2

2017 Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon – 1:47:01

If you’ve been following along on this blog for a while or follow me on Twitter, you know my hip has been all janked up for a little while now. So you might be surprised to see a half marathon recap coming at ya, but here we are.

This was my fifth half marathon this spring and sixth (sorta…depends on if you count the whole runDisney debacle) for the year. It was also, somehow, my first New York Road Runners race even though I’ve lived in Jersey City for two and a half years and have been an NYRR member for over a year. And still, to this day, I haven’t run a race in Manhattan. Of course, this is only true because I DNSed the Shape Women’s Half a few weeks ago because of the very same hip mentioned above.

Pre-race hip stuff

So yeah, let’s talk about my hip for a second and get that out of the way. It’s been bothering me for about two months now and, in the last few weeks, has caused me to barely run at all. I’ve been going to my normal physical therapist at Finish Line PT and started also going to a pelvic floor physical therapist, my friend Abby over at Spear. It’s been helping and I think we’ve started making progress between the breathing and strengthening stuff I’ve been doing at Finish Line and the soft tissue sorcery that Abby has been doing. The second half of last week was starting to feel promising that I was going in the right direction.

I also got an MRI last week which showed absolutely nothing. My orthopedist wasn’t able to find anything diagnosable to worry about which is good because at least there’s no real medical problem (I guess?), but frustrating because I don’t have a diagnosis to work from for treatment. Basically, his advice is to continue doing what I’m doing with physical therapy and keep my running mileage a bit lower. He also said I could run this race if I wanted to.

That all left me super on the fence about the race, but I figured I’d start it and see what happens with the plan to just drop out and hop on the subway to meet Danielle at the finish line if I was in pain.

Expo stuff

The expo for the race was much less an expo and much more a party. It was in Brooklyn Bridge Park, out where some of my Women’s Running photoshoot was. Danielle and I decided to meet up by City Hall on Thursday after work and walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to get there. Despite all the tourists, I think walking the Brooklyn Bridge is something everyone here should do at least once a year.

At the #airbnbbkhalf pre-party

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While there were tons of runners there, it wasn’t overly crowded at all and we were able to get our bibs right away. Unfortunately, they were out of pint glasses, but we probably don’t need any more pint glasses in our house anyway so whatevs.

We likely would have stayed a little longer, but the live music was SO DAMN LOUD. Or maybe we’re just too old now? I don’t know. Either way, it was too loud for our ears…and also we wanted dinner.

There’s my name on the sign thingy!

Race morning stuff

The race starts at 7am in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. If you’re like us and live in Jersey City, that’s tough. You gotta cross two rivers on a Saturday morning using two different subway systems that are both running annoying weekend schedules. But since our friend and neighbor Allison was heading to the race with us, we decided to be lazy and take a Lyft. Still, we had to get up at 4:30am and be out the door by 5:10am to get there with enough time to not worry.

We had the driver drop us off a few blocks away so we wouldn’t risk running into any road closures or traffic. After walking to the starting area, we immediately hit up bag check so Allison could drop off her bag (which had our stuff in it too) and then went through the security line. To our surprise, we didn’t have to wait for either, both were moving along quickly.

We hit some porta potties and then hid under some trees to avoid the cold drizzle. It wasn’t cold out, but the rain that was coming down was. Other than that, it was upper 50s and low humidity, so not bad.

Eventually, Danielle and I made our way to our corral and got in line for the porta potties again. This line might have been the worst part of the day. It was really long and snaking inside the corral—each corral had its own bank of porta potties. Because we were already in our corral, we didn’t have to worry that the start time was getting close while we were still in line.

Waiting.

The race

Unlike any other race I’ve been in, the corrals didn’t separate out the start of the race. Instead, they merely were used for seeding people and then the barriers between them were removed before the race even started. So you could have moved up anywhere you wanted after that. On one hand, this was nice because it kept things moving at the start and it was sort of like a smooth, but organized—albeit crowded—progression of things. On the other hand, it meant there was no escape from the crowding. The really odd thing about the start, though, is that it’s just around a 90º turn out of corrals.

While the corrals were pretty tightly packed, things broke up quickly after the starting line. There were a lot of people around, but plenty of space to still be able to run without being on top of someone. Though, that didn’t stop some douchedude from literally pushing me out of his way to get by.

Shortly after the start, we saw our friends Michele and Ashley go zooming by together. Michele was helping pace Ashley to a sub-1:40 finish (spoiler: Ashley finished with a 1:39:05!).

Danielle and I had planned to run the whole race together so we were mostly just trying to stick to our race plan of going nice and slow since we’ve both been dealing with all kinds of injury shit lately. That said, our 8:45-9:00 planned pace was nowhere to be found. Our first first miles were around 8:25 and we sped up from there.

The miles ticked by pretty quickly early on. Danielle and I just had fun and, before we knew it, we were at 5k and getting ready to actually run inside of Prospect Park instead of just outside of it.

The park was nice and scenic, but slightly hilly. Not even bad hills, but we don’t have any hills at all in Jersey City. I just tried to keep my effort even while going up or down. The water stop in the middle of the park was the only water I ended up taking the whole race—typically, I don’t take much water for non-marathon races. Of course, it went right up my nose.

While we were running much faster than we had planned to, things felt pretty good. I felt relaxed and comfortable. As we crossed the 10k mat, I remarked about that being the farthest I’d run in the month since the Star Wars Half. My legs didn’t seem phased by it, though. For me, the most important thing was focusing on my breathing like I had worked on in physical therapy. From the start, I had been consciously making sure I was breathing in deep with my diaphragm and exhaling fully (it’s the exhaling part that I’m particularly bad at). This seemed to be working well to keep my core engaged and offload the parts of my hip that’ve been bothering me. Through the 10k I had been 95% pain-free. When there was pain, it would be like a quick sorta sharpish thing that would come on and then I’d realize I’d stopped focusing on my breathing. After a few seconds of breathing properly again, the pain would go right away.

When we came out of the park at mile 7, Danielle said she thought the race was flying by. I agreed, but reminded her that we were just starting the less scenic part of the course that’s like a six mile straight shot down the highway.

However, to my surprise, the highway miles also ticked right off like nothing too! Somewhere around here, we passed Mary Wittenberg, former President/CEO of NYRR, and our friend Samantha, who was cheering.

The highway miles were very uneventful and it seemed like we had just turned onto the highway when we were approaching Coney Island. As we passed the 800M to go sign, I was feeling good and relaxed. My legs had plenty in the tank for miles still. Danielle’s IT band was starting to bother her, though, so we made no push to the finish.

With 400M to go, we had to all crowd in to go up a ramp to the boardwalk. It got a little tight, but it was manageable. And then once we got up on to the boardwalk, the finish line was in sight. Danielle and I cruised across at 1:47:01.

That damn guy’s head behind us!

Post race stuff

After crossing the finish line, we grabbed our medals and then walked for seemingly a million miles until there was water. When we finally got to the water tables, the were crowded and there were only half-filled cups of water. While it wasn’t super hot out, it was still warm enough that most people needed some hydration in their lives and those hard-to-get-to cups of water weren’t going to cut it. Then, like 20 feet past the tables with the cups, they were giving out the food bags which had Gatorade and bottles of water in them. It seemed unnecessary to have the cups of water when they could have just moved the food bags up like 20 feet instead. It would have been much smoother.

#AirbnbBKHalf done! Hip was mostly okay, can't complain.

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After grabbing feed food bags, we tried to take a quick photo in front of the old parachute drop, but some volunteer yelled at us to keep moving. WHATEVER DUDE!

After moving through a bit more, we saw Ashely and Michele again and found out about Ashley’s amazing finish time. Then we made our way over to the beer garden for some beers and to meet up with Danielle’s Gotham City Runners teammates.

Like a couple of fools, Danielle and I each ordered a liter of Flower Power IPA (7.5%) and guzzled them down at 9:30 in the morning on empty stomachs after a half marathon. We both were, uh, quite drunk by the time we left.

That’s not a 16oz cup, that’s a full liter!

Final thoughts

I really liked this race! It was fun and organized well for such a big race. And ending at Coney Island is really nice. If the weather wasn’t on-and-off drizzling, we could have hung out there much longer. I would definitely like to do it again!

I’m glad I was able to run. I was really unsure if I should or not. Less than a week before the race, I told Danielle I wasn’t going to run it because I thought it was going to be a bad idea. But it ended up being fine. My hip was okay through the race and then all day yesterday when we were out and about and walking for like a thousand miles. Like the kind of fine where I completely forgot about it.

2

2017 runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon – 2:07:40

Alright, moving on to the runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon from yesterday’s 10k recap

Pre-race crap

After spending the day walking around the parks post-10k, I was really struggling to get a good read on my hip. It would feel okay while walking, but then hurt a bit while sitting. I knew I’d want to take the half smart and be willing to walk if I had to. I had an invitation to run/walk the race with my friend Jen, but she said I’d probably lose my mind going at the pace she was planning. While I was pretty sure I was going to just do my own thing, I didn’t fully decide until I was getting walking to the corrals.

Anyway, backing up a little bit… I got in bed and asleep around 9:15 and woke up at 3:15, netting me around 6 hours of sleep—a bit better than for the 10k. I’d’ve loved to have stayed in bed longer, but I had a race to go do.

(Yes, double contraction back there. I’m a fan of multi-contractions!)

Darth Vader Flat Amy for tomorrow's #StarWarsHalf! First time ever running in anything close to a costume.

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I was excited to put on my Darth Vader costume. It was my first race costume ever and I had only thrown it together literally the night before we left for the trip and hadn’t actually put it on yet so I wasn’t 100% sure it was going to look good. I Amazon Primed a very cheap Darth Vader costume at the last minute and then cut out the belt and chest control panel and cut the cape off. I pinned the belt to my shorts and the control panel to my sports bra and threw the cape around my neck. The costume also came with a lightsaber so I had that as a prop too! After everything was put on and ready, I thought I looked pretty decent. Much better than I expected, to be honest!

If I was uncomfortable with my stomach in a sports bra for the 10k, I was triply uncomfortable for the half. I’d been, uh, backed up literally all week and was looking super bloated from it. Plus, 🏃‍♀️ + (🚽 - 💩) = 😧. But it was either stick with the sports bra or ditch the costume altogether since I didn’t have a black tank top with me. I sucked it in up and just went with it. Whatever.

I did this again.

Not bad for a costume I put together the night before our trip! #StarWarsHalf

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When I got to the staging area, I checked my bag right away and went to the designated meetup spot. My friend Jeff was already there, but Patrick was waiting in line for photos and…I don’t know where anyone else was. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Jeff and I chatted for a while to kill time before hitting up porta potties and heading to our respective corrals. While in line for the porta potties, I joked that it was the kind of humidity where you sweat enough that you can just pee your shorts while running if you have to and it doesn’t even matter. Jeff and the guy waiting behind us looked at me like I was the grossest person they’ve ever met, but HEY WHATEVER IT DOESN’T EVEN MATTER WHEN YOU’RE SO SWEATY YOU LOOKED LIKE FELL IN A POOL!

By the way, autocorrect changed that to “porta parties” which sounds like a totally different kinda thing.

But, yeah, anyway, it was humid as hell.

Since I didn’t have to sprint to make the corral before closing, I had plenty of time to just hang around and listen to Rudy and Carissa do their thing on stage. Though, the people checking bibs at the corral entrance gave me a hard time because my A corral letter was covered by my costume and they had to see it. My “I assure you, I’m in this corral” didn’t get me very far. I mean, I was bib 20,178 (Dark Side Challenge bibs started at 20,000), of course I was in the A corral! Oh well.

Eventually, the stormtroopers showed up again to send us off!


 

 

The race

My hip was a concern, but there wasn’t much I could do about it except take things easy and see what happened. I started off at a very easy effort and hit a 10:39 first mile including a photo stop with R2D2. My second mile got down closer to an 8:30 which is an easy effort for me, but I knew I should be going even slower than that and tried to slow myself a little. For mile three, I had to stop for a photo with some Ewoks so that gave my hip a minute to just chill.

Amelia with R2D2 at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

R2D2!

At this point, I was honestly surprised I was still wearing the cape. I figured I’d want to ditch it just after starting. It was that cheap costume material that just soaks up sweat like a sponge and sticks to you. And it was shaped to go over your shoulders and cover them, not just hang behind. Once I started running, I obviously got it off my shoulders and threw the whole thing behind me, but it didn’t want to stay, it kept swinging around to my right side. As much as I hated it, though, I liked having it for my photos so I just kept dealing with it. And, of course, I was also running with a lightsaber in my hand—and my phone in my other hand since an iPhone 7 Plus is too big to put in any of my running short pockets. The lightsaber was a real piece of junk. Like, accessory that came with a $25 costume kind of junk. It kept falling apart on me so I had to keep putting it back together while running over and over again. I think I had to pick up parts of it from the ground and reassemble it close to 15 times. It was the bane of my existence. I dreamed of finishing the race just so I could emphatically throw the cape and lightsaber in the trash.

Amelia with ewoks at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

A couple Ewoks!

Somewhere just after the Eworks, I ended up catching up to Jeff and started running with him for a bit. We chatted and I said I’d probably stick with him for a while, as that was a good pace for me to be running with ol’ hurty mcstupid hip. My hip had been starting to hurt, but slowing my running pace to 9:35ish seemed to help a lot really quickly. Jeff was super worried about the humidity so he wasn’t trying to go too fast either.

That humidity suuuuuucked. It was sticky and sweaty and swampy and gross. Being from New Jersey, humidity is a concept I’m very used to, but it hasn’t quite settled in yet this year so I wasn’t ready for it.

As we entered Animal Kingdom via the back of park, I took a moment to appreciate that this was the only time I’d be there this trip—I’m a huge Animal Kingdom fan, bee tee dubs. We quickly made our way around through Asia and DinoLand USA and I had some fun passing the photographers.

Really happy with how my #StarWarsHalf costume came out! #DarthAmy

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Coming out the back of Animal Kingdom there were some stormtroopers, tie fighter pilots, and other characters out. I stopped for photos with the stormtroopers and then took some selfies with the others. I was too sweaty to operate my phone, though, so it took a while to open the camera app. Jeff kept on going so I was back to pacing myself again.

Amelia with stormtroopers at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

My troops.

Amelia selfie with jawa at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

A selfie with some jawas.

Amelia at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

A selfie with some of my men.

Amelia selfie runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

More of my men.

At this point, the sun still hadn’t really come up yet and I was trying to get as far as I could before it did. I knew it’d burn off some of the humidity, but I didn’t want to be dealing with the sun blasting on me on a day that was going to get up to 90º.

After Jeff and I split, my pace started creeping faster again and there was a big break in photo stops. By mile 5.5, my hip was starting to hurt again—really getting close to that 5 out of 10 threshold. At 6.5, I started thinking I’d need to walk soon, but I wanted to try to make it to 8 before I did. I just kept trucking. This section from 5.5 until 10 was the section between Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. This included the trek down Osceola Parkway, similar to the marathon if you removed the Wide World of Sports part. This section is always my least favorite part of the marathon and it wasn’t much different for this race either. It’s just kinda boring.

Just as I was starting to think about switching to walking for a bit, I spotted Jeff up ahead again. I kept my pace so I’d catch him just a little before the 8th mile marker and then stuck with him again. The humidity was taking its toll on him, but we ran together for the rest of the race and chatted it up about all kinds of things. After running with Jeff for a little bit, my hip started feeling better. By mile 9, I think it was just about 100% pain free. I was thankful for this and knew it would be best to just lock it in around that pace.

My cape was still driving me nuts and my lightsaber was still falling apart. I considered ditching them, but I’d come so far already, I knew I needed to just stick it out.

Once we made the turn into Hollywood Studios, I knew it was runtime-funtime from there to the finish. I grabbed some photos coming down Sunset Boulevard and was all smiles while posing for photographer after photographer.

Amelia with stormtroopers at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

More of my troopers.

Coming out of Hollywood Studios, Jeff was starting to struggle. Being from Pittsburgh, this was not his weather at all. I tried to keep the conversation light and he kept doing some math for what his finish would be, wondering if it’d be under 2:10. I assured him he had plenty of time to work with to make that happen.

Amelia at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Having a blast coming around Crescent Lake!

This time, instead of running on the Beach and Yacht Club side of Crescent Lake, we ran around the Boardwalk side while Jeff told me about the time our friend Lauren got yelled at for cheering too loudly during a race. Classic Lauren! I stopped for a few selfies with some characters and sprinted to catch back up to Jeff. We had been running in the 9:30-9:45 range so my legs were pretty fresh for bursting my way back up to him.

Whoever this guy is.

Amelia with tie fighter pilot at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

A selfie with one of my pilots.

I couldn’t remember what the course was from there and whether we’d be going the long way around the World Showcase in Epcot or not. I was trying to map it out in my head based on how much distance was left and was still a bit unsure. To my pleasant surprise, we did take the scenic route around the World Showcase. From here, I tried to be as encouraging as I could to Jeff and keep the pace steady. My hip was still feeling good so I was thankful for that.

Amelia in World Showcase at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Coming around the World Showcase.

We hooked right into Futurewold, under Spaceship Earth, and then out the side of the park towards the parking lot. I fist-bumped a stormtrooper because I couldn’t high-five with my lightsaber in my hand and he accidentally lapped my Garmin. Hah!

Sadly, most of the photos cropped Jeff out so this is the only one I have of us running together.

As we approached the finish, I asked if he had a finish line jump in him like he did for the 5k and he sorta just groaned at me. I went for it, though, and leapt into the air for the finish.

Amelia leaping in the at the finish at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

So serious.

I finished in 2:07 and Jeff was 2:05, well under 2:10. He thanked me for keeping him on pace and said he’d have slowed a lot if he was running alone.

We grabbed some photos with the photographers and then went over to get some Dark Side photos. We waited in the line for Darth Vader and then moved over to Kylo Ren. When I got up to Kylo Ren, I looked at him and said “grandson!” He did not appreciate my humor.

My wonderful running parter for the day, Jeff!

My grandson #StarWarsHalf

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Amelia with Darth Vader at runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We’re practically twins.

After watching the awards, I walked over to the nearest trashcan and threw my lightsaber and cape right in it. I mean, like I really slammed it in there. I was so happy to be rid of them! Oof!

This race was a lot of fun and my first time running in a costume was interesting. I’ll never run with a cape again, that’s for sure. I don’t know how superheroes do it. Capes are the worst for running! I’ll also never do another prop I have to hold again. Other than that, my costume was great and not a problem at all.

runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Challenge Medals

The Dark Side Challenge Medal Collection.

Hanging around Epcot.

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!

4

2017 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge – DIY half marathon

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

No disappointment here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just doing our thing!

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

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

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

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

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

7

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

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

Training

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

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

Expo

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

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

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

5k

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

5k Flat Amy

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

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

Love these people!

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

Disney World 5k starting line

The starting line

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

So much happy

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

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

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

2017 Walt Disney World Marathon 5k medal

Quality medal!

10k

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

10k Flat Amy

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

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

Classic Amy face!

More Classic Amy

Amelia Gapin and Pluto at 2017 Walt Disney World 10k

Pluto!

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

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

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

Amelia Gapin with Dopey

Hanging with Dopey!

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!

3

Asbury Park Half Marathon – 1:48:11

RunAPalooza Asbury Park Half Marathon 2015

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

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

Enter the Asbury Park Half Marathon at RunAPalooza.

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

Race Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

11

2014 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon – 2:09:40

2014 Wine and Dine Half Marathon starting line

The Wine and Dine Half Marathon has been a race my wife and I have had our eyes on for a while, but since it falls outside of our normal Disney schedule it’s taken us a few years to finally get around to it.. Typically, we head down in January for Marathon Weekend and do the Goofy Challenge (as we are in two months), but a race centered around food and drinking? Perfect! So this year, we skipped the January trip and saved it for November.

Before the race

Wine and Dine is a nighttime race, it starts at 10pm, so it’s a bit different than most other races out there. We had gotten down to Disney on Thursday evening and gone right to the parks and then spent Friday and Saturday in the parks as well so we were already kind of tired from constantly being on our feet. Though, that’s the best thing about runDisney races, we just have fun, we don’t care about times. There’s no pressure to push yourself hard.

We had lunch at the 50s Prime Time Cafe at 2:45 and then went straight back to the resort to rest and get ready for the race. The wife took an hour and a half nap or so, but I just laid in bed and opted for a short 20 minute nap. Once we were up and ready to go, we headed off the to the bus stop for our ride over to ESPN Wide World of Sports. We were on the early side so, by the time we got there, we had a ton of time to chill out. I had been tweeting with some folks who were looking to meet up so we grabbed a spot near the bag drop-off and relaxed. Not long after that, I spotted Krissy and our new friend Patrick walking by. I shouted over to them and they joined us. The always-thinking Krissy had a throwaway tablecloth on her to use as a picnic blanket so we all hung out and relaxed some more while we worried about the impending rain.

2014 Wine and Dine Half Marathon

Ready to go!

Over the course of the next hour, our group grew to include some of my favorite #runchat buddies and twitter friends Lauren, Nathan, and Heather and a quick hello from Ashley. But before we knew it, it was time to head over to the corrals.

We were in corral A with Krissy so we headed over there together and staked out a nice spot in the middle right in front of the little announcer stage. While hanging out, an older gentleman came up to my wife and asked what she was looking to run since her bib number was near his. He seemed a tad ticked off when she replied that she wasn’t thinking about time and just looking to have fun instead of going for “a 1:35” finish like he was. “Oh, you’re not taking it seriously.” Shortly after that, we were joined by new friends Audrey and Patrick again.

