Took a red eye out from Los Angeles at 11pm on Wednesday night. I can normally grab 1-2 hours of sleep on these flights, but this one proved impossible. I'm not a nervous flyer, but the turbulence on this travel was unnerving. Violent was the word that came to mind - the kind of knocking around that shakes the overhead bins and makes your stomach queasy. It was an ongoing affair, 4.5 hours of skyquaking. Unhappy camper.
Thursday - Packet Pick Up
With no real sleep in the bank, I met up with my Mom on Thursday morning. We headed to the expo to pick up our packets. We would run the 5K together Friday morning, and then I'd set off on Goofy Saturday and Sunday.
In years past Disney's expo had been less organized and more crammed. They expanded the circus to two buildings as of a few years ago, and it relieved the crowds tremendously. Packet pick up is barely a wait, despite the massive number of runners (I think 27,000 for the half, 20,000 for the full and 2,500 for Goofy? ... not sure how accurate those numbers are). I rarely buy extra race stuff at expos, but we came across some good finds, and I bagged a pair of INKnBURN running tights (they are not pants - I dislike pants), a zip-up tri shirt and a Goofy '13 headband.
Post expo we walked through Epcot (one failed attempt at going on Soarin' - 140min wait!) and went to Kouzzina for dinner. It would be the first of many seafood-based meals of the trip. I know myself well enough when it comes to running that fish/shellfish and other light proteins are key to me feeling well on race day.
Friday: Family and Friends 5K
Alarm time: 4:30am. Another night bereft of sleep, but there's no room for snoozing on race weekend.
Very literally family and friends - Mom and I met my friend and TNT teammate Robert at the start line of the 5K around 5:45am. My mom was nervous to run the race, as she hadn't trained much and hadn't done a race since we did the Wine and Dine Relay last October. But with Robert joining us on the run-walk, she eased up. He and I chatted along and she was able to do her intervals at will.
This course was new to me - last 5K I did at Disney was at the Animal Kingdom in Oct '11. The first mile was a dreary trek through the back roads of EPCOT. But miles 2 and 3 took you right through the park. Always a great distraction.
It was really great to see my Mom feeling happy and relieved at the end of the race! She even said, "That wasn't so bad!" We finished in about 45mins. While Mom ran/walked, I ended up "running" the entire race at her pace. Unfortunately for me this meant some extra stress on my calves. I run on my toes, and to slow down, I end up bouncing higher and shortening my stride. By the end of Friday, I could feel the soreness in my left calf.
Saturday: Half Marathon
Alarm time: 3:30am. Though it was really early in the morning, the heat and humidity were apparent. You could "see" the thickness in the air. Not ideal running weather, but hey, at least I didn't need any drop clothes at the start line.
I took the monorail from the Polynesian over to the start line (Mom would be sleeping in this race, and I met her back at the hotel afterward). Upon arriving at EPCOT, I had a real-life deja vu moment with my friend Coach Mike from Arizona TNT. See, Mike and I have gotten to know each other on twitter, and we wanted to meet up last summer at San Diego Rock n' Roll. But our schedules didn't seem to work out. That is, until we walked right past each other in the pre-race darkness and were able to say a quick hello. Well, fast forward 7 months, and who comes walking up the monorail platform alone? Mike! Turned out he's a good omen for the day.
Robert and I met up at the coffee cart around 4:15am and realized we were dressed as twins. and took the 20min walk to the corrals. Normally Disney Race Corrals are blasting Black Eyed Peas, LMFAO, Pitbull and all sorts of too-early-in-the-morning dance music. But this year, the corrals were eerily subdued. No music. Some interviews on the big screen. A very quiet crowd of runners. I still can't figure out why there was such a change in tone this year.
A few months back I set my sights on PR'ing this race, but as the weeks crept closer and my ironman training schedule seemed to overtake my race strategy, I backed off on high hopes of running strongly. I did not taper correctly (See: New Years Half Marathon 6 days before this) and with a bit of soreness in my calf, I wasn't sure what to expect.
I decided to consider the run a "fitness test". Our tri team uses the phrase "marker set" to measure where you are at in a sport at a given time. This race would be my half marathon marker set. Robert - who runs much, much quicker than I do - wanted to run together. We said we'd go for beating our time last year - 1:56.
Strategy was this - miles 1-6 were a warm up, 6-10 were a moderate pace and miles 10-13 were what I was calling 'hammertime'. As we were out on the course, we also set the goal of beating the sunrise - finish before it came up.
Robert was an amazing coach for me. I told him my PR (an ancient Santa Barbara Half '08 relict), and at around mile 9.5 he said he'd bring me in under it. So I stopped looking at my watch. I stopped trying to push/pull the pace. I let him take over, and off we went. The last mile we held onto a sub 7-mile average. Ouch. But worth it. A new PR of 1:48. That's about where I feel my fitness is right now. Plenty of room to whittle that down to 1:40. But I won't get ahead of myself right now.
The rest of the day my Mom and I walked around Disney Hollywood Studios (can't escape the industry as hard as I try!), and grabbed another seafood dinner at the Flying Fish Cafe.
