I can’t remember the last time I was this unprepared to run a race. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been this unprepared, to be honest. Since early July, the longest I had run had been 13.1 miles. For months, I’d run anywhere from 10 to 25 miles a week and recently I started throwing in spin class once a week. That’s just enough to be prepared for a half marathon, but not enough to actually earn a solid time. It’s certainly not enough to run a marathon. And it’s definitely not enough to run a half marathon and a marathon on back-to-back days.
Walt Disney World Half Marathon
Walt Disney World Half Marathon morning started much like most runDisney races do for me. I cursed my alarm clock at 3am and rolled myself out of bed and into my race day clothes. I shoved a Picky Bar in my mouth, grabbed my apple slices from the fridge, and made my way out the door to catch a 3:45 bus down to the starting area.
Once I got there, I quickly met up with my friend Danielle who was conquering not only her first Goofy, but also her first marathon. We chatted for a bit and then I dropped my bag off and bumped into my Twitter buddies Heather and Nathan who were doing something even dumber than me, the Dopey Challenge–add a 5k and a 10k onto the half marathon and marathon. After a few minutes of standing around in the the cold, it was time to get into my corral and be prepared for the nice and early 5:35am start.
Time went by surprisingly quickly in the corral and then it was time to go–in typical runDisney fashion with fireworks, of course. Knowing that I really had no business running a marathon the next day, I knew I’d have to take the race extra easy. I set my goal at an easy 2:15 so I could just take my time, take some photos, and have fun. The few 13.1 milers I’ve done in “training” recently were all around 1:57 without too much effort so I knew this shouldn’t be too hard on my legs.
Less than a mile into the race, I stopped at a bank of porta-potties to let out a quick pee that I’d been holding. From there, I stopped quickly for a photo here and there, but just kept my pace nice and easy.
Somewhere before the 5k mark, I ran into my friend Melody who was doing Dopey. She had a faster goal in mind than I did and, though she had started a corral back from me, had caught up and recognized me from behind. We ran together all the way to Magic Kingdom and down Main Street before I lost her after I stopped to take a quick photo in front of Cinderella’s Castle.
By this point, I had picked up my pace a little from where I was, something I would continue to do throughout the race, but I was feeling fine as we made our way through Tomorrowland and into Fantasyland. After running through Cindy’s castle–which had been taken over by Anna and Elsa–I stopped for another photo in front of the castle, this time with one of the official race photographers.
Making my way around to the sixth mile marker and then out of the back of the park next to Splash Mountain, I was simply enjoying things and having fun. Except for the last mile, the rest of the race is kind of boring from here. You’re on back roads between Magic Kingdom and Epcot and there isn’t a ton going on. There is a bit of entertainment, but not quite enough for this stretch. Though, there was a DJ playing “Shake It Off” on repeat which made me think about great this song still is.
Somewhere around mile nine, I ran into Patrick, whom I had just met at Wine & Dine two months ago. We ran together for a bit before I pulled my pace back a bit to save energy for the next day. From there to the finish was pretty uneventful. I kept it steady and cruised in for a 2:08:07 finish. A bit faster than planned, but it happens.
After the race, I quickly hopped on a bus back to the resort to get ready for the day in the parks. I wanted to get right out there so I wouldn’t have to feel bad about making it an early night.
Walt Disney World Marathon
Marathon morning started off similar to the day before. Though, as I started to spread the peanut butter I brought with my onto my bagel, I noticed it had expired months ago so the peanut butter and half my bagel went right into the trash. This left me with less pre-race nutrition than I would have liked. I ended up with half a plain bagel, some apple slices, a Larabar, and a Cliff Shots gel. Could be worse, but still not ideal.
My real worry was that I was somehow sore from the day before. Not terribly sore, but I felt it in my quads. Sure, I wasn’t really trained for a marathon, but I shouldn’t have been sore from a half marathon ten minutes slower than the 13.1 milers I’d been doing every week without pushing myself. It wasn’t enough to make me think I should pull a DNS, but it was enough to have me concerned.
