Saturday, December 3, 2016

Lake Merced Half Marathon

When I pictured stroller running when I was pregnant, it didn't look anything like it ended up being in reality.  I think when I was pregnant I imagined maybe I would go for a 4 mile run every now and then with the stroller.  I remember telling my husband that if I wanted to run 10 miles I would just schedule it to be done without the stroller.  I might have even said "Why would I choose to run 10 miles with the stroller?"

Oh, for the good old days of rookie pre-parenting.

I wasn't able to run much right away after giving birth.  It took me 8-9 months to even attempt to run a continuous mile.  But once I got back into the swing of things it was evident that if I wanted to run, I had to take my son with me.  I think when I was pregnant I thought maybe I would run before he was up.  But when you are breastfeeding you cannot just wake up and go for a run.  Forget the fact that there is a human who demands breakfast upon erratic waking schedules.  Even that notwithstanding you have to get some milk out before bouncing yourself around. So your choices are A) wait for the baby to wake up, feed him and then run or B) wake up earlier and pump.

On the days my husband was home I did Choice A.  But that didn't work for days he worked and I was home alone with the baby because my son got up for his morning feed around the time my husband had to get ready to leave.  Plenty of moms do Choice B and bless their committed hearts.  I had to pump at least once, sometimes 3 times a day and you had better believe I wasn't doing it any more than absolutely required.  Also sleep is a premium comodity and I wasn't about to wake up and spend 30 minutes doing what the baby could get done in half that time.

So the days I was home alone with my son that I wanted to run, he ended up coming along with me.  We started off at just one mile.  Then two.  Then two and a half.  We ran twice a week together.  I had set that 4 mile run as some sort of benchmark where the distance was long enough it had been worth it to go out for a run. We busted through 4 miles and kept adding on.  At the same time I got more confident with both running with the stroller on hills and more confident that my son wasn't going to pitch a fit when we were miles from home.  It took almost 5 months of running together before I was brave enough to venture up and into Golden Gate Park with him and that was so freeing to be able to run on my old running routes again.  Almost 7 months after our first 1 mile run together we ran our first 10 mile stroller run.

Stroller running gives me such a feeling of satisfaction.  Runners know how good it feels to go out in the pouring rain and get a run done.  Stroller running is the same thing.  You didn't have to, but you did it anyway and you end with such a feeling of accomplishment.

After that we continued to do a double digit run usually at least once, sometimes twice a week.  I learned very quickly that going out for a stroller run was the easiest way for me to get some me-time on his-time.  I wasn't sacrificing sleep to get my runs done.  It was a win-win situation.  I was very lucky that my son was very cooperative with the whole song and dance, too.  I learned to bring snacks and to present them strategically.  As he got older I would tell him we would stop to look at trucks and ducks.  I call us the Trucks and Ducks Running Club.  Today if I tell him we're going for a run he will sometimes say, "Trucks and ducks!"

I don't remember when, but I decided since we could run 10 miles + the 0.5 mi walk to and from our starting/end point + the time it took me to do 40 box jumps and 40 calf raises, my son could definitely last the amount of time in the stroller it would take me to run 13.1 miles.  We were so close to that distance anyhow.  And I thought years from now I would look back and just be so wowed that I got up to that distance during my stint as a stroller runner.

I settled on a small local half which was perfect for many reasons.  1) It was cheap.  $10.  This meant if something happened and we had to DNF it wasn't as if we had a lot of money invested.  2) It was very close to home.  3) It was a looped course which meant if my son was throwing a fit it would be very easy to drop out and have the car right there to head home.  4) They were stroller friendly.

The half marathon also ended up falling on my son's 2nd birthday.  I actually saw this as a negative because my parents were going to be in town. The idea of stealing my son away to push him for 2+ hours on his birthday seemed a little selfish.  Frankly, I still feel a little selfish about it.  But in the end, all those above reasons were too good to pass up and the timing worked well for my next race.  I decided to look at it as a celebration of how far I've come back to running two years after the day in my life I was probably least able to run at all.

I had originally planned to do lots of training runs around Lake Merced because I can easily run there from my home.  I took the stroller on one 8 mile run that involved one loop of Lake Merced and decided I wasn't going to do that again until race day.  Lake Merced running is decidedly much less desirable than running in Golden Gate Park.  There is not much shade, only one water fountain, and way more foot traffic to dodge which is a major negative with the stroller.  My running pace for that Lake Merced run was a bit faster than my average pace for a Golden Gate Park run so I decided Lake Merced was also less hilly and therefore training in Golden Gate Park was better preparation. Running the loop once with the stroller made me aware that there weren't any nasty elevation surprises and I was content with that small bit of race prep.

I did quite a few 10 mile stroller runs before the race and a solo 14 miler just to ensure 13.1 wasn't the farthest distance I had run in the recent past.  I even took a 35 lb kettle bell out for a 7 mile run the last week of training because my parents were already in town and I didn't want to cut into their time with my son.

For the record, the kettle bell is heavier than my son and the dense weight centered where it was made it very hard to steer.

Race day came and I was really nervous.  I had butterflies in my stomach. I have no idea why as this was probably the most low-key race with low-key expectations.  The course was three loops around Lake Merced.  The first loop was truncated by running over a bridge and the last two loops were the full 4.5 miles.  For some reason I thought we were doing the truncated loop last which I liked because it would make the last loop the shortest which I thought would be mentally helpful.  They changed things up and had us run the truncated loop first. Logistically this makes sense so they know to just direct everyone the first time out to the shortcut but I disliked the idea of having the longer loops last.

My strategy going in was to run the first loop easy, the second loop with just a little more kick, and then to put on the gas the third loop.  I usually stopped at about mile 5 to give my son a snack and I had brought along his usual cereal treat along with his water bottle.

My parents and husband had decided to drop me off and see me start but then leave and return to see us finish.  We had bought my son a kitchen set for his birthday and I had wanted it to be a surprise when we came home.  So my husband and father put it together while I ran loops around the lake.

I started way at the back of the pack so I wouldn't make anyone upset.  I was a little worried about getting on pace because the Lake Merced pathway is not very wide.  It was a little touch and go in the very beginning (and looking at the photo below I don't know how I got around so many people) but I found my space and stride within the first mile.

That's us taking off at the back of the pack.

I had made it my rough goal to come in faster than my first ever half marathon time.  I thought it would be neat to run my first stroller half faster than my first ever half marathon. My first half was 2:19 and I was pretty sure coming in faster than that wouldn't be an issue.  My average stroller running pace was usually in the area of 10:20. It wasn't a lofty goal, but it was a goal.

In the direction we were running, Lake Merced has an overall downhill grade the first half of a loop and an overall uphill grade the second half. I was a little bit concerned about how we were going to make our way down to the bridge which shortened the first loop. It definitely would involve a little bit of off-road action as there are trail sections leading from the path down to the bridge.  

We hit the turn for the bridge and I stopped to let two runners who were just behind me pass me before I navigated the packed dirt descent.  It wasn't as horrible as I had dreaded and soon we were on the paved path again.

 I was averaging a sub-10:00 pace which generally only happens on downhill splits of a stroller run.  Before I knew it we had finished a whole loop and were headed back out for the second.  Somewhere around mile 7 I looked down and saw that my son had fallen asleep.  Once he falls asleep on runs he usually stays knocked out for about 45 minutes so I knew we probably wouldn't have any problems.  As I finished up the second loop we came through one of two aid stations. I was running with my own bottle but was running low on water.  I had to stop to refill.  I really didn't want to wake up my son so I kept the stroller constantly moving while the volunteer at the aid station filled up my bottle.

I couldn't believe how quickly the miles were ticking away. The last loop I averaged about a 9:06 pace with 1.5 miles worth of sub 9:00 running. My son woke up at just before mile 12.  I heard him ask for his snack and I told him we were almost done could he pretty please wait?  He didn't protest so I kept pushing.  About a mile from the finish my family passed me in the car and honked and cheered for us.  I gave it one final effort up to the finish area and finished in 2:03.  I was really tickled with our 9:27 overall pace which is almost a minute per mile faster than most of our training stroller runs.  My son did his part for race day magic and I didn't have to stop once for him the entire time.  We often stop 2 or 3 times on a 10 mile training run for snacks and water breaks.

The distance on my Garmin read 13.06 and after I crossed the finish I really wanted to go back out for the extra 0.04 miles. I am totally on board with courses measuring long with GPS but am super skeptical about ones which measure short.  But it was obvious that my family wanted to get back home and on with the birthday festivities so I didn't bother appeasing my neurosis.

This race closed out a long chapter in my running story.  I had spent the last two years building back up to being able to run and then getting lots of base mileage done.  I had spent the last year+ doing so many easy miles with my son and the stroller.  My plan for after this half was to get back to more serious training with speed work and time goals.  I was planning to drop down to one day a week stroller running after this race and it made me sad to think that our twice a week Trucks and Ducks tradition was coming to an end. Who knows what the future brings but I was pretty sure this was the end of the chapter titled, "Stroller Running" in my story.  Stroller running is about to become a footnote instead of a main character.

