2

2017 Philly LOVE Run Half Marathon – 1:39:58

This was like three minutes after finishing. I put warm clothes on right quick!

The last three races I was supposed to run in Philly were all DNSed the morning of—the 2015 Broad Street Run and the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon. But my Philly DNS streak is over! Yesterday, I did not DNS. I actually ran a race! It was my first race in Philly since the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon.

The Philly LOVE Run first of five half marathons I’m running this spring. Yes, I’m running five half marathons this spring. I’m currently training for Grandma’s Marathon and, for this training cycle, I decided to do something different for my long runs. I wanted to change things up a bit and, instead of doing all my long runs along my normal route, earn a few new race medals in the half marathon. This also goes along with my biggest running goal of 2017, running more races and focusing less on PRs.

Pre-race

We drove down to Philly on Saturday and went right to the expo at the Convention Center. CGI Racing expos aren’t particularly huge, but they are well-organized and stress-free. I had my bib, race shirt, and mug without waiting in a single line for anything. After a quick lap, we were out! We hung around the city for a couple hours and got drinks at Brü Craft & Wurst, a great craft beer and wurst bar we happened to stumble upon. After that, it was dinner and ice cream with our friend Hollie.

Got my bib!

Hollie was also nice enough to let us crash at her house the night before which helped make it a cheap weekend with few worries! Of course, Hollie is one of the silliest people I know and when I walked into the bedroom, there was a framed copy of my magazine staring at me. Awkward!

After some foam rolling, it was off to bed before 10pm.

Awkward!

I made Hollie take a picture with it and own it!

I got up at 5:15, got dressed, and hopped in the car. It was a 20 minute drive from Hollie’s to where we parked in Fairmount Park, about a mile from the start. I had 15 miles on the schedule for the day so I needed a couple warmup miles before the race. I gave a quick goodbye to the wife and took off for a mile down Ben Franklin Parkway and a mile back. I finished with just enough time to hit a porta-potty and sprint to my starting corral.

The forecast had some light rain in it for race morning, but luckily it held out and race start was 44º with 10mph winds and overcast. Great racing conditions!

The race

The race started on time with a nice bit of energy. I was in the first corral and lined up between the 1:30 and 1:35 pacers. I wasn’t trying for a big PR or anything so I knew I wasn’t going to be trying to hang with either of those pace groups, but I felt confident with my placement being reasonable enough anyway.

Through the first mile, I hung tight with most of the runners around me and clocked a 7:19 first mile. Oops! Definitely much faster than the 8:00 I was thinking I should have been running. I tried to pull back slightly, but mostly just went with it. If I had stuck with that pace, I’d have had a massive PR, but I knew that wasn’t realistic as I’m not exactly in my best shape right now.

As we were heading around City Hall, Twitter friend Megan came up from behind to introduce herself. She’s just a few months postpartum, but was looking to run a 1:39. We ran together for a bit with some light conversation before I dropped back. Again, this was really just a training run so I knew it was time to get things under control.

Unfortunately, mile 2 totally threw both my Garmin and Apple Watch off so I didn’t have accurate splits at all to compare to how my legs were feeling. It was back to doing mental math based on the clocks at each mile marker—which, luckily, each mile had—just like the old days!

After looping our way back onto the Parkway and to pass through the start/finish area, I started keeping my eyes open for the wife. She said she’d be around mile 4—we had discussed her being around The Oval, which is roughly mile 4.25. It was a good thing I was looking, though, because she was right at mile 4, ahead of where I was expecting her. We waved and I tossed my arm warmers at her.

Things were quiet for a while after that. We rounded The Oval and made our way down MLK Drive and into Fairmount Park where the crowds were mostly non-existent. I was feeling tired, definitely not how I wanted to be feeling to a training run, but it was very par for the course with my running lately. I wasn’t too worried about slowing down if I needed to, my most important thing was not wanting to leave myself too sore or tired to continue my training this week.

As we approached mile 7, I started watching for the lead runners to be coming down the back portion of the out and back. I was able to see the first three men before we veered off MLK Drive and up an onramp at mile 7.5. This is where things got tough, the next half mile was climbing uphill. It was not fun! We don’t really have hills in Jersey City so my hill game is way off these days. The climbing felt like forever, but things leveled off exactly at the 8th mile marker. A guy who had been running near me for a while told me I was helping motivate him and keep him steady here. I was glad to make myself useful!

After some quick looping, we came back down the same hills and I flew. My legs were tired, but gravity, yo. I got a side-stitch halfway down this section, but I was able to work it out pretty quickly.

Before I knew it, we were at the last turn around—mile 9.75ish—and I knew it was a straight shot back to the Art Museum and finish from there. I was feeling tired, but at this point I wanted to keep it steady to the finish. I had been mostly in the 7:30-7:45 range for my splits, except for hillsville mile 8. Coming down this last 5k, a man and woman whom I had passed in the downhill section and who were standing next to me in the corral passed me. I wanted to use them as my rabbit for the rest of the race, but I didn’t want to push myself more than I had been. I kept it close, but didn’t increase my effort level any. As I crossed mile 11, I started getting a little nauseous so I eased back a little for a couple minutes until that subsided.

Once I passed mile 12, I started using the Art Museum as my beacon for the finish. I was ready to be done, but I decided not to push or kick at all to the finish. It wasn’t a goal race and I wasn’t in it for a PR. I did some math at the mile marker and knew I’d be close to my PR, but I thought I was roughly 30 seconds off.

Looking strong at the end!

As I approached the last curve, I spotted the wife and cruised my way to the to the finish line. My mental math was close, but slightly off and it turned out I was only 7 seconds off my PR! If I had known I was that close in the last couple of miles, I would have kicked a little harder. Oh well! I’m not even the slightest bit disappointed, though. Again, this wasn’t a goal race and I was supposed to be running much slower. I was pretty happy.

After the finish, the woman (of the man and woman combo mentioned above) congratulated me and we chatted a little. She snagged a PR! I ended up finding her on Instagram later in the day and we chatted a bit. After talking to her, the guy from mile 8 came up to tell me he PRed and I was helping keep him going all race! In the past, I’ve always hated knowing people were using me to run faster or hold steady, but I was actually pretty psyched about this. I was really happy for him!

After grabbing my medal and some water, I met up with the wife and we walked over to the Whole Foods near the finish to grab some groceries and coffee. A man in the produce section commented on my medal and we talked about races in the city for a few minutes. And then the cashier also struck up a conversation with me about the race. SO MUCH LOVE IN PHILLY THIS WEEKEND!

Final thoughts

This was a great weekend in Philly and I was really happy with the race! CGI Racing puts on great races that are organized and fun without being massively huge and overwhelming.

My performance was much better than I expected. I’ve been in a bit of a running rut lately, but to get so close to my PR without putting in a race effort was a nice boost. I had a big burger and greasy fries the night before and didn’t do anything to prepare for this as a race. And I went at about 90-95% of a half marathon race effort. So it was nice to find out I still have a lot of the strength I’ve been struggling to find lately.

Lastly, I felt like this run helped me really start to hammer home some of what I’ve been working on in PT lately. I’m a very quad-dominant runner. My quads and calves do all the work and everything else is just along for the ride so I’ve been trying to work on engaging my glutes, hamstrings, and core while running. It seems I’m finally starting to get this as I could feel them working all race. And I could feel the work being spread from just my quads to the rest of my legs as well. I still have some work to do, but this felt like a major contributor to running so well without pushing my effort level.

4

2017 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge – Marathon

This is the third post for the 2017 Dopey Challenge. Checkout my recap for the expo, 5k, and 10k here and the half marathon here.

Rocking that Dopey Challenge medal in Magic Kingdom!

The marathon! Not only is the marathon my favorite race distance, but the Walt Disney World Marathon is one of my favorite courses and easily the most magical of them all!

Pre-race stuff

I set out my clothes and got to bed nice and early for the marathon. I’m pretty sure that even with my 3:25am wake-up, I still got seven hours of sleep. Pretty good! I would have probably gotten even more if I didn’t spend forever the night before worrying about what to wear.

This year’s race was cold. Okay, not cold for someone who lives in New Jersey, but cold for a race in Florida. The starting temperature was around 38º with 15-20mph wind. At home, this isn’t really that bad. In fact, with a race temperature that was predicted to be around 40-44º for most of the race, this is just about perfect racing conditions to me. Minus that wind, of course.

But, this wasn’t home. I wasn’t just walking out my front door and taking off like I normally do when I run in the cold. I had to wait around in that cold for the race to start. This is bad enough for most races, but runDisney races are exceptionally bad with how long you have to wait before the race. First, you have to deal with taking a bus to the starting area which means waiting for that and leaving extra time, just in case. Then you have to walk close to half a mile from the bus to the staging area with the bag check. THEN it’s another 20ish-minute walk to the corrals. Add in leaving time to hit a porta-potty, meet up with friends, and get into the corrals before they close without having a close call—like I did for the 5k—and you’re talking 60-90 minutes of being outside before the race. Not bad when the weather is nice, but brutal when it’s cold.

After a lot of back and forth regarding shorts vs crop tights and short sleeves vs long sleeves and throwaway arm warmers vs real arm warmers, I opted for Oiselle Distance Shorts (basically my standard issue marathon shorts), my Chicago Marathon short sleeve shirt, and Oiselle lux arm warmers as my race outfit. Prior to the race, I kept on a pair of loose joggers, the cotton t-shirt from the Disney 5k, the Dopey Challenge long sleeve we got this year, and a couple mylar heat sheets (one as a skirt, one for my top).

The final outfit. Took a lot of stress to finalize on this.

When my alarm went off, I was surprisingly awake and ready to get up and go. I gobbled down a Clif bar and drank some water, but I was trying to be conservative with how much I drank. I know hydration is important even when it’s cold out, but I also knew I wouldn’t want to be dealing with hitting porta-potties any more than I needed to in the cold. I quickly got dressed and Ellen and I headed out to catch the bus. Luckily, there was one waiting for us and we were able to get right on without waiting out in the cold! The ride was quick and so was the walk to the staging area. There was only a short line to get through bag check. It was cold, but it didn’t yet feel super cold.

We hit up the standard We Are Awesome Runner Friends meeting spot and chatted it up with the group. Everyone was cold, especially Nathan who lives right near Disney and isn’t used to the cold at all. Our friend Lauren came by to visit for a minute so we could get our group photo, but then she went back to the heated VIP tent like some kinda jerk! *insert me pouting here*

Eventually, it was time to check our bags and move out. When I pulled my joggers off, I literally screamed as the cold touched my bare legs. It was not pleasant! I quickly got my mylar heat sheets all tied around me and dropped my bag off. The walk to the starting area was the standard runDisney affair and all I could think about was hours from then when I was nice and warm again. Though, I did question if I’d ever be warm again. We were lucky to find some short lines for the porta-potties and took care of business—I must say, this was a minor feat in itself with all of the heat sheets and layering to deal with.