This time when the race started, I made sure to pull it back even more on the pace and I, again, stopped inside the first mile to pee. Given my soreness at the start, I decided I would walk all hills and walk through each water stop. And since the weather was going to get up into the 70s, I planned to take water at every stop anyway. My goal was to, at worst, get to the halfway point before falling back to a run/walk effort and, at best, make it to mile sixteen before that happened. I fully expected a lot of walking in the last third of the race. I figured shooting for a 5:00 finish gave me plenty of time to walk as much as I needed in the second half of the race.
I stuck to this plan pretty well, but my pace was a lot faster than planned. Even with all my photo stops, through the first third of the race, I was keeping about a 10:35 min/mile average which was about as slow as I could get my legs to go at the time. The problem was I was kind of having a blast out there. I was just having fun and not worrying about much. Okay, that wasn’t really the problem. The problem was that I kind of had to poop…and was starting to feel some thigh chafing show up.
As we made our way into the Speedway after Magic Kingdom, I started eying up the porta-potties. I didn’t want to have to do it, but I knew what needed to be done and went for it. I think I lost about three minutes or so in there. After that was taken care of, I stopped at the next aid station to throw some vaseline between my legs to ward off the chafing. Despite both of these things, I was having all kinds of fun out there. I had a HUGE smile on my face and couldn’t stop feeling totally in love with running.
Finally, the temperature started to rise a bit more and I broke out into a heavy enough sweat for my thighs to be able to keep themselves all lubed up and free from chafing. And it was around that time we started to make our way into Animal Kingdom. The fun thing about starting a race sore is you completely lose all ability to accurately judge how your legs are holding up through things. I hadn’t run an inch of the race without feeling at least some soreness and things had only gotten marginally worse so I was pretty happy with where I was. In fact, I was otherwise feeling really good.
We ran through Animal Kingdom and as we passed the halfway part of the race Samwise Gamgee passed me on left. Not someone dressed like him, it was Sean Astin. This was my second runDisney event I’d run with him (not with him; you know what I mean). The first was the Dumbo Double Dare in Disneyland back in 2013. Though, that time I passed him. He ran just in front of me for a few seconds and then stopped to walk and I never saw him again.
Anyway, like I said, I was feeling pretty good and my pace was slowly picking up. I was pretty much in heaven…which isn’t exactly where you’d expect someone in my situation going into the race to be. I had about 18 minutes banked for the second half of the race to keep under 5:00.
After passing the fourteenth mile marker, I got up to the graveyard photo op and just had to go for it this year. I waited in a line as about ten runners ahead of me took their photos and probably lost a good two or three minutes, but I didn’t care, my photo was great and totally worth it!
I was afraid that laying down on the ground to take the photo would be the end of me. After standing there for a couple minutes and then having to stand back up from the ground, I figured my legs would be done and that would be that. Instead, this is where things got weird.
I got up just fine and then, I don’t know, I just kind of started to go for it. My legs were feeling good and I was passing runner after runner. I knew I still had a lot of race ahead of me so I tried to pull back a bit, but I really just wanted to go. At mile sixteen, where I had hoped to make it before needing to walk, I was starting to really feel in my element. My pace was getting down into the low nine-minute-mile range and I stopped taking water. Oddly, I felt completely hydrated, much more so than when I started the race even.
Coming around into Wide World of Sports, I couldn’t have felt better or been happier…except for the fact that I had another poop brewing. I didn’t want to stop again, though, I was feeling too good. So I squeezed some cheek and motored on while continuing to pass runners through the narrow parts of the course in Wide World of Sports. With 10k to go, I was in the zone and kicking ass. Instead of stopping to poop like I should have, I decided to “go for it” a little more. At this point, the race was really on. What was going to come first, the finish line or my poop?
I rounded into Hollywood Studios after somehow missing the 22nd mile marker entirely and turned it on a little more. I’m running out of ways to say how good I was feeling, but I really was. My legs were saying “Go! Go! Go!”
