In the afterglow of Ragnar Washington DC, my friend and van-mate Dave had me convinced to run my first full marathon this spring. We tentatively chose a race, we made tentative plans, we tentatively started looking at training schedules, the whole nine. And then, back in January, he realized that a nagging injury and the time suck involved was going to make it all but impossible to get trained up, and he backed out. It took me about two seconds to make the obvious choice about what to do next.
The space on my calendar meant I got to do the Star Wars First Order Challenge at Walt Disney World again!
I ran the Dark Side Challenge last year and loved it, even if it was quite warm and humid, and even if I didn’t even sniff PRs. You don’t try to PR runDisney races, you know? And I’m such a Star Wars nerd that I was feeling bad about NOT doing it even as I was planning (tentatively!) my first full marathon. I’ll likely get that full marathon under my belt one day, but that day was not to be in 2018.
I will again split this up into two parts – here I’ll talk about the expo and the 10k, and in the next part I’ll talk about the half marathon. Because I described things in some detail last year, I’ll probably skip over some of it this time – if it feels like something is missing, you can always read last year’s report here.
So I took Friday off of work to handle the expo again this year. I just prefer to not have to worry about being rushed or feel the pressure of timing at all. The expo is held at the ESPN Wild World of Sports complex, and just like last year, by the time they opened things up the line was quite long and I’m glad I got there early enough to be second in line. If there is a chance I’m going to be waiting in an extended line anyway, I’d rather do it that way.
They split things up a little differently this year – the bib pickup was in the field house, like before, but the shirt pickup was over in the expo itself. One of my fellow Celebration CrossFit 6am-ers, John, volunteers at these things, and he was at the shirt pickup – it was good to see him and meet his wife. That immediately leant a community vibe to this whole thing – just me and 15 or 20 thousand of my closest friends, you know? Pro-tip – the runDisney shirts run big. Last year I got XXL shirts, and they were entirely too big. This year I’m even smaller and leaned in and got XL shirts –and they are great. I love this year’s shirts – I like the colors and the design. I didn’t spend too much time walking around the expo because I was determined not to spend a fortune again this year. I did get to spin the wheel at the Otterbox booth, and won a nice hat – so there is that!
In order to create space and move things along, they moved the official runDisney merchandise into a different location this year, over in the big arena in the front of the WWoS complex. This year I pre-purchased some pins, and while I was determined not to go overboard with spending I did wind up picking up a couple of extra pins and a Christmas ornament. Never too early for Christmas shopping. My Disney annual pass qualifies me for discounts on this stuff, so that helps. And then I was done with the expo – from the time they opened it up until the time I got out of there was about 45 minutes.
runDisney starts their races at 5:30am – don’t want to interfere too much with the opening of the parks. And these runs start in the Magic Kingdom parking lot and end in the Epcot parking lot, so you park over at Epcot and they bus you over. All of that to say, it was early to bed and a 2am alarm. I ate a bagel and some other various snacks and headed over to Epcot, where even walking to the bus is accompanied by Star Wars fanfare. And anything accompanied by Star Wars fanfare feels like a badass thing.
Another runDisney pro-tip – they have character pictures at the start line, and if you get there early enough the lines are not very long. Two pro-tips in a row – when you walk up early, the first line you see will be the longest, and they get progressively shorter. For this race, Darth Vader winds up being easily the most popular picture, but they put him three characters deep on the other side of the DJ so you don’t see him when you walk up. At 3:30am, the line for the first character (BB-8) was already quite long, but I spent all of about three minutes in line for Darth Vader. The same for Boba Fett, who was last in line. I then went and spent maybe 10 minutes waiting for Kylo Ren, and saved BB-8 for the next day. Then it was hit the port-a-potties, make my way over to the corral area, hit the port-a-potties again. Walk around a bit, hit the port-a-potties one more time, and then into the corral to wait for the start.
I was in corral B again this year, which is a great place to start. They start the race in waves, each wave of people getting its own “3-2-1- go” and fireworks and the whole bit. They let the wheelchair athletes go right at 5:30, and then corral A was split into two waves and I was in the first wave of corral B – I was running inside of 10 minutes.
So here I confess – I did not properly train for this weekend. For whatever reason, running has been a real slog for me lately. Even for the Celebration Half Marathon back in January, getting out the door for a run has been nearly impossible. I don’t have the same problem with CrossFit, so I’ve been focusing on that – and we do a fair amount of running in CrossFit, but that running is very much speed oriented. Distances are relatively short, and the runs are interspersed with other exercises designed to tire out the legs for the runs. So even though I haven’t really been training endurance, I have gotten faster. And I haven’t been training endurance – my longest run since the Celebration Half was 5 miles. I did a 4.5 mile run the week before the First Order Challenge, and was able to do it at a pace that suggested a big 10k PR, and an off chance at getting in under 60 minutes.
So my goal here was to race the 10k and try to bring in a really good time, and then screw around on the half marathon, getting as many pictures as I wanted and really caring not at all about my time. And my strategy on the 10k was primarily to avoid the issues I had last year – improper bathroom prep and shins that seized up and wouldn’t let go. I was careful not to drink too much before the race, and I hit the bathroom at least three times after I made it to the start line area. And I focused on my speed in the first mile so that I could avoid the dreaded muscle seizing in my shins. In the first mile I down-shifted my speed at least three times – and it worked.
