Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I Can Feel It...

It's been 5 months now...

After the Goofy Challenge I played nice and went to the Doctor to finally solve the knee problem that has been nagging me for almost 2 years now. He told me to get an MRI. Another one. Why do they have to be so expensive?! I kept putting it off "until I could afford it".

I have not run since.

Meanwhile, I have felt the deterioration of everything I have worked for in the last 4 years. Endurance, cardio and lung capacity... Weight has started to creep back up. Clothes feel tighter... and all the while my knee feels just as screwed up as it did in January.

So this is definitely not one of those "rest and let it heal" injuries. If I remain standing up too long, it hurts. If I run in anything but "The Beasties" it hurts. If I run in "The Beasties" it hurts somewhat less but it still bothers me. Last week I finally tried running again. I barely made it a mile before I called it quits. 

This blog has never been about quitting. I always look at the positive angle, even in moments like this. If I sound a bit depressed, it's because I can't run like I want to run. I want to run. 5 years ago I would have laughed in your face if you told me I was depressed because I was sitting on a couch not doing anything. Yes. I'm complaining about not being able to run. How times change... and while I can't say that I'm in a good place right now, the fact that my "issues" have to do me wanting to lead a more active lifestyle then I can't help but think that's a good thing.

If I were happy or content with my current situation, that would be sad. That would be very sad.

So I'm gonna continue to try running. I'm also gonna try some cycling and cross-training to see how that feels. While some might think it unwise to run injured, I think it's important that I do run, even if it is at a lesser capacity than before. If I'm to get that MRI (and I am gonna do it, I promise) then it might as well show the full extent of what's wrong and that's not gonna happen sitting around the house. 

I'm also gonna be reviewing a product I've had my eye on for a while and now seems to be the perfect time to try it and report it to you guys.

So while The Fat Runner has been down for some time, he is most definitely not out and if he is gonna be down, then he is gonna go down fighting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Goofy Challenge Aftermath

Allow me to begin by apologizing. I left you all hanging after posting my brother's account of being swept and the somewhat controversial things we found out from that experience. It has generated some great conversation and I loved everyone's input on the matter. Shortly after posting however, I left for Phoenix on business and didn't answer all of your comments which I traditionally do. The issue has been corrected.

After all the feedback, I think I can say two things: 1) A race, and the medal you might or might not get, means different things to different people. It's great that we all have very defined positions on what we would do, but we have to be ready for the inevitable fact that not everybody thinks the same way. We don't have to agree but at least we have to understand that we won't agree on everything. 2) Having said that, the whole "sign up and run knowing you are not gonna finish" debacle really rubs "traditional" runners the wrong way and I include myself in that group. It's kind of hard to swallow but again, it goes back to what it means to us. But, to each their own I guess. See thing #1.

So, concluding that and after some hard work and great sushi in Phoenix...

My wife was telling me about how fast time flies. Here we are, on the other side of the Goofy Challenge with 3 more medals hanging on my lonely nail on the wall (I should do something about that). It seems like yesterday when I decided to do this and the Challenge was literally a year away. Now it's done.

So what do I take from this? Aside from three beautiful medals of course:

The Freaking Cut-Off Point
I hope all my fellow back-of-the-packers that read this are paying attention. You CAN make it to Disney's Hollywood Studios and be swept afterwards. Yes, there are no more "public" roads once you enter the park but you do have to pass through the main entrance to enter the path towards The Yacht and Beach Clubs and right before that path is the DHS parking lot. Cars park there. So do buses. Like the ones that pick people up. Disney is not only looking to open back the roads, they also want the parks to run normally. By the time we make it to DHS and Epcot, the parks are open with restricted traffic where we are running. Disney wants to end that as quickly as possible so any stray people running behind the Balloon Ladies get picked up in the Hollywood Studio's parking lot. Period.

Let's put it this way: If you make it to the Yacht Club, THEN you are truly safe. Hope this helps.

Running is not a contact sport...
Yet somehow, I ended up really beat up from this. The soreness is expected. In fact, I recovered much faster this time around compared to my first marathon. I'm talking about actual bruising. Here's the tally: I have a cut right under my chest plate from the heart rate monitor. That had never happened before with my current HRM but apparently if you wear it long enough... felt really nice when I took it off and took a shower too. It also cut me right under my right arm. Also there was the knee of course, which I could not bend the day after the marathon. I ended up with a nasty bruise in the back of the knee because of the brace I wore (it was the first time wearing it) and I'm pretty sure I broke something in my foot. I'm not sure what but most of my limping after the race was due to my foot hurting, not the knee. Since it's the right foot (same as the knee) I'm pretty sure I did something to it trying to protect the knee during the Challenge. The pain is mostly gone now, though I still feel it a little.

Where I'm At
Running a marathon or a challenge like this one, tends to put runners in one of two frames of mind: Those who want to do it again or at least who would consider doing it again, and those who are content with that one time and they are done. They keep running but are perfectly happy running 5K's or Half Marathons or whatever distance they feel comfortable. There really is no wrong answer. Running a marathon does not a runner make. Much less a challenge like Goofy.

