Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Disney Marathon - Some Final Thoughts

I know, I know... I have written incessantly about Disney and the Marathon ever since I got back but bear with me here. It was a life-changing event, and a very fun one at that so I hope I can be forgiven.

With the events of January 12, 2014 now in the rear-view mirror, I sit down to put together my conclusions about this awesome race.

Disney is awesome
Like you didn't know that about me already but more importantly, Run Disney is awesome. This is simply the best organized and best executed race I have ever taken part in. I know this is coming from what is essentially a rookie but compared to all my other races, Run Disney is simply on a whole other level. This marathon is 21 years old and it shows. Every single detail has been thought of. The volunteers were incredible and the logistics (transportation, hotels, expo...) perfect. The downside is that it is very expensive compared to others. I certainly can't do these races regularly but in hindsight I think it's a good thing. If I were able to run these on whim it would loose a lot of it's charm I believe. It's important that they remain out of reach in a way to keep me motivated.

I got my gear down perfectly
It took me almost 7 hours to cross the finish line. Thank goodness I had absolutely zero issues with the gear I had selected to run this event. I mentioned a while back I was having chaffing issues and you guys gave me some great tips and advice that came really, really handy. Including the purchase of some tights I now use under my regular running shorts. They are not compression. It's more like an extra layer and they work perfectly. Over 26.2 miles I ran without anything rubbing the wrong way. It sounds incredible but I didn't get a single piece of skin rubbed raw in any way. My trusty (and apparently infamous) NY Jets shirt also delivered. It is the only tech shirt I have that doesn't rub my nipular area. I have run almost every major race accomplishment in that shirt. It will be a sad day when it will have to be retired.

It says Brooks. At least I know the reflective stuff works

My arm band also delivered. Even though I didn't use it to carry my phone, I wore it to carry my gels. I used it on my forearm for easier access. As I used the gels, I was forced to keep tightening it(obviously) to compensate for the lighter load but that was about it. My Garmin, Butthead, (formerly Mr. Garmin) shined bright as well. I was wondering if it would last an entire marathon (more importantly, a marathon at my pace) and boy it did and then some. I didn't recharge it until 2 days after coming home and I think it would have lasted longer.

And then there's my phone. A Galaxy S4. This thing earned some stripes on this race! It played music the entire race, ran my interval's app, delivered all my splits and all the encouraging messages I got. I unplugged it from the charger at 2 am, it finally cried mercy at mile 26, when it didn't have enough juice to have the screen bright enough to see it. It didn't turn off (I thought it did at the time), the day was just too bright for me to see the screen. It finally gave out completely on the way to the hotel, much to the paranoia of a lot of people who were waiting for me to let them know I had finished. Sorry about that.

I also bought a cap at the Expo which saved my butt. Even though it was pretty cool the entire day, by the time I was heading to Wide World of Sports, the Sun was full-on on top of us. It was nice to not have it on my face. I know you are not supposed to put on anything new for a race but it was a calculated risk and it payed off. I will be wearing that cap frequently from now on.

The Unexplained
Even now, after much thought, I cannot tell you how I managed to run 26.2 miles after only being able to barely run 15 miles during training. For the sake of my own sanity I have decided to not think about it anymore. It wasn't just the incredible jump in mileage but being able to run the entire race so strongly. I mean, I ran every single interval until the end and, the last three or four miles aside, I maintained a pretty even pace the whole way. Sure, the weather helped and so did the adrenaline and excitement. Not to mention the motivation from the crowd and volunteers. But still, I think it's better to just leave it be. The fact is I trained my butt off and I made it to the start line and I finished. More importantly, I now know I can do it so no excuses during long runs. Ever.

The Unexpected
If you read my recap, I don't have to tell you what my favorite moment was. In fact, I don't want to talk about it. it's been two weeks and I still feel like crying when I think about it. But my second favorite moment was also pretty awesome. Before leaving for Florida I wrote a post letting everyone know I would be active on social media, reporting my doings and taking pics. I also invited everyone to both follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook and to sign up for runner tracking so they could check how I was doing during the race. I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting a lot of people to do so. I was trying to be a good blogger. I figured a handful of friends and family would maybe sign up and that was it.

Then my timing chip stopped working after mile 20...

The response was... wow. I started getting messages from all over asking if I had finished, people concerned that something might had happened, people who were worried that my worst nightmare - a sweep - had come true. It sure didn't help that I wasn't able to post I had finished until well after getting back to the hotel. I was touched and extremely grateful. Especially with the people from The Loop, who took a minute of their time to go follow me on social media.

