Thursday, February 9, 2017

Walt Disney World Marathon Part 4: Completing 26.2

Welcome to my race recap! Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

My friend's knee started bothering her during the first half and we split up around mile 15 as she needed to walk for a bit. We kept in touch during the race through Snapchat and phone calls!

At some point later on in the race, nutrition was available...PowerGels and bananas. I didn't have a super rigid fueling strategy. Just grabbed something here and there beginning at about mile 5 to prevent hitting a wall. (I also brought some mini LaraBars and Gatorade Prime Energy Chews that had worked for me in training.) It was amazing how many volunteers were helping out at these stations. Truly, so much work and organization goes into these events and it really shows.

The route took us through Magic Kingdom first, then Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. Of course, in between we were running on main roads, staff roads, and other various hidden areas. There was a long stretch through ESPN Wide World of Sports which thankfully I had read about and tried to be mentally prepared for. It was just as tough as I expected, approximately miles 17-20. Definitely the longest 3 miles of the race, boring stretches without much going on. Those few miles are the only time I needed my music!

The second half of the marathon got progressively more difficult mentally. Training had prepared me for the tough moments when you really just have to grit your teeth and push through. I was thankful this course was super flat. The two or three inclines were laughable compared to what I'm used to in my neighborhood and it seemed at times like I was the only one still running while everyone else took walking breaks.

Passing mile marker 20 was a surreal moment since, from that mile on, I was going farther than I had ever run before in training. Somehow my legs just kept moving! Stopping or walking never really occurred to me, but during that last hour it was amazing how many different body parts took turns hurting.

Finally, it was mile 23. Then 24. Then 25. For the final mile, we ran around the countries in Epcot. As inspirational music swelled and crowds of people cheered, I got a little choked up as I thought, wow, this is really happening... I'm finishing a marathon, like am I a superhero or something?? 

During the final miles, spectator support is absolutely invaluable. In the middle of the really rough moments when you're asking yourself if it's worth it or trying to ignore your hip pain or wondering exactly how big that blister is.....someone will yell out "You got this!" or "Great pace!" or "Looking good!" And you'll throw your shoulders back, smile to show your gratitude, and give those people something to watch!

I lost count of how many times I heard my name as people specifically encouraged runners by reading off our racing bibs. Those cheers meant more than I can express.

At mile 26 I heard the gospel choir. I threw my hands up in the air and sang along for a minute until I got beyond them and spotted the finish line. WHOA. Donald Duck was standing at the finish line (various characters trade off during the race) and I ran over the line feeling LIKE A BOSS.

I finished with a time of 5:15:45. I will admit to being a little disappointed with that, especially since I completed my last half marathon with a time of 2:02:57. However, I came to terms with the fact that this was going to be a slower race because of the crowds and craziness. This just means that it will be easy to beat if/when I run my next marathon!

Stay tuned! I'll do one more wrap-up post soon.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Walt Disney World Marathon Part 3: The First 13.1

Welcome to my race recap! Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

We woke up around 3AM and basically sprang out of bed. This was it! The magical day we had envisioned for months, through endless training runs and long workdays and non-Disney-related moments.

We got dressed, made sure we had what we needed in our gEAR bags (lol) and caught a bus around 4. Yep, it was cold all right! Started out in the 30s. Not bad running weather, but not really the kind of cold you want to stand around in for hours. I was thankful I had heard you didn't really need to be there 2 hours early like Disney claimed. We ended up having the perfect amount of time to get through traffic, security, gEAR check, port-a-potties, and corrals.

Wow. I knew runDisney races were crowded but this was a crazy amount of people. After the race, we found out that there were over 17,000 finishers (not including people who started and didn't finish for various reasons). Disney is nothing if not organized though, and we calmly moved through the horde to get to our starting corral.

I had gotten into Corral F (corrals ran from A-P, with P being the largest including the walkers) which was a result of my proof of time from my last half marathon. My friend was in Corral J, so we decided to start together there. However, somehow we ended up in Corral K. Oh, well.

We watched as corral after corral was sent off in a blaze of fireworks, with Mickey counting down for each start. How magical is that?

Runners were huddled in clumps all around us and it was pretty amusing to see the get-ups inspired by the desire to be warm. Resort towels, garbage bags, and even a bathrobe were on full display. As we moved up to the start, more and more of these comfort objects were tossed to the side (and picked up by people waiting in later corrals!). Disney collected and donated all the throwaway clothes; this happens at many races.

Finally it was OUR countdown and OUR fireworks. Go! Shortly after 6AM, we set off in the darkness. The first few miles flew by and we drank in every little thing. Running under the Magic Kingdom entrance and seeing the first few character stops, we couldn't stop smiling.