For me, there was not much thinking needed but I was kind of surprised with my conclusion. Amidst all the pain and soreness, I knew I would want to do it again. Another marathon for sure and most probably another challenge.

I was under-trained and I was injured. That made the whole thing a bit unpleasant and emotionally draining but I pulled it off. Many people would understandably think: "I never want to go through that again." Totally logical train of thought. But my brain is not wired like that. My train of thought was: "Imagine how much better I can do the next time." Yes, it's hard. Yes, I was in pain, but I also had a great time. I can have an even greater time under better conditions.

In fact, having done the Goofy Challenge, I can now totally understand the appeal of the Dopey Challenge. It is totally doable and not as insane as I thought it was. Now, I'm not saying that I'm doing the Dopey Challenge, but I'm also not saying that I wouldn't do it either. We will see... I'm suddenly reminded of women in labor. Not that running a marathon compares to that. Not even close. But I've been often told that for all the agony women go through when delivering a baby, it seems they forget about it or subconsciously decide not to think about it. After all, most women decide to go through with it a second time and sometimes even more than that.

Maybe runners are like that. We block out the agony and only choose to remember the good parts.

Friday, January 29, 2016

To get the medal... or not... Revisited.

As I mentioned in my recaps, my brother and partner in crime Ernest tried to run the Disney Half Marathon with me and sadly got swept at mile 8.
The End of the Road.
After the race, we had an extremely interesting conversation. As you might recall, I wrote a blog post about being swept and the fact that Disney gives you the medal whether you finish the race or not. (You can find that here) This is a very controversial topic that people feel very passionate about. Obviously, I was very curious about Ernest's experience on this matter, being a first-hand witness and all.

Sure enough, when I got in the car after finishing, there was his medal on the back seat. I asked him about it and he said: "Before I tell you, I want to know how you feel about it. Would you have taken the medal?" Now, Ernest is neither a regular runner nor is he familiar with run Disney and the crazy discussions it generates, so this was gonna make for some great conversation. I answered: "I would not take it. But that doesn't mean it's wrong to take it though. The medal means different things to different people." "Exactly!" he said. "There are so many different reactions to not being able to finish. There really can't be just one right answer."

I was listening to him with a smile on my face because it kind of validates my feelings on the subject which is essentially, "to each his/her own." But then he went on to recount his experience of being swept and taking the bus back to the start line and what he saw and heard... kind of rattled me a bit. Like I said on the other post, there are many reasons for taking the medal.

 I just wasn't ready to hear what some of those reasons were.

So I got swept. Now what?
I know this information is asked about often so it's important to talk about it. Hopefully it will help others. Contrary to popular belief (or unfounded paranoia), being swept by the Balloon Ladies does NOT look like this:

First, the Balloon Ladies don't actually sweep you (or look like Godzilla). They are simply keeping the minimum required pace to stay in the race. There are several cut-off points where Disney does a "hard sweep". Meaning that once the Ladies pass that particular point, Disney -along with State Troopers- block the road with buses and don't allow anyone else to pass. A "soft sweep" on the other hand is people that are swept from the course outside of those cut-offs whether for medical reasons, exhaustion or simply if you don't want to go on. This is not as bad as it sounds though. The Balloon Ladies spend the entire race calling out what those cut off points are and when they are coming up. In the case of my brother it was mile 8. He was actually not that far behind the Ladies so after they passed the cut off, he got intercepted by a police officer on a bike. It's important to mention that the Balloon Ladies also spend the entire race motivating people to keep up with them. They are very nice people and I have to commend them on the job they do. It can't be easy. 

Once the blockade is in place, Cast Members and medical personnel impart instructions and tend to those in need. They clap and cheer those that have been cut-off and even take pictures for those that want a reminder of where they were swept (like the one above of my brother). It takes a while for the buses to fill as runners keep arriving at the cut-off depending how far behind they were. It took about 15 minutes for the first buses to fill up and leave for Epcot, according to Ernest. In his words:

"The trip back felt long as hell. Even though it's a whole different route, it still makes you think about how long you still had to go. Not sure how long the trip back was, maybe 15-20 minutes, there was traffic, It may have felt like longer for me because i was standing and my stomach was still not feeling well (soon after getting on the bus i needed some fresh air, something that is obviously lacking in a bus full of sweaty people).  We arrived at EPCOT and the bus pulled up right behind the tents where there are people waiting to give you your medal and goodies box."

And that, folks, is how you get swept at a Disney race. Another thing I found interesting from Ernest's account was people's reactions during the race when they realized they were behind the Balloon Ladies or close to it:

"My favorite reactions came before reaching the 8 mile marker, when i spent a while running after and around the balloon ladies.  Anytime they passed a set of portable toilets, rest stops or people waiting in line to take pictures with characters, they announced themselves going by reminding people that you need to stay in front of them, and people just started scrambling. "Is that really them?!", lines break up, people come running out of the toilet lines, and a lot of "oh crap how did this happen?!" kind of reactions. Mind you not like angry or upset type of reaction,  they are mostly surprised and laughing at what just happened. From what i saw there's a great deal of people who train well and come ready to run the event yet still fall behind  just because they are enjoying the whole event so much, they stop at every photo op, maybe make a lot of stops or aren't moving at such a quick pace especially when they are in the park areas, then they see the balloon ladies and are all like "what the hell?! how slow was i going?!". You can tell who this lot are because they'll just take off and sprint past the balloon ladies then continue at a quick pace (guess they won't make any stops for a while), something many who stay behind simply aren't able to do after the first half of the race. Some people don't even notice that they've fallen behind, and a few were surprised to find out that the ladies with the balloons were the actual balloon ladies and not just someone in a costume.  Most tried to keep up with them, others just give up like "well i ain't going any quicker than this guess i'm getting picked up"."

Ernest was surprised (and a little appalled) that in the past people have dressed up as "Balloon Ladies" and wreaked havoc on the course. Yes. It has happened.

I was surprised at how many people fall way behind simply because they insist on taking every character picture and savor every moment. There are many who don't get swept that are always running away from the Ladies simply because they gotta have that pic with Goofy or Minnie or whatever.

Another surprise, although both my brother and I agree it might have been different in other buses or cut-off points, is that he saw nobody crying or frustrated on the bus. Just a lot of "Oh well, next time." kind of reactions.

Hold on to you hats
Here's where it gets interesting and kind of weird for me. As Ernest was giving me the info on what happened post-sweep and he was talking about the different reactions he heard from others, it became very clear to me that, while the reactions were of course, varied, there was a particular group of people that took me some time to process their motives.

Putting all the pieces together, it seems there is a group of people who sign up for these races knowing full well they are not going to finish. They sign up, have fun, take pics, soak in the atmosphere, run through (some of) the parks and do this knowing that for them, it ends on a bus. No finish line. Then, the next year, they do it again.

Excuse me. What?

My brother, once again:

"I think for sure there are, and i don't think this should be a surprise at an event as big as Run Disney or any other big event.  They sign up knowing that there is a big chance that they are not gonna finish in time, or maybe even not being aware of what it means when they say you need to keep a certain pace.  Among those that sign up and don't finish there are likely many categories of people but from what I saw there are two major ones:
There's definitely a lot of people who have tried this more than once without finishing, who, I'm sure, are actually hoping to finish, i don't think they go in knowing that they're not going to finish, but they are content with just making it further than previous attempts. For the lady i mentioned before, she mentioned she had tried the previous year, this time she made it further than last year. So i guess for some, it's just another way (albeit a slower way)  to get to the same goal as many people who want to go finish a race. They're thought seems to be "Every year i go, I've made it further, that's a good thing, and eventually, i'll finish one of these things." 

Another group of people that don't finish, are those who actually signed up just " for the heck of it". I'm sure there's plenty of people that were simply talking with friends one day and said "hey, Disney marathon weekend, sounds like fun, lets do that!"  They signed up, maybe trained a little or not at all, tried to do a race, couldn't finish, yet probably still had a blast.  They are there at the event because it's a fun thing to do, not because they've set themselves any kind of goal. If it's fun enough for them, I'm sure they go back and do it again, maybe they finish, maybe not.  These were some of the people who were in the lines to take pictures with the characters when the balloon ladies went by, and didn't run after them, they were just glad that the line got shorter all of a sudden."

It has taken me a while to process this information. Allow me to put things in perspective here. As mentioned before, if you get swept, Disney gives you the medal anyway. To them (them being the operative word), that belongs to you either way. After all you paid for it and ultimately Disney is a business like any other. Call me naive or even obtuse, but in my head, every person who signs up for a race has at least  the intention to finish it. There was no space in my mind, for the possibility of someone purposely signing up with the intention of getting picked up. Discussing this on the car back to the hotel, I was about to get upset when my brother, who was certainly not upset and is not emotionally compromised as I am over this running "thing" brought me back down to Earth:

"Dude, to YOU it's about goals, and finishing and achieving something. To others, it might just be about having a fun day and nothing more."

Wait a minute, I'm having a fun day too you know. I know I describe my struggle pretty vividly on the blog but I wouldn't be doing this (let alone thinking about doing it again) if it was no fun. I guess they are just having a different kind of fun maybe? I don't know.

What I do know is, this information is gonna bother a whole lot of people.

Think about all the arguments runners have engaged in over the "accept or not accept the medal" debacle. Now add to that, the fact that there is people out there with race medals that knew they were not gonna finish beforehand. I can see the hateful threads now...

Even though it took me some time to absorb, this information does not change my view on this issue. I know what the race and the medal mean to me. I can't expect everyone else to feel exactly the same way. For some people, this is just a race. An event. It's not the life-defining phenomenon that some of us make it out to be. Ultimately, we ascribe value to things and not others. Things become important if you make them important. So if others don't come into this giving it the sacred importance I feel it deserves, it's their loss but I'm not gonna berate you for it.

Before handing this over to you readers to discuss I'll add one more thing. My brother and I don't agree on one thing. Here is Ernest one last time.

"The way I see it, the medal isn't a prize, it's a souvenir. It's probably going in a box with all my other souvenirs, and this probably would've been the case even if I had finished. I have two WB10K medals in there somewhere, if they didn't get lost in the move (actually, i think they did).

On a side note, if there are indeed people who don't finish that actually refuse to take the race medal from the people who give them out. I would tell them, take the damn medal, don't put someone who's just doing their job in a difficult position. After you take it you can throw it away if you want. The medal can mean anything you want it to mean, but a volunteer/employee giving it to you doesn't mean anything, except "here's the stuff you paid for". Refusing it would just cause them unnecessary trouble.  This isn't the Olympics, the race medal isn't a placement medal or even a 'finisher' medal, it isn't a prize, at least from Disney's point of view. From their point of view, you get it because a)you paid for it, and b)you participated in the event (well you can't pick it up if you don't even show up, I don't know if you can get it in the mail)."

Here's where I disagree. If you don't'want to take the medal, don't take the medal. I totally understand what my brother is saying about giving grief to a volunteer or Cast Member who doesn't deserve it. It's not their fault and they are just doing their job. However, I have to be fair. If I can't force a person to not take the medal because it's not my business, then you can't force me to take it because it's none of yours. It works both ways. It is also not difficult for Disney to give instructions to these folks to avoid any problems. If, after asking "Are you sure?" , they still won't accept the medal, do not insist further. Let her/him be. That's not hard.

I'm one of the runners who would not accept it if it happened to me. I don't like making scenes and in a time like that, it would be the last thing on my mind but this is important to me and I would definitely insist on not taking it. Scene optional. And no Ernest. They most definitely do not mail you the medal.

So what do you guys think?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon

Waking up the morning after the Half Marathon, I was happy to see that I was not any worse for for wear. Only my knee was a little sore but the rest of my legs seemed close to 100%. This is why you do twin long runs for Goofy Challenge training. That part of it was paying off. Right after the Half, I was feeling stiff and the knee was hurting bad but my body remembered what to do and after a night's rest, I was fine.
One more race...
Also close to 100% recovered was my brother. Definitely feeling a lot better than the day before, he now had the joyless job of driving me back to Epcot. At 3 am. The worse, at least for him, was now behind though. Me, on the other hand was very nervous. I know I was because I'm not a superstitious guy and at that moment I was invoking all sorts of stuff for good luck. I had my Jeff Galloway-signed bib, my legendary NY Jets shirt, the socks I wore for my first marathon...  Suddenly all of that was "crucial" to my race strategy. So yeah, you could say I was nervous.

As far as an actual race strategy, mine was pretty simple: Run. Run until you can't run anymore and hope I have run enough to walk the rest of the way before the Balloon Ladies catch up with me. That's it. I did have an Ace up my sleeve though. My PR in the Philadelphia Half Marathon had earned me corral placement squarely in the middle of the pack (Corral J) and I was going to milk that for all it was worth. On the flip side, it was humid and not as cold as I would have liked. In fact while waiting in the corral it was downright warm. Thankfully, as the day went by, it got colder and the breeze that came in throughout the day was well received. I was also behind on my hydration. I could feel it in my mouth but there was no point in filling my stomach with liquid right before the race, so I would have to work on that during it.

You will notice that contrary to the Half recap, this one doesn't have many pictures. That's because once Mickey counted us off, I was dead set on one thing: Finishing. I avoided stopping as much as possible. Too bad, because the Marathon course has changed since I last did it in 2014. Because the WDW Race Track no longer exists, (a part that I really liked with the cars and all) the course has been modified. Most of the changes I think, are for the better. I'll try and point them out.

The first 10K was pretty uneventful. I got into a rhythm pretty quickly and was feeling pretty good. I was kind of surprised about how well I had recovered but I was definitely thirsty so I started to drink more than usual at every station hoping to slowly make up for it but the humidity was making it harder. I was soaking wet. Normal for Puerto Rico but not for this race. Then we reached the Magic Kingdom and of course this is the moment when everything is fine in the World.
First race selfie... Fail. LOL
Not as foggy as the day before.
 This is actually one of the major changes to the course. Now you pass in front of the 7 Dwarf's Mine Train and get to see all of New Fantasyland, including The Little Mermaid ride and Gaston's Tavern. Then, you head back to (Old?) Fantasyland and through Cinderella's Castle. Overall, you spend quite a bit more time in the park. A great thing in my opinion. Also, it was still dark enough to actually see the Castle all lit up. Sure, the clouds helped a little. It was overcast the entire day. I can see why runners like to pass through it while it's dark. By the way, this time around there was no choice but to go through the tunnel. There was no optional route. Instead they had Cast Members telling people not to stop for a picture to keep the area moving. You could still have your pic taken at the base of the Castle though.
Right before leaving the Magic Kingdom...
The thing about going through the parks, is that the terrain becomes more dynamic. Whereas the roads are flat most of the time, the parks go up and down, which give them a great feel when you are walking during a normal visit, but not so great when you are trying to conserve energy during a marathon. I'm not talking about major hills here but the overall effect zaps your energy level a bit. Leaving the park, I found myself trying to catch my breath as we headed down to Animal Kingdom.

This particular stretch is one of the longest without any "park action". Disney tries to spice things up with characters and stuff and spectators line up when you pass the Polynesian and Grand Floridian but it's mostly uneventful. It was here I started to feel fatigue setting in. I told myself to calm down and take it in sections. "Make it to mile 10." I told myself. "Then make it to 15, asses yourself and eventually make 20." 

They now added a little out and back section going down where Bear Island Road meets Western Way. I hate that. Makes me want to cut through the cones and get on with it, especially when your Garmin is running long (which mine was, by a quarter mile at that point). This is also the moment you pass by the now infamous water treatment facility which, oddly enough, was not smelling as ripe as I remember the last time.

What was smelling full and ripe was the elephant house in the outskirts of Animal Kingdom. Wow, that was stinking up this year. This was good news however, as this meant we had made it into the park and were close to the half way point of this race.
Well, that didn't come out right.
Animal Kingdom is probably the worst park in terms of ups and downs. Worse than MK in fact. Also, I think we ran through more of it this year than 2014 but I'm not sure. In 2014 I felt like we were barely in there. This year I had a good look at it, including the Tree of Life of which there was a great spot to take pics (just not enough light). Many were waiting to ride Expedition Everest. I just ran through. Maybe one day... But not today.

This is the halfway point, and as I ran through the Animal Kingdom parking lot, and read I had done it 11 minutes faster than the day before filled me with pride. Yes, there was plenty of road ahead, but I had just run 2 Half Marathons back to back on consecutive days and, this part is important, I was still going. I also caught a glimpse of Pandora. Hope they finish that soon.
See the cranes?
You can see the "floating" rock starting to come up...
After the Animal Kingdom, you run on Osceola Parkway. Do you know what happens if you keep going on Osceola Parkway? You reach ESPN's Wide World of Sports. I hate ESPN's Wide World of Sports.
A.K.A. Hell
I'm going to start a petition to change the name of WWoS to Hell. Just name it Hell because that's what it is and if you want to finish your marathon you have to go through Hell. I really don't have any pleasant memories of this place back in 2014 and even less so now. It was shortly after entering here, that the wheels started to come off for me. After entering Hell, I met Mary again at a hydration stop. I was so happy to see her. That was followed by sponges. I took one and pressed it on the top of my head and it felt ridiculously good to have the water drip down my face. That was the end of the good news.

Then came that endless maze of fields... baseball, softball, lacrosse, football... it never ends. Then the track. The surface there felt like stone for some reason. Then I was forced to take a restroom break so I took advantage of a real restroom in the middle of the endless field of fields and that's when it happened. As I started running again my legs turned to jello. They just did not want to go on. I finally managed to get the intervals going but just barely. That's when I switched from 2:1 intervals to 1:2. I went around the stadium and the announcer called my name and that sort of got me going a bit but the writing was on the wall. As I exited Hell and crossed mile 20, I started to only walk. I texted my friends Gilbert and Frankie "The Jet" Ramos and told them with this pic.
Now the real race began.
Coming out of WWoS, I noticed that no one was coming in anymore. The station were I met Mary was now empty. Somewhere in the maze of Hell, were the Balloon Ladies, lurking ever-closer at their steady 16 minute per mile pace. I've heard that the final 10K of a marathon is where the real race begins and this couldn't be more true this day. I tried to focus on keeping the fastest walk I could muster but still, I was being passed by everyone on the course and that made me a bit more anxious. I was back on Osceola Parkway and as I was about to take the exit for Hollywood Studios, a State Trooper in a motorcycle passed by and said through his mic: "The Balloon Ladies are 2 miles away from this point. I'm pretty sure you guys are safe." I wasn't so sure.

I was somewhere near mile 21, which meant the Ladies were at mile 19. With me walking, they were definitely gonna catch me before the finish. But I didn't need to reach the finish to be safe. I just needed to reach the cut-off point where everyone who passes before the Balloon Ladies will not be swept. If only I knew where that was... This was going to take everything I had. My friends texted me back sending words of encouragement. "The Jet" sent me this, from Rocky IV:
This picture reminded me of another saying that travels the internet quite often. It's from Muhammad Ali.

