I am an Ambassador for ZOOMA Women’s Race Series. I received a free race entry and lots of goodies from race sponsors. This post may contain affiliate links.
Before I sat down to write this post, I asked a question on my Facebook page: “What do you look for in a race recap?” A reader named Christy gave me a great answer: “Organization of the info sent before the race, organization of the race itself, goodie bag, after race set up, course marked well and correct, water stations functional, views, crowds, entertainment, timing correct, race support, email support, advertising, race price for what you got, starting time (too early/too late, started on time/late…) ….”
On the other hand, my friend Jenn from Runs with Pugs said this: “I like a good story. I want ambiance, details and emotions, as well as course info, aid stations, etc.”
I’m naturally more inclined to share my personal race day story rather than specifics about the overall race, because that’s what I enjoy most when I read a race recap. But if I’m really honest, I don’t actually read a lot of recaps. They’re just not my thing. I’m probably in the minority though – I suspect that many runners seek out running blogs specifically for the race recaps.
Anyway, I’m going to do my best to combine both – my personal story (both good and bad) and race details. If I leave anything out or if you have any questions about the race, please leave me a comment or shoot me an email, and I’ll do my best to fill in any gaps.
Note: The ZOOMA Women’s Race Series is promoted as a “fit girls weekend” event, so I think it’s important to tell you about my entire weekend, not just race day. This recap will be in two parts – part one will be about the events before the race, and part two will cover the actual race and race day events.
ZOOMA Weekend + Ambassador Stuff
Let me just put this out there right up front – I didn’t have a great time on the Friday before the race. But overall, this was just my personal experience and didn’t have much to do with ZOOMA at all. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.
ZOOMA Florida was the first time I’ve traveled out of town for a race – even though “out of town” (Amelia Island) is only about an hour from my home. Actually, given that it was relatively close to home, it didn’t even occur to me until the week before that I should stay overnight in Amelia Island. I just assumed that I’d wake up super early on Saturday morning and drive out there.
But then I realized that the Fitness Expo was on Friday, as was packet pick-up. (We also had the option of picking up our packets on Thursday at a running store in Jacksonville, or for an extra $20 we could have them mailed to us – but the mail pick-up had to be arranged prior to January 4, and doing things ahead of time isn’t exactly one of my strengths. So Friday it was.)
I also realized at the last minute that all of the other ZOOMA Florida Ambassadors were spending Friday night in Amelia Island. There were a couple of ambassador events on Friday, plus I liked the idea of not having to wake up at 4 a.m. on Saturday. So I booked a room at a the Holiday Inn Express in Yulee, which is about 20 minutes outside of Amelia Island. I had a nice stay, and if you don’t mind staying in an economy hotel that’s a bit outside the city, it’s a great option for about $100/night.
The Ritz Carlton was the official ZOOMA Florida race headquarters, so it certainly would have been simpler (and more fun) to stay there. But even at the ZOOMA group rate, rooms at the Ritz were $249/night. I could maybe see paying that much for a hotel room if I was splitting it with a couple of girlfriends, but not for just myself. But that’s just me.
No, I mean literally, it was just me – it turns out that I was the only ambassador who didn’t stay at the Ritz (except for one who stayed next door at the Omni). I was also one of the only ones who traveled and stayed on my own. Most of the other girls brought their moms or husbands or split rooms with each other, which was kind of a bummer. But I guess it made sense, considering the whole “girls weekend/getaway” theme of the event.
Fitness Expo and Mocktail Party
I checked into my hotel around 5:45 p.m. I needed to be at the Ritz Carlton by 7:00 for a “mocktail” party and packet pick-up. That gave me just enough time to get dressed, put on a little makeup, and take the obligatory “I look cute and my hair is done so I have to take a selfie” selfies.
The drive from my hotel to Amelia Island was fine, except for the last 3 miles or so. The Ritz is tucked away at the end of a winding, poorly lit road – and having never been there before, the drive was a tad bit scary (although I tend to be a nervous driver at night regardless).
I pulled into the Ritz, where I was greeted by an employee who asked if I was a hotel guest. When I said no, he asked if I was there for the Fitness Expo. Well, yes and no. I stammered something about being there for a cocktail party as well, and he told me to pull up for valet parking. Valet parking? That was weird. Wasn’t there a regular parking lot somewhere? Did everyone who came to the expo have to valet park? It seems unlikely, but I don’t know the answer.
It was dark and crowded, and tons of people were checking in to the hotel. I wasn’t crazy about having to unexpectedly valet park (did I even have cash for a tip in my purse?), but I went ahead and left my car there anyway.