I got into the corral with plenty of time to stand and wait around. I just did my best to stay huddled up with myself. For some reason, Disney put me in corral E which isn’t really where I belong. I hate saying that and sounding like I actually care or think it matters or compare myself to other runners (I really don’t), but I was corral C last year and the time I gave was within the corral C range (and faster than the one I gave for last year). Plus, I’m a 3:28 marathoner. Still, I didn’t care too much since I wasn’t planning on racing. In fact, starting in corral E probably matched up much more with my plan to run just around a 4-hour marathon.

2017 Walt Disney World Marathon starting line

Really hard to get a good selfie of the starting line here with this lighting.

Anyway, time flew by pretty quickly and it was time to go before I knew it! Which was good because I was violently shivering! While I had seriously debated if I could actually run while keeping the heat sheets tied around me, I ditched them as the corral before us got going. The announcers said they might interfere with the timing mat and I knew they’d just annoy my anyway. Some runners did start with them on though! They looked hilarious while actually running!

The first 10k

The corrals ahead of us went quickly and there were no mini waves so the corrals to off started with little delay between them. Amazingly, the moment I started running, I forgot about the cold and was totally fine. In fact, from race start to finish, the weather was a complete non-issue for me. It was basically perfect.

I started things off easy and focused on keeping myself steady. My plan to stay just under 4:00 meant my target pace was around 9:09.

I clocked in my first mile at 8:57. A tad faster than I planned, but not too shabby at all. The important thing was to just stay controlled in this first mile and set a good tone for the race going forward. Just past the first mile marker, I ripped my throwaway shirt off Hulk Hogan style. Just tore it right down the front like a total badass! We can ignore the fact that I had pre-cut the neck to make the hole bigger and easier to take off during my run.

Most of the way to Magic Kingdom was quiet and uneventful. I think runners were still pretty cold and the cheer sections on the highway were a less filled than normal. One thing I noticed was the lines for photos were really short. This was a trend that continued the entire race and, after the first two or three of them, they were never more than five or six people deep—most were like maybe one runner. This was shocking to me. It was cold out, which I suspect was a big reason for it, but with the half marathon having been canceled, I’d have expected Dopey and Goofy runners to be upping their photo game. I didn’t stop for any of these early photos myself, though.

As we passed the fourth mile marker, my pace was pretty steady. My legs were okay, but not as good as I would’ve liked (pretty sure I say this in every marathon recap I do). The section right around here is where the second big cheer section is (if you include the one on the highway going into the Magic Kingdom) and it was fantastic! The cold did not keep people from being out here and getting their NOISE on! It was such a nice surprise to see these amazing people out there.

Just after we sailed through this cheer section, I stopped at a bank of porta-potties for a quick pee-pee break. When I came out, I took a moment to take off my long sleeve top and neatly tie it around my waist nice and tight before I started running again. This made for a longer stop than planned, but it beat having to pull it off and tie it while running. It also meant less risk of losing a headband or something in the process.

Once I started moving again, I still felt like I had to pee. I felt this the entire race. I knew I didn’t have to, but I never stopped feeling like I had to pee. Ugh!

As we made our way past the 5th mile marker and into Magic Kingdom, I couldn’t believe how quickly it felt like this had come up. Main Street U.S.A. was packed and loud, just like always! So much excite! I didn’t stop for any selfies here like I usually do because I wanted to just focus on my running. But as we came through Tomorrowland, I saw Buzz Lightyear with only a short line waiting for him. I hopped in line and then he promptly walked away. WTF BUZZ! I decided not to wait for him, but I did see Patrick as I took off to leave again. Just a little ways up, I made up for it with a photo with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

Tweedles!

Then it was through Fantasyland, both new and old, and Cinderella’s Castle—I stopped for a photo, of course. Coming through Frontierland, I stopped for a quick shot with one of the Country Bears and then got back into my rhythm as we passed the 10k marker.

This is an important photo!

A quick jamboree!

By this point, I had only taken water once. I knew it was important, but I didn’t want to risk spilling it all over my face or getting my gloves wet with the temperature where it was. I know my body and knew I went to bed hydrated so I kept my water breaks to about three throughout the course of the race. Instead, I used the water breaks to thank all of the volunteers for being out there.

I love this photo coming out of the castle.

Through the first 10k of the race, I had lost just about 3.5 minutes to my pee break and photos. Hardly anything for a Disney race!

10k to 13.1

The section between the two Kingdoms is always a tough part of the race. It’s nearly 10k and, unlike the section between Animal Kingdom and ESPN, you’re still early in the race and needing to stay controlled.

I stopped for a few photos along here with the characters that were out. There were no lines so it hardly cost me any time at all.

He’s big. He’s bad. And he’s a wolf.

My mile splits were a little erratic through this section of the course as I fought with my body wanting to pick it up a little and my brain knowing I shouldn’t, especially since my legs were feeling tired already. I was nice and warmed up and started pulling my arm warmers down. I wanted to pull them off completely, but I was afraid I’d need them after Animal Kingdom while on the highway with nothing blocking the wind—I tried to figure out which way the wind would be blowing there and thought it would be a headwind. My fear with pulling them off is that they’d be a pain to pull back on when I needed them again. So I just left them pulled down to my forearms.

I’ve never taken a photo with Genie before!

Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope!

Glitchin’ and wrecking’!

These guys!

These hippies replaced the RV hillbillies I love 🙁

There used to be a section of the course here that lapped around the Disney World Speedway, but the Speedway doesn’t exist anymore. Last year, there was a new out-and-back section added around mile 11. It was a boring stretch of plain road just to even out the miles a bit. This year, the out-and-back was in the same place but went out farther than last year. I wasn’t surprised by this when we hit it, though. I knew there would have to be some section to make up for the changes in Hollywood Studios caused by the construction of Star Wars Land (I really hope they don’t call it Star Wars Land when it’s done).

My first half splits. I had my watch in manual lapping mode and lapped it on each mile marker so this should be pretty on point.

The weird thing about this though was, from mile 11 on, all the mile markers were moved from where they previously were the last few years. It wasn’t a lot, but up until the 23rd one, they all came up a little sooner on the course than before. It was actually a nice surprise at times.

Anyway, the section between the two Kingdoms flew by way faster than it ever seemed to before. Maybe it’s my growing experience with this race (5th time running it), who knows? My only complaint here was the RV hillbillies that I always loved to take photos with were gone. Instead, they were replaced with a couple of hippies with an RV. Not the same!

Sadly, the animals that are typically out as you approach Animal Kingdom were MIA this year. My guess is it was just too cold for them. This was disappointing, but understandable! We made our way into Animal Kingdom and through Africa and Asia. Asia was nice this year with the construction fencing from last year being gone now.

We hit the halfway mark and I checked in with my watch. 1:59:22. Right on schedule! I knew most of my photo ops were behind me and I was picking it up so I wouldn’t have much trouble negative splitting if my untrained legs didn’t bonk.

Feeling good through the halfway point!

13.1 to 20

We came out of Animal Kingdom, passed the 14th mile marker, and then came around to one of my favorite photo stops, the graveyard! This year, I went for a zombie style photo, but it didn’t come out as well as I’d have liked.

Zombie Amy! Spooky!

Mile 15 came right up after that and the rest of these highway miles ticked off like nothing. Unfortunately, I didn’t see one of my other favorite photo ops, Phineas and Ferb, along this stretch where they typically are.

As we made the turn towards ESPN Wide World of Sports, I was feeling pretty good and my splits had dropped down in to the low 8s. As we entered into Wide World of Sports, I took my second gel. Typically, I take one every five miles, but I only ended up taking two this whole race. I just wasn’t really feeling like I’d need them.

Wide World of Sports has a ton of turns, but they’re not too bad if the course isn’t crowded and you’re not trying to PR. We did our lap around the track and then into the stadium with lots of energy. Heading into the stadium I passed Joy and Sadness! And there wasn’t a single person in line! I had to snatch that photo up!

Joy and Sadness from Inside Out

Joy and Sadness!!!!

Stadium lap.

I was feeling good as we crossed 20 miles, but I was starting to feel like I had to poop a little bit. I had done some mental math through this section and realized if I kept going as I was, a 3:45 finish was possible. It was going to be close, but I could push for it.

20 to 23

This is the last quiet section of the course and the section I consider to be the last part you have to worry about.

Coming out of Wide World of Sports, we hit a wall of wind in our faces. This was the only part of the race where the wind was even something I noticed, but it was stupid.

As we passed 21, I was starting to tire a lot, but that was probably more due to the fact that my pace dropped into the 7:40s for this whole section rather than stay steady where it was in the low 8s.

This section also features the last two hills of the course. The first of which is probably the worst one of the whole race. It’s really not that bad, but it’s a highway onramp so it’s banked and a big wide turn. This is the point of the race that I always think of as the “just gotta get past here” point.

After nearly a mile, we hit that second little hill which was smaller than I remembered. After that, we made our turn into Hollywood Studios! Nothing but fun from here on out!

Mile 24 to finish

As I mentioned above, the Hollywood Studios section was different this year because of the construction. This year, we entered over by Fantasmic…ish. The course followed some of the walkway between Sunset Blvd and where the amphitheater is and popped us out behind Tower of Terror where the ride lets you out. The park was open by now so you could have taken a quick detour to the Twilight Zone, if you wanted. From here, we ran down Sunset Blvd to Hollywood Blvd. This was actually a really cool change to the course. As much as I LOVE Streets of America (RIP), this might be even better.

After we got back onto Hollywood Blvd, the course was the same as ever. We exited by the front of the park and made our way over to the walkway along the river towards the Crescent Lake resorts and Epcot.

By this point, I was passing runners left and right, but I was ready for the race to be over. As we approached the Beach and Yacht Club, I started looking for Danielle who was cheering outside of our room. We spotted each other at the same time and as I flew on by, I yelled “I gotta poop!!!” at her. The people around her didn’t know how to handle this.

Second half splits. Picked it up quite a bit!

The section along Crescent Lake quickly ended and I was feeling exhausted, but powering through with what I had left in me. I really was trying to get under 3:45! Of course, the Boardwalk along the Beach and Yacht Club here is where the “you’re almost there!”s started. Oof. I must have heard it a dozen times before even getting into Epcot. Seriously, folks, don’t say this if the finish line isn’t within eyesight.

As we turned into the World Showcase, I knew the 25th mile marker was just on the other side of the UK Pavilion as we crossed into France. I lapped my watch for a 7:29 mile here and told myself it was just 1.2 to go.

The countries ticked off as we traveled around the world on our way to Mexico and then into Futureworld. The final bit. As we passed under Spaceship Earth, I looked for the 26th mile marker and lapped my watch for a 7:21. I was shocked I had just run my fastest mile of the day with how I was feeling for the last couple of miles.

Epcot Futureworld

Futureworld! So close!

We exited the park and there was the beautiful finish line staring me down. I heard my name called by the announcers and then sailed across the finish line.

3:43:29!

