Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Running In the House of Mouse

(aka I Should Prepare Less More Often)

P1124515 It was a dark and stormy night... It was Saturday night before the 15th annual Walt Disney World Marathon and down came the rain. I had hoped the rain would make for a cool marathon the next day so I finish organizing my gear and head for bed.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Walt Disney Marathon, it’s an early starting race to say the least. I’m sure there are a few reasons, one to minimize the amount of time runners are running in the heat of the Florida sun and also to minimize the impact of non-running park guests (since the marathon runs through all 4 WDW parks).

Gun time is 6am. Working backwards, Disney starts to close gear check around 4:30am. If you’re a park guest, buses start making their rounds at 3am. Those of you that have read my previous race reports know I like to get to races early and avoid the rush of last-minute preparations.

At 2:30am my alarms goes off and by 3:15am I’m on a bus headed for gear check.

P1134517Another Disney oddity is the ½ mile+ walk from gear check to the starting corrals. Disney cast members began to cheer “You’re almost at the start line!”

P1134522I line up in my corral and by 4:30, stake out my spot around the 5:00 pace group, and lay out for a short nap.

At no point before or during the race do I think about how under-prepared I am for this marathon. After the Chicago Marathon Misery three months earlier, I had never run more than 12 miles at a time. 48 hours before the Chicago marathon I was on a strict schedule—no milk, no spicy food, no caffeine, get a chiropractic adjustment, get a massage, go to the expo Friday, drink lots of water, run 2 miles Saturday morning then rest the rest of the day (which included watching Chariots of Fire-twice, Running on the Sun, and Lord of the Rings).

P1124513This race couldn’t have more different: Thursday and Friday I spent 9+ hours each in the car with multiple stops for fast food, gas station coffee, and a bag of beef jerky. Saturday I spent all day in the sun, running with the kids during their races, hiking around downtown Disney with a fish and chips dinner at Raglan Road with a bottle of Orange Juice that doesn’t expire for 1,000 years. Not exactly the R&R and diet the doctor prescribed.

P1134529In typical Disney fashion emcee’s are there to get the crowd pumped with a pair of jumbo-tron TV’s for music videos and clips. There’s the singing of the national anthem, a few more motivational words and then fireworks before the starting gun.

P1134551 The race starts just outside Disney’s EPCOT, with the first lap taking you partway through the World Showcase before heading up to the Magic Kingdom.

P1134576 Around 10.5 miles you run down Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom, through Tomorrowland into Fantasyland, through Cinderella’s Castle, through Liberty Square and out Frontierland. Despite multiple photo opportunities during the first half, I pass the 5:00 pace group and gain some ground. My last-minute change in strategy to start slow is beginning to pay off. I pass the 11 mile mark and feel good, splits are holding steady, even dropping a bit.





P1134599 There next five miles takes you through access roads not generally open to the public where you pass such exciting behind-the-scenes areas like the float maintenance sheds and recycling center.

Despite these glimpses into the Magic of Disney, Sharpie (markers) sponsors a series of random trivia signs scattered throughout the course and a stream of constant music. It’s at this point during the race that your average marathoner (aka: me) appreciates the distractions.

P1134616 Stand away from the bird... Around mile 16 you enter the backside of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I pose temporarily to get my picture taken with a parrot where I am sternly told to stand on the side opposite the parrot (maybe parrots get aggressive towards sweaty runners?).

Mile 18 exits the Animal Kingdom and the effects of the rising sun are starting to take their toll. Humidity has been high all morning long, but the Florida sun raises the air temps and I begin a slow throttling back of my pace. I lose the 5 mile pace group and, unfortunately, never catch back up.

Around mile 19 a modest selection of Clif Shots are available for consumption. Having somewhat of a coffee/caffeine addition, I figured the Double Espresso would be a match made in heaven. I down the Clif Shot and I barely last a half-mile before my stomach cramps, I get nauseous, and finally vomit. Guess I’ll stick with the Mocha flavor. Mile 19 would be my second slowest mile.
At mile 23 the course enters Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney’s MGM Studios).

P1134655Mile 23 is my slowest mile, 4 minutes slower than my average pace. The photo opportunities at every corner are to blame.

P1134625I'm taking a picture of you...

...taking a picture of me.camera-y-camera

P1134671 The last few miles take you the long way through EPCOT (again) with a finale loop past almost all nations in the World Showcase and exiting through the main gates at Future World. By now the heat has caused me to change my regular hydration plan and kick in my “alternate” plan--forcing myself to drink Gatorade with regular sips every few minutes. I know I’m slightly dehydrated so I check my pulse and adjust my pace and drink accordingly.