I Have Super Feet
This is an interesting side note: After running for almost two years now. Well over a thousand miles, many 5K's, two 10K's, a Half-Marathon and a full Marathon, I am yet to get a single blister, black toe nail or lost toe nail. Not a one. I often hear the horror stories and to some it's even a (bizarre) badge of honor. They write memes about this and yet my feet remain pristine. I'm beginning to feel left out.

And with that, we close the book on this awesome chapter of my life. Next up, we discuss what's coming up next in this crazy running journey.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Disney Marathon Weekend - In Pictures

Yeah, I fancy myself a photographer from time to time. I wish I could do it more often but whenever I travel, I make sure I take my "good" camera with me. My trusty Sony A65, and the camera bag with all the goodies I've collected through the years, including a pretty nifty travel tripod I found the last time I was in Chicago. It's not always convenient, but once in a while you take a pic that makes it worthwhile.

Of course in this day and age, the modern smartphone is a plenty-capable picture-taking device. Which is why I had my Galaxy S4 in my hand the entire length of the marathon route. If you read my recap post, you already saw many of those. But, for every one of those pics in the recap I got about 50 like these:

Man, do I have a lot more like this!

Hey, I was running you know. It's amazingly hard to stand still when you are racing against the clock. But I also got to take some pretty good ones I think. Take for example, my little Epcot fiasco. More than anything else, I brought the Sony to take pics while at Epcot and yet, I somehow managed to NOT hit the off switch during our night at the Magic Kingdom so... when I whipped out "Ol' Trusty"... nothing happened. It's nice to carry something the entire day that you will not use. And yet, my Galaxy S4 stepped up:

I'm obsessed with taking pics at Epcot with the Monorail in view. That image of the monorail and Spaceship Earth is ingrained in our brains at this point. Imagine how happy I was when the Sony wouldn't turn on. But this I think, turned out pretty good. When shooting with a phone, it helps when you have a beautiful sunny day and our day at Epcot was gorgeous. So gorgeous in fact that we sort of had a pre-lunch before we went to Via Napoli. I had never tried Fish n' Chips so we stopped in the England pavilion and had some, along with a proper pint at the Rose and Crown pub.

Me and the bro

The food and the pint were awesome and the atmosphere at the pub was great but we thought it wasn't a good idea to stick around, running a marathon and all.

Then, there are other occasions when only the "Big Boy" camera will do. Like when you're shooting at night. If you want crisp, sharp pics you need a decent camera and most likely, a tripod. You don't see those often in the Magic Kingdom but that didn't stop me from taking one in there and using it.

True story: as I took the picture above, I poked someone's foot with my tripod. When I noticed, it turned out I poked him because he was kneeling. He was about to propose!! Wow, I will forever be the guy who poked him with a tripod as he proposed.

What is it about the Castle??!! You just can't stop taking pics of it for some reason. Every time I come here... I don't even want to know how many pics I have of it. However, that is expected. I'm willing to bet many of you out there have a secret "Castle Pic Stash" in some hard drive or some old box somewhere.

What I wasn't expecting was all the pics I took in Animal Kingdom. I haven't taken many pics of animals (right now I can't remember taking any before this) but here I not only took a lot of them (gee, I wonder why) but a lot of them turned out quite good. Kilimanjaro Safari + Telephoto lens = awesome pictures!

So, I know what you are probably asking right about now (if not 9 or 10 pictures ago): What does this have to do about running? Well, nothing! I thought this would be a nice change of pace plus I'm stalling. Yes, I need to share with you what I'm gonna do next but quite frankly, I'm not sure what that "next" will be so while I put my thoughts together, enjoy the pretty pictures... and apparently, the nature show.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Disney Marathon Weekend - The Food

I've been to Disney World many times. However, there are two things I had not done until recently: The first is staying in a Disney resort which I have now crossed off my list twice. Once in the Yatch Club and for this trip, All-Star Sports. The second is eating at the table service restaurants in the parks or resorts. On this trip, I got to cross that one. 

Like many families, when we traveled to Orlando, we used to attack the parks "commando" style; trying to take as  much as possible in one trip. Exhausting.  Even though we visited the parks many times, we would treat each trip like a military incursion just in case we would never get the chance to visit again. That's just how we rolled. Of course, being in such a hurry to see and experience everything doesn't afford you much time to sit down and eat so we stuck to quick service meals. I would see the people in the restaurants thinking "well, they sure aren't in a hurry. They'll miss half the park!" but at the same time I was sure curious about experiencing them. Also, in case you didn't know, Disney can be a bit expensive so I guess we were also afraid of sticker shock.

For the marathon, I wanted the trip to be as hassle free as possible so I included the Disney Dining Plan to the deal. That way I would not have to worry about meals during the trip but it also got me the chance to explore the undiscovered world that is the Disney World restaurants.