Post race

Last year, I dry-heaved at the finish and thought I was going to throw up for the last 10k. The year before, I thought I was going to shit my pants for the last 10k and thought it was all going to come out the moment I stopped running. This year, I didn’t feel either. I had to poop, but it wasn’t an emergency…yet. Whew!

I collected my marathon, Dopey, Goofy, and half marathon medals (runners of the challenges got their half medal here) and then stopped for some photos before hopping on a bus back to the resort. Now, my body has collected itself a little and that poop was ready to come out. I barely got back to the room in time. It was a real photo finish!

I look like a mess, but I’m pretty happy here.

Chip'n'Dale!

Chip’n’Dale!

After I got in the shower, I was dismayed to find out that I had forgotten to put Body Glide on my lower back to protect from my shorts’ waistband. Oiselle’s Distance Shorts are great for marathons because of their three pockets, but their waistband will fuck you up if you’re not careful. While I did put Body Glide on my thighs, I had also forgotten to do under my bra, but that somehow escaped unscathed.

That night, we met up with the We Are Awesome Runner Friends group at Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge where we pigged out on delicious food and PRed in milkshakes. And Lauren drank two liters of Diet Coke.

This is a lot of meat. Yikes!

It was Patrick’s birthday!

Final thoughts

I’m really, really happy with my time for this race. Not only was this a 16.5 minute course record for me, but I negative split by 15 minutes. And this is my second fastest marathon since transitioning. If I hadn’t run Chicago back in October, this would have been a PR.

I had a lot of fun with Dopey this year. While doing four races over four days that all start at 5:30am is stressful, these races are a lot of fun and really enjoyable.

First, you bite your pretzel…

…then you drink your beer!

Finally, one additional change that Disney made this year was to start using their own photographers for race photos. No more MarathonFoto. The great part about this is it enables you to add them to your Disney PhotoPass and they start showing up pretty quickly after the race. My guess is Disney is using a lot of facial recognition software here to pull this off, which also explains how I have some photos where you can’t see my bib at all. But the best part about this change is that Annual Passholders get their PhotoPass photos for free so FREE RACE PHOTOS!

Finally finally, I ran the entire Dopey Challenge, all 48.6 miles, with my phone in my hand. I don’t typically run with it and being an iPhone 7 Plus, it’s too big for any pockets so it had to stay in my hand. Anyway, it wasn’t an issue at all until two hours after the marathon when it fell out of my jacket pocket and the screen cracked. ACK!

Wait, one more finally! I really loved the medals from the races this year. The retro style of the marathon and half marathon medals was fantastic!

2017 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge medals

These are good medals!

And when you’ve run 48.6 miles, you get as much ice cream as you want! Gimme that Dole Whip!

3

2017 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge – DIY half marathon

This is post two of three for the 2017 Dopey Challenge. Checkout my recap for the expo, 5k, and 10k here.

No disappointment here!

So this was the weird day of this year’s Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. We’d been watching the weather all week and knew it was going to be rainy. I don’t mind running in the rain if it’s not too cold, but thunderstorms were in the forecast, which…is a problem. runDisney had been sending out tweets that they were monitoring the forecast and would make a decision accordingly. We all had our fingers crossed that the thunderstorms would miss us or the timing would work out.

Unfortunately, at around 7:30 on Friday night, runDisney put up a post on Facebook stating “out of an abundance of caution” they were deciding to cancel the half marathon. I was shocked. As far as I know, they’ve never had to cancel a race before and it felt really early to be making that call. I understood their decision, but I didn’t have to like it!

I was literally snapping this Flat Amy pic when I got the cancelation notification!

Everyone was bummed. Twitter and Facebook immediately went crazy with people reacting. In the end, runDisney made the right decision. They had to think of the fact that they wouldn’t be able to evacuate all of the runners from the course if there was lightning in the area and also about their volunteers setting up throughout the night. As it turned out, it did lightning in the area throughout the night and continued well into the morning. It was the right call.

I have to give runDisney a lot of credit for how generous they were. Runners were offered refunds in the form of Disney gift cards, park tickets, entry into another runDisney race, or the option to run the full marathon the next day. Surprisingly 1,500 runners took that option! Dopey and Goofy runners are getting automatic refunds via electronic gift cards. And everyone got/gets their medals.

Still, many of us came to run and I didn’t feel right taking a medal for a race I didn’t run or taking Dopey and Goofy medals when I didn’t do the full challenge. This where things actually started to get fun. People started making all kinds of plans to run on their own. Some woke up at the same time they would have otherwise, others opted for a little extra sleep first. At first, doing laps around resorts sounded like it was going to be kinda miserable, but I’m stubborn and wanted to take part.

The half was the one race Danielle was planning on running so she still wanted to run too. We slept into just a little since we could and then got out there for our own half marathon. We were staying at the Yacht Club which is one of the Crescent Lake resorts so pulling this off was really easy. We did laps around the Boardwalk and out and back to Hollywood Studios. Each lap was just about 2 miles and quite scenic.

Just doing our thing!

When we got outside, there were already a bunch of other runners and the number of them just kept increasing throughout our run. Many even had their bibs on! It was amazing and there was so much camaraderie among everyone. Having that many people out there running at the same time almost made it feel like it was still a race! Some people even came out to cheer! At other resorts, people started setting up water and aid stops for runners.

Throughout the run, there was lightning that we could see in the distance, but it was never right over us. The good thing about where we were running was we had shelter most of the way that we could have ducked into if we needed. The rain held out for most of our run until about ten miles in, but it was so humid and warm out that it felt great! At one point, we got a pretty decent downpour going and it was probably my favorite thing ever!

Figured that the day that was 70º in the morning was the day the race got canceled.

We ended up doing our DIY half marathon in 2:00:29 and finished right at the lighthouse with huge smiles on our faces! It was an incredible experience, possibly even more fun than the actual race would have been. I’m so glad we decided to go out there and do it. By the time we were done, I had a huge smile and zero disappointment about the race being canceled.

All done! We perfectly nailed it so we finished exactly here.

7

2017 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge – pre-race, expo, 5k, and 10k

What better way to start off a new year than with a weekend full of racing in Disney? For the second year in a row, I ran the Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World. It’s a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon over the course of four days. And it’s a fantastic and wild event! After last year, I said I wasn’t going to do it anymore. It wasn’t because of the running, it was the walking up at 3:30am four days in a row thing. Yet, here we are.

Training

My training was, as has been trend for the last few years, not great. I ran an amazing marathon in Chicago in October, but then have been plagued with near-injury stuff since then. I was able to keep just enough fitness through the last few months to feel confident going in that I’d be fine to finish, but not enough to be feeling good.

The longest run I’d done since Chicago was a 15-miler in early November. And then I DNSed both the Philly Half Marathon and Philly Marathon because of my ankle. Since then, my longest run was just 13 miles and my ankle has been hurting off and on.

Expo

Danielle and I woke up at balls o’clock in the morning for a flight down to Orlando on Wednesday. With all the early nights you have because of the races, you need to maximize your time down there so we always take an early flight. After we hopped off Disney’s Magical Express and checked in at the Yacht Club, we got right on a bus over to ESPN Wide World of Sports for the expo.

When we rolled up, it was a MADHOUSE! There were swarms of people and it was totally unorganized. The expo for Marathon Weekend is always a little crazy, but this was the worst we’d ever seen. The line just to get into the building to pick up our race bigs was queued back and forth on itself a few times. Luckily this went quickly. Unfortunately, the line to get into the Jostens Center, where the actual exhibitor booths and pick up for the half marathon shirts are was even worse. It wasn’t organized at all. For a place that deals heavily with queue management, Disney really didn’t do a good job here.

Once we finally got into the expo, we did a quick lap and then got the heck outta there. Though, on our way out, we did run into my friend Julie who wasn’t just running her first Dopey, but her first marathon ever!

5k

The morning started off with a 3:30am alarm that I wasn’t ready for at all. I just wanted to sleep forever. But I dragged myself out of bed and threw on the clothes I had laid out the night before. We were sharing a room with our friend Ellen who was also doing Dopey for the trip so her and I got our stuff together and headed off to the bus.

5k Flat Amy

The nice thing about the 5k and 10k is the start is a lot more sane than the other races. You start near where the pre-race staging area and bag check are, rather than a 15 minute walk away like the half marathon and marathon. This lets you get there a little later.

It was chilly out. Not so much by my standards for running, but for Florida. I still wore a tank top and shorts, but I’m used to being able to just walk out my door and start running, not having to wait around for and hour and a half before running.

Love these people!

We met up with a bunch of my friends from the We Are Awesome Runner Friends Facebook group and took the first of our group photos before heading off to the corrals. My friend Nathan and I waited too long to go into the A corral and almost didn’t make it. They were closing it off as we were walking up and then forced us run to catch up to the back of the corral, which had already been walked up to the starting line. It seemed unnecessary to make us run to catch up considering there was still 20 minutes before the start, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Anyway, I was fine with starting in the very back of the corral as I wanted to run nice and slow, but Nathan’s coach wanted him to tempo the race.

Disney World 5k starting line

The starting line

The 5k started with “mini waves” which is something I’ve never seen in a race before. Rather than just let each wave go, they broke them up into smaller groups. Part of the corral would go, then two minutes later, another part, and so on. Our corral was broken into three mini waves. It sounds confusing and awful, but it was actually really nice. We were spaced out a lot more on the course and the start-of-the-race stampede was greatly reduced.

So much happy

I kept things nice and easy. I had no desire to push myself hard right off the bat. At about the halfway point, right after we got into the World Showcase in Epcot, I caught up to my friend Jeff and we ended up running the rest of the race together while chatting it up about running and races.

Maybe a little exuberant for a 5k finish, but it’s Disney World!

I crossed the finish line right at 29:00 on the dot, grabbed my medal, and made my way over to the bus. The medals this year were surprisingly nice. In the past, the 5k medals were a rubbery plastic, but this year they were actually medal. A nice little surprise!

2017 Walt Disney World Marathon 5k medal

Quality medal!

10k

Friday morning started off much the same. We didn’t leave quite as early so we had less time to wait around. But there was a bus waiting for us when we walked outside so we still ended up at the starting area nice and early. We took another group pic and then we headed off to the corrals again. This time, we didn’t cut it as close with the closing of the corrals!

10k Flat Amy

Patrick was a playing card! No idea how he ran in that!

I had walked over to the corral with Nathan and Aimee from our group and we hung out in the back of the corral before the start. When the race started, we stuck together for the first two miles, while passing Jeff along the way. After that, I pulled back a little and let them go on ahead. Again, without the training under my belt for Dopey, I didn’t want to push it.

Classic Amy face!

More Classic Amy

Amelia Gapin and Pluto at 2017 Walt Disney World 10k

Pluto!

I kept things nice and comfortable and had some fun. The race was over before I even knew it! I kind of regret not stopping for many photos, but I was running nice and comfortably and just wanted to keep my rhythm. I cruised across the finish line with a 56:26.

After the race, I waited in a loooong line to get a photo with Dopey and then sprinted off to just barely make it on a bus before it pulled away.

All-in-all, the days 0-2 of the Dopey Challenge were relatively uneventful and low key. Not bad!

Amelia Gapin with Dopey

Hanging with Dopey!

2

2017 CJRRC Hangover 5k – 21:44

 

That new PR smile!

2016 is finally over and 2017 is here. Who knows what this year has in store for us, probably even worse things than 2016, but let’s just take it one day at a time. And the Central Jersey Road Runner Club’s 35th annual Hangover 5k is a good place to start.

This was my second time running this race, and despite it being on New Year’s Day, I like it a lot. You get a decent hoodie, there is hot chocolate at the end and the course is mostly in a park near my in-laws house so I’m pretty familiar with it. The race starts with 1 3/4 laps around the 0.8-mile loop in the park, then out on the local streets for less than a mile, and then back into the park for another full loop in the opposite direction. It’s flat and there aren’t too many turns. If you’re not hungover, you can do pretty well.

We took New Year’s Eve nice and easy last night so getting up this morning was a lot easier than three years ago. We started the night off with a couple beers at our favorite bar a few blocks from our house with a couple of our friends and then we all came back to our place for some games and snacks. None of us got more than buzzed and we got to sleep before 1:30. Thanks to a noon start time for the race, there was plenty of time to sleep in and be lazy for a bit before heading out.

The weather was great for a 5k today. 47º at race start. There was a decent wind elsewhere, but it was mostly calm in the park.

As far as my plan for the race, I just wanted to take it easy and not actually race it. With the Dopey Challenge coming up next weekend, this is the first of five races in eight days. No reason to push my legs hard.

We made our way to the start early and snagged a spot near the front, but not too far up. The race started right on time which is rare for small local races.

At the gun, Danielle took right off and left me behind. She’s “only” doing the half marathon in Disney World and isn’t looking to race it so she didn’t need to worry about anything. Not more than a few seconds later, my friend Sarah flew on by on the right with a quick “hey Amelia” as she blew by. She went on to take second place overall.

I started off much quicker than I wanted to, but I was barely keeping up with the people around me. My legs felt good, but I felt like I was breathing a bit hard already. We made the first lap around the park and then passed the one mile marker as my watch displayed a 6:57 for the first mile. Oops. That was a solid minute faster than I was planning on doing.

That’s when I said “ah, fuck it” and decided to keep at it. Despite crushing Chicago Marathon less than three months ago, I’m not in tip-top shape right now. Between dealing with some ankle tendonitis and keeping my effort level easier since I’m not “training,” I’m just not at my fastest. I felt like I was running just about as fast as I could probably hang onto for 3.1 miles, but I knew it wasn’t exactly the smartest idea.

I rounded out the rest of the second lap around the park feeling like I was working for it but still within reason. The section outside the park went by pretty quickly as I focused on getting to the second mile marker—I knew exactly where it was because we parked right by it. I passed by at 7:00 and told myself it was okay to let off the gas if I had to. At this point, I knew even if I really pulled it back, I’d be pretty happy with my time.

Once I made my way back into the park, I knew it was just one more 0.8-mile lap around the park and I’d be done. I decided to keep it steady and not give it anything extra. Dopey and all that.

With a little less than half a mile left, I saw Danielle up ahead. I was gaining on her very slowly, but didn’t make much effort to try to catch her. I was starting to get that end of race nausea thing I get sometimes so I knew I couldn’t push it anymore unless I wanted to risk dry-heaving. I spent the final third of a mile with her just barely ahead of me all the way to the finish.

I crossed the finish just as the clock said 21:44, a new PR by over a minute! I was 12th woman overall out of 367 and 4th in my age group. I would have placed in my age group, but Danielle’s 21:36 took 2nd and the woman between us was apparently in our age group as well.

For a race that was just supposed to be an easy three miles and my first 5k since this same race three years ago (if you exclude the Dopey Challenge 5k from last year), I was pretty happy to have a new PR. Of course, I’ll probably regret as I’m trudging through Dopey next weekend, but Future Amy will have to worry about that. For now, this is giving me a little motivation to work on the 5k a little this spring and see what I can do when I’m actually in shape to be running fast.

Not a bad start to 2017.

Not a bad hoodie!

3

One weekend, two DNSes

Two races. I DNSed two races this weekend. I’m not too happy about it either.

Back in July, I started kicking around the idea of doing a second fall marathon this year. I didn’t want to commit to it at the time, but it was an idea I had in the back of my head. I figured there’d be two circumstances in which I would actually do it. The first was if I didn’t like how training was going for Chicago Marathon and wanted to push my goal race back. I would run Chicago easy as a training run and then focus on the second marathon as my goal race. The second scenario was if and my recovery both went well.

Enter Philadelphia Marathon.

I ran Philly in 2011 as my first marathon. It was a great experience and it’s less than two hours away. The great thing about Philly is registration stays open until 11/1, less than three weeks before the race. And it rarely, if ever, sells out. It’s perfect for a last minute marathon! This sounded great to me. I could wait and see how Chicago recovery went for three weeks and then make a decision. Even better, they moved the half marathon to the day before the marathon for the first time this year—rather than running both races together, as they always have in the past. This opened up the option of doing the Rocky Challenge, both the marathon and the half marathon. I really liked this idea, to be honest. I’ve done Goofy Challenge three times and Dopey Challenge once (I’m doing it a second time in January) so I’m no stranger to running a half marathon and marathon on back-to-back days. Anyway, I went ahead and booked a hotel room for the weekend in Philly just so I’d be covered. It was a refundable room so there was no risk to do so.

As we all know, Chicago went fucking amazingly. I didn’t go into it perfectly healthy, but recovery went well enough and, after a lot of back-and-forth, I decided to go for it. And by “it,” I mean the Rocky Challenge. I registered on Halloween.

The next couple weeks went okay. Running wasn’t going as well as I would’ve liked, but it wasn’t anything I was worried about either. Then, all of a sudden, I woke up last Sunday morning and my left ankle and arch hurt like hell. Walking hurt. WTF! I know from experience that pain in my foot and ankle is almost always due to tight calves so I went to work trying to loosen them up. I went to my scheduled physical therapy appointment and her focus on down there. I only did one three-mile run during the week and it didn’t feel great. I was not happy.

In reality, I likely didn’t do anything to cause it. However, since the election, I’ve been tense. Just stressed and tense like all hell. The kind where your whole body is constantly clenched. My teeth have been tightly clenched 24/7 since the 8th. I just can’t seem to get it out. I could feel this tenseness and tightness in my runs. I never felt like I was loosening up. And I especially felt it in my 13-miler the day before the pain started. This was the likely cause of the pain.

So I went into the weekend playing it by ear. Friday night, I decided I would run the half and I set out all my stuff for the race. While the marathon was more important to me, the half felt like a way to at least make sure I salvaged something from the weekend. When I woke up Saturday morning, I went through my routine of getting ready for the race. As I was about to head out the door to the start, things just didn’t feel right. My foot didn’t feel right and the decision to run felt wrong. I decided to take the DNS and try again the next day for the marathon. I got back in bed.

After another couple hours of sleep, I got back up and jogged the .9 miles to the starting line with the wife for the 8k (her race for the weekend). My foot felt kinda eh. I could have gone either way with it. I still didn’t know what to do. The rest of the day continued like this. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.

Come 8pm, I had to decide what I was going to do. I knew I could go out there and run the race and likely finish. But at what cost? Was it worth turning this into a full-on injury? Risking Dopey and being miserable in Disney because of it? Honestly, it wasn’t. And I knew that. Plus, the weather was a major factor. For the half marathon, it was amazing weather—calm wind and nice temps. But overnight, everything changed. The temperature dropped into the mid to upper 30s and the wind kicked up to 20mph—and was predicted to get much worse from there during the race. Oof. If I ran, it wouldn’t be pleasant. Was this really a race experience I was worth taking the risk for? What if I did have to DNF out there in the cold? Ugh.

I decided to take another DNS. This was the smart decision. But I was disappointed. I’ve been intensely depressed since the election and this really drove me deeper into it. Not to mention how pissed I was about the money. I was pissed I even registered for both races and paid for the hotel for the weekend. It was a $1,000 I didn’t really need to waste.

And, of course, I woke up in the morning and my ankle felt okay. Good enough to run a marathon on, I thought.

In the end, the weekend wasn’t a complete loss. We met up with a ton of friends we hadn’t seen in a while and ate at a bunch of great restaurants. It’s just never fun to DNS a race. And it’s even less fun to DNS two races in the same weekend.

Life goes on. I’m bummed, but I’ll live. It wasn’t a goal race, it was only ever just a cherry on top.

10

2016 Chicago Marathon – 3:28:41

Amelia Gapin with 2016 Chicago Marathon medal in Grant Park

Oh, yes, look at that smile!

Marathon number nine is in the books! And it was fan-fucking-tastic! I would go so far as to describe this as not just my best marathon, but my best race ever.

Pre-race

The plan after getting to Chicago was to hit up the expo and then take it mostly easy though the rest of Friday and Saturday. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on my feet. I just wanted to rest my legs and keep them fresh.

Amelia Gapin at 2016 Chicago Marathon race expo

Got my bib!

The expo was the typical big race expo affair, but we were lucky to get there early enough on Friday that it wasn’t completely insane yet. We did a lap, grabbed some free samples, and I met up with my friend Heather for a few minutes. After that, we chilled at our hotel until it was time for the Oiselle meetup. And that was about it for Friday.

Amelia Gapin at the Bean

Wife and I at The Bean on our shakeout run.

Saturday was even more laid back. I went for a two-mile shakeout run with the wife which we ended at breakfast. I had considered going to one of the many group shakeout runs, but ended up skipping them all. The one with Meb was the one I really wanted to go to, but it filled up before I signed up. And when I woke up on Saturday, I opted for a little extra sleep over going to Bart Yasso’s run, which was also a mile longer than I had wanted to do.

Flat Amy 2016 Chicago Marathon

The obligatory Flat Amy pic of my race clothes laid out the night before.

After breakfast, we stopped by Target to buy some throwaway clothes—I didn’t have any at home, nor the luggage space to carry them if I did—and then relaxed until our delicious, and early af, dinner at Italian Village. Then it was an hour or so of foam rolling my legs before getting in bed! I got to bed by 9:15 which was 👌 for my 5:30 wakeup.

 

Race morning

I woke up easily and felt well-rested and ready to go. I scarfed down a Dunkin Donuts savory donut bagel and then I had to 💩! I never 💩 on race morning, but I considered this a good omen. One less thing to worry about in those late miles. Not that I often have to 💩 during races, but it has happened before. I had just enough time to get dressed and get my stuff together to head out of the hotel right according to plan.

Amelia Gapin pre-2016 Chicago Marathon

Dressed and ready!

The weather was basically perfect. Low 50s, hardly any wind, sunny. I knew it’d get a little warmer later on and I tend to prefer racing in the low to mid 40s, but I knew the weather was going to be a non-issue. Another good sign for the day!

