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2017 Chicago Marathon – 3:32:28

Chicago Marathon number three and my twelfth marathon overall!

Let me just say off the bat, I have weird mixed feelings about this race. It’s hard to complain about a 3:32 finish and a BQ, but I’m not exactly thrilled with how I got there.

But before I get into the race itself…

Pre-race

Danielle and I got to Chicago in the early afternoon on Thursday and, for the most part, I didn’t want to spend too much time on my feet, but Thursday and Friday ended up being bit more walking around than planned.

We went to the expo late morning on Friday after a short three-mile run around Grant Park and the Lakefront Trail (side note: on this run, we passed Matt Centrowitz, Paula Radcliffe, and Noah Droddy). The expo was busy and crowded already, but nothing like what I’m sure it became later on. Expos for big races are always hell for people like us who don’t like crowds…or even other people.

Look, it wasn’t my best finish, okay? 🙃 #ChicagoMarathon

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After getting my bib and shirt, we did a lap around the whole thing, took a couple pictures, met up with my friend Heather, had a sample of Goose Island Old Man Grumpy—which was delicious—and got the heck outta there. Dinner that night was a big messy burger from RJ Grunts with the always wonderful Parker Molloy and Kayla Pekkala. Sadly, I still have not met Meatball.

Hanging with Heather.

Saturday was a really easy and relaxed day. I did a two-mile shakeout run and not much else. Dinner was the standard never-ending bowl of spaghetti at Dolce Italian. Yum!

Typically, in the week before a non-Disney World marathon, I don’t drink any alcohol, but this time around I had a beer Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I mean…whatever. Beer is good. And carbs.

Good can!

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Flat Amy for #ChicagoMarathon tomorrow. For those cheering, there’s a 50/50 chance I toss the tank by mile three

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Race morning

I woke at around 5:15am for the 7:30 start. This gave me plenty of time to get ready and eat something—a crappy bagel from Starbucks and half an apple—without being rushed. Our hotel was in the Central Loop so we were close to the start which made for a nice quick walk over. I think I headed out around 6:15 and was through security by 6:30. Because I was a bit early, I had a short porta potty line. I was in the corral by 7, I think.

Nice sunrise over Lake Michigan.

Once things started filling up, I looked for the 3:30 pacers so I could start with them. I didn’t necessarily plan on staying with them, but I wanted to start with them. Because my goal was a 3:35 for the day, based on my training, I would have preferred to start with that group, but they were in the D corral, one behind me. The 3:30 pacers wanted to try to wait for the D corral’s 3:30 group so they could run together; they set up shop in the very back of the C corral and I figured I’d hang back there with them.

Pretty empty when I got in.

When the race started, however, things got a little busy and I went without them. Off on my own! Considering my best races recently have been run without any time with pacers, it wasn’t a big deal to me. I was just afraid of starting out too fast.

The first half

Right from the start, I took off too fast and I knew it. I could feel myself running faster than I should have been, but it was a comfortable rhythm and I just couldn’t get myself out of it. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep it, but my legs weren’t slowing down. In hindsight, I should have tried harder to slow down. Mistakes were being made and I knew it. My first mile was a 7:52, which was at least 10 seconds faster than I should have been.

Had my training been faster, this is about where I would have wanted to be. 16 weeks ago, my goal was to be able to average a 7:50-7:45, but my training didn’t end up being for that. Miles two and three were 7:52 and 7:51 so I was really locked in at exactly that pace.

Around the second mile marker, I took off my tank top to run in just my sports bra. It wasn’t super warm yet, but I was already sweating a lot and I knew the temperature would be going up into the mid 70s. I also knew I’d be seeing Danielle around the next turn and I wanted to be able to toss my shirt to her without having to hold it until the next time I saw her at 20k.

Around mile four, I heard a voice screaming over all the others in the crowd, but it took me a few seconds to realize it was my name being yelled. Before I even turned my heard, I knew that loud and obnoxious voice was none other than Lauren Bailey.

As the course continued up into Lincoln Park, I was contemplating what my legs might have for the rest of the day. I knew I wasn’t slowing down so I decided to just embrace the race I started and see what happened. I was lapping my watch manually at each mile marker so I knew my exact pace. Though, I somehow missed the 9th marker which meant I had to wait until 11 for an exact split.

My main concern in the first 10k was that I couldn’t get my glutes or hamstrings to activate. I’ve always been a completely quad-dominant runner, but this was something I’ve been working on all year and was a big focus in my physical therapy sessions. I actually had a lot of success in improving this and, honestly, credit learning to activate my glutes and hamstrings for much of my solid racing through spring and summer. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do it this day.

My 5k paces through the first half were 7:52, 7:49, 7:51, and 7:51 with a half time of 1:42:50 (7:56 average). How’s that for consistent? Running an even effort is rarely a problem for me in the marathon and with Chicago being so flat that meant even splits as well.

Blurry Amelia at 20k.

I was taking water at about two-thirds of the water stops and only had one of my gels. I’ve been taking fewer gels during marathons recently than I used to and it seems to work out for me so I just took this one around mile six.

The second half

As we came around Willis Tower and crossed the halfway point, I was still feeling okay physically, but I could tell my body was going to be fatiguing faster than I hoped. Over the next few miles, I passed a few people cheering who yelled my name, but I couldn’t catch who they were. I later found out one of them was my coworker Malicia who was out there to support her fiancé.

By 15 or 16, some fatigue was starting to set in, but I hadn’t slowed yet. I wasn’t feeling a lack of energy, just my legs starting to tire. I popped my second gel and started with the mental tricks to try to preemptively keep myself strong. I focused on getting to Cowbell Corner at mile 17 and then the 30k mark.

30k was right on the money at 7:51 average, again. I was actually impressed with myself that I was running this consistent.

Unfortunately, that’s when the wheels started to fall off. I wasn’t surprised it happened, but I thought I’d have until at least 20 miles before I started falling apart. When it happens at 18.5 miles, it’s a long way to go until that finish line. I’ve done enough marathons now to know how to fight through to the finish, but I also knew to kiss that three-minute PR I was on track for goodbye.

I haven’t really mentioned much about the weather yet, but it was a warm day—low of 57, high in the mid-70s—and sunny with a ~10mph breeze. The breeze felt great in those temps. I’d like to blame the heat for my bonking, but I can’t. It was a non-issue for me. I was taking water and staying hydrated and, for someone who runs about my time, you can find a lot of shade on the course. I spent very little time having to run in the sun. I was worried about the temperature before the race, but it just wasn’t a problem for me. Unfortunately, I don’t think this was the case for a lot of other runners.

My 35k split was an average of 8:20. I had slowed a lot. By mile 20, I was walking through water stops. And once I start having to take walk breaks, I’m screwed. I never recover from that.

I started making deals with myself, “okay, no more walk breaks until the next mile” and things like that. I was struggling. My quads where shot. I still hadn’t been able to activate my glutes or hamstrings and I was paying for it now. At 40k, my splits had slowed to a 9:21 average. I was taking a lot of walk breaks.

It sucked. But I still had a smile on my face. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I love the marathon. I think having races that are tough makes me love it even more.

Knowing the course, I knew what was left and just kept focusing on getting to the finish line. For the last 2.2k, I was able to do fewer walk breaks and pick my pace up a bit from where it was the previous few miles, but I was really ready to be done.

I looked out for the 800m to go sign and felt a little relief when I knew I was in the last half mile. As I climbed that stupid hill just as you’re hitting mile 26, I was so thankful the finish line was around the next turn.

I crossed with a 3:32:28 and was thrilled to be done and ready for my post-race beers.

Salt Face Amy.

Thoughts

While I was nearly four minutes from my PR, I ran a little faster overall than expected. I’m happy with my time—you really can’t complain about a 3:32 and a BQ. But I’m not happy with how I got there. Mistakes were made from the start and I paid for them. I knew I was making them and I’m disappointed in myself for making them anyway. I haven’t made this mistake in a marathon in a long time. I know better than this. And, to be honest, it was only my quads that bonked. My lungs, energy level, hydration, GI, and the rest of my legs were all fine.

Not only did the second half of this race suck, but it breaks a streak of five straight marathon negative splits. That’s probably one of my proudest things about my running, is having negative split five marathons in a row…until this race. But…it happens. I knew I had a decent streak of good marathons and was due for a rough one. They can’t all be winners.

26.2 miles, 2 beers, and nothing but smiles. #ChicagoMarathon

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Despite not being happy with my execution, I wasn’t really the least bit disappointed after the race. I love the marathon and I love this city and Chicago Marathon and I still had a good time (both in terms of finish time and having fun!). I had a smile on my face at the finish and all day after.

Races like this remind me how much I love the marathon.

I got beaned. #ChicagoMarathon

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Beeeeeer.

The obligatory post-race Beaning.

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2017 Grandma’s Marathon – 3:38:55

Two years ago, Grandma’s Marathon, a point-to-point race along Lake Superior ending in Duluth, MN was a goal race for me. I worked my ass off in training and was feeling confident for a good race. Then three weeks before the race, everything started to fall apart. Long story short, I did not end up running racedespite going out there to cheer anyway.

This year, Grandma’s Marathon again became a goal race for me. I put together a training plan I was very excited about that included many half marathons incorporated into my long runs. Unfortunately, little went according to plan. I still ran five half marathons, three 10ks, and a 5-mile race, but I spent much of the last three months dealing with a really frustrating hip injury. Thanks to that injury, I ended up with hardly any training—as seen below in those screenshots that are sized way too small to actually read 🤷‍♀️.

I knew going into the weekend I should have the ability to get to the finish line. I expected it to be a shitshow, but this isn’t my first rodeo and I’ve been unprepared for marathons before—hello, almost every time I run Goofy/Dopey Challenge.

Pre-race

Grandma’s is a Saturday race so I flew out on Thursday to give myself a little time to not rush before the race. I flew into Minneapolis-St Paul which left me a two and a half hour drive to get to Duluth. Everything for my travel was entirely uneventful and I showed up at the hotel with plenty of time to check in, relax for a bit, and then walk over to the expo. The expo was pretty dead when I got there and I was able to get my stuff right away, do a quick lap, and get out.

Unfortunately, I’m two for two at crying at the Grandma’s expo now. Two years ago, I was crying over my DNS, this year I was crying over being laid off literally the day before. Oh well, shit happens. I’m fine (for real).

Amelia Gapin at Grandma's Marathon race expo

Ready? Ready.

Friday was an easy chill day. I hung out at a coffee shop for a bit to get some stuff done, walked around downtown and the finish area, did a shakeout run with my friend Sophie, watched Kara Goucher speak, and then grabbed dinner with my friend Kimmie. It was a nice day and just what I needed to get my spirits back up and accept my layoff. I spent most of the day with a big smile on my face.

There is stuff like this all over the city.

I did what I could to fix this photo, but the light was really hard to work with.

Race morning

Since Sophie’s hotel was still back in Minneapolis, I offered to let her crash in my room the night before. We woke up around 5am, threw our clothes on, and walked over to the buses to the start. We had hoped to make the train, but it seemed as though we ended up being a few minutes too late for that so we hopped on one of the school buses.

The ride over was relaxed and Sophie got to experience pre-marathon Amelia who doesn’t like marathons. Like, let me tell you, in the week before marathons leading right up to the starting gun, I hate the marathon. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. And I’m miserable to be around because all I do is complain about it.

Flat Amy.

We got to the starting area very early. The temperature was cool, but with some humidity. At points, there were sprinkles, but not much. The forecast called for rain around noon, but clear skies during most of the race.

