Friday, December 30, 2011

The New Year

Some commercial came on the television today, and the voice over caught my ear, "Instead of looking back on the year, why don't we look forward toward the future?" A good idea, I thought to myself. What does 2012 hold for this kid? A timely question, I'm sure.

Because 2011 held so many personal changes for me (new job, new living situation, different athletic choices were some of those fresh challenges), I am entering 2012 with a solid base. Not athletically. Not occupationally. But humanly. I feel that I stand on solid ground. For someone (me) who has always sought "more" and "better" and "faster" in the future tense instead of the present tense ... that is a positive change.

Because my blog relays my athletic endeavors, I'll limit my '12 musings to the endurance world. At present there is one unexpected but exciting wrench thrown into my world as of yesterday.

In my heart, I am a coach. Working with folks to tap into their potential - athletic and otherwise - brings me great joy. And I've seen joy on the faces of those I've worked with. So while my own, personal athletic goals are important to me, I really get more pleasure out of helping others.

Coaching Makes Me Smile

Me and Traci at San Diego Full Marathon 2010

Last week I was approached about a coaching opportunity for this upcoming Spring/Summer. I'd planned to take time off from coaching to focus on my Ironman Canada training. But after some thought and reflection on what makes me happy, I have decided to forgo the Ironman-2x dream and return to as the Head Run Coach for one of the LA Chapters of Team in Training. This Summer group will be a new group for me - a new set of faces and a new staff to work with. And that is extremely energizing.

When I started running 5 years ago, I would not have believed that I would get such joy out of 1)Marathon Training and 2)Marathon Training that had nothing to do with me!

Alas, the beginning of 2012 finds me in a very content and potentially fulfilling place as an endurance athlete: teaching others, learning from others, and ultimately leaving my sneaker-prints along many miles for a good cause.

So suddenly, my August 29th, 2012 is free. I will cheer on the TNT Ironteam from the sidelines. And I will hopefully reflect on another life-changing (for many) season with the Greater Los Angeles TNT program. San Diego and Alaska half and full marathons - watch out, the purple people are on their way!

Insanity: Day 6

A whole free day meant some quality exercise time. I'm due for another rest day - maybe Sunday or Monday. But today was a "work" day.

40 minutes of hills this morning, with 875 feet of elevation over 4.7 miles. The cloud cover coming off of the Pacific Ocean kept the temps comfortable. After the run, I had to do some late Holiday shopping for one of my best friends who is back in town soon. Prior to shopping, I downed 2 whole breakfast burritos from a deli down the street. Monstrously delcious.

Shopping wiped me out, so I faceplanted on the couch. I knew I had to get in Day 6. But I didn't want to. I just. didn't. want. to.

But keeping the promise to myself means taking the action long after the thrill of making that commitment wore off. So, on goes the DVD player.

Day 6: Cardio Abs

The first bit of good news is that this workout is only 16minutes and 30 seconds long. There is no warm up or stretch. There is just abdominal work. The second piece of good news is that you do not do a single crunch or sit up during the workout. Of the 14mins of abs (2:30 cooldown/stretch), we did multiple C-sit moves (twists, bicycle) and high and low plank moves.

The workout was challenging during those 14 minutes, but it did not bowl me over like yesterday's Pure Cardio workout. Maybe I'm just getting used to the Program, but I've noticed that even in this single week of training, my recovery time is getting quicker. Maybe that's in my head, but then agian, it doesn't really matter as long as it is real to me!

Followed the workout with a bike ride down to the beach and back. Half of the bike path was clear and sunny while the other half - close to the water - was under the marine layer. The air was cool, the ride was nice. About 45 minutes of leg work.

Takeaway from six days of Insanity - it will make you mentally stronger and able to deal with the challenges of muscle confusion. It will make you tired. It will probably be worth it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Insanity Day 5

Back in LA and enjoying the reverse jetlag - I'm up at 6:30 without a problem, and since it's vacation, that means I get to sip some coffee and amble into my workout without worrying about getting to work on time.

Sunrise from my Balcony

I haven't ridden my bike in over a month, so I decided to ease back into riding with an hour workout along the Balona Creek Bike Path and the strand along Dockweiler State Beach.

The Strand

The workout was enough to wake me up and warm me up for the next Insanity workout. I took yesterday off completely because I was exhausted from traveling. The day before was the Cardio Recovery Workout. So it has been two days since I've gotten a tough workout in.

Insanity Day 5: Pure Cardio

Once again, the workout did not disappoint in the pain-and-punishment section. We did the familiar warmup circuit and stretch. During the stretch Shaun T admitted that he was nervous about this workout because it was "pure cardio" and really tough. It was kind of nice to hear the instructor concede his humanity!

