes you completely adjacent to the St. Johns River as you return to the Finish Line. While the boardwalk is open to pedestrians, it was also wide enough to provide very little congestion or the need to dodge walkers excessively. The breeze felt wonderful; the water views inspiring. Everything was clicking in place!
Until you have to run up that incline that goes just under the Acosta Bridge, and then spiral down back to ground level.
This pretty much slaughtered me. Not so much the upward incline, although that one hurt me, but the downward spiral. At that point my legs had had it. An impromptu walk break emerged out of nowhere, until I reached the bottom. Then I made the mad 0.3 mile dash to the Finish Line. Mile 13 took me just over 11 minutes, so I was hoping to make up the time on flat land, desperate to make that sub 2:10.
I made that final left turn into Jacksonville Landing and saw the Finish Line. I gave it everything I had… which wasn’t much, but at that point I was running a 9 minute mile as opposed to an 11 minute one.
Did I mention all race pics are offered completely free of charge to runners? Because they are. Just sayin’…
I crossed the Finish Line with a Net Time of 2:10:03, which is as strong an indictment of taking the Holidays off as could possibly be imagined. I didn’t make my sub 2:10 goal, but just because life wanted to stick it in and twist it around a bit, I missed it by four freakin’ seconds.
That was exactly the kick in the pants I needed to get back on the wagon and train harder.
Boots and her high school buddy had finished their 5K and we were waiting for me around the Finish area. I walked around and stretched a bit — the legs were a bit achy — then I paused to take the requisite selfie pose with yet another most buttkickin’ BDR medal.
No joke; these things really are works of art.
The after-party was fun as well. There was a DJ blasting the latest hits du jour and making various race-related announcements, and plenty of food and refreshment for runners. Inside the Landing they were serving bagels, pizza, cookies, candy, fruit, your basic garden variety of tasty post-run comestibles. Outside the Landing was the Beer Garden, where you could consume all-you-can-drink Michelob Ultras and Bloody Marys.
Alongside all the vendors and food and drink, you still had the option to pose for pictures and ring the PR bell, if you were so inclined (I was not part of that particular subset that morning, thank you very much). Boots and I mostly ate and drank and reflected on our races. She had a good time walking the 5K and catching up with her friend, and I, while a little sore and a whole lot sour about missing my goal by such a small blip of time, recognized that the run was a fun one. It was a serene, scenic, rolling course on a morning with perfect running conditions — cool but not too cold, overcast but not humid, breezy but not windy, and an upbeat, spirited time with fellow like-minded runners.
So overall I had a good time with the 2019 Best Damn Race Jacksonville Half Marathon. As mentioned before, I am a BDR Ambassador but I wouldn’t put my endorsement behind anything I felt wasn’t worth your time and hard-earned shekels. So consider this a hearty seal of primo-okeydokeyness from your pal Hokeydude. Along with some sage advice to NOT be a hooligan over the holiday, and keep up your running regimen accordingly. That way you won’t look and feel like a sump pump come January. Here’s the video: