Race Report | Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge

goofyback

The back of my Goofy Challenge medal.

1 Marathon

1 Half-Marathon

2 Days, 4 Theme Parks

39.3 Miles

Can’t really believe that I completed that this past weekend at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend as a Goofy Challenger. What that medal doesn’t include is: two back-to-back 2:15 a.m. wake-up calls, three days of standing at the Runner’s World Challenge booth checking in runners, a late night of bowling with RW coworkers (bowling + runners’ glaring lack of coordination = many, many hysterical gutter balls!), and one epic afternoon appeasing my inner eight-year-old riding Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom. Busy, busy, busy!

desi

The RW ladies and Desi Davila. See, I told you she’s so small! I’m a giant compared to her! Ha!

We also stayed at the Yacht Club Resort a.k.a. runner nerd heaven. The place was literally jam-packed with running elites and legends. While I was checking in, 2012 U.S. Olympic marathoner Desi Davila was waiting behind me (!) and yes, I had a small heart attack. What’s new? I saw her again the next day leaving an elevator, and I completely geeked-out at her with word-vomiting excitement. You’d think that I’d be better at handling these brushes with fame, but man, I’m pretty sure I scared her a little. Ooops, sorry Desi! (Thankfully, I ran into her again later that day, and I got the chance to redeem myself and prove that I’m not actually a crazy person.) I have to say, she’s an absolutely awesome (and tiny!) person, and it was incredible getting to hear about her comeback post-Olympic injury. She’s going to dominate once she’s healthy again, I’m sure of it! (Side note: I’ve now officially met the U.S. Olympic Marathon team trio: Desi Davila, Shalane Flanagan, and Kara Goucher. Ahh! I can tell you that they are all such amazing and inspiring women, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities to get to meet them!) I also ran into and spoke with Bill Rodgers for a bit, and I spotted Frank Shorter, too. All in all, it was pretty surreal sharing a roof with these people.

Now, on to the races:

Above all else, the goal for the weekend was have fun and embrace the experience. I wanted to earn all three medals, and it didn’t matter how fast I did it. If I had to give you a time goal, it would be to break two hours in the half and four hours in the full, but that was by no means a serious goal. I’m just a very Type A kind of person, and deep down, I have no ability to just run. I need to work on that – not every race needs to be run for time! Anywho…

The Half-Marathon:

[Pump-up song of the day: “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” from Mulan]

pre-race

The guys wore those hats for the ENTIRE half-marathon.

Despite absolutely dreading waking up at the butt-crack of earliness, thank God I’m the type of person where once I’m up, I’m up. Cait and I (she was doing the Goofy, too) snapped a pre-Goofy photo (left – with coworkers Robert and Jeff), and then we and the other RW Challengers loaded the bus to the start at 3 a.m. I was quickly designated the group’s cheerleader. I blasted Disney songs (and sang along with them!), while I attempted to make my energy infectious and pump everyone up for the race. Heck, we were at Disney World about to run an incredible race, how could you not be ridiculously stoked!?!

Prerace

Cait, Hannah and I trying to look tough before the half-marathon. This was at 4 a.m.

Once we got to the corral, I was flat out giddy with excitement. We got to start within feet of the actual line, and we were spitting distance away from NSYNC’s Joey Fatone and Drew Carey! How cool is that?!? Had I told my 12-year-old self that I’d be this close to a member of NSYNC, I wouldn’t have believed it! Then Mickey Mouse gave us the countdown, a burst of fireworks lit up the sky, and we were off! I ran most of the race with my coworkers Cait and Hannah (who ran a HUGE PR!). (right) Cait and I decided to take it easy and conserve our energy for Sunday’s marathon, running around 8:30 – 8:50 pace the whole way. We made our way toward the Magic Kingdom, passing by loads of costumed characters (my favorite was the Pirates of the Caribbean ship that played music from the movie). Then we turned onto Main Street, and holy wow was it awe-inspiring. The road was packed with screaming spectators as we ran up to Cinderella’s stunning castle. That moment alone made the lonely highways to and from the castle worth it. Hands down. We pushed it to the finish (after nearly running over a crossing armadillo – seriously!), and just like that, we were a third of the way done with the Goofy Challenge. We ran it in 1:54:13. To quote The Big Bang Theory – Bazinga!

The only glitch in the road was that my achilles and heels were totally feeling the last three days of standing. I iced them that afternoon to get ’em ready for day two!