P1134664 Almost there, but it's getting hot!

P1134678c Right at mile 26 is a 50 piece gospel choir providing a final boost of motivation. Never before has gospel music sounded so inspirational.

P1134682 The final 100 yards are grandstands packed with cheering fans and Disney characters.

My watch time is around 5:16 but I’m satisfied and feel like I’ve run a good race. A quick check of my splits seems to confirm that starting out slower lead to quicker times between miles 10 and 18. After mile 18 my times increase due to the effects of the rising sun and rising temps, something I’m not acclimated to as barely a week ago I was running in 6 inches of fresh snow.

P1134603For an average marathoner, there’s no place better to enjoy a long race than Disney. The course is full of distractions. It’s not a race you’re likely to set a PR, and a running purist may balk at the course—there are a few pinch points and lots of corners—but it’s a race you’re not likely to forget regardless of your finish time where even the mile markers become worthy of a photo stop.

My wife has agreed that, if we come back next year, she will run/walk the 5k (normally a non-runner/walker). I suppose this is her way of trying to force me back to Florida next January. Without hesitation I sign us both up for the 5k in 2009 and also sign myself up for the Goofy Challenge. For those of you unfamiliar, Disney runs the 5k on Friday, the half-marathon on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday. Three years ago they started the Goofy Challenge, offering people the option to run both the half on Saturday and full on Sunday. After almost 1,000 people signed up they had to close registration, apparently never expecting so many people to take them up on the challenge. 2007 they offered the Goofy Challenge again with a cap of 1,000. In 2008 the cap was raised to 3,000. Within the first week of sign up for the 2009 Goofy Challenge, registration is over half full.

P1194980We spent a week in Florida, spending most of our time at WDW. It seemed like every other shirt I saw was a Disney Marathon, Half, or Goofy shirt. After a week we made the trip home, watching the outside temperature drop from 68 degrees when we left Florida, to -1 as we pulled in the driveway. About 3 inches of fresh snow has fallen since I started this blog entry. Welcome home.

P1114463cP1114462c"There are clubs you can't belong to, neighborhoods you can't live in, schools you can't get into, but the roads are always open." - Nike slogan

Monday, January 07, 2008

Citius, Altius, Fortius

Bill Bowerman (during prologue of Without Limits): Citius, Altius, Fortius. It means Faster, Higher, Stronger. Its been the motto for the Olympics for the last 2,500 years. But it doesn't mean faster, figher, stronger than who you're competeing against just; Faster. Higher. Stronger.

Over Christmas break I received the next batch of NetFlix movies and received a movie I have been looking forward to for some time.

Without Limits (1998) is based on the life of Steve Prefontaine, who, during his high school and college years, broke just about every 5k record that existed.

Pre believed there was one way to race and one way to train; give it everything you've got. No holding back, no saving for the end. When he ran a race, he got the front, built a huge lead, and stayed there.

He believed he had no inherent talent but his success on the track resulted in nothing less than hard work.
Mary: Not everything can be learned, somethings take talent.
Pre: Let me tell you something, talent is a myth, Mary. There's a dozen guys on the team with more talent in their little finger than I have in my whole body.

As I head out for a run the next morning I couldn't help but think about how much I'm holding back. I complete a 4 mile run and realize that I don't feel much different then after I take the dog for a 2 mile walk.
Pre: I don't want to win unless I know I've done my best, and the only way I know how to do that is to run out front, flat out until I have nothing left. Winning any other way is chicken-#^%@%.

My times have not significantly changed over the years and, while I suppose you could argue keeping steady times while you get older might actually be considered some progress, could my best times actually be ahead of me?

What would happen if I forgot about the limitations I put on myself? I'm not as young as I used to be. I'm not as thin as I used to be. My joints ache more. What if, as Pre believed, my only limitation was the level of effort I was willing to give? And, as Pre believed, there is no limit to your will.

Its difficult not to compare your individual performance against everyone around you, it's not necessarily the best way to track progress or performance. I have several years of training logs and race results and I realize the only competitor I need to worry about is myself.
Bowerman: The purpose of running a race isn't to win, it's to test the limits of the human heart...and nobody did it more often...nobody did it better.

So this year, while I had vowed to make it a year to get back to running for the run of running, I believe I can train harder, improve my times, and still have fun.

Bill Bowerman: Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort can win a race and a magnificent effort can lose one. Winning a race wouldn't necessarily demand that he give it everything he had from start to finish. But he never ran any other way. I couldn't get him to, and God knows I tried... but... Pre was stubborn on holding himself to a higher standard than victory. 'A race is a work of art' is what he said and what he believed and he was out to make it one every step of the way.