I completed my 7th half marathon on Saturday, January 7. The 2012 Walt Disney World 1/2 Marathon was also known as Amber's Epic Running PR Attempt. Sit tight because it was 13+ miles of magic, self-doubt, crowds and much more so this is a long recap. This is what went down:
1:45 am: I woke up 30 minutes before the alarm...so annoying. I think my brain was starting to feel nervous even though my body just wanted to go back to sleep. No such luck.
2:15 am: Holy crap its early! No matter how early you try to go to bed, 2:15 am comes early. I think the toughest part of the Disney races is the crazy early start times.
3:15 am: Holy crap, its still early. Myself,
4:45 am: Holy crap, its still early and my body is so confused. It was shouting "NO! I don't want to eat breakfast this early! NO! I do not care that you have a pre-run eating/bathroom routine. I am tired and I want to go back to bed." I forced myself to eat and made a port-a-potty stop before Kim and I started the long walk to the corrals.
5:00 am: The Pilot wished us luck and headed off into the darkness to begin his super spectating duties (finding a prime spot to watch the start and then making his way to mile 4). Kim and I headed towards the corrals, which is a little less than a mile from the staging area. It's usually a 20 minute, slow and steady walk as the racers are all herded to the start line. This year though, we were met with a dead stop. No one was moving anywhere. I thought it was strange at the time but eventually things got moving. It took about 30 minutes to get the the corrals. I know this because right when we got to the end of the corrals and made one last port-a-potty stop (nerves!), I was IN a port-a-potty when the fireworks for the wheelchair athletes went off. The inside of my port-a-potty lit up and the sound startled me. Not a great location to be startled but all was well.
5:30 am: Kim and I split up as she was in corral H and I was in G. As she walked into her corral, I turned to find my own but was immediately hit with another dead stop. There was a little confusion with where some of the corrals were. Because there were 8 different corrals with more than 2,500 people in each corral, they line up the corrals on two roads running parallel (actually its a divided highway). The problem was that there were two signs for the F-H corrals and each pointed a different direction. Being familiar with the race though, I just kept walking towards where I thought the entrance to my corral should be and finally found it. I felt bad for the first timers that were probably frustrated with the confusing signs.
Within a couple minutes, the race actually started and one by one, each corral was released, with fireworks announcing the start of each wave. I had awhile to wait though. Compared to my previous races, this was probably the least nervous I had ever been. That is until corral F was released. In that moment, a wave of nerves came over me. In an effort to distract myself, I took off my throwaway jacket. You may be amused to know that the craptastic Hot Chocolate 5K jacket actually came in handy. I used it as my throwaway jacket and took great pleasure in stomping on it before throwing it away. It was pretty chilly once I threw my jacket but I was wearing my Run Girl Run sleeves with my standard TNT jersey so that helped.
As our corral was moved up into place at the start line, I jumped up and down to shake out the nerves and hopefully keep my shins warmed up so I could avoid shins splints in those first few miles.
6:13 am: I finally crossed the start line! 45 minutes after the race officially started. The best part of the Disney starts other than the fireworks and Mickey Mouse of course? The flame throwers. Above the start are giant flame throwers that put out some serious heat. After standing around in the cold for several hours, they felt glorious for those couple of seconds as I passed over the timing maps and started my Epic Running PR Attempt.
Mile 1: "OK, woman, you've got this. Don't let the others carry you faster than you want to go!" I glanced at my watch A LOT during that first mile. I was really paranoid about letting the crowd push my pace, which would give me shin splints. I kept it right at 12:45. Close to .75 mile into the race was a water stop. What? Certainly didn't need water right after I started so I stuck to the middle of the road and tried to avoid the chaos of the water stop.
Mile 2: "Speed up! A 13:15 mile isn't going to get you to a 1/2 marathon PR." I was having trouble warming up and maintaining my goal race pace of 12:45. I wasn't necessarily uncomfortable and my shins weren't screaming. I'm not sure what the deal was but I kept trudging along.