The Marathon:

[Pump-up song of the day: “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” from The Lion King]

I’ll be honest here – when my alarm went off at 2:15 a.m. again on Sunday morning, the immediate realization that I had to run a marathon (a whole 26.2 miles!) in a couple hours was horrifying. What the heck was I thinking getting myself into this? I turned up the Disney music to shake that feeling away because I’d promised my RW Challengers that I’d be as upbeat and happy on Sunday as I was on Saturday. Oh I just can’t waaaaait….to be kinggggg!

Then come race time, talk about déjà vu. The first eight-ish miles of the race were exactly the same as the half-marathon course, and it was somewhat eery covering the same ground at the same time two mornings in a row. Again, the Magic Kingdom’s stunning views took my breath away, and then… it all came crumbling down…

Around mile 10 (yeah, just 10! 16.2 miles left!), everything below my knees began to ache. My shins, my ankles, my achilles, the bottom of my feet, everything. SO not fun. (My coworkers and I later agreed that this pain might have been caused by the course’s pancake-flatness and subsequently repetitive stride pattern.) It was pretty unsettling to feel that yucky that early in the race, and I wondered, How did I feel so good for the first 18 miles of Steamtown? This was already shaping up to be a very different experience from my first marathon.

As I made my way through the course (it was mostly on highways, punctuated by jaunts through the Magic Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot, all of which were pretty neat to run through), my thoughts shifted toward tweaking my stride to make my legs hurt as little as possible. I also tried so hard to just keep running because I really didn’t want to walk. Let’s just say those middle miles were consumed with thoughts like Why the heck am I doing this? This sucks. Please get me to the next park so I can distract myself. Stop hurting legs! Think positively. There is still soooo much left to go. Can I be done, please? Pretty please? With a cherry on top? Don’t walk, just keep running. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Hey look, there’s Buzz Lightyear! Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Once I reached the Wide World of Sports Complex, I decided I’d walk the water stops from then on. Looking back, I think this was the best decision I could have made, and it was definitely a turning point in my race – not only did it give my legs a break, but the idea of rewarding myself with a walk break and water kept me motivated and moving between stations. I learned that walking is definitely NOT a bad thing in marathons.

finishline

Could not have been happier to finish!

I realized – to my utter relief – that the end was near when I got to Hollywood Studios around mile 23. The crowd support was through the roof, and even though I was still in an epic amount of pain, I started to sense a bit of that “marathon magic.” Pretty fitting that I truly felt that at “the most magical place on Earth,” right? I was overcome with joy at the realization that I and everyone around me were going to finish this thing. I’d compare this feeling to the “runner’s high” – it’s elusive, but it’ll show up just when you need it to! Ahhh it was totally awesome. With renewed energy, I shifted gears and tried to finish as strong as I could. I crossed the line in 3:55:28, and then Bart Yasso snapped this photo of me (right). Despite having a mostly awful race, I don’t think I could’ve been more genuinely happy.

Now that it’s over, I wouldn’t consider this race a bad race at all. First and foremost, I learned to respect the distance. Marathons are not easy. Period. I needed to experience this, and was glad I did. I also learned that you can feel that “marathon magic” even in crappy races, that pace and finishing times are not always the most important thing, and that finishing alone is a huge accomplishment. Lessons (thankfully) learned. Side note #2: How cool is this bling?!? (I spent the rest of the day with these clanging around my neck!)

medals

The bling – well worth the 39.3-mile effort.

kilt

Now that’s MY kind of racing skirt!

Post-race, I got to celebrate with some of the most incredible runners ever: the Runner’s World Challengers! I mingled with the @TwinsRun twins, Malinda and Leah, who are so passionate about running and Disney it’s contagious. They even raced both days in super-cute costumes! Their outfits rivaled one Challenger’s kilt! (left) I also witnessed a mother and her daughter complete their first marathon together, which was beyond neat as well.

Robert

This guy was responsible for many happy tears from me after the race!

But what managed to bring me to tears was Robert’s race. Robert (right) battled throat cancer last year and came back to break four hours and QUALIFY FOR BOSTON! He was visibly euphoric, and I can tell you that that moment will stick with me forever. We had waited together in the corral before the race, and I can say that words really don’t do justice to describe how kind and wonderful and inspiring this man is. He told us how after treatments last year, he literally started from square one (think only being able to run the length of one side of a block), and then worked his way toward this goal of a Boston qualification. Stories like his remind me of why running is just plain awesome.

Overall, the weekend was an exhausting but exhilarating experience, and I’m pumped to say that marathon numero dos is in the books! Now, time for some rest and then let the Boston training commence!

bib

My bib with our staff trip hashtag #RWGoofTroop. Awesome.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “There are times when you run a marathon and you wonder, Why am I doing this? But you take a drink of water, and around the next bend, you get your wind back, remember the finish line, and keep going.” – Steve Jobs

Disney runners: What was your favorite part of the race?