My family got this all set up while we were out running.

The loot

Monday, September 12, 2016

Big Sur International Marathon

Marathon #41:

This was my sixth running of the Big Sur Marathon.  After Modesto my body needed a break and I wasn't able to give it one due to the timing between the races.  Modesto was a little too far out to count as a last long run for Big Sur.  I caught a nasty bug from my son immediately after the race.  Modesto was on Sunday and by Tuesday I had a fever for the first time in years.  This forced me to take a week off from running entirely.  For 2-3 weeks after that I still felt extremely sluggish when running. I am not sure if it was Modesto or being sick or a combo but if I could have taken time off I probably wouldn't have run more than a few miles here and there.  Instead, after a week off I jumped back into 6-10 mile runs pushing my son twice a week and built up to a 17 miler on my long run day.  I did drop the fourth day of running with speed work I had been doing up until Modesto.  I started to feel a little more like myself two weeks before Big Sur but I went into it looking forward to some down time afterwards.

We drove down to Monterey a tad earlier than in years past so I wouldn't be stressed about making it by expo closing to get my bib.  They are renovating the usual expo location at the hotel so it was located outside in giant tents this year.  I was disappointed at the official merchandise (as usual) so I didn't grab anything.  I stopped for a photo with Michael Martinez, the pianist.  I told him my life's dream was for him to be playing "What a Wonderful World" as I cross Bixby so if he could please throw it into the rotation tomorrow that would be awesome.  He said he would.  Spoiler:  It wasn't playing when I was there.  I had planned to buy his CD if he had a new one this year but he didn't.

We had early dinner reservations so that my son would be human while we ate so the expo was a quick stop.  For the first time I stayed at a hotel across the street from the host hotel and I think I may do this more often in the future. I thought I would have to walk to the garages for the bus which would have been totally fine, but they surprised me with a bus ticket at the Mariott which was just one block away.

My bus ticket was for 4-4:15 am departure so I left my hotel about 3:50 am.  A couple of years ago I got totally motion sick on the drive down to the start and the only thing that saved me was the fact I had a whole seat to myself and could curl up and lie down.  So I'm always a little nervous about this now.  I was hoping to be at the front of the bus so I could see out the front window to keep me from feeling sick, but I ended up towards the middle and there was no chance of having your own seat as they were packing the busses full.

The woman I sat next to wasn't particularly chatty, but that was okay because I wasn't in a chatty mood, either.  We talked briefly and when she found out I had run the race 5 times previously asked if I had any advice.  I told her two things:  1. Enjoy the views  2. Every up has an equal down.  She also asked about the wind and I told her that it had been really windy in the past but the nice thing is the course meanders and you get some protection from the wind every now and then.  I felt a tiny bit sick for a few moments but nothing terrible and I made it to the start okay.  I was trying to think if there is any other race that busses you to the start while you ride the entire actual course and I couldn't think of another that I have done.

Portapotty humor
The start area was not as horrible as it has been in the past but it was definitely very congested.  I do not think they can increase the size of the field purely for the limit of how many bodies they can cram in the start area.  The portapotty lines actually went through areas of people who had sat down on the ground.  It was pretty hard to find a spot to sit.  It wasn't nearly as cold this year as it has been in the past and I second guessed my choice of wearing a long sleeve shirt.  I thought it was going to be a windy day but the announcers were saying that there was very little wind up on their perch and that it was going to be a perfect day to run.

The portapotty lines weren't so long and I used them three times since they were accessible. They encourage people to get up on the road very early but I've learned to linger as long as possible.  There is a gear check bag right by the start line and I usually check my sweats to reuse again. That is one nice thing about this race. You can bring things you want to use at the start vs. just things you want to have at the finish.  At Disney, for example, gear check is probably a mile from the corrals so you have to give your bag up pretty early before the race starts.

The crowd heading up to the start.  Note the check bag truck to the left.
I took off somewhere in the middle of wave 2 once the 4:30 pace group had passed me.  There was a man dribbling a basketball and I prayed he would not be around me the entire race.  He mentioned to someone that he was thinking of a 6:00 finish so I tried to ignore the sound of the bouncing ball and figured sooner or later he'd be a memory.  The early miles in the trees were uneventful but once we hit the coast the weather for the day was revealed.  Cloudy and WINDY.  Man alive, I don't know what those announcers were smoking but it was very, very windy and hitting you full force in the face.  We passed a flagpole at one point and a man running by me said "There's a picture!" and stopped to take a photo of the flag whipping full horizontal in the wind.

Hard to see, but "San Francisco 143."  I always think "I love you, San Francisco" whenever I pass this sign.
I do recall thinking in the early miles that the course seemed a lot more congested than it had in the past. I don't know if this is just my memory playing tricks on me or an actual thing.  I was running near a pace group which might have made things feel more crowded but I definitely felt more boxed in than in the past.  I walked at the second water stop to eat a gel at around mile 5 and after that things really opened up for the rest of the race.

The hill at mile 9 struck me as being harder than I remembered, but there was a nice descent on the other side which swept me towards my absolute favorite miles in marathoning.  The road winds down to the Taiko drummers at the base of Hurricane Point. I was straining in the blasting wind to hear the drums but it was very hard this year. I stopped for a photo op with the drummers then buckled up for the 2 mile climb up to Hurricane Point.

My strategy for the race was to walk when eating gels, walk through aid stations, and run easy the rest of the time until that became impossible.  I had planned to take my gels at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20.  Mile 10 is just past the beginning of Hurricane Point so I took a nice breather there.  I recalled all the false summits to the top and at last year's race when I told a poor guy who asked that I thought the summit was just around the bend, d'oh.  The top of the hill is firmly at mile 12 so until you are there, you aren't there yet!

The wind was wicked.  Even non-windy years Hurricane Point tends to be windy.  I cinched my hat tighter to prevent it from blowing away (I wore my favorite, now forever unavailable vintage JackRabbit hat) as I had seen a few people chasing their hats down the road earlier in the race.  Then down the other side of the hill towards Bixby Bridge.  There are always people agape during the descent stopping on the side of the road to get photos with the bridge.  Whenever there was a break from the wind I tried to hear the piano playing.

It is a very short video, but you can get a sense of how windy it was by looking at people's clothes (check out the guy in the white shirt taking the photo)

I got a little choked up as I approached Bixby. I love, love, love this marathon and I kept reminding myself how lucky I was to be here this year.  I thought about how far my running has come in the past year and how grateful I was for all of that.  With the lottery nothing is guaranteed and I kept telling myself to savor every view and footstep.

This year "Linus and Lucy" was playing as I crossed the bridge.  The song always makes me a little sad because I regret not using it as our recessional song at our wedding.  But now hopefully instead of that thought I'll think of Bixby whenever I hear it playing.  I stopped for a photo with the piano which is almost a futile thing.  My first year I ran I have a photo with the piano and pianist with a beautiful backdrop and not one other runner in the photo with us.  This year, there were people taking photos with him from both sides and the photos I got are just not special.  Imagine 6 people taking photos with the piano at the same time with people standing behind it taking pictures of the scenery.  I think this is a direct result of camera cellphones increasing the number of people with cameras on the course.  Back in 2009 most people had to carry their digital cameras and I guess not as many people were willing to do that. Or people got rude. I tend to think it is the first.

The situation around the piano does not look too crowded above, but all the photos of me and the piano have people taking selfies from every angle all around me.
I also grabbed some shots with the scenery farther down the road.  For about a mile after Bixby the scenery remains magical and there is a downhill that makes your Bixby high give you wings.  I couldn't believe I had already run 14 miles.  Then the harder miles come and the scenery drops a notch in impressiveness.  I buckled on my big girl pants for the working part of this marathon.

The wind was pretty brutal and I was hoping my busmate wasn't shaking her fist at me for what I had said.  I mean, it is true that the course winds a bit and the hills will occasionally block some of the headwind but most of the time it just felt like you were running straight into it.  At one point we wound around a hill that protected us and my pace immediately felt so much easier even though we were going uphill.  For a short stretch there were some scattered drops and I thought for a few minutes it might actually drizzle.  That coupled with the wind made me happy with my long sleeve shirt selection for the day. It wasn't a cold cutting wind, but it was a little chilly.  I even saw one runner pick up a discarded sweatshirt on the side of the road to use.

At mile 16 when I stopped for a photo-op I tried to text my husband to let him know my ETA but there was no cell service. I was getting worried about him having to wait at the finish with a toddler for so long but there was no way for me to let him know.  A woman was giving out free hugs at mile 18.  In the past the hug station was at mile 23 or so, but I took it when I could get it.  Always fun.