As we got closer to race time, the rain we were all worried about finally joined us. We’d all been checking the forecast furiously in the days leading up to the race and hoping the rain would hold off, but as the chance of precipitation climbed to 100% just around the start time, we knew the score. Luckily, the rain at least stayed light until the race started…for those of us in the earlier corrals anyway. I’m sure it was bit more of a miserable start for those further back.

The race

2014 Wine and Dine Half Marathon

Typical me

After a good 45 minutes of hanging out in the corral, the race was finally off with the obligatory runDisney fireworks. We all took off a bit faster than I had planned to run given my current state of running, but it was a pace that felt good at the time and was at least doable for a while. Krissy and Patrick took off even faster after about a quarter mile and were gone, leaving Audrey, my wife, and myself to hold down the fort at our current pace.

As the first couple miles went by, the rain started to pick up, but we had warmed up so it wasn’t too bad. We hit a few puddles and our shoes got soaked making it your typical rain run. Unfortunately, the rain scared away many of the characters and entertainment from the course so it wasn’t your typical runDisney experience.

Before we knew it, we were making our way into the dark, wet, and animal-less Animal Kingdom. We were having fun running together, though, so it wasn’t too much of a drag. We passed Krissy as she had stopped for a quick photo-op and then she was off again. And just like that, we were back out on the open roads of inter-park Disney purgatory for our trip over to Hollywood Studios, but not before I nearly drowned in a giant puddle I didn’t see until I was already swimming in it.

As we approached the 10k mark, the wife’s IT band issues were starting to creep up so we decided to walk for a bit instead of pushing it and risking it turning into a full-fledged injury. From here on out, we decided to do a bit of a run/walk thing, but the running was still at the same pace we had been running. To be honest, I didn’t mind at all. I was tired and starting to doubt I could keep the faster pace up anyway. While the rain wasn’t so bad when we were running, it was much more of a nuisance while we were walking.

2014 Wine and Dine Half Marathon

Here I am doing it again

We made our way into Hollywood Studios right around the ninth mile marker and knew, from here on out, we were going to have constant stuff to look at. We rounded by Rockin’ Roller Coaster, down Sunset Blvd, around Sorcerer Mickey’s hat, through part of the recently-defunct Backlot Tour, and right down the middle of the Osbourne lights. It was a great little section there.

Then it was time to make our way out of the park and head down along the river to the Boardwalk. Here, we decided to take another little walk break which got us yelled at by a catty runner who thought she was hot shit telling us we should be walking on the right side of the path. Last I checked, there was no unwritten rule about which side you walk on, you just make sure to get off to the side as quickly as possible without getting in anyone’s way.

Shortly after that little encounter, we picked it up again and made it our personal mission to fly by Ms Catness, which we did with ease. After our little jaunt by the Boardwalk, it was time for Epcot. The route through Epcot was much different than we’re used to from the Marathon Weekend races so it was a nice change of pace. We made our way through Futureworld this time and it was awesome.

We picked up the pace for a nice little finish and were relieved to be done so we could get to some dry clothes.

2014 Wine and Dine Half Marathon Toy Story

A short pause to say hi to Buzz and Woody!

We ran a 2:09, which is a little slower than I had planned, but I didn’t mind. Again, I don’t do Disney races for time, I just like to have fun and I DID! Despite the rain, the race was a lot of fun, especially thanks to our new friend Audrey who stuck with us the entire time.

2014 Wine and Dine Half Marathon

Wife, Audrey, and me!

Post race…the changing tent

I’m putting this as its own section because, well, it was kind of awful. I had packed plenty of dry clothes to change into after the race and had debated waiting until I got into the park to change in a bathroom, but I really wanted out of my cold, wet clothes so I opted for the changing tent. I was really hoping there would be private changing areas inside and was prepared to wait for them.

There were no private changing areas.

Instead, there were just two big open areas. A men’s one and a women’s one. This was absolutely terrifying to me as a trans woman. Having to change in a giant area with other women is not something a women with a penis looks forward to. And it was packed too! With that many people, you know there’s at least a couple transphobes who would make a huge deal out of it if they knew I’m trans.

The worst part was that I had to change my underwear, too, since I was soaked all the way through. Luckily, my wife was there to hold the mylar blanket I’d just gotten at the finish around me and I was able get my bottoms changed without anyone seeing anything that might get me screamed for my existence. Without her there, I wouldn’t have been able to change. I would have had to wait until I got into Epcot to use a bathroom stall. Anyway, once I got the bottom done, I didn’t worry too much about the top, but I wanted out of there as quickly as possible.

2014 Wine and Dine Half Marathon medal

Obligatory bling shot

Post race…the party

With that debacle out of the way, we threw on our ponchos (thanks, Krissy!) and headed into Epcot for the post race party. Of course, it was still raining a bit and I was still wearing my soaked running shoes and socks, but everything was still open. There was a slight bit of misery in the air as you could just feel everyone being cold and wet and not happy about it, but we did a lap around the World Showcase while stopping at numerous Food and Wine Festival huts for various nomming. After our lap, though, we were ready to retire for the evening. We were cold, wet, and tired. It was around 2am already…but there were still people running. :/

Thoughts

Despite the weather being awful, it was still a ton of fun and I’d definitely do the race again, but it’s probably low on my list right now. It’s tough to run a race that starts at 10pm, but all that food afterwards is a nice little reward.