Coming up on the 23rd marker, I did some quick math and realized at my current pace I was going to score a WDW Marathon PR. Though, I’ve only ever done WDW Marathon as part of the Goofy Challenge and, therefore, never raced it, this still seemed like a pretty big deal to me. Back at mile 20, I thought I would be close, but a minute or two over. Here, I knew I just had to keep it steady.
But I didn’t keep it steady. I picked it up some more. It’s weird, I know, but my legs were only slightly more sore than when I started the race and, somehow, not tired at all. I was at mile 23 of a marathon I shouldn’t have been running at all, I shouldn’t have been feeling good. I shouldn’t have been able to pick it up. It shouldn’t have mattered that I took the first half of the race really slow and easy. I should have been struggling. I wasn’t.
Mile 24 came in at a brisk 8:07, just a hair slower than my goal marathon pace from back in April. I flew through Hollywood Studios like I had a rocket strapped to me.
Coming down along the river behind the Boardwalk, I was doing my best to get around people in the cramped space, but I was still flying. Only problem was, I was really struggling to hold the poop in. I was squeezing my butt as tight as I could and just praying to not shit my shorts. This and the crowdedness of the course here caused me to lose a little time, but I was still putting down an 8:30 min/mile.
I don’t know why I did it, but I grabbed a Twizzler from a girl handing them out behind the Boardwalk. I took a few bites and then tossed it. Unfortunately, as I was chewing it, it slid into the back of my mouth and I started choking on it. Luckily, I was able to deal with that without having to slow down. Almost ruined everything, though!
Coming down along by the Beach Club, I was still passing runner after runner. Some spots got a little tight and, rather than slowing down, I decided to just hop over some of the cones around the trees. I flew around into the World Showcase and would have been really flying if I didn’t have to poop so badly. Though, I was still running an 8:30 pace. At this point, I didn’t think I was going to make it to the finish without pooping my pants. I strongly debated stopping real quick, but I wanted that PR bad so I kept on squeezing. I was 100% convinced that the moment I crossed the finish line and stopped running, I was going to crap all over myself. It wasn’t going to be pretty.
I made my way around the World Showcase, through Futureworld, and out of the park. The finish line came into view, but I still didn’t think I was going to make it. I high-fived Mickey in my last few steps and crossed at 4:23:21, a four minute WDW Marathon PR. And, of course, my GI immediately felt better. I grabbed my medal and felt on top of the world.
After the race, my legs felt the best they ever have after a marathon. They were sore as heck, sure, but I was walking just fine and not even in the same ballpark of soreness I usually feel. The next day and the day after, I still was significantly less sore than normal.
Sure, 4:23 is not a fast marathon for me when you look at my faster times, but this was a race that should have been difficult to finish at all given how much I had been running. Even though the last eight months of running really sucked for me, I still racked up 1,504 miles I 2014 and I have to believe that really came into play here.
Every marathon has a story behind it. Every one is unique. Just looking at my marathon times in chronological order can tell you that. 3:24, 4:58, 3:08, 4:27, 3:44, 3:48, and 4:23. All of these races have their own story. Different goals, different training, and different takeaways. This marathon was my third slowest, but it slapped me in the face and told me to quit my whining. It told me to get my shit together and start pushing myself for real again. It told me to believe in myself. And it reminded me of what I’m capable of.
You really have to love running to do the Goofy Challenge and I’ve struggled with that a lot for the last eight months, but I just can’t doubt that anymore. I am in love with running. After the New Jersey Marathon last year, I wrote about what I learned from that race and I wrote about how much I love the marathon. This race reminded me that I just simply love running too. I couldn’t have had a better and more fun time out there running it. I had a huge smile the whole time and loved every second of it. I only wanted it to end because of the whole poop situation. Otherwise, I was in heaven.
I’m not making any definite plans yet for this year, but I want to get out there and get my shit together again. I want to work hard. I want 3:30 to be a reasonable marathon goal again.