I had read a previous race report the night before the race that there had been a hill at mile 21.  So I saved my last gel for mile 21 so that I could take a little bit of a walk break there.  I remembered that there was one last big hill on the course and for some reason I thought that mile 21 hill was it.  Turns out, the last big uphill is at mile 22.

At this point I was walking a portion of the uphills and starting to fret more and more about my husband and toddler at the finish line.  I had been leap frogging for most of the race with a gentleman.  I remembered him because he had the quote, "Life is short but running makes it feel longer" written on the back of his shirt.  At one point he passed me as I was walking uphill and made a comment to me.  Then later when I started running on the downhill I caught up to him and he struck up a conversation.

Honestly, I wasn't looking for a chat buddy.  I was engrossed in savoring every bit of this race on the chance I didn't get accepted again for 10 years.  But the conversation was so good I couldn't not run with him.  This guy had run every single Big Sur Marathon. He was also on the Board of Directors.  It was so neat to ask him questions and pick his brain about the race and living in the area.  I have a dream goal of one day retiring in Pacific Grove. This man was living my dream.

Up until running with me he had been doing run-walk intervals (which explained all the leap-frogging we had done) but he had decided to run it in the last 4 miles to the finish.  And because I was enjoying our conversation I ran those last 4 miles, too.  We minimally walked through aid stations or not at all.  I even ran up the entire mile 25 hill (which isn't so big but feels like a mountain at that point) for only the second time ever.  My race had been spiraling more and more into a run-walk finish but having a friend to run with gave me new wings and I felt great.  I read somewhere once that the people you meet on a race course feel like lifetime friends for the miles you share and this was definitely the case.

As we approached the finish line I saw my husband and son off to the side cheering.  It is always the best boost to get over the finish line.  We finished at 4:48. Not the best Big Sur time, not the slowest Big Sur time, but definitely a memorable finish.

My husband actually made the above sign for the 2015 Big Sur Marathon, my first marathon post-baby.  But at the finish he couldn't figure out how to hold the sign AND the 9 month old so it stayed rolled up under the stroller.  And believe it or not I never saw it.  So he brought it for the 2016 race.  That is our son's 9 month old (1 year and 9 months old at this year's race)"signature" at the bottom right.

The shirt this year looks just like the 2011 shirt which is a bit of a let down. Big Sur used to do really nice graphics on their shirts.  Admittedly, they weren't great for sweating because they are like giant plastic patches on the back of the shirt, but they were so pretty.  They could definitely up their graphic design a bit if only to be able to read the words easier.

As always, my favorite marathon did not disappoint.  I was told by my new friend that he thought this year's wind was one of the top 3 windiest years at Big Sur.  I ran another year which was pretty windy which makes me suspicious that I have run for 2 of the 3 windiest years.  At any rate, that bit of news made me feel like quite the survivor.

I am happy to report that I was accepted in the lottery to run in 2017 so I'll be back again next year.  I had no clue this was the case until my lively chat during the race, but the more times you have run Big Sur, the better your odds in the Loyalty lottery.  I am hoping to keep on adding finishes until I cross some magical guaranteed accepted threshold.  This is the one I want to run every year until I don't run these any more.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Modesto Marathon

Marathon #40:

I signed up for this race for two reasons.  One, I thought the medal and shirt were really sweet.  Two, I consider Modesto to be the best PR course in driveable distance to SF and wanted to check it out again.  I raced it 4 years ago (and did PR) but I couldn't remember a lot about it and wanted to refresh my memory. I am not in PR shape at the moment but am hoping maybe next year I will be and I may target Modesto as my next PR attempt.

I wedged this into the schedule after Disney and figured it would be sort of a nice long run for Big Sur.  We will see how that works out.  It was a bit too far out from Big Sur to stand in as a last long run but a little too close for me to possibly fit another 20 miler into the schedule.

The one thing I really like about this race is that the host hotel is both the site for the expo and is a couple of blocks away from the start/finish.  Staying at this hotel worked out really well the first time I ran this race so I booked a room there again.  For a Modesto hotel it may not be the cheapest, but in the grand scheme of hotel prices it is a decent price.  I just made it to the expo before it closed and easily picked up all my race stuff.  It is a small race so it has a small expo and you can be in and out really quickly.

I went to collect my free bottle of wine that the race was giving out from a restaurant across the street from the hotel.  I noticed there was a movie theatre across the street from the restaurant so ended up catching a movie that night.  Such a treat after having a kid. I also ended up eating dinner at that restaurant after the movie since they were offering "free pasta with beverage purchase (limit one per table)" to runners.  I don't think they counted on single me coming in and getting a $3.50 orange juice.

I had one thing going on this race which made me 5% nervous.  I decided to run with my Orange Mud hydration pack with a tank top on.  I've run loads of miles in long sleeve/short sleeve shirts but this was the first time I was going to try it with the straps touching bare skin. I put enough body glide on the area to move an elephant down a tube slide but it was one of those "never try anything new on race morning" things that could have been a really bad idea.  I also decided to use a smaller than normal bottle with the Orange Mud pack. I usually run with a tall bottle that is easy to reach but I like to run with smaller bottles at races since there are aid stations along the way.  I bought myself a smaller Kleen Kanteen the day before the race -- I tested to make sure I could still get it in and out even though it was shorter but I didn't know if it would cause issues on a run.

The Orange Mud situation.  Staps on bare skin -- potentially day ruining, but I gambled

This was probably only the third or fourth time I could walk to the race start on race morning.  I was meeting a friend in the lobby and we planned to get going about 15 minutes before the race.  Getting a little more sleep, using your own private bathroom -- luxuries on race morning, people!  The last time I ran this race the weather was marathon awesome:  It was overcast and in the 40s the entire race.  Perfect.  This year was not to be a repeat.  It was in the mid-50s at the start and they were forecasting 70s by the finish.  The start ended up being delayed for almost 20 minutes due to road closures not happening on time.  This was annoying from a temperature perspective but since I had good company it was not a total loss.

This was the first marathon I have done in a while that I was in shape to actually run all the way through.  Goofy was done on tired legs and involved a lot of photo stops.  Big Sur I couldn't run much during training. As such I decided it might be fun to have some very loose goals.  My easy running pace these days is about 9:45-10:00 so I decided it was realistic to do a marathon at that pace.  a 9:45ish pace puts you at a 4:15 finish and a 10:00 pace a 4:20 finish.  I decided to make a sub-4:20 my B-goal and a sub-4:15 my A-goal.

Since my target pace is my easy running pace I just went out easy and natural.  I remembered that the roads in town had been pretty chewed up the last time I ran. They must have repaved in the last four years because I didn't notice this being an issue at all this year.  The first 4 miles or so you are in the town portion of Modesto.  There are lots of turns in this area before you pop over an overpass bridge (they had a sign that said, "Mount Modesto 113'"), the first of two hills on the course.  There were a few people out playing music in these areas which was a nice boost.  It would be awesome if the race would bring music out into the long out-and-back areas of the course.

I was pleasantly surprised that there was actually decent shade on the course through mile 9ish.  It was warm, yes, but it wasn't a factor as early as I expected because of the shade.  I only remembered long open stretches of road on this course and didn't think there would be much shade at all.

The half marathoners peeled of a little before mile 8 and you start the long out and back that is the rest of the race. This is not the most interesting course but even taking it easy I didn't find it boring or uninspiring.  There are lots of agriculture fields, cows, horses, and houses.  At one point we ran by a field of kale and it smelled divine.  Kale.  Who knew?  There are spectators occasionally but this is not the race for you if you are externally motivated when running.  The aid stations were plenty plentiful and the volunteers overall did a great job of calling out if they were holding Gatorade or water.  Only once I grabbed a Gatorade thinking it was water.  Because of the expected heat I did take a cup through every aid station but I didn't dawdle, and got back running as soon as possible.

One small thing I appreciated was that the race advertised that there would be trash cans at every mile marker.  Because of the out and back nature of the race the mile markers came up more than every mile.  This was really helpful since I take a gel at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20 and that timing does not always coincide with an aid station to throw away my wrapper.  When you know a trash can is coming up it makes it a lot easier to hold onto your trash. At lots of races people will toss wrappers at mile markers (assuming correctly that someone from the race will have to come to collect the marker and why not the trash) and it felt like such an easy yet small touch to have a trash can for us.

When I hit mile 10.5 or 11 the leaders started coming back in the opposite direction. I had a lot of fun cheering for them.  As I mentioned there are not a lot of spectators at this race and I figured they could use the boost.  For a short while I was running by two men who were also hearty cheerers for the returning runners and that got me running energized for a while.  The low-3:00s pace groups were coming back and they would yell "That's Boston!" which got some smiles from otherwise pained faces.  The men had way too much energy (one was even jumping over marathon signage that came up to my waist) but somehow I pulled ahead of them after a short while and lost my cheering buddies.