The hotel lobby was even more crowded and confusing. Where was the expo? I didn’t see any signs pointing toward it. I felt awkward and out of place. I did see a small ballroom off to my left that appeared to be the location of the mocktail party, but it was clearly not the expo. No booths. No swag. No runners. Huh?
I stopped a hotel employee and asked him for help finding the expo. He didn’t know what I was talking about. I tried to explain. More stammering and awkward gesturing on my part, since by that time I was starting to panic. He asked another employee, who pointed me toward the obviously non-expo ballroom.
I knew it was the wrong place, but I walked in anyway. I saw another hotel employee standing behind a little table and computer (I think she was there to book spa appointments – which, by the way, were 25% off for ZOOMA participants), and she couldn’t tell me where the expo was either.
In case you can’t tell, I have a bit of social anxiety, so being in a strange place with no idea where to go or who to ask for help was really starting to freak me out. For a split second, I thought about just taking off. And to be honest, I probably would have left if I hadn’t needed to pick up my race packet. But I pulled myself together and started walking down a random hallway. And finally – FINALLY!!! – I saw a girl carrying a ZOOMA bag. At least I was heading in the right direction.
As I continued down the hallway, I started to see ZOOMA signs. I knew they had to be there somewhere! And then… there it was. Booths! Swag! Runners!
The expo was small (just a handful of sponsors), but the room was buzzing with activity. I noticed lots of small groups of girls, most of whom were dressed in yoga pants and running shoes, which made me laugh. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and the energy in the room was happy. There was no wait at packet pick-up, so I took care of that – then I started searching for the other ambassadors, who were all supposed to meet at the Feetures! booth before the mocktail party.
Keeping with the theme of the evening, I couldn’t find the Feetures! booth OR any of the ambassadors. More panic. I made my way back to the original ballroom, but I didn’t recognize anyone in the room. I walked back to the expo. Nope. Back to the ballroom. Still no.
Finally (thankfully!!!) these lovely ladies – my fellow ambassadors – came in right after me.
What a relief to finally see some familiar faces. I told them about my difficulty finding the expo and the Feetures! booth. Where had they all been? Oh, right. They’d all been at the ambassador event which started at 6:00, not 7:00. And the reason I couldn’t find the Feetures! booth? Well, the Feetures! folks were busy hosting the champagne reception that I didn’t show up for. Somehow I’d gotten my times mixed up. The 7:00 mocktail party was a separate event for all ZOOMA weekend participants. I’d blown it.
This was just not my night.
It was nice chatting with the other ambassadors, but honestly after the stress I’d just put myself through, all I wanted to do was go back to my hotel room and decompress. The party was nice though. There were some healthy finger foods – veggies and such – and really yummy (and pretty!) pink grapefruit mocktails.
I stayed at the party until close to 8:00, and then I parted ways with the other girls in the lobby. ZOOMA was providing transportation from the Ritz to the starting line, so they were all meeting in the hotel lobby in the morning. Since I was staying off property, I would have to drive myself and meet them all at the start. Yet another reason why the Ritz Carlton was the ideal place to stay that weekend.
Meanwhile, Back at the Hotel…
I went back to the hotel and checked out my swag. ZOOMA kept the swag bag very simple, which I liked. I don’t know about you, but the race bags that are filled with coupons and fliers kind of annoy me. (Sorry, but they do.) My ZOOMA bag had my race bib, a technical shirt (which actually fits well), and a pair of Feetures! Performance Socks. There was also supposed to be a ZOOMA journal included, but my bag didn’t have one in it. (That figures with the kind of night I’d had.)
Then I laid out Flat Sharon.
For some reason, I was under the impression that it would be in the low 50’s when the race started at 8 a.m., and I was alarmed to find out that I was off by a few degrees. I think 47 was the number being tossed around. That might not sound like a big deal to most people in the U.S., but to us Floridians, those few degrees make all the difference in the world. 50 degrees is cold, but anything below 50 is downright frigid.
I hadn’t brought a hat or gloves, but fortunately I’d packed a technical jacket that had a hood and thumbholes. I’d been looking forward to showing off my ZOOMA team singlet, but practicality won out over pride.
I took a shower, cranked the heat up to 72 degrees (one of the best parts of having a hotel room all to myself!), and set my alarm for 6:00 a.m. I was ready for race day. Hopefully it would go better than this day had gone.
To be continued…
Want to read some other posts about ZOOMA Florida weekend? Check out Runs with Pugs and Tutus and Tennies.