I continued my march and entered Hollywood Studios. A lot of people were celebrating but I had a feeling this was not it. We were given chocolate, which to me was the best-tasting in the World, then I had to take another bathroom break right at the park entrance. This could not come at a worse time. Then, as I left the park and headed to the trail that leads to Epcot, a Cast Member told me: "This is it! No more buses from this point on." I desperately asked the people around me if this was the cut-off point and only a lady ventured to tell me "I guess". I just couldn't believe it. Was I really gonna be able to pull this off? This part of the course is very pretty and full of guests. You see the Boardwalk and the Yacht and Beach Clubs. My phone died. Off in the distance I saw the entrance to Epcot...

As I turned right for the World Showcase in England I started to cry. For the first time I felt safe and with that came an overflow of emotion. I thought about my daughters and how I wished they were there. The music they were playing on the park speakers was awesome! You know, that triumph of the spirit kind of music that Disney is so great at. I started to cheer back when people cheered for me. Then, as I was coming up on Morocco, a lady dressed in pink with a balloon tied to her waist passed me on the left.

The Balloon Ladies had caught me. I said "Oh Crap!" out loud which they heard and she looked at me concerned and said: "It's OK. You are safe! We just need to come in time officially. You are all safe." And that calmed me down as she started to pull ahead of me. "Great, I can now finish in peace." I thought to myself. Or can I?

Bear in mind that all this happened in my head and it took seconds. All this struggle to finish. All this uncertainty. All that work. Yes, it was to finish this challenge but it was etched my head that to do that you had to beat the Balloon Ladies and here I was behind them. Safe of course, but it didn't feel right. It took all of two seconds to make the decision.

I started running again. Hard.

Now, by this point I thought I had left everything on the course but: a) Apparently pride can also be used as fuel because I'm pretty sure that's about the only thing I had left. b) It seems I had walked long enough for my legs to "recover" enough for me to pull one big, final push to the end. Whatever it was, in the words of Forrest Gump, "I was running.!" The pavilions were nothing but a blur and I was passing absolutely everyone I came across. There was a lot of "excuse me" and "on your left" going on. I could hear the Balloon Ladies yelling behind me, telling people they were safe. It's quite ironic how such nice people can invoke so much fear in others.

So, I made it to Future World and Spaceship Earth was right in front of me, then I turned right on the service entrance and there was the Mile 26 sign, with the glorious choir singing in front of it. I had planned to take a picture here, but then again I wasn't planning to be sprinting at mile 26. Anyway, my phone was dead so it didn't matter. A little further ahead, was the finish line. For the Half, they were playing the Imperial March from Star Wars when I crossed. It was awesome! For this one, I couldn't even tell you if there was any music at all. It was all over. I had completed the Goofy Challenge. 39.3 miles in two days. A volunteer was putting the marathon medal around my neck when I heard the announcer saying the Balloon Ladies were crossing the finish line... on time. My official time? 7 hours, 37 minutes, 14 seconds. A very long way off my first (6:45:25) but I had made it.

Further ahead, I was given the required runDisney box of goodies, water, sports drink... then you go to a tent were they check your bib and a picture they took of you during the Expo so they can give you the Goofy medal. I fought the tears for a while but then I remembered that I had to contact my brother to pick me up and had no phone. I was pondering what to do as I walked from the runner's area over to were the rest of the people were when I saw him standing right in front of me. I tried to tell him something. Anything. But I felt like if I did, I would start crying. All I could do was point at the medals on my chest and look at him. "You did it man!" he told me. 

I had to wait until we got back to the hotel because of the phone dying. But I finally took some pictures. I think this says it all. It's already my Facebook profile picture. I was so tired. I can'r believe I made it up the stairs to our room.

But the bling was sure shining bright wasn't it? I think this post has run long enough so I will talk about my feelings on this race and challenge in another post. Suffice to say, I learned a lot with this experience. I always do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The 2016 Walt Disney World Half Marathon

After arriving in Florida and being picked up by my brother, we drove to ESPN's Wide World of Sports to get our race packs. All the while I kept reading Team Run Disney's  Facebook feed about the 10K that morning, and how wet it was. Not that I needed confirmation. I had to hide the waivers under my shirt just to avoid getting them drenched on the way from the car to the Expo. I was a little worried but not too much about rain the next day. Florida weather can be so unpredictable. I was half expecting Saturday to be 90 degrees and sunny.
Flat Frank #1
Well, Saturday was not 90 degrees and it wasn't even close to being sunny. As we walked out of our hotel at 3:30 am to head for the race, we were met with the most fog I have ever seen in Florida. And it would stay that way the entire day. Not even a little bit of Sun. The temperature was iffy. It sure was not warm but I wouldn't call it cold either. This, was not good for me and what I was trying to do.