Liberty Tree Tavern
This was the first table restaurant we hit the very first day we were there. It ended up being one of two meals that are tied for first place in my mind as the best I had on the trip. 

Located in Liberty Square (where you can see the tree that named the restaurant) this is one classic slice of colonial Americana. The decor and architecture, like the rest of Liberty Square, screams "1776!" When they call families to get them to their tables, they also call out the state or country they are from. I thought it was kind of corny until they called us and I felt a little tingle of pride. That's Disney for you. 

The best way to describe this restaurant is to call it a hybrid. It's a fixed menu, like a buffet, but you don't stand up to go get your food. Cast members bring everything to you. And boy do they bring it to you. You can eat as much as you want and if the cast member sees you even hesitate when asked if you want more he/she will bring some more. Which is a good thing, because the parade of comfort food they serve here is mighty tasty. Roasted beef, pork and turkey; mashed potatoes and gravy, mac n' cheese, green beans, roasted root vegetables, stuffing... it's all good. And I forgot about the salad at the beginning. It was dressed with a pretty good strawberry vinaigrette. We almost filled up on just salad! Right before we were about to explode, we got served dessert: Johnny Appleseed Cake. Served warm with ice cream on top, it has apples and Craisins. I had never tried Craisins but based on this dessert I want a couple of cases. If they come with ice cream and cake all the time that is.

Via Napoli
I have often dreamed about eating "Around the World", or at least around the Epcot pavilions. Which is probably why the Wine and Dine Half Marathon sounds so appealing for me. However, doing all that eating on this particular trip would have probably not helped my trying to finish the marathon so my brother and I settled on Italy and it's most recent addition, Via Napoli.

Pizza is the name of the game here. Rustic, wood-burning-oven-roasted pizzas. They even named the ovens: Stromboli, Vesuvius and Etna. They are all active volcanoes in Italy.

What can I say... this was pretty awesome. I ordered the Quattro Formaggi (four cheese) and my brother the pepperoni. We traded a slice so we could try both and wow. Crust was just right. Airy with a little crunch and just enough seasoning for you to want to eat it without any toppings.  And speaking of toppings, this type of pizza lives and dies on the quality on the ingredients and Via Napoli delivers here in spades. The balance of the four cheeses in my Quattro Formaggi(Provolone, Fontina, Mozzarella and Parmesan) was perfect. I literally could not stop eating which was a problem because these pizzas were huge! If this was the individual portion, I might as well use the large as a blanket to keep me warm at night. 

Coppa Bruti Ma Buoni - Good but not awesome.

For dessert I had the Zeppole di Caterina which are Ricotta Cheese Fritters(Everything sounds prettier in Italian). They bring them to you next to two bowls : one with whipped cream and one with chocolate sauce. The word sinful comes to mind. The combination of the three components was delicious! But I couldn't eat it all. Way too much food.

By the way, this restaurant is at the very end of the Italy pavilion. We were given a table by a window and for a second there, it was like we were in a little fake Italy.

Raglan Road
On Saturday night, we headed to Downtown Disney to do a bit of shopping and to have my final meal before the marathon. Perhaps an Irish pub/restaurant was not the best of options. I mean, why go to a place where you are expected to drink and be merry when you should be resting? But, the original place we wanted to go was full so, Raglan Road! But don't worry. We didn't do any drinking or partying and we were on our way to the hotel by 7 pm.

I gotta say I loved the ambiance in this place. For some reason, I have a thing for Irish/British pubs and they pretty much had it all here plus, they had "Lord of the Dance" type dancers(sorry, I know there is an actual term for this but I don't know what it is). My brother had the Mixed Grill which he thought was just OK but I had the Gnocchi with Scallops and it was very good. The only downside was they put some bean-like grains (they looked like Edamame  but I don't think that's what it was) and it messed with the texture of the dish. Flavor though, was through the roof and the scallops were perfectly cooked. The gnocchi was just firm enough to stay together but melted in my mouth. I also had a potato soup that is one of the best I have ever tasted. That soup, is pretty much the only plate of food I paid for outside the Dining Plan.

The desserts we tried were nothing to write home about. In fact I can't even remember their names but my entree more then made up for it. It was a very, very decent final meal.

Sci-Fi Dine In Theater
If you thought that Liberty Tree Tavern was beautifully themed, then you have got to check this place out. Built inside what I assume was an empty studio from when they were still trying to make Disney's Hollywood Studio's work as a TV/Movie Studio/Park hybrid, this place has been turned into a 50's drive-in replete with cars and giant projector screen. 

