Wednesday, January 15, 2014

48.6 Magic Miles in 4 Days... 100% Dopey!

The Dopey Challenge:  4 races in 4 days, 48.6 miles.  Done!  And what an incredible experience it was!  Magic from beginning to end, in true Disney fashion!

Why do such a thing?  Why not?  What am I gonna do, wait until next year?   When I heard about this challenge last year I had no idea what it would be like to do it, but I knew there was only one way to find out!

When I've traveled for races, I'll sometimes pack two pair of running shoes, especially if I'm going to be there long enough to want to get in a training run.  Just in case it rains or is damp.  I don't like running in wet shoes, and you can never count on them drying quickly.  This trip, I packed four pair, and yes, I wore them all.
The pair on the left took me thru all the parks plus the 5K.  I wish I knew how many miles I put on those this weekend!

Leaving temperatures in the teens in NC, we were happy to arrive in Orlando on time and without a hitch.  We took the Magical Express to the Caribbean Beach Resort where we began to check in and promptly crashed the system.  Hopeful that this wasn’t a preview of the rest of the weekend, we dropped out bags in our rooms and headed for the race Expo.
Having run three Disney races, this was definitely the best race expo by far! 
First, the race shirts were awesome!  
Long sleeve tech shirts, and park logos on the sleeves depicting which parks we’d see during each race.  The best part?  The shirts fit!!  I normally wear a small t-shirt, but the shirts at the Princess Half were tiny, and I had to switch for a medium.  That was no problem, but at the Disneyland Half, I ordered a medium, not realising it was “unisex” and GIANT!  Even the small was roomy, but I was grateful one of the volunteers switched it for me—that expo was a ZOO!  At Tower of Terror, again with the huge unisex shirts, and they had no smaller sizes to trade.  After checking back twice, we were finally able to make the switch on the second day of the expo, but I wasn’t looking forward to trying to sort that out for myself and 4 kids.  We also had park tickets, and not a ton of spare time to keep going back and forth.  Very happily, ALL of our shirts were the correct sizes!!!  Such a huge relief! 

We got to the expo around noon, and the line for Disney merchandise checkout was maybe 15 minutes.  Another pleasant surprise!  We got our “I Did It!” t-shirts, magnets, Vinylmation figures, pins and assorted goodies and were through the line in no time!  Off to Raw Threads to check out their fabulous shirts.  I got a cute pink Minnie tank for my 10K, and the kids all found fun souvenir shirts.  Check!  Next stop, bib pickup.
They all headed to the half marathon pickup, while Dopey check in was on another floor.  I got all my bibs, pins, and shirts, and decided to take a shot at Runner Relations.  There was no line, because they had announced no corral changes at the expo, but I thought I’d try.  I had spent the better part of last fall running 10Ks with each of the kids, 4 races in 4 different states, so that they would each have proof of time so that we could all run the half together.  What I didn’t anticipate was that they bumped all Dopey runners back 3-4 corrals.  So my kids were all in I, J, and K and I was in M.  Crazy, since I ran those 10Ks with them, even the speedy one who was placed in I!  And, I had run several half marathons already—none of them had.  They could all move back to M with me, but that was so close to the last corral, and I knew running with a party of 6 was gonna be slow going anyway, I was afraid that moving all of them back would put us all in jeopardy of being swept.  Fortunately, when I explained the situation to the runDisney folks, they were totally understanding.  They said since we had run all those proof of time races and emailed them all of our times, they had no problem making a switch for me.  I qualified for Corral I, but they were out of I stickers, and we’d all have to move back to K anyway, so they gave me a J sticker.  Another huge relief!!
We headed back to our resort, dropped our gear, and then it was off to Animal Kingdom for a few hours, and dinner at Boma later.  Much later.  A long wait for a bus plus a longer-than-expected bus ride had us sitting down to dinner at 8:45!  This was after leaving the house at 4:30am to catch our flight, and before my daughter and I needed to be on a bus at 5:30am the next day for the 5K.  Fortunately, we had been running with a group of friends on Tuesday mornings at 7am, and we were pretty used to running a few miles early and tired.
Thursday morning we were up on time, dressed in full Lilo & Stitch costumes and ready to roll well before 5:30.  We woke my middle daughter to take a photo… she was not happy with our requests for multiple retakes, but we finally got a good one!  
We got to our corral and immediately started thinking about how quickly we could run this race and get back to our room and into a warm bed! 