Even as I sat in the corral, my mind kept wondering towards the fact that I had not trained enough for the Goofy Challenge. I knew I could finish the Half no problem but in what condition? Was I gonna be able to go the full distance the very next day? We were sure gonna find out.
So few people showed up for this one...
As if I was not worried enough, my brother was having his own set of issues. When we woke up, the first thing he told me was "I just threw up." I thought it was just nerves but then he went to the bathroom for #2 again before we left, then again at the gas station we were getting coffee in, then twice in the port-a-potties at the race. Clearly there was something wrong. We didn't know what. First culprit of course is something he ate but we had the exact same thing for both lunch and dinner the day before and I was fine. This mystery might never be solved but the fact remained: he was not well.
It's go time!
 And just like that, our corral was called and it was time to head off. Donald Duck gave the countdown and off we went. Not three minutes went by when my brother told me he had to go again. Mercifully, there were port-a potties not too far away and we stopped. They were crowded but he managed to get in. We started up again. He was having trouble keeping up and told me that as soon we started a run interval he would get the urge to go. This was not good. First mile: 17:06. There was no way we were gonna survive at that pace. Not that early in the race. With every running interval, he kept falling further back. Then he gave me the signal to go ahead and leave him. I was torn. Our plan was to run this together as slowly as we could so he could finish his first Half and I could survive to run another day but this pace was dangerous and he knew what was at stake for me so he told me to go on.

I kept tabs on him through my phone as I had signed up for runner tracking for both of us. His official pace remained in the 19's and then after the 10K update I heard no more. He got picked up at mile 8.

Meanwhile, I was having my own set of issues. A bit of panic had set in regarding my pace and I got a little overeager to try and make up the time. I went as high as the 14s and I felt I was all over the place. Crowding was an issue and I zig-zagged a lot from one side of the course to the other. This would have been fine if it was just the Half but I had a whole other race to run the so this was not the most efficient use of my energy. And then there was the fog... It was so foggy! Everything seemed to be hiding in a haze of gray, giving the whole place an eerie feel. Seemed like a great day to take some moody pictures. 

Can you see Space Mountain?!

...or the Castle?
Then we got to the Magic Kingdom...

A runner kindly took this for me.
Might as well been called the Slow-way while I was passing through.
And everything was fine! This will never get old folks. You turn right on Main Street USA and suddenly you forget everything and a huge grin shows up across your face. It truly is magical, even with all the fog. You go through Tomorrowland and Fantasyland and then you reach Cinderella's Castle which was lit up but you could hardly tell in the fog. Anna and Elsa were waiting for us there. Here, Disney was giving runners the choice to go through the tunnel and take pictures or run through the side of the castle for those who could or would not wait for the queue formed up in the tunnel. I decided to wait it out and took my pic in front of the Castle. A luxury I have never dared to take. I also took a bathroom break in Fontierland. Thinking back now, it sure was gutsy of me to take my time like that during my run through the Magic Kingdom but I guess I just felt I had made up enough time back or something.
My daughters are so jealous!
As I exited the park, on a downhill ramp right after seeing the the train, I tweaked my knee. I seem to have trouble while going downhill the most with the knee and it took me a while before I felt it was OK again. It was at this point you reach the 10K mark and a hydration station right before leaving the service entrance to the Magic Kingdom. There I had a gel and met Mary, a fellow Team run Disney member who was volunteering during the Half. It would not be the last time I would see her thankfully.
Thanks Mary!
Then came the time to head back down towards Epcot. This part was uneventful and while there was plenty of stuff (dj's, characters etc.) I was back to focusing on the matter at hand. After spending a while on this section, I realized I had stopped getting updates from Ernest so I texted him and found out he got picked up. His day was over. I was feeling pretty good and the knee was behaving even with the little mishap at mile 5. So, right before mile 11 I did the math and saw that I could take it easy. I walked almost the entire rest of the way.
Best sign on the course
That's not to say it wasn't a hard decision. Both the runner and the competitive person in me went into a bit of a fit at this point. If I were to keep going hard, I would have posted a somewhat decent time, and by that I mean less than 3 and a half hours. Way less than that maybe. By walking, I was "dooming" myself to finishing with my worst time ever in a Half Marathon and officially over the time limit. So, while this would seem like a no brainer to most people, I was having some issues. Thankfully, cooler, more logical heads prevailed and I kept walking from there to Epcot.
Fog... fog everywhere!

So hard to photograph such a huge thing...
Once in Epcot however, the fast-approaching finish line got me going and I ran the "victory lap" around the square in Future World and through the finish line. Official time: 3:40:58. My worst ever.
We live to run another day... hopefully.
I wasn't really upset with the time, even though it is the worst by a lot. Taking it easy and saving myself for the next day was my main objective. My problem with the race was how inconsistent I ran. Sometimes I was slow, sometimes too fast. If I would have kept a more consistent pace, it surely would have been more efficient and maybe I wouldn't have had to walk in the end. Of course, all this frustration was mainly due to the fact that I still had a marathon to run. The very next day I might add.