We laughed the entire time we were there. The feed on the giant screen is so bad, it's awesome. This is the reason alone to come here. The feed is filled with previews for movies so ridiculous, that you will be wondering just who was crazy enough to green light such a profusion of bad acting and horrendous special effects on the Earth. And the news clips are even more amusing (Walt Disney himself makes a cameo in one of them).

But that's about it. This is not the place if you are looking for more gourmet fare. In keeping with the theme of the place, the food is basic burger joint stuff so adjust your expectations accordingly. The Build-Your-Own Angus Burger I had was pretty decent, especially with the onions and mushrooms; and the fries were awesome but it needs to be said: I had just run a marathon so maybe that had something to do with it.

And those were our table restaurant adventures. A lot of debate has been stirred about the Disney Dining Plan and whether it is worth it. I can't speak for everyone but it definitely worked in our case. Even with all the debate, there seems to be a general consensus that if the members of your family are hearty eaters (guilty!!) you get more out of it. Also, if you like trying new things -and in Disney World there is plenty to try- this is actually a very good deal. It was nice not having to worry about food during the trip. Outside of the Dining Plan, my food bill was 6 bucks. 

So, if you are staying in Disney property and the above applies to you, I highly recommend the Disney Dining Plan. If you are a runner doing a Disney race, then I doubly recommend it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Disney Marathon Weekend - The People

I guess I should begin this post by apologizing. I met some very cool people during Marathon Weekend and in a lot of cases, I hardly got to know all of you and in some cases I even forgot to take a picture with a lot of you!

The thing is, my mind was somewhere else. I was so worried about the race and not finishing, that I could hardly say anything. When I did say something, it was about how I was freaking out about the race. So sorry folks. I hope I get to see you in another race. I promise I will try to be friendlier and a better running representative next time. Unless I'm doing Dopey, in which case, I'll be freaking out about that as well.

Just kidding (I hope).

That's not to say I didn't meet a lot of incredible people along with some others who are rock stars in my book and I totally look up to. For example Donald here:

Bracelet Buddies!

I've become a total fan of this guy ever since I met him online. He often sends me words of encouragement and tells me he loves to read this blog, but it is I who should be taking a tip or two from him. He has lost over 85 pounds and counting! And get this: While I was freaking out about running my measly marathon, this man was doing the Dopey Challenge(5k, 10K, Half and Full in 4 days straight). Actually he didn't do the Dopey, he totally rocked it! He is also, very tall. True story: we were actually staying in the same resort and finally got to meet while we were in the same bus on our way to Downtown Disney. We didn't realize were in the same bus until we were getting off, when he stood up and banged his head. Hard. Again, tall.

Then there was Heather. It was through her blog Through Heather's Looking Glass, that I found out there this whole side of Disney I didn't know about called Run Disney. I still don't know if to thank her or blame her. LOL! It was her story that made me aim high and set the goal of running the WDW Marathon. I knew there was a slim chance I could meet her as she was doing the Dopey challenge as well (actually about 7,000 runners did the Dopey) and would probably be plenty busy, you know... running. But lucky enough, right as I was about to leave for my corral for the marathon, she showed up.

Ursula and Ariel?

It was a mixture of nervousness and being star struck. She asked me how I was and obviously all I could say was that I was freaking out about the race. She actually gave me some great advice about the start which I followed to the letter. She is also the one that finally confirmed that if I made it to Hollywood Studios I would be safe from being swept. She knows her Disney races and she has done most of them if not all of them. She is also a travel agent with Travel with the Magic. She set us up for this trip and it was great! If you want a Disney vacation she's the person to call. Her blog is also an awesome read.

It was very simple for me. I would not leave Florida without doing two things: Finishing a marathon and meeting Mindy, who writes the blog Road Runner Girl. I learned about her blog through Heather and started reading as she was getting ready to run the Disney Marathon last year. I confess Mindy, I have a bit of medal envy. Last year's medal was so cool. She was running the 10K and the Half this year and was staying two resorts away at All-Star Movies so the day before the Half I walked over and said hello.

Mindy loves her Disney bling!

If Donald is tall, Mindy is tiny!! LOL I don't know. I thought she would be taller. Maybe it's because she has such a big heart. Folks, you have got to read her blog. She is a mom, wife and teacher yet she still finds time to run regularly and feed her habit which is running Half-Marathons (and I've heard somewhere, eating pizza). The WDW Half is her 20th!! You could tell too. Even though the Half was the next day she was so calm and relaxed. Mindy has been a constant source of inspiration and a very important part of having achieved my goal. Meeting her was one of the highlights of this trip. The other being... you know, not dying during the Marathon. We got to chat for a bit and again, all I could talk about was how scared I was about the race. Geez... I need a new speech for next time.

I also got to meet the Castle guy(inside joke), Greg who writes Why I Run Disney. It was his first marathon as well. He had a pretty cool Buzz Lightyear tech shirt and his wife did the 10K. I got to see him a couple of time but alas, no picture. (Do I even have to say why at this point?!)

Finally, and somewhat sadly, I got to briefly cross paths with Matt who writes Dad's got the Runs. He is the evil mastermind behind Team #RunDisney. An online community  that is all sorts of awesome. If you are even thinking of running a Disney race make sure you check them out on Facebook. You will get all your questions answered and then some. Great friends, great  support. Just awesome. Anyway, I saw Matt right before leaving for my corral but I wasn't sure it was him. In his Facebook profile he always hides his face behind whatever Disney medal he has won most recently. I didn't have a medal with me... if only I'd have met him 7 hours later... Anyway, I hardly got to say hello and thank him for putting such a cool thing as TRD together but I was in a hurry to get a good spot in my corral because, say it with me...

The man is fit! He was also doing the Dopey and looked like he could very well do a full Ironman right then and there. It bears repeating: Team Run Disney is awesome!!

Anyway, that's some of the people I met during Marathon Weekend. If I saw you and didn't recognize you, sorry about that. If you saw me and recognized me shame on you!! I would have told you all about this race I was freaking out about...

Friday, January 17, 2014

The 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon

The night before leaving for Florida, I did my last scheduled run of my training cycle: 4 miles. It was one of the best runs I have ever done. I was in total control: Pacing, breathing, movement. I remember feeling a bit surprised at how easy it felt to run. It was pretty clear to me at that moment that I was in the best running shape I have ever been in my life. No question about it. But, was it good enough to tackle the challenge that was ahead? Well, I was sure gonna find out.

People who read this blog regularly (and surprisingly, there are a few) are by now extremely familiar with my worries about this race. Left up to me, I was pretty certain I could finish this race, even if it meant tying myself to Mickey Mouse's tail so he could drag me across the line. But, alas, it was not up to me. First, the infamous Balloon Ladies, who start after the last runner crosses the start line and keep the minimum 16 minute per mile pace. Get passed by them, and then you are faced with the official Run Disney sweep bike team. Once you get passed by them, the next thing is the bus back to the start area. It's over.

So, I spent most of time in Florida in a state of paranoia. Sure, I had fun at the parks and I met a lot of incredible people which I promise will cover in later posts but the looming cloud of uncertainty was always there. If only I had done a bit better in those long runs, I would have felt better. If only...

Race morning. 2:00 am wake up. I make sure to put on everything I had laid out on my "dress dummy". I go to the bathroom, then go to the bathroom again. Disney had the resort restaurants partially open selling some essentials. I have some coffee, a banana and a Clif Bar sample from the Expo. At 3:00 am, a line of buses is already waiting for runners and spectators outside the resort. Shortly after, we are in the Epcot parking lot. Runners arriving from all the different Disney resorts and many other places. You can feel the excitement in the air. I just want to head straight to the corral to get as far to the front as I can but there is people I want to meet and this is my last chance. There is a Team Run Disney meet-up I don't want to miss. It sure was worth it though. As I mentioned, I met some pretty cool people, including blogger extraordinaire and heroine Heather Montgomery from Heather's Looking Glass but that is a story for another post.

After the greetings and pictures I said goodbye to my brother and thanked him profusely for coming with me on this adventure and left for my corral which, by the way was in China apparently (Hi Deuce!). I heard people say it was as far as 2 miles away. I'm not sure about that but it certainly felt that way. Not only that, once there, it took forever for the gun to go off for my corral, which was next to last. At least I got to sit down for a while as the other corrals went off, rest my legs  and think strategy which, by the way, was dead simple: Cross the finish line. Don't get picked up. That, and don't do anything stupid. I also got to sit right in the front of the corral which I thought gave me a decent buffer from the balloon ladies. I had already decided to go with a 2:1 run/walk ratio, having tried several during my long runs I felt this was the one that fit best. If things felt apart, I could take it down to 1:1. If things deteriorated beyond that... well, I would chew that food when I had to. The elites went off at 5:30 am. An hour or so after that, it was my turn. Mickey counted us down and in a blaze of fireworks, we were off.

The Magic Kingdom

I didn't start the intervals right away. I ran for a while as the crowd spread out. When I felt it was OK, I set off the intervals app. There was only one problem: I had to pee. Bad. Right off the bat I was surprised by the amount of people who were going to the side of the road to relieve themselves. I knew there were porta-potties at the hydration stations but I figured they would be crowded this early in the race and given the amount of people going in the woods, it seemed like a good bet. Finally, I gave in and stepped to the side. I'm a runner now... I regretted it almost immediately. Shortly after starting to run again, I heard the fireworks for the last corral go off. Some time later, a bunch of people sped by. The leaders from the last corral were passing us by. So much for my brilliant "buffer" plan. The balloon ladies were officially on the hunt.