Anyway, after hitting the porta-potties and checking our bags, we split up. Sophie was going for a BQ so she seeded herself a bit ahead of where I did since I was planning on taking it nice and easy. I was surprised the start corral was entirely self-seeded. It’s not a massive race, but it’s still 8,700 runners. I expected there to be some sort of predefined corrals. For the most part, everyone seeded themselves according to the pacers in the corrals. I lined up right next to the 3:45 pacers. I had planned to run a 3:50, but there was no pacer that and I was confident I could hang at 3:45 even without much training. But as the corrals filled and we got walked up, I ended up quite a bit in front of the pacers before the race started. Honestly, I don’t know why I even bother. I haven’t actually run with a pace group for a marathon in nearly four years.

The wait in the corral seemed like it was ages and I was antsy to get the shitshow on the road. Eventually, with little fanfare, we were off!

Miles 0-13.1

I didn’t have a solid race plan other than to just keep it steady and easy early on. I started off extra slow trying to let the 3:45 pace group catch up to me. It took a while, but they finally did…only to have me drop them again pretty quickly after that. As I fell into my natural rhythm, I noticed I was running quite a bit faster than planned, but my effort was really easy. Because I run by effort, I trusted the feel over any numbers. Though, I had my watch switched to manual lapping so my mile splits were exact to the mile markers instead of whatever GPS approximation I was going to get from my Garmin. This at least allowed me to keep a read on what my feel was translating to. I only ever check my watch on the mile, never in between.

Even though my effort was very low, my legs didn’t feel great. It wasn’t a feeling of them being worked, but more just them not wanting to be running at all. I know my body well enough to know not to worry about that feeling so I did my best to ignore it. However, I did check in on my heart rate regularly. Even though I was running by feel, I wanted that information available to me. Through the first half of the race, I was 147-151 which is nice and low.

While it was cool before the race, the sun was now out and it was warming up quickly. The temperature was much higher than I’d prefer for a marathon. When I could, I favored the left side of the road which had off-and-on shade, only breaking from that to hit the tangents around right turns. The race has very few turns, but there are a lot of curves in the road.

Crowd support was rather light. There would be some groups of people cheering when we’d pass by a lodge or something on the side of the road, but mostly it was a very quiet first half.

The few times I had looked at the elevation chart, it looked like it was relatively flat race with a 100ft net downhill. I guess I didn’t look close enough at the scale, though, because I was surprised to find the course is pretty much rolling hills the entire time. There aren’t really any big climbs, but you’re rarely running flat. Some runners enjoy this variation, but most of my miles are logged on very flat routes so I’m not in the kind of hill shape I used to be. I was glad I had run the hills in Central Park the last three weekends before the race. At least that was something.

Anyway, I kept my effort very even though the first half of the race, but if you look at my splits, there is a lot variation from the hills. I didn’t increase or decrease my effort while going up or down, I just kept doing what I was doing.

As we approached the halfway mark, there were more and more people cheering. Because there is also a half marathon that starts at the 13.1 point, the set up was still there and I guess people hung around to cheer. This was a nice little boost.

I crossed the half at 1:49:42.

What is going on with these splits.

Miles 13.1 to 26.2

Checking in with my body at the halfway point, I was liking how I was feeling. I felt like I should have a negative split in the cards if I kept up what I was doing. However, it was getting quite warm. I had been sweating pretty heavily for most of the race already and while I was taking water at most stops, I wasn’t getting that much down.

The next few miles ticked off like nothing while I kept things steady. My heart rate eventually started creeping into the upper 150s, but nothing I was worried about.

By mile 17, I was in the best of moods. I had a big smile on my face and just couldn’t stop thinking about how much I love the marathon. This kept up through most of mile 19. That mile was a pretty big downhill and my second fastest mile of the race. By this point I had stopped worrying too much about my effort level and let it creep up a little when it felt right.

The reason why I say “most of mile 19” up there is because things changed pretty quickly for me. Before I even got to the mile marker, I went from “aw haww” to “oooohhhhh noooooo.” Things started feeling harder and I was no longer having such an easy time. I was still okay, but I knew it wouldn’t be a fun seven miles to the finish. My biggest problem was the dehydration must have started setting in because I started getting nauseous. I would end up dealing with this nausea to different degrees for the remainder of the race.

