What does it take to win the Donna Marathon?

Q & A with Donna 26.2 Marathon Female Winner (and 3rd amongst the males) Coach Julie StackhouseJulie Stackhouse

Q:  When did you start running?  I started running in the third grade.  I ran competitively through college at Clemson and Furman Universities, then graduate school, and haven’t really stopped since!

Q:  What was your mindset going into the race?  I was very confident in my preparation going into the race.  I was excited that the course conditions turned out to be really nice, as that is the one factor you really can’t control on race day.

Q:  What was your nutritional plan during the race?  My plan was to alternate between water and Gatorade out on the course and I carried two of my favorite gels with me, as I don’t like to leave anything to chance.  I’d already mapped out where I’d planned to pick up the third gel, and I tried to force that one down at mile 22 but by then I was already thinking about real food at the finish line. ☺

Q:  How did you prepare for the course?  When I decided to race the Donna 26.2 after meeting Donna herself at a Ladies’ Night event and hearing her story (and especially after learning the beach portion was removed from the course), I began mapping out my training, which included running every inch of the course over the course of the next couple of months.  I started my first long run in preparation for Donna at the actual start line and each week or so would cover a different segment of the route until I knew it by heart.  The week of, I drove the course once the barriers were in place (off to the sides) so that I could visualize the tangents and formulate my plan of attack.

Q:  What was your weekly mileage, on average?  I averaged 55-65 miles a week, which is actually high for me.  During my Ironman training last year, I would average my “magic number” of 50 miles a week, which actually included many more hours of biking and swimming, so I knew I was ready to handle a little more mileage (with gradual progressive increases) and my body actually responded really well.

Q:  What was your favorite part of the course? THE BRIDGE!  Really?  Yes!  I included a bridge at the end of every one of my long runs, from the day I decided to race.  I knew that when I got to the bridge and the final 5k that I was home free.  Because this was my first year running the full at this race, I also really enjoyed the section through Atlantic/Neptune Beach and Ocean Walk, as the spectators were incredible!  Getting a chance to high-five “pink-adorned” family, friends and clients down the final stretch to the finish tape is an incredible moment etched in my memory forever!

Q: 3 most important qualities you attribute to your success?

  1. Mental Toughness – Let’s face it, at some point during a marathon, your body may be trying to communicate something to your mind that it doesn’t want to hear.  Just like you can train your body to be more fit, you can train your mind to be as well.
  2. Staying healthy!! – The single most important factor for me.  I’m 37 years young and I’ve never been injured, except a freak car accident once where I was rear-ended by a distracted driver and had to do extensive PT to be able to run competitively and pain-free again.
  3. Sound training plan – Since obtaining my masters in Exercise Science and starting my career as a college coach, I have been writing out my own training plans and coaching myself.  This isn’t to say that I don’t bounce ideas off of some of my mentors from time to time – I do, but no one knows my body the way I do and I enjoy keeping up with the science on the sport.  I’m not afraid to try new things in order to achieve a new result.

Q:  What is the greatest feeling you get from running?  To me, there is no greater feeling than being in your best shape and the best version of yourself.  There is nothing like putting a big goal out there and setting forth to accomplish it.  I like to let my running do the talking, so oftentimes I don’t tell many other people what my goals are but I do write them down in my training log.  I set a goal of 2:56 for this race, which would have been a 10-minute marathon PR so to say the least, I was really thrilled with my time when I saw 2
:53 on the clock!  As a coach, I love to help others achieve this same feeling through training.

Q:  What is your biggest running accomplishment, to date?  Being the first Jacksonville woman to win the Donna marathon overall and the only person to win the Donna half and full marathon in two consecutive years was pretty special.  I’ve been recognized by the NCHSAA for holding the record of 16 individual State Championships in track/cross country but the endurance events bring a new level to the feeling of achievement because I believe the greater the challenge, the greater the accomplishment.

Q:  Which goals do you have yet to accomplish?  Last year I won the HITS Naples Full Distance Ironman in a time that would normally qualify for Kona in a sanctioned race.  I had never intended to do another one, but like most endurance events, after the pain
has subsided you start thinking about it.  After running 2:53 at Donna by myself for the last third of the race, I have to wonder if in four years I could drop 8 minutes to run the 2020 Olympic qualifying standard in the marathon.  I’d be Meb’s current age by then so undoubtedly it’s the last shot for me.  I never really thought about it before but to end a competitive career on a stage like that – just to toe the line with the best – would be amazing.

Q:  Were you racing for anyone in particular?  Yes!  I have a valued friend and client, Margaret Anne Balsamo, who was diagnosed with breast cancer on the very day that we were scheduled to meet in person for the first time for a training session.  She cancelled her session and I said I would keep her in my thoughts and prayers, and almost exactly a year later she reached out to me to share the great news that she was cancer-free!  We’ve been training together now for over three years and every year I’m on her team for the Donna 5k.  Next year in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Donna, she will be competing in her first 10k and I couldn’t be more excited for her!  So I thought of her every step of the way, especially the final few miles, as we continue to celebrate milestones both literally and figuratively in her continued recovery and her fight against breast cancer as a survivor!

Q:  One last question, do you have any pre-race rituals or superstitions?  The night before a race I lay out every item of clothing, shoes, gels, etc.  Sometimes I even try it on.  I check the weather to make sure of the exact racing uniform choice.  As for superstitions….well most coaches tend to have a few.  I have a silly one – a girl runner charm necklace and when I wear it I always make sure her ponytail is facing a certain way, I suppose for good luck!

Sunny Runner

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