Read my other Race Reports here

My Weekend With Shalane Flanagan

Back in August early on a Sunday morning, I pulled myself out of bed not to log my marathon training miles, but to watch the women’s Olympic marathon. With my caramel macchiato-infused coffee in hand, I watched my American idols, Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher, cruising up in front of the pack, clipping off mile splits faster than I can clock a single one. After seeing Bernard Lagat race in person back in college–and then taking to the track to plod through my own 3-K–I can say pros really do make it look, well, pretty darn effortless. These women, even as they navigated the cobblestone streets in London, ran with the same grace, agility, and seemingly superhuman strength. Like I always do when I watch elite races, I sat dumbfounded.

Having been a competitive runner most of my life, I’d like to think I have a reasonable understanding of what it takes to run fast–I’ve completed my fair share of mile repeats and tempo runs. But because I can barely begin to fathom the level of commitment and sacrifice it must take to reach their impossibly speedy level, women like Shalane and Kara simply amaze me. Period. How the heck do they run so fast? Over the past few years after having watched them compete and read (and reread) their stories in Runner’s World, they have become my idols. Or, as I like to explain it to my running-illiterate parents, I revert back to my 12-year-old, soccer-playing self, saying, “They’re like the Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain of running! Get it?”

Now you can only imagine how I felt while I waited to pick up Shalane from the airport before the Runner’s World Half & Festival a couple months later in October. (She was our one of our special guests for the weekend, and I’d been assigned to be her assistant for the weekend. Seriously. Talk about work perks.) The level of nerves in my belly rivaled pre-race jitters. Believe me when I say I spent the previous month composing myself for this moment–I really didn’t want to freak the poor woman out with my hyper excitement over meeting her, a three-time Olympian and American record holder. No biggie, right? Like she always does, my mum brought me back down to earth with a text saying, “Remember, she puts her underwear on the same way as you!” Thanks for that mom.

As the stream of passengers filed through the terminal, Shalane was easy to spot. (Side note: It’s no secret that professional running is so glaringly detached from other sports, and yet it seemed crazy to me that no one on her flight seemed to realize they were flying with an Olympic bronze medalist. Then again, it was late at night in Allentown, PA’s tiny airport.) She was toting a navy blue U.S.A.-emblazoned suitcase, to which she confirmed that it was indeed the one she brought to London. I tried to wrap my brain around that fact as I loaded it into my trunk.

On Friday afternoon, after spending the day at a RW blogger meet-and-greet and later a signing, I picked up Shalane in the hotel lobby for a shakeout run with participants of the event and local runners. Off we went, running down to the towpath where the run was to be held. On the way, Shalane mentioned that she didn’t know what to do with her hotel key, and I said I’d hold it for her. She said she sometimes sticks it in her sports bra even though her guy friends think it’s gross because it gets sweaty. I told her, “Heck, I do that too! Cards are just about the only thing I can store down there!” We laughed. Flat-chested women for the win!

On Saturday morning, Shalane had to log a 90-minute workout before her first commitment for the day. She hopped in my car at 7:30 a.m. so we could head over to Lehigh University’s athletic campus for the run. She mentioned that a wedding party had kept her up the night before and that she had called the front desk to ask them to quiet down the partiers. She admitted that she told them she had a race (rather than a workout) to run in the morning, because she knew they wouldn’t take her seriously if she had said “workout.” I’ll have to keep that clever little trick in mind for later. She also told me she wasn’t exactly excited for the workout, wishing it would just be over with and done. I thought, “Halleluiah! Even the elites don’t like waking up at the butt crack of earliness to log tons of miles!” It was so wonderful to realize that she’s so refreshingly…normal.

It was a stunning autumn morning, cool and misty, perfect for running. We warmed up together for 30 minutes, pausing only to hit the porta-potties where Shalane exclaimed after shutting the door, “YES! There’s toilet paper!” Yes, every runner appreciates toilet paper.

Near the end of the warmup, our pace had progressed to the point where it felt like a tempo run. Ooof. Then she told me she was going to kick it up a notch to start her workout, saying, “Catch ya on the flip side!” And off she went. I slowed down to a walk, trying to catch my breath. Talk about an out-of-body experience. I had just run alongside an Olympian, someone I’ve looked up to for years. Did that seriously just happen?