The race feels pancake flat but technically has a very slight downhill trend the first half and a very slight uphill trend the second if you look at elevation charts.  I don't know if it was cheering for the returning runners or that the downhill portion really has an effect but my pace was fastest right before the turnaround going into the 9:20s or 9:30s without my even trying.  It also felt slightly harder on the return after the turnaround but maybe I just used up all my extra gas on the approach.

Elevation per my Garmin.  Really flat. But you can see the slight downhill/uphill trend and the little blips for the overpass.

Everyone loves the turnaround of an out and back and it felt good to be heading home. I was still feeling peppy at this point and even had a thought that maybe I would get through this whole marathon and just feel like it was a normal long run.  Those have of late been ending at 20 miles. Spoiler:  It didn't quite pan out.

My hydration pack wasn't giving me any issues which I was very thankful about.  It was a calculated and probably a poor risk but it was working out.  However I kept thinking to myself, "you don't feel chafing until you feel it..."  The smaller water bottle was a touch harder to reach to remove from the pack but it was worth the trade off for less weight, I think.  Though I suppose I could use my larger bottle and just fill it only a quarter full or so.  Ideas to ponder for the future.

Even though there are long straightaways on this course it is so flat you can't see that far ahead in the distance.  So that aspect of the course did not bother me mentally at all.  I tried to note when it started to actually feel hot and for me it was around mile 17 or 18.  I cursed the 20 minute late start around this time and imagined how nice it would have been to be 2 miles farther down the road.  But really, I expected the heat to be a factor much sooner in the day so I can't complain about this.  There was a light breeze here and there that helped to keep you cool.  I had mentioned in the past that on a windy day this would be a horrible course with the long straightaways but that wasn't an issue this year.

I did start to feel off right around when the heat became noticeable.  One strange thing that happened was that I got a very tight ball in my stomach just below my ribs.  It wasn't a side stitch but felt more like a huge air bubble.  It made me uncomfortable and stopped me from feeling motivated to pick up the pace.  Originally I had wanted to run a little stronger the last 5 miles.  As I got closer to that time and my desire to run any faster was low I cut down on the distance.  Okay, maybe the last 4 miles.  Maybe the last 3 miles.  Maybe just hold this pace until the end.  I was slowing down slightly and knew I had to give it a honest kick if I wanted to come under 4:15.  With my air bubble and the heat I decided it wasn't something I was willing to dig for today.

There was a woman cheering with a spray bottle asking runners if they wanted to be misted.  Sweet coolness for 5 seconds! I need to remember this if I'm ever cheering at a hot race in the future.  I took advantage of all of the aid stations. Since it is small race the aid stations are not that long so you have to be sure to grab everything you need in one go.  I only had to refill the water bottle I was carrying once.  A volunteer saw me (I thought) running up to the table as I unscrewed my bottle and she picked up the pitcher.  I was so glad.  I hate having to try to find the large bottle myself or pouring cup after cup into my bottle to fill it.  This won't take but two seconds!  At the last moment I realized that a runner right in front of me had the same idea so I had to stand there while her (giant) bottle got filled.  Not as efficient as I had hoped.

As we got towards the end I was scanning the horizon for my hotel.  It is the only tall building in the area and I knew the finish line was just a few blocks from the building.  I have to say, mercifully, you can't spot the hotel when you are still 4 miles out.  I can't remember when exactly you could see it, but not so early that it seems so far away in the distance.

The overpass was a welcome hill.  I am to used to running on such flat terrain and it felt good to use some different muscles for a stretch.  Given my state of when-is-this-over-how-did-I-think-it-would-feel-like-a-training-run-at-the-end feelings I decided the last mile I would bump it up and press on the gas a little.  I switched my Garmin over to time vs. distance and realized I was actually a lot closer to running a sub-4:15 than I thought I had been.  With only a mile to go I knew there was no way I would get it done, though. But I still pushed as much as I could the last mile and change.  I actually felt better than I thought I was going to when I stepped on the gas so in hindsight probably could have upped the effort a mile or two sooner.

26.33 miles per Garmin

They had Doritos at the finish which is probably the best post race food ever. They also had a tent which was printing out free finish line photos.  They were currently printing photos from over an hour before my finish time when I stopped by it and I didn't have time to wait around.  They also provide free race photos online to download after the race which is an awesome perk I wish more races would consider offering.

Out of 40 marathons, this was my 8th fastest finish which I was fairly tickled about.  That statistic really just speaks to the easy-running nature of the majority of my marathon career.  But the faster finishes came off of very dedicated marathon training cycles.  It was nice to know I could hit this mark off of only 3-4 runs a week with most of the miles very easy.  I had started doing very short interval work once a week and threw in some fast finish long runs a few times but I never was on a rigid training cycle.

I personally really loved the swag and it was quite a motivating factor in me signing up for Modesto this year:

I am not a comic book/superhero person, but I really loved the theming.

The medal had magnets and a kickstand on the back so you could display it easier.  I have a gazillion race medals and have never encountered this before.  Genius (though mine is in a box under the bed).

They had different sizes available, but the smallest size is still way too big for me. Probably shouldn't have even bothered taking the arm warmers.

I'm glad I fit this into the schedule.  I wouldn't hesitate to consider it for a PR race.  The weather is the biggest gamble, but that is always the case.  Even with the warmer temps this year, the course had more shade than I expected in the early miles and it wasn't as big of an issue as early as I had expected it to be (though on a warm day the latter miles are going to be really dreadful).  It is well organized and very convenient logistically with the host hotel so close to the start line.  I personally prefer races which are smaller like this when I am going for a time goal so I can really concentrate on the running.  There aren't tons of spectators, but the pockets of cheerers were enthusiastic.  The last time I ran it, my husband was out on the course cheering and it was very easy for him to see me at various points along the course.

Note to self:  Take the San Mateo bridge when coming home.  Every year you think the Bay Bridge will be faster and I don't think that has ever worked out.  You spent AN HOUR just driving over the Bay Bridge to get home.  Also, do yourself a favor and take the rolling suitcase.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Half Marathon of the Treasure Coast

In the beginning of March we took a whirlwind trip to Florida and New York to visit family.  We are all still traumatized from traveling with a toddler so let us not speak of that again.  I had a 16 mile run on the schedule and no idea where I would get it done in Florida.  My husband suggested I look to see if there were any running clubs in the area.  I did a quick search and realized that there was going to be a half marathon in the town we were in the exact day I needed to do my long run. What were the chances? Huzzah!!

We did not arrive at our hotel in Florida until around 10:00 pm and the race started at 6:30 am.  I was completely exhausted and my alarm went off at the California equivalent time of 2 am. Not cool.  I somehow managed to sneak out of the hotel room without waking my husband or son and my cab was downstairs waiting to take me to the race (Sidenote:  When we arrived at the hotel I asked the guy at the front desk if they had Uber in the area and he looked at me like I had two heads).

I had written to the race director beforehand about a good area to knock out my 3 miles pre-race and he assured me the whole area was safe and well-lit.  I ended up just going out a block or two and coming back and then eventually found a parking lot that I circled until I logged 3 miles. My main concern about running in Florida was that it was going to be warm.  The low temp was already at the equivalent of an average San Francisco day.  A few runners were parking in or near the lot I was running around and heading in to the race.  I was probably only a quarter mile from the race start and I found it really odd that there weren't more cars coming into the parking lot.  I guess it has been a while since I ran a small race.  Or more accurately, it has been a long time since I ran a race that had lots of free parking close to the start.

I got back to the start area with about 10 minutes to spare which had been my plan.  It wasn't urgent but I figured I should use the portapotty before lining up for the start.  For a while I didn't think I would make it but I was able to get in and out before the gun went off. So kudos to them for having just enough toilets.  They had on-your-honor start corrals based on your pace.  My goal for the day was to run the first 8 miles easy (about 10:00 pace) and then pick-up the pace for the last 5 miles.  I had been doing these fast finish long runs since Disney.  I alternated a week of a long slow run, then the next week I would cut-back on mileage a little bit but do the last 3-4 miles hard.  In my training runs I had been averaging a low-8:00 pace for the last few miles of 14-15 mile runs which for me nowadays is pretty phenomenal.  I was looking forward to doing this in a race setting.

They let us off in waves in a very low-key start. The race sort of criss-crosses through downtown Stuart, through residential roads, over a bridge (the only notable hill), more residential roads, back over the bridge to the finish.  There were A LOT of turns which doesn't make it the fastest course I have run.  My favorite part was the boardwalk.  It was a wooden walkway about 7 feet across that had no railings and was suspended over the water.  The sun was coming up over the water and the view was gorgeous.  I wondered if anyone had ever fallen over the side into the water trying to get around someone.

I am not sure if the temperature stamp is from the beginning or end of the run, but I call foul if that is the end temp. Felt like 70s at the end to me. Edited to add: Yes, that is the start temp. Phew, I'm not crazy.