The main set was 17 minutes straight. You only took a break when you needed, and then jumped back in. Each move was 1-minute long, and the torture included mini-sprints/pivots, squat jumps, switch kicks, burpees, power knees, frog jumps, scissor kicks and push up jacks. All in a row, as many as you could do. No stopping unless needed.

"I'm not trying to hurt you. I'm trying to make you better." -Shaun T, mid workout

I did this workout with my HR monitor on. My HR got up to 172 at its max, which is not too far from the top of my range. I recovered quickly during the 7-minute cooldown stretch and was back to the mid 90s by the end of the workout.

Blurry shot of the DVD in progress

I'm finding one of the greatest parts about these workouts is the yellow timer down at the bottom of the screen. It counts down the entire workout (30-45 minutes) as well as the time for each indivdual drill and set. It's much easier to push yourself when you can see that you only have 15 seconds left before the moves change up or you get a water break.

All-in-all, I'm really digging this program!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Insanity: Day 4

Today's workout was split into two sections. My morning consisted of a 6-miler on the treadmill to shake my legs out from the resistance work yesterday. I woke up feeling much less sore, and the run took any extra aches out of my muscles.

This evening I just completed Day 4's workout - Cardio Recovery.

Much like the interval/rest dynamic in Insanity workouts, the great structure of the program also allows for a "rest interval". That was today's workout - a 33-minute session that reminded me of yoga.

Focus was on deep stretching, ab work and muscle work. No water breaks. Shaun moves from one exercise to the next with a few 10 second rests during which he explains the moves.

Anyone who does yoga will be comfortable with this workout. Other than a couple sets of squats, lunges and advanced leg lifts, maybe of the moves feel like yoga poses. 75% of the workout was stretching, the other 25% was body-weight exercises: planks and the aforementioned squats and lunges.

I didn't sweat, my heart rate didn't climb and only briefly did I wince in lunge-induced pain. This was a great break from the traditional high-intensity workout. And tomorrow (after the 13hrs of traveling back to the West Coast), I look forward to Day 5 kicking my butt!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Insanity: Day 3

Went to bed last night, sore. Woke up this morning, sore.

But soreness is not injury. Soreness is the recognition that you've done some good work. And there's 57 more days of work ahead. To what end? To what reward? I'm not sure. But this is a fun challenge regardless of the outcome.

Before I took on Day 3 of Insanity, I went for a run around our town lake, the shores upon which my family's home sits.

The Lake

It was colder than I'm ever used to running in, but the windy and the clear air were nice. I looped around the lake, and through a couple different neighborhoods, up a big hill and then home. Maybe 800ft of elevation over 4.5 miles. That was my warmup.

Onto the 40-minute workout with Shaun T. and the crazy fitness folks behind him.

The focus of the workout today was Cardio Power and Resistence. Meaning, you do a lot of deep jumping (squats, power jacks, globe jumps, power jumps) and a lot of pushups (three or four variations). There was a bit of kickboxing in there too.

The first 29 minutes of Day 3 were either 1) Warm Up, 2) Stretching or 3) Water Break. However, that's not to say they were easy. The 10-minute warmup is easily the equivalent of other "normal" workout DVD main sets. And the stretching for me today was crucial. The past two days have tweaked right hamstring, lower back and core.

When your muscles are sore, you are hyper-aware of how you engage them during a workout. So it was easy to feel just how much my sore core was engaged in today's workout.

Like Day 2, the main workout is 2 circuit. Each circuit is made up of three or four exercises that you complete over the course of 3 minutes. These are meant to really raise your heart rate and push your muscles into unocmfortable places. Then you are given a 30 second break. Then you do that same circut twice more. After a 30 second break, you move on to circuit two. You finish with a cooldown and stretch.

My quads and core felt the workout the most today. I definitely stopped and rested at points when I saw my form go. But once you correct your form, back to work!

It takes about two weeks to see real results, so I'm not expecting to be able to bench press a car anytime soon. But as I said above, if nothing else, this is a new and different challenge. And paired with a little running, it's a sufficient workout for this endurance junkie.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Insanity: Day 2

I will have to invest in a sweat-proof keyboard because writing these recaps right after I do the Insanity workouts will surely cost me hundreds in short-circuited electronics.

For the past four years or so, I've logged double-digit miles on the treadmill on Christmas Day. I'm usually months into marathon training and the peak workouts fall around the holidays. But thankfully this year, I am not. So I've saved myself 3+ hours of hamster wheeling while watching CSI repeats.

Instead, I did Day 2 of the program. Since the Fit Test was Day 1, this was the first real workout - a 45-minute High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session broken up into Cardio and Plyometric circuits.

About 10 minutes of "warm up" and stretch- deceiving high intensity. I was sweating by the middle of it.

Two circuits (each repeated three times) made up the workout. Lots of squat jumping, core work (push ups with various leg movements) and some "fast feet" drills that reminded me of college preseason way too much.