Mile 3: "Seriously, you need to get this pace up!" I forced myself to run until I got to the 3 mile marker. Normally I like to take a walk break in the first mile or two but with that PR in the back of my mind, I wanted to limit my walk breaks as much as possible. In advance I had drafted several text messages to The Pilot so he would know where I was on the course. I planned to send a text at miles 3, 6 and 9. He was planning to be at miles 4, 8 and the finish so I thought those texts would prepare him for when to expect me. I thought I would try to plan my walk breaks for just when I was going to send the texts. I was also planning to fuel at those mile markers. I had my fuel belt full of water and Shot Blocs. I stuck with the plan and sent the text, had a Shot Bloc and some water as I passed the 3 mile sign.
Mile 4: "I love my spectator." The Pilot was near the 4 mile marker and though it was brief, it was so nice to see him. Seriously, I sure picked a great hubby- one willing to wake up at 2:15 am with me and follow me all around the Happiest Place on Earth. I'll share more in another post but I have a whole new appreciation for super spectators after being one myself for the full marathon the next day. I did yell out to him that I was having trouble getting up to pace. I don't remember exactly what he said but it was something along the lines of "keep going." Ok.
Mile 5: "Finally!" I was finally starting to maintain the average pace I was looking for. I actually hung out at 11:45 for a little while. I also was getting a boost of energy because I knew we were about to make our way into the Magic Kingdom, which on the 1/2 course, is probably my favorite point in the entire race. I was also starting to note just how crowded the course was. Each time the course narrowed, it was shoulder to shoulder with your fellow racers.
There is a short jaunt through a backstage area before BAM! you are coming right up Main Street USA. I love it. The crowds are back in full force and then there's the Castle. My beloved castle. We made our way up Main Street, turned toward Tomorrowland, and continued on through Fantasyland before coming right through the castle. I got to catch a glimpse of the spot where The Pilot proposed last year. It warmed my heart and gave me a little extra kick in my step.
The Pilot says I must have been moving so fast I warped space-time.
This is one of the professional race photos. I look like I'm attempting to pose for a running magazine...the odd stare off into the distance, like I'm really focused. Or something like that. File this one under awkward race photos.
Despite the extra kick in my step, I must have looked a little rough. A TNT coach on the sidelines asked if I was feeling OK. I have the thumbs up and kept moving but was also wondering, "do I not look OK??"
Miles 6-8.5: After having my moment by the Castle, it was time for a quick trip through Frontierland. As I came up on the mile 6 sign, I took my scheduled walk break, sent The Pilot a text and chomped down another Shot Bloc. I probably only walked for about 2 minutes before getting in gear to have a strong second half of the race.
That enthusiasm lasted less than a quarter mile. As I started to run again, the course narrowed to one lane when we exited the Magic Kingdom and started the long stretch of road and highway back to Epcot. It's no secret that I adore all things Disney and I am a huge fan of Disney's Marathon weekend. This was my 8th year involved with the race (either as a participant or a TNT coach) and it's one of the most organized races around in my opinion. That is until you start allowing more and more people to register but don't adjust your course accordingly.
I did my first 1/2 marathon at Disney in 2005. The course was slightly different (because the full marathon was held at the same time back then) but it still traveled on the same road that I am referring to from mile 6-8.5. In 2005 there were 8,668 finishers. This year there were 22,421 finishers. That is significant and a one lane road cannot accommodate that many people, at least in the sub 3:00 group I was hanging out with throughout the race.
I spent from just past mile 6 through almost mile 9 shoulder to shoulder with my fellow racers. I'm a slow runner. Nothing wrong with that, it's a fact. I am also a race walker that just happened to be running this particular race. I was caught right in the middle of the Galloway group which does a run/walk combination throughout the race. I want to be clear that while I have some opinions about the run/walk method, I am not against it, especially since I both run and race walk (just not usually in the same race). However you get to the finish, it's incredible that so many people are out there trying.