We saw a lot of great costumes, but my favorite was a couple who were doing the Dopey Challenge.  They were planning to dress as a different dwarf each day, a fairly simple outfit— basically a t-shirt headband.  The cuteness was in the details, lettered on their shirts.  Day 1: Feeling Happy, Day 2: Feeling Sleepy, Day 3: Feeling Grumpy, Day 4: Feeling… (can you guess??)  Dopey! 

The course for the 5K was fun, but crowded!  Thanks to my 14yo son, who loves the short intervals, we had been training with 1:30|1:00 and found it really comfortable.  As much as we just wanted to run that 5K and get back to bed, we stuck with our intervals, took a few photos, and enjoyed a fun race!

DOPEY CHALLENGE DAY 1: 5K   45:30:00    14:17mm
It was fun and easy, and for the first time since mid-November, my legs felt great!  I had been having a little trouble with my left calf and right knee.  The knee business is a throwback to my injury last January, and it just flares up on occasion.  The calf thing was new, and Google was coming up with a lot of “stress fracture” hits, so I had really ramped back my pace and mileage during my last weeks of training, while adding time on the elliptical trainer.  I find that’s the best way for me to keep my legs strong, focus on form and properly engage my core while minimizing the impact on my legs.  If I was headed for injury, I’d honestly rather have it happen during a race and not in training.  Ideally, not at all, of course!  And after this race, I was feeling more optimistic than I had in several weeks! 
We made our way thru the snack box tables, I stopped at the Dopey check point to get a wristband, and we headed toward the exit, every step taking us closer to sleep!  Seeing the forecast, we had checked a bag with raincoats, and we were glad to have them because it was chilly and raining by the end of the race.  Bag check was seamless at all four races, both dropping off and picking up, and being comfortable on the trek to and from the race is worth the extra few minutes.
We may have run a slow 5K, but we PR’ed the race from the finish line, thru the snack box pick up, the Dopey check point, bag check and to our bus.  We got back to the resort and into bed in record time! 

An hour nap, and we were ready for a day at Hollywood Studios!  It was the perfect choice for our first long park day—not too much walking, and plenty of sitting watching shows.  We were all in bed at a decent hour, which is a big deal for my flock of night owls, and I was able to get almost 6 hours of sleep and still be on the bus well before 4am for the 10K on Friday. 
The 10K was my fastest race, and my favorite course.  I loved having my daughter with me for the 5K, but I also enjoy running solo.  It’s a good chance to meet people, and to run soley based on how I’m feeling, which on Friday, was pretty awesome!  
There were still a bazillion runners, and narrow and crowded spots along the course, but it didn’t slow me down nearly as much.  The race was almost entirely in the Epcot park, with a jaunt along the Boardwalk.  So many beautiful sights along the way, and I find I really love the 10K distance.  It’s right in my sweet spot for distance and pace—I feel like I can push for a little more speed and still have plenty of energy left for the finish.
I had to laugh at myself though.  When I run with my kids, I usually call the run/walk intervals.  I’ve struggled with the transitions, and often find walking harder on my knees than running.  The Dopey training plan included a lot of walking, and I learned that softening my knees, so that my walk was more like a shuffle or really slow jog, really made the walking intervals faster and nearly effortless.  But my kids are always looking at me sideways, “are you walking or running?  I can’t tell by looking at you.”  (which tells you, I’m not a super fast runner!)  Well, running this 10K alone, I found myself asking the same question, “am I walking or running?”  More than once I was in the middle of an interval and couldn’t remember, and I couldn’t tell from the way I was moving.  Little things amuse me.
DOPEY CHALLENGE DAY 2: 10K   1:20:27    12:38mm

Another sprint from the finish line thru the Dopey wrist-band check, and to the bus, and I was happily back at the resort.  I thought I might want to nap, but I was wide awake and feeling great.  
Ready to take on the Magic Kingdom! We got moving earlier than planned, made a stop at the Starbucks on Main Street and then headed to lunch at the Be Our Guest Restaurant. 
The concierge at the resort set us up with fast passes for the day, so we were able to do everything in the park with minimal walking or standing in lines.  We were all in bed early, again, and ready to run the half marathon on Saturday morning.  
It was a little more complicated getting 6 people up, dressed and out the door, but we were all on the bus before 4 and headed for the race dressed as Alice, the Mad Hatter, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit.  

The morning of the half was warm and humid.  I was glad we were starting in Corral K rather than M, but I was still doing the math in my head.  I was nervous about keeping pace so that we didn’t get swept before the finish.  I was also not 100% comfortable with what I was wearing, particularly a brand new pair of shorts I had never run in!  Fortunately, my daughter brought and extra pair of compression shorts that I wore under the new ones, or I would have been in big trouble.  I was also wearing new socks—knee socks, which I had also never run in before.  What was I thinking?
Running with a group of six means six times the possible reasons to slow down.  My oldest, the one placed in the fastest corral, was sick as a dog.  My second oldest had recently discovered that she was “allergic to running.”  Not really, but she did have an allergic reaction when she ran, and we forgot to buy Benedryl!  She had taken some Zyrtec and we were hoping for the best.  She had run 10 miles before, about a year ago.  My son had already announced he was never running again after this race.  He was running with this awesome (but huge) Mad Hatter hat, and was feeling the heat more than all of us.  My youngest daughter was at an advantage, having run the Tower of Terror 10 Miler in even worse weather conditions.  She had new sneakers and was feeling good about things, but even so, it was a real challenge for all of us to stay together, especially in the narrower stretches. 

Our first bathroom stop was at mile 2, and we made 3 more before we were done.  The first few miles were rough, but once we were past the halfway point it felt like everyone was finally awake and ready to finish.  We just aren’t morning people.  We stuck with our intervals, stopped at every single water station for water and power ade, and ate these magic jelly beans along the way.
Around mile 5, a guy ran by in a Donald Duck suit carrying a tuba.  Yes, a white wraparound TUBA!  I chased him for about half a mile—the guy was MOVING!  He paused for a photo, but my phone flash was doing something strange and my pics were blurry.  He started the race back in M, passed us and just kept going, costume, tuba and all!  Amazing! 
I did carry Jack’s hat a good bit of the way, but once the sun was up and the spectators got a good look at him, he was really enjoying all the Mad Hatter love!  People were cheering and calling him by name, and suddenly, he was happy with that crazy hat, smiling and waving like the true performer that he is!  My youngest helped us keep a comfortable pace, and my second oldest kept us laughing while randomly breaking into song.  My oldest was still hurting, but she put on her brave face and soldiered on.  I’m not even sure how, but we all made it to the finish together.  And those knee socks I was concerned about?  Awesome!

A bit of gadget trivia: during the last weeks of training, I noticed I was coming up on 1000 miles in Nike+.  I considered running a little extra to try an hit it before the end of 2013.  I also considered how annoying it would be to end up injured right before this race.  As it turned out, I crossed the 1000 milestone during the half.  Way cooler to hit that number in Disney World, running with my kids!

Medals, snack boxes, another Dopey wrist band, and we were back on the bus.  

My son dozed off and missed our stop.  Yes, we got off the bus without him and didn’t notice until the bus pulled away.  Luckily he had his cell phone.  He answered with, “Sorry, I fell asleep.  I’m in Barbados.”  One stop past Jamaica, but he managed to find his way back.  I had just spoken with the hotel manager who was in the process of putting in a call to resort security, looking for a 14yo boy in a lime green running shirt dressed like the Mad Hatter, when he came walking around the corner.  Whew! 
We got showered and made our way to Epcot.  We had to sprint, but we made it to Soarin’ just minutes before our FastPasses expired!  I had seen a Starbucks at Mile 12 when we ran thru the park earlier, and was beyond happy to finally get my Caramel Flan Latte.  

Again, thanks to the concierge we had all of our FastPasses lined up, and enjoyed all the rides before our food tour around the World Showcase. 
There were many times I questioned the wisdom of attempting the Dopey Challenge, touring 4 parks, and running their first half marathon with all 4 kids.  Saturday night was especially crazy.  I was actually in bed, awake but relaxing, at 6:30.  The kids were all falling asleep, and I realised they’d probably wake up hungry at 10 or 11.  I woke everyone up to go get some food just as the sky opened up!  It was unreal, and I was really glad it held off for the race and our day in Epcot.  Plan B: take out in the rooms.  Everyone was fed and happy, and asleep by 10!  I had a few nervous moments, wondering if I’d get enough sleep, but I feel like even the resting all evening was helpful.  And it turns out, having them run the half meant they were all exhausted and in bed much earlier than they normally would have been.

I woke up at 1am and felt like I had been asleep for ages, then again at 3.  I think one benefit of the Dopey schedule is that by Sunday, I was used to getting up at 3 and getting on a bus before 4.  I felt rested, and my legs were ready to run. 
My outfit for the marathon was loosely Dopey inspired: purple pants and a lime green tank.  Haley let me borrow her extra pair of knee socks, Morgan had gotten me the tank when she worked at Athleta, I borrowed Jack’s purple earbuds, and Katharine encouraged me to take a jacket.  That turned out to be key, because it was COLD on Sunday morning!! 
Since I wore the same bib for the half and the full marathon, on Sunday I got to start in Corral J.  All that traveling and running with the kids last fall was paying off in a big way.  
I felt good about finishing in time, but realised there was a real possibility that I could end up missing my oldest two, who were flying out that afternoon to go back to college.  Aside from finishing the marathon within the pacing requirement to complete the Dopey Challenge, I now had an additional goal of finishing by 12:30, so I’d have enough time to get back to the hotel and hang out with them a bit before they had to leave. 
The chilly morning made me grateful for the crowded corral.  I really do pretty well hanging out by myself before a race.  It’s nice to have the option to engage in conversation, or just sit quietly.  I did a little of both.  I mostly huddled low to avoid the breezes and stay warm.  It felt like a fairly short wait before we were moving toward the start.  There was a 5:00 pacing group near the start, and when we took off, everyone seemed to be moving with them.  Sometimes I’ll skip the walks for the first mile or two of a race, but this day I was sure to stick with my intervals.  I was moving faster than I normally would, and really had to work to slow it down. 

The cold air really felt good, and my first few miles were a little wonky, as usual.  It was 4 miles to the Magic Kingdom, and then I was finally warmed up really enjoying the run.   The next mile took us up Main Street USA and around and thru Cinderella’s Castle.  Just before the castle, I spotted the tuba guy!  He stopped for a clear photo, and I felt vindicated for yesterday’s sprint! 
In fact, I managed to stay ahead of him for the rest of the race, even though he was still moving at a good clip.  I also stopped for a quick selfie in front of the castle.  
Not the greatest—I’m terrible at taking selfies!  But I was glad I got one, because by the end of the race, my phone was dying and I couldn’t get a finish line photo.

At mile 6, we were leaving the Magic Kingdom and my math brain figured that was about one fourth of the way and I was feeling great.  Around mile 7, they had Sweet Caroline playing on repeat.  People were singing the “ba ba ba”s and the “so good, so good, so good”s.  Then I heard a woman say, “that song always reminds me of that point in the night where everyone’s wasted and nothing else good is gonna happen.”  I asked her if she was from New Jersey.  She was from NY, but spent summers at the shore.  It all made sense. 
 Another couple of miles and we were at the Walt Disney World speedway.  It was a very cool sight, but a little tricky running on that banked track.  And long.  Somehow, my legs felt better than they had in months.  No knee pain, no calf or shin pain, nothing.  Just happy running feet!  Continue the mental game.  I’m always dividing and re-dividing up the run.  Less than 2 miles to get to 10, then a little over an hour to 15.  I was especially pleased to notice I was running negative splits!  (each mile slightly faster than the last)  Starting conservatively was paying off!

Next stop, Animal Kingdom!  Based on my memory of touring this park, I was expecting a fairly slow, hilly, congested trek, but it was actually not bad at all.  The craziest part for me was running up towards Expedition Everest, approaching mile 13.  We had visited Animal Kingdom when the ride was first opened, and had been warned to “walk at a near run” to the ride in order to get on as quickly as possible.  We did, and I thought I was going to die.  Several years later, here I was running toward that ride with 13 miles behind me (not to mention the 22 I had run the previous 3 days) and I felt fine!  A fun Disney surprise, they had opened Expedition Everest early for runners!  And another fun Animal Kingdom bonus:  live animal photo ops!   

The next 3 miles took us over to the Wide World of Sports.  It looked like just a quick turnaround, but we actual were in there quite a while.  As someone who never enjoyed running in high school, it was fun to have a chance to run on that track and imagine what it might be like to race like the Olympians on TV.  (I have a very good imagination!)  Running through the baseball stadium is also exciting, but I’m not gonna lie—I hate the crushed gravel and the narrow path.  Very hard to maintain pace, and all that stuff ends up in my shoes.  The best part was hearing someone say, “when we get out of here, we’re at mile 20!” 

When I hit 20, I knew I was good.  I could see tons of people just entering Wide World of Sports, so I knew there were plenty of people at least 3 miles behind me.  This was also the point that I knew, even if I walked the rest, I’d be able to finish the race without being swept from the course. 