It was awesome. So unlike endurance training or anything I've done in a while. Compact in its time - 45 minutes. Yet it really feels effective. If you can push through a little pain, then you should give this a try.

Hopped on the treadmill for a cool down mile, but I was warmed up and not flat out exhausted that I cranked out a nice tempo pace. Walked to cool down.

Tomorrow will be a long run outside in the chilly CT air, and then Day 3!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Insanity - Day 1 - Fit Test

Remember how the first day of school used to feel? It was easy to wake up at 5am, hop out of bed, put on the new clothes and ride the bus? Everything was slightly new and your little body was running on an adrenaline kick. Everything was interesting and nothing was difficult.

Insanity Day One is much like that ... except for the "difficult" part.

The first DVD consists of two segments - Dig Deeper and the Fit Test. Dig Deeper is an introduction to the program, its philosophy and the four main movements that are incorporated into training.

The face of Insanity is Shaun T. He's ripped, he's encouraging, and he is very nice to look at. No offense Bob Harper and Billy Blank... but Shaun T wins my vote for cutest workout video dude.

After the introduction, you are run through a battery of 8 tests. Each are 60 seconds, and you get 30 seconds of rest. The goal for each is to see how many repetitions of the exercise you can do in that minute.

Biggest issue I had right away: SPACE. This is the kind of workout you need atleast two arms/legs lengths around you free. Our workout area at my parents house has a treadmill, bike, elliptical and weight bench. It's great for all those exercises, but I definitely had to pay attention to not hitting things with my arms and legs as I lunged around.

Nevertheless, the Fit Test kicked my butt. I found myself doing well on some workouts (switch kicks, power planks) and bad on others (globe jumps, suicide jumps/burpees). At the end of the 25-minute session I was exhausted! I had warmed up for a mile, and the cooled down for two. I had no desire to push my cooldown pace faster than 9:30/mile. I was beat.

Here are the results for the first day of Insanity!
1-mile warm up and video-guided warm up
Switch Kicks (russian kicks) - 100
Deep Jacks (squat jumping jacks) - 41
Power Knees - 61
Power Jumps (squat jumps) - 30
Globe Jumps (box jumping) - 6
Suicide Jumps (burpees) - 10
Push Up Jacks - 17
Power Planks - 39
2-mile cooldown

Going Insanity

I'm reaching the end of the 2011 Winter Team in Training Marathon season that I'm coaching, and 2/3 of the group has already completed their events. We've got a small but mighty group headed down to Walt Disney World for Marathon Weekend - the half, full and Goofy Challenge races.

Though I'm not an official race coach, I do have a bib for Goofy and will run both races, most likely at a casual, enjoyable pace, as I have not trained properly to "race" it. In fact, I've been off a training schedule for a while. I complete the weekend miles with my team, but my midweek workouts have been stale. I've needed a change up from running.

Daylight savings has left me little time to take my bike out - curse you darkness! I just recently (ie. the day I left for holiday brake) purchased a new bike trainer (on the cheap side - Cycleops Mag). I loathe the trainer as much as I do the darkness. But my tummy's growing and my brain is itching to do something else ... Enter: Insanity.

Insanity is a 60-day high-intensity, cardio workout from Beachbody, the company that distributes P90X. Focused more on aerobics rather than on lifting, Insanity provides a guided workout with a "reverse interval" style. Shaun T, the leader, pushes you during a 3-minute lung-or-muscle burning exercise, and then allows you 30 seconds rest. This style of training goes on for the entire workout, about 45 minutes. There are 10 or 12 DVDS, I can't remember. But they are all a little different. So in the same approach as Tony Horton's muscle confusion method, your body is constantly challenged day after day.

After informally polling the twitter community about the My friend and teammate Petty loaned me her set of DVDs. I've been putting off doing the workouts because I did not want to see how out of shape I am doing HIIT training. I can run forever, slowly. It's much harder for me to move quickly over short bursts of time. So I packed the DVDs in my carry on for home, and whipped them out on my second day here.

For the next 60 days, I'm going to blog my progress with the program. Either day-by-day or every couple of days. No before and after pictures ... or maybe just awesome after-pictures :) But definitely a chronicle of what it's like to do the program and if its worth the time.

It's exactly what my mind and body need to shake them up.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holiday Run

For me, the holidays means trading in light long-sleeves for heavier winter running clothes and braving the inhumane (20-degree) temps of New England. There are few foes more persuasive to talk you out of an outdoor run than Father Icicle.

