Wednesday, June 19, 2013

WDW Marathon Wknd Post III: The Race.

I have never come so close to a DNF as I did on this day.

Hubs & me prior to the race
I am a solo runner.  Part of running's therapeutic effect for me is that I get out by myself and run my miles alone with my thoughts.  I like to go at my own pace, on my own route, and take my own time.  I believe every runner is different, every day is different, every mile is different.  I believe in my own strength as a runner and as a person.  I think I can get myself through just about anything.  I talk a big game...I completely underestimated the power that another person has to keep you going.

I won't lie, I have mixed feelings about my marathon experience.  I know I shouldn't, I went into the race injured, fully accepting that the outcome of the race was a crapshoot.  My IT band tendinitis was debilitating at this point, and I did not know how or if I would make it through. In fact, if this had been any other marathon, I would have withdrawn.  But, we were at Walt Disney World.  It's a magical place.  My husband and running buddy Tracey were there to run too.  My parents and kids were spectating and enjoying a weekend at the parks.  I had support, I could do this.  If I didn't finish, I told myself, I'm okay with that.

At 3:00 am, I laced up the speedlaces on my Hoka One Ones.  Dressed as a Fireside Girl from Phineas & Ferb, hubs (in normal running gear) and I waited outside the Polynesian for the Monorail.  We were beyond excited.  This was our first marathon.  We had no idea what lay before us.

We made our way with the throngs of runners to the Epcot parking lot, awaiting the hike to the corrals. Having done the WDW Princess Half Marathon almost a year earlier, I knew the routine.  The pre-race gathering place was a block party.  Runners were singing, taking photos, and kicking up their heels while waiting in line for the hundreds of portapotties.

Finally it was time to hike to the corrals.  Hundreds more portapotties lined the route.  Shockingly, despite the fact we were rich in portapotties, runners, female runners even, chose to use the bushes, in full view of the rest of us!  I overheard someone behind me say, "I am from here and I would never pull my pants down in those bushes.  It's not even the snakes and alligators that'll get ya, it's the giant spiders and fire ants."  I briefly imagined what it would be like to have fire ants in my running shorts.  Words cannot express how miserable that would be...period, not to mention before a frickin' marathon.  I quickly put that disturbing thought aside.  Only the safety of the portapotties for me.
Race Start.  26.2 Woo hoo!

The corrals were in sight.  Hubs made his way ahead to corral B.  I had decided to run with Tracey, so we waited in the same corral for the race to start.  While in the corral, we nervously discussed our race strategy while munching on our energy bars.  We decided to continue with the Galloway method, and put my Garmin on a 3 min run, 1 min walk interval.  At one point I thought I was hearing voices, but it was only Mickey Mouse on the microphone, getting us ready to run.

And it was time.  With a firework show and a cheer, we were off. (see route at the bottom of the page)

Most of the race was a blur, but there were several moments that I remember well.

Magic Kingdom at sunrise
The first few miles were exhilarating, as they always are.  We took a portapotty break (while others were still using the woods...what the hell?) and happily ran/walked our intervals.  My knee was tight from the get-go, but felt okay at the pace we were going.  It was interesting to observe the difference in our running form.  Tracey is nimble and light on her feet with a shorter, fast stride, so she was fun to keep up with as she darted between other runners.  My longer legs and long strides make me move more efficiently straight lines.  Darting is not one of my strong points.  We moved along in the dark, talking and listening to other runners around us.  The pre-dawn January air felt great, but it was not cool.  I started to worry that the day would get pretty hot.

The approach to Magic Kingdom at sunrise was unbelievably magical and beautiful.  Running down Main Street USA as the sunbeam began it's slow descent from the top of the castle as it rose from the horizon behind us is an image that will be burned into my memory forever.  That may have been worth the whole race.

Running through the castle
The run through Magic Kingdom was, well, magical.  We detoured in Frontierland for a flush toilet break (what a luxury!) and to splash cold water on our faces.  Soon we ran out of the park, and past the Reedy Creek Fire Station.  Then we made our way past the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and around the WDW Speedway where folks had set up a car show and we saw my favorite cars, Lightning McQueen and Mater.  At this point we were probably about 8 miles in, and were still feeling pretty good.  We had stopped to meet some of our favorite characters, smiled and high-fived some cute guys in tuxedos, and had run through Cinderella's castle like it was our job.  Our interval was treating us well.

I stopped at a medical tent and chewed some tylenol to stave off the creeping-in knee pain.  We then ran about 3 miles or so, which felt like a LONG three miles, to Animal Kingdom.  My favorite diversion here was some folks tailgating in a camper, ribbing the runners as they went by.  Purely hysterical.  The running route connecting the parks in some cases was cinched down to about three people wide.  We had been slowed to a walk many times because we got caught by groups of walkers with no way to go around them.  I felt like this really slowed down our overall time where we could have covered more ground more quickly while we still had relatively fresh legs.

Once in Animal Kingdom, the park setting helped with the monotony of the WDW backroads.  But, because AK's paths are so narrow, we were bumping along quite a bit with other runners.  And, it was starting to get pretty hot.  We were about halfway through the marathon, and by now it was about 9am.  The sun was fully up and the shade was disappearing.  It was here in the park that we took an extended bathroom break.  We splashed our faces, changed socks, squeezed out our bondibands and retaped our legs.  The parks were beginning to open, and crowds of people were coming in.  Thankfully WDW clearly marked the runners' route through the parks.