The Magic Kingdom is the first of the four theme parks you run through during the race. It makes sense. Everyone wants to run through Cinderella's Castle and even if you marginally trained for this race chances are good you will make it to mile 5. As daylight started to break, we passed through the parking lot entrance above. Then, we made it to the TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center) which is were you choose how to arrive to the Happiest Place on Earth: Boat or Monorail. It was there where I got a pleasant surprise. My brother was waiting for me. He took this picture. I might have been overly excited to see him for some reason.

Spot the Fat Runner!

I also saw this nice lady with a sign that read: "So now do you think it was a good idea?" I got her attention and told to ask me again later. She got a real kick out of that apparently. After that we ran through one of the many "secret" areas that are revealed to those who run this race. The service roads, cast member entrances and many facilities that make this place work behind the scenes. At this point, and all through the race, I tried to thank as many volunteers as I could for being there helping and cheering. They did an awesome job.

"You can go the distance."

After going underneath the bridge above (which is actually a waterway for boats) I crested a small hill (one of the very few on this race) and saw this...

Space Mountain. I had made it to the Magic Kingdom park.

So, what's it like to run in the Happiest Place on Earth? Everything I had hoped it would be. I don't care who you are. It is very hard to not run there and not have a huge grin on your face. We entered through a side door straight into Main Street U.S.A. from there, it's left to Tomorrowland, then Fantasyland and through the Castle.
Main Street U.S.A.

I was feeling pretty spectacular at this point. How couldn't I? Having all those people cheering you and the energy of entering the park had given me renewed energy. Then again, we were between miles 5 and 6 so this was just beginning. Approaching the 10K mark, I was still 20 miles away from the finish.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

After the Castle, the route takes a right to Frontierland and out the park through another secret door. This was the 10K mark and another hydration station. This is where I took my first gel. A mile late I should mention. I was too excited to take it at mile 5.

After the Magic Kingdom comes the first of two areas with a whole lot of nothing. Not that Disney didn't do their best to spice up the route with DJ's, characters and other entertainment but you can't run in the parks the whole time. Did you know that Disney has their own power, fire department, vehicle maintenance facilities and water treatment center? Well, they do and I saw most of it on this leg of the route. I also got a glimpse of the Grand Floridian which is Disney's top resort.
The Grand Floridian

The highlight of this leg, for me, was the race track. You run around the WDW Race Track and Disney invited several car clubs to show off their stuff. For people that like cars (and I sure do) this was pretty much heaven.
What?! No one told me they shipped my car for display here! 

It is at this point in the race that I began to feel a little more relaxed. I start to check my phone and find a whole bunch of stuff. Messages and social media updates. Friends and family were responding to the runner tracking updates and wishing me well. Obviously, I didn't get to read them but it was nice to get that support. What I did check was the runner tracking updates. I was a little surprised.
Mile 5 split - 1:15:59 Pace 15:12
Mile 10 split - 2:32:20 Pace 15:14

Really? I seemed to be doing great and maintaining a steady pace. In fact, the pace was dead on perfect. Sure enough, I checked Mr. Garmin's virtual partner and confirmed that I was gaining ground on the balloon ladies. Even with the unexpected "pit stop" I was further and further away from them. I thought about slowing down but figured I needed as much distance as possible when things got desperate so I just maintained what I was doing. 

I did answer one message though. Mindy Bobe, who writes the blog Road Runner Girl and who I was honored to meet two nights prior to the race was keeping track of my splits and sending me words of encouragement. She wrote after the 10 mile split:

Way to go Frank!!! You're doing great!!!!

I answered back:

All heart Mindy. All heart.

"All heart" is just something I say to motivate myself. It's from the film Jerry McGuire. It's all I could think of at that moment. I knew I was closing in on a very important part of the race for me and I was gonna need everything I could muster to pull through. 

A note about the water treatment facility I mentioned: You smell it before you see it. I wouldn't exactly call that part the most pleasant of experiences and surprise! No entertainment either. Heck, I didn't want to be there why should the poor cast members? Anyway, after the track and that odorous look at just how big of a world is Disney World, we headed into what seemed like more maintenance facilities but upon further inspection, what I thought was warehouses and stuff like that was actually housing for animals. Big animals. Which only meant that we had arrived at Animal Kingdom park.
Expedition Everest

It has sort of become tradition for some runners to ride Expedition Everest during the marathon. Lucky people... If only I wasn't in such a hurry to... you know, cross the finish line. I knew I was close to halfway done, and was both surprised and to be honest, kind of proud of how well I was doing. I was running strong, maintaining my intervals and more importantly, completely pumped to continue.