The only problem with the run/walk group on a narrow course is that you get trapped behind them with no where to go. They would run my pace or just a little faster but then when they'd stop to take their walk breaks (don't even get me started on the amount of watch/Garmin beeping I heard all morning), you would have to run around them. When the course narrowed to a one lane road, there was no where to get around. On the right you had cones blocking the race from the traffic. On the left was grass. I spent MUCH of the next 3 miles in the grass. But even that posed issues. It was a slope down into a ditch. It was uneven. There were road signs and motivational signs (for the race) that had to be navigated around. So every couple feet you had to squeeze your way back onto the road and in with the run/walkers. I'm not going to lie, my attitude took a nose dive. I was getting mad. I was also convinced that I wasn't going to be able to PR because of the course being so crowded.
Just as I was passing mile 8, I saw The Pilot in the distance. The course shifted lanes so now there was an active traffic lane on the left. The Pilot was up on a hill along the left side of the road. I wanted to let him know that I was ok but I was so annoyed in that moment. He started to run alongside me (with a road in between us) and I yelled out that I wasn't sure if today was going to be my day to PR because it was too crowded. I nearly ran into the person in front of me during this exchange because naturally that was the exact moment that person needed their walk break.
"Hey Pilot! I'm about to run into the person in front of me and THEN I'm going
to take an elbow to the boob. Did you know 1/2 marathons are a
combination of defensive driving and football?"
to take an elbow to the boob. Did you know 1/2 marathons are a
combination of defensive driving and football?"
Again, nothing against any of these people. I'm sure they were all just as frustrated because when they wanted to run, they may have been stuck behind someone who was taking their walk break. It wasn't much fun for any of us right through there are that particular time. The Pilot just yelled out to keep going anyways. I knew he had a point. Even if I didn't PR, I still needed to keep going. But I also knew based on my Garmin that a PR wasn't completely out of reach just yet so I really need to just keep going! I waved to The Pilot as I kept moving forward.
The course shifted again so that there weren't active traffic lanes on either side and the course was starting to get a little wider as we headed back towards the highway. This is also one of the easier spectator viewing points to get to. It was great to have people on the course cheering...that is until the spectators started to crowd the course. At this particular point, there weren't cones or temporary fencing to keep the spectators off the course. They are all trying to lean out onto the course to see their racer coming. And when one leans, the next person needs to lean further to see around the other person. So then the next person can't lean, they have to take a step out onto the course in order to see. And so when this girl on her Epic Running PR Attempt is trying desperately to get around people, you either need to move or there is going to be a collision. You would have thought I was sprinting but my 13:00 min/mile pace must have been too fast for this particular spectator to see me and move. I plowed right into him, taking an elbow right to the boob. Ouch. I was still pretty annoyed that I didn't even look back. I just wanted to get the heck off that road and back to the 3-lane wide highway.
Mile 9: "Space! Stomach issues! Smiles!" Finally, as the mile 9 sign approached, we got back to the highway and the overcrowding was completely eliminated. I had plenty of space to run around the walkers but it was also more than enough room for the faster runners to get around me as well. It was glorious. I took my 3rd walk break to text The Pilot, even though I just saw him. I wanted to stick to my 3-6-9 plan. I had another Shot Bloc and some water. It was then that it occurred to me that I had only drank during those 2 previous walk breaks. Normally, I drink A LOT of water. I'm talking at least 16 ounces during a 9 miler in training. Here I was 9 miles into the race and I hadn't even had 8 ounces yet. I started to wonder if that was going to have too much of an effect on me. When I started to run again, my stomach tried to turn over on itself. It cramped and I felt like I might get sick. Oh you have got to be kidding me. I did a little shuffle, looked over my shoulder to confirm no one was on my heels and slowed to a walk again.