I walked to the start, checked my bag, and got in line for a porta potty. I was feeling okay. No nerves. More calm and relaxed than normal. Before checking my bag with my phone in it, I sent a quick text off to the wife to let her know I’d be radio silence until I saw her at mile 17. She said “you got this” and I, without even thinking, said “I do have this.” And I believed it. I felt confident for the first time in two weeks.

This was when I knew it was going to be my day.

This was when I knew it was going to be my day.

The porta potty lines were long and I got out with just a few minutes before the corrals closed. I pulled off my throwaway sweatpants, dumped my hoodie, and made my way over. The corral was packed and I entered from the back. But I knew my goal and race plan had me running much faster than almost everyone in my corral (based on the way the corrals were broken out by previous finish times). I slowly worked my way up to the front, but it was tough. There was little room to get through, but I knew that’s where I belonged and needed to be. I knew starting in the front would help me have a more controlled start because I wouldn’t be fighting to get around other runners. I’d have some space to run my own race.

Sun just starting to come up.

Sun just starting to come up.

I finally got all the way up to the second row of people just as the corral before us was sent on their way. I ripped off my makeshift tube sock arm warmers, reminded myself of my race plan, and told myself, again, that I had this.

Miles 0 – 7.5

Once our corral got going, I stayed calm. I had a lot of adrenaline, but I repeated over and over in my head “stay slow, take it easy.” I had switched my Garmin to manual lapping so I could have accurate splits and really be able to assess how I was doing throughout the race without having to worry about the typical GPS inaccuracy. I made it my personal mission to not look at anything on my Garmin except each split on the mile. That was it, besides the occasional heart rate checkin on my Apple Watch.

Throughout mile one I felt great. Easy and relaxed. I felt like I was running slow. I know, you’ve heard this before. When I got to mile one, I saw a 7:48 and panicked for a minute. “Shit! I was supposed to run around 8:20! Did I just blow my whole race?EVERY TIME, AMY!” But I quickly pulled it together and eased back a little. It’s a long race, I could recover. Plus, I felt like I was supposed to in that mile and I was running this race by feel.

My heart rate was quite high, in the mid-170s, for the first mile, but I didn’t feel it. I was totally confident in chalking that up to race start adrenaline.

Miles two and three ticked off uneventfully as I eased myself in. Almost got taken out by a few spectators crossing the course a few times, but that was an issue multiple times throughout the race.

The first 3-4 miles of this race are loud with strong crowd support, you need to take it in and store it for later, but you can’t let it go straight to your legs or you’ll blow your whole race. I just kept repeating my race plan in my head and kept telling myself I had this. Step one was getting to the northern most part of the course and hitting that turnaround at Addison (~7.5 miles). Then step two was getting to the Willis Tower and the halfway point. Step three was the Oiselle Cowbell Corner at 17 where my wife was. Then mile 20 and finally the finish. I had everything nice and broken out in my head. One step at a time.

I took water at each stop and tried to slow myself just a little as I drank to focus on getting some down, but I was still a bit splashy with it. Still out of practice, I guess. As I approached mile six, I realized I forgot to take my first gel. My marathon plan is typically to take one every five miles and this works for me. I gulped it down and set a mental reminder that I couldn’t make a habit of forgetting them.

When I got to the first 10k, I realized a new mental tool to add to my arsenal. Make each 5k a mental checkpoint. Each 5k had a timing mat and I knew my wife was tracking me. “Just get to the next checkin with Danielle.” In my head, I made this a big deal, almost as a way to connect with her telepathically throughout the race. It also meant that I was hitting mental checkpoints constantly throughout the race. This helped all 26.2 miles tick off like nothing.

Throughout this first portion of the race, my legs were back and forth between feeling great and feeling “ehhhh.” I knew going into the race my legs weren’t likely to feel good. I knew my IT band could be an issue. I knew there could be a lot of tightness and muscle soreness. It was never too bad, but it was always in the the back of my mind “okay, when is this going to get bad?” At a couple points here and there, I thought I felt my knees get weird and my left calf was tight for a mile, but nothing lasted or stayed consistent.

My pace throughout these miles was pretty consistent in the 7:55 to 8:05 range. I was hoping to for a less variation, but my effort level was very steady and I made very minor adjustments with each mile to keep myself on track. Besides being a little fast in miles one and two, I was right on plan.

Miles 7.5 – 13.1

Once we looped around at the top of the course and started facing South again, I used the Willis Tower as my North Star. I knew from running the course before that it’s the visible center of the course and it’s where the hallway point was. Whenever I could see the tower, I’d look up and say “Okay, you’re X miles away. I’m on my way!”

These miles were super uneventful. There is a lot of crowd support through here so I focused on keeping my effort on track and my pace right where it was supposed to be. I was really locked into where I wanted to be and overall feeling great. Legs kept having their moments of feeling weird, but still nothing consistent. To sound like a broken record, I just kept repeating my race plan in my head. I was not going to blow the day by not following my plan.

Throughout the first half, I slowly caught up on the pace groups in the corrals in front of me. 3:45 and 3:40 from each the C and D corrals (they had overlapping pace groups). I didn’t speed up to get around them, I just ignored them and ran my own race. My only thought was “whatever you do, don’t catch up to the 3:30 group.” The 3:30 pace group started in the C corral and had a nearly five minute headstart on my corral. If I caught them, I was running way too fast.

As I crossed the half, I was feeling confident. 1:44:29. Slightly fast for my 3:30 goal, but within a safe margin, I felt. I wasn’t trying to bank time, but I had an extra 30 seconds to work with in the second half, if I needed it.

Miles 13.1 to 17

“Okay, just get to Cowbell Corner!” That was my mantra here. I just kept on doing what I was doing.

At one point, a guy dressed like Mario passed me. Not long after that, I nearly slipped on a banana peel. Fucking Mario Kart out there, I tell ya!

Through this section, I started to have my doubts. Nothing major or self-destructive to my race, but they were there. I knew I was doing great so far, but my legs were starting to tire. I knew my long runs had been the weak part of my training so when they started feeling a tired here, there was some concern, but I still had energy and lungs for days. I expected this disconnect between my upper and lower body going into the race so I just kept to my plan. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy day and nothing was at a point where I felt like I should ease back.

Sometime in mile 15, I got my first side-stitch. Ugh! But, hey, you don’t get to nine marathons without learning how to run through them, right? I switched my focus to my breathing for a few minutes. Deep breathes in and let it all out as the foot on that side comes down to the ground. It worked.

Normally, at the halfway point of a marathon, I switch from water to Gatorade. It’s another thing I’ve had success doing. But I was still splashing water on my face while drinking and didn’t want to risk having sticky Gatorade all over me. Plus, my hydration levels felt great. I typically try to take water at almost every stop for marathons (yet, almost never for shorter races), but I stopped taking water almost entirely in the second half. I paid close attention to how I was feeling and I was feeling confident I was hydrated enough given my current sweat rate. And when I had the option, I was sticking to the shadier side of the street.

As I approached the overpass for 290 right before mile 17, I knew it was time to get myself to the left side of the course for my wife and everyone at Cowbell Corner. Once I got over there, I noticed another pace group up ahead. I assumed this was the 3:35 group from corral C. Good timing for catching them, I felt. Anyway, I locked my eyes on the side of the course looking for everyone. Typically, I’m pretty oblivious to the the course around me, but I was getting tired and I need to see some familiar faces. About 50 feet out from them, I saw a big Oiselle sign and immediately sprung back to life. I soaked the excitement in and flew by with a HUGE smile on my face. So much energy!

Miles 17 to 20

I took so much of this energy in from Cowbell Corner that I went from running 7:55 to 8:00 miles to running ~7:47 for three miles. I was a little worried after the first mile, but I was feeling good again. I knew I was late enough in the race where I didn’t have to worry too much anymore about getting too fast. If my legs were feeling good with it, I could let them do what they wanted.

Sometime early in this three mile stretch, I got a bad cramp right in the middle of my chest. I focused on my breathing again while saying to myself “welp, this is where I die. This is probably something serious and I’m going to be that runner that dies at a marathon. Fuck it, legs are feeling good and I’m not pulling them back.” I ran through it for a few minutes and it went away. NBD. This happens to me in marathons a lot.

As I crossed mile 18, I stayed focused on my 5k checkpoints. “18.6 is 30k, just get to there and checkin with Danielle.” I was still using this mental trick and it was working.

Before I knew it—no really, it happened so quick—I was at mile 20. “Okay, here’s where things get hard. Stick with your plan. You got this, you’re fucking killing it, bitch.” Yes, I call myself bitch when I’m running. Anyway, I was confident and knew that almost nothing, short of an injury-related thing, was going to stop me from at least getting my B goal of 3:35. Even if I bonked, I had that on lock.

Miles 20 to 23

fullsizerender-10After crossing 20, my focus was getting to 22 and getting retribution from four years ago when my race fell apart right at the 22nd mile marker. I was not doing that again! I kept it steady. As I crossed mile 22, I forgot to lap my watch. Only mile all race I missed lapping exactly on the mark. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I realized it at about 22.25 and thought about lapping it there and then again at 23, but decided to just wait until 23.

In the 22nd mile, I started to get a really bad side stitch on my right. It was super painful to the point where I had to grab at it. I thought “welp, this is it. This where I fall apart…again.” I wanted to walk it out, but I refused to give in. I pulled back on my pace a little, but not much. I was determined to not give in until my body refused to keep going. “Four miles to go. You can deal with this for four miles. Okay…you probably can’t, but you’re going to fucking do it anyway.” Miraculously, I eventually worked it out within a mile and regained my pace and resolve.

Mile 22 was also where the “you’re almost there!”s started. I sorta wanted to punch every one of these people, but I let it go. I I was not letting this distract me.

These miles are where I really started to fall back on my half marathon from three weeks ago. I haven’t raced much in the last two and a half years so my race experience is a bit rusty. I drew as much as I could from this one race and used it as a reminder of what I could fight through.

I also thought about the elites who had just come through here not much more than an hour before me. I wondered who won and what it felt like for them coming down this stretch.

And when I needed to, I went to old faithful. I imagined myself running at him along my normal route. “Five miles left, just gotta get home from Port Liberte.”

The finish

Once I hit 23, I knew I had this race locked down. No, not just the race, my fucking A goal. I was going under 3:30 and absolutely nothing was going to get in my way. The question now was if I could hold on enough to finish in 3:28:XX. I knew I was on track for a negative split, but I wasn’t doing exact enough math in my head to know how close it was.

I fought these miles. My legs were tired and sore, but they kept on going. They kept doing what I was asking them to do. As much as I was hurting, I was never miserable. I was never begging for the misery to end. And I never bonked. I was focused on that finish and what had more left, the course or my legs. There was a lot of crowd support in the last 5k, but it barely even registered in my brain. I was in my own world focused on staying as strong as I could.