So, to counter his nastly, chilly presence, I'll share my most recent ipod playlist in hopes that the crooning of Drake, Lupe Fiasco, Usher and others get you out the door and running through whatever winter temperatures you may face.
Creator - Santigold
Man in the Mirror - Adam Levine and Javier Colon
Headlines - Drake
Show Goes On - Santigold
Yead x3 - Chris Brown
Where Them Girls At - David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj
More - Usher
Maybe - Sick Puppies
Soul Survivor - Akon and Young Jeezy
Otis, N in Paris - Kayne and JayZ
Tonight, Tonight - Hot Chelle Rae
We Run LA - Dr. Hollywood
I'm Yours - Jason Mraz (old school, cool down)

Run fun and enjoy!

Hawaiian Dreams

I posted part of this quote on twitter the other day, and it attracted a lot of retweets, so I thought it was worth a little more exploration. And since it was voiced by one of my favorite athletes and inspirations, Josh Cox, I am all-the-more ready to talk about it.

Don't lose sleep over what you can't do; don't waste time complaining and making excuses. Each of us have been entrusted with a unique combination of gifts, truly unique - unlike anyone else. Find your gifts, cultivate them, be relentless, surround yourself with positive people who work hard, ignore the critic, & work your butt off to make your dreams a reality.

-Josh Cox, professional endurance athlete.

It's the last sentence of the thought that strikes a chord in me - find your gift, invest in it and invest in people who recognize it. The only power naysayers have over you in the power implant doubt in your mind. They cannot make you say, do or believe anything. Their words must first penetrate a wall that you fortify. And if you strengthen that wall enough, then their words fall short. Their criticism die out. And your talents, passionates and gifts continue on.

I recently returned from a trip to Honolulu, HI where I witnessed 10 of my amazing runners cross the start and finish lines of the city's annual marathon.

Waikiki Beach

Each one of them ran 26.2 miles in one day. Each one of them wore a purple shirt that symbolized their commitment to fighting cancer. And yet, each one of them possesses unique gifts. They are not all the same. Some are outspoken, others taciturn. Some shy, others outgoing. They have each found their gift - the power of touching others' lives - and through this season, have cultivated that.
Diamond Head in the distance. They climbed it twice.

To see them literally "work their butt off" and cross that finish line was the kind of feeling any coach aspires to feel. They turned their marathon dreams - because as well all know, when we get obsessed with running, we dream in marathon miles - into reality.

And as a coach, for me to see them do so is that same, blessed dream-to-reality metamorphisis.

Whatever your gift, athletic or otherwise, put your trust in it. Have faith. Invest in yourself. Watch yourself transform. Watch your gift grow. Reap the benefits. Make your dreams into your real life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Reflection. For Lisa Kelly.

On Friday, November 4th, 2011 I took this photo while walking to work. It was the day after Lisa, my friend/TNT participant/sparkplug-and-smiler, passed away.

Silver Lining

As a coach, it is my goal ... and really, my passion ... to get people to believe in themselves enough to attempt amazing feats. Marathons, ultramarathons, ironman events. 5K races for new runners. 10K races for athletes who thought 3 miles was their limit. It's a selfish indulgence for me to guide people as they take steps to change their lives.

But Lisa didn't need any of my coaching. She was already a warrior, an athlete, a daring doctor-triathlete-social-butterfly. I met Lisa probably four or five months ago at a brunch among friends. We knew each other from twitter, and through our friend Lori's generous offer to teach Lisa how to aquajog, the three of us and another mutual friend, Marquis, gathered together after the workout to dig into some good ol' vegan bacon and tofu-eggs. LA life for four daring non-vegans treated us well.

The table at the restaurant was not big enough to contain Lisa's smile. It was a miniature thrill to get the chance to finally meet a twitter friend in person. We bonded over talk of the Malibu triathlon, biking through Griffith Park, and the mundane task of aquajogging while recovering from injury - at the time, Lori's a pelvic fracture and Lisa's cancer. After that brunch, I knew Lisa would fit in well with our West Side Team in Training group. I may be biased, but I do believe there is something about the people from the West Side TNT team that stands out. Current participants and alumni alike - they have a giving nature and friendly disposition about them. I wasn't wrong about Lisa. A few weeks later, she's was there at the first practice of the season, ready to start her half-marathon journey.

As a coach, I enjoy being on the "giving" end of the relationship - to give my advice, guidance, time and experience to my participants. But with Lisa, I found myself more often than not on the "receiving" end. With such love and enthusiasm for her friends, for endurance events, and for new challenges, Lisa gave to me a continual fire from which to draw my own inspiration. Match her sense of adventure - her love for travel. Match her attitude - her appreciation for health and the ability to even be running. Match her generosity - her ability to connect with others on many levels.

It is always too soon when a friend or family member leaves this world and leave us all behind. There is an empty place at Coogies Restaurant on Sundays. There is an empty space in Group 4 where you would run. There is a silence in your online presence that screams to many of us. But as far as you have gone from us, Lisa, know that what still remains is that you will ALWAYS be in the Team.