I had a water bottle on me, but I also walked through every aid station to keep hydrated.  It was warm for this San Franciscan.  I kept my running pace in the high-9:00s, low-10:00s which was right where I wanted to be.  Honestly, it felt just right in the heat. I had been feeling so awesome on my long runs recently I had been worried about holding back in a race setting but that wasn't a problem.

As we were running by some houses, a woman by me said, "Now there is a piece of social history!"  There was a Trump sign on the lawn.  "We should knock on their door," she joked.  "Come on out and let us see who you are!"  We passed two Trump signs on lawns I remember during the race.  No comment.

The course had tons of turns but also had excellent signage.  There was a full marathon also going on and it was easy to tell where we should be headed.  The full marathoners peeled off right as we crossed the bridge.  I didn't envy them.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I couldn't imagine what it would be like to run a full on this day.  There was thankfully a nice breeze which kept the temperature from feeling too horrible.

Everything in life is relative and it is neat to see this in full effect when you take yourself out of your element.  At the start people looked downright cold as they huddled crossing their arms to keep warm.  Coming from San Francisco I thought it was quite pleasant.  One person out cheering yelled that there was a downhill coming up.  It was the teeniest dip but a woman running by me was so excited about the decline.

I do think the race can work a little on traffic control.  For the most part through the residential areas it is an open course.  I guess the race is early enough in the day that there are very few people trying to leave their houses.  However, there was one point when runners were going in both directions on a narrow shoulder and cars were trying to come from both directions when I thought it would have been nice if someone had been controlling vehicle traffic to allow for travel just one direction at a time.

As I approached mile 8 and the work was about to start, I can't say I was very excited about it.  I told myself to run by effort and to not get too concerned about the paces that I saw.  My pick-up conveniently started before the bridge-hill.  My pace those last five miles hovered in the high-8:00s to low-9:00s which is about a minute per mile off the pace I was hoping to run.  But in the heat it felt plenty tough.

There was a long straightaway to the finish which I find rare for races.  Knowing exactly where the line was I put up a good effort the last 3/4 of a mile.  I don't know why, but I got confused as to where the actual finish line was located.  They had an arch with a timer on it so of course that is the finish, right?  But for some reason I thought it was around the corner (there was a sharp turn of the finish chute right after the line) and I ran hard until the turn when I realized that there were people standing there ready to adorn me with water bottles and medals.  Sheepish me. In retrospect I thought the finish was in the same location as the start which would have been around the corner.  But how often do races start and finish at the same line?  So again, I have idea what I was thinking. I blame it on the heat.

I got an ice-cold bottle of orange juice and completely downed that.  It was now about just before 9 am and I wasn't expecting my son to wake up until about 10 am (we keep him on California time when traveling to the east coast).  So I had some time to kill in the finish area before I could go back to the hotel.  I have to say, this race does finish areas right.  I was planning on taking advantage of the free finish line massage for the first time ever, but I was such a soppy sweaty mess I didn't really feel like forcing someone to touch me.  The race had one of the most amazing food spreads.  I took advantage of the pizza station but they also had salad, pasta and a burrito station, I think.

Piles of cold pizza!

A vendor had adirondack chairs outside their mobile home and I camped out on one to wait until my husband texted me the all-clear to come back to the hotel.  A woman affiliated with the company asked that I like them on FB in exchange for sitting on their chair.  They were an IV company.  They actually administered IVs at the finish which were supposedly souped up with all kinds of stuff to help you recover.  Kind of strange, but I saw two men take the bait while I was sitting there so I guess there must be a market for this type of thing. I'm not sure I am into letting non-medical people stick needles into me and inject me with magic soup, but that is just me.

I sold my FB soul to sit on this chair. Which reminds me, I don't think I have unliked them yet...

This was also the first race I ran that had a PR bell. I've seen photo of these things at other races and I always thought it was a genius idea.  I truly believe that every single race should have one.  All things being equal I would choose a race with a PR bell over one which didn't have one if I was trying to PR.  I mean, can you imagine the satisfaction from ringing that sucker?  Every time the bell rang it felt like a fairy got their wings and it just made you happy for the person.  Right when I finished it was especially fun to see people who had been running by me through the race ring the bell.  When you are out there together you don't know who is on PR pace or who is out for a training run.  I was really happy for the people I was running with who PRd.  I didn't realize that a PR bell could bring such happiness to a finish area even if you never got to ring it yourself.  Seriously race people, get on this.  This race's bell was fancy, but even a plain one would do.  How much could it possibly cost?

The swag was fun.  I didn't take a photo of the stuff in the bag before I left most of it in Florida (a pink whisk for one, which I gave to my niece) but I did keep a cowbell they handed out.  Now that I think of it, considering they handed out cowbells there weren't really that many out on the course.

I stashed my medal in my carry-on after the race.  No issues leaving Florida.  A week later when we were leaving NY for CA we got stopped at the TSA checkpoint.  They kept rummaging through the bag taking out this and that and rerunning it through the scanner.  The guy who read the bag scan kept shaking his head when the TSA agent would pull out something to see if that was what he had seen.  They kept asking if we had a bottle opener and I was racking my brain to think of what could be flagging the bag.  Of course, when you are on vacation one week and one state ago is like an eternity.  Finally the TSA woman found the medal (which was in a pocket in a pocket type deal in the outer layers of the bag).  When I explained what it was she said, "We thought it was a gun."  So yes, State of Floridas look like guns.

My husband really liked the gun, err, medal.  The sun spins around which he thought was cool.

Overall, if you find yourself in Stuart, Florida during this event I definitely recommend it. It was well-organized and I thought the quality of it was excellent. I am a fan of smaller races myself and it was nice to take part in this.  If you are a Floridian and acclimated to the temperatures I imagine it is a fast course (though with all the turns it rings up long on GPS if you know what I mean).  I am so thankful for this race if only because it got me running early.  Two days later I didn't get started on my run until after 11 am and it was the most miserable 7 miles in the heat I have experienced in a long time. I don't think I would have made it 16 miles if I had started later than 6 am.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Walt Disney World Half Marathon & Marathon (Goofy Challenge 2016)

After the Santa Rosa Half Marathon I set my sights on Goofy training.  A couple of weeks after Santa Rosa I added in a fourth day of running.  I do this run solo and I ended up alternating every other week doing either interval work or tempo work on this day.  I still nurse my son in the mornings and evenings so I can't leave the house early before he gets up.  Due to time constraints of waiting for him to wake up and needing to get to work I can only fit in about 35-40 minutes of running this day.  With a warm-up and cool-down factored in I get about 2 miles worth of quality running done.  Two tempo miles aren't going to significantly improve my long distance running speed, but I look at it as priming my body for more speed work and it is nice to see some faster paces every now and then. Two other days a week I run pushing my son in the BOB.  When I ran Santa Rosa we were up to 6 mile runs together and over the course of training for Goofy we built up to 10 mile runs.  Then the last running day of the week is a solo long run.

My pelvis still feels achy (I believe due to pregnancy issues vs. the stress fracture) sometimes so I was hesitant to do back-to-back long runs that serious Goofy prep demands.  I think only once I actually trained for Goofy doing back-to-back long runs so I knew base marathon training was enough to get it done.  Due to scheduling issues I once did a 16 miler followed by a 10 miler the next day, didn't combust, and deemed that an adequate test for Goofy.  I also continued the pattern of cutting back my long run distance every other week to play it safe.

During Goofy training I also finally got brave enough to do stroller runs all around Golden Gate Park. I was nervous about the longer hills (and also being so far from home with a toddler) but after doing my training wheels hill on the west side of the park over and over and over I decided to venture into the park.  I am so glad I did!  I get to do my old running routes and don't have to repeat segments.

I used to do that triangle loop (about 1.3 miles) at the top over and over and over.  The bottom leg of the triangle is uphill and I called it my "training wheels hill"

Now we run up and into GGP.  As a runner this is mentally so much easier to do one large loop but at the same time we end up very far from home if something goes wrong.  Knock on wood, so far so good.  I haven't had to do a 4 mile run home with a screaming toddler in tow yet.

This was my sixth Disney Marathon and my fifth Goofy Challenge.  This race has changed a lot through the years of my participation -- some things good, some things not so good.  I'll break down the weekend by days mainly for my own benefit down the road of remembering how I spent the time.

Thursday Night:
I caught a red eye out of San Francisco to Atlanta and then connected to Orlando. The flight took off at about 11pm and I was mighty tired at that point.  I rarely sleep well on flights but can usually count on 2 hours or so on a red eye.  I think maybe I fell asleep for 10 minutes the first flight.  Probably less.  That was unfortunate.  Luckily I was in and out of sleep the second flight so got a little over an hour there.  But I landed in Orlando extremely tired with a long day (and weekend) staring me in the face.


I caught the Magical Express out to my hotel on Disney property.  I've come to love Pop Century as my home base at Disney.  I waited a little too long to make my hotel reservations this time around and had to cobble together three different reservations in order to get all the days I needed at Pop for the marathon weekend.  I was told they would try to get me in the same room the whole time but there was a possibility I would have to check-in and out of rooms twice while I was there.