There happened to be a TNT coach on the sidelines who jumped out with me and asked how I was feeling. Normally, I would have waved the coach off, not wanting to take a coach away from a participant in the event with TNT (though I always wear a TNT jersey during races, I did not fundraise for this event). Since she was walking along side me though, I confessed that my stomach was a little weird. She suggested taking smaller sips of water until I felt better and asked if I needed any salt. I declined but thanked her and she sent me on my way. I did take a few more sips of water and gingerly got back up to a run. Luckily that short walk break was enough for my stomach to right itself again and I was able to get back up to pace. Yeay! Just getting back up to pace and have the space around me to not feel so trapped put a smile on my face.
Mile 10: "This mile feels really long." As I approached the 10 mile sign, I realized just how much zigzagging I had actually done during the crowded few miles. When I got to the sign for mile 10, my Garmin was reading closer to 10.15. WTF! Sure, you can expect it to be off a little because the race distance is measured on the tangents and in a race this crowded, it is impossible to run the tangents. But .15 seemed like a lot at the time.
I was starting to feel fatigued at this point. I was trying not to psyche myself out too. Ten miles is where I tend to lose my steam. In my first running 1/2, I made it to 10 before starting a run/walk combo. In my second attempt back in September, I did the same thing. That is why I really wanted to train hard and do several training runs further than 10 miles.
Like I said, I was starting to feel pretty tired and I started some internal negotiating. Since this was my 8th year on the course, I know the course well and I knew that a large exit ramp was coming up. It's an decent incline that curves and it sharply banked. Not gonna lie, it sucks. There just isn't a way to train for that condition. You can train for hills but how to you train for a banked hill?? Anyways, the internal negotiation I had with myself was that when I got to the base of the ramp, I would start to walk but once it leveled off again, I was going to run and I was going to run to the finish. No more walk breaks.
When I got to the base of the ramp, I again, checked over my shoulder to make sure no one was going to plow into me and I started to walk. I was towards the left side of the road. I notice some commotion on the ground about 10 feet ahead. It was about this same place on the full marathon course last year that I watched medics give CPR to someone on the side of the road so my heart instantly skipped a few beats. As I got closer, I saw a man sitting on the ground with a woman kneeling at his side. Her back was to me and her shirt said GUIDE. Then I noticed that the man sitting on the ground was an amputee. His legs ended right around the knee. The woman kneeling was holding 2 prosthetic legs. I glanced over and I heard him say something about being "a little tired" and "they are swollen."
Here I was, taking my negotiated walk break and I was passing a man who HAD NO LEGS. I asked myself why was I taking a walk break.
"I don't know."
"Are you in pain? Do you have TWO LEGS?"
"Ummm....no and yes."
"Then run up this damn exit ramp and run to that finish. No more excuses, you able-bodied weenie."
I ran up that hill and when I got to the top, I kept running. When I got to the 11 mile sign, I kept running. All of the running in the grass and on the sloped/uneven surfaces was really starting to become an annoyance. My ankles were tired. Not in pain, just tired. Everything was tired. I had been up since about 1:45 am and was going on about 4 hours of restless sleep.
Mile 11: "Wow, that was a long one." It took a long time to recover from that last mile and the hill climb. My heart rate was way too high but I was having to jump around the run/walkers again. I tried to stick to the middle and let the slower traffic keep to the sides but there wasn't any space so once again, I was in the grass. This is when I nearly collided with a TNT coach standing on the sidelines. "Hi Amber!" I momentarily forgot that my name was on my shirt and instantly felt guilty that I didn't know who this guy was...I've met a lot of other coaches over the years but I am HORRIBLE with names. "How are you feeling?" Again with that question!! I must have looked rough. He started to run with me and I explained that I was a walk coach with my local chapter but was attempting a run PR and I was cutting it close. He offered to "run with you until the next port-a-potty because I gotta go!" I laughed. I know that feeling. As a coach, it seems like you always get stuck on a race course in between bathrooms or water stops.