2014 Wine and Dine Half Marathon

Whoop!

28

New Jersey Marathon – 3:48:25

2014 New Jersey Marathon medal

Some races are great, some are just good, and some are bad. Then, there are the ones that are just straight up terrible, even comically bad. That was my day at the New Jersey Marathon yesterday. I’m not even going to beat around the bush here, this was the worst race I’ve ever run, performance wise. Some days are just off days and some races are just off races. It happens. I can accept that.

The marathon is a beast of a race and it’s nothing to take lightly, you have to respect it.  It can humble you in so many ways and simply kick your ass. As a distance runner, you have to accept this and you have to be able to live with that. And after yesterday, have to live with that.

Pre-race

Surprisingly, I had no trouble getting to bed at 8:15pm on Saturday to give myself a solid 8.5 hours of sleep before waking up at 4:45 am for the race. When I woke up, I felt good and prepared.

Transgender pride nails

A little transgender pride going on with my nails for the race!

Flat Amy New Jersey Marathon

Flat Amy is ready to go!

Pre-race was like most races, I peed a couple times and drank some water. Did a little bit of a warmup and mostly just tried to stay warm. I was relatively calm. For as nervous as I’ve been the last few days about this, my nerves were under control yesterday morning. The highlight pre-race was meeting Adam, the Boring Runner.

Entirely Amelia and The Boring Runner

After we snapped the above photo together, we walked over the corrals and wished each other luck. A few minutes later, the race was underway.

The Race

I started out with the 3:30 pace group, just like I said I was going to. Unfortunately, the pacers were running slightly fast, closer to 7:55 rather than the 8:00 we were supposed to. According to my phone, which I do take with a grain of salt, a lot of miles seemed to even be around 7:50. Definitely too fast for where I am right now. I stayed with the group and used them to draft when there was a headwind, but it was mostly fine early on. Problem was, by mile six, I already knew I wasn’t going to have a good day. My legs didn’t feel like they had it, my lungs couldn’t keep up, I was feeling nauseous, and I was also fighting some dehydration. I didn’t feel like I was particularly working too hard, but my legs were already starting to feel it a little. Not good at all. I knew the day wasn’t going to be easy, nor did I want it to be, and I’d have to give everything, but this was just too early to start feeling the pace.

By mile eight, I knew the deal for the day. There was no convincing myself that I was going to be able to keep this up all race, but I stuck with the group and stuck to my race day plan for a while still. I knew my wife was going to be cheering at mile 11 so I just focused on getting to her. One step at a time, right? She was right where she said she’d be and, as I went by, I gave her a big thumbs down. Sometimes, when runners do this, it’s not really an indication of how things are really going, but she seemed to be able to tell this was a serious.

New Jersey Marathon

Not sure when this is, but I think it’s pretty late in the race.

Somewhere not too long after that, I can’t remember exactly, maybe around mile 12, I kissed my 3:30 A goal goodbye and dropped back from the pace group a tad. I slowed down heavily through a water stop and didn’t pick it back up to get to them. For a while, I ran not too far back from them, but I was feeling awful. My wonderful wife actually took the time to come down the course and see me at mile 16 with the help of Running Bun Ashley driving her. I wasn’t expecting her again until mile 24, but there she was. She knew I needed the support. She hopped out on the course and ran with me a bit while giving me a little pep talk. Still, this race continued to head south for me quickly. I didn’t have a plan or strategy for this kind of a race. Not long after seeing my wife, I started having to walk. At this point, I knew any sort of a BQ was out the door. To make matters worse, I couldn’t really control my pace the way I wanted either. My legs were stuck in a certain rhythm for an 8 minute/mile and I couldn’t get them to run another pace no matter how hard I tried. So I’d run a bit at this pace and then walk and then run again. Over and over. It was awful.

Throughout the rest of the race, things continued about the same with the walking bits getting longer and the running bits getting shorter. I got a lot of support from other runners though, mostly other female runners. A few really pushed me to run with them. It was much appreciated and I had the chance to thank one of them after the race. I was really grateful for that. This is one of my favorite things about running, the community is so so so supportive and awesome. It was also really nice to get lots of “looking good, girl,” “you got this, girl,” and other bits of motivation addressing me as “girl” from both spectators and other runners. To be honest, this was probably the only real positive of the race today. Nice and affirming of how others see me, especially when I’m running and don’t look much like a woman.

Somewhere around mile 17 or 18, the 3:35 pace group passed me and, after that, I lost all real will to try anymore. My BQ was gone, not that I didn’t already know that, and it just didn’t matter to me anymore. Maybe I could just save my legs at this point? I kept fighting through the course, running and walking, but I watched goal after goal pass me by. I had blown through my A, B, and C goals and kept making new ones as each one faded away. I think I ended up finishing with something like my K goal.

Miles 17 to 24 had a lot of walking. Eventually the 3:45 group passed me and…that was tough. I ran a 3:44 in my last race so knowing I was still miles from the finish and already on pace for a personal worst marathon time (if we’re only counting marathons I’ve raced and not the “fun” ones I’ve done in Disney during the Goofy Challenge). And sure, I’ve only run one marathon since transition and the ones before that don’t really count anymore, but you get the point I’m making here. This was the going to be the worst time I’ve ever raced a marathon in. The only bit of determination I could put together at this point was to not let the 3:50 group pass me. Though, I was still fearing a finish over four hours might be possible.