The next couple of miles took us through Hollywood Studios.  The park was open, and pathways were blocked like they do for parades, except this was for US.  It was incredible seeing so many people stopped to cheer!!  At mile 22, a volunteer said, there’s chocolate just a half mile ahead.  What??  I had been pretty pleased with the bananas at earlier stops.  Now, chocolate?  Are you kidding me? 
It was no joke!  At 22.5, they were handing out big bags of Monsters University gummies (I grabbed a bag for Haley), and Hershey’s Miniatures!  I grabbed FOUR Mr. Goodbars, my favorites, unwrapped and inhaled them on the spot.  It did cross my mind whether they might bother my stomach… naaah!  I’ve got a lot of experience with those little gems!  And I’m telling you, I was energized! 

I zipped out onto the Boardwalk, past the Yacht Club and then back into Epcot.  I was on track to finish by 12:30, but all my gadgets were dying!  My Garmin was showing low battery, and since it’s new, I had no idea what exactly that meant.  My phone was at 11% battery.  At this point, my biggest challenge was to keep myself from just booking it to the finish.  I was eager to get there, but also didn’t want to cause some freak injury at mile 25.5!!  I could see the race tracking posting to FB, so I knew if nothing else, runDisney would record my time.  I made myself stick to the intervals, although it was harder than ever to discern my walk from my run at this point! 

The coolest thing was that all 4 races shared the same finish line, so as I approached, I knew exactly how close I was!  As with most races, this one was mapped long, so I hit 26. 5 miles on both phone apps well before the finish.  I turned them off to save my phone battery for texting to find my kids after the race.  My Garmin was still hanging in there.  As I rounded the last corner and could see the finish line, I distinctly remember thinking, “I can’t believe I actually did this!”  

Yes, I trained, and I did everything I could to get there, but I had also been feeling a bit “off” for the last several weeks of my training.  I was truly worried about injury the whole time.  So what really surprised me, what I couldn’t believe was how great I felt at the finish of that marathon, especially with it being the 4th day of running a total of 48.6 miles! 

I gave Donald Duck a big high five and sailed across that finish line with the biggest smile on my face! 

DOPEY CHALLENGE DAY 4: MARATHON   6:13:18    13:50mm
And a marathon PR at that! 

Four days in the parks, four days of running, and, in the words of my son, I felt “like a million pennies!”  It’s crazy, because we’ve done 4 days in the parks many times over the years, but this time, even with the running, I felt better at the end than I ever had!  I’m still processing how and why that is even possible, but I’ll take it!  I do think the Disney magic is a big part of it!  I can’t imagine a better place to enjoy such an exciting accomplishment! 

And best of all, I finished more than 15 minutes ahead of my 12:30 goal, and had plenty of time to hang out with these two before they headed back to school!  

Once they were on the shuttle to the airport, we were off to Downtown Disney, where it was all about the food.  When I run distances, I am the whole time thinking about what I'm gonna eat when I'm finished!  On Sunday, it was Sangria, bruschetta and sushi at Wolfgang Puck's.
And then, what has become my runDisney tradition, a big salted caramel sundae at Ghiradelli... yum!

A bonus Dopey photo op

...and this bit of beautifully cute artistry from our new favorite Disney movie.
The perfect ending to a perfectly magical weekend!  

Whew!  I feel like I just ran it all all over again!  I hope you enjoyed sharing the journey, and might be inspired to sign up for a challenge yourself!  5K, 10K, half, full... maybe some combination of those?  Please let me know if you do!  I'd love to cheer you on!!  xoxo

Friday, September 6, 2013

Disneyland Half Marathon, Coast to Coast Challenge, Extra Unexpected Magic!! °o°

On Sunday, I ran my second Disney Half Marathon, this one in Disneyland to complete the second part of the Disney Coast to Coast Challenge.  It was another fun Disney experience, with a lot of extra unexpected magic!