As we both spotted a row of port-a-potties, I asked him to tell me to keep running. He obliged, added a "GO TEAM!" and jumped off the course. Just as he dropped off, I faced my last hill of the race. Another overpass towards Epcot. You could actually SEE Epcot now so I knew my misery would end soon. You betcha my eye was on my watch a lot at this point. I knew I was getting closer to my time. I was also confused because my Garmin distance was so off. And by that point, my brain was fried. I couldn't make sense of the numbers. Did I have more time than I thought? No, that doesn't make sense. Are the mile markers real? Where am I? Screw it, just keep running.
And so I muscled my way up that last hill. But that ended up jacking my heart rate up again and when I made it to the top, I had to walk to get my heart rate back under control. That's when I noticed the dogs. At first I questioned my eyes. Am I really seeing a woman walking with 2 little yippy dogs? I blinked. Still there. Two little dogs, both much smaller than my cats, on leashes. I was so confused. I couldn't figure out where this woman came from. I think she was a spectator who jumped on the course to say hi to someone but this particular spot on the course isn't exactly spectator friendly. My heart rate went down within about 30 seconds and I was able to start running again as the course made its way down the overpass towards the park and right on past the dogs.
Mile 12: "Are those dancing bananas?" Again, my eyes weren't deceiving me. It was a TNT cheer squad and two people were dressed in banana costumes....with TNT purple jerseys. I couldn't help but laugh. As I refocused on the course in front of me though, I heard a "Go Amber!" I whirled my head to my left, thinking again, it was someone who knew me. Nope, just another TNT cheer squad person. A dude dressed as a woman, with balloons under his shirt and a purple wig. I love my team. I gave him a high five and went on my way.
We made our way through a backstage area before coming out into Future World in Epcot. I knew all I had to do was made it to the Christmas tree and then turn around back towards that giant golf ball. That was it! I would be done.
It got really crowded again. But I just put my head down and kept going. And then it happened...
The course goes out around the Christmas tree, and then right back towards the front of the park so you can see everyone immediately ahead of you on the turnaround. I glanced up and saw some familiar balloons. The pace team. I jerked my head up to catch that the balloons said. 3:00. Meaning that it was the pace group for those wanting to finish in 3 hours. Remember, I wanted to finish under 2:53. What little wind I had left in my sails completely left in that moment. I jerked my wrist so I could see my Garmin. I was getting close but I was pretty sure I was still going to make it. Again, my brain was fried. Nothing made sense. I started to stumble. The Pilot has witnessed this before. My brain is telling me to run but my body wants to walk so I sort of take these weird little shuffle/stumble steps. That's when the internal negotiations started again.
"Amber, even if you don't PR, you came out here to run 13.1 miles. You came out here to prove that you could run further than 10 miles and that you didn't need to do a run/walk after mile 10."
"I know but...."
"No buts. You aren't a quitter. It's not over until it's over. That pacer could be fast and you could have had a user error with the Garmin. You don't know what's going to happen until you get to that finish line. But you have to GET there to find out the results."
"Good point. I'm not a quitter. Let's finish this thing."
And so I ran. And I ended up having the fastest mile I had had in 3 miles.
Mile 13: "Hallelujah!" The gospel choir. There is always a gospel choir just before you make the last turn before the finish line. I always find them amusing. It's like we've all be lead to our death but then there they are, singing us in! All finish lines are pretty darn exciting because it means you are done but of all the races I've done, I love the Disney finish the most. You make a turn and then BAM! There's the finish line. You can hear it before you see it. The spectators are 4-5 deep along the sides and then there are grandstands set up. Last year when I finished the full in 6:55, the crowds were considerably thin. Not this year. Because I was finishing much earlier, the place was packed. As I rounded the corner, my eyes scanned the crowds looking for my super spectator. He was several people back it seemed, but there he was. Despite the chaos and the fried brain, I found him. I smiled, knowing he was snapping away with his camera. I gave up on trying to cheese it up for the race photographers, it was too crowded and I just wasn't feeling it. I wanted at least one good picture though so I smiled at him as I ran to the finish.