I saw my wife again not long before mile 22, another surprise. I was walking at the time and she again came with me to talk to me and see how I was doing. She asked if I wanted to stop. It was more of a “where are you at with this? Do you want to save your legs for another day?” type of thing than encouragement to quit. I told her there was “no fucking way” I was quitting. I was going to cross that finish line no matter how I felt. Shortly after that, a little past the 22nd mile marker, I started running again and saw my parents. I was really glad to be running when I saw them and not walking. I fought through a bit more before walking again.

New Jersey Marathon mile 24?

I *think* this is later in the race, like mile 24ish? At least I *look* good here!

Somewhere earlier in the 24th mile, I made the promise to myself that I was going to run the rest of the race with no more walking. I picked myself up and pushed my way along. I passed runner after runner, but I hated how I felt. Just before mile 25, the course curved onto the boardwalk and I started giving what I had left. Then I heard my wife again yell out my name and she came bounding up alongside me to run with me. She gave me some encouragement before sending me on my way and I pushed with all I had. I passed as many runners as I could, but I was really hurting. This final stretch of the race felt FOREVER long. I didn’t know exactly where the finish was, but it was a lot further than I thought it was. This last bit was painful and a never-ending hell, but I held on and got across the finish. I took a few steps past the finish line, moved off to the side, and immediately bent over for a few seconds to cry. Then I stood up and accepted my defeat.

Just to show how much of a mess this race was, here are my splits (FYI, my phone measured 26.58 miles, so there’s a little extra in there somewhere). Warning, these are really a mess!!

Mile 1: 8:00 (a little fast to start, but exactly my target pace)
Mile 2: 7:45 (uh oh)
Mile 3: 7:56 (okay, not bad)
Mile 4: 7:49 (wait a second here)
Mile 5: 7:51
Mile 6: 7:46 (yeah, and I’m surprised this race didn’t go well?!)
Mile 7: 7:49
Mile 8: 7:50 (come on here!!)
Mile 9: 7:56
Mile 10: 7:52
Mile 11: 7:53
Mile 12: 7:49 (STILL going too fast)
Mile 13: 7:56
Mile 14: 7:58 (well, this looks better)
Mile 15: 8:30 (and it begins)
Mile 16: 8:59 (uh, yeah, wasn’t supposed to slow down this much)
Mile 17: 8:24
Mile 18: 8:52
Mile 19: 9:56
Mile 20: 10:14
Mile 21: 10:19
Mile 22: 11:19 (really?! really.)
Mile 23: 9:02
Mile 24: 11:06
Mile 25: 8:43 (oh hey, running. I remember that)
Mile 26: 8:13 (close to a BQ pace…if I did this every mile)
Mile 26.2: 7:56 pace

Finish time: 3:48:25

2014 New Jersey Marathon medal

Sweet medal!

Thoughts

This race sucked. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I got my ass kicked. Not much else could have gone wrong for me to still been able to finish. I knew all I needed to at least BQ was to not have a terrible race. Unfortunately, I had didn’t just have a terrible race, I had the worst race I’ve ever run. I’m not going to make excuses for it, it simply wasn’t my day. This race was not at all an indication of my training and the effort I put in. This is not the level of marathoner that I am. I mean, I’ve already proved that before. On a faster course and with much better training, I ran a few minutes slower than I did in Richmond five months ago. That should not be.

While, I do chalk this up mostly to just being a bad day, there are a few things I can point at as contributors. My legs were not as rested as I would have liked after last weekend and cheering the day before at my wife’s half marathon, but they also weren’t super tired either. The wind that I was so worried about was pretty much a non-issue for me. Early in the race, it was light and I had no trouble drafting other runners in the pace group. By the time I left the group and was running mostly alone for the rest of the race, the wind just wasn’t that bad. It was mostly a crosswind, with only a couple spots where there were heavy head-on winds. The temperature was probably the biggest problem on the day, to be honest. It wasn’t as warm as it could have been, but the course has pretty much zero shade so you’re out there in the beating sun the whole time. And following up this brutal winter, it was a little too much. I shouldn’t be surprised by this, there simply wasn’t enough time to adjust to the warm weather before taper. The winter was almost never-ending; when it finally did end, there were only a couple weeks left in training before taper. Not enough time to adjust. I should have taken the fact that both my 21-milers were rough and required stopping a bunch as a bigger indication that the temperature might be a problem.  Lastly, I can also look at the fact that I don’t think I ran enough miles at marathon goal pace or faster. I certainly ran enough miles overall, but I think having more of them be faster would have gone a long way.

Combining all of this explains still only a small part of my day though. At the least, I should have been able to come away with a small PR. I have to just accept it wasn’t a good day. And you know, I can accept this. I can accept that just had a bad day and a bad race. This race did defeat me, but I am not defeated as a runner and I will not be defeated. I will recover and then work even harder to ensure that next time I do hit my goal. I won’t feel sorry for myself. My wife was surprised by how well I took it, but when a race goes this bad, you just have to laugh, right? There are some things to learn here and some adjustments I can make. I don’t run marathons because they are easy, I run them specifically because they are hard.

Right now, I’m a bit sore, but easily the least sore I’ve ever been after a marathon. I feel more like I had a really hard long run than having raced a marathon. Yesterday, I was still able to walk and go up and down stairs just fine. The walk back to the car was over a mile and that wasn’t even an issue. After we got home, I went for an almost two mile walk just to keep lose. No problem. In fact, the most pain I felt was actually the chafing in my armpits. Today, I feel the soreness more, but I can move fine. That’s a pretty clear indication of how off everything was and just how much I walked. I’m hoping to recover quickly and do some more work so I can make another attempt soon. I’m not giving up on Boston 2015 just yet. And I think I deserve a race worthy of the effort and training that I put in.

