After my first marathon I told myself never again. Never, it turns out, is actually a bit over 2 years.
Race: Walt Disney World Marathon
Date: January 7, 2018
Goals: A: 3:45(ish) B: new PR (3:59:02)
I did not follow a training plan for this marathon. Between my full time job and two grad classes, I knew a following a strict plan would be difficult. Instead I opted to try to run 5-6 days per week, with one 16-20 mile long run per week and one 10-12 mile medium long run per week. I was somewhat successful, usually nailing 3 out of 4 weeks while the fourth week went completely sideways. I injected some marathon pace miles and fast finishes into my medium and long runs, but it wasn’t every week.
My peak week coincided with a massive snow storm. I tried to maintain my volume by running on an indoor track, but that messed up my right knee and hamstring. I was able to complete my last 20 miler that week but cut back more than anticipated during my taper. I also caught a cold during the last two weeks of my taper, leading to even more rest days. Although not a perfect training cycle, I felt confident and healthy on race day.
The marathon was on Sunday, but the expo opened on Wednesday. The day started with a very cold and rainy drive to Orlando. It was in the low 30s…so cold for Florida. Instead of going straight to the expo, we started with a character breakfast with Ariel and Rapunzel. It was silly and fun and the food was delicious! The expo was insane. Lines for everything, but we didn’t let it stress us out. It was a long day but I’m glad we were able to check it all out several days before our races.
My sister ran the half marathon on Saturday. I got up at 3:00 so I could accompany her to the start of the race (5:30 start time). It was another cold day and perhaps I would have been better served by focusing on getting enough sleep, but I was glad that I was able to be there for her. Once the race started, I took the monorail to Magic Kingdom so I could watch her run through (about 5 miles into the race). I also managed to see her right before the finish line. After the race we both took naps and focused on resting/recovering.
Another early morning. I think I might have gotten up even earlier this day. We drove from our hotel to the start line and sat in the car as long as we could in order to stay warm. The walk from the parking lot to the actual start line is pretty substantial. I believe it is about a mile. It took about an hour to go through security, check my gear bag, use the bathroom, and walk to the corral. I was in the first corral so I didn’t have too long to wait once I got there.
Start to Mile 5 [43:05]
Corrals were released in waves. I positioned myself near the back of the corral and was released in the second wave. The first few miles were dark and uneventful. I was able to shed some warm up layers during the first mile. It was comfortably cold and I knew I would appreciate the cold start when the sun came up. I was also carrying sunglasses in one hand while I waited for the sun.
Although Disney races are known for being overcrowded that was not the case in my corral. I had more space than some much smaller local races. I felt a bit nervous during these early miles because my taper had been kind of shaky, so I tried to focus on relaxing and slowing down.
Miles 5-10 [1:25:37]
The first timing mat is at mile 5, right before you enter Magic Kingdom. I knew my sister would be cheering somewhere in the park. I tried so hard to spot her, but never did. She saw me though. I took my first gel as I was exiting the park, around mile 6.
After the excitement of running through the castle, the next few miles are a very boring stretch called “Cone Alley.” Basically a straight road with cones limiting runners to just one lane. A lot of people passed me in this section. I did my best to just focus on my own race. The sky was beginning to lighten at this point which made things a bit more enjoyable.
Miles 11-13.1 [1:51:59]
I knew the out and back section at mile 11 was going to be tough for me. The out and back at Grand Rapids was a major struggle for me mentally and physically. This one was a bit earlier in the race and quite a bit shorter so it wasn’t too bad. It was at this point that I first started to feel annoyed by the on course entertainment. Speakers blaring music every 1/2 mile or so was really annoying when all I wanted to do was tune out for a bit. Since tuning out wasn’t working I started to focus on getting to the half way point which would be in the next theme park: Animal Kingdom. I took a second gel at mile 12.
Miles 13.1-20 [2:52:51]
Animal Kingdom is my favorite of the Disney parks. Running through here really helped perk me up. Also crossing the halfway point and seeing I was on track for a big PR was great! The next couple miles were uneventful and pretty much the end of feeling good while running.
Mile 15 ended with climbing up a highway overpass. My legs felt too tired to tackle the hill but I managed to run up and back down. Before the course had a chance to level out, we were headed up another highway overpass. Ooof. My pace was slipping into the 9:00s and my legs were cramping up, but again, I managed to keep running.
I didn’t get a chance to relax because once we were done with the hills it was time to run through ESPN Wide World of Sports. This was a stupid part of the course where they somehow manage to squeeze 3+ miles into a tiny, tiny area by looping back and forth and around baseball diamonds and stuff. I had been saving listening to the new Taylor Swift album for this section, but the obnoxious blaring speakers made it impossible to enjoy. My legs hurt and I was really struggling. I took a third gel at mile 18.
Miles 20-26.2 [3:50:21]
After the 20 mile mat I opted to walk for a few minutes, just like my first marathon. I needed to shake the negative feelings. It was my birthday and I wanted to be enjoying my race, not suffering. After about 3 minutes it was time to start running again. The 3:45 pace group had caught up with me and I thought some camaraderie would help. I was wrong. The race uses Jeff Galloway pacers who use a run/walk method. So they would run past me, start walking, I would run past them (because I was holding a constant pace), then they would start running, and pass me again. It was also windy at this point and the pace leader almost hit me in the face with his pace flag. This was not helping my plan to have fun on my birthday.
Fortunately (?) my legs started cramping as we climbed another highway overpass in mile 21. I decided to walk up it and let the pace group pass me for good. I was still hurting when I crested the hill and started running again, but at least one major annoyance was gone.
Near mile 23 you enter the third park: Hollywood Studios. I was trying so hard to focus on finishing strong and happy at this point. I knew I was getting close to the finish and I really, really just wanted to be done running. The park was open at this point and there was a nice amount of crowd support from cast members and spectators. I took candy from a stranger and had a Twizzler in this section (I also had a couple shot bloks in the final 6 miles). We were close enough to the spectators that they could see our bibs and cheer for us by name. I was doing my best to focus on anything other than how badly my legs hurt.
When you leave Hollywood Studios you run through a really nice area called The Boardwalk. It is a hotel area with a lot of cute shops. A couple small hills/bridges but nothing close to a highway overpass. You leave The Boardwalk and head directly into Epcot, the fourth and final park. Just 1.2 miles left at this point. I knew my sister would be somewhere in Epcot but I wasn’t sure exactly where.
Finally spotted her near Spaceship Earth (the golf ball!). Nearly started sobbing because I knew I was so close to being done. Oh man was I ready to be done. I was trying to run as hard as I could, but the tank was pretty much empty at this point. One final turn and I could see the finish line. Somehow managed to pass a handful of people in the chute. Gave a chipmunk a quick high five and then I was across the finish line. Second marathon done!
My legs HURT. I really just wanted to sit down, but first I had to collect my medal, my special edition Mickey ears, and food/water/powerade. And heat sheet! It had warmed up nicely for running, but sweaty tank top and shorts was not nearly warm enough. After picking up my gear bag, I finally met up with my sister and parents. My sister was a post race rock star: making sure I was eating and drinking, helping me get into some dry, warm clothes, etc.
We visited for awhile in the finish line area then it was time to get up and get moving around. I was thinking about getting a beer, but as we were walking around I realized I had no feeling in my hands, like that dead, tingly feeling when your leg falls asleep. Consulted with the medical tent just to be sure it wasn’t something crazy, but really I was just super cold. Lesson learned.
My focus for the rest of January was rest and recovery. I’m hoping to get back on a schedule in February, since I have a half marathon at the end of March. What little running I have done has not felt great, so I am hoping that turns around soon.