It's amazing how quickly one can go from having their eye on the prize to
wanting to throw up all within 100 feet of the finish line.Those crowds really pump some life into your otherwise dead legs because for that last .1, I was running an 11:15 pace. As I hit the first timing mat, I started to hyperventilate a little. When I crossed under the actual finish line and over another timing mat, I started to cry. Based on my Garmin, I had completed 13.31 (grr!) miles in 2:49:47. In that moment, I couldn't make much sense of that though and figured I'd need to wait to check my text messages. I signed up for the real time race tracking for myself so that I'd know my results immediately.
I've been posting these pictures all season so what better way to end itI grabbed my medal and mylar blanket and wandered through the finishers area. I had this gem taken:
than with one last Garmin photo for prosperity.
than with one last Garmin photo for prosperity.
And then loaded up on the post-race foods. I grabbed one of everything, wrapped it in my blanket so I wouldn't drop anything and made my way to the designated meeting place. I immediately sat down and grabbed my phone to check the results text message. Official finish time:
I did it! I got my new running PR. I was so excited and didn't even know how to react. I just sat on the ground and stared at my phone. The Pilot was delayed getting to the designated meeting place because my friend Kim was going to be finishing just after me and I told him to stay at the finish and get pictures of her. I had to wait in lines to get my picture and to get the food so I wasn't sitting there very long when I saw a shadow to my left and then I got a kiss on my cheek. I told him that I did it and he responded that he was proud of me. That was so nice to hear after a difficult race.
And just for fun and because after owning my Garmin for over a year, I finally figured out how to look at all my split times, here's how my race looked in numbers. This demonstrates how mile 10 really did feel like forever and then you can see my strong desire to attack that PR over those last 3 miles as I kept speeding up (I realize that said speed is all relative).Kim caught up with us a few minutes later. She had a great race and stuck to her goal....which was to stay behind me. She was doing the Goofy Challenge and I strongly encouraged her to hold back in the half marathon so she'd have plenty left for the full marathon the next morning. Kim is a natural race walker and has the ability to walk faster than my run pace. It's insane. I'd like to think it's because she's had a great coach but I really think it's just raw talent....that and her legs are longer than I am tall. She came in at 2:54:08.
Not too long after Kim joined us, my stomach started to get weird. I think whatever it was trying to do back at mile 9 was starting to really happen. I won't go into details but I was pretty miserable. I was also pretty dizzy and light headed. It was like I could feel each little fluctuation in my blood pressure. I didn't want to freak anyone out but I was a little nervous. I remember feeling pretty crummy after my first 1/2 marathon running attempt but this was different. I whispered to The Pilot that I wanted to stick around the finish area a little longer in case I needed to go to the medical tent. I sipped water and slowly ate a banana. I also discovered that when I sat down, I felt worse. But the last thing I wanted to do was stand on my feet that just carried me for 13+ miles.
Once I felt like my blood pressure was normal and holding, we made our way to the bus back to our hotel. It was the longest bus ride ever. My stomach was in knots and I just wanted to get up and walk around (none of this makes any sense!). It probably felt like a really long bus ride for The Pilot as well since he was jammed into a bus full of smelly, nasty 1/2 marathoners, myself included. He kept his urge to gag to himself though.
I spoke with one of my good marathon buddies on the phone during the bus ride and she said she sometimes has the same trouble when she runs hard. Only difference is that when she runs hard, she gets under 3 hours....for a full marathon. Love it. She gave some advice, which I followed and sure enough, I was feeling much better a couple hours later. Well enough to play a round of mini golf. :)
But do you want to know the real reason that I got a new PR??
I was being chased...