The one plus side here, though, was that we had started to make it into town and there were people out cheering and playing music. As I crossed the 20th mile marker, I knew I was good to make it to the finish, but that I wouldn’t be enjoying the last 10k. I just said to myself “it’s basically just one lap around Central Park…without Harlem Hill.”

Miles 21 and 22 felt fooooorever long. I was still keeping a pretty reasonable pace, but I felt like I was going slower. The 22nd mile marker was at the base of basically the last climb of any decent length. When I saw the hill coming, I knew I was going to be struggling to get up it so, as soon as I hit it, I switched into a strong arm swing to power myself up. I think it was about 80% my arms that got me up there. That and seeing Kimmie cheering and screaming in my face.

Crossing the 23rd mile marker, I slightly lied to myself and said “okay, just a 5k to go.” I didn’t worry too much about that other .1. We were starting to get closer to downtown Duluth, where I had cheered two years ago. This was the part I knew I needed to get to. I knew the energy there would bring me in. By now, I was starting to actually slow down. My legs were tired and my nausea was…not great. There were a couple points where I thought I was going to have to stop and puke. I tried not to think about it too much.

Amelia Gapin running in downtown Duluth during Grandma's Marathon.

In downtown!

As we made our way down Superior in downtown, I stuck as far left as I could to stay in what remaining shade I could find. The crowd was very loud and the buildings helped to really echo the sound. It was extremely encouraging. When I finally saw the 25th marker coming up, I knew I was getting close. I knew didn’t have to dig in for much longer.

I also knew at that marker, there was a left turn and the last tiny hill up an overpass. Once we were over that, it was flat to the finish. I had nothing left to push with because of my nausea, but I also knew my time was good and I was probably going to pull off a negative split and a sub-3:40 finish. I was pretty stoked about that, but more stoked by the idea of being done.

We hooked around the convention center and along the harbor and finally made our last turn. As I saw the finish line come into view, I was so happy to be there, but it felt so far away.

After what felt like years, I finally crossed the finish looking better than I felt, at least according to my finish video.

A 3:38:55 was good enough for a negative split and my second fastest marathon time since transitioning.

This half was a least a little more even…ish.

My legs felt completely trashed and all I wanted was to drink everything in sight. I think I looked like I had fallen in a pool, I was so sweaty. I walked around to try to keep my legs moving and grabbed my free beer. I ended up gulping it down pretty quickly so I could start walking back to the hotel. I made sure to walk along the course as much as possible so I could cheer while walking. As I walked more, my legs started to loosen back up a bit at least.

Final thoughts

I’m really glad to have actually run the race after my DNS two years ago. I ran a pretty solid race even though I was struggling the last few miles. I think this makes five straight marathons I’ve negative split which is pretty rad. Though, that said, my splits this race were super duper erratic. I don’t think I’ve ever had such erratic splits during a race before…or even in a training run. I tend to be steady with an overall negative trend. In this race, I was all over the place, up and down. It’s not a thing I was worrying much about during the race or am worried about now. I know my effort was pretty even through the first 18-19 miles and the variations were due to the hills each mile. It’s just strange.

2017 Grandma's Marathon medal

Nice medal!

I really like Duluth as a city. It’s charming and quaint and everyone is very friendly. It feels like it could be the 8th town in Nightmare Before Christmas, Marathon Town. It feels like this is something they’re preparing for all year and the people really love the event. The race is well organized while maintaining a very personal and small-town feel. It’s a good vibe. The crowd support for the first 3/4 of the race is light, but there was plenty later on when it mattered.

I’m happy to have marathon number 11 in the books and I’m grateful to have had a decent race considering the last three months. And that brings me to my hip… Notice how I didn’t mention it during the race? Yeah, it wasn’t a thing, really. I’d say there were maybe five to ten total minutes added up through the race when I even felt it at all. I was staying very focused on my breathing and that was doing the trick. Those little bits when I did feel something, and we’re talking like a 1 out of 10, were when I had stopped breathing properly.

6

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!