The trail was out-and-back, so I waited for her at the end so we could meet up and cool down back to campus. A while later in the middle of the workout, I spotted her bright-pink top and blonde hair charging soundlessly toward me. The moment struck me because it mirrored the London Olympic Marathon’s pace truck’s camera angle from which I watched her race just a few months earlier. Except this time, she was actually running at me on a trail that I’d done workouts on last year in college. Pure, utter craziness. Seeing her smooth stride was incredible, and, to be honest, it made me feel like I look like a baby giraffe when I run. After her workout, we cooled down a mile back to the car… at 7:10 pace no less.

Come lunchtime, we were both in desperate need of caffeine. Little did I know, Shalane literally “runs on Dunkin.” Deprived of her obsession on the West Coast in Portland, Oregon, I took her to the joint by Lehigh’s campus. (She even tweeted about it, and we went again on Sunday before she left so she could satisfy the craving.) We both ordered her favorite–“French Vanilla regular with cream and sugar”–and an assortment of doughnut holes because heck, she ran a crazy-hard workout this morning!

We had some time to kill, so we sat in the car and started talking, downing our pumpkin-flavored doughnut holes and coffee. She told me about she and Kara’s plan to race in Australia in December so they could snag the 10-K A-Standard for the 2013 World Championships early before the Boston Marathon in April. Then the topic moved on to having children. Between Lauren Fleshman’s recent blog post on the topic and the fact that she’s best friends with Kara Goucher, it was fascinating to hear her perspective. She said she hopes to continue racing professionally through the 2016 Olympics in Rio and then maybe a year or two after that, saving starting a family with her husband, Steve, until after she’s done. She said she has no problem following in the footsteps of fellow pro-runner Deena Kastor by being an “older” mom. Then we spoke about how she met Steve at the University of North Carolina, and I confided in her that I wasn’t quite so lucky in college in that department. Love it. Once we were reenergized on caffeine and sugar, we decided to explore the expo where we picked out some sparkly headbands that added the perfect touch to this photo that we took on a green screen at the RW Booth: Image

Who would’ve thought I’d be “sharing the RW cover” with Shalane Flanagan? It was especially wild because I life-size photo from her 2010 real cover was just a few feet away.

After more signings and a panel, she decided she would crash early. She was incredibly conscientious about her rest, explaining that on trips like these, she has to take extra measures to take care of her body so she avoids getting sick. This sounds obvious, but this is something we should all try to do on race weekends. Smarty pants.

On half-marathon morning, Shalane–wearing her signature white compression socks–and I headed over to the start. Shalane had decided earlier that weekend to run the half as a training run, shooting for 7:00 to 7:10s. Because I was just two weeks post-marathon, my “goal” was to try to stay with her for as long as physically possible, then drop off and enjoy the ride. As we wove through the runners to get to the front of the corrals, the announcers kept asking the crowd if they’d spotted Shalane, and we giggled because, well, we knew where she was!

Besides my over-excitement for just being at our event that we’d been working on for nearly a year, it was so neat to be there alongside Shalane. Once the gun went off, the two of us set off through the streets of Bethlehem toward Lehigh. We were flying. We rounded a turn heading into the first hill at mile 1 at 6:45 pace. Ooof. Much too fast. At the top off the hill, I was already spent and dropped back from Shalane to settle into my own pace. Yep, she’s fast, not like I didn’t know that already!

The race was absolutely awesome. I’ve run through those streets countless times for Lehigh cross-country training runs, and to get to race through them was incredible. Along the way, I ran into old Lehigh friends, spoke to RW readers, and even ran alongside Dean Karnazes for a few minutes. I finished in 1:37:52, which was much faster than it felt, so I was thrilled. I soon learned that Shalane had paced the female leaders for much of the race and let the winner break the tape. How freakin’ cool? I don’t think there really is another sport where an Olympian can run alongside a regular runner. Talk about reasons why I LOVE this sport! The thought of it just gives me chills.

Seeing that moment reaffirmed what I’d come to realize over the course of the weekend. Running bridges the gaps between all ages, shapes, sizes…the list could go on. I realize that sounds epically cliché, but it was truly eye-opening to see it right in front of me. I realized that an elite like Shalane really wasn’t “superhuman”–like the rest of us, she sometimes dreads those early morning runs and doesn’t mind occasionally rewarding herself with a doughnut hole or two (or three) after a workout–but that her commitment and dedication to her passion is what has elevated her to the level she’s achieved. Talk about inspiring, right?

Before I dropped Shalane off at the airport, I admitted that I needed to geek-out at her for a second and that she needed to sign my race bib – the perfect memento for a perfect weekend.