As we ran down Main Street towards the castle, I wanted to freeze time and savor the moment, but we had to keep moving! Our pace was slow and steady even from the beginning because of several reasons. First, we were with slower runners and, in the middle of huge crowds, we really had to run the pace of those around us. Second, the course was narrow at times and we had to keep our eyes open for people suddenly walking (thanks, Jeff Galloway), veering off to meet spectators, or stopping for a quick selfie. Third, we were focused on enjoying the unique runDisney experience and meeting our own personal goals. Mine was to run the whole marathon...that's it!

I see why people get addicted to runDisney races. It is my favorite race I have ever done. Period. Nothing beats the magic! True it was crowded and crazy and of course it was difficult, but the pros greatly outweighed the cons.

Runner support was phenomenal. Water/Powerade stops were nearly every mile, with dozens of volunteers ready to assist. Multiple aid stations had everything from Vaseline to Biofreeze (I used both!). Thousands of spectators cheered, offered food, and held up signs.

Many runners were in costumes, so that was fun to see. Lots of great people-watching opportunities! Each mile marker had a different Disney character(s) on it along with accompanying music. Character stops were plentiful, and even though I never stopped for one, I enjoyed seeing them as I ran by. They included Beauty and the Beast, stilt walkers, the dragon float from the Festival of Fantasy parade, Lilo and Stitch, and even Oswald the Lucky Rabbit! It seemed we were always coming up on unique characters and many racers took full advantage, lining up for a picture. My friend and I weren't interested in standing a line during a marathon, though!

Running through the parks was the absolute best, everything I dreamed it would be. One of my favorite places was Africa in the Animal Kingdom. Such great theming! I had heard that it was possible to ride Expedition Everest halfway through the race but unfortunately we ran past it too early and it wasn't open for riders yet. I definitely would've done it if I had the opportunity though!

Honestly, the first 13.1 miles flew by. Months of training had paid off and I was feeling great.

Would the magical Disney runner's high help me "go the distance?" Stay tuned...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Walt Disney World Marathon Part 2: Getting There

Welcome to my race recap! Read Part 1 here.

My friend and I had signed up for the Walt Disney Marathon in April, when registration first opened. Our conversation went something like this...

Me: I mean, if I was ever going to run a marathon I would want it to be in Disney World.
Her: You don't have to convince me! I would totally do it.
Me: Wait, are you serious?
Her: Are you?

The marathon wasn't until January, so we had a long time to look forward to it. We spent our time completing a Color Run 5K, a Mud Run 5K, a Hot Chocolate 15K, and a Run & Ride Half Marathon. Yes I admit I had been bitten by the racing bug and I was loving it!

Hal Higdon's marathon training plan that we followed was an 18 week schedule and we plunged right in. I wrote how many miles I was to run each day in my calendar and completed them like it was my JOB. I wasn't going to be disgraced in front of Mickey Mouse, no way. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.

After months of anticipation, training, enormous amounts of food to satisfy our increasing appetites, and Disney-related reading/music/gifs/what-have-you, we found ourselves in Orlando on Saturday, January 7. Weather-related delays and turbulence on the flight had my stomach in knots, and the stress only increased when we realized we were going to be cutting it closer than we wanted to at the expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

Nevertheless, we were extremely grateful that our race was still on after hearing that the half marathon had been cancelled due to lighting. I can only imagine how devastating that news was to the runners. On a positive note, Disney seemed to handle things extremely well and we heard of runners making the most of things, as runners are prone to do. I saw many people out getting their miles in anyway on Disney property. Typical!

Unable to fully enjoy the Magical Express as I kept watching the clock, I self-soothed by eating handfuls of peanut butter M&Ms. Now that I was finally hungry, of course we didn't have time to get any real food. At the resort we didn't have time to leave our carry-ons, instead we hopped on the bus to the expo.

When we finally held our official bibs in our hands I almost sobbed with relief. Okay, now this was actually happening! My proudest moment of the day was scoring a free banana and apple slices at the Chiquita booth by tossing a beanbag through a hole. Apple slices for my empty stomach and a banana for pre-race fuel!

We had intended to do some resort-hopping but our matching faces of exhaustion reassured each other we were on the same page. We headed back to our resort, All-Star Movies, and went straight to the food court. It was time to carbo-load, and we chose macaroni and cheese and pizza. We ordered way too much food, so enjoyed leftovers over the next couple days.

While eating, we talked about the weather again. It was going to be cold. The temperature had been dropping and Sunday morning it would be 30s at the race's start, 5:30AM. I had brought a throwaway jacket to wear over my tank top and arm sleeves but I was getting nervous since I knew we would be standing around for a bit before actually running. After reading a tip online, I asked a janitor emptying garbage in the food court for two trash bags to help us keep warm at the starting line, which she happily supplied.

Oh yes, now we're ready! Early to bed!

Keep going! Part 3 is here.