27 January 2013

Disney Race Report

Ten days ago I ran the Disney Marathon in 4:23:06, which was a 28-minute PR. I was very proud. For about three days.

Then I started feeling lame. Sure, I'd gotten a PR, and yes, I'd run a good time on a hot day in a crowded race. But I kept finding reasons why I shouldn't be happy about it. Like, running 28 minutes faster than my previous marathon wasn't that meaningful since I was injured and walking for a lot of the first one. And I’d originally hoped to run sub-4, and had lowered my A goal to 4:10 a few weeks before the race. 4:23 was even slower than my B goal. I dragged my feet when it came to writing my race recap, because I wasn't feeling as proud as I thought I should be.

But then I saw this on one of my favorite running blogs:
"Don't try to rush progress. Remember - a step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. KEEP BELIEVING." - Kara Goucher

I immediately stopped feeling lame and got proud and excited again. I had run a second marathon, and I got a PR. That's a big accomplishment, especially considering my little brain disease. More importantly, it’s a sizable step in the right direction. I have big goals (BQ!) and feeling sorry for myself will not help me achieve them. So now I'm ready to write about Disney.

Overall, the race went well. I ate and drank enough during the race, I didn't feel tired until mile 17 or so, and really the only thing I did wrong was pacing. I felt great during the first 15 miles and refused to rein myself in, deluding myself that I could keep up that low 9:00s pace for another 10 or so miles. Around mile 18 I started slowing down, and despite lots of gels and energy drink, I went into near catatonia around mile 20. I hung in there, determined not to walk (for a while), but I did eventually walk a couple of times in the last few miles. At the finish line I was offered medical attention, and my official race pictures confirm the wisdom of the medics, but I refused. I knew I was just being my usual post-race sad sack. I recovered quickly and had my finisher's picture taken, then I cooled off under giant misting fans. It was warm - I think 82 degrees or something. Since all of my training happened in the 20-40 degree range, it's no surprise I was a bit overheated.

But maybe I should start at the beginning. 

I woke up when my alarm went off at 2:30am and felt really shaky and strange. I'm not used to getting up in the middle of the night. I ate a packet of instant oatmeal (I planned to have two but it was just too early to eat), drank some coffee, got dressed and walked to the bus. When I got in line for the bus there were just a few of us, but after boarding, I looked out the window and there was a line of runners as far as the eye could see. I sat next to Kiona, who was running her first marathon. We chatted for a few minutes about training plans and life and race strategy, and then our bus unloaded into the giant Epcot waiting area. I waited in a portapotty line with about two million people before starting the long march to the start line. I think it took about 25 minutes to get there. It felt kind of death-march-y, and I couldn't believe I'd be running a marathon in a few hours. I didn't feel bad exactly, nor tired. Just detached and a little lonely. Being in crowds does that to me.

The main thing about the Disney marathon is that it's huge and overwhelming in every way. There were thousands of people as far as the eye could see. There were thousands of portapotties too, which was strangely picturesque. I found Corral C and sat down near the fence, feeling a little livestock-y. I knew I was slightly under my caloric goal, so I tried unsuccessfully to eat a Power Bar. I rationalized that it was still only about 4 in the morning and I was probably still full from dinner.

I was surprised that I'd been placed in Corral C. There were seven corrals and I didn't submit a very fast time in my entry form, so I expected to be in E or F. I would soon learn why. To my shock, people were stopping alongside the course and waiting in lines to get their pictures taken! During the marathon! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

There was a fair bit more waiting, during which I contemplated running into the nearby woods to relieve myself, as many others were doing, but decided against it. I would later pee alongside an empty tour bus (at least I hope it was empty) that was parked in the median of the highway we were running on around mile 3. Fortunately it was still dark out. I realize I'm talking a lot about bathroom stuff, but that's just the kind of runner I am.

Finally, the race started. There were three starts before mine; the wheelchair athletes, and Corrals A and B. Finally it was our turn. We were sent hurtling into the night with fireworks and Mickey Mice. Well, not really hurtling, more like fast walking. In trying to keep to at least a 10:00 pace, I had to pass about 900 people. You see, I didn't get the memo. This was not a race, this was a moving mass bucket-list fulfillment session, complete with giant rodents and royalty. For me, Disney wasn't a destination race, it was a semi-palatable excuse to take my daughter to DisneyWorld. It's not that I didn't have fun. I did, but I felt out of place. Despite my snail-like speed, I was in it for the PR.

We ran down Main Street in Magic Kingdom, then through Cinderella's Castle. That was fun and I cried. (I cry seven times a day on average.) We ran through Animal Kingdom, sort of. Mostly we ran on service roads and back alleys and highways. We ran on a race track for cars and through baseball fields and the track at ESPN's Wide World of Sports. It was just before the race track that I felt amazing and started running too fast. I kept looking at my watch, amazed to see 9:05 and 9:10 and feel so good. I ran the first half in 2:06, which put me finishing at 4:12 if I ran an even split.

