2

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.

5

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!

7

How did I run a nearly flawless race?

The me in this photo was expecting pretty much the opposite kind of race performance.

The me in this photo was expecting pretty much the opposite kind of race performance.

It’s been a week and a half now since my nearly-flawless marathon in Chicago and I’m still trying to put together what I take away from this race. I’ve always been of the mindset that there’s much more to learn from failure than from success, but this race feels like the exception to the rule, for me. I want to analyze every bit of it and pick out what I did right and make it a part of my marathon training, planning, routine, and strategy going forward.

Two and a half years ago, I ran a personal worst at the New Jersey Marathon—if you exclude the Disney World Marathon and only look at races I’ve raced. To this day, I’ve never toed the starting line of a race more prepared or with more training miles under my belt—I even crushed a 20k five weeks before the race in a nearly exact mirror of my half marathon from three weeks before Chicago. Unfortunately, everything went wrong on race day. Weather was 30-50º warmer than nearly all of my training miles. It was windy as heck that day—the pacers all finished with their little flag sticks broken from it. I felt both dehydrated and uneasy to my stomach from the start. My legs just were not into the idea of running goal pace miles. And I all-around had no energy.

At the time, I chalked this up to overtraining. I assumed I just pushed too hard in training and burned myself out. My second peak week and both taper weeks were a pretty accurate precursor to race day, which felt like further evidence of overtraining. I spent the remainder of 2014 struggling through my running. Every run felt just like the crappiness of New Jersey. It exacerbated my slip into a months long bout with depression that year.

The following spring, I decided I wanted to run Grandma’s Marathon and made adjustments to my training plan to try to avoid the overtraining. Training went well for the first eleven or twelve weeks. Then I started feeling as I had the year before. Things feel apart. I felt like shit while running again. I started struggling through runs and I had zero energy. Two weeks before the race, I decided to DNS. I wasn’t where I wanted to be and I didn’t have the guts to fight it out on race day. A year and a half later, I’m now regretting that decision. I had good reason at the time and even thought I might have been developing an overuse injury. I don’t think I was. I should have raced instead of cheering through tears.

After that failure, I made a visit to my doctor to try to find the root cause of my problems. I had my theories as to why my energy levels kept crashing to zero and getting in the way of my running, but I needed blood work to confirm. It turned out that my hypothesis, which my doctor agreed with, was wrong. I actually had a severe vitamin D deficiency. Not to mention my testosterone was practically zero, but that was of no surprise. I started taking supplements, changed up my hormones, and lowered my testosterone blocker dosage.

A few months later, running started feeling good again, but it was too late to race another marathon before my surgery. So I had to go into surgery having started running well again and knowing I’d be out for at least six weeks.

When I was finally ready to start marathon training again, I wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be. I hadn’t been running consistently again after surgery long enough to build my base to where it normally is before I needed to switch gears into actual training mode for Chicago. I made a very non-aggressive training plan and set aside my hopes of a BQ and big PR. I was a little disappointed, but I knew going into surgery that this was the most likely outcome.

Much to my surprise, training quickly fell right into place and I started nailing my runs. I hadn’t planned any speed work into my plan on purpose, but I was destroying my mid-week long runs of 8-10 miles. Each became an unplanned tempo run and each was faster than the week before. I started setting unofficial 5k and 10k PRs during them. I felt unstoppable. These runs were fast. The fastest miles I’d run since I transitioned. I kept waiting for training to fall apart because it just felt too good to be true. I got my testosterone level checked, 100% expecting it to be higher than when I was still on blockers. It had to be.

It wasn’t.

So that theory went out the window.

Throughout training, faster and faster times kept feeling easier and easier. I started struggling to keep my pace at 8:00. I was feeling very comfortable 7:30-7:45 and I run by effort so that’s what I ran at. Additionally, my heart rate was the lowest I’ve seen it seen I started tracking it.

On the flip side, a couple of my long runs were busts and my overall mileage was the lowest it’d been for marathon training in years. In my head, I was focused on the number of miles and seeing that as what would be my undoing. What I kept consciously dismissing was how many of the miles that I did do were significantly under goal marathon pace.

Here’s where I’ll mention that by week eight, I secretly changed my goal from “just have a good race and stay healthy, spring will be a BQ attempt” to “fuck everything, I’m going all in for that mythical 3:30 time I really want.”

Three weeks before Chicago, I kicked ass at the Newport Liberty Half Marathon. It wasn’t the best race day execution I’ve ever had, but my time was solid and perfectly in line with a 3:30 marathon. Unfortunately, that was the last good run I had until the marathon. Based on this race alone, I was ready to go for it in Chicago. Based on the three weeks between this race and Chicago, I doubted my ability to even make it through the race uninjured.