I hit mile 24 and my confidence grew even more. “This. Is. Yours. Finally. You’ve got your BQ. And you’re going to get your sub-3:30. All your marathon goals are happening today.” I briefly went back to imagining myself running at home. “Okay, you’re passing Ellis Island now. 2.2 to go.”

img_0489In those last two miles, the focus was on that stupid quarter mile hill as you hit mile 26. That last slap in the face from the course. It’s not even a huge hill, but I remember it completely crushing my soul four years ago. Not this time. I was going to fight with everything. And that was all I thought about from the 24th mile marker on.

I passed mile 25. Still had it. I the “one mile to go” marker. I was somehow staying strong. I felt slightly better than I did with this much left in my half marathon three weeks ago. But it hurt and I was putting down 100% of what I had left.

“Okay, the turn into the hell hill is almost here.”

800M.

“Let’s do this!”

I fought up the hill. I gave what I had knowing I didn’t need to save anything. I lost a few seconds on my pace, but not much. Less than I thought I would.

400M.

200M

I got to the top of the hill and made that final left turn. There was the finish. Waiting for me. I had it.

To be honest, when I saw the finish line, my first thought was “huh, this race kinda flew by. I can’t believe that’s 26.2 already.” I mean, I was hurting, but the race seemed to just fly by. I gave what I had down this last stretch, but I think most of my remaining energy was trapped in my smile.

I stopped my Garmin as my body crossed the finish.

3:28:41.

I literally screamed out loud. And then I cried. Good thing I was wearing sunglasses. All I wanted was to get to my phone and see what my actual chip time was. I hardly even cared about water.

2016 Chicago Marathon medal

This medal means so much to me after this performance.

I made my way through the long finisher chute grabbing water, Gatorade, and beer and then got to my phone. 3:28:41 here too.

“Holy. Shit. What?” I was honestly in shock for hours.img_0490

Post race

After I got my checked bag and texted my wife. I went through my dozens of texts and Twitter/Facebook notifications from people who were tracking me. I was almost too excited to function. My legs didn’t even feel that bad. I guess since I never hit my breaking point, they weren’t 100% wrecked.

I changed in one of the changing spaces and then made my way over to the post race party to find Danielle and get another beer in my body. I was walking pretty much fine. Sore, yeah, but not stiff.

Takeaways

This race was what happens when just about everything goes right and I focus on my race plan. It was a “best case scenario” situation. I’ve been on the other side where just about everything goes wrong and that’s pretty much the worst. This was the opposite of that and it was great.

Going into the race, I was not confident about my decision to go for 3:30 from the start. I knew it was a risky plan, but it still felt like the right decision. I never would have dreamed I’d not only hit that, but also hit my stretch goal. This was the first time I’ve ever negative split a race that I was racing. I typically suck at that. I also can’t believe I never bonked.

Look at that salt crust! No one told me about it until I got back to the hotel!

Look at that salt crust! No one told me about it until I got back to the hotel!

I was nervous about pacing myself on my own. I usually try to start marathons with a pace group to keep myself controlled and have something steady to focus on late in the race. I didn’t have that option this time around as the pace group I wanted was two corrals ahead of me. In the end, this seemed to work out really well. I was free to make my own adjustments in relation to how my body felt rather than be forced into what the group was running.

I’m a bit stuck on trying to figure out why this race. My training was fast, but it was low mileage and I didn’t do any cross-training or speedwork. In terms of marathon training, this was about the least work I’ve put in. To be fair, this was planned from the start of training. this wasn’t supposed to be a BQ race. I was focusing on just building back up. And then I spent all of taper dealing with making sure my IT band and quads were even going to be able to do the race at all. I was really aggressive with rehabbing everything, but it never felt right. And, again, my long runs. My longest run was only 17 miles. I had a 20-mile day, but it was split between a couple runs. My 19 and 21 milers were complete busts.

I guess, in a weird way, the issues with my leg forced extra rest during taper to allow me to go into the race recovered and ready, even if I didn’t feel like it. It also may be that my body responds better to lower mileage marathon training, which would go against everything I’ve ever believed would get me here. I’ve always felt like my body needed high mileage training to be able to stay strong late in a marathon. I might have been wrong?

I also had a solid race plan with many pre-planned options to handle anything the race threw at me. And I kept repeating that plan over and over and committed to it like I never have before. I made it gospel. I never let the race get away from me. I stayed in control of it.

No matter what, I couldn’t possibly be happier with this race. It was as close to flawless as I’ve ever been. I negative split. I PRed by 16 minutes. I got my BQ by more than 11 minutes. And I had fun and loved it. I finally feel like I have a PR that is mine. 3:44 is quite respectable and I’ve always been proud of it, but it felt dated and I knew I could do better.

I love the Chicago Marathon. Both times I’ve run it have been amazing experiences. It’s such a well put-together event that runs like clockwork. Crowd support is fantastic. The city is fantastic. It’s a big race, but it’s a great race.

Celebratory deep dish pizza!

Celebratory deep dish pizza!

3

2016 Newport Liberty Half Marathon – 1:39:51

img_0075I haven’t raced a half marathon in a long time. Sure, I’ve run half marathons, but it’s been about four and a half years since I actually tried to run a fast half and cared about my time. That was about a month before I decided to transition. Granted, I also haven’t raced much in the way of any distance in the last two years, but it’s certainly been the longest for the half. So I was due.

I should also mention the bigger point here, this was also my first race of any kind since having surgery in January. It’s definitely been a while since I’ve pinned a bib on.

I signed up for this race way back in like March before I even knew for sure when I’d be running again after surgery. They had a thing were you could register for the Newport 10k and Newport Liberty Half Marathon together, so I went for that. The 10k is in the spring, the half is in the fall. Unfortunately, I ended up DNSing the 10k thanks to some complications in my surgery healing. Boo! Anyway, I had my deferred entry for Chicago Marathon on October 9 so a half marathon three weeks before then seemed like a good way to test out my training. Plus, the race isn’t just in Jersey City (where I live) but it swings through my neighborhood and all the areas I spend my time. It even does a nice big lap of Liberty State Park which is where I log the vast majority of my miles. What more could a girl ask for? Though, I will say that this course map had a few WTFs in it…

help

help

I had 20 miles on the schedule for the day and I tend to prefer to do extra miles before a race rather than after. I like being able to run the race without needing to worry about leaving something in my legs for after. So I got up early to knock out 10k before the race. I ran my normal four mile route and then ran to the race start where my wife was waiting for me with a towel, some water, and a Kind bar. My run ended up being more like 6.4 miles than an even 6.2, but close enough. I was already dripping sweat thanks to 93% humidity so I decided it was gonna be a sports bra only race for me…a first. I even took a poll on Twitter the night before to see where most people pin their bibs. I went with on my shorts on my left hip. It was perfect.

I didn’t have a hard goal in mind for the race. I wanted to push it hard, but not a full 100%. With this coming at the end of my first marathon training peak week, I wanted to test out my training and get a good feel for where I was at for Chicago in three weeks. At the same time, I hadn’t tapered or done anything to set myself up for success—which is fine because my number one priority is my marathon. I figured I’d run in the low 1:40s with an appropriate effort. Yeah, I don’t really know what “appropriate effort” means either, but that’s about how I’d describe my plan.

fullsizerender-3I got into the corral and started with my friend Miranda. She’s also marathon training and her goal was to stay just under an 8:00 mile pace. That seemed like a good place to be so I said I’d probably stick near her.

When the race started, we took off at what felt like an easy and slow pace. I truly thought I was running just over an 8:00 mile until we got to the first mile marker at around a 7:36. Oops. In my head, I knew this was a little too fast, but in my legs and lungs, I felt right where I wanted to be. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Mile 2 flew by in the blink of an eye. We dropped just over 20 seconds off the pace. Big oops. Just before the marker, I saw my wife on the side cheering. I flew by waving at her with both hands and being all around silly about it. This is about when I started to lose Miranda.

I kept things steady through mile three, but started realizing in mile four that I should slow myself down a bit. Miles four and five were 7:22 and 7:24. By mile six I was starting to feel the effects of starting out too fast and slowed down into the low 7:30s.

graphics-interchange-format-gif-42e8f027a5f9-1The miles in Liberty State Park were nice and familiar. There were no surprises which helped keep me on track and made it feel just like a training run—even though the route was a bit different than I typically do through the park. Approaching mile ten, I was really feeling it, but kept telling myself I just had 5k left. As we passed by the marina, I tried to make sure I had the room I needed for the bumpy part of the path right before the boat launch. I run this section of the path in both directions almost every day and it’s a bit rough. The path is really uneven and bumpy. But I’ve run it so much that I’ve mapped out where each step should land through the entire stretch to get through as easily as possible. I came down this section on the right side of the path nice and clean and then looped around the boat launch and out of the park.

From here on, it was just hang on and make it to the finish. The eleventh mile marker snuck right up as my time slowed a tad more to 7:39. I had passed the twelfth mile marker on my pre-race miles so I knew exactly where it was and just focused on getting to that point. And from there, the course followed along the same way I finished my pre-run miles so I just replayed that in my head. I knew exactly where I was going and what was left. This was a huge boost.

Some numbers

Some numbers

As I came down the last stretch, I passed my wife again, as well as my speedy friend Sarah—she placed 5th overall!—just before the final turn to the finish. I looked at the clock and saw I had just enough time left to squeeze in under 1:40 without having to push more. I was beat so I just coasted my way in. Any extra seconds I could have knocked off here weren’t important to me at that point. I cruised past the finish line and bent over like I was going to throw up, just like how I finish most races!

After gulping down some water, I met up with my wife and checked the printout of the times. My ears were literally clogged with sweat, I was dehydrated, and I was still in a post-race daze so when I looked my time, I only looked at the clock time and not my chip time. I wasn’t really thinking quite straight yet. I saw 1:40:03! I was pissed! I thought I had a few extra seconds there at the finish! I could have pushed enough to make it! It was stupid, but I was bummed about that. It wasn’t until about a half hour later when I checked online that I saw my chip time was 1:39:51 and I came in 7th in my age group. Everything felt right again!

We hung around for a little bit with Miranda and grabbed our free beers before calling it a day and walking home. I was pretty proud of my effort!

This is a sign I trust

This is a sign I trust

Takeaways!

Usually, I think you learn a lot more from failure or a bad race, but I actually have a lot of takeaways from this race. Mostly, they’re things I already knew, but had forgotten since it’s been little while.

fullsizerenderFirst off, I need to race more. I’m rusty. I forgot what it’s like to push through at the end of race. It’s nothing like pushing on a hard run.

Control is also a thing I need to work on. I’ve never been particularly good at controlling my pace early in a race and this has definitely been a big worry for me over the last few weeks as I look ahead to marathon day. I’m worried about starting off too fast. I’m really bad at slowing myself down even when I know I need to. It’s like my legs get into a certain rhythm and I can’t pull them back from there. If I can find the right pace early, I can usually keep it and even end up with a negative split. I took off too fast for the first few miles of this race and got in trouble later because of it. I just happened to be lucky enough to still sneak in with a great time, but I was struggling through the last 5k.

