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…  


  1. AWESOME recap! Glad you had such a great race! It was definitely a lot of fun; I ran Princess as my first half, too! :-D

  2. Nice recap! I want to do the DL half just to run through the stadium after everything that I have heard. Sounds amazing. Congrats!