So that was everything leading up to the race. What was it that got me there?

After analyzing as much of the race as I can, I’m giving credit to all those fast miles I kept throwing down.

It’s, what I’m calling, the Disney effect. Over the last five years, I’ve done the Goofy Challenge (half marathon and marathon on back-to-back days) three times and Dopey Challenge (5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon over four days) once. Each year, I go into these races woefully unprepared. The last two years, I had zero business running a marathon at all, let alone one after doing other races. But each year, feel fucking fantastic. I negative split and I have tons left in the tank by the finish line. The reason it works out is I run these races much slower than I typically run my miles. I run them for fun, I don’t care about time. I try very hard to run as slow as I can. Even though my legs don’t have the miles on them, they are never working very hard during the race. They’re running easy and aren’t fatiguing quickly.

This was also the case in Chicago. Sure, I was running much faster than Disney (31 minutes faster than my fastest Disney Marathon), but I was running much slower than a very large amount of my training miles. The pace didn’t tax my legs the way other marathons I’ve raced do. This allowed me to keep my goal pace while not depleting the tank in the first half to two-thirds of the race.

Sure, I could probably have ran the last few miles even faster with more training miles under my belt, but let’s be honest, I can’t complain about anything here.

Now, of course, this isn’t the only story. Your training doesn’t make for a great race. There were assists along the way. A great race takes planning, hard work, discipline, confidence, and luck.

The leg pain I had during taper, while robbing me of my last long run, meant I got plenty of rest and toed the line with very fresh legs. And more than just the rest, but it made me go to physical therapy three times in two weeks to get my legs massaged and it forced me to actually thoroughly foam roll every day. It was like a blessing in disguise.

Another big factor was being free of my testosterone blocker. I knew the side-effects for it held me back a little, but it wasn’t until it was out of my system that I felt just how much it was. The only positive side-effect from my blocker was the extra potassium in my body, but the loss of that wasn’t as noticeable as I expected it to be.

I also think I nailed my carbo-loading. Maybe not nailed, but I ate a lot of carbs and really focused on making sure that’s where my calories were coming from in the three days before the race. While this is sort of a hard thing to measure, the fact that I had plenty of energy through all 26.2 miles is likely a good indication.

Additionally, I focused on my race plan and stuck to it. I mentally broke up the race into small, manageable chunks. I took it one bit at a time and never let the weight of “oh my god, there are still X miles left” get to me. My first mile was too fast when you look at the time, but was exactly right in terms of the effort and feel. After that, I repeated my plan and strategy over and over in my head during the race. I mean, it was pretty constant. I kept that focus strong. it kept me from getting stupid. Even when I wanted to push a little extra in the middle miles, I listened to the smart voice in my head telling me to hold it back and save it for later. I took my gels throughout the race and I took water at every stop in the first half. I only stopped taking water when I was 100% confident in my hydration level being good for the rest of the race. And that’s something I was only able to do because I know my body and I know my hydration. Training through a hot summer was invaluable here.

And finally, there were all the other things that just went right. I pooped race morning, which I never do. I had good hydration. The weather was fantastic.—cool with only a slight wind and no rain. I timed my morning perfectly to minimize the amount of time I spent standing around on my feet waiting for the race to start. It was a flat course with great crowd support. And there was a big cheer section of people I know literally exactly when I needed it. I really can’t overstate how much that boosted me going into the last 15k. It was like a short of adrenaline that lasted and lasted.

When everything goes right on race day, it’s easy to have a good race and that’s what happened. But a lot of those little things that all add up aren’t things you can control. So the takeaway here is the training and the focus on my race plan. My mindset for the last four years that I need to be putting in more miles to race better was flawed. It’s not about the number of miles. It’s about the quality. Sure, your body needs to build the endurance to go the distance, but quality over quantity. I don’t mean to say I didn’t run quality miles before, but the pace of my runs was always second to the distance in past training cycles.

Going forward, yes, I want to run more miles than I did this time. But I’m going to stop making the quantity the end-all be-all of training.

(I’m on the right in the video below. You can see the moment I realized my time at about 5 seconds in.)

12

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!

1

Chicago Marathon training recap

img_0395It’s marathon time. I guess. Well, not I guess, actually. It is marathon time. Tomorrow. Oof.