I say unexpected because this race, as is becoming the “norm” for me, was not lining up to be my best.  I have been running consistently, and in July started following the training plan for the Dopey Challenge I’ll be running in January 2014 in Disney World.  Like all of Jeff Galloway’s RunDisney plans, it’s 3 alternating days of running, beginning with fairly short distances that gradually increase on the weekends.  July was going to be an “easy” month for me, distancewise, so I decided to focus on core strength, something I always say I want to do, and then never seem to follow through.  This time, because my summer was relatively calm, I was actually in a great groove, going to yoga and Pilates classes almost daily, and core strength classes twice a week.  I was really feeling the difference in my running and loving the noticeable improvements.  At the end of the month, I did my first 20-mile training run and finished feeling pretty good, even the next day.
Then August happened.  My kids younger three were in a show, my oldest flew home to see the show and celebrate her 20th birthday, and we were hosting the cast party at the end of the run.  A few days later, I moved my 2nd oldest into her dorm in DC, then drove up to NY to help my oldest get settled into a new apartment (and transport home almost as much stuff as I dropped off at the dorm in DC…).  A few days at home and we were off to LA.  I’m pretty certain I didn’t make it to a single yoga class, or even to the gym.  The only thing I know for sure is that I did run three days a week, but I think my longest was 5 miles.  I really would have liked to have gotten one more 10 miler in there, but by the time I had a window of opportunity, it was too close to race day.  I was tempted, but I resisted.

My youngest daughter was traveling to Disney with me, as the race was close to her 16th birthday.  I warned her, I didn’t know if I’d be up for doing anything other than just hanging out and resting.  When I ran the Princess Half Marathon in Orlando in February I was by myself, it was my first half, and I really had no interest in walking around the parks before the race.  I figured this might be the same kind of deal.  Plus, I’ll be honest, the whole idea of LA and an unfamiliar Disney park on Labor Day weekend was a bit overwhelming.  I’ve been to Disney World many times, and it’s always a tactical mission to see and do as much as possible without getting stuck in long lines.  We’re good at it, but it can be exhausting!
As luck would have it, a couple of days before the race I was meeting with my friend, Curtis, who is from CA.  Key pieces of advice: get a rental car; if you only go to one park, go to the flagship, Disneyland; and be sure to ride the Indiana Jones Adventure.  That right there was a game-changer—three key decisions made for me by someone with experience!  

We got a rental car for 4 days that was less expensive than one cab fare from the airport, and the drive to Anaheim was really easy and quick (I was expecting bumper-to-bumper).  We got a fantastic deal on park tickets, and decided to go the day before the race and wing it.  If we went to the park, walked around and enjoyed the sights, and at least did the Indiana Jones ride, we’d call it a win.
We drove to the Disneyland Hotel to pick up my race bib and t-shirt, only to find no available parking.  Cast members were directing us to different parking structures, but we decided to try the Downtown Disney lot right next door.  

TIP: Three hours of free parking, plus 2 more hours if you have your ticket validated.  We were starved, so we headed over to House of Blues, enjoyed a delicious lunch, and scored 5 hours of free parking just a few steps from the race check-in and expo.  Win! 
Some lines at the check-in were crazy, but I got lucky—no one in my line!  Got my race number, had to stop at the computers to print out a proof of time (forgot that I registered in January, before the Princess, so they had me in the wrong starting corral).  
Got that straightened out, then got my HUGE t-shirt.  TIP: While the t-shirts for the Princess half ran small (women’s race… I had to trade my S for a M), this is a co-ed race with men’s shirts.  HUGE.  I was lucky that one of the volunteers quietly swapped my S for an XS (they were all out of XS at the swap table!)  We walked around the expo a little, but the lines were super long, which probably saved us a lot of money!
We spent the rest of the day walking around Downtown Disney, went for dinner at a sushi bar, and it was FINALLY getting dark out so we could go back to the hotel and collapse!  We were up early the next day and at the Disneyland gates by 8 (still feeling like East Coast time).  

We found it a very quick easy walk from the hotel—no need to deal with driving, parking or even the shuttles.  Our hotel was just a block from the parks—another win!  I booked very last minute because—my life—and we got so lucky!  TIP: For hotel accommodations, always check the links on the RunDisney site.  I booked very last minute for both Disney races and got really nice rooms very convenient to the race venues for a bargain rate!
I was worried a day in the park might not be “a day in the park,” but it turned out to be a lot of fun!  It wasn’t really crowded, there were no lines for rides, so we rode ALL of them, and I probably drank at least six 20 oz. water bottles!  I tried to choose wisely for meals – scrambled eggs for breakfast, a chopped salad for lunch, but I think I had ice cream for dinner.  It felt really good to be walking all day, and we left the park before 8, so I was in my bed by 9! 

Just not asleep. 

In fact, far from it.  I don’t know why—I didn’t have any coffee all day, we did a lot of walking, but at an easy pace, so I wasn’t sore or anything, and I felt sleepy around 9:30, but just could not fall asleep.  Too many thoughts running through my head.  I know I was awake at least until 11, and my plan was to be up between 2:30 and 3.  Not good.  