If you would like to honor Lisa's memory and her efforts to complete the 2012 Walt Disney World Half Marathon, please make your donations to her fundraising website.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sorry New England...

...but it was a pretty nice weekend over in Los Angeles. Saturday's morning bike ride was followed by some exploring alongLeo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu and some rockin' seafood (ie Fried Things from the Sea) at Neptune's Net.

Sunday's 16 miler with West Side LA TNT was also a beautiful day.

East Coasters, feel free to live vicariously through these pictures, and laugh at us when The Big One hits.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Habit of Catching Sunrises

If you spend enough time around the running/tri community on twitter, you inevitably catch some amazing photos of nature - the kinds of pictures people snap along their workouts. Catching a great view from on high during a hike or the twilight off the face of a lake is one of the most enjoyable things I gain from others' timelines.

A while ago, I wrote about the meaning of getting up early to get a workout in, and visual reward of a mountain view that can accompany that sacrifice. Today, during my morning ride, I had a different reflection on my habit of catching sunrises.

Sunrise over Los Angeles from the Ballona Creek Bike Path

The sunrise provides a clean slate, a new start to the day. There's something fresh and new and promising about the beginning of something.

Same goes for races - I think it's why some of us keep going back to the same distance over and over again. Because when the clock says 00:00:00, you get to start fresh. You get another chance to experience that race again. And in that fresh start exists so much potential...potential for whatever you want in your life, athletically or otherwise.
The moment when you first wake up in the morning is the most wonderful of the twenty-four hours. No matter how weary or dreary you may feel, you possess the certainty that, during the day that lies before you, absolutely anything may happen. And the fact that it practically always doesn't, matters not a jot. The possibility is always there. -Monica Baldwin

After today's ride, I see the morning alarm clock a bit differently. Yes, one the one hand its still a symbol of the sacrifices I'm willing to make to push myself. But it also now has this new meaning. As long as the sun keeps coming up and I keep rising to meet it, then the world is what I make of it. And if a bad day comes along, there is another sunrise soon enough.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Miles Stay the Same...

...It’s the Runner that Changes.

A pint’s a pound the world around, and a mile has always been and will always be 5,280 feet. Been that way since before I started running, and will be when I unlace my shoes for the last time. The consistency of this distance, and any distance made when you string together a bunch of of those – 10, 15, 26.2, 140.6 – is striking.

I swear that the mile I used to run for pre-season volleyball in college is not the same distance as the mile I run to warm up before I lifted during IM training. And neither of those are the same as the mile I ran in elementary school gym class (wearing jeans, no doubt), or the mile between 25.2 and 26.2 I ran in San Diego ’07 for my first marathon.

But they are. All those miles are the same. It’s me that has done some changing. I’ve only been a part of the endurance community for a little over five years. In that time I’ve amassed a resume of triathlons, running events, century rides, and a handful of years coaching. The intensity with which I trained was, like anything else in my life, fixed and fiery. Being able to reflect upon my achievements with quantitative data – distance, time, heart rate, elevation – meant a lot to me. From these abstract numbers I tapped into a source of persistence that was unawake for the first 22 years of my life. Those numbers fueled me. The mile was my gunpowder, my gold.

Westridge Canyon on a trail run one morning

But this past year, things changed. Not the miles. No, they are still each the same distance. It was the runner who changed. After I completed IM Coeur d’Alene, I stood at the top of a mountain of achievement. And when the rush of adrenaline and pride and finisher-medal-shine wore off, I didn’t know what to make of myself. I can’t go much farther. I can’t go much faster. And really, I didn’t want to. While I was feeding that one part of my life, I felt the rest of myself atrophy.

After four years of go-go-go and no-stopping-me-now … I wanted to stop. To burn and break away from what everyone envisioned me as, and from what I inadvertently twisted my identity around – being a badass runner and coach.

It was both easy and hard to “take time off” from the sport and get to know myself as not-a-runner. Funny, when you workout as often as we do, your brain goes into an automatic and easy stream of thinking. Yes, anything and everything runs through our heads as we run through the trails. But what didn’t go through my head is, “Who am I when I’m not running, when I’m not ‘a runner’?

The prospect of investigating such an existential question is scary. But for me it was necessary. So I took away competition from myself, for a while. I still ran, but I did not maintain marathon conditioning. I still biked, but did so minimally. I dropped out of speedwork and capped my weekdays miles to 3-4 each session. I slowly peeled away the one-dimensionality of who I presented myself as.

The runner changed. With work, and thought and controls and huge amounts of faith I have found in my life, and in what I can only consider a power from something larger than myself – the universe perhaps – I changed. When you take away a major part of your life, there is a fear that you'll be left with a black hole of nothingness, in which no talent or skill or passion will ever fit.