For the most part, training went better than I had expected, but one part of marathoning that I’m really bad at is managing the nerves leading up to the race. I’ve be super stressed about it for the last two weeks. This is typical for me, but this time around it’s even worse.
I got a later start running consistently again after surgery than I hoped so my base wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted it to be by the time I started my training. I adjusted for this as much as I could with my plan and put together one of the least aggressive training plans I’ve ever done.
After a few weeks of training, though, my body started to really fall into sync. I was kicking ass on my runs and feeling pretty good. I run by effort rather than by trying to hit certain paces and it was turning out that my runs were overall much faster than I thought I could run at all effort levels.
As training progressed, my goal for the race started to move from “probably just want to be around 3:40” to BQ to “I don’t think 3:28 is impossible.” My training runs were faster than they have been for any marathon training cycle since Chicago 2012, which was before I transitioned. I was pleasantly surprised with that.

Not a lot of miles here at all :/

Not a lot of miles here at all, especially those weeks without long runs :/

I should make a clarification here, though. My mid-week runs were great. Even my longest, hardest runs during the week were beyond solid. By the end, I was crushing nine and ten milers at paces near my 5k PR. In fact, I had a 7-miler during a step back week that was a faster overall pace than my 5k PR and I felt fantastic doing it. Even my stupidly easy effort runs were quick despite some of the lowest heart rates I’ve since on runs since I started monitoring it.
What wasn’t consistently great were my long runs. Some were good. One was really good. Most were eh. And a couple were “god fucking dammit.” One of my 17-milers got split into two runs, a morning one and an afternoon one. And my 19-miler was cut at 11 because I was feeling terrible in every way and gave up. And my last long run, a 21-miler, didn’t happen at all.
Three weeks out from marathon day, I ran a half marathon. This was built into my training plan from the beginning. The race was on a 20-mile day and I ran 10k before it to cover most of the extra miles and then another mile after. The race went really well. I ran faster than I expected. Unfortunately, I also ran faster than planned and than I should have. I was sore afterwards, but I chalked it up to DOMS and then continued into my peak week of training without making adjustments to properly recover. I did my runs at an slightly easier effort, but I didn’t adjust my mileage or run as easy as I should have. By the end of the week I was still sore and started to have some pain on the outside of my right thigh. I massaged it a lot, but that seemed to only make matters worse. Come the Sunday following my race, I knew running a long run was going to be a bad idea. The pain had moved down along the length of my IT band from my hip down into my knee. I decided to take three days completely off. I wasn’t thrilled about losing a 21-miler, but avoiding injury is priority number one and I’d rather risk my time than risk my ability to run at all.
In addition to skipping a couple of runs, I also made an appointment with a sports physical therapist who is also a runner right away. I didn’t want to mess around. I got three appointments in with her where she mostly focused on massaging my very tight legs. With less than two weeks to go, there wasn’t time for much else. Just massage, foam rolling, and a few exercises to loosen things up. It definitely helped, but physical therapy isn’t magic.
Free beer at the expo. Photo stolen from Ellen's Snapchat.

Free beer at the expo. Photo stolen from Ellen’s Snapchat.

My runs during taper have been very easy effort, but my legs have been tired and garbagy. It’s really hard to feel out where they’re at right now. There is still some soreness in some spots, but the pain has mostly settled in behind the top couple inches of my IT band. This is the same place I had problems four years ago going into Chicago, but this is a bit more intense.
Ultimately, it feels okay enough to run on. I know it’s going to be uncomfortable during the race and recovery is going to be a bit harder and longer, but DNSing doesn’t feel like the necessary move here. I might just be being stubborn about it, but my physical therapist doesn’t seem too worried about it as far as my decision to run.
This does affect my goal a lot though. Missing that last long run after having a couple others not go well worries me for the last 10k of the race. My overall milage through training was lower than I normally do so I don’t have much confidence that my legs are ready for the distance.
I still haven’t fully decided exactly what my exact plan is for tomorrow yet. If I hadn’t developed this issue and had done my last long run, I’d be shooting for 3:30 as my A goal with a stretch of 3:27 or 3:28. Now I’m leaning more towards a 3:33 with 3:30 as my stretch, 3:37 as my B goal, and 3:40 as my C goal. This is still not fully decided though.
Boston 2018 is the day after my 35th birthday so I get an extra five minutes on my qualifying time. 3:40 will qualify me, but it’s looking like 3:37 is the slowest I can go to have a decent chance of actually getting in, based on the last few years.
I had thought about pulling back my goals a lot for this race and not actually racing it, but looking at how my race schedule is coming along for the spring (and with Dopey in January), it looks like this might be my last chance to make a BQ attempt before next fall. To be fair, a BQ attempt wasn’t really on the table when I started training. I didn’t think it’d be a reality at all, but my training makes me feel like a goal for a race any slower than BQ time would be selling myself short.
In the end, I hope to play it smart tomorrow and listen to my body. Not being injured is the most important thing so if my assessment is wrong, I need to be smart and stop. The key will be starting out slow and not taking off at the start like I always do no matter how hard I try not to. If I can have a slow start for the first couple of miles, I can feel things out and then hopefully stay stronger throughout the rest of the race. A lot of this race may be a play-by-ear situation.

6

Halfway to Chicago Marathon – training check-in

Eight weeks down. Eight weeks to go.

Training is flying by! It feels like I just started this training cycle, but here I am eight weeks in. That’s a good thing, it means things are going well and I’m not miserable or counting down the days until it’s over. I’m actually really enjoying it so far! If you recall back to eight weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect from training. I was still building up and nowhere near where I wanted to be at the start of a new training cycle. I started off training easier than normal and put together a fairly non-aggressive training plan.

Weekly mileage total for the last eight weeks

Weekly mileage total for the last eight weeks. That big jump in miles halfway was something I was nervous about, but I needed it somewhere.

At the halfway point, that decision seems to be paying off, I’m running very well. I’m getting all my miles in and don’t feel like I’m struggling through much of them. Even when my legs feel tired, they don’t feel too tired. I’m able to push them. My mid-week runs are ticking off and I’ve gotten my body very used to 5:30am alarms for pre-work running. I’m getting out the door and destroying miles. My 10k – 8mi runs are going as well as they ever have for me. In fact, I’m putting down as good or better paces and splits than I have since I started transition. Even better, I’m getting faster. Last week, I threw down my fastest training mile in nearly four years at the end of an 8-miler. And I felt great doing it! I feel nowhere close to plateauing yet. And the best part is that I don’t typically really feel like I’m settled into training and hitting my stride until somewhere between week 8 and week 10; I’ve already been hitting my stride for a few weeks now.

I’m not doing any speedwork besides tempo runs, but I didn’t plan to this training cycle. My focus was mostly getting the miles in, staying healthy, and building and that’s what I’m doing. Unfortunately, I haven’t been getting any cross-training in. I’ve been wanting to start working a spin class into the mix, but I’m only just in the last 2-3 weeks feeling as though I might be ready to get my crotch back on a bike again after surgery—this took months longer than expected. Right now, I’m running six days a week and I’m still lacking the confidence to make any day a run + spin day so it may be a few more weeks still.

COME ON!!!!

COME ON!!!!

Where things aren’t going as well has been my long runs. I messed up my schedule and did 13.1 on my first week scheduled with 12 miles so I just went with it and ended up with three weeks at 13.1 miles (as opposed to two at 12 and one at 13.1). These were all tough. It was hot and humid out and hydration was a major issue for two of them. I ended up getting dehydrated and having to battle those symptoms, including bad nausea that kept forcing me to have to stop. The other 13.1-miler was plagued by some bad GI issues…which is pretty abnormal for me. Despite this, my paces were all right on point in the 8:40s and, besides the hydration and GI issues, comfortable.

This past weekend’s long run, a 15-miler, was a different story, though. Similar pace at 8:43, but very different feel. I felt strong, comfortable, and without any hydration issues. At the 85º, 83% humidity, and a heat index into the mid-90s by the time I finished at 9am, I expected hell. But I was smart about hydration early on and it made a difference.. I felt good the entire way, better than I have on any other long run in the last four or five weeks. Very encouraging!

In general, my body is responding well all around. Compared to my last couple of training cycles, my heart rate has been lower at most paces and the same efforts are yielding faster paces. I’m feeling good so far.

I don’t plan on making any adjustments for the second half of training. I’m going to stick with my plan and what I’m doing and see how that works out on race day. Every indication I have so far points to my suspicion and hope that surgery would pay off with my running performance. No longer having the side-effects of spironolactone (testosterone blocker) and now having (what I’m suspecting is) a higher testosterone level (I’m getting labs done soon to verify this) is making a huge difference. Why did that sentence have three parentheticals? Anyway, the only negative I’ve noticed so far is my potassium level may be something I have to actually start thinking about again. For three years, I didn’t have any cramping/charley horses in my legs on account of spironolactone being a potassium-sparing diuretic. Recently, I’ve had some minor post-run cramping, but so far it hasn’t been anything major. It’ll just be something to keep an eye on. Maybe throw a few extra avocados into my diet. You can never have too much avocado, right? Right.

So, that’s that so far. I still don’t have an official goal for Chicago yet, besides just having a good race. I do want to go for a PR, but given my relatively slow PR, the question seems to be less if I’ll PR, but by how much. And I don’t mean to sound like I think a 3:44 marathon is slow by any means. It’s not and it’s a PR I’m proud of. It’s just that I’ve had multiple training cycles now that have been on track for sub-3:30 and have yet to be able to execute a successful marathon. Anyway, I’m not going to lie, I’m eyeballing that 3:40 Boston qualification time for 2018—thanks Boston 2018 for being one day after I turn 35 and jump an age group! But I’m not setting anything officially just yet. Just going to see how the next few weeks go and play it all by ear.

How I watch the Olympics while at work

How I watch the Olympics while at work

And, of course, the women's 10,000

And, of course, the women’s 10,000

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.

10

2015 Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge

I can’t remember the last time I was this unprepared to run a race. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been this unprepared, to be honest. Since early July, the longest I had run had been 13.1 miles. For months, I’d run anywhere from 10 to 25 miles a week and recently I started throwing in spin class once a week. That’s just enough to be prepared for a half marathon, but not enough to actually earn a solid time. It’s certainly not enough to run a marathon. And it’s definitely not enough to run a half marathon and a marathon on back-to-back days.

So what does one do when they’re not anywhere near where they should be to complete a half marathon and a marathon in the same weekend? They do the runDisney Goofy Challenge. That’s what.

Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Flat Amy ready to go!

Flat Amy ready to go!

Walt Disney World Half Marathon morning started much like most runDisney races do for me. I cursed my alarm clock at 3am and rolled myself out of bed and into my race day clothes. I shoved a Picky Bar in my mouth, grabbed my apple slices from the fridge, and made my way out the door to catch a 3:45 bus down to the starting area.

Once I got there, I quickly met up with my friend Danielle who was conquering not only her first Goofy, but also her first marathon. We chatted for a bit and then I dropped my bag off and bumped into my Twitter buddies Heather and Nathan who were doing something even dumber than me, the Dopey Challenge–add a 5k and a 10k onto the half marathon and marathon. After a few minutes of standing around in the the cold, it was time to get into my corral and be prepared for the nice and early 5:35am start.

2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Waiting around for the start!

Time went by surprisingly quickly in the corral and then it was time to go–in typical runDisney fashion with fireworks, of course. Knowing that I really had no business running a marathon the next day, I knew I’d have to take the race extra easy. I set my goal at an easy 2:15 so I could just take my time, take some photos, and have fun. The few 13.1 milers I’ve done in “training” recently were all around 1:57 without too much effort so I knew this shouldn’t be too hard on my legs.

2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon start

Gotta love runDisney starts!

Less than a mile into the race, I stopped at a bank of porta-potties to let out a quick pee that I’d been holding. From there, I stopped quickly for a photo here and there, but just kept my pace nice and easy.

2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Stilts.

2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon Main Street Magic Kingdom

Main Street USA

Somewhere before the 5k mark, I ran into my friend Melody who was doing Dopey. She had a faster goal in mind than I did and, though she had started a corral back from me, had caught up and recognized me from behind. We ran together all the way to Magic Kingdom and down Main Street before I lost her after I stopped to take a quick photo in front of Cinderella’s Castle.

2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon Cinderella's Castle

What up, Cindy!

By this point, I had picked up my pace a little from where I was, something I would continue to do throughout the race, but I was feeling fine as we made our way through Tomorrowland and into Fantasyland. After running through Cindy’s castle–which had been taken over by Anna and Elsa–I stopped for another photo in front of the castle, this time with one of the official race photographers.

Making my way around to the sixth mile marker and then out of the back of the park next to Splash Mountain, I was simply enjoying things and having fun. Except for the last mile, the rest of the race is kind of boring from here. You’re on back roads between Magic Kingdom and Epcot and there isn’t a ton going on. There is a bit of entertainment, but not quite enough for this stretch. Though, there was a DJ playing “Shake It Off” on repeat which made me think about great this song still is.

Somewhere around mile nine, I ran into Patrick, whom I had just met at Wine & Dine two months ago. We ran together for a bit before I pulled my pace back a bit to save energy for the next day. From there to the finish was pretty uneventful. I kept it steady and cruised in for a 2:08:07 finish. A bit faster than planned, but it happens.

2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon Phineas and Ferb

Best race photo EVER!

After the race, I quickly hopped on a bus back to the resort to get ready for the day in the parks. I wanted to get right out there so I wouldn’t have to feel bad about making it an early night.

Walt Disney World Marathon

Marathon outfit

Marathon outfit

Marathon morning started off similar to the day before. Though, as I started to spread the peanut butter I brought with my onto my bagel, I noticed it had expired months ago so the peanut butter and half my bagel went right into the trash. This left me with less pre-race nutrition than I would have liked. I ended up with half a plain bagel, some apple slices, a Larabar, and a Cliff Shots gel. Could be worse, but still not ideal.

My real worry was that I was somehow sore from the day before. Not terribly sore, but I felt it in my quads. Sure, I wasn’t really trained for a marathon, but I shouldn’t have been sore from a half marathon ten minutes slower than the 13.1 milers I’d been doing every week without pushing myself. It wasn’t enough to make me think I should pull a DNS, but it was enough to have me concerned.

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon start

Some more fireworks to start off day two!

This time when the race started, I made sure to pull it back even more on the pace and I, again, stopped inside the first mile to pee. Given my soreness at the start, I decided I would walk all hills and walk through each water stop. And since the weather was going to get up into the 70s, I planned to take water at every stop anyway. My goal was to, at worst, get to the halfway point before falling back to a run/walk effort and, at best, make it to mile sixteen before that happened. I fully expected a lot of walking in the last third of the race. I figured shooting for a 5:00 finish gave me plenty of time to walk as much as I needed in the second half of the race.

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope

Glitchin’ with Vanellope!

I stuck to this plan pretty well, but my pace was a lot faster than planned. Even with all my photo stops, through the first third of the race, I was keeping about a 10:35 min/mile average which was about as slow as I could get my legs to go at the time. The problem was I was kind of having a blast out there. I was just having fun and not worrying about much. Okay, that wasn’t really the problem. The problem was that I kind of had to poop…and was starting to feel some thigh chafing show up.

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon Magic Kingdom

Oh, hey, Magic Kingdom

As we made our way into the Speedway after Magic Kingdom, I started eying up the porta-potties. I didn’t want to have to do it, but I knew what needed to be done and went for it. I think I lost about three minutes or so in there. After that was taken care of, I stopped at the next aid station to throw some vaseline between my legs to ward off the chafing. Despite both of these things, I was having all kinds of fun out there. I had a HUGE smile on my face and couldn’t stop feeling totally in love with running.

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon

My favorite RVers!!

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon

Quick little jamboree! And, yes, that is indeed vaseline on my camera lens.

Finally, the temperature started to rise a bit more and I broke out into a heavy enough sweat for my thighs to be able to keep themselves all lubed up and free from chafing. And it was around that time we started to make our way into Animal Kingdom. The fun thing about starting a race sore is you completely lose all ability to accurately judge how your legs are holding up through things. I hadn’t run an inch of the race without feeling at least some soreness and things had only gotten marginally worse so I was pretty happy with where I was. In fact, I was otherwise feeling really good.

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon

I made a very cute friend on my way into Animal Kingdom!

We ran through Animal Kingdom and as we passed the halfway part of the race Samwise Gamgee passed me on left. Not someone dressed like him, it was Sean Astin. This was my second runDisney event I’d run with him (not with him; you know what I mean). The first was the Dumbo Double Dare in Disneyland back in 2013. Though, that time I passed him. He ran just in front of me for a few seconds and then stopped to walk and I never saw him again.

Anyway, like I said, I was feeling pretty good and my pace was slowly picking up. I was pretty much in heaven…which isn’t exactly where you’d expect someone in my situation going into the race to be. I had about 18 minutes banked for the second half of the race to keep under 5:00.

After passing the fourteenth mile marker, I got up to the graveyard photo op and just had to go for it this year. I waited in a line as about ten runners ahead of me took their photos and probably lost a good two or three minutes, but I didn’t care, my photo was great and totally worth it!

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon

Mile 14 just KILLED me!

I was afraid that laying down on the ground to take the photo would be the end of me. After standing there for a couple minutes and then having to stand back up from the ground, I figured my legs would be done and that would be that. Instead, this is where things got weird.

I got up just fine and then, I don’t know, I just kind of started to go for it. My legs were feeling good and I was passing runner after runner. I knew I still had a lot of race ahead of me so I tried to pull back a bit, but I really just wanted to go. At mile sixteen, where I had hoped to make it before needing to walk, I was starting to really feel in my element. My pace was getting down into the low nine-minute-mile range and I stopped taking water. Oddly, I felt completely hydrated, much more so than when I started the race even.