Sunday: Full Marathon
Alarm time: 3:20am. It's hotter and more humid than the previous two days.
Okay, this whole getting-up-early bit has lost its luster. Four days of very little sleep compounded. It's about this time - early morning Sunday - when I realize that this whole challenge would be easier if it were done in a single day. The false promise of rest and recovery for 18 hours between races isn't quite what it should be.
Again Robert and I meet up at the coffee cart and head over to the corrals. Again, they are subdued. But by this time, we are so tired that everything we see and do is inexplicably funny. Like the red-haired, white-guy MC who Disney hired to dance around solo on stage. Blue work pants aren't helping anyone, sir.
Even from the beginning, and even having done this more than once, this seems like an impossible race. For me, the first half was the challenge. For Robert, it was the second half. Instead of us being a terrible twosome to run together, we complimented each other's weaknesses and pushed each other along.
Miles 1-2: Tough. Tired and heavy legs. A 9:45/mile pace feels like a sprint.
Mile 3: We hear bells, and look up to see a man in a jester hat adorned with the little noisemakers. Every step he took, they rang. Every. Step. We tried to run past him. He sped up. We tried to slow down and leave him. He slowed. The only way to shake the jester? Bathroom break.
Miles 4 - 13: Like Saturday, we decided to try to beat the sunrise, this time, to mile 13.1. We stop and snap pictures at the castle and with some characters. We run a bit and walk when we need to. Finally I feel like we are settling into a rhythm.
Disney debuted a new course for the 20th Anniversary of the full marathon. This year, instead of looping through EPCOT at the beginning of the race, we cut that out entirely. Instead, we were guided through the Speedway (a real race track) for an entire lap around the bowl. We hooked back up with the "normal" course and ran past the fire department, sanitation plant and water conservation station.
Miles 13-17: The Animal Kingdom came and went earlier this year. It's usually mile 18, but this year it was more like 14. The course support and music in that area is great. Somewhere around mile 16 I start to feel like we will actually finish this race sometime this decade. Slow going, but we will get there.
Miles 17-20: Another new addition to the course is a tour of the Wide World of Sports Complex - it's a great feature. We ran around track, a soccer field and through the baseball stadium. And a funny surprise for us? Out of nowhere, jester-man was back!! We ran ahead and never saw him again.
Mile 20 was billed as "Spectacular" by the race brochure, again in honor of the 20th anniversary. Robert and I joked without end that the only thing that would make it spectacular would be if it were actually the finish line. As in, just kidding, you ran a 20-mile marathon. Here's your medal.
It was not. Instead, it was a line up of two-story tall, human-controlled puppets - Pixar Characters on stilts. A fun and unusual sight for a race.
Mile 21: They were playing "Sweet Caroline" so we sang along. And I got REALLY hungry.
Mile 22: The chocolate mile. I ate for snack-size candy bars. Robert gave me one of his, too. So good!
Mile 23-25: Home stretch between DHS and EPCOT. The crowds of spectators never cease. We found my twitter friend and TNT runner Tim in the crowd outside of the Beach Club. He was such a great cheer squad this weekend. Thank you Tim!
Mile 26 onward - We ran. .We crossed. 4:26 We medal-ed. Happy. Tired, but happy.
We reunited with my mom, and found Robert's boyfriend and his family. After snapping a few photos and downing some Powerade, it was time to call it a day. Only 10:30am, but still ... a long morning.
After a shower and a GREAT salad (and my standards for salad are high) Mom and I headed to the parks for more rides. During our entire weekend, we walked over 15 miles, and I swear I am always less sore because of it.
A wonderful dinner at Todd English's bluezoo - one of my favorite restaurants in all of WDW, and a tradition for post-marathon Sunday dinner.
Slept in Monday, went for a recovery swim and then for more park time. A final dinner at a new restaurant called Monsieur Paul. Yum.
Final moments of the trip were watching the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom from our hotel room.
But like the movie Groundhog Day, today (Tuesday) came around and I had a 3:20am wake up call. On a bus by 4am. On a plane by 6:30am. Back at the day job by 10am. Such is the life of a runner who does not get paid, but just loves to run. We make the sacrifices we make (sleep), and smile gratefully for the opportunity to do such great things.
And as always, race weekends offer a chance to be grateful for those who support our crazy questions. Tim and Mike, my TNT buddies who are always supportive; Fern, who I drew upon around mile 10 of the half marathon when I said "Run for Fern. Run for Fern."; Robert's and my many TNT teammates who cheered us on via facebook; Holly for the Chickens of Fire! video and chicken/donkey clipart; my Ironteammates for their daily messages, and of course my Mom for making the trek each year and not discouraging my attempts at running farther and faster than I ever have.
Would I recommend WDW Marathon Weekend and the Goofy Challenge? Yes. Will I be back next year? Debatable. Not because of the race, but because of other adventures I may go on. We'll see. Among the right crowd, these races could be a very memorable weekend. I'll curious to know where I'll be 364 days from now.