Alarm went off at 2:30, my brain was not having it.  At 3 I still couldn’t wake up.  At 3:15 I realised that for the Princess Half, I was ON A BUS at 3am (granted, I had a longer trip to the park, but still…)  I dragged myself out of bed, had to improvise something to wear because my costume plans had fallen apart last minute.  TIP:  No matter what you think you’re going to wear, always bring an extra set of running clothes, just in case.  I didn’t do any yoga or eat a great breakfast – just stretched a little and ate an apple.  This was a far cry from the calm and careful preparations on race day for the Princess Half, but I kept reminding myself of the other time I ran a half marathon on little sleep after eating lots of birthday cake frosting the day before.  How bad could this be?  I just wanted to finish. 

I walked over to the park (SO thankful for that short, easy walk!!) and after a little confusion, found the corrals.  What a zoo!  After all the fuss about changing corrals at check in, it looked like they were pretty much directing everyone to the same corral. 

The cool thing was, Jeff Galloway was headed for the same corral!  Once I knew I was in the right place and everything felt familiar (in the dark, this corral looked just like the one at the Princess Half) I was beginning to relax.  I was running with a small group, all a lot younger than I am, and there was some talk of keeping our pace up, and time goals.  Had to shut all of that completely out.  I just wanted to finish.  Lots of deep breaths, lots of reminding myself of my favorite running mantra, “You have nothing to prove.  You’re out here.” 

After two very hot days in the California sun, the predawn air felt cool and mild.  We had to wait a little over 30 minutes after the Corral A start and finally we slowly started moving towards the starting line and we were off!  And somehow, against all logic, I was feeling really good! 

I had run all my past long races in Brooks Pure Flows, but for this race a Brooks rep convinced me to try their Ghost 6.  Just as light and comfy as the Pure Flows, but I swear, they bounce!  And on this particular morning, I really felt that extra spring in my step.  I figured it was probably because I still wasn’t fully awake. 

We started off doing 2:1 (run:walk) intervals and after a few miles, dropped it back to 1:30:1:00 (I think.  To be honest, I wasn’t watching the time.  Someone else was doing that and I just ran when they said run.)  The only problem was, typical of Disney races, the crowds.  I can’t stand to run close to anyone else.  I’m so paranoid that someone’s going to trip in front of me (me, the queen of tripping!), or accidentally throw an elbow or some crazy thing that will cause a freak pile up and I’ll be in the middle of it.  So every time we ran, my goal was to find an open space.  As soon as I was out of arm’s reach of everyone around me, I could relax and just run.

One of the many great things about this course was ALL the high school bands and cheerleading squads all along the race route!  I lost count of how many groups lined the roads, cheering and giving us all high fives!  What an energy boost! 

Another cool thing was discovering Jelly Belly Sports Beans!  The Brooks rep who helped me find my super bouncy shoes bought me a pack to try.  I don’t mean gave me a free sample.  I mean, he was telling me how great they are, and he went up to the register at the running store and pulled out his wallet and bought a pack and gave them to me.  That was back in July, the day after my 20-miler, and I had kind of forgotten about trying them (I only take something to eat on my longer runs). But when I was packing for the race, I realised I didn’t have any regular gummies on hand, so I threw them in my bag.  I figured, they’re jelly beans.  How much upset could they cause?

So I ate one about 30 minutes before the race start, and then I had one or two at each water station (they say to eat them with plenty of water).  First of all, they’re delicious!  They taste like a margarita with salt, so that’s awesome!  They have the texture of a regular jelly bean—not gummy or gooey, and the only thing different is the saltiness, but like I said, if you like margaritas with salt, you’ll love these! 

Somewhere around mile 7 or 8, I got separated from my group.  I thought they were just a couple of steps behind me, but at some point I didn’t notice that the crowd closed in and I lost them.  And turning looking over my shoulder was proving hazardous in that narrowing stretch, so I just had to keep moving.  I felt fine just running, but I knew I needed to stick with intervals if I wanted to feel fine at mile 13.  I didn’t have an interval timer, so I just went back to the way I kept track when I first started running—music.  For each new song, I’d walk the first verse and chorus, then run the rest of the song.  It’s not a perfect system, and there are always times I forget to walk, or it feels better to keep moving but just at a much slower run, but it gave me some kind of framework. 

I have learned running has no need for perfect. 