Coming around into Wide World of Sports, I couldn’t have felt better or been happier…except for the fact that I had another poop brewing. I didn’t want to stop again, though, I was feeling too good. So I squeezed some cheek and motored on while continuing to pass runners through the narrow parts of the course in Wide World of Sports. With 10k to go, I was in the zone and kicking ass. Instead of stopping to poop like I should have, I decided to “go for it” a little more. At this point, the race was really on. What was going to come first, the finish line or my poop?

I rounded into Hollywood Studios after somehow missing the 22nd mile marker entirely and turned it on a little more. I’m running out of ways to say how good I was feeling, but I really was. My legs were saying “Go! Go! Go!”

Coming up on the 23rd marker, I did some quick math and realized at my current pace I was going to score a WDW Marathon PR. Though, I’ve only ever done WDW Marathon as part of the Goofy Challenge and, therefore, never raced it, this still seemed like a pretty big deal to me. Back at mile 20, I thought I would be close, but a minute or two over. Here, I knew I just had to keep it steady.

But I didn’t keep it steady. I picked it up some more. It’s weird, I know, but my legs were only slightly more sore than when I started the race and, somehow, not tired at all. I was at mile 23 of a marathon I shouldn’t have been running at all, I shouldn’t have been feeling good. I shouldn’t have been able to pick it up. It shouldn’t have mattered that I took the first half of the race really slow and easy. I should have been struggling. I wasn’t.

Mile 24 came in at a brisk 8:07, just a hair slower than my goal marathon pace from back in April. I flew through Hollywood Studios like I had a rocket strapped to me.

Coming down along the river behind the Boardwalk, I was doing my best to get around people in the cramped space, but I was still flying. Only problem was, I was really struggling to hold the poop in. I was squeezing my butt as tight as I could and just praying to not shit my shorts. This and the crowdedness of the course here caused me to lose a little time, but I was still putting down an 8:30 min/mile.

I don’t know why I did it, but I grabbed a Twizzler from a girl handing them out behind the Boardwalk. I took a few bites and then tossed it. Unfortunately, as I was chewing it, it slid into the back of my mouth and I started choking on it. Luckily, I was able to deal with that without having to slow down. Almost ruined everything, though!

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon

Mile 25.5 and nothing about that smile is fake.

Coming down along by the Beach Club, I was still passing runner after runner. Some spots got a little tight and, rather than slowing down, I decided to just hop over some of the cones around the trees. I flew around into the World Showcase and would have been really flying if I didn’t have to poop so badly. Though, I was still running an 8:30 pace. At this point, I didn’t think I was going to make it to the finish without pooping my pants. I strongly debated stopping real quick, but I wanted that PR bad so I kept on squeezing. I was 100% convinced that the moment I crossed the finish line and stopped running, I was going to crap all over myself. It wasn’t going to be pretty.

Quick high-five from Mickey!

Quick high-five from Mickey!

I made my way around the World Showcase, through Futureworld, and out of the park. The finish line came into view, but I still didn’t think I was going to make it. I high-fived Mickey in my last few steps and crossed at 4:23:21, a four minute WDW Marathon PR. And, of course, my GI immediately felt better. I grabbed my medal and felt on top of the world.

After the race, my legs felt the best they ever have after a marathon. They were sore as heck, sure, but I was walking just fine and not even in the same ballpark of soreness I usually feel. The next day and the day after, I still was significantly less sore than normal.

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon and Goofy Challenge

Obligatory hardware photo.

Thoughts

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon

Seriously, happy as a clam. Not even a clam…all the clams. Every clam.

Sure, 4:23 is not a fast marathon for me when you look at my faster times, but this was a race that should have been difficult to finish at all given how much I had been running. Even though the last eight months of running really sucked for me, I still racked up 1,504 miles I 2014 and I have to believe that really came into play here.

Every marathon has a story behind it. Every one is unique. Just looking at my marathon times in chronological order can tell you that. 3:24, 4:58, 3:08, 4:27, 3:44, 3:48, and 4:23. All of these races have their own story. Different goals, different training, and different takeaways. This marathon was my third slowest, but it slapped me in the face and told me to quit my whining. It told me to get my shit together and start pushing myself for real again. It told me to believe in myself. And it reminded me of what I’m capable of.

You really have to love running to do the Goofy Challenge and I’ve struggled with that a lot for the last eight months, but I just can’t doubt that anymore. I am in love with running. After the New Jersey Marathon last year, I wrote about what I learned from that race and I wrote about how much I love the marathon. This race reminded me that I just simply love running too. I couldn’t have had a better and more fun time out there running it. I had a huge smile the whole time and loved every second of it. I only wanted it to end because of the whole poop situation. Otherwise, I was in heaven.