Somewhere around mile 17, it occurred to me that I shouldn't feel so bad at mile 17, that I had a long way to go. When we entered the ESPN area, we ran past the folks ahead of us (5 miles ahead of us!) on their way out, which shattered any illusions I had that the marathon was ending soon. There were so many twists and turns and laps and tracks and stadiums to run through, that by the time we left ESPN I was exhausted. We even had to run (gasp) off-road a few times! At one point I was running near a 4:15 pace group, but they floated off ahead of me and I knew I was really slowing down. Despite this though, I was still in good spirits, proud that I was running my second marathon.

I was still hanging in there at mile 20 because the text messages I got later said I was due to finish at 4:14, but things fell apart in the last six miles. I was in “just finish” mode. When I went through a water station, I reached out for a cup of poweraid like I had been in the desert for 40 days. I could tell I looked awful when the volunteers started averting their gazes when I collected my water.

Soon we entered Hollywood Studios, and I had a minor shit fit ("We have another park to go through? What the $&@%!") but I soon settled in. A highlight was running through the costuming studio, where seamstresses were busily (on Sunday?) creating the next best Chip and Dale suits and princess gowns.

I think mile 23 is always the lowest point for me. I walked through that water station. I knew I wasn't going to hit 4:20. My “B” goal was gone.

At the end of a long race, I start thinking “just 30 minutes left” or “just a 5k to go”. At mile 25, running for another 12 or so minutes sounded like the hardest thing in the world. But I never seriously considered quitting. Nothing hurt (huge success right there) and I knew I was just tired and struggling, and that was no reason to give up.

After what seemed like an endless last mile, I finished. I knew it was bad when I crossed the first timing mat and was ready to stop running and I saw that there was another timing mat about six feet away. It seemed ridiculous that I had to run for six more feet, but I did. And then I sort of folded in half and the ground looked very up-close and I put my hands down. A medic came over to help me and asked me if I was hitting the wall. I said no, but that's about all I could say. Admitting to hitting the wall felt shameful so I stood up and limped along for a few feet while he held my arm. After another minute or so I was ready to walk all by myself. People handed me water and ice and powerade and soon I had more shit than I could carry. I put the bag of ice on my head and balanced it there as I stumbled along. I kind of felt awful, but kind of great too. It was over. I PR'd.

Maybe the most remarkable thing about this marathon was how quickly I recovered. I felt (and looked) pretty bad for about 20 minutes, but then I snapped back fast. An hour later I was showered and soaking my legs in the pool and eating lunch. It wasn't even noon. Later we went to Magic Kingdom and rode Thunder Mountain before having dinner with my family. The next day we walked all over Epcot. (Edit: A week later I came down with the flu, and I had to take a full week off, no exercise at all. But I'm feeling better today and planning to run tomorrow.)

I was never injured during this whole training cycle or during the marathon itself. I attribute this to the conservative but tough training of the Hanson’s Marathon Method, and the strength exercises I did for my hips, core, and legs. I enjoyed the relatively high mileage (for me) weeks, and I was pleasantly surprised that little aches and pains never became anything bigger.

People have been asking me if I think the 16-mile long runs prepared me well enough for the marathon. I'm not sure. I think because I'm such a wimp after mile 20, it would serve me well to do some longer runs; maybe 18 miles or something. The fact that I started falling apart right after 16 miles is a coincidence I can't overlook. But on the other hand, my legs (which are definitely not "born to run") were solid during the whole race. I was just my aerobic capacity that was lacking, I think. So the training kept me injury-free, and that's quite an accomplishment. Would I do Hansons again? I think so. I love the speed and strength work, but I might cheat with a longer run or two. And I think I'm ready for a coach to help me get faster and set reasonable goals.

So what's next? I'm looking forward to doing some shorter, smaller races this year. I know that I do better at shorter races, as evidenced by my 6:59 mile last year (which predicted a 3:57 marathon, haha!). I'm just not good in the pain cave. I'd like to get a 5k PR (under 24?) and go under 2 hours in a half. I'd like to beat my mile time from last year. So I guess it’s time to start registering for some races!

Thanks to Disney, I am now the reigning QoM (Queen of the Marathon) in my house. My new PR is 8.5 minutes faster than Sean's.


  1. So happy to have found your blog! I feel like we are on very similar paths (and since we share a coach, we really are!). I had such a similar experience as you, when I ran CIM in December. My ultimate goal is a BQ but I just hoped to sub 4 at CIM. There was a major storm throughout the marathon and I developed an injury so my finish time was 4:17, almost a 30 min PR but still so far off my goal. I felt disappointed and then realized I should be proud of my accomplishment. You did an amazing job!! And you will get your BQ :) I'm so excited to follow along your BQ journey!

    1. Wow, that's a lot of coincidences! Glad to see you here, and it's awesome to find someone who's on the same journey. Now I have to go read your CIM race report. :)