When I checked in I was told that they had managed to get me in the same room the whole time (HUGE relief) but that I was still technically on three different reservations so should call to make sure they were aware of this and I shouldn't have to vacate the room each time.  No problem!

I headed to my room, got settled, and got ready to go to the expo to pick up my bib.  I hopped on a bus headed to the expo at Wide World of Sports.  There were a ton of cars trying to get into the facility which surprised me since Dopey runners had to be there two days earlier and I thought that would mitigate a lot of the high traffic on Thursday. I later learned that the kids races were being held which explained the large amount of traffic.

It was a lot of fun to watch all the kids streaming in and I took this video to send to my husband (with some note about how maybe our son would have fun doing this if it interested him in the future).

One way the race has changed over the last decade is that the expo is spread out over three different locations at Wide World of Sports.  I think the last time it was in two buildings.  It was originally all crunched into one building.  They made me take a photo with my bib for the Goofy Challenge. Previously you had a wristband you had to switch out after the half to prove you did both races but they have since change the system to photo comparison.

Another change:  GENDER SPECIFIC RACE SHIRTS!  My biggest gripe about Disney races, hands down, was the fact that they still utilized unisex shirts.  And this was despite the fact that the majority of the runners at their events are now female.   I have never gotten a shirt from a Disney race that fit me well.  But the shirts this year fit me great and I'll wear them all the time.

I wound through the expo but wasn't too impressed with anything this year.  It felt like there were less outside vendors than usual.  I did pick up a Headsweats hat but one item is definitely the least amount of loot I've picked up at this expo.  None of the official race merchandise was tantalizing, either.  For all their designers Disney race merchandise is usually lackluster and just plain ugly.  Champion is the official apparel brand of the event and their stuff is just not great quality either.  Champion had their own booth set up with some cute designs: the running Mickey, Run/Sleep/Repeat with Mickeyeqsque pictures, Run your Ears off, etc.  But all of these designs were on Men's clothing.  The Women's selections were horribly gender-skewed and girlyfied which was insulting:  Girls run the world (with Minnie Ears) and a few others I have apparently wiped from my memory.

I headed back to my hotel to drop off my stuff and then headed out again to hit up the parks.  I always save the Magic Kingdom (my favorite) for marathon Sunday so I headed over to Animal Kingdom.  Another change to Disney World in general since my last visit:  Fast Pass+.  Before you had to get fast passes from kiosks by attractions but now you can pre-book them in advance of your visit.  You are limited to three in one park for any given day.  Once you use them up you can select one more at a time.  I am a little mixed about this new system.  One on hand it does cut down on criss-crossing all over the park, but it also squashes any possibility of flying by the seat of your pants on any given day.  You can also adjust your Fast passes from an app on your phone which is great but all the main attractions are probably booked up before that day even arrives so in a sense there is little flexibility.

I hit up everything I wanted to at Animal Kingdom (including the most amazing black bean burger with fries at my favorite counter-service restaurant by Dinosaur) and debated whether I should head back to the hotel or go to a second park for the day.

The biggest crux of being at Disney for races is that you have to balance time on your feet with not being stupid for the races.  Going to a park involves walking to and from transportation which is usually a trek from the park itself.  In the past I would go to Orlando for a full week for the races but with being a mother and leaving my husband to play single father this weekend, I was only there this year for a little over 4 days.  This meant I had to be selective about how I spent my time in the parks.  My least favorite park is Epcot but I do like visiting about three attractions there.  I figured I could jet over there, knock out my favorites, and then cross Epcot off my list on Day 1!

I was exhausted at this point (I walked off the plane at 9:30 am Orlando time after not sleeping all night) and had a half marathon the next morning.  But I love me my Disney parks so an Epcot visit beat out sanity.  I was actually nodding in and out of sleep on Spaceship Earth but was happy to get all my Epcot good feels finished.  My goal was to be back at the hotel by 7 pm so I could be asleep by 8 pm. I don't remember exactly but I'm pretty sure I wasn't back until after 8 which pushed getting into bed to 9:30 or even 10 pm by the time I got my race stuff all ready to go.

I had a message on my room telephone from the front desk. I called them and verified that I would be in the same room the next day and that my magic band (another new thing, you wear your room key on your wrist) would not need to be rekeyed the next day.  I was told I would be fine. I verified that I would not need to make this call to the front desk the next day and was told I was set for the rest of my stay (sinister foreshadowing).


In case you weren't aware, Disney races require you to wake up insanely early.  The last time I did this race there was a huge line at the bus to get to the race and also horrible traffic to get to the staging area.  I decided to play it safe and try to get to the bus shortly after 3 am (I used at aim for 3:30 am)  I set my alarm for 2:40 am.  That is 11:40 pm California time.  Luckily with my horrid sleep the night before on the plane I pretty much crashed as soon as I got in bed.  I woke up at 2:40 am bright-eyed and bushy tailed which totally surprised me.  I usually nurse my son around 7 am so decided with the time change I wouldn't pump before the half.  The race starts at 5:30 am which meant I would be done by 8 am which is only 5 am California time.

They must have improved the system from the last time I ran because there was zero line for the bus when I arrived.  I hopped on board and made an unremarkable trip to the Epcot parking lot.  Another first was a security checkpoint before entering the staging area.  They had one side for runners without bags and a longer line for runners with bags.  I didn't have a bag to check so went through the  without bags side but I learned the next day that my Fitletic belt qualifies as a bag and I should have gone through the bag line.  Oops.

Another new development was character photo-ops in the start area!  They had four stations set up. I grabbed a photo with Pluto and then Chip & Dale. I skipped Daisy and I think Dopey was out for the Dopey runners.  Then I found a nice place to sit and hunkered down for the long wait.  It was a little chilly and I was happy for the heat sheet I had brought along for my throwaway.  They have a great DJ in the area and I stayed by the stage to be entertained for as long as I thought wise.  There is a half a mile or so walk out to the start line from the staging area.

People waiting for the Daisy photo-op at the start

One major change from the last time I ran is the way they divvy up the corrals.  Historically my qualifying times (which really aren't all that superb in the grand scheme of running) were enough to put me in Corral A.  It was awesome to actually get to start running with the official countdown and to have the option to run your pace from the very beginning.  Those days are long gone.  My time got me into Corral F this year.  I heard on a podcast that they penalize Dopey and Goofy runners because they assume you will not be running optimally. I am not sure if this is true or not but I doubt it made a huge difference in my placement.  The 4:15 marathon pacer was in my corral for the full which is probably a realistic finish time with my 2:02ish half qualifying time.  I don't know where the corrals ended previously but this year they went all the way up to P!  With a couple of minutes hold between corral releases that is a long, long wait if you find yourself in P.  Word to the wise, if you can run faster than P, definitely get a qualifying time in!  While sad I will never be in A again (it said for the marathon it was for sub-3 hour marathoners!) I think this is a great move for Disney which is notorious for congestion.

I got to watch five fireworks shows as each corral before us was released.  I heard that they were not letting late comers enter corrals up front once they had been released. So if you were a B corral runner and B wave had left, they were making you enter the masses much farther back.  I thought this was dumb.  If they have a bib with a letter that has released, let them enter at the front.  There were several panicked runners running along the fences trying to find the entry point.  As we headed closer to the start I passed a guy sitting on the ground surrounded by medical bikes.  I saw that his knees were both really bloody. I assume he tried to hop the fence and ate it.  A man next to me said, "Oh gosh!" in such a way that made me think maybe there was more blood than just his knees.  I can't recall what type of bib he had on, but I couldn't help but think that if he were a Dopey or Goofy runner much bigger dreams may have died hopping that fence.  So Disney, let people enter at the front if their corral has already released!

The start line and Donald wishing us a great race

For the first time I ran with my phone as my camera.  When I first ran this race back in 2005 I didn't even own a digital camera.  In 2008 Disney gave us disposable film cameras in our race bag to use during the race.  Amazing how much technology has changed, right?

One thing that being a repeat participant has done to me is I am much pickier about stopping for photos.  If I already have a nice photo with a character I may not stop anymore.  If I don't know or care about a character, I don't stop anymore.  I can't say for sure if there were less than usual characters out, I'm leaning towards there being a few less than I remember, but I only ended up stopping for four photos (not counting castle photos).  It was foggy and overcast and really nice running weather for a non-racing effort.  It might have been in the upper 50s?  I love running in the 40s but not when I am taking my time and stopping for photos.

My strategy was to take it easy and walk a little bit every mile or two.  I carried a very small bottle on my Fitletic belt so had planned to utilize the aid stations heavily.  As usual, I was having a total blast. It has been three years since I've run this event and I was soaking it all in.  One disappointment -- the first real bathrooms come up at the Ticket and Transportation Center and I was counting on ducking in there as we ran by.  But they had fenced off the area and had a cast member standing by the entrances telling runners there were portapotties further down the road.  Boo!!