OK – so we’re running. There is a ton of construction going on all over the Disney World complex, including the roads coming into the Magic Kingdom. Because of that, the course was slightly different from last year – instead of heading out through the parking toll booth we cut over toward the service station just outside MK and merged onto World Drive on the other side of the parking booth. Because of all of this, last year’s high school band wasn’t present, and the first character stop was not out until the first mile marker – R2-D2 again, one of the longest lines I saw for a character over both days.
The first mile is basically getting out of the start are and getting over to World Drive. Because I was focused on my shins, this was by far my slowest mile, coming in at 10:08. Miles two and three are then a straight shot up World Drive – wide lanes, no turns, flat roads. By the first mile marker I was convinced that my shins were going to be fine and let go the throttle. Mile two was my fastest mile at 9:35, and mile three came in at 9:37. Just past the third mile marker the course hits the cloverleaf onto Buena Vista Drive, which is probably the biggest hill on the course. The 5k split is in the middle of this hill, which I hit in 30:37 – which was a massive PR pace but was going to require me to do some work if I wanted to get in under an hour.
Mile four is primarily the approach to the back entrance of Hollywood Studios, with the mile marker somewhere right around the Tower of Terror. Darth Maul was in the same place he was last year, and I mentally marked it for a picture the next day and kept running. There is a short but steep hill approaching the Tower of Terror, at the top of which the 501st Legion was out in force, looking amazing in their costumes. I powered through and hit mile 4 in 9:36.
Another minor difference – last year we ran around a service exit to get out of Hollywood Studios, but this year we ran right through the ticket booth. The path over to the Boardwalk area was the same, but again a difference – this year the 10k course ran on the actual Boardwalk rather than over in the Beach Resort area. The mile five marker is just at the entrance to the Boardwalk, and I somehow missed it, which threw me off for a while. But I was feeling good at this point, and mile five came in at 9:43.
From this point on the course was identical, and I was feeling not so good. My breathing was OK, but my legs were starting to object. I knew, though, that I was on a big PR pace and I also knew how badly I would regret missing 60 minutes or, worse, missing a PR having basically given up in the last mile, so I kept pushing. We came in to Epcot through the service entrance behind the Rose & Crown in the Great Britain area and hung a left into the World Showcase, passing through Canada on our way to Spaceship Earth. The Star Wars music was blaring again, and it was just as cool this time as it was last time. Last year, running behind PR pace, I stopped and got a picture in front of Spaceship Earth – this time I cruised by pushing hard. The mile 6 marker is placed just as you enter the service area behind the restrooms near Spaceship Earth, and I finished mile 6 in 9:51.
At that point it was just a big push. I didn’t properly stop my watch at the finish line, so I’m not sure exactly how fast I ran that last 0.2 miles, but I did look at it as I crossed the finish line and it said 1 hour and 58 seconds. My official time came in at 1 hour and 57 seconds. My previous PR was 1 hour, 3 minutes, and 38 seconds – so this was a 2 minute, 41 second PR.
The finish chute is long and very well staffed – I collected my medal, a bottle of water, a bottle of Powerade, and then my banana and runDisney snack box. I took my “I did it!” pictures and headed out to the open area. Jabba the Hutt had been at the start line last year – this year he was only at the finish, so I went and got a quick picture with him and then headed to the truck.
Needless to say, I was – and am – ecstatic with that race. For not being trained up properly at all, I demonstrated that my level of fitness up to an hour or so has improved greatly – and I was able to make a run at 60 minutes that lets me know that, if I focus, I can get there.
But first – time to go rest up and go to bed early again – I had a half marathon to run the next day.
– Cannot say enough about how smoothly everything runs in these races. No issues getting to the start line, no issues getting to my corral and starting to run, no issues on the course, no issues at the finish line. I’m sure that, in a race this size, there are plenty of issues throughout – but I never see them. It is impressive as hell.
– My actual finish place was very high – 87th percentile overall, 80th percentile for all men, and 80th percentile for my age group (Men 40-44). I’ll certainly take this, but this has less to do with my speed and more to do with the race itself. runDisney races, and maybe especially this one, aren’t really designed for running fast – they are designed for having fun. There are a lot of people that stop and get some, if not all, of the character pictures – and you get a much higher percentage than normal of first-timers at these races. Which makes for an awesome atmosphere, and also makes my times look faster than they really are. Still…
– The weather was better this year. Still warm-ish and humid, but not anywhere near as hot as last year. I’m sure folks in from out-of-town were struggling with the humidity, but I didn’t find it that bad at all.
– Funny story – a friend of mine was running (Jana, from the last post about the Celebration Half Marathon), and we knew we were both in Corral B. Never saw her, she never saw me. It turns out that we both started running in the first wave from Corral B – we were right in the same group of people and never saw each other. Between race focus and just a ton of people at the start of these things … that’s funny.
– The medal is a big Praetorian Guard mask that looks pretty simple but weighs approximately a metric ton. It is awesome. The six-year-old’s eyes got big and I got a “Cool!”
– Time to go home and try and get some rest. That mostly worked this year – didn’t do much for the rest of Saturday, and tried to go to bed early again. That didn’t work as well, which made that Sunday 2am alarm particularly insulting.
– Next Race – Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon, April 22nd. Race report coming soon…