Running a race on a familiar route can make a huge difference. When you know the course like the back of your hand, it’s easy to wrap your head around the miles ahead. You know where they are and where they go. A trick I often do late in marathons is pretend I’m running on my normal route at home. I visualize myself with the same distance left on a training run as I have left in the race. I picture where I would be and what would be around me. With this course, I didn’t even have to do that. I was already on familiar paths and streets. It absolutely helped a lot!

Lastly, I’ve forgotten how to drink water while running at race effort, it would seem. I only took water twice, but I splashed it right up my nose the second time. I swear I used to be really good at this. I probably should have taken more water during the race as practice.img_0092-copy

14

2016 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge

Look at all these medals!

Look at all these medals!

I’m going to try to do a recap of all of the runDisney Dopey Challenge in a single post here. We’ll see how this goes, but I’ll try to keep it short.

This was my first time doing the Dopey Challenge–if you’re not familiar, it’s a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon over four days in Disney World. I’d done the Goofy Challenge, just the half marathon and marathon part, three previous times and the half marathon by itself once before that. So I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going it.

Training

My training was pretty weak, much like how most of 2015 was. Looking back, it was much better than my training was for the 2015 Goofy Challenge, but I came into this race with 300 fewer miles in 2015 than I ran in 2014. While my training was short (we’ll call it nine weeks) and overall mileage was much lower than I’d like, if you just looked at the last two weeks, you’d think I was in good shape. My peak week was 52 miles with an unplanned-but-totally-felt-amazing 20-miler. This is what I held onto going into the race, knowing that I felt great running 20 miles when I had planned 15. Not to mention that last year’s Goofy Challenge went really well with less training so I was feeling like I’d at least have fun and not struggle too much. I mean, with this being my eight marathon and my goal being “have fun,” I felt like i had the experience and attitude to overcome short training.

This is my weekly mileage in the second half of 2015, ending with the week including the Dopey Challenge. Not sure why DailyMile split the week spanning 2015 and 2016 into two bars on the graph, but weeks 53 and 1 are the same week. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

This is my weekly mileage in the second half of 2015, ending with the week including the Dopey Challenge. Not sure why DailyMile split the week spanning 2015 and 2016 into two bars on the graph, but weeks 53 and 1 are the same week. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Pre-races

I made the trip down to Disney with my wife and our friend, Ellen. We flew down on Wednesday and promptly went to the expo. We didn’t actually spend much time there because we wanted to get a little Magic Kingdom time in before calling it an early night.

5k – 27:39

Because the 5k starts a little later than the other races–6am, as opposed to 5:30am–we got to “sleep in” a little until 3:45 before getting up to head to the buses. Unfortunately, there was a major bus issue and we waited for over 40 minutes for any bus to come at all. Still, we had plenty of time, but it was definitely annoying!

Flat Amy for the 5k

Flat Amy for the 5k

Ellen and I quickly hit the porta-potties and then hopped in the corral. Before we knew it, the race was off!

Knowing it was just the first of four races, we kept things nice and easy and just had fun with it. It was over in the blink of an eye!

Before the 5k with Ellen

Before the 5k with Ellen

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10k – 57:36

My wife joined Ellen and I for the 10k with our slightly earlier wake up time of 3:30. Other than a slightly earlier wake up, our morning was much the same as the 5k was. While waiting in the corral, an old radio station friend, Jaclyn, found us to say hi. I hadn’t seen her in probably close to a decade at this point, many many years before I even thought about transitioning, so it was nice to see her.

Flat Amy for the 10k

Flat Amy for the 10k

Once the race was off, Ellen and Danielle (my wife) took off and left me behind. I didn’t mind too much, I just was going to do my own thing. But after a minute or two, I found myself right next to Ellen again. My wife was no where to be found. It turns out that she ran an accidental PR and was 29th overall and 5th in her age group. Typical.

Before the half marathon with Danielle!

Before the half marathon with Danielle!

The 10k really wasn’t much different than the 5k except for the fact it was raining a bit. Nothing too bad, though. Besides, I love running in the rain! For real, it’s my favorite.

Wet.

Wet.

With about a half mile left, we passed Phineas and Ferb and you KNOW I had to get a photo with them. Ellen kept on running and after two other runners rudely cut me in line before I could get my photo, I took off at a 6:15 min/mile or so pace to catch up to Ellen before the finish line. Probably not the smartest thing to do.

Phineas and Ferb!

Phineas and Ferb!

And almost as quickly as the 5k was over, so was the 10k! I had planned a 60-minute even 10k, but ended up running a bit faster and finished with a 57:36, which was still well within my “taking it real slow and easy” range.416807_216760450_XLarge

After the race, I showered and ran over to the Boardwalk for a meetup with Lauren, Patrick, Nathan, Amanda, and a few others.

Eat Up Tweet Up!

Eat Up Tweet Up!

Through the afternoon, my calves were feeling really tight. While I attributed this to just being on my feet a lot while in the parks, I was pretty worried about it and tried to rest them as much as possible throughout the day. We called it a day pretty early, around 6:30 or so, and I spent some time stretching, foam rolling, and ice bathing my legs to make sure they’d be good to go for the half marathon. Even with all of that, I was able to get to bed by 8:30!

Ice bath! Brrrr!

Ice bath! Brrrr!

Half Marathon – 2:14:02

Waking up at 3:15, my legs felt a little better. They were nowhere near where I wanted them to be, but there was some improvement. The weather was warm, around 60º and very humid, 100%. I met up with a few of my #runchat friends before getting in the corral, but I was a little nervous about how tight my legs were feeling.

Half Marathon Flat Amy

Half Marathon Flat Amy

Ellen, Danielle, and I all started in the corral together, but as soon as the race started, we got separated. They were off and I was left behind on my own. I didn’t mind too much as I prefer to run alone, but I would have preferred to plan that from the start so I could have started in my own corral and had slightly shorter waits for photos.

Fireworks to start the race!

Fireworks to start the race!

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Magic Kingdom!

Magic Kingdom!

Tomorrowland!

Tomorrowland!

My plan for the half was to take it extra, extra slow. I stopped for a quick pee break in the first mile and then just took photos and had a good time. At one point around mile three, I had almost caught up to Danielle and Ellen. I was maybe 20-30 feet back from them, but then I saw Vanellope and Wreck-It Ralph and needed to get my Sugar Rush on a photo with them. The line was super long though and I waited for a solid five minutes. Still, it was worth it!

Vanellope and Wreck-It Ralph!

Vanellope and Wreck-It Ralph!

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It was SO foggy all race. I promise you Spaceship Earth is behind me here!

It was SO foggy all race. I promise you Spaceship Earth is behind me here!

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Serious high five at the finish!

Most of the rest of the race went by uneventfully. I kept things slow and easy and took a bunch of photos. I just had a lot of fun with it. I took water and ate a gel, two things I don’t normally do in a half marathon, but I wanted to help my body get through and be ready for the marathon. When the race was over, I was so soaked in sweat that I could wring my tank top out four or five times and water still poured out of it like it had be dunked in a bucket of water.416807_217027044_XLarge

After the race, I tried to follow the same course of action as the previous day, rest my legs as much as possible. We had dinner at Mama Melrose in Hollywood Studios–I had a beer, which is something I’ve never done the night before a marathon. After dinner, it was pouring rain, but we still walked all the way back to Beach Club, where we were staying. With my calves being a worry, this wasn’t the smartest idea, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. As soon as we stepped foot out of the park, I took my sandals off and walked the rest of the 1.3 miles back barefoot in the rain. It actually felt great! I really enjoy feeling the ground on my bare feet.

I looked ridiculous after the half marathon

I looked ridiculous after the half marathon

Like, really, I looked ridiculous

Like, really, I looked ridiculous

When we got to the room, I followed the same routine as the night before, stretching, foam rolling, and ice-bathing. Got to bed around 8:30 again. Perfect!

Marathon – 3:59:51

Walt Disney World Marathon Flat Amy

Walt Disney World Marathon Flat Amy

We went with another 3:15am wakeup, but I felt great when I woke up. My legs were feeling good and I was awake. The weather was about the same as it was for the half, but without all the fog. Danielle wasn’t running the marathon so Ellen and I quickly got dressed and made our way to the bus. I, again, met up with a few #runchat friends before the race, which was a little too much energy for Ellen, she headed off to the corral early. I got a huge hug from Lauren Bailey…twice! And I made sure to photobomb my friends Erin and Katherine (thanks Christina for making sure I got in it!).

When I got in my corral, I was lined up just behind the 3:45 pacer, a little fast for the level of training I put in and being the day after a half marathon. And that gets me to my race plan, I should probably tell you about that because it was a really good race plan for the training I had and for being the last day of Dopey. I planned a 4:30 finish, taking water at every stop in the first half and Powerade at every stop in the second half, gels every five miles, walking all hills and water stops, and taking all the photos. And, of course, not pooping my pants like I was 100% sure was going to happen last year. So that’s a pretty good plan going into a race as I was and I had been planning that for a couple months. Well, because Race Amy thought she was SOOOOO much smarter than Last Couple of Months Amy, I told a perfectly good race plan to go fuck itself for no reason whatsoever. I stood there in my corral and revised my plan to be no walking and 4:15 or better. Because I’m smart. Yup. </sarcasm>416807_217458443_XLarge

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Totally taken before I was ready!

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When the race started, I tried to still keep some control over my pace. I was in the C corral so I wasn’t exactly surrounded with slow runners. I let them pass me and kept on a reasonable pace for my new 4:15 goal. As soon as I started running, my legs went from feeling good to feeling like crap, though. Figures.

I kept things steady and just enjoyed myself–the theme of the whole weekend. I took some photos here and there, but didn’t wait more than 30 seconds for anything.

Going through Magic Kingdom, I was feeling okay and running a little ahead of schedule. I really enjoyed the course changes to include New Fantasyland and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.416807_217945231_XLarge

With Disney World Speedway not existing anymore (I can’t believe how quickly that tore that thing out of there!), the trip from Magic to Animal Kingdom was back to the way it used to be prior to the 20th anniversary course changes. I actually didn’t mind the removal of the Speedway from the course, but it would have been nice to have something else in its place to break it up a little besides an additional out-and-back down a random road. Also, the relocation of the RVers messed me up a little. They’re one of my favorite parts of the marathon and I was keeping an eye out for them to take my annual selfie with them.

Again taken before I was ready!

Again taken before I was ready!

I was feeling good when I got to Animal Kingdom and, as I crossed the halfway mark, I was ready to take on the second half. I hit 13.1 at 2:03:52, way ahead of schedule for 4:15. So, I decided, “fuck it, I’m going for sub-4.” Because, again, I’m smart. I started doing some math in my head on how to run the second half in a 1:56 and then started slowly taking my pace down into the mid-8s. I also started taking Powerade at water stops from here on out.416807_217583363_XLarge

I was pretty damn sweaty at this point. I didn’t feel dehydrated, but my clothes were dripping sweat. When I stopped at the graveyard for a photo, I wasted close to a full minute trying to unlock my phone and, eventually, gave up. I was just too sweaty. So sweaty, in fact, that that was the last time I ever saw my phone’s screen turn on. More on that later.