But that's not true. Something comes along to fill the void - a challenge or opportunity ... or an opportunity disguised as a challenge (favorite!). Sometimes we can define it and sometimes its better left undefined and appreciated for whatever unnamed entity it is.

I’m still goofy, a bit awkward in unfamiliar situations, and hard on myself. I still let my overly articulate mouth run instead of speaking my feelings frankly. But that’s me and will always be me. It’s changes like letting people closer to me, into my life, that have replaced the endless miles I used to run on weekends. Instead of logging another set of 9, I’ll go out to dinner with friends. Instead of working through lunch at work, I’ll read a book. I’ve learned to crawl out of the mind that I live in when I run, and use the time I’ve given to connect with people. I've learned the discipline of slowing down.

So now when I go for a morning workout – same stretch of miles I always do – they look and feel different. Sometimes after 4 miles, I’m tired and want to stop. And I do. It doesn’t make me less of an Ironman. It doesn’t make me less of a coach. I’ve learned that it makes me more of each simply because it makes me human. And you know what? For as long as I’m here, the miles will be here, too. So given that, I’m free to keep changing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Race Report - Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon Relay

It's a yearly tradition that my mom and I take a trip down to Walt Disney World - more recently around Marathon Weekend time - and spend a week or so at the parks, at the pool, and sometimes running the events of the weekend. Since 2007, I've covered the half, full and goofy challenge courses, and my mom has done the half marathon twice.

Since I am coaching the West Side LA TNT team at marathon weekend this upcoming January, my mom and I decided to reschedule our trip to Wine and Dine weekend. It coincided with the 11th annual Wine and Dine Half Marathon. And for the second year in a row, Disney offered a a relay race option.

EPCOT - Center of the Wine and Dine Festival

Since Mom didn't want to run the full 13.1, we decided to do the relay race. The major appeal of this race for me, beyond the relay part, was that this is a nighttime event! The race covers three parks (Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and EPCOT), and with a 10pm gun time, you get to trek through the worlds while they're lit by Main Street Electrical Parade floats, street lights and colorful strobes. Quite unique race conditions that I was really looking forward to.

Packet Pick Up/Expo

Packet Pick Up/Expo

And since we were there for a couple days, and the 8.3-mile leg of my race wasn't all that long, I decided to throw in the Mickey's Halloween 5K Race onto the schedule as well.

OVERVIEW of Race Day, Saturday Oct 1st:
4:15am - Alarm goes off
5:00 - On the bus to the Animal Kingdom for the 5K
5:25 - Arrive at AK, wait for race. Watch dancers and DJ.
6:50 - Get in corral
7:00 - Race
7:30 - Raced, medal-ed, back on bus to hotel
8:30 - Breakfast
9:00am - Head to Hollywood Studios and EPCOT for some park fun.
2:00pm - Back to the pool to rest
5:00 - Dinner
7:15 - Board the bus to Wide World of Sports Complex (Start Line of half marathon)
7:30 - Arrive at Start
7:45 - Split up with Mom (relay runner #1) and head to Animal Kindgom (Relay Exchange)
8:00 - Sit in AK Parking Lot for 3 hours, watch race on big screen TV
11:20pm - Mom arrives! Off on my leg of the race
12:30am - Finished the half marathon! Reunite with Mom, party in EPCOT
1:45 - Leave EPCOT and walk to hotel
2:30am - Head hits the pillow for the end of an epic race day!


The race started and finished in the parking lot right outside the Animal Kingdom. It's a giant stretch of concrete perfect for corralling a couple hundred racers and their spectating families. The shuttles ran from certain WDW Hotels (more on this in the "pros and cons" section) from 5am-6am. Since we are a bit paranoid, we hopped on the first shuttle - 5am - and arrived ridiculously early at the start line.

Biggest disappointment of the 5K experience? No coffee!! Usually Disney provides a cash-only concession booth that sells coffee, bagels and the usual continental breakfast works. But I guess they didn't think the 5K was worth it. Mom and I were really bummed. Temps were nice (upper 60s) so we sat on the bleachers and watched a few runners dance (well ... move awkwardly to horrible party music like 'Cotton-Eyed Joe') for about 90 minutes.

The event got moving about 15 minutes before the start. I haven't raced a 5K in years, and didn't really know what my strategy - if any - was going to be. I decided just to take it easy the first mile and see if I could push myself for the final two miles. There were about 800 participants (runners, walkers, kids included) in the family-friendly event. I positioned myself at the front of the pack and crossed the line about 5 seconds after the gun went off.

I've never run a race where I can always see the leader - this was my first! I stayed ahead of the pack and slowly picked off 15-20 people over the first mile. We wound around the parking lot and into the Animal Kindgom where the park was empty except for the very friendly staff lining the streets to cheer us on. If you've run any WDW race before, you know that the cast members that come out for the events are very supportive.