So, I got my medal and walked to the parking lot where my brother was waiting for me. I apologized for leaving him behind but he was actually pretty unscathed by the whole thing. I think he was just happy that his stomach was feeling better. So we had lunch a Panera Bread which, I had never tried before and then to the hotel to get ready for the next day. This folks, was not over. Not even close.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Saga

Wow... that's all I can really say about this past weekend. Wow...

Don't worry though, I will be posting full race recaps and give as much detail as I can on how I did as usual. After some thought however, in order to streamline this as much as possible, I felt I should do this post first, explaining some stuff ahead of time and reminding you guys of some other things before diving head first into the details. This way (hopefully) the recaps won't run too long.

The Galloway Method
I think regular readers of this blog are very familiar with this and I have praised the Galloway Method countless times as it has allowed me not only to run long distances but to run them faster. However, other than saying that I do 2:1 intervals (2 minutes running, 1 minute walking) I have never really given any more details on how I do it. It just was not important I guess. Well, it was important for Marathon Weekend. As it turns out, in the run/walk equation, I seem to be seriously lacking in the walking part. 

I'm a slow walker. Some people are very good at walking quickly. Some can even maintain the 16 min/mile minimum pace without running at all and believe me, I saw a lot of people doing it this weekend. Well, I can't do that for whatever reason. If I really focus and hustle, I can get to 18:30 min/mile but I cannot sustain it for too long. For me, anything above 20 min/mile is "fast". 

The Balloon Ladies
Again, something I have talked about several times in this space. In fact, it was a big part of my narrative during the recap for my first marathon (which you can find here). These ladies maintain the 16 min/mile pace after everyone has crossed the start line. If you fall behind them, you will eventually get picked up at one of the many cut off points along the race courses. You end up in a bus and your race is over.

There is plenty of debate on the internet regarding where exactly, the last cut-off point is. In other words, what part of the course do you have to reach in order to avoid being swept even if the "ladies" pass you by. During Marathon Weekend 2014, I was told that if I reached Disney's Hollywood Studios I would be safe and that is what I used as reference. The logic behind it being that once you reach DHS, there are no more public roads that have to opened thus, you are officially safe. Turns out, that is not accurate. In fact, I have to this day not heard any official word from Run Disney regarding this so don't take my word for it but I seemed to have discovered it this past weekend.

Of Finishing and Medals
Which brings me to my brother. If you read my 2014 marathon recap you know who I'm talking about. He signed up for the Half Marathon this year and sadly got swept at mile 8. While I have a nagging feeling he did not train as he should have, we didn't get to find out. He got sick and could not stay out of a port-a-potty long enough to stay ahead of the Balloon Ladies. There is no way I can pass up an opportunity like that. An actual "victim" of the sweep police? You can bet I will post a full interview on what exactly happens. He also shared with me some very interesting perspectives regarding the medal "issue" and what he heard while in the bus back to the parking lot. Some of you might recall I wrote a post about that a while back. Well, I have some new info to share and some of it might surprise you and even shock you.

The Knee
Like you have not heard about this enough already. Even though I will do my best to not mention it during the recaps, it is important to understand that the knee issue figures heavily in this whole story. It's the reason why I could not train properly and therefore why I had such a hard time during Marathon Weekend. 

Tomorrow, we begin our story in earnest. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Off to Florida!

My bags are packed... Ok, so they are not packed yet but I do leave tomorrow. Packing last minute has always been my style I guess.

I have to admit that the one feeling I was not expecting to have when I signed up to run the Goofy Challenge was uncertainty. I mean, after 3 years (almost 4 actually) of running, countless 5K's and 10K's, one full marathon and several half marathons under my belt you would figure I would be a little more confident going into this but it's not to be. 

I was just not able to train as I should have for this and my knee is most definitely not OK. It's not as bad as it was three weeks ago but not close to 100% either. So, I march forward in total survival mode. My goals are pretty well defined: Finish any way I can.

Now, it's not all doom and gloom folks. I did train as much as my knee allowed and cross-training helped me become a stronger runner I think. The Half-Marathon -barring a major setback- is in the bag I think. The real question here, is whether I have enough legs (and knee) to finish the full the next day. And if I don't, am I able to run enough to avoid being swept and cross the finish line, even if it is walking (or crawling...).

In that spirit, the plan is pretty simple: Take it as easy as possible during the half, then leave absolutely everything on the course during the full. Finish any way I can. Period.

So, like the last time I was at Marathon Weekend, I'm gonna need your support and virtual cheers. As for every Disney race, runner tracking is available and free. I have already set up my media channels on Facebook and Twitter to receive the updates so if you follow me there, you will get them. You can also set it up to receive them directly to an account or phone of your choosing by going here. Just enter my bib number (31411) and choose how you want to track me. You guys can also text "wdw[31411]" to the number 72147 and track me by phone automatically.

And that is it. If everything goes somewhat well, the next thing you should read here is a couple of epic race recaps. If not, well... we will chew that food when we have to. Until then, good luck to all who are running at Marathon Weekend and any other race this weekend.