Soon enough were in the Magic Kingdom which is hands down one of my favorite miles in marathoning.  Turning the corner at Main street, seeing the castle, and having all the people cheering can't be beat.

Hello, Gorgeous.

I never learn my lesson.  In the dark it is impossible to get a photo with the castle. I tried despite knowing this and after seeing the results didn't bother trying the next day during the full.

I may be wrong, but I don't think I am -- I am fairly certain that in the past they had the rides running during the marathon even though the park was closed.  So Dumbo was flying around and the teacups were spinning.  None of that was going on this year. It made for a less festive feeling.

I don't remember when exactly, but sometime after Magic Kingdom my gut started talking to me.  I thought my skipped pee at the TTC may be partly to blame so I ducked into a portapotty but that didn't help matters much.  My happy mood was slightly dampened by the idea of needing a portapotty for something more urgent than a pee stop while out on the course.  Because of this I cut out all of my non-aid station walk breaks the rest of the race.  There went taking it easy for the marathon the next day.

Around mile 9 or so my left foot started to hurt.  About 2 hours after my last 20 miler I had an ache in that foot that was so acute I had stress fracture fears for 24 hours.  It cleared up the next morning but I met a friend at the zoo the day after that 20 miler and by the time we were done walking around it was just a little achy.  After that I was really careful about not doing too much on it two days in a row.  It tweaked here and there over the next two weeks but was overall cooperative.  This half was the first time it really started to hurt during a run and I was really concerned about my ability to run a marathon on it the next day.

I kept telling my gut, "Just three more miles... Just two more miles... Just one more mile..." I was really hoping there weren't any good characters out in Epcot since I feared my body would think we were done if I stopped running and release the floodgates.  I couldn't pass up Genie in his Goofy hat, though, and since there wasn't a long line I took the chance.

This outtake meets RoadBunner anonymity standards. Also, you can see how foggy it was that day.

I rounded the corner, and saw Mickey was out giving high fives right before the finish.  I hung to the right so I could high-five The Mouse before crossing the finish.  I had bargained with my bowels that I would head straight to the portapotty after the finish if they would just be team players a little bit longer, but my gut issue felt completely better once I crossed the line. Go figure.

I got my Donald medal, box of food, Powerade bottle, water bottle, wet towel (this is new) and went looking for my heat sheet.  It was warm enough that I didn't NEED a heat sheet but cool enough that it would certainly have been welcome. I mainly wanted one to have to use as a throwaway the next morning. I had brought two from home but wouldn't pass up the chance to replenish the supply if they were handing them out.  I didn't see any and figured perhaps the med tent had them if you asked.  I asked some med tent people who said that Disney had switched things up today (I suppose vs. the 10K the day before) and that in order to get a heat sheet today you had to get a $5 massage in the massage tent.  O-kay. No free heat sheet for me.  Grumble on.  This left a sour taste in my mouth because Disney events are not cheap and the least Disney could do is to hand out a heat sheet if you wanted one. Grumble off.

I went back to my hotel room (my magic band worked to get me back into the room, Huzzah!) and got to work on refueling, rehydrating, compressing, stretching, and legs up the walling to maximize my leg recovery for the full marathon the next day.

My goal for Saturday is always to not be on my feet at the parks all day.  So I'll generally hit up one or two for a selective few stops and then head to Downtown Disney (now called Disney Springs) for a movie in the afternoon.  I had a fast pass for my favorite Disney Studios attraction, Toy Story Mania, before lunchtime. So I headed out to Disney Studios and was able to hop on the ride.  I debated riding it a second time but the posted wait time was over an hour and I decided I would rather jet over to Animal Kingdom and catch a showing of Finding Nemo, The Musical (another huge favorite of mine).  I did think about not going to a second park since staying off my foot was now front and center in my mind, but my love for the parks won out over common sense.  After doing my Animal Kingdom top stops I headed over to Disney Springs for my movie.

In the past I learned the hard way it takes about an hour to use Disney transportation to get from Animal Kingdom to Disney Springs.  First you have to take a bus to any of the hotel resorts.  Then from a hotel you transfer to a bus to Disney Springs.  In the past there were two bus stops at Disney Springs -- on on each end.  I was horrified to learn that they had done away with the stop closest to the movie theaters.  It is a far walk from one end to the other and I was trying to stay off my feet as much as possible. I learned you could now take a boat from one end to the other so jumped on this option when I got there.  I had pre-bought a ticket to see "The Good Dinosaur." I was talking to someone who said they had heard it wasn't that great and I regretted not joining the masses and getting a ticket to the new Star Wars movie.  I thought I could switch my ticket over if I got there before showtime. Long story short, the boat took FOREVER and by the time I got to the theatre the previews for my movie had already started and my window to ticket switch had passed.  So with the boat, 1.5 hours to get from a Disney park to Springs.

After the movie I usually get a plain pasta dish from Planet Hollywood.  But with the long commute back to the hotel I decided to just get on the boat and eat at my hotel instead.  I think in the future I would consider getting a cab back to the hotel so I can get in bed a little faster.  I managed lights out a smidgen earlier than the night before and set my alarm for 2:20 am so that I could pump before heading out to the bus.


I was not quite as chipper Sunday morning as I had been Saturday morning.  Groundhog Day ensued as I got ready again and headed out to the buses.  It was noticeably warmer Sunday than Saturday which did not bode well for marathon weather.  I had brought a throwaway jacket as well as my heat sheet for Sunday's throwaways and probably should have sacrificed the jacket Saturday instead.  It was a lot emptier at the start area when I got there and I secured a seat on some bleachers vs. sitting on the pavement.

The same characters were out this morning as the day before and I didn't bother to stand in any lines since I was concerned about my foot. The DJ in the start area was the same as the day before and he was great.  He was getting people dancing at 4 am.  He mentioned he would be there until 1 pm or something and I thought he was amazing to have that energy level two days (at least, maybe he was there for the 5K or 10K, too) in a row for so long.

I made the long walk out to the corrals again.  They have done away with the traffic light sign that says, "Have a magical race" which I always loved seeing.  I left a little earlier than the day before to enjoy the start line entertainment.  I had learned the day before that once I got into the corrals the next jumbotron was so far forward I couldn't really see the action. There was a jumbotron right by the entrance to corral F so instead of entering I sat outside my corral to watch the screen up close.

Enjoying the show by Corral F

I stayed outside my corral even after the first few corrals were released.  By that time it was standing room only and if I could stay sitting a few minutes more, why not?  If I had been smart I would have realized that there were portapotties off to the side right by me with no lines and had hopped in for a quick visit but I didn't see them until it was obvious I should be getting into the corral.

Here we go again!

Hello, Mickey!

We took off and immediately I realized it was humid and warm and not nearly as pleasant as the day before.  About 1.5 miles in a man by me even asked out loud if he was the only one who was drenched in sweat already.  My left foot hurt from the beginning of the run and slowly talked to me louder and louder as the miles went by.  I was getting really worried about how it would hold up over a marathon.  I have no explanation for this, but somewhere around mile 8 I realized that it didn't hurt at all.  It never hurt another step of the whole marathon nor has it bothered me in the slightest ever since.  I chocked it up to the shoes I ran in during the half and have taken those out of rotation.  I really don't know how it cleared up so quickly in the middle of a marathon no less, but I won't question good outcomes too much.

The first 8 miles is more or less a repeat of the half marathon.  The Magic Kingdom did not disappoint and I snagged a quick video running up Main Street.

Since the first few runnings of the marathon that I participated in, they have moved the start time back by an hour, I believe.  This means that I now never run through Magic Kingdom in the sunlight.  As I mentioned before it is impossible to get a photo with the castle in the dark and this has been a great sadness for me the last couple of runnings.  Luckily a few years ago I got a great photo with the castle so I suppose I am good for the rest of my life.

Being in the dark also complicates people taking your photo. I learned the hard way after two failed character photo-ops.  Cogsworth was out and I don't think I have ever gotten a photo with him so I stopped and that one turned out blurry because the cast member didn't realize there was a delay with the flash.  Then I stopped for Briar Rabbit because, duh, RoadBUNNER -- and that one was also a major fail with the flash.

Major bummers.  That is five minutes of my marathon time I'll never get back.  I have to say I much prefer the days I carried my digital camera.  Uncertain if I'll go back to that in the future vs. my iPhone which seemed to give people issues and was less convenient for me to capture photos or videos on the fly.

Just like the half I was picky about my character stops and hardly stopped at all this race.  Plus with my two failed stops I was reluctant to chance whether the photo would even turn out.  I only had five character stops the whole race (including the two blurry ones).  I haven't gone back to look but I'm pretty sure I took 20+ photos in the past.  There were definitely less characters out this year than in the past.  Usually there are a quite a few inside and after Animal Kingdom, but this year Timon was by the entrance and there was not one more the entire Animal Kingdom area.