I look like a linebacker

At mile 2 I picked up my pace knowing that I was was of the first couple of women in the front of the pack. I picked off 2-3 more girls, and decided to push myself enough to see if I could break 24-minutes. About a year ago, I threw down at practice-5K-time of 21:03, but I am nowhere near that conditioned right now. So I shot for a sub-8 pace.

After passing Expedition Everest, we headed on a short out-and-back train track and toward the finish line. Cross the line in 23:58, and my mom counted me the 10th female overall. I was very happy. Such a fun, quick race.


After the 5K, breakfast and hitting up the parks for some food and rides, Mom and I spent the remainder of the day at the pool.

Pool - lots of time spent here

I took a short nap, as did she, and then we strategized our dinner plans. Since neither of us have run a race at 10pm at night, it was questionable when/how/what we were supposed to eat. We agreed that 5pm would be enough time to digest without getting too hungry before we ran. Mom's start time was 10:10pm, and I would be starting between 11:15pm and 11:30pm.

We grabbed some food at The Fountain in the Dolphin (our hotel). It was a fabulous veggie burger (and mom's salad was good). Then we headed back up to the room to prep for the race.

Salmon Salad

Veggie Burger


We took the shuttle from The Boardwalk Hotel over to the Sports Complex, the start line for the half marathon. The Complex is also the packet pick-up location for the race, so we had been there the day before. Though Mom was nervous, having never done a race without me running next to her (and standing next to her in the corral), I had to leave at 8pm to catch the shuttle over to the relay exchange. So we said our goodbyes and I ventured back to the Animal Kingdom to wait for Mom to run in a couple hours later.

Team Conlon

I had the chance to chat with some amazing guys on the shuttle and while waiting at the exchange. John, an FBI agent six years into his 20-year contract, was on vacation with his family. His wife was running the first half of the race, and would be arriving just before my Mom was planning on completing her 4.3-mile leg. A fellow Ironman, Ty, was there with his very fast son - who Ty predicted would arrive at the exchange after a 30-minute leg. I also had the chance to talk to a TNT participant (whose name I didn't catch) about her experience with the program after her friend passed away from leukemia.

Over the course of the waiting period, I kind of forgot I actually had to run when my Mom showed up. I sort of fell into a denial that I had to get up off the pavement, stretch my legs, and put in a solid workout. But when the first relay-ers arrived and handed off to their partners, my adrenaline kicked in and I was ready to run.

After a couple hours of waiting for the race to start and then my relay partner to arrive, Mom ran into the exchange at 11:20pm. I spotted her and ran up to her (no baton passing necessary at this race) and pointed her to her finish line. Then it was my turn.

Here comes Mom!

Because she runs at a slower pace then I do, I merged with the runners going the full 13.1 miles and found myself passing them quickly. I don't say this to imply I am any sort of speedster, but rather that I was fresh and used to running quicker, so it 'swim upstream' easily. As the race went on, I climbed up the group at a 8:20 pace, and held that through the race. I never felt tired - the night time sights were enough of an entertaining distraction to keep me moving!

I was not carrying my camera, so the pictures I have taken are either snapped during the daytime, or during the night on a different day. I didn't think I was quite safe enough for me not to trip while taking photos and running in the dark. But thank you to Brightroom for providing the race shots.

Running at Night!

One of the most memorable sights was an enormous, green-light-bulbed Turkey (who, in my head I dubbed "Queen of the Turkeys") at mile 9. This giant float was a part of the Electrical Parade. There were clucking sounds coming out of it and crazy techno music. Quite a strange and cool sight to see.

The first three miles of leg #2 took me from the AK to Hollywood Studios by way of a long, slightly rolling highway. We ran past people on stilts in colored-light costumes, some cheerleaders and crowded of disney cast members. Strobe lights and music everywhere.

We entered Hollywood Studios around the 4th mile (Mile 8 or so in the half marathon), and I got a kick out of running down Sunset Boulevard...because I have run down the real Sunset Boulevard in LA at night. It was a weird moment. The course took us through Pixar Place, Aerosmith's Rockin' Rollercoaster and on the set of Indiana Jone's Stunt Spectacular.

Pixar Place - daytime

Sunset Boulevard - daytime

Sunset Boulevard - daytime

Entrance to Aerosmith's Rockin' Rollercoaster

We exited the park near the Fantasmic arena and took the path toward the Boardwalk. This section of the run got particularly crowded. I slowed down to try and manage myself among the numerous runners trying to share the narrow pathway in the dark. With few lights along the way, this was one of the more challenging sections of the course - just had to go with the flow.

Pathway to Boardwalk - daytime

Once we hit the Swan/Dolphin bridge and moved toward the Yacht and Beach Club section of the Boardwalk, things spread out a little.