The mile 15 mini celebration
On our way out of Animal Kingdom and onto the WDW "inner-state" roads, we were approaching mile 15 and both of us were beginning to feel spent.  The wall was nearing.  We stopped to take a pic at the 15 mile marker, since that was the furthest either of us had run in a race before, at the Charleston Distance Run.  At this point we were out on the open road, in the sun, with no shade, and we were getting hot and tired.

It was another three miles before we reached the ESPN Sports Complex, our next "diversion" from the open road route.  We reached for our energy bar fuel.  I thought I had another Luna Bar, but I realized I nervously ate it while we were chatting in the corrals.  Tracey generously shared her granola bar with me.  It was a very nice change from the Gu we'd been sucking on during prior miles.

I had been calling out our run/walk intervals.  "Happy Beep" when it was time to walk.  "Let's go" when it was time to run.  Starting into the Sports Complex, we were routed around in narrow passageways through all the sports fields in the complex.  I suddenly became very irritated with people in my way.  I do not like big crowds, and I had hit my limit.  The intervals were useless here, as we were forced to walk behind others because we couldn't get around.  However, my knee had gone from a whine to a scream at this point, so it may have been a blessing.  But, all I knew was that it was getting hotter by the minute, and the sweaty bodies and heavy breathing around me were almost too much for me to take.  Tracey and I had fallen quiet, and I was afraid of overheating.

Heading towards Mile 20 Spectacular
Thankfully, a medical tent was handing out cold sponges.  I think these wet pieces of magic are what brought us back to life for awhile.  We strapped them under the back strap of our sports bras.  Tracey's knee tape was falling off and she went looking for more tape while I chewed more Tylenol.  Super gross, but I was desperate for it to work fast.

Finally we made it to the MILE 20 SPECTACULAR that had been so highly touted before the race.  It was the 20th anniversary of the marathon, so they put forth extra effort at this mile to make the entertainment special.  Also, I have heard that mile 20 is the effort halfway point in marathon.  After my experience, I'd say this statement is true.  Anyway, I'm not sure if it was the near heat stroke or my general irritation, but I thought the spectacular was, well, meh.

It was also at this point that we saw the race sweeper and sag wagons going in the opposite direction, about 6 miles behind us.  It was my goal all along to not get swept up before I finished the race.  I did a quick calculation in my head and figured that from this point, if we could keep a 15 min mile average pace, we should stay ahead of the sweeper.  That was a good thing, too, because by this time, I had a hatchet fully embedded in my knee, our conversation was beginning to trail off and what little we said was incoherent.  Delirium was setting in.  It was mid-morning, no breeze, the pavement was sweltering hot, and the thought of traveling another 6.2 miles felt unobtainable.  Honestly, if I had not had Tracey there with me, I'm not sure I could have kept going.  Halfway to Hollywood Studios, at about mile 22, we were out on the long, sunny, straight 6-lane road, no runners going the other direction (meaning they had been swept up), and slow, staggering runners around us.  At this point I said to Tracey, "I don't care if I run another step."  She said, "Let's just keep going.  See that girl up there in the pink shirt?  Let's run to her."  So we did.  My knee was raging.  But we kept going.

We are strong! Grrrr!!!
We entered Hollywood Studios and put on a strong face for our pic with Wreck-It Ralph, my kids' favorite movie at the time.  Thinking of them, and thinking we only had a few more miles to go, reenergized me some.  We ran down Hollywood Boulevard and lots of cheering spectators lined the route.  My knee was on fire, but I lumbered on, with Tracey, as we picked out landmarks ahead of us to run to.

The walkway to Epcot was miserable.  It was so hot by then that it felt like a steambath.  I was full-on limping by now.  We were so very hot and tired.  Kids playing in the resort pools were hard to look at.  They looked so cool and happy.

Beautiful Hollywood Boulevard
As we entered Epcot between United Kingdom and France, I almost lost it.  The World Showcase is my favorite part of Disney World.  Hubs and I have spent many hours there, exploring the countries, sampling the foods, and enjoying the drinks.  We have done this before and after having kids.  Even with our kids, we always feel like we're on an exotic date when visiting Epcot's World Showcase.  I felt like I was home in this special place for us.  To my amazement, some of the runners were stopping off for beer and frozen vodka drinks!  I know we were within a mile of the finish line, but wow!  (Kinda wish I had thought of that).  Rounding the turn out of the World Showcase and entering the rest of the park, I saw my parents and kids waiting to cheer me on.  I was so happy to see them!  They brought me gummy bears, my favorite.  Tracey and I put on big smiley faces, and rounded the last turn to the back of the park, sung on by the awesome gospel crew, and finally, finally, the finish line was in sight.  I had been texting with hubs, he had run a strong race and finished his first marathon, having already downed a celebratory beer and was lounging in the air conditioned hotel room.  I was beyond thrilled for him, and dreaming of beer and air conditioning myself...

Six long hours after the start of the race, Tracey and I high-fived Mickey and Minnie as we crossed the finish line.  We were marathoners.  Jeez Louise we did it.  I would have never made it through without her by my side.  The frustration, the heat, and the pain would have been too much for me to bear on my own.  I was so glad she was there with me.  I will never forget how the support of another can bring you through when you can no longer do it on your own.  This is why running and fellow runners are friggin awesome.  It's life, in a magnifying glass, lived way more awesomely.  Miles can definitely bring people together.
The hardware


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