As you are about to exit the park, you reach the halfway point of the race. Seconds after going over the split sensor, I get the message:

Halfway Split - 3:19:10 Pace 15:12

Well, whaddaya know... a Half-Marathon PR... and I'm not even running a Half. If only I had been doing a Half, it would've been over right then and there, but I was merely halfway through. Next came Disney's Hollywood Studios but first, a stop in what I found to be the most frustrating part of the course.

Now came the hard part. If only...

ESPN's Wide World of Sports

A while after leaving Animal Kingdom, I was confronted with this sign:

This is pretty much how I felt:

Know what I'm talking about? That scene in The Fellowship of the Ring when Sam tells Frodo: "If I take another step, it will be the farthest away from home, I have ever been." Well, that's what I felt like. Beyond that Ariel sign, was completely unknown territory for me. Much as I tried, I was not able to go beyond 15 miles during training. But here I was and I was still running. Better still, I felt like I could keep on running. How long would it last?

Let me tell you why I hated this part of the race. As you go down the road towards Wide World of Sports (WWOS) the first thing you see is the exit that leads to Hollywood Studios on the other side of the road. That, of course is where you want to be, especially with all the runners going in that direction who are almost there. Even worse, as you reach the entrance to WWOS you are faced with the runners who are exiting the facility on the opposing lane. This gives you the sensation that this is a slight go-around and that you will soon be joining those runners on the opposing lane. Not true.

What you do get, is a tour of every football, soccer, baseball and softball field they have in the place. You actually do a lap in the running track, then head all the way to the other side of the park to do another lap around the stadium. The Braves play there during spring training. Whoop-dee-freaking-doo.
R2-D2 and C3PO during the lap around the track

It took forever to go through WWOS. A feeling made all the more time consuming by the fact that you saw where you actually want go right before entering this gauntlet. But I was rewarded for going through that by the 20 mile marker and some good news:

Mile 20 split - 5:08:10 Pace 15:25

In what I can only describe as a miracle, I had maintained myself above pace for 20 miles. Not only that, Mr. Garmin let me know I was a whole mile ahead of the balloon ladies. They were sure gonna have a hard time catching up to me. Not bad, considering it was my first 20 miler. By the way, this is the last update I got from runner tracking. I think my chip shorted out. At this point, there was pain and fatigue to go around. The Sun was out in full force (Thank goodness I had a cap) but the air was cool. I was waiting for a collapse of some sort at any minute, but I knew one thing: I wanted to keep running. As long as that feeling remained, I felt I was gonna be OK.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Mile 22 is important. Crucial actually. Mile 22 is right before the entrance to Hollywood Studios (DHS). You see, once you get to DHS, you are safe from being swept. DHS and Epcot are separated by resorts. No roads in between which means Disney doesn't have to pick you up in a bus to open those roads if you fall behind.

And folks, I made it to DHS. Against all odds (and my own mind) I had done the entire route up to this point not missing a beat, or an interval for that matter. I was now safe. All that I needed to do now was a relaxing walk through 2 more parks and I would cross the finish line. There was only one problem.

That is not what I came here to do.

I came here to run a marathon. To accomplish a goal I had set myself two years ago. A goal that has set me on this running journey and has taught me so much. The toughest miles of this race were ahead of me. Up to this point, I was running against a clock. From this point on, I was running against myself. My legs and feet were killing me and every part of me wanted to stop but I kept my intervals. I kept on running. The only luxury I afforded myself was a bathroom stop in DHS. Going to an actual restroom sure beats going to a porta-potty (or the woods). I didn't really have to go. It was more of a re-arranging of clothing to make sure I was comfortable to run the final stretch. At 16:42, it was the slowest mile I ran in the race (bathroom time included). After that I was out of DHS.


It's only fitting that the slowest mile be followed by the fastest. Right after exiting Epcot who do I see? My brother! Again! Man, this guy has gone above and beyond. He caught me in the middle of a walk interval and jokingly tells me to not slack off. I start running just to show him I still got some gas left (incredibly enough) and he takes this pic:

Mile 23(ish). Smiling and still running!

13:30. Absolutely amazing for mile 24 if you ask me but I started to fade very quickly after that. This part of the route, being inside the parks and resorts, was very scenic. The Yatch Club Resort is beautiful and you run right through it. Right after the resort is a bridge that leads to Epcot and as I was crossing it I hear the evil laugh of a woman in the sidelines. It was the lady with the sign I encountered in the Magic Kingdom!!!!! (Remember that?) She was still holding the sign and when she got my attention said: "Well?" I told her: "I'm still here, so apparently it was a good idea after all!" To which she replied "That's what I wanted to hear! You got this!" There was also a volunteer at the very last water station who threatened to splash me with water instead of giving it to me to drink because I was a wearing a New York Jets shirt. Haters gonna hate.