Entering the Boardwalk

Boardwalk - Yacht and Beach Club side

View across the marina

Nice to run on wood instead of pavement for a bit

I knew we were almost done when we climbed the small hill up to the back entrance of EPCOT. From here - miles 12.5 - 13.1 of the full race - the course was nothing but music, strobe lights and cheering. You could hear the crowd cheering, you could barely see the pavement with the lights flashing in your eyes, and you could feel the participants picking up the pace for the final kick.

Back Entrance to EPCOT during the daytime

There was no long stretch to kick down near the finish line. It just kind of showed up right around a corner. Surprise - you're done! But that was fine by me. I ran in with 1:09 on my watch, putting Team Conlon at 2:19 for the day. I had no expectations or goals for either of us, and was happily surprised with pulled off such a great performance - 99th out of 538 relay teams.

EPCOT was open to finishers, spectators and families from 12am - 3am after the race. So I reunited with Mom and we headed into the park to hit up the various food booths participating in the Wine and Dine weekend. After an hour of walking around, we were both spent, so we walked back to the Dolphin and called it a night. And slept in until 9am the next morning.


I would absolutely recommend the Wine and Dine half marathon (relay or non-relay) to athletes looking for a great night race and unique running experience. The temperature was perfect at 10pm - mid-60s and the course was well-lit and entertaining overall. Disney is #1 in customer service, and that extends to the races that they put on. Everything runs very smoothly, there was plenty of water/food and friendly volunteers to cheer us on. And the post-race event was very cool. Although Mom and I did not partake in any rides after the race, many of the most popular EPCOT attractions (Test Track, Soarin', Maelstrom) were open for riding. The race is only 11,000 people, so the post-race festivities were not overly crowded or line-heavy.

Disney also offers great transportation throughout the weekend. Though the Wine and Dine guide says that you can only take the transportation if you are staying at one of the sponsored hotels, turns out that if you can walk your way over to the hotel (ie. like we did from the Dolphin to the Boardwalk), then you can hop a shuttle there. So no need to limit yourself to the options that they suggest.

My criticisms are minimal. I wish the 5K had a coffee counter - and that's only because I have a slight caffeine addiction. And the waiting time that surrounds the actual events is long but necessary. Because of road closures and safety, I was at the relay exchange over 3 hours before I actually ran. It was a long time to sit in a fairly empty parking lot. I'd bring a book next time and check it with the bag before I ran.

Other than those two small complaints, it was a wonderful experience. This will not be the last time that we head down to WDW for the Wine and Dine race!

Post Race Treat on Monday

Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below or hit me up on twitter @goingforgoofy

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wine and Dine Relay Complete!

Mom and I completed the Wine and Dine Half Marathon Relay at Walt Disney World this weekend. Team Conlon placed 99th out of 538 teams! Amazing feat for us considering Mom thought she'd finish in last place.

I just got back from Florida today, and I'll be typing up my race report and, separately, my vacation report tomorrow.

Until then, enjoy a shot of our vacation playground for four days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wine&Dine Half Marathon Relay - Fun Run

At the end of the month I’ll be heading down to Walt Disney World for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon relay with my mom. It’s an annual tradition of ours to go to Disney World, and since 2007, we’ve been going over Marathon Weekend. My first half marathon was the ’07 race. The following year I completed the full. In 2009, I completed the Goofy Challenge and my mom completed her first half marathon there. We took 2010 off and returned last year to again do the half together. I walked the full marathon the next day with my friend Chris.

Because this year I will be coaching the West Side TNT group through the half, full and Goofy challenge races, my Mom and I decided to go for a shorter trip in Sept/Oct and do the relay together. With my lack of strict focus on running these days, and her busy work schedule, neither of us felt it necessary to run the whole 13.1. So we signed up for the relay on Sunday night, and I also signed up for the 5K on Saturday morning.

Halloween 5K Map

Half Marathon Relay

As you can see, the courses at Disney are full of magic – through the parks, past the attractions and among the cast of characters who line the streets to cheer you along. I love the Walt Disney World races in particular because they draw such a diverse crowd. Whereas in trail running, you get a lot of “runners” and “endurance junkies”, Disney races tend to bring together people who just want to have fun and enjoy the sport. The “third wave” of marathoners, as The Penguin calls it.

For years there has been controversy over whether a runner is truly “a runner” based on his or her time. There was even a New York Times article a couple years ago that chided anyone finished a marathon in 5hrs or more.

Having coached some amazing people who finish 26.2 in +5 hours, having run with my mother, who in her late 50s completed her first 13.1, and having refocused the philosophy of my life on “the discipline of slowing down” I think what Disney offers (for a price, no doubt), is a wonderful addition to the endurance world.

Suffice to say, I’m ready for this running vacation!