A major Disney marathon regret of mine is never stopping to ride Everest during the race.  With the earlier start time and course changes Animal Kingdom comes about 4 miles earlier and an extra hour earlier on top of that and the park is not officially open when I run through.  We got there around 8:15 am.  The park opens at 9 am.  Two girls by me debated stopping and waiting 45 minutes to ride Everest.  They decided not to but I wanted to say, YES DO IT! even if I wasn't willing wait myself.  If you start in a later corral or are slower you can still ride the ride but I am not sure that is worth dealing with the aggravation of starting farther back the rest of the race.

I did nip into a real restroom in Animal Kingdom that was right by the course.  No lines, a flushing toilet, a sink -- luxury!  I will say that even if you don't count real restrooms in the park, Disney has the most portapotties out of any race I have run.  You never have to worry about that at Disney.  They also have awesome aid stations.  They came so frequently (about every 1.5 miles) even in the warm weather I skipped a few.  They are run so well -- always Powerade first, followed by water, people yelling out what they are offering, and lots and lots of tables.

I gambled a little and only started off the race with two gels. I normally eat four in a marathon.  There were two gel stops on the course and I planned to pick up gels at both of them.  They also had two banana stops and I ate half a banana at each stop. In past years they had half bananas but this year they handed out a whole banana. I think that is a bit of a waste. I imagine most people didn't eat a whole one. But I guess it is one less things for the volunteers to have to do.  Before there would be volunteers chopping the bananas in half.

When I entered Animal Kingdom the sun finally peeked out and I buckled up for a hot day.  But sometime soon some cloud cover rolled in and that kept it from being a total bakefest.  So humid yes, but not terribly hot which was a blessing.

The course had a major change from the last time I ran it in 2013.  You used to run around a car track but they demolished that.  So they added some extra distance in the parks and a new short out and back.  They also still have the Wide World of Sports detour which I detest.  DETEST.  That was the most horrid course change to have happened since I started running Disney.  A DJ outside Magic Kingdom was saying, "You'll enter Wide World of Sports and emerge two weeks later.  Believe me, I was where you are last year.  You'll think of me when you get there!"  It wasn't very positive but it is so true. In my opinion Wide World of Sports is a monstrous out and back.  Bleh.

Do you see that horrible squiggle in the lower right, that is Wide World of Sports -- glorified nasty out and back.

I was happy to leave that area and head towards Disney Studios.  Around mile 20 I did some math and realized that I could come in under 5 hours if I didn't slow down and make too many photo stops.  For some reason I thought I was on course for a 5+ hour finish. Not that it matters much, but I decided to go for a sub-5.  I had been taking occasional walk breaks up until that point. Every few miles I would walk for a minute.  I decided to cut those out.

A few miles later I realized that I was really close to having a sub-4:50 finish.  I always do this to myself.  Realize at the last moment I am close to some sort of time and decide to try to make it.  The time itself doesn't mean anything and if it had I should have known the pace beforehand.  But as it were, I decided wouldn't that be neat, and picked up the pace.  I did stop in Studios for a photo with Boo but was actually glad there weren't many other characters out to tempt me.  Those last few miles I really felt like a marathoner again.  You're tired, it hurts, it would be nice to stop... But somehow your body just keeps going and you don't stop.  And you think wow, all that training really did work! And then you even find it in you to go a little bit faster.

I really put on the jets outside of Studios and into Epcot.  I was running sub-9 at one point which felt like an absolute sprint on my Goofy legs.  I told myself the only way I would stop would be if Remy was out for photos (my character unicorn).  There was no Remy in Epcot. Then as I got closer to mile 26 I realized I was going to miss the sub-4:50 by less than a minute.  Too late in the game to make that one.  I reined in the effort at that point.

Donald was out giving high fives this day, and I crossed the finish line after slapping his wing.  Same goodies collected as the day before and lo and behold there were heat sheets out!  What prompted them to hand them out on marathon day, I don't know, but I grabbed one and used it to hold all my food since it was warm enough to not need one.

I went to the Goofy tent to get my extra medal.  As I walked in they did check my photo against the one they snapped at the expo.  But they didn't check on half marathon day.  So I'll just say that the whole system was pointless.  A great pleasure was receiving my Goofy medal from Michelle from The Mickey Miles Podcast.  I had heard they were going to be volunteering at the Goofy/Dopey medal tent but it wasn't at the forefront of my mind at the time.  When I looked up after she placed it on me I saw her hat which said, "Mickey Milers," and I got all excited and said something corny like, "It's you!" She introduced me to Mike who shook my hand.  I love their podcast and that was a neat treat.  I didn't want to bother them for photos but wish I had.

After some photos I made my way back to my hotel room. I was eager to get bathed, fed, and into the Magic Kingdom.  I hobbled up to my room and my magic band did not open my hotel door.  Are you kidding me?  I hobbled over to the lobby and chose a line which was twice as short but moved twice as slowly as a different line I could have chosen to get the issue resolved.  It took forever. I'm sure I smelled amazing and I don't think the people checking in even knew there was a race going on.  I was getting cold as well but all my food was wrapped up in my heat sheet so I couldn't use it.  Eventually they got it sorted but that was a huge annoyance, especially after being told it wouldn't be an issue.

I eventually made it to Magic Kingdom and really got my vacation started.  There is something stressful about knowing you shouldn't be walking extra miles and yet not being able to sit down and stay still.  I stayed until closing that night and was exhausted by the time I got to bed around 11 pm.

Monday:  The temperature dropped 15+ degrees and it was downright chilly the rest of my vacation.  One day too late.  Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom
Tuesday:  Quick nip into Magic Kingdom before my flight
(As someone who has visited the parks many times before, this shortened trip was enough to get all the highlights accomplished.  I would have liked to have done Toy Story Mania a second time and there were a few attractions I usually visit I didn't have a chance to see at all, but overall I was happy with what I got done in the parks)

Half (Donald), Goofy Challenge, Full (Mickey)

The marathon shirt was in the wash for the previous photo.  The shirts FIT!  I usually put the Goofy lanyard on the Mickey medal on marathon Sunday when I visit the park. I much prefer the Mickey medal but want the street cred of the Goofy :)

A commentary on the Dopey Challenge:
This was the first year I ran Goofy when the Dopey Challenge also existed.  Goofy is the half and the full on consecutive days.  Prior to the official Dopey Challenge, there was also a 5K on Friday and people who ran Goofy and also did the 5K unofficially called it the Dopey.  Disney is not one to leave money on the table and they created the official Dopey Challenge where you run a 5K, 10K, half, and full on consecutive days and earn yourself a Dopey medal.

It is my personal opinion that when comparing the Dopey Challenge to the Goofy Challenge it is not a physical accomplishment so much as a logistical and financial challenge.  Dopey requires you to arrive 3 days earlier which means more time off of work and more hotel fees.  It also costs an arm and a leg (vs. just the arm it costs to run Goofy). Financial challenge.  You have to wake up early 4 days a row instead of 2. You have to figure out how to be at Disney on vacation and balance time on your feet with time off your feet.  Logistical challenge.  Running an extra 5K and 10K to me is just not that much more than Goofy. I hazard to guess that most Goofy runners will run about a 5K shakeout run on Thursday two days before the race anyhow. I ran 2 miles this year myself. I don't think an extra mile that day and a 10K the next day would have been that huge of a difference. I did the unofficial Dopey Challenge a few years back and didn't think it would prove anything to myself to add in the 10K.

So for me, it just didn't make sense to do Dopey.  Does Goofy feel less special with Dopey runners around?  Hands down, yes.  There were twice as many Dopey runners as Goofy runners.   Running "just" Goofy sounds cute to Dopey runners.  Do I want to run Dopey one day? Maybe.  I love Disney races and if I could carve the time out I think I would. I personally thought Disney jumped the shark with Dopey and I still think that.  Definitely for longterm participation Goofy is probably where I will live.

A commentary on running just the marathon for time:
I had made it a goal to one day train specifically for Disney and try to run a sub-4 hour Disney marathon.  No Goofy, just a decent, honest, working effort at the marathon.  I ran this year imagining what it would be like to run Disney for time.  Quite frankly, I'm not sure I want to anymore.  With the change in corrals it could be hard to hit your effort level quickly.  Disney is also impossible to run the tangents.  There are areas of the course that are 4 lane roads and other areas that narrow down to three people abreast in Wide World of Sports.  There is a lot of weaving for character stops.  The curvy paths in the parks complicate things and the course probably runs "longer" than your typical marathon because of all of this.  The weather at Disney is notoriously unpredictable.  I've run it in sweltering 80 degree heat and I've run it when it was so cold the water was freezing at the water stops.  I may still pursue this if there is a year running Goofy doesn't make sense, but I don't think it is a major bucket list goal at the moment.