All that interaction was wonderful because it kept my mind off the fact that I was seriously tired and hurting. The ability to continue was fueled by sheer force of will at this point. Well, that and one little thing.

The night before the race, I called my wife via Skype so I could see the girls. I missed them so much during the trip. Everywhere I went I saw things I knew they would love to see but, alas, it was just too expensive for all of us to make this trip. If I wanted to run this race it was by myself but they made sure I could have them with me. As it turns out, my wife, along with the girls had made race signs to show me during the video call.
The middle one says: Our Champion. "We Love You" The bottom one says: "Mickey and Minnie, there goes Frank."

After showing me the signs, all four of them started chanting: "Go Papi Go! Go Papi Go!" Which means "Go Daddy Go!" As I was running the final leg through the Epcot Pavilions, that is all I could hear in my head. 

As I went "around the world" through England, Morocco, Italy... "Go Papi Go!" 

USA, Japan, Germany, China... "Go Papi Go!" 

Norway, China, Mexico... "Go Papi Go!"

Every time I wanted to stop, they would tell me "Go Papi Go! Go Papi Go!" and I would have to fight tears. 

Every run interval that seemed to last forever: "Go Papi Go!". 

Every muscle screaming for me to stop: "Go Papi Go!". 

They were the true heroes of this race. They carried me through this. Even now, days later I have tears in my eyes as I write this. Every time I try to tell this story, it's hard not to cry. It was a very emotional moment for me and one that I will cherish forever.

And so, after going through the pavilions and passing Spaceship Earth I saw this:

And across from them, this:

My excitement went through the roof as I passed the sign and after a slight corner, the finish line was waiting for me. I sprinted towards the end passing between and hi-fiving both Donald and Mickey Mouse, I crossed the finish line then screamed : "YEAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!" at the top of my lungs.


Then all that emotion I had held all through the end just spilled out. I started to cry. I haven't cried like that in long time. As I kept walking a lady put my medal around my neck while another, who saw I was so shaken up grabbed me and hugged me and told me: "Come here Frank. You did it. You did good." I thanked her and thanked her again for being a part of this. I then met my brother who took this pic:

And with that, it was over. I had just run a marathon. Here is the journey by the numbers.

Avg Pace

Two things jump at me right now. With a few exceptions, I managed to maintain a pretty steady pace the entire marathon. Second, that 15:20 average pace is actually faster than my pace during the Divas Half Marathon.

Caught in my paranoia of being swept, I hadn't really set any A, B or C goals for this race (beyond not being swept of course) However, 

C) I avoided being swept 

B) I finished 

A) I finished 17 minutes ahead of my intended pace.

Yeah, I think I can check this one into the "success" column.

I have to say it. To get through this, I had to run the race of my life. I mean that in every possible way. Also, a lot of stuff had to go right for this to happen. The 10K runners went through some tough heat on Friday and the Half-Marathon runners endured heat plus brutal humidity on Saturday. Sunday was as perfect as could be. The skies were blue and clear and it was cold. I mean really cold (relatively speaking). It was 40's and 50's at the start and it never went over 65 the whole day. I drank Powerade and water at every station and took salt tablets twice during the race. I also had 4 gels. One every 5 miles give or take plus two bananas at the food stations and they gave us chocolate and gummy bears when we entered DHS but I only had chocolate. I thought about buying a margarita while passing the Mexico pavilion but that will have to wait for next time I guess. Had any of those things gone differently we might have had another outcome but why fret over it? I got it done.


After getting myself together we walked (well, my brother walked. I sort of limped) to the buses and back to the hotel. After a much needed shower we headed to Hollywood Studios were I celebrated with a Cheeseburger (man, those taste even better after running a marathon) at the Sci-Fi Dine-in, then we watched Fantasmic! The day after that, I returned home, where I was given a hero's welcome by my wife and daughters. There is nothing more I can possibly ask for.

Runners often talk about how a marathon changes you but I want to modify that statement a bit. Running a marathon enhances you. It's not really change and change can go either way, good or bad. You learn many things about yourself. About your limits. About what you really can and can't do. But those things you learn were already there. They are not new. They are simply newly found. They were always there within you. Hence, you become better. A better version of yourself. You have been enhanced.

And that is the best part of this incredible experience of training and running a marathon. As excited as I am about what I have done. I'm even more excited about what I will do next. I don't know what that will be yet but it sure will be exciting getting there.