I don’t know exactly what my plan going forward is, but I’m going to take a complete week of from running and gauge how I feel, but I’m looking at another attempt before Boston registration opens. Possibly Eugene in three months?

I’ve been quoting Shalane a lot with this, but I really feel like it’s apt for all of life. “I don’t wish it were easier, I just wish I were better.”

And some thoughts on the New Jersey Marathon itself

This is basically my home marathon so I was really excited to run it. I’ve cheered at the race before, so I kind of knew what the deal was. The course wasn’t quite as flat as I expected, but it was mostly fine. There weren’t really hills so much it it just being typical Jersey and not being exactly flat either.

I like the size of the  race, it’s not too big at all, but that did mean I spent a lot of time running mostly alone. This also meant getting my checked bag at the end of the race was quick and easy. The biggest complaint I have is that the crowd support is really light through large sections of the course. The last mile or so is pretty good, but the middle of the race was a bit quiet.

But the finish with the ocean to your right is really great and the medal is a rather awesome spinner medal!

5

Miles for Music 20k – 1:34:34

Miles for Music 20k
Miles for Music 20k

Just having fun at the 15k mark!

Prior to the Miles for Music 20k in Highland Park, NJ, I’d never run a 20k before. It always seemed like a weird distance to me. I’d much rather just run an extra .7 miles for a half marathon, but I had a lot of fun at this race!

This wasn’t a planned race. Instead, it was a last minute decision I made on a whim the day before after my wife casually mentioned that I may not be able to do my twenty-miler in the park as planned because of the race. It quickly hit me that putting this race in the middle of my twenty-miler would be a great way to measure my New Jersey Marathon training process and add some excitement for a long run.

Ready to go!

I woke up early so I could get to the park and knock out 6.1 miles on the Delaware and Raritan Canal towpath, which starts at the park and is one of my favorite places to run. I kept it relatively easy at an 8:45 pace, but I knew I wanted to push myself a bit during the race. After a relaxing run, I got back to the car with 20 minutes before the start. Thanks to my amazing wife taking care of getting me all registered while I was running, all I had to do was pin my bib on, take a couple swigs of water, and walk over to the starting line.

I was planning to run somewhere around an 8-8:15 min/mile. I wanted to push a little, but not give a full 100% race effort. I seeded myself about where I thought I should be and, before I knew it, the race was off! Since I don’t run with a watch and checking my pace on my phone isn’t super easy, I had to guess about where my pace was, but I tried to keep myself from going out too fast. Things thinned out really quickly and I settled right into a 7:40ish pace. Faster than I wanted to run, but I was feeling good. After the first 5k, I knew this was going to be a good race and I didn’t want to back off at all.

The Miles for Music 20k course is actually three laps in Johnson Park. On paper, it looks like it’ll be brutal just going back and forth a bunch, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable. I got to see the wife’s beautiful face SIX times! SIX!! It’s nice when you’re tired at the end of a race to know exactly what’s ahead. You can leave yourself mental markers for where you want to push or how to handle certain parts the next time around. Plus, you know exactly when a water stop is coming up, though, I didn’t end up taking any water during the race.

I hit the 10k mark at 47:02 and knew I was kicking ass. I was feeling a little tired, but nothing that had me worried I wouldn’t be able to hold my pace. With 12.3 miles on my legs by that point, I was pretty psyched with how I felt.

I kept steady around the rest of the lap and found myself behind an older man whom I simply couldn’t pass. I had been slowly picking off runners most of the race so far, but this guy kept picking it up just enough to stay in front of me. After almost a mile and a half of cat-and-mousing with him, I got next to him and he gave me a “you’re doing great!” We chatted for a few minutes and he joked that he was saving himself for the last 5k, to which I responded he’d have me beat if he picked it up at all. As we came up on the next water stop, I pulled ahead, but I heard him just off behind me for a while.

Miles for Music 20k

Kicking ass!

Coming around the last turnaround on the third lap, I kicked it into gear for a strong finish. I was feeling pretty tired, but I still had enough in the tank to pick it up for the last two miles. I picked off a few more runners while getting pretty close to my puke-pace–you know, when you’re pushing yourself at the end of a race and if you go any faster you’re going to puke all over the place. I rounded the corner to the finish line and kept it steady for a solid finish. As of writing this, the time is still unofficial, but I saw 1:34:28 on the clock when I crossed, a 7:37 average pace. Whoa! I really didn’t expect that!

All-in-all, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to run this race and my performance. I rocked this race and felt good doing it. After totaling up the race, the 6.1 miles before, and a 1.5 mile cooldown afterwards, I walked away with 20 miles at an 8:03 min/mile. Just two seconds slower than my goal marathon time with five weeks to go before the race! And on top of that, I ran very consistent splits without the help of a pacer:

Mile 1: 7:43
Mile 2: 7:37
Mile 3: 7:19
Mile 4: 7:33
Mile 5: 7:42
Mile 6: 7:42
Mile 7: 7:40
Mile 8: 7:39
Mile 9: 7:38
Mile 10: 7:38
Mile 11: 7:23
Mile 12: 7:14
Mile 12.4: 7:16 (pace)

Even though the race is three loops on an out-and-back course in the park, I enjoyed it a lot. I would definitely run it again. My only complaint would be that there was very little crowd support. With runners passing most spots in the park six times, just a little support would go a long way.

Edit: My official time was 1:34:34.