I’m not making any definite plans yet for this year, but I want to get out there and get my shit together again. I want to work hard. I want 3:30 to be a reasonable marathon goal again.

1

My next marathon will be…

The Erie Marathon on September 14th!

I had mentioned a couple weeks ago that I was looking at this marathon and I just found out over the weekend that I got in via the wait list! I’m really pumped that I got into this race! It’s a lot closer than the other options I was looking at, it’s cheaper, and it gives me three extra weeks of training that Santa Rosa (my second choice) wasn’t going to give me.

I had put together a training plan based on Santa Rosa on August 24th since that was the earliest race on my possibility list and I needed to get moving on training. It’s nice knowing what race I’m actually training for now and, since I’ve been rErie Marathon start 2011unning like crap lately, I’m glad to have an extra three weeks of training.

Based on everything I’m looking for, I think this race gives me the best chance of a BQ for 2015. It’s as late as possible which gives me more time to work hard and reduces the chances of the weather being overly hot. It’s a flat course and, according to some quick research (i.e. a single Google search), the humidity should be much more manageable than anything closer to the coast.

The one thing I’m a little nervous about is the lack of pace groups at this race. I typically run marathons with a pace group, at least to start, so I’ll need to work hard to keep my pace in check on my own. I may finally have to invest in a GPS watch. Though, I since the pace group running a little fast in New Jersey was one of my (many) issues, this could be a blessing in disguise. We’ll have to see!

Anyway, I’ve got 14 weeks and a whole lot of work ahead of me! Motivation has been hard to come by recently with my running still being in a rut, but I think finally knowing what race I’m training for will help pull me out of a rut and get me going.

What’s your next race? Has training started yet?

16

Picking out my next marathon

photoIt’s been just over three weeks from my race and I’m definitely in a running rut now. Recovery has not been what I was hoping it would be. I took the week after the race completely off to allow my body some time to recover, but it feels like I lost all my fitness during that week. The last two weeks have been really difficult, my running feels very off. I expected my legs to still feel tired for a bit, but the real problem has been related to breathing. I’m constantly out of breath and my lungs are entirely unable to keep up. I blame some of this on the New Jersey humidity, but even on the days with low humidity, it hasn’t been much better. Sadly, this has been one of the negative side effects of transition and being on hormones, a week off now is like three weeks off used to be.

I was hoping to have put together a training plan for my redemption race by now, but with already being behind where I’d like to be at this point, it’s been hard to decide on a race. My first thought after the NJ Marathon was to tackle Eugene. I hear great things about this race and it’s a pretty flat course. Plus, it’s one of those bucket list type races that I want to do at some point anyway. This would give me three months from race day to race day. If I was bouncing back quicker from NJ, I’d probably be all over this, but I’m not. I’m thinking I’d be better off waiting another month or so.

I’m not exactly thrilled by the idea of running a marathon in summer, but I feel like I deserve another chance at a BQ before 2015 Boston registration opens. With the exception of September 13-14, the first half of September is already booked up with weddings and stuff, so realistically, I’m probably looking at the end of August. This gives me time to do almost a full cycle of training. If my body gets its act together and I can get back to running well, I’m hoping to be able to build a little bit on top of where I was leading up to NJ.

I know I won’t get to escape summer heat, but I’m hoping to find a race somewhere that experiences summers in the 70s instead of the 80s and 90s. And, of course, somewhere with low humidity which basically rules out anywhere on the entire East Coast. Lastly, a flat course will be a must. I like a good challenge and all, but this is strictly about getting that damn BQ already so I can quit being so obsessed with it.

Currently, I don’t really have a lot of options picked out. My front-runner is The Santa Rosa Marathon in Northern California. This seems like a great race and a solid course for a fast race. I’m also looking at the Wausau Marathon in northern Wisconsin. Kind of a random place and random race, but I have a friend who lives in Wisconsin who’s been trying to get me to come visit her. Though, when I mentioned the race, her reaction to where it was didn’t do much to sell me. Plus, the race takes place at over 1,000ft above sea level. While the elevation gains during the race don’t look like anything more than I run on my training runs, I don’t know about that 1,000ft. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s enough to make any difference at all, but I’m not sure I want to chance it.

That’s really about all that I’ve found so far, but I’m really, really open to suggestions. I’d like to settle on something soon so I can get the date in my calendar and put together my training plan. As it is now, I’m sort of flailing without having a plan.