As we approached mile 10, I saw we were headed into the LA Angels Stadium.  The parking lot was full of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, again, all along the way cheering and offering high fives, which was so much fun.  And then the stadium entrance.  Now, I’ve run through a stadium before when there was no game happening.  It’s a big empty place, and it’s kind of neat to be there when the it isn’t packed, so that’s what I was expecting around about 8am this Sunday morning, right?  Guess again!  The place was packed with more kids, bands, cheerleaders, families, and school groups.  The stadium was roaring with cheers and applause!  There was even a legit announcer! 

Such an incredible amount of energy and at such a great point in the race! That was one slow mile, because getting thru the stadium meant the course narrowed almost to single file.  But it was totally worth it for all that amazing support from a bunch of people I’d never really get a chance to properly thank.  Really an overwhelmingly exciting experience for this mom.  

And as we exited the stadium, we passed the 10 mile marker!
At this point, I knew finishing was not going to be a problem.  Heck, I didn’t feel the least bit tired or sore or anything.  I definitely didn’t feel like I had just run 10 miles!  I still had plenty of energy to run around people in search of my clear space.  And now, because we had driven and walked around the area some, it was starting to look familiar again—I knew where I was and I knew we were close to the finish! 

Much of the next two miles were out in bright sunshine.  I don’t mind running in all kinds of heat and even humidity, but the bright sunshine drives me crazy.  I can’t keep my eyes open!  My goal at this point was the quest for shade!  Walk breaks were much less frequent.  And then I passed mile marker 12, and remembered my daughter would be waiting for me at the finish.  I took off!  I could not wait to get there and see her smiling face!
I was drinking plenty of water, enjoying my magic beans, and flying!  I cannot tell you how GREAT I felt the whole race.  I mean, not just “I felt pretty good considering I had less than 4 hours of sleep.  I mean, I felt GREAT.  I figured I’d have that spring in my step for a while, then start to tire.  Nope.  In fact, my last mile was my fastest of the whole race!  I crossed that finish line and could have kept running!

Looking back at it, I really think the new shoes made a difference.  Still very much a “minimal” or “neutral” shoe, but with more structure, support and cushion.  I think the Sport Beans were key, eating them before the race, and continuing to eat them throughout.  I felt very comfortable doing that, because they’re so small, not hard to chew or swallow, and you don’t get a full feeling from them at all. 

I also think a big part of why I felt so good during that race was what I did before the race: REST.  I was kind of beating myself up about being off my full workout schedule for a few weeks and “only” running, and running shorter distances at that.  In retrospect, I think that probably put me in the best position to run this race well, strong and comfortably.  In fact, the week before the race I did over stretch my hamstrings in dance class and really felt it for a couple of days. 

I debated whether to try and run in CA before the race and decided against it.  It was so hot there during the day—much hotter than the 5am start or even the 9am finish, so it wouldn’t even be a good preparation for race day conditions.  Instead, I did a lot of walking, drank a TON of water, and had two full days of rest before the race.  I definitely felt like I was running on fresh legs that day, right up until the last step.  I can’t really say that was my plan.  That was more like what life was dealing me at the time, but I’m glad I just took it and didn’t try and squeeze in my own plans!  Sometimes my crazy life is more sensible than any plan I could dream up.  

One last thing—if you’re doing a “destination” race, choose your travel companion carefully.  For me, that means someone who understands I might get uncharacteristically quiet, and while I might not say, “I don’t know if we should… I’m running tomorrow,”  or “I have to get up really early tomorrow,” that’s what’s going thru my head at every turn.  When I did the Princess Half, I went by myself and that was kind of a neat experience, just being alone with my thoughts for a couple of days, race or no race!  But I found it was so great this time to be with someone who will suggest doing something fun to get me OUT of my own head, so that I am able to relax and more fully enjoy the time leading up the race.  While I was double checking race details, trying to figure out what I might wear, and what time I needed to get up, she was checking the Disneyland website, figuring out how early we needed to be at the gate, which rides we should look for, and getting familiar with the layout of the park.  She was easy and flexible, and really fun to hang out with. She had no agenda, nothing she insisted on doing.  She was happy to walk in circles with me as we criss-crossed Downtown Disney and then Disneyland.  In fact, the only thing she seemed to have on her mental checklist was a souvenir for her brother and sisters.  And as I was zipping through that 13th mile, all of this dawned on me, that she had been there to support me, completely and unselfishly, just being open and easy about everything, and sharing in the fun.  And I could not wait to get to that finish line and give her a great big hug!!

Next stop: Disney World Tower of Terror 10 Miler!  We’re running it together and we’re already getting our costumes together!  Stay tuned…