If you got to hang out with an elite runner, what would you ask them?

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Every time I fail I assume I will be a stronger person for it.” – Joan Benoit Samuelson

Read my other Race Reports here

Race Report | Steamtown Marathon

I couldn’t tell you how many races I’ve run since I began running competitively over 10 years ago. That being said, it’s a pretty rare occurrence for me to toe the line for a distance I’d never run before. And a marathon is definitively a distance. Even though I’d completed two 20-milers in training and was assured by my RW coworkers that I would get through the elusive final 6.2, I still couldn’t wrap my brain around it all. A marathon is a lonnnnng way for things to go awry, and that’s where my anxiety was rooted. Here were my goals for the day:

  • The goal of any newbie marathoner: finish. Unless something dramatic happened mid-race, I knew I’d get to the finish line eventually. I wanted the medal so badly!
  • Feel “good” for most of the race and keep a reasonable pace from start to finish – no major tummy issues, unplanned trips to the porto-potties, or cramps bad enough to force me to a walk.
  • Follow my race plan to a T. I’d have to be an idiot not to use the advice given to me by my coworkers (one even won the darn thing a few years back!) The plan: go out slow­–no faster than 7:45–and fight the urge to surge down the downhills for the first half so I’d have something left in the tank for the second. I’d reassess at the half (and maybe pick it up a tad), and then let the horses go for the final 10-K if I could. Fueling-wise, sip something at nearly every aid station starting around mile four or five.
  • If A through C worked out, I’d be thrilled with anything under the Boston qualifying time of 3:35 – best case scenario would be 3:20s.
  • Regardless, I knew I’d be satisfied with any result, knowing that just getting to the line healthy was an accomplishment in and of itself. That was my mindset throughout the week leading up to the race.

The way I summarize my race when people ask is, “The uncontrollables–like the weather–worked in my favor. And, I was blessed to have an army of marathon experts around me, happy to drill the right mindset into my brain so that come race day, I could execute.” I didn’t psyche myself out because I knew I had the ability to finish. I had a concrete game plan that I was prepared to carry out. I wasn’t “racing” anyone per se, a new post-graduation development that certainly took a load of pressure off my shoulders. For the first time, I was racing for me. And it felt awesome. If I’ve struggled with anything consistently over the years on race days, it’s my head. So the fact that not a single legitimate negative thought crept into my head that morning was a victory even before the gun went off.

Within a mile of the start, I latched on to a girl named Whitney, who was shooting for the same time goal as me. We decided we’d run together for as long as possible to keep each other company, and having her by my side made the first 18ish miles fly by. We talked on and off, swapping stories, but we also were content just running in silence occasionally. We hit halfway at around 1:43 (to which I yelled, “Happy Halfway!”), and we both decided to maintain our 7:45 to 7:55 average until 20. That was plenty fast for us, and we were already a bit below our goal pace. We still had a long way to go. We both made sure to smile when we saw the race photogs, which resulted in this epic shot:

Image

(In response to the photo, my mum said, “You looked like that at mile 16?!?” )

I lost Whitney at a water stop around mile 18, so I set off to finish the race on my own. So far, everything felt all right save for my quads, which were starting to curse the course’s earlier downhills. I kept plugging along, passing people even though my pace had dropped to around 8:00 to 8:15 per mile. At that point, if I had started walking, I wouldn’t have be able to start back up again. Around mile 24, I started literally singing out loud when I passed speakers playing “Twist and Shout,” regaining a bit of momentum as I headed toward the final hill, dubbed “Homestretch Hill.”

And boy was it a hill. Even though it felt good to use muscles other than my quads to climb it, I was starting to get desperate for that finish line. Once I finally got close enough to see the clock, I realized I had a shot to eek out a sub-3:30 time. I surged toward the line, immediately overcome by the sheer joy in the realization that I had finished. And I didn’t walk a single step of it. What a journey.

My official time was 3:29:23. I don’t think I’ve ever been more pleased with a race result than this one, especially because the stars haven’t exactly aligned for me race-wise for a while. Turns out I was able to land one of the final spots for the 2013 Boston Marathon a couple days after the race, and I couldn’t believe it! (Whitney qualified and is running it, too! Yay for newfound running buddies!) I have to say that I’ve been bit by the marathon bug, and now I want to run them all–I already have three planned for the spring!

To say this race was a learning experience is an understatement. In the few weeks post race, I’ve tried to bottle up all that happened so I can do it again next time… only faster. =) Bring it on marathon #2! I’m ready!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “I’ve learned that finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.” – John Hanc

Read my other Race Reports here