Definitely my favorite photo!

Definitely my favorite photo!

The graveyard photo op was the spot last year where I decided to stop holding back and just let myself go and it felt like a good place to start thinking about the same this year. There were still 12 miles to go, so I couldn’t just let it all go, but I didn’t feel like I needed to be in conserve mode anymore.

I grabbed a gel at mile 15.4 where they were handing them out. I had taken my 0, 5, 10 mile ones on plan, but had held off the 15-mile one. I ended up not finishing this one, my stomach actually wasn’t into it, despite it being my preferred flavor and brand. I didn’t take another gel after this and only took Powerade every other stop.416807_217586448_XLarge

Heading towards ESPN Wide World of Sports and the 17th mile marker, I was starting to feel it a bit. I was still okay, but I was not looking forward to the three miles in Wide World of Sports, which are full of turns and generally feel like eternity. Though, I did end up slightly picking up the pace in here. I also took a banana, but tossed it after one disgusting bite. I hate bananas.

This looks like a baseball card photo!

This looks like a baseball card photo!

I got my name called in the baseball stadium which was nice and got this amazing photo of me looking like I belong on a baseball card. I hit mile 20 on my way out of ESPN and did some mental math, I had 55 minutes to go 10k for a sub-4 finish. Basically, I just had to keep the pace I’d been running and I’d be good. It was time to head to Hollywood Studios!416807_217535962_XLarge

As I started into the big banked onramp where the Toy Story army men like to hang out (in between the 21st and 22nd mile markers), I was starting to feel real tired, but I knew what was ahead of me: the energy and crowds of Hollywood Studios, the walkway to Epcot, and then the World Showcase. I had this.

Unfortunately, my stomach wasn’t feeling super awesome. I knew I was going to be dealing with some nausea for the rest of the race, but I wanted to just stay as strong as long as I could. Miles 22 and 23 were my fastest at 8:07 and 8:10, but my stomach was getting worse and my legs were starting to get pretty tired and sore. I don’t typically have stomach issues while racing, but I have had them before so I knew what the last few miles were going to be like. I knew I was going to have to slow it down a bit and was hoping I’d picked up enough time to still stay under four hours, but I was already starting to feel like I was going to have to let it go…not unlike Elsa.416807_217663099_XLarge

As I came out of Hollywood Studios, I knew my nausea was only going to get worse, but it wasn’t too much farther to go. I crossed the bridge from Boardwalk over to Yacht Club and knew I’d be coming up on where my wife was cheering soon, but I needed a short walk break for my stomach. I was really trying to hold it down. I started running again after a few seconds and passed my wife right where she said she’d be on a bench in front of Beach Club. As I ran by, I yelled “Ice bath! Ice bath! Ice bath!” Channeling my inner Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez (you know, when he yells “Sandlot! Sandlot! Sandlot!” at the end of the movie while running from The Beast). I really wanted that ice bath. <- Never though that’d be a sentence I’d say!

After I rounded the corner into the back of the World Showcase in Epcot, I knew it was going to be a fight for that sub-4 finish. I was down to a run/walk thing to deal with the nausea and eventually gave in and realized I’d be more like a 4:01 or so. I was doing the math and looking at the clock and knew I was losing too much time with the walking.

When I rounded my way out of the World Showcase and into Futureworld, I was determined to run the rest of the way. I knew I had a fighting chance to go sub-4. Then…I took my final walk break just after passing Spaceship Earth and accepted that it just wasn’t going to happen. <Judi Dench> Or so I thought…</Judi Dench> something came over me and I decided I was going to run the rest of the way as fast as my legs would go even if I threw up all over myself. I picked it up and made a break for it. I knew it was going to be a buzzer-beater and, when I got within sight of the clock, I gave it everything I had left. I couldn’t believe it, but I snuck in at 3:59:51! Not bad! I also stopped immediately and bent over about to throw up. A volunteer came running over to help me to the side and held a bag for me, but I ended up keeping everything down.416807_217774363_XLarge

I had SO much fun with this race! I feel like I always do. Unfortunately, I took my phone-which was in a plastic bag-out of my pocket to tweet about my great race only to find that the screen wouldn’t turn on. I sweat so much that I shorted out my phone…not the first time I’ve done this. So I spent the next three days in Disney World with no phone.416807_217927185_XLarge

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I really couldn’t be happier about going sub-4 for this race. That’s my third fastest marathon since transitioning and my fastest Disney Marathon by 24 minutes. I’m also now four-for-four with negative splitting this race. If only I could do that in any other marathon!

Look, after you've done the Dopey Challenge, a Road Mickey is necessary

Look, after you’ve done the Dopey Challenge, a Road Mickey is necessary

Overall thoughts

Dopey was great! I had a lot of fun and found it really not that hard to do all the races. However, I don’t know that I’d do it again. It wasn’t the running. The running was fantastic, I loved every minute of it. Dopey is just tough logistically. It’s a lot of extra running stuff to pack (two pairs of running shoes instead of one, etc), a lot of early nights and early wakeup, and a lot of saving your legs instead of enjoying Disney World.

I was really pissed about my phone. Not so much because of the cost to replace it when I got home, but more because I just didn’t have it for taking photos and I felt super disconnected and helpless for the rest of my trip. I also ended up losing some great shots from the first half of the marathon: a selfie with Mr Skellington, my selfie with the RVers, the turtle with a race bib outside of Animal Kingdom, and the starting fireworks.

3

Asbury Park Half Marathon – 1:48:11

RunAPalooza Asbury Park Half Marathon 2015

Ignore the nail polish situation here. It came off as soon as I got home.

Oddly, before Saturday, I hadn’t raced a half marathon in three years. Yes, THREE! I’ve run four half marathons (raced two of them) in that period of time, but the last half marathon I did outside of Disney World or Disneyland and wasn’t just for fun was three years ago, April 2012. That’s before I even decided to transition! Really, I guess it’s just because I don’t run a lot of races and I’ve been staying focused on the marathon, but I don’t think this is doing my any favors. In order to get better at the marathon, I need to be running half marathons too.

Enter the Asbury Park Half Marathon at RunAPalooza.

I was back-and-forth on whether or not I wanted to do this race. Last year, it was the day before the New Jersey Marathon and my wife ran it–she massively PRed! The race seemed reasonably well put together and it’s not too far away, so it seemed like a good candidate for a tune-race. Plus, it fell on a 16-mile long run day this year. Perfect!

Race Day

I woke up around 5:30–which is roughly when I wake up most weekday mornings these days–and was able to hop right out of bed. I wasn’t quite feeling energized, but I had no trouble getting up. I got dressed real quick, ate some oatmeal, and ran out the door. Unfortunately, I ended up being a few minutes behind schedule thanks to forgetting my glasses and having to head back to the house to get them and needing to stop for gas. Still, I made it down to Asbury Park in good time.

I parked and ran into the Convention Hall to grab my bib. Since I had 16 miles on the schedule, I wanted to knock out a three-mile warmup before the race. As I was throwing my bib on, my friend Lauren saw me and came over to say hi. We had planned to run the race together so we had to meet up anyway. After a quick hello, we set a meeting spot and I went out for my warmup. My timing ended up being pretty close to perfect and I finished my warmup with less than ten minutes to go before the race. Lauren and I quickly found each other again and snagged our spot in the corral.

Lauren wanted to keep around an 8:10 pace which sounded good to me. Ideally, that pace shouldn’t be too difficult for me right now. My only real concern was the weather. Last year, the weather was cool, but super windy. This year was nothing like that. The high for the day was set to be near 80 and the wind didn’t even exist. None of us East Coasters are anywhere near acclimated to that kind of warmth yet.

Anyway, after a couple minutes in the corral, the race started and we were off. We quickly found our pace and settled right in. Our race strategy was pretty simple, even 8:10s for 13.1 miles.

For the most part, things were extremely uneventful early on. We kept things steady with a nice conversation. Shortly before the halfway mark, we saw Aimee coming down the out part of the out-and-back in this part of the race. We waved and continued on.

If we’re being honest, I was already not feeling anywhere near how I wanted to be feeling. I felt like I was working too hard for the pace we were keeping. While I still haven’t set an official goal for Grandma’s Marathon in two months, I do know it’ll be somewhere in this realm, plus/minus 10 seconds. Considering that, I need to be able to keep this pace with no problem for a half marathon. The fact that I couldn’t is a major concern.

As we approached back towards the Convention Hall for our pass-by of the finish line on the boardwalk, I was starting to have serious concerns about keeping the pace up. We weren’t even at nine miles yet. Lauren wasn’t feeling too great either. I knew it wasn’t going to be a fun last four miles.

After passing the finish line, for an out-and-back in the other direction from where we had just came, we hooked a right turn onto a 30ft patch OF FRIGGIN’ SAND! It was the worst surprise ever! That really sucked and I felt it in my legs for a few minutes afterwards. This was the final nail in the coffin for having any sort of a decent race. Lauren needed a walk break because of a side stitch and, since I already established we’re being totally honest here, I wasn’t really opposed to the idea. We walked for a few seconds and then started back up again, but it didn’t last long before we needed another break. This time, though, I decided to power on.

From this point on, my pace dropped to about 8:30. I just wanted things to be over. I was hot and not having fun anymore. After the last turnaround, I just did my best to keep up as I had been, but it was rough. As a final insult, the course took us BACK OVER THE DAMN SAND with only like a quarter mile left to go! Ah!

As I approached the finish, I didn’t really try to give much else for the finish. It didn’t feel worth it. There was a guy running next to me that I made sure to beat but that was about it.

I crossed the finish at 1:48:11 and was just glad it was over.

I grabbed some water and waited for Lauren to finish so we could lament about how much that sucked.

Thoughts

I really don’t know what to make of this. As I mentioned, if I want to hit the goal I’d like to be setting for Grandma’s, this race shouldn’t have been so difficult. On the other hand, it was hot. Take off 15-20º and I think this would have been a very different day. I’m just not acclimated yet. My hope is I’ll acclimate just fine over the next two months and then head off to Duluth to race and it’ll be a little cooler than back here. We’ll see how that works out. Besides, my legs felt totally fine afterwards and the day after the race, so that’s a solid indication I wasn’t anywhere near pushing them.

There’s also the fact that I didn’t really have a great week running at all last week and didn’t do any taper at all. All my runs were slow and tough. I was just tired and not on top of my game. I wasn’t super surprised the race didn’t go great. Taking the entirety of my training so far into account, I think my expectation that this wouldn’t be a difficult pace to keep was correct, rather than this being a huge wake up call.

And even on top of that, I haven’t actually raced any race since July of last year. I was a bit rusty going in so, at the least, it was good to have a race to just get the cobwebs out a bit.

Anyway, I’m still not setting a goal in stone for my marathon yet. I’